Rare baby names that became popular overnight

We’ve all heard of iconically popular names (like Peter, Jessica, etc.) becoming, well, even more popular overnight. And even rare celebrity baby names have been known to rise suddenly to the top of the charts after they debut. But how does one explain truly rare baby names that have suddenly started soaring in usage, with no apparent impetus?

According to stats released by the Social Security Administration database (circa 2016 – 2017) the following names meet that criteria. And their abrