Sunday Summary: 1.17.21… except when it is.

I often tell parents that you can love classic names and still find something relatively uncommon. (Peter versus James; Louise versus Elizabeth.)

Likewise, it’s possible to be attracted to Top 50 names that don’t exactly go together: sisters Ava and Harper and Amelia. Popular names can feel a little bit offbeat – Penelope and Oliver have a very different vibe than, say, David and Eleanor. And some families choose names that are just plain eclectic. Think of the Novogratz siblings: Wolfgrang Frances, Bellamy Nicole, Tallulah Louise, Breaker Owsley, Five Beck, Holleder Street, and Major Robert.

And here’s the thing that intrigues me: it’s possible to be very wrong about style. I’ve heard parents describe Mason as traditional and Henry as trendy. That doesn’t track for me, but it’s not exactly a black-and-white distinction.

Numbers, on the other hand, feel a little more defensible. A name either ranks in the US Top 100 or it does not.

And yet, new parents often mention that they don’t know any kids named Jack/Owen/Avery/Olivia, and of course that’s possible – even likely. When we’re new parents, we tend to meet lots of kids three and under, but mostly from a smaller area – neighborhood playgrounds and local playgroups; the nursery school down the road.

To really feel the impact of a name’s popularity? It’s often not obvious until middle school or later, when our kids are in bigger schools, playing on regional sports teams and performing in county-wide youth orchestras.

I felt like I’d never met a single Jayden until my oldest went to high school. All of a sudden, there they are.

All of this means it’s tough to set the dial, because we’re trying to calibrate two different measures – for starters.

No question, it’s part of what makes naming so very challenging.

Did a name’s popularity – or obscurity – change your mind about using it?

Elsewhere online:

Which reminds me … you’re more likely to meet a Zeppelin than a Jed, a Valor before a Laurence. Laura Wattenberg’s chart relies on alternative spellings – rest assured, Lawrence ranks a relatively familiar #536 – but her point stands. Plenty of perfectly normal names teeter on the edge of obscurity.

Duana has some goods thoughts on popularity AND so much more in this week’s letter. Can you use the name of a friend or family member’s kid? How ’bout the name of someone you really don’t like. And what about a former romantic interest? I know, I know – we’re all saying “it depends,” but Duana’s got some great tips for thinking it through to get to a specific answer for your situation.

Here’s a fun question – with a logical answer – from Swistle. If a parent keeps her surname, and then passes that surname down to her child as a first, does it mean the parent really ought to adopt the family surname, too? The answer is no, of course not! I mean … Miranda Brady and Brady Hobbes remains one of my all-time favorite name solutions, nearly twenty years later. (Also: spoiler alert, the baby is here + named – and they went a slightly different direction.)

The overlap between these names + the kids at my daughter’s school is … a lot. And yet, I’m not sure many of the parents would ever consider themselves hipsters, either. Oh wait, my daughter’s name is on this list, too. What exactly is hipster shorthand for these days?

Just for the sheer loveliness of it all, I present the Italian Top Ten. Any most popular list that includes Ginevra, Leonardo, and Lorenzo is going to make me swoon. Well, plus we started out talking about popularity, so it feels like the right place to close things out.

Looking for more thoughts on naming? My newsletter arrives every Tuesday. Sign up here:


Please select all the ways you would like to hear from Appellation Mountain:

You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the link in the footer of our emails. For information about our privacy practices, please visit our website.

We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By clicking below to subscribe, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing. Learn more about Mailchimp’s privacy practices here.

That’s all for this week. As always, thank you for reading!
Boy Names 1.17.21 Girl Names 1.17.21

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

You May Also Like:

What do you think?


  1. I’ve heard other people talk about using the baby’s hair color to determine name, which is a very out there concept for me, yet it comes up a lot more than I would expect

    1. My parents inadvertently did this back in the day with my sister. My brother and I were both bald/blonde when we were babies. So my parents assumed our sister would be the same and planned to call her Katherine, called Kate. But then she came out with loads of thick, black hair (as did our next sister). That threw them off so much that she was nameless for two weeks! She ended up being named after our grandmother. Funny enough, as time went on and we grew to adults, our hair changed. My brother and I have the darkest hair, and our sisters have light brown hair now. So you just never know!

      I’d also like to know – what exactly (or rather who exactly) is a hipster nowadays??

      1. THANK YOU CA! I have no idea. 99.9% certain that I’m not a hipster. (Unless hipsters have become considerably less cool?!) And while there are some very awesome families in my neighborhood, I think they’d be surprised to hear themselves called hipsters. Seriously, I’m going to have to ask. (But these conversations are SO MUCH HARDER to have right now. I miss standing around the playground on sunny afternoons.)

        Also that hair color story – yes! My dad was white-blonde as a baby and very young child. But his hair was pretty dark later in life. I wish I could ask my grandmother if that factored into the name she chose for him.

    2. YES! This comes up a lot. Sometimes parents tell me that couldn’t use this name or that name because of hair color, too. I mean … it’s an emotional decision, so this is completely valid. And yet, so many babies change dramatically in the first few months that I can’t imagine it would sway me.

      1. That’s hard for me to wrap my (brunette) head around, but like you said completely valid to have emotions around naming your child. But no matter what combination of punnet squares your kid ends up with, they are still coming from and into your culture and your family. So when I hear people not giving their kid a cultural name because they are born with light features (though not what that specific story was about), it makes me kind of sad.

    3. I see it sometimes as the tie-breaker for a name, like, Mom and Dad are both very, VERY happy with both name options. They could go with either, with no hard feelings. But Mom (the brunette) slightly prefers Amelia, and Dad (the blond) slightly prefers Charlotte, and it’s a way to link the choice to the parents while still having it be something neutral and impartial.