The Baby Name Buff: Trickster Edition

April Fool’s Day is this coming Monday. To celebrate, this blog discusses names inspired by the many tricksters of myth and folklore from around the world. Though the gods and goddesses, spirits, and other individuals on this list each fool others in unique ways and vary from fun-loving to straight-up evil, all of these tricksters have in common a desire to bring about chaos.

Like these fictional swindlers, I too have a trick up my sleeve this week! As you know, I only feature on this blog names that have never been in the U.S. Social Security’s top 1,000 list (from 1900 to the most recent data, currently 2017). However, I’ve purposely included in the list below one name that has been in the U.S. top 1,000 before. How dastardly of me—muhahaha!

But who will be the first to see through my deception? In the comments below, type in the name of the trickster whose name you believe has been in the U.S. top 1,000 before. (No checking ahead of time, and please only include a single name.) Whoever is the first to guess which of these names sneakily and erroneously made its way into this blog entry can choose the topic for next week’s blog—anything you want! 🙂

So, enjoy the names of these beguiling baddies, and be on the lookout for the imposter…

In West African lore, Anansi (pronounced Uh-non-say) is a spider trickster figure best known for fooling the sky god, Nyan-Konpon, into giving him all the stories of the world. This name would therefore be a good option for those who love myths, folklore, or books and reading in general. While the fictional figure Anansi is male, I think this name could work well for a boy or a girl. Ananse is an alternate spelling option, and Ana, Ani, Nansi, Nanse, or Nancy could be possible nicknames.

One of the nice things about the Native American trickster figure Azeban (pronounced Ah-zuh-bahn) is that this raccoon spirit is a benevolent, harmless entity (unlike some of the more malevolent entities on this blog’s list). From the lore of the Abenaki and Penobscot tribes, native to what is now New England and Canada, this funny and furry troublemaker is a central figure in tales for tots.  Alternate spellings Azban, Asban, and Azaban. Possible nicknames: Ahz, Oz, Zeeb, or Ban, Bahn, or Ben.  Based on these nickname options, I think Azeban would work best as a boys’ name.

A recurring trickster character within the oral stories of many different Native American tribes, Coyote is a particularly interesting figure because his deceptions are almost always unsuccessful, as he is repeatedly bested by other, more shrewd con artists (such as Rabbit). Coyote is a really cool, strong name that could work well for a boy or a girl, with possible nicknames Kai, Oyo, or Yote.

Those familiar with the Greek god Dionysus (pronounced Die-oh-nye-sis) know that he is the god of wine. But Dionysus is also the god of other things, among them “ritual madness.” That’s kind of a baller thing to be the god of. Because Dionysus was the son of a god (Zeus—who hasn’t that playboy knocked up?) and a mortal woman, he was considered somewhat of an outsider on Mount Olympus, and this fringe status is what caused Dionysus and his followers to subvert boundaries in various ways. And, like so many of the tricksters on this list, Dionysus can shape shift, a power which doesn’t hurt when you’re looking to stir up some trouble. I actually think Dionysus could be for boys or girls. Possible nicknames: Dio, Dion, Ion, Nye, or Nysus.

Eris (pronounced Eh-riss) is the Greek goddess of chaos whose trickery was the catalyst for the Trojan War—see The Golden Apple of Discord myth. Per this story, Eris’s trickery exposes the vanity of three other Greek goddesses (Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite), so Eris could be a great name if you especially want to foster in your child a love of what’s on the inside rather than the outside.  I like Riss, Rissa, or Reese as nickname options for Eris, and I think this name could actually work for both girls and boys, similar to how Ellis has become a gender-neutral name.

Gwydion (pronounced Gwih-dee-uhn) is a Welsh trickster figure, possessed of great magic, who uses his sorcery and illusions to deceive others into doing his bidding. One of Gwydion’s funniest swindles was when he temporarily turned some mushrooms into horses and hunting dogs, traded those animals to some king in exchange for the king’s magical pigs, and then left town before the horses and dogs reverted to their original fungal form. Gwydion would work well as a boy’s name, since this fictional character is male and given that this name is a direct and fun alternative to the much more popular name Gideon. However, since this name has a start similar to the girls’ name Gwendolyn, I could also see Gwydion wearing well on a girl. And I like Gwyn or Dion as possible nicknames for Gwydion.

Kitsune (pronounced Key-tsu-nay) is the Japanese word for fox. In Japanese folklore, kitsune are a group of trickster spirits rather than a single mischievous figure. With actions ranging from whimsical and harmless trickery to scary, evil deeds, the common moral of kitsune tales is that you should not doubt the powers of nor mess with these deceptive creatures.  Kitsune could be a great girls’ or boys’ name, with possible nicknames Key, Kit, Itsu, Tsu, or Une / Unay.

A character from a series of children’s “Trickster Tales from the Louisiana Bayou,” Lapin (pronounced Lah-pah) is a small rabbit with big wit who constantly outsmarts a big buffoon named Bouki. Since the word lapin actually means rabbit in French, this name would also be a great option for someone having a baby in the springtime or near Eastertime. While this name is already fairly short, I think Pan could be a good nickname (which, of course, is the name of another mythological trickster, discussed later in this blog post).  

