The Baby Name Buff: Mammals Edition

Yesterday, Kyle and I met up with our friends Jocelyn and Michelle. It was great seeing them after five years, and we had a wonderful day! What was especially lovely was meeting their adorable 6-month-old son, Hunter, and having them meet our little Felix (now 16 months).

Our main activity for the day was hanging out at the Virginia Zoo, where Michelle works. This zoo was really cool, and we saw many interesting animals, my favorite of which was the red panda.

Whenever I visit places with animals, my favorites tend to be the mammals (though I do consider myself a lover of all animals). Since I already did a blog post early this year on baby names inspired by birds, I thought now might be a great time for a post on baby names inspired by our fellow mammals!

Given how often I see the boys’ name Bear mentioned on the baby-name forums I frequent, I am really surprised this name has never been in the U.S. top 1,000. The fact that there are several famous people who bear this name also attests to its growing popularity.

I don’t know why , but I’m really digging Caribou (Care-uh-boo) as a possible gender-neutral name. I love Reba as a girls’ nickname, though Carrie or Rhi are also nice. Beau would be my favorite boys’ nickname, though Carr is also cool.

Even though fishers are often colloquially refereed to as fisher cats, they are actually members of the weasel family. I once saw a fisher at the National Zoo (I think), and they are absolutely adorable! Likewise, I find the boys’ name Fisher just darling, and others obviously agree; this name has been in the boys’ U.S. top 1,000 every year since 2004 (except for 2006, for some reason).

Probably the most common mammal-name-gone-baby-name after Fisher, the boys’ name Fox has been in the U.S. top 1,000 since 2016, peaking during its debut year (2016) at #747. This name is particularly popular with X-Files fans and nature lovers.

If Giselle can be a girls’ name, why not Gazelle (Guh-zell)? And Zella would be a cute nickname.

Geladas are monkeys native only to Ethiopia and are the “the last surviving species of ancient grazing primates.” Though unconventional, I think Gelada (Juh-la-duh) could make a very pretty girls’ name, even though it sounds suspiciously simialr to gelato.

Gibbon (Gib-in) could be a more unique take on the popular boys’ name Gibson.

The indri is one of the few obscure mammals on this list that I actually knew about before writing this blog, but only because it was included in my son’s book, The Alphabet of Peculiar Creatures. Indri (In-dree) would be a great alternative for those looking for something a little more unique but similar to the trendy girls’ name Indie.

Even though the loris has kind of freaky, buggy eyes, it still has a certain cute quality about it. And I really like Loris (Lore-iss) as a girls’ name.

Item #1 on my bucket list of things to do in my lifetime is to meet a moose int he wild. The noble moose is my primary spirit animal, as well as my favorite animal. As such, Moose was definitely on my list of boys’ names when I was pregnant with Felix. But Kyle wasn’t a fan; he said Moose sounded like too much of a frat boy / dude-bro name, which I suppose is kind of true. Even so, I still adore this name.

The nyala is an African antelope. I think Nyala (Nigh-aah-luh) works well as a girls’ name because it is unique but still kind of fits within the conventions of more traditional girls’ names.

I want to make every wild large cat my pet, and the ocelot is no exception. I think of Ocelot (Oss-uh-lot) as a gender-neutral name. I love Ozzy as a boys’ nickname and Celie as a girls’ nickname.

The okapi is another animal featrued in Felix’s book, The Alphabet of Peculiar Creatures. Okapi look like zebras but are actually related to giraffes! I really like Okapi (Oh-cop-ee) as a boys’ name, with Oak or Cap as nickname options.

Another animal I was not familiar with before writing this blog, an oryx is yet another type of antelope. But I already knew Oryx (Ore-ix) as a human name because of Margaret Atwood’s science fiction novel, Oryx and Crake, a book I’ve been wanting to read since forever. While I’m unsure if the character in Atwood’s work is male or female, I think Oryx would wear well on a boy or girl.

A phalanger is an Australian marsupial. And while Phalanger (Faal-in-jer) probably seems really out there, it reminds me of Salinger, which is probably why I think Phalanger could make a really cool boys’ name.

Oh my goodness–I can’t even handle the cuteness that is the sable! I had never actualy heard of this animal before researching for this blog, but I’m glad to know about it. I love Sable (Say-buhl) as a gender-neutral name possibility.

I love the Golden Lion Tamarin; its vibrant orange fur is so pretty. And Tamarin (Tam-uh-rin) is another fantastic gender-neutral name option with many cute nickname options, like Tam, Tammi, Ama, Marin, Ari, Arin, and Rin / Ryn.

Wallaby (Wall-uh-bee) might be my favorite boys’ name on this list! It is unique but really cute and still registers as something that really could be a name without raising too many eyebrows (if you care about that sort of thing).

Like Bear, I was shocked that this trending boys’ name has yet to break the U.S. top 1,000. Not only are there already many celebrities named Wolf, but this name is very appealing to nature lovers. (The wolf is my secondary spirit animal, so I’m definitely a fan of this adorable boys’ name!)

Meaning “fox” in Spanish, I’ve been kind of obsessed with th boys’ name Zorro (Zor-oh) lately, despite the violent associations with the fictional swashbuckling icon of the same name.


Photo credit: Lucky Lynda

The Baby Name Buff: Parks and Recreation

Do you love the TV show Parks and Recreation as much as I do? If so, check out this list of baby names inspired by Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) and her quirky crew.

Linsday Carlisle Shay (Parker Posey) is Leslie Knope’s former best friend who betrayed her by taking a job in and moving to–gasp!–the rich-and-snooty neighboring town of Eagleton. When I searched the U.S. SSN database just now, Carlisle (CAR-lie-uhl) did not show up as ever having been in the top 1,000, even though I get the sense that this name used to be very popular, maybe prior to when the U.S. started collecting name data. Just don’t name your kid Carlisle unless you like the Twilight book series, since that is the association most people are going to make, with the character Carlisle Cullen. Car / Carr or Lyle are good nickname options.

Another recurring bit character from Eagleton is Ingrid De Forest, played by Kristen Bell. DeForest (Duh-FOR-ist) was actually almost my son’s middle name, as an homage to DeForest Kelly, who played Dr. McCoy on Star Trek: TOS. (We ended up going with Felix Orion instead of Felix DeForest–a tough choice!) This boys’ name is a nice alternative to plain-old Forest, which is still a good name in its own right.

You know how some people have celebrity crushes? One step removed from that, my top fictional character crush of all time is the character of Ben Wyatt from Parks and Rec. Anyone who knows me knows I love nerds, and there’s no one geekier than him! To wit, Ben created an elaborate role-playing game called Cones of Dunshire (which is now an actual game you can purchase and play in real life). Dunshire (DUNN-shy-er) is a preppy boys’ name with multiple cool nickname options: Dunn, Shy, Shae, and Shire.

Who could forget the Pawnee Harvest Festival? An event Leslie Knope spearheaded to help save Pawnee financially, the Harvest Festival is consummate Pawnee–cute and super local. The girls’ name Harvest (HAR-vist) is becoming increasingly popular, especially as a middle name.

Burt Macklin is not a character on the show Parks and Rec. Rather, he is the alter ego of one of the show’s characters (Andy Dwyer, played by Chris Pratt). Andy is a lovable buffoon who–for various reasons–sometimes adopts disguises, the foremost of which is “Burt Macklin, FBI.” Macklin (MACK-lin) is gaining popularity as a boys’ name, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see this one bust into the U.S. top 1,000 for the 2019 or 2020 list. And Mac / Mack is an awesome nickname.

Orin (played by Eric Isenhower) is the creepy goth friend of one of the show’s main characters, April Ludgate (played by Aubrey Plaza). And while everyone on the show is a little afraid of Orin, there’s only one thing Orin is afraid of: Chris Traeger! (See the entry on the name Traeger, below, for more about this character.) Orin (ORE-in) is more typically spelled Orrin, a name that was in the U.S. boys’ top 1,000 sporadically between 1900 to 1961.

“We all fell into the pit.” ‘Nuff said. Can Pitt work as a baby (boys’) name? Maybe. I would see it more as a middle name, though.

Retta’s portrayal of Donna Meagle is exemplary in terms of how well she conveys both humor and deep character development. Retta’s character–in conjunction with her co-worker Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari)–also gifted the world with “Treat Yo Self ” Day, a concept I love and need to employ more often. The girls’ name Retta (RET-uh) is a fun, spunky alternative to its more common counterpart, Etta. I would also really like this name spelled with an h: Rhetta.

Ron Swanson–played by Nick Offerman–might be my favorite TV show character of all time, from any show. (It’s a toss up between him and Data from Star Trek: TNG.) Ron is a woods-loving, hard-core libertarian who loves steak, scotch, and strong women (who are typically named Tammy). So, naming your son Swanson (SWAN-sin) will no doubt set him up for a lifetime of badassery.

Rob Lowe’s character on Parks and Rec, Chris Traeger, is known for being hyper-positive, always staying ridiculously physically fit, and saying “literally” a lot. As a boys’ first name, Traeger (TRAY-ger) has a trendy vibe, with Trey as an obvious and adorable nickname.

Bonus Names
Plaza (for actress Aubrey Plaza)
Dwyer (for character Andy Dwyer)
Pratt (for actor Chris Pratt)
Rashida (for actress Rashida Jones)
Aziz (for actor Aziz Ansari)
Ansari (for actor Aziz Ansari)
Lowe (for actor Rob Lowe)
Pawnee (for the name of the town in which the show takes place)
Perd (for character Perd Hapley)
Hapley (for character Perd Hapley)
Jean-Ralphio (for character Jean-Ralphio Saperstein)
Dexhart (for character Councilman Dexhart)
Mona-Lisa (for character Mona-Lisa Saperstein)
Boraqua (for Pawnee’s sister city in Venezuela)
Mulligan (for Charles Mulligan’s Steak House, a place Ron Swanson loves)
Elmo (for St. Elmo’s Steak House, another place Ron Swanson loves)

Photo credit: Trending Topics 2019
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The Baby Name Buff: Places I’ve Lived–Newport News

As you can see from the other blog posts in this series, I have lived a lot of places in my life. But now, after years of transience, our family is settling down in the Hampton Roads region of Virginia. We moved to Newport News this past June, and we are still getting to know the area. But I’ve already discovered some pretty interesting baby name possibilities related to our new home. So, please enjoy these names inspired by the final destination in this blog series–Newport News, VA!

Aberdeen Gardens is a neighborhood in Newport News that I haven’t been to yet. But I love the girls’ name Aberdeen (AAH-ber-deen) for its association with the city of the same name in Scotland. This name also has a similar sound to the last name of the title character in The Hunger Games, and I like that connection too. Possible nicknames include (any of the spellings of) Abby, Birdie or Bertie, Dee, and Dean.


Newport News is a coastal area, so there are plenty of beaches to choose from. The only one Kyle, Felix, and I have been to so far is Buckroe Beach, a quiet, family-friendly beach that is only a 1/2 hour from home. As a boys’ name, Buckroe (BUCK-row) has a bit of a hipster feel along the lines of a name like Roscoe. Buck, Bucky, or Ro would all be cool nicknames.

Carver is another neighborhood in Newport News that I haven’t been to yet and thus don’t have a particular association with. But Carver (CAR-ver) strikes me as a really cool boys’ name that would be a fresh alternative to the wildly popular name Carter (#24 on the 2018 U.S. boys’ top 1,000). I like Carr or Vern as possible nicknames for Carver.

