How to Name Your Geeklet


Amy B.? Here!

Amy S.? Here!

Amy K.? Here!

That was me, then and now. Amy K. Because, as all the Jennifers on GeekMom can relate, there were a bajillion Amys born in the 1970s. Babycenter posted the most popular names of 2010, and while Amy doesn’t come close to making the list, the Sophias and Isabellas and Aidens and Jacobs of the world will become very familiar with the inclusion of their last initial.

The NameVoyager graph for Olive, which hasn't broken the top 100 since the 1890s, though I worry about that uptick on the right.

When it came time to name my own kids I had but one criterion: it can’t be popular. Not only did I not want it to be popular, but I wanted to make sure that it wasn’t going to be popular. We scoured the Social Security Administration databases, looking for names that haven’t been popular since the turn of the last century. We graphed every name on the brilliant Baby NameVoyager, making sure that the name’s popularity trended downward if it even ranked at all. Was I obsessed with this? Yes. Yes I was. At least I know I’m not alone. One of the GeekMom Jennifers tells me that she even called local school districts and hospitals. Why didn’t I think of that?!

Now, I didn’t want a name that was too out there, either. We didn’t want to choose a brand name or a fruit or something spelled backwards or strangely or phonetically. We just wanted a pretty, interesting name. My daughter’s name came easily one day. I was behind a woman ordering take out food and I thought her name was absolutely perfect. Olive. Sure it can be confused with the hyper-popular Olivia, but we were willing to take that risk.

Olive in Little Miss Sunshine (Fox Searchlight)

Here’s what happened since we named our daughter Olive: Little Miss Sunshine came out, with the memorable Abigail Breslin performance as Olive. Kristin Chenoweth played Olive Snook on Pushing Daisies. Stephanie Watson writes the children’s books Elvis & Olive. Sasha Baron Cohen named his daughter Olive. And, yes, Olive began to appear on hipster baby name lists. OK, it’s still #790 on the popularity list. And I still love it and know that it’s the perfect name for my little girl.

Fast forward five years and it’s time to name the boy. We still actively consulted NameVoyager and the Social Security lists, but we started to get more creative because outside of the classic names that fill the top 100 boy names, boys are really hard to name. How about obscure movie characters? I was stuck on Elwood for a while. Artists? Ellsworth. Chefs? Alton. I also picked names that just tickled me when I said them. Roscoe. I was so sure our baby was going to be Roscoe, but my husband thought that it was too Dukes of Hazzard. As if little Roscoe’s friends would have heard of that. In the end, we ended up with literally the only name my husband, daughter, and I could agree on: Ozzie. It doesn’t even rank on NameVoyager! Time will tell if it will, but for now we couldn’t be happier with our choices. Hopefully the kids will be happy, too.

How did you pick your kids’ names?

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30 thoughts on “How to Name Your Geeklet

  1. I am so with you!! I currently go by my middle name because there were just too many Theresas in my high school. I checked the Social Security and other lists. I even ruled out a name I loved (Sam) because it was just too popular for boys and girls. We scoured baby name books for our first and choose Saxon because it was similiar to a character name in Red Mars (but who would want to name a boy Saxifrage?). Our daughter was easier because I decided at age 15 (a loooonnnnggg time before babies) that I wanted to name my child after a witch to annoy family…. but then I grew to like it. It only took 2 pregnancies to convince my husband of this name. And then I was heartily annoyed to actually find another child with the name Rhiannon in my son’s kindergarten class, bleh!

    1. I grew up with an unusual and not phonetic name. I love my name and it is beautiful, but my parents resorted to the nickname “Molly” because training people constantly on the pronunciation of your name is incredibly aggravating and just causes more problems than you would imagine.
      In naming my own kiddos I wanted unusual, but not weird. It also had to be phonetic and easily pronounced. For my oldest two, now 24 and 18, I did not have the benefit of the internet to search name databases and such. My oldest is Gabrielle and we called her Gabe. My second is Madeleine (called Maddie) (My first choice was Mia, but I was out-voted) and it turned out to be right at the beginning of the Maddie/Maddy craze and all it’s variations, She has run into a couple of other Maddie’s her age, but never had to resort to the initial route.
      Fast forward 12 years and I was again naming babies (I know I’m crazy) and I was a little obsessed with the databases and several other criteria. My husband, though, is not as enamored with unusual names so it was a dance to find something we could agree on. We chose Amelie and then later Lilia.
      When we had a boy almost two years ago I had a much harder time finding a name. We didn’t have one until 2 weeks before he was born. We settled on Thomas James (after his Grandfathers) and we have yet to meet another little Thomas. It really stands out among all the trendiness. Solid and traditional seems to be the new unusual