Thanks to Thor and many of the other Marvel movies in which Loki (pronounced Low-kee) appears, this guileful, shapeshifting Norse god is already somewhat familiar to most Americans.  And it appears that the Marvel movies actually did a reasonably good job of capturing the nature of this god, a “scheming coward who cares only for shallow pleasures and self-preservation.” (See the story of The Kidnapping of Idun for a consummate example of Loki having zero loyalty to anyone and doing whatever it takes to save his own skin.) Possible nicknames for Loki are Lo, Low, Loak, Ki, Kee, or Key.

Just as Loki is now well-known thanks to the Marvel movies, almost everyone in the U.S. has heard of Maui (pronounced Mow-ee), the Polynesian demi-god hero and trickster, thanks to Disney’s Moana. One interesting tale about Maui is the story of how he (accidentally) created Polynesia. Maui was reputed to be a very poor fisherman; as a result, his two brothers refused to take him on fishing trips. When Maui used his magical fishing hook—a gift from his father—to trick his brothers into thinking he actually had great fishing prowess, Maui actually “caught” the ocean floor! After two days of tugging, part of the ocean floor that had risen above sea level is what we know today as Polynesia. Maui could be a boy’s or a girl’s name, though I’ve always preferred this name for girls, though I’m not sure why.  

The Greek hero Odysseus (Oh-diss-ee-iss) is best known for two major acts of trickery. First, he defeated a cyclops by tricking the cyclops into getting drunk enough to be defeated. Second, during the Trojan War, Odysseus conceived the idea of the Trojan Horse, a huge and hollow horse in which the Greek army hid and thus was able to clandestinely gain entry to Troy by claiming the horse was a gift of surrender, thus taking their enemies by surprise and ultimately winning the war. Possible nicknames for Odysseus include Odie, Dys, Dice, Sea, and Sias.

One of the oldest of the Greek gods, Pan (pronounced as spelled, like a kitchen pan) is a nature god, heavily associated with forests. Most of Pan’s capers are whimsical quests for romance with the many nymphs who frequent his woodlands. And though Pan is considered a somewhat wily character, his trickery usually does not win him the day, which is a departure from most trickster paradigms. Given how short this name is, I can’t think of any good nicknames for the first name alone; however, if you were to choose a middle name that starts with J, then PJ would be a very cute nickname.

In traditional folklore in England and other parts of Europe, Puck (pronounced as it is spelled or sometimes Pook) was considered a demon or devil who tricked people in wicked ways. But Shakespeare’s version of Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream changed this character into a more whimsical and lighthearted mischievous sprite rather than an evil entity. (It is possible that Shakespeare took some traits of Pan, discussed just above, into account when developing his Puck character.) Like the name Pan, Puck is too short to lend itself easily to a nickname, but the middle and/or last name accompanying Puck as a first name could potentially lead to some nickname options.  

Veles (pronounced Vay-lay-s)is a Slavic god who is the protector of many nature-related things—forests, animals, pastures, water, etc. Like many of the other tricksters discussed above, Veles is a shapeshifting god, and he typically transforms into animals to carry out his mischief. Veles is most well-known for his battle with Perun, another Slavic god. Veles is sometimes also known as Volos (pronounced Voh-low-s). Possible nicknames for Veles / Volos, include Vae, Vay, Ayla, Lace, Voa, Olo, Ohlo, Olli, Ollie, or Loce.

The Baby Name Buff: Spring Equinox Edition

This past Wednesday was Spring Equinox, one of two days during the year when the light of day and the dark of night are in perfect balance. Spring Equinox is celebrated in various religions and cultures worldwide; common themes among all festivities include fertility, new life, rebirth, and growth. Symbols of Spring Equinox include eggs, rabbits, and spring flowers. Here is a list of names related to the Spring Equinox.

Names of Gods and Goddesses

Cybele—the Greco-Roman goddess of fertility, pronounced Sib-uh-lee
Alternate spellings: Sybele, Cybelee, or Sibelee
Nicknames: Sib, Sibi, Sibee, Bell, Belle, or Bella

Freyja—the Norse goddess of fertility, pronounced Fray-uh
Alternate spellings: Freya (but in the U.S. top 1,000) or Freja
Nickname: Frey

Greenwood—the English god of fertility, pronounced Green-wood
Alternate spellings: Grynwood
Nicknames: Green, Ren, Rune, or Woody

Maku—the Chinese goddess of spring, pronounced Mah-coo OR Mah-goo
Alternate spellings: Ma-ku, Magu, or Ma-gu
Nicknames: Mak, Mac, Aku, or Ku

Mithras—the Iranian god of light, pronounced Myth-ross, Meeth-ross, OR Meeth-riss
Alternate spellings: Mithra, Mithros, Mithrus, Mythras, Mythros, or Mythrus
Nicknames: Mith, Myth, or Thras

Osiris—the Egyptian god of rebirth, pronounced Oh-sigh-riss OR Oh-seer-iss
Alternate spellings: Osirus, Osyrus, Ocyrus, Oziris, or Ozirus
Nicknames: Osi, Osir, Oz, Ozi, Ozzy, Ozzie, Ozir, Siris, Sirius, Cyrus, or Iris

