When it comes to unique words for names, things can feel a little wild. Reckless, even. We marvel when we spot a Galaxy or a Canyon on social media. Our colleague names their kiddo Rocket and we gleefully report back to our friends, eyebrows raised.

But word names work – and they’re far from new. Just ask any Rose. Kindergarten classes circa 2030 will almost certainly include a Willow, River, or Legend.

Wait, you insist. Violet and Daisy have been around for years. That’s not nearly the same thing as naming a baby Marigold or Ocean. Choices like Blue, Dream, and Sunny are fine for celebrities, but those kids? They’ll be teased mercilessly in school.

To that I say: kids don’t really recognize which names are traditional. Neither do adults, actually. Dimple, Fairy, Brown, and Buddy all ranked in the US Top 1000 at some point earlier in the twentieth century. Name teasing isn’t really the issue we worry it might be.

In fact, word names can solve as many problems as the might cause.

So here are six reasons why parents might want to consider word names – yes, even wildly bold and different choices.

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Maybe you were one of three Emilys in your class, or went through high school as Matt R. Parents often want to find names that feel distinctive and different.

But that’s true for so many of us, that it’s easy to cluster around the same not-too-common, not-too-different names. A generation back, it was Sophia and Henry; Mason and Aria. Now those kids are headed to high school and college. Their names seem completely familiar – even the once-novel word name Aria.

So parents are pushed in different directions to find something new, and it’s no surprise when many families embrace River or Ember.


Sometimes the most common spelling of a name is a little different than the dictionary version. Think scarlet/Scarlett, forest/Forrest, and sailor/Saylor.

But more often, a cool word name can be utterly unique – but still be easy to pronounce and spell. And that makes for a winning combination.

Anthem and Prairie might have to repeat their names. But spellcheck is on their side.


Parents often want names that are both distinctive and meaningful – a tough combination. Word names can easily check both boxes. Maybe Eleven’s name came from your November wedding date. Or Lilac’s name recalls your beloved grandmother’s favorite flower.

It’s possible to work such magic with regular ol’ names, too. But the path between a word name and a significant meaning is often direct.


Along those lines, words can make incredible honor names. Your dad was a drummer? Name his granddaughter Cadence. Your mom’s softball jersey number was Seven? Maybe that’s a lucky name for her grandson, too.

There’s nothing wrong with handing down a family name as-is, of course. But unique word names offer the best of both: a tie to an earlier generation and a fresh, new possibility for your child to make their own.


Name your daughter Clarion, but call her Clary. Emerald shortens to Emmie. Evergreen is Evie. Even a name like Kestrel becomes Kes, which sounds plenty name-like.

It’s potentially the best of both worlds – bold, unique word names paired with fits-in kinds of nicknames.


Name your baby Dune or Bear, Russet or Sonnet, Golden, Caliber, Bravery, or Frost and it’s clear that you intended to make a bold choice. That can be refreshing – maybe even freeing. Instead of calibrating whether Cassius and Indie are too different or just different enough, unique word names are clearly meant to stand out.

Of course, choices like Rio and Clementine might fall somewhere in the middle, too. But it feels a little easier to find a truly unexpected possibility. Shelter or Rise, maybe?

Of course, bold and unique word names aren’t confined to the first spot. They can be an excellent way to spark up a middle name choice, too.

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.

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What do you think?


  1. In theory, I tend to seesaw if I like word names.
    In practice? I remember a Mother and Daughter I met when I lived on the West Coast. For the life of my I can never remember the Daughter’s lovely but unusually crafted name. The Mother? It’s been years but I always remember Rainbow and how it was a delight.

    I definitely do think word names should be positive meanings though, in memory of an old coworker who reminisced over an employee named Trouble and lived up to it. Somethings should not be evoked.

    1. Agree! Word names like Rowdy give me pause for exactly that reason. It feels like it would be hard to introduce yourself as Rowdy and be taken seriously as, say, a bioethicist. Except I have known people with big, brainy careers and names that don’t match, so maybe I’m overthinking it?! Trouble, though … gosh that feels like a punchline, not a name …

  2. This. All this.

    Our four daughters all have conceptual nouns as first names with common nicknames. So there are plenty of times people say to them, “Wait, Penny. Your full name is Epiphany?! I guessed it was Penelope. That’s so cool!”

    They all love it. I love it.
    They stand out and fit in all at once.