Oct. 21, 2013 at 8:07 AM ET
Swimming just below our Most Popular lists are other baby names that are attracting new levels of attention, according to an analysis of 14 million views of our name pages for the first nine months of 2013.
Some of these are unusual names from traditional sources like the Bible and nature. Others are classic choices that have suddenly gone from dowdy to stylish.
Many of these names share a darkness, an edginess that may not at first be evident. It might be that in these vampire-threatened times, we’re more drawn to myths and pop culture sources that have a shadowy underside. Or it may just be that we’re looking harder for unusual names, in places parents may have shied away from in the past.
Wherever we found them, here are 28 surprising baby names on the way up:
The Biblical king’s name Asa is being rediscovered after a mid-century slumber thanks to young actor Asa Butterfield, soon to be much more famous with his starring role in "Ender’s Game," in movie theaters this November. A Puritan favorite, Asa relates to fellow hot choices Asher and Ace. Another soft-and-simple Biblical name attracting attention on Nameberry: Seth, the name of Adam and Eve’s third son.
Although the Azalea is among the loveliest of flowers, it has not been among the most popular flower names for girls, only squeaking into the U.S. Top 1000 for the first time last year. But the popular book "Entwined," by Heather Dixon, based on the fairy tale "The Twelve Dancing Princesses," focuses on Azalea the Princess Royale, leader of sisters Bramble, Clover, Delphinium, Evening Primrose, Flora, Goldenrod, Hollyhock, Ivy, Jessamine, Kale, and Lily. Another flower name we see on the rise: Magnolia.
Blaise has got to be the coolest saint’s name ever. I remember as a Catholic schoolgirl, on St. Blaise’s Day (Feb. 3) when we all filed into church to have our throats blessed with candles, wondering why more people didn’t name their little boys Blaise. Now, if our page views are any indication, they will be: We see interest in sanctified bad boy name Blaise surging. Another name with a similar sound also attracting attention on the site: Bay.
Blythe is a name that proclaims its happy meaning. At once straightforward and complex, Blythe is the name of Gwyneth Paltrow’s mother and Japan’s cutely creepy Blythe Dolls. Another name with a merry sound and upbeat meaning that we see gaining ground: Calliope.
Sleek, sophisticated Celia means “heavenly” and embodies an appealing international flavor. She’s got an impressive British literary pedigree, with characters named Celia appearing in works by Shakespeare, George Eliot, and T.S. Eliot, but would be equally at home in Paris or New York. Another quiet feminine classic we see making more noise: Helena.
Elise is the latest short form of mother name Elizabeth to become a fashion darling, taking up the mantle from Eliza, which took over from Alyssa, which was the love child of Lisa and Melissa. Perennially on the U.S. Top 1000, the French Elise is at its highest point ever, at Number 151, and is also popular throughout Europe. Princess Elise is the sweetie of Sonic the Hedgehog. Another elegant European girls’ name on the upswing: Isolde.
Norse goddess name Freya has long been a hit in the U.K. and a sleeper in the U.S., though we can see that changing. A new TV series, "Witches of the East End," features a lead character named Freya, played by Jenna Dewan-Tatum, aka Mrs. Sexiest Man Alive. And an interest in all names mythological can’t help but shine a spotlight on Freya. Another lovely old F-beginning a-ending girls’ name with mythological roots attracting increased interest: Flora.
Knox is a family name for the Jolie-Pitts, who brought it to the fore when they used if for their twin son. Now other parents are following their lead, with three other little star baby Knoxes born in the last few years and more than 800 boys named Knox in the U.S. in the most recent year counted, up from fewer than 100 in 2007, the year before Knox Jolie-Pitt was born. Also trending: the Irish Niamh, pronounced Neve, name of the heroine in Christina Baker Kline’s bestselling novel "Orphan Train."
Americans pronounced the final s while the French say Louie and the Brits distinguish between Louis – no s -- and Lewis, which gets the "s." Confused yet? This ancient royal name is making a popular comeback, which will only be helped by its use as the third name of the new prince George Alexander Louis. Another classic male name becoming more stylish: Vincent.
Is Persephone the new Penelope? The popularity of the latter definitely makes Persephone feel more possible. While Persephone’s mythological story may be often dark, it’s got an uplifting side: She returns to earth each year to bring the spring. Check out Appellation Mountain’s recent exploration of all things Persephone for more of the name’s back story. Another mythological girls’ name we see on the rise: Daphne.
The red-headed Reed can be so many things: a nature name and a college name, a surname-name and a literary word name. It’s got a sleek Waspy image….and yet one of the scions of the Duck Dynasty is also named Reed. Maybe that accounts for the name’s popularity, ironically even more widely used under the spelling Reid. Another boys’ name we see attracting more attention: Magnus.
Genius (literarily) Ronan Farrow is the son of Mia Farrow and….well, until recently it was thought to be Woody Allen, but then Farrow hinted it might be Frank Sinatra, whom the blue-eyed Ronan indeed resembles. Ronan has had an interesting name history, too, starting life named Satchel, then morphing into Seamus, and finally ending up as Ronan, a legendary Irish saints’ name that means “little seal.” Also gaining in views: Landon.
Sasha Obama has the kind of double-barreled name often favored by Berry Parents: Christened Natasha, she’s always been called the somewhat-related yet somewhat-distinct Sasha, giving her two names in one. While Sasha remains predominantly – 96 percent – a girls’ name, anecdotally we hear from a lot of parents interested in Sasha for boys. And despite its soft sounds, Sasha did originate as the Russian short form for Alexander. A similar-sounding name ranking higher in Nameberry searches: Saskia.
Valentina is a romantic name for this era, fresher than Victoria and Melissa, more unusual than Isabella or Olivia. Meaning healthy or strong, Valentina has ranked among the Top 1000 only for the past 20 years and is now solidly in the Top 200. Another powerful yet flowery girls’ name attracting more interest: Annabelle.