Ostara—the German goddess of spring, pronounced Oh-star-uh
Alternate spellings: Ostarra, Ohstara, Ostaruh, or Esotre
Nicknames: Osta, Osti, Star, Starr, Stara, or Starra

Persephone—goddess, lives on Earth only during the light half of the year, pronounced Per-seff-uh-nee
Alternate spellings: Perseffone or Persephonee
Nicknames: Perse, Percy, Perci, Percee, Sepha, Sepho, Sapho, Sappho, Saffo, Onay, or Honey

Plant Names

Alder—one of three trees associated with the Pagan holiday Ostara (Spring Equinox), pronounced All-durh
Alternate spellings: Ahlder, Ahldur, or Aldur
Nicknames: Al or Lad

Ash—one of three trees associated with the Pagan holiday Ostara (Spring Equinox), pronounced Ash
Alternate spellings: Ashe
Nicknames: N/A

Birch—one of three trees associated with the Pagan holiday Ostara (Spring Equinox), pronounced Burch
Alternate spellings: Birtch, Burch, or Burtch
Nicknames: Bir, Biri, Burr, or Rich

Celandine—a spring flower, pronounced Sell-uhn-deen OR Sell-uhn-dine
Alternate spellings: Celendine, Celandean, Celandeen, Celendean, Selandine, etc.
Nicknames: Cella, Sella, Ella, Elan, Celand, Lan, Lane, Andi, Andy, Andine, Dina, or Dyna

Daffodil—a spring flower, pronounced Daff-uh-dill
Alternate spellings: Daffodill, Daffadil, Daphodill, Daphadill, etc.
Daff, Daffo, Daphne, Affe, Affo, Fodi, Fodil, or Fodyl

Moss—Irish moss is a plant associated with spring, pronounced Moss
Alternate spellings: N/A
Nicknames: Mo, Moe, Oss, Ossie, Ossy, Oz, Ozzy, or Ozzie

Primrose—a spring flower, pronounced Prim-rose
Alternate spellings: Prymrose
Nicknames: Pri, Pree, Prim, Prym, Ro, Roe, or Rose

Tansy—a plant associated with spring rituals, pronounced Tan-zee
Alternate spellings: Tansie, Tansee, Tansea, Tanzy, Tanzie, Tanzee, or Tanzea
Nicknames: Tan, Tans, Tanz, or Zee

Word Names

Alban—Alban Eiber means “light of the Earth” and is the name of the Druid celebration of Spring Equinox, pronounced Al-buhn
Alternate spellings: Albon or Albun
Nicknames: Al or Bano

Atalante—Greek name meaning “balanced,” pronounced At-uh-lawn-tuh OR At-uh-lawn-tay
Alternate spellings: Atalanta, Atalantay, Atalantaye, or Atalantae
Nicknames: Atta, Tala, Talia, Ala, Alla, Alan, Lan, Lane, or Lante

Balance—word name, appropriate because light and dark are in perfect balance during an equinox, pronounced Bal-ince
Alternate spellings: Balince or Balynce
Nicknames: Bal, Bala, Bali, Lan, Lane, or Lance

Eiber— Alban Eiber means “light of the Earth” and is the name of the Druid celebration of Spring Equinox, pronounced Eye-burr
Alternate spellings: Eiburr
Nicknames: Burr

Equinox—a day when day and night are of equal length, pronounced Ee-kwih-knocks
Alternate spellings: Equinnox
Nicknames: Equi, Quin, Quinn, Innox, Nox, or Knox

Haru—the Japanese word for spring (the season), pronounced Hah-roo
Alternate spellings: Hahru or Haroo
Nicknames: Har, Aru, Aroo, Ru, Rue, or Roo

Kani—the Finnish word for rabbit, pronounced Kah-nee
Alternate spellings: Kanni, Kannie, Kanny, Konnie, Kany, Canni, Connie, etc.
Nicknames: Ani, Anni, Ann, Anne, or Annie  

Krinon—the Greek word for lily, pronounced Kree-nun
Alternate spellings: Kreenon, Crinon, or Creenon
Nicknames: Kri, Kree, Krie, Cree, or Rin

Muna—the Finnish word for egg, Moon-uh or Myoo-nuh
Alternate spellings: Moona, Myuna, or Myoona
Nicknames: Moon or Una

Vernal—the Latin word for spring, pronounced Vuhr-null
Alternate spellings: Vernall, Virnal, Virnall, Vernul, Vernull, Virnul, etc.
Nicknames: Vern, Virn, Erna, Ernie, Nala, or Nalla

What do you think of these spring-themed names? What is your favorite spring-related name not on this list? Let me know in the comments.

Photo Credit: Jeremy Mikkola

The Baby Name Buff: Catholic Saints Edition

This Sunday is St. Patrick’s Day. In secular American society, this holiday is at best a day to celebrate Irish heritage (in a largely well-intentioned but bizarrely-caricatured and borderline-offensive way) and at worst a day when people get wasted to the point of illness. Don’t get me wrong: drinking is fun, and most modern-day Catholics probably wouldn’t look askance at people enjoying some libations from time to time. But I once saw a guy pee in the middle of a hotel lobby during the annual St. Patrick’s Day festivities in Scranton, PA…and it was only about 10 in the morning. Not cool, bro.