  2. I was Katie E, and sat in a row with Katie M. and Katie S. My mother has told me repeatedly that when she was pregnant with me, they did not know any other kids named Katie, and anyway, she named me after Katharine Hepburn, so that’s cool, right?

    When I was 12, I insisted people start calling me Katharine.

    I wanted a name that was not only original, but had a cool meaning for my little girl. My husband looked up from the couch one night while reading “The Fellowship of The Ring” and said “Arwen?”. Totally!

    Though some have said “Just stamp: MY PARENTS ARE NERDS! on her forehead!” we have had more people say “Oooooh…that’s so pretty and so special!”.

    Then, when I brought her in for her six month checkup, the doctor looked down and said “Hang on, I grabbed the wrong file…this is for the other Arwen.”

    Excuse me?

    “Oh, yeah, there’s another Arwen, about two months older than yours.”


  3. As as Melissa B I can totally relate! We wanted our kids to have unique names as to not be one of three in their class. With our son we did well. Calvin was named from my husband’s favorite comic strip. With my daughter we didn’t do quite as well. My husband only liked two girls names, Isabelle and Samantha. Both pretty popular. We went with Isabelle and she goes by “Izzy.” Isabelle isn’t as popular as Isabella and I actually find it quite annoying when places like the doctor’s office glance at her name and automatically call her Isabella. But we don’t run across too many girls that go by Izzy, it’s usually Bella.
    PS. If Izzy had been a boy she would have been Harrison James because I am a giant HP geek and wanted my very own Harry James.

  4. My husband and I also wanted a rare name, and one which reflected our geekiness. I loved Faraday (for a girl), and he liked Thor (we took a magical trip to Iceland, but most of their names are difficult to pronounce in English – also, what if he was a liile, scrawny kid?). We found out it was a boy, and I thought of the perfect name one day in the shower: Sagan. When he was born at 9 lbs 7 oz, I agreed to Thor for a middle name. Sublimely geeky, but easy to spell and pronounce! I’m still surprised when people don’t know who he’s named for… But I guess that’s the way I’d like it!

  5. My two brothers and myself were all named with popular American names and Biblical names.
    When I got to college in the mid-west there were 5 Erics on my dorm floor alone. My brothers didn’t fare much better.

    We were lucky on naming our kids. My daughter, my wife and I both loved Madeleine (traditional spelling), and my maternal grandmother’s maiden name was Ashton. So my daughter is Madeleine Ashton.

    For my son, my wife’s maternal grandmother’s maiden name was Lange, and her father was Michael, so he was named Langston Michael.

    Following the same logic, if we have another child they will be either, Aloysius Shacklefod, or Vencia Grembel.

    With names like that… who wants another kid?

      1. Oh yeah, and my wife, who was born in ’76 is Lisa Marie. Along with the daughters of every other Elvis fan on the planet.

        We always joke that our names are so short and “normal” that we took it out on our kids.

  6. I do have an Aidan, but the clincher is that he was our first … 11 years ago. Back then, I was like you – looking for a unique but not too odd name. I like the actor Aidan Quinn, but that was the only reference I knew of at the time. Perhaps we started a trend, ha!

  7. My wife and I were deciding on names just last year, and while girl’s names came easily to us, we found it difficult to pick out a boy’s name. We liked some of the “standard” names, like Simon or Daniel, but didn’t want to go that route.
    Then I happened to glance at a bottle of wine: Jackson Triggs
    Jackson sounded like a great name to use, just needed to find a name to partner it with, for either first or middle. Aha! For some reason, Jackson Daniel sounds like a great name… right, I’m definitely a geek: Daniel Jackson, anyone? Or for the whiskey lovers: Jack Daniels?
    We ended up with Elliott Jackson, and wouldn’t have it any other way.
    He’s definitely an Elliott.

  8. I was named after the main character on Bewitched (Im really not kidding) and I was in high school before i met another samantha. my freshman year there was a senior named samantha, but its much more popular now. My daughter .. well i was watching CSI when I was 19 (well before i was having babies) and Dakota fanning was a guest star in one of her early roles as a girl named Brenda. In my head i decided then and there that if I ever had a daughter i was going to name her Brendalynn. flash forward 3 years to May of 05 and Brendalynn was born. My son, well my other half and i only really liked Nicholas and Alexander, but both are common names. so my son was named Nikolas (old spelling for my unique-ness factor) Grant (my dads name since my daughter has my moms name as a middle name). I since found out that they both have saints names, Saint Nicholas, patron of children, and Saint Brendan (Brendalynn is the feminine) patron of navigators and sailors.

  9. I don’t have kids but I thought I would share a fun little story. My name is Kira. My parents chose a name that was easy to pronounce in German and in English (we are bilingual) and also didn’t want some long name that get’s a nickname (ie Jessica becomes Jes). So after I was born my mom had 2 school friends that called her and asked if it was OK to name their daughters Kira becasue they liked the name so much.

    Anyway…. here’s the fun part…. When I was in highschool another Kira (2 grades younger than me) came up to me one day and claimed that I had stolen her name. I was so stunned that all I could do was stare at her. She went on this rant over lunch that even though I’m older than her somehow she was named BEFORE me…. weird.

    I agree though that people should get creative with their kid’s names. I went to school with 6 Laurens, 4 Spencers and a ton of Michaels.

  10. When I was growing up the only people that ever spelled my name correctly were the older ladies that liked Dr. Zhivago. I had sooo many people tell me when I was little that I was spelling my name wrong. But I didn’t meet another Lara until I was in my twenties. I always loved having a unique name – even if it meant that I couldn’t get anything pre-printed with my name. (That started a collection of personalized items with my name spelled correctly…)

    I couldn’t let my daughter have a boring or usual name either. I went to the family history and found Jinsey (Welsh meaning golden daughter or troublesome daughter – yes to both). I changed the spelling to Ginsey and we had a winner.

    We have met one other Jinsey – she is in her twenties and hadn’t found another one until us. We always laugh because new people always have the same reaction. They have to repeat her name out loud, they look a little surprised, and then say it’s a pretty name. Ginsey loves her unique name and it suits her perfectly!

  11. I and my husband both have unusual names; while I have met a few Alanas, Elanas, or Elainas, he has never met another Akio.

    Our kids’ names are from movies and film, but right out of 1930s-era references! We chose Rosalie from Orson Welles’ “Lady from Shanghai” (Rita Heyworth’s character gets nicknamed Rosalie at the beginning). Flower names are popular, but Rose, Rosie or Rosalie aren’t common where we live.

    Our son’s name is not on the NameVoyager at all, but we have seen a few uses of it: Dashiell. Samuel Dashiell Hammett is a crime fiction writer, popular in the 1930s and a huge influence on my husband. Hammett used his middle name professionally and went by Dash with his friends. It had made our short list before we saw The Incredibles, where the speedy son is named Dashiell Robert Parr, or Dash for short! Once we had that popular culture reference, it became our son’s name. Our second choice was Orson.

  12. My dad was in a production of 1776 (23 male roles!) with five Davids, and two semesters ago, the professor pointed out that “more than a third of the class has one of four first names.”

    We have no kids, and aren’t TRYING trying (i.e., we’re not actively avoiding a pregnancy), but we’ve had names on reserve for years, all based on family names (and therefore, ideally, relatively immune to fashion). I didn’t change my name when we married, so bam, middle name done. For boys, my husband’s middle name has been in the family for 7-8 generations, so there’s one, and should we need a spare, we can get to a name in common on both sides by going back just one generation: he has an uncle Peter, and my dad’s middle name is Peter. For girls, even easier: we each had a grandmother named Margaret.

    And heaven forbid we find ourselves in a tuplet situation, both of my maternal grandparents had at least five middle names, my grandfather’s being Wilhelm Johann Karl Heinrich Ernst at his baptism and William John Charles Henry Ernest on his birth certificate. Get any of those (or grandma’s Christina Sophia…I’ve forgotten the rest of the litany…) to match up with ancestors on the hubs’ side, and I’m happy.

  13. I’ve always loved that my name is pretty rare. There are other Valerie’s out there, but not a ton. I only went to school with one, for half a semester.

    On the other hand, I married a Michael, which is terribly frustrating whenever we get together with groups of friends and there’s at least one other, if not two or three.

    We don’t have kids yet, but we both decided on a naming scheme similar to yours, unique but not unheard of, and fairly easy to spell (I always get dismayed when people try to put a ‘y’ in my name). Currently we like Marcus and Linnea or Ava, with a few others bouncing around.

  14. I think the best way to ensure your child has an usual name would be to go for names that were popular 50 years ago — how many baby Lindas, Barbaras, Nancys have you met?

    For our son, we wanted a name that was distinctive and unique, but also didn’t feel made up. We wanted something with a lot of nickname options so our son could choose what he liked best. We ended up with Octavian. He’s currently called Tavi, but also has the options of Ian, Tay, Tavio, etc.

    The name trend I’m most fascinated with right now is that the majority of popular boy names end in N.

  15. Hi, Amy K! I grew up as Amy M. I know of which you speak! I did decide that my kids could not have names in the top three popularity-wise, and I wanted to avoid the top ten… but I didn’t want to go too far out either. Perhaps I didn’t go out far enough: we’re always running into other Sams, boys and girls (though it DOES seem to be less common for boys than girls anymore), and I honestly wanted to avoid Maddie, but….

    My son Sam. Short for Samuel, but I admit as a proper geek mom that I first said, “Sam… what a good name,” in relation to Samwise Gamgee. It was actually my second or third choice boys name, but when he was born it just seemed like the name that fit him best. It’s more popular now than it was a generation ago, but not TOO too popular. I’ve always loved the name Jacob, but nixed that one right out once I saw the Top Baby Names lists….

    My daughter Madeleine, continuing my librarian-geek trend, is named after Madeleine L’Engle. I decided to do that ten years ago. Then the MADISON trend took off and I was afraid I would have to let it go (ICK! It’s not even a real first name, people! There was a whole JOKE about that in that movie ‘Splash’! Whereas MY Maddie will have a BEAUTIFUL MEANINGFUL NAME and y’all are tainting it!) And she turned out to be born on her aunt Maggie’s birthday, so giving her a similar name seemed kind of tribute-y, so I couldn’t pass it up. I thought I’d try some way to avoid calling her “Maddie” but it just started happening (she does get “Madeleine” much more often than her brother gets “Samuel” though). I figure MADELEINE, especially spelled that way, is not grossly overdone (even though someone else has already commented here with it, same spelling!) , so we’ll live with it.

  16. I was a total baby name geek! By the time we decided on our daughter’s name I could practically recite the SSA name list from memory. We really liked the name Lily, but thought it was gaining in popularity too quickly. (We were right. Its gone from 124 to 18 in the last decade. And is even higher on lists like the babycenter which factor in alternate spellings.) So we moved Lily to middle-name status and went with Morgan (which, on its own, I actually liked more than Lily, but which sounds a little awkward with her last name), a moderately popular name but on a downward trend. I think if we’d went ahead with Lily it would have been okay. I can’t think of any Lilys in her school right now. There is only 1 other Morgan and he is a boy. (They greet each other “Hi, Boy Morgan!” “Hi, Girl Morgan!” Super cute.)
    We used the baby name voyager/wizard tools when searching for a name for our son and while it was fascinating, it really wasn’t helpful. My husband & I were so far apart with our ideas. (Mine: Kyle, Evan, Adrian. His: Magnus, Cannon, Ajax.) Ultimately we kind of just went with the first name we both liked. Zachary. Which we’ve been very very happy with.