Because Newport News is near / on the Chesapeake Bay, there are so many things in this area with the name Chesapeake in them. As a girls’ name, Chesapeake (CHESS-uh-peek) would be a tough sell for me personally as a first name, but I actually really like it as a middle name. For those who would consider this name as a first name, Chessa would be a very pretty nickname.


Denbigh is a neighborhood in northern Newport News. So far, there are only two things I know about this area: 1) there was recently a fatal shooting there, and 2) the DMV is there.  Those are obviously both very bad associations. Even so, Denbigh (Den-bee) is an absolutely adorable boys’ name, so maybe it could work well if you’re not from the Newport News area. Denn, Denny, and BB are all really sweet nickname possibilities.

Newport News is a big military town. In fact, over the last four months, whenever we have told people that we had just moved here, every single person, without fail, asked us “you military”? (Close–academics.) I believe there are several military bases around here, but Fort Eustis is perhaps the most prominent. Because Eustis (YOU-stiss) reminds me of Eustace, I tend to think of this as a girls’ name.

Grafton is a town north of Newport News. This is another place I haven’t visited yet but plan to. I love Graff as a nickname for the boys’ name Grafton (GRAFF-tin).


Hampton is the city just south of Newport News, between us and Norfolk / VA Beach. Hampton is the home of the aforementioned Buckroe Beach, as well as many other great attractions. The boys’ name Hampton (HAM-tin) has a sophisticated feel without being overly stuffy.

The Hilton neighborhood of Newport News is touted by many as the best place in town to live. So, of course, Kyle and I had to drive around there and see what all the fuss is about.We were expecting really nice, new homes with some space between neighbors. Instead, we found some very old houses right on top of one another, and there was way too much stucco going on for my tastes. The streets were also really small, so only one car could drive down a lane at a time. So…not really my cup of tea, but to each their own! As a boys’ name, Hilton (HILL-tin)–like Hampton–has a high-class aura about it.

There are two main roads in Newport News from which everything else is an offshoot: Jefferson Avenue and Warwick Boulevard. It sadly took me forever to realize that Jefferson Avenue was probably named for Thomas Jefferson; I just kept thinking about the TV show The Jeffersons. Also,whenever I drive down Jefferson (which is every day), I get the song “Oh, Virginia” by Blessid Union of Souls stuck in my head, since that song is about the Hampton Roads region and has a line that begins “down the road on Jefferson…” The boys’ name Jefferson (JEFF-er-sin) has always been in the U.S. top 1,000, but it lingers between about 400-700, making it a more unique option than its more common counterpart, Jeffrey (which peaked at #9 in 1966).

Another military base in town is Langley Air Force Base. I haven’t been to Langley yet myself, though my colleagues at my workplace–Fear 2 Freedom–recently did an event at the NASA location at Langley. The boys’ name Langley (LANG-lee) seems very trendy to me, so I was surprised that it has never been in the U.S. top 1,000. I love Lang as a nickname, though the more traditional name Lee could work as well.

One attraction in Newport News that I’ve been really wanting to check out is the Mariner’s Museum. But I’ve included the boys’ name Mariner (MARE-in-er) on this list not only because of the museum but because, in general, the town of Newport News is coastal, so Mariner makes sense. And trust me–these people really want you to know that they are nautical AF; it’s like the whole town is one long “Under the Sea” prom night or something. Part of me thinks this is cute; part of me thinks it is a little tacky.

The central icon of Newport News’s seafaring ambiance is Captain Christopher Newport. I have heard conflicting things about whether this figure is historical or mythical. Either way, the town of Newport News itself is named for this man. And, of course, Kyle’s workplace–Christopher Newport University–is an even more direct homage to the Cap. As a boys’ name, Newport (NEW-port) strikes me as spunky and cute but also a name that would age well on an adult human.

Phoebus is a part of town in Hampton. I haven’t been there, but it looks really close to Hampton University, so I’m sure I will visit at some point. And, I don’t know why, but I have always loved the boys’ name Phoebus (FEE-biss)–so cute!

Like Grafton, Seaford is another town north (and, in this case, also a bit east) of Newport News. I’ve heard Seaford is a little more rural, so it is somewhere I definitely want to visit (and maybe even consider as a potential place to eventually buy a home, since it isn’t extremely far from Newport News, and since I’m a country gal at heart). Seaford (SEE-ferd) is a unique boys’ name, and I like Ford for a nickname.

As mentioned above, Warwick Blvd. is one of two main streets is Newport News. Both my and Kyle’s workplaces are on Warwick. As a boys’ name, Warwick (WAR-wick) would be an especially great pick if you’re a huge Dionne Warwick fan. And though Warren would be an obvious nickname option, I actually really like Wick too.

Photo credit: Boston Public Library

The Baby Name Buff: Places I’ve Lived–Urbana, IL

As a fast-talking, quick-walking East-coast girl, born and bred, I never thought I would enjoy living in middle America. But spending a few years living in Kyle’s hometown of Champaign, Illinois definitely changed my mind! Together, the sister cities of Champaign and Urbana have a population of about 100,000 people and house the main campus of the University of Illinois. Because of the U of I, the C-U area is bursting with cultural amenities and fantastic food. And yet, C-U still somehow has a small-town feel, relaxing life pace, and almost no traffic. Add to that the beautiful, open fields and ocean-bowl sky that you get to see every time you drive just outside the city, and it becomes clear that the C-U area has so much more to offer than outsiders could possibly realize.

C-U also has much to offer in the way of baby names! Check out some of these great options inspired by my favorite Midwestern town and its surrounding areas.  


For obvious reasons, the American Midwest is not particularly known for its hiking opportunities. But, since hiking is my favorite leisure activity, I made sure to find and frequent the few great hiking spots near C-U. One of my top picks is Allerton Park, known not only for its gorgeous hiking trails but for its many sculptures and other unique landmarks throughout the park, including the Sunsinger sculpture (my fav), the Centaur sculpture, and the Fu dogs (Kyle’s fav). As a boys’ name, Allerton (Al-er-tin) has a sophisticated feel and many nickname options. 

One of my favorite in-town hiking spots in C-U is Busey Woods at the Anita Purves Nature Center. But while I like the sound of the boys’ name Busey (Byoo-see), the prevalence of Busey Bank throughout the Midwest could make this a strange choice. Also, this name will probably put people in mind of Gary Busey, one of the weirdest actors out there. But, if a kind of quirky name is what you’re going for, then perhaps Busey will fit the bill. I like Beau as a possible nickname option.

While many of Kyle’s most formative educational experiences took place prior to high school, during his time at Countryside School, Kyle also shares many great memories from his 9th – 12th grade years at Centennial High School. In particular, Centennial apparently has a world-class speech program, which is what led Kyle to petition for entry into this high school in the first place rather than attend the school for which he was originally zoned. As a boys’ name, Centennial (Sen-ten-ee-uhl) might initially seem a bit much. But everyone hopes their kid will live at least 100 years, so this name could be appropriate.  

Devonshire Drive is the lovely, tree-lined street where Kyle’s childhood home resides. In addition to Kyle’s own lifetime of positive memories of this place, I myself have had so many great times on this street: camping out in backyard tree fort on my first visit to Kyle’s home, regular Sunday dinners with Kyle’s parents during the years we lived in C-U, putting up the Snowflake Arch at Christmastime…the list goes on! As a boys’ name, Devonshire (Devin-shire) has a distinguished and decidedly-English feel. And while Devon is the obvious nickname, Evan, Vaugh, and Shire (my favorite) are other great nickname options.