But for America’s approximately 51 million (adult) Catholics, St. Patrick’s Day is a sacred celebration of a man whose great missionary work in Ireland caused him to become the patron saint of that country (even though—fun fact!—St. Patrick is actually originally from Scotland). In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I decided to search for unique names among the other canonized Catholics in Patrick’s company, and I was not disappointed! Below are my top 16 picks (8 girls’ names and 8 boys’ names), but it was honestly very hard to narrow this list down with so many amazing Catholic saint names to choose from.


St. Scholastica (pronounced Sko-las-tick-a) is the saint of nuns and education. People also pray to this saint to prevent or abate storms, most likely because of lore that says Scholastica’s fervent prayers once caused God to create a storm so Scholastica’s brother would stay by her deathbed. In Latin, the name Scholastica means “scholarly.” The feast of St. Scholastica is February 10th. I like Chola, Asti, and Tica as possible nicknames.

I couldn’t easily find a source that directly states what St. Euphrasia (pronounced You-fray-zhuh) is the saint of. But, based on reading various versions of her life story (from sources like Life of the Saints and Catholic Saints.Info), I think that she would likely be the saint of manual laborers (since she was known to do penitent labor to avoid temptation) and healing (since she is reputed to have performed many healing miracles). The feast of St. Euphrasia is March 13th (or July 25th in the Greek Church). I like Phrae or Rasia as possible nicknames.

Having worked most of her life as a servant in a wealthy Italian family’s home, St. Zita (pronounced Zeet-uh OR Zeed-uh OR Seeth-uh) is the saint of those who serve others, including maids, other domestic workers, and waiters. She is also known for caring for marginalized people, including impoverished, ill, or incarcerated individuals.  Catholics often pray to St. Zita to help them find lost keys or to keep them safe when crossing bridges (though I can’t really figure out why, on either count). The feast of St. Zita is April 27th.  I think either Zee or Ita would be nice nicknames.

It is unclear what, precisely, St. Crescentia (pronounced Cruh-sentch-ee-uh) is the patron saint of, but since she was herself a nurse, my best guess is that she would be the saint of nurses, doctors, or other types of healers. I am also unsure what, if anything, the name Crescentia means, but the root word crescent always makes me think of the moon, so this name could be a nice alternative to more popular moon-related names like Luna or Diana. The feast of St. Crescentia is June 15th. I like Cress, Escent, and Tia as possible nicknames.

St. Hyacinth (pronounced Hi-uh-sinth) is the patron saint of “Lithuania and those in danger of drowning,” as well as pierogis. (Now that’s my kind of saint—a saint of food!) Elsewhere, St. Hyacinth is noted as the saint of weightlifting. And while St. Hyacinth was a male, I actually like this name better for a girl, probably because I first encountered Hyacinth as the name of a female character in a romance novel—don’t judge me. The feast of St. Hyacinth is August 16th. Probably my favorite nickname for Hyacinth would be Cinth.

St. Seraphia (pronounced Sir-off-ee-uh OR Sir-aff-ee-uh) is another saint for whom I could not find a clear indication of what she is the patron saint of. Based on her biography, I would guess she was a patron saint of the poor, since she sold all her belongings and gave the money to those in poverty. In Hebrew, the name Seraphia means “fiery ones” or “burning ones;” this meaning is morbidly appropriate since those who attempted to (and eventually did) execute Seraphia for being a Christian first attempted to burn her at the stake, but it is reputed that the flames did not hurt her in any way! The feast of St. Seraphia is September 3rd. I especially like this name as an alternative to the much more popular Seraphina, and some great nickname options are Sera, Seraph, Raph, Raphi, and Phia.

St. Leocadia (pronounced Lee-oh-kay-dee-a OR Lee-oh-cod-ee-a) is the patron saint of Toledo (in Spain). The name Leocadia  means “splendid brightness” in Spanish. The feast of St. Leocadia is September 9th. Variants of this name are Liocadia, Leokadia, and Laocadia, and there are many great possible nicknames, including Leo / Lio, Cade / Kade, Cadi / Kadi, and Cadia / Kadia.

St. Emiliana (pronounced Uh-meal-ee-ahna OR Eh-mill-ee-ahna) is the patron saint of “single laywomen,” so I feel like this saint is probably my favorite of all time. The name Emiliana means “rival” and is an Italian version of the name Emily. Some Catholic calendars have the feast of St. Emiliana on December 24th (shared with her sister, St. Thrasilla), while other calendars list St. Emiliana as having a solo feast day on January 5th. Emiliana is not only a great alternative for the extremely-common name Emily, but it is also a more unique option versus similar but more popular names like Emmaline or Amelia. This name also has some great nickname possibilities: Emili, Millie, Milia, Iliana, Lia, Liana, or Ana.



St. Casimir (pronounced Caz-ih-meer OR Cass-ih-meer) is the saint of Lithuania, Poland, and Russia.  In Polish, the name Casimir means “destroyer of peace.” (At first I thought this was a terrible name for a saint, but perhaps this meaning is actually religiously positive, along the lines of what Jesus says in Matthew 10:34.) The feast of St. Casimir is March 4th. I really love Caz or Cass as possible nicknames for Casimir, though Simi would also be a cute option.