    1. Also, I always knew a handful of other Katies growing up, but it didn’t get really crazy until college. (I went to a catholic univeristy. It must have been an even more popular name among Catholics.) There was another girl with the same first AND last name as me. She lived 1 floor up from me in the dorms and we had to meet every week to sort out our mail. I had an introductory class my freshman year with 15 students, 10 of them girls and 3 were named Katie/Katy. It really did feel like nearly a 3rd of all female students were named Katie.
      In my daughter’s Kindergarten class last year there were moms named Katie, Katy, Kathleen and Kathryn. We had a disagreement with the 3 Heathers about which was the more popular name in the 70s!

  17. I had the same criteria! Even with my “odd” spelling, I was always Aimee H.

    So, what did we do in 1998 while planning for the future? We picked an old-fashioned name that NO ONE would be using. Perfect! No one named their kids NICOLAS/NICHOLAS anymore, right? Enter our Year 2000 baby boy, Nicolas…who has had only a couple of classes without another Nick in the bunch.

    *bang head against wall*

    Our younger son is Kalen. Pro – He doesn’t meet many other boys named Kalen. Con – He meets LOTS of girls named Kaylin/Kaelynn/Calinne/etc.

    *sigh, then bang head*

    1. One name we played around with was Amelia. Not rare, but not common or unheard of by any stretch of the imagination.

      My wife liked it because we could have called her “Ame” pronounced Amy – which I’m sure would have added to elementary school confusion.

  18. We named our daughter Kaia, which is an Anglecized version of “Chaya”, which is Hebrew for “Life” (more or less). We chose the Greek spelling, though, because we invited Kaia’s birth mother to provide the middle name, and she chose Arianna, so now “Kaia Arianna” in Greek very roughly means “holy ground”, so we hope that should she turn out to be immortal, she will always be safe. ^_^

  19. We wanted a gender neutral name for our son (Pat, Chris, etc.) Nothing we considered was appealing. When he was born, that night my wife hallucinated the first name, Keris. She heard a voice and added it to the list. It seemed right. Given that we are both makers, our son’s middle name is Joat (Jack Of All Trades) and yes, he makes things.

  20. I named my eldest with names that I quite simply loved for no apparent reason, Katherine Marie. It flows well and fits her, though learning to spell it was quite a chore for a 5 year old.

    My youngest i named after my maternal great-grandmothers Lillie Ruth and Mattie Ellen, she’s Lily Ellen. That’s my story anyways, hubby read the name Lily in HP and loved it and I was quite happy to go along.

  21. We have two boys, Charles (Charlie) and Lucas (Luke). Both are actually family names, fitting with the “classic standard old-fashioned is new again” theme. But the method in which we came to agree on them is where the geekiness factor come in…we used Excel to list names, then we took turns ranking each on a scale of 1 to 5. After one of us did our ranking we hid that column and gave it to the other, so our rankings weren’t influenced by each other. After ranking, we summed the 2 columns and sorted by the highest ranking! Saved the spreadsheet and just had to revise it for our second 🙂 We left it at the point where we had a top 2 or 3, and waited until after the kiddos were born to make our final decision. No regrets!

  22. Our son’s name is Willem. We both wanted a Will, but also wanted the option of a ‘formal’ version (for example my sisters are Penny/Penelope and Katie/Katrina). Thing is, I really don’t like William. So we went with Willem, and he is now called that more often than he is called Will – he just *is* a Willem.

    Inevitably people think it is William, or just think we can’t spell, but it is always lovely to encounter a Dutch person who smiles and tells us that their uncle or grandfather was named Willem, as it is a very old-fashioned Dutch name, and you don’t hear it much anymore.

    I would have liked to use Ralph but a) the Simpson’s Ralph Wiggan and b) my son was born in Australia and there is a Lad’s Mag there with the same name. But it is my grandfather’s name and I love it!

  23. Got a 3 year old daughter named Olive:) a two year old boy named Boston and a three month old girl named Sailor.

    My wife was set on olive for a long time before we were prego. While prego with our boy who was going to be Elliot we were sitting at starbucks thinking of what our next dogs name was going to be and me being from Boston decided that should be it. We looked at eachother an smiled. Nope that little boy was gonna have that name.

    We were gonna stop at 2 kids but then came up with Sailor as a unisex name and realized now that we had tha amazing name stuck in our heads we were gonna have to have another baby! Ha! That’s what happened:)

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