If I could move one thing from the C-U area to our new home in Newport News, it would be…Kyle’s parents! But if I could move a second thing, it would be…our friends Matt and Susan (and their adorable son, Gideon). BUT, if I could move a THIRD thing, it would definitely be… Jarlings Custard Cup!!! This local gem has been serving delicious, homemade custard since 1983. But if you don’t believe me about how amazing this place is, perhaps you’ll listen to Custard Cup’s most famous admirer—Tom Hanks! One of Hanks’s brothers is a Professor at the U of I; when Jarling’s almost closed a couple years back because the proprietors were retiring, Hanks tweeted his sadness about the situation. Luckily, a group of investors from the U of I bought Custard Cup, and it is still alive and thriving to this day. As a possible baby name, Jarling (Jar-ling) could work for a boy or a girl. For a girl, I like Arli as a nickname. For a boy, I like Arlin. But Ling and (goodness forbid) Jar Jar are other possible options.

Meadowbrook Park is by far my favorite in-town park in the C-U area. One of this park’s distinguishing features is that it is a permanent art walk, with dozens of sculptures around the grounds. Meadowbrook is also a great place to view wildlife in the city. Kyle and I have seen quail, deer, rabbits, ten million red-winged blackbirds, a crayfish, turkeys, adorable wooly-bears, and many other animals on our walks around Meadowbrook. The girls’ name Meadow (Med-oh) is a bit more popular in the U.S. than most names I feature on this blog, and its increased use continues to this day; as of 2018, it was the #516 girls’ name.

Mira is a tiny, “unincorporated community” within Urbana. I can’t even find a listed population for this place, and I only ever knew about it because there’s a random sign for it on the corner of two pretty rural cross streets just at the edge of town. Like the girls’ name Meadow, Mira (Meer-uh) is a bit more common than most names featured on this blog and continues to rise in popularity; it was #465 on the U.S. top girls’ name list in 2018. For this reason, I prefer a variant spelling of this name—Meara—a name previously discussed on my SNL edition blog post this past April.

While Morrissey Park doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of Meadowbrook Park, it is still a favorite of mine because it is within walking distance of Kyle’s house. I’ve enjoyed many rousing sessions of tennis at this park, where I repeatedly got my ass completely handed to me by both Kyle and his dad. The boys’ name Morrissey (More-iss-ee) has a very strong hipster vibe, most likely because of the obvious association with the lead singer from The Smiths.  And the nickname Morris is just adorable.

During our years in the C-U area, Kyle and I lived at two different places: one on Cureton Drive and one on Pond Street. These two places were only a few blocks from one another and shared the same main cross street: Mumford. Like Morrissey, the boys’ name Mumford (Mum-ferd) has a musical association to the band Mumford and Sons, another hipster-ish group. Ford would be a fun and quirky nickname.

Like I noted earlier in this blog, Champaign and Urbana are (contiguous) sister cities. But what I did not know when I first moved to the C-U area is that there is another small town that bleeds right into C-U: Savoy! The first time I heard about it from Kyle, I don’t know why, but I thought of it as this kind of mystical, Atlantis-like place that I didn’t know actually existed. And while it turns out Savoy is actually just another run-of-the-mill suburban locale, we definitely spent some good times there—shopping at Goodwill, going to the movies, eating at the cool local donut shop, or even roller-skating at the roller rink. (Yes, roller rink—look it up, millennials!) Savoy (Suh-voy) strikes me as a nice gender-neutral name option.

Bonus Names

Cureton (Cure-uh-ton)
Fisher (Fish-er)
Hessel (Hess-uhl)
Leverett (Lev-er-et)
Mattis (Mad-iss)
Monticello (Mont-ih-sell-oh OR Mont-ih-chell-o)
Ogden (Og-din)
Pennfield (Penn-field)
Philo (Phy-lo)
Porgy (Por-gee)
Robeson (Roe-bih-sin)
Tolono (Tuh-loh-no)
Tuscola (Tus-coe-luh)
Urbana (Uhr-ban-uh)
Vermillion (Ver-mill-yon)

Photo credit: Raymond Cunningham