Because St. Benezet (pronounced Ben-uh-zay OR Ben-uh-zet) was inspired by God to build a bridge, he is the patron saint of bridge builders (which one can interpret both literally and symbolically). Benezet was originally a surname meaning “blessed.” The feast of St. Benezet is April 14th. Possible nicknames: Ben, Bene, Nez, Ezet, or Zet.

St. Anselm (pronounced Ann-sulhm OR Ann-cellm) was another tricky saint to pin down in terms of his areas of particular piousness. But, based on his biography from several sources, like this Franciscan Media article, he sounds like the saint of scholars, philosophers, and theologians, as well as a saint known for service to the poor. Anselm means “with divine protection.” The feast of St. Anselm is April 21st.  I like Selm / Zelm as a nickname for Anselm.

St. Paschal (pronounced Pass-cal) is the patron saint of “Eucharistic Congresses and Societies and shepherds.” Assuming that the meaning of the name Paschal is the same as its more common variant, Pascal, this name means “of the Passover; Easter.” The feast of St. Paschal is May 17th. I like Cal as a nickname for this one.

St. Symphorian (pronounced Sim-for-ee-in) is the patron saint of Autun (in France). In Latin, the name Symphorian means “to bring together,” which is similar to the symbolic meaning of the name Benezet, discussed above. The feast of St. Symphorian is August 22nd. Either Symph or Phorian would be a cool nickname, though I think I like the latter nickname slightly better.

St. Cyprian (pronounced Sip-ree-in OR Sipe-ree-in) is the patron saint of North Africa. Cyprian means “man of Cyprus,” and the name Cyprus means “fair or fairness.” I am unsure of the exact date of the feast of St. Cyprian; I’ve seen September 11th, 16th, and 26th as feast dates associated with this saint. Other spelling variations of this name are Ciprian and Cyprien, and I like Cypri or Prian as possible nicknames, though I prefer the former nickname option.

St. Callistus (pronounced Cuh-lis-tis OR Cuh-lis-tus) is the patron saint of cemetery workers. The name Callistus means “most beautiful.” Two cool variants of this name are Calixtus and Callixtus. The feast of St. Callistus is October 14th. Based on this name and its variants, possible nicknames are Cal and (my favorite) Calix.

St. Odo is the patron saint of rain, which is a super-cool thing to be the saint of. The name Odo means “possessor of wealth,” though St. Odo’s wealth was of course not in worldly possessions or money but in spiritual riches like wisdom, grace, and peacekeeping abilities. The feast of St. Odo is November 18th.  And while I don’t actually like the sound of this name as much as many of the others on this list, Odo made the cut because I love the changeling character Odo on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.  

Which of these is the most righteous name of them all? Let me know in the comments!

Photo credit: Miguel Mendez

The Baby Name Buff: My Family Edition

Today is my birthday, so I thought this might be a good time to share some of the most unique names from within my own family. Enjoy!


The Gravianos
*Special thanks to my mom (Lisa Graviano) and my cousin (Nick Graviano) for their help with this portion of the blog.

As you’ve probably guessed from this surname, my Mom’s side of the family is Italian. Very Italian. As such, unique names are a bit hard to come by, since Italian families have some pretty specific and longstanding baby-naming traditions. But, with Mom’s and Nick’s help, I’ve come up with the following uncommon names that honor the people and places on my Graviano side.

Morisco (pronounced More-eese-ko) was my great-grandma Tessie’s maiden name. According to Nick, Morisco means “moor” in Italian. And while Morisco is a great boys’ name, I am particularly fond of the feminine version of this name, Morisca. For Morisco, I like the nicknames Mori, Moris, or Ris (pronounced Reese). For Morisca, I like the nickname Risca (pronounced Reese-ka).

The Gravianos are originally from Partinico in Sicily. Partinico (pronounced Part-ih-neek-o) is a fairly small town of about 28,000 residents that produces lots of great food and drink, including wine, almonds, and olives. Damn, I’m kind of wishing our family never left there! Possible nicknames for the boys’ name Partinico are Arti and Nico.

The Moriscos were from Bari (pronounced Bah-ri), a port city on the Adriatic Sea. Bari is also the town of St. Nicholas, as well as a college town. Sounds perfect! Once again, why did our family leave there?

My first cousin once removed (on my mom’s mother’s side) is named Saverio (or Savario—my mom wasn’t totally sure on the spelling).  Despite this awesome, unique (boys’) name, Saverio apparently decided to take on the much more common name Paddy. And then, as if that wasn’t common enough, he later went by the even more ubiquitous name Sam. I guess there’s no accounting for taste (and, in fairness, I suspect many people from Italy took on more Americanized names to try and fit in, not that they should have had to…). Possible nicknames: Sal, Aver (pronounced Ah-ver), and Verio.

The aforementioned Saverio’s last name is LiTrenta, which I think would be a pretty cool first name. And Trent would work well as a fairly-common but still pretty hip nickname. Other nicknames options: Li / Lee, Tre / Trey, and (if you’re feeling gutsy and really like The Lord of the Rings) Ent.


The Gundlings
*Special thanks to the late, great Warren Gundling (my Grampy)—who always regaled me with tales of our family members on the Gundling side—and Bernice Gundling (my Granny) for their help with this portion of the blog.

