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!
*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.
*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).
*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.
*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! 🙂