Like the Gravianos, the Gundlings have not historically been trailblazers when it comes to naming children. But there are a few hidden gems in our family’s past, as well as some great names that have been inaugurated by the current Gundling generation (and by “current Gundling generation,” I really just mean my creative sister-in-law, Carrie).

This hefty name belonged to my great-grandfather on the Gundling side (Grampy’s dad). Part of me honestly does not love the actual sound of this name. But another part of me feels like this name has some serious gravitas. I mean, you’ve got to be pretty regal and shit if you’re rocking a five-syllable name. (Even my long-ass, hyphenated last name doesn’t have that many syllables!) I like Bono and Ventura as possible nicknames for this sizeable baby boys’ name, but…

Bonaventura’s actual nickname was Fendor (pronounced Fen-door), which was an approximation of the middle of his name: Ventur = Fendor. I can’t stress enough how much I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this name! Fendor is another super-unique name that was on high on my baby boys’ name list but that sadly got shot down by my better half. I think I adore this name because it reminds me of Fëanor from The Silmarillion.  This name is so amazing to me that I almost would hate to shorten or change it in any way (now I feel you, Aunt Sally!), but I must admit that I also really like Fenn or Ender as possible nicknames.

My great-grandfather on the Smith side (Granny’s dad) was named Thomas Aquinas after the renowned philosopher, theologian, and (eventually) saint. And while Aquinas’s argument for the “Unmoved Mover” didn’t move me, this name definitely does. I think most people would consider Aquinas to be a boys’ name, but I could also see it working well for little girls too. Possible nicknames: Aqua, Aquai (pronounced uh-kwhy), Quinn, Ina, or Inas (pronounced Eye-nuss).

Wednesday is my niece, the daughter of my brother (Johnny) and his wife (Carrie), though this awesome name pick was 100% Carrie’s doing. For those who love the morbid little girl from The Addams Family, this name could be a good fit. But, for me, the name Wednesday will forever be associated with spunkiness and sass, since those qualities ooze out of every adorable pore of our family’s own little Wednesday. So, if you are looking for a name to set your little girl on the path toward being a strong, independent woman, Wednesday would be a good choice. Our Wednesday sometimes goes by Wennie (or Wennie bug) for a nickname, but Ness, Nessie, Essie, or Day could also work well.

As if having a daughter named Wednesday wasn’t awesome enough, Carrie upped the ante by solving one of the oldest naming dilemmas in the book with a super-cool name for her second (boy) child. The general quandary is what to do when your partner wants to make your child a Jr., but you love unique names and your partner’s name is super boring. In Carrie’s particular case, her husband’s name is John, which is as boring as it gets. So, Carrie agreed to name their son (my nephew) a Jr., but everyone calls him Jet (the initials for John Edward the Third). Jet is a name that seems like it would be super trendy and yet is still not in the top 1,000 in the U.S. What our own Jet is most known for is his encyclopedic knowledge of every creature on Earth. Seriously, I’m pretty sure he knows about some animals that science hasn’t actually discovered yet. So, if you’re hoping for a little animal lover or budding scientist, Jet could be a good name option. Unlike most names, which have a nickname shorter than the original name, our Jet’s nickname is actually Jetty (or Jetty boy).


The Ridgens
*Special thanks to my mother-in-law (Sue Garton), aunt-in-law (Jean Ridgen), and uncle-in-law (Scott Rigden) for their help with this portion of the blog.

While finding unique names was a bit of a challenge within the families I was born into, both sides of the family I married into (Rigden and Garton) have a wealth of unique names to choose from. The Rigdens boast some of the coolest girls’ first names I’ve seen in a while, as well as some middles names of the gentlemen in their family that could make killer first names.

Ridgen is my mother-in-law’s (Sue’s) maiden name. Changing last names to first names has been a trend for quite some time now, and I really love the sound of Rigden as a boys’ first name. In fact, we know that at least one boy in the United States has had the name Rigden; my uncle-in-law Scott, who worked as a medical doctor until his recent retirement, told us that he used to deliver babies during his residency, and one of the mothers named her son after Scott (whose last name is of course also Rigden). I’m not sure where to go with this one for nicknames, though. Maybe Rig / Rigg? Or Den / Denn? Or maybe Rigden is just too great a name to have a nickname. (P.s.–this was another name that was high on my list, but the hubby vetoed this one too!)

Sue’s great-aunt on her mother’s side was named Halcyon (pronounced Hal-see-uhn), though Sue notes that she always called Aunt Halcyon simply “Auntie.” Sue also described Halcyon as a real jokester, so this name could be good for those who are hoping for a funny little girl. And while this particular Halcyon’s nickname (other than Auntie) was Hally, there are many other great nickname possibilities with this name, including Hal, Halli / Hallie (alternative spellings), Alyce, Cyon, and Aly.

Another of Sue’s great-aunts was named Clermont and went by Aunt Claire. And while Claire is one of the few commonplace girls’ names I actually like, other possible nicknames are Lera (pronounced Lair-uh), Erma, or (if you like boys’ names for girls) Monty.

Sue’s great-aunts are a goldmine of awesome names. Her great-aunt Theodell went by Aunt Ted, which I love because boys’ names for girls weren’t really a huge thing back in the day—yay for breaking gender norms! But other possible nicknames for Theodell are Theo, Thea, Dell, or (my personal favorite) Della.

Rhodes is my uncle-in-law Scott’s middle name. According to my aunt-in-law, Jean, Rhoades was a family name on the Rigden side, but the spelling was accidentally wrong on Scott’s birth certificate, so it went from Rhoades to Rhodes. I personally think that’s a change for the better! And while I really like the name Rhodes itself, I love either Rho or Ode as possible nickname options.

Sue’s father, Russell Rigden, had Snyder as his middle name. I sadly never had the chance to meet Russ myself, but I’ve heard many stories attesting that he was a wonderful person, a fantastic musician (as are all the Rigdens and Gartons!), and a complete bad-ass for living a full and happy life after surviving polio. I was actually a bit surprised that Snyder was not in the top 1,000, though, since this name sounds like something hipsters would really love. So, be on the lookout for this last-name-gone-first-name to be on the rise in the next decade.

The Gartons
*Special thanks to my father-in-law (Roland Garton), uncle-in-law (Ray Garton), and cousin-in-law (Geneva Wainscott) for their help with this portion of the blog.

When it comes to unique (and sometimes outright unusual) names, the Gartons exemplify the phrase “save the best for last.” Both in quantity and quality, these names definitely take the cake for originality and rareness within my family.

Roland’s paternal grandmother was named Malinda (pronounced Muh-Linda), and Roland’s sister, my aunt-in-law Ina, also has Malinda as her middle name. On the surface, Malinda is nothing more than an alternative spelling of the common name Melinda. But something about that simple change from an “e” to an “a” gives this name a lovely and lofty cadence. Possible nicknames: Mali, all variations of Ali, Lynn, Inda, and Linda.

Roland’s first cousin, Lilinda (pronounced Luh-Linda), had a combo name before combo names were cool (eat your heart out, hippsters!) and before Stephanie Meyers created the horrible hybrid name Renesmee (in the Twilight book series). Lilinda’s name honors both her grandmother (the aforementioned Malinda) and her great-aunt, Lily. Possible nicknames: all variations of Lily, Lilin, Lynn, Inda, and Linda.

Roland’s maternal grandmother’s maiden name was Ina Barlow. I was surprised that this name was not on the top 1,000, since it sounds so similar to other trendy names like Harlow (which has been in the top 1,000 for girls since 2009) and Marlowe (which just eeked into the top 1,000 for girls in 2017 at #981). While I initially thought of Barlow as a boys’ name, I think it could actually be cute for girls as well. Possible nicknames: Bari (for some nice crossover with my Graviano side) or Arlo / Arlow. I also like the alternative spelling Barlowe.

Roland’s uncle’s name was Encell (pronounced En-sill, rhymes with pencil), but he actually went by his much more commonplace middle name, Dean. This was another boys’ name I really liked and proposed to Kyle (no luck again…), but I would have spelled it Ensel instead of Encell, since the latter spelling makes me think of a technology company or some kind of medication. Like…should I ask my doctor about Encell?

My cousin-in-law’s full name is Geneva Eygul Wainscott. All three of these names would make a cool first name (though Geneva has already been in the top 1,000 for girls every year from 1900 to 1995). But I highlighted Eygul (pronounced Eye-gull) because that name has particular importance to Geneva, as it honors her Russian heritage.

Safety aka Reuel
This is perhaps the most bizarre name-related story I’ve ever heard. Roland has a branch of relatives whose last name is First. When Roland’s uncle in that part of the family was born, the child’s mother wanted to name him Reuel Allen First (with Reuel pronounced Rue-uhl, similar to Rule), and that is what she called him. But his father wanted to name him Safety. Yes—Safety First! So, that is what his father called him. When the child’s name was finally legally settled, it became Safety Reuel First. Folks, I could not make this stuff up! While I don’t personally like Safety as a first name (even if your last name isn’t First), I love the sound of the name Reuel, though I would prefer the alternative spelling Rewell.

Which of my family members’ names would you love for your little one? Let me know in the comments! 🙂

The Baby Name Buff: Spices and Herbs Edition

Spices and herbs have long been a go-to source for baby names in the U.S. Rosemary has been in the top 1,000 every year from 1900 to the present. Ginger had its heyday from 1933-1989. Sage has been in the top 1,000 since 1993. Basil was a top 1,000 boys’ name from 1900 to 1971. And newcomers Juniper (2011-present) and Poppy (2016-present) prove that spices and herbs continue to inspire great baby names. So, for all you culinary geniuses and nature-loving hippies out there, check out these spices and herbs to find the right name for the budding little one who will soon add flavor to your life.

My Top Ten Picks


Native to the Middle East and parts of Europe, this aromatic plant is used for a variety of culinary and medicinal purposes (Pistacia terebinthus). Because Terebinth (pronounced Ter-uh-binth) is a pink, flowering tree, some might assume this name would only fit girls. However, based on the sound of this name alone, I think Terebinth would be a very cool name for a girl or boy. Also, I put zero stock in pink stuff for girls and blue stuff for boys; in fact, pink used to be associated with boys and blue with girls (When Did Girls Start Wearing Pink?). But I digress. Terebinth could also work well as a name for Christians who want a unique Biblical name or Muslims who want a unique Quranic name, as the terebinth tree is mentioned many times in versions of each of these sacred texts. Possible nicknames: Tara / Tarah, Terre / Terra, Ereb, Rebi, Ebbie / Ebby, or Ebin.

Zeera (pronounced Zir-uh) is one of many variations of the Hindi word for cumin (Indian Spices – Cumin). I love cumin because it is a versatile spice featured in various cuisines, most notably Indian, Mexican, Middle Eastern, and Latin American (How is Cumin Used as a Spice?). But while Cumin (in my humble opinion) would make a terrible baby name, Zeera (or its other spelling, Zira) is a beautiful name for a baby girl. I also think Zee would be a really cute nickname.

The Italian word for basil, the name Basilico (pronounced Buh-zil-ih-co or, Americanized, Buh-sil-ih-co) has a lovely, almost musical quality. This name would also work especially well for Catholic parents, given how similar this name sounds to the word basilica. Since a basilica is “a large and important Catholic church that has been given special ceremonial rights by the Pope,” (Basilica), naming your baby boy Basilico could be very auspicious if you hope that your child will be particularly pious when he grows up. Nicknames include Baz, Basil, Azul, Asil, and Ico.

Despite its alias white turmeric, the spice zedoary actually tastes most similar to ginger (White Turmeric / Zedoary). That comparison makes me really want to get my hands on and cook with some zedoary, since fresh ginger is hands-down one of the best smelling, most delicious spices ever. Zedoary (pronounced either Zeh-do-airy or Zeh-door-ee) is a great gender-neutral name option, and I really like Zed as a boys’ nickname and Doary / Dory as a girls’ nickname.

According to The Spruce Eats, Elaichi (pronounced E-lay-ih-chee) is “the Indian name for black cardamom.” Elaichi would therefore be a very flattering baby girls’ name, since cardamom is a precious and expensive spice that elevates any meal it is part of. Likewise, your precious baby girl Elaichi will no doubt bring joy to your every moment. And, as a Star Wars fan, I think Leia would be a terrific nickname.  

In the Urdu language (of Pakistan), darchini is the word for cinnamon. I adore cinnamon! When I was a kid, my mom used to give us cinnamon rolls every Christmas Day, so right there that gives me the warm and fuzzies. My sister-in-law Carrie also makes homemade cinnamon buns that are TO DIE FOR (or maybe to kill for is more accurate, since anyone who has already tasted these gooey, cinnamon-filled confections would definitely shank a guy to get some more). And cinnamon is of course prevalent in all of the best autumn foods and beverages, my top favorites being apple cider and pumpkin pie. Unfortunately, Cinnamon is not a great baby girls’ name choice (unless, of course, you want your child to become a stripper); but Darchini (pronounced Dar-chee-nee) is a unique boys name that does not have a similar career-related stigma. (All seriousness, though, I’ve got nothing against strippers; Americans can be so prude sometimes, geesh!)

Korarima (pronounced Core-uh-reem-a or Cur-rawr-ih-muh ) is also known as Ethiopian cardamom and is one of the many fragrant spices used in the spice blend berbere (Cardamom korarima). If you’ve never used berbere before and are interested to try it, let me know, and I’ll send you a delicious, simple recipe for berbere lentils (aka yemisir wot) that my husband and I love. The strong, smoky, warm taste of korarima definitely comes through to me whenever I taste berbere, so I think Korarima would be a great girls’ name for parents who are hoping for a bold but loving little lady. Possible nicknames: Kora, Ora, Ori, Ari, and Arima.   

Saffron (pronounced Sah-fron) is an extremely delicious but ridiculously expensive spice that I’ve encountered in some of the most delicious Indian dishes I’ve ever had (and that’s a lot of dishes, since Indian food is my favorite type of cuisine). Based on how dear this spice is (monetarily), Saffron would be a good name to highlight just how precious your baby is to you.  However, if you do name your little girl Saffron, be prepared for people to constantly tell you that they are “just mad about” her, and then you’ll have to live with the fact that you’re never going to get the tune to “Mellow Yellow” out of your head. “…they call me mellow…”—dammit! See what I mean?

According to The Epicentre, “cassia is an aromatic bark, similar to cinnamon, but differing in strength and quality.” I’ve always loved pretty much any girls’ name that starts with Cass—Cassidy, Cassandra, Cassie, etc. And I find Cassia (Cass-ee-uh) to be an even more beautiful, slightly less common version of those more mainstream names, so that’s why this spice name is in my top 10. I love Cass as a nickname, though Sia / Cia (pronounced See-uh) is also very pretty.

This pepper is named for the region in which it is grown in French Guiana (Cayenne Pepper). Cayenne pepper is not for the faint of heart, as just a pinch of this spice can instantly take a dish from mild to tongue-burning. So, for those parents hoping for a fiery female child, Cayenne fits the bill. Also, Cheyenne is one of my favorite baby girl names, but—alas!—that name has been in the U.S. top 1,000 since 1980. Cayenne is a unique alternative. Possible nicknames: Kai, Cay / Kay, Ann / Anne, or Enne / Ennie.

More Gender-Neutral Names

More Girls’ Names

More Boys’ Names

Comment below which of these spices would make your top 10!

Photo credit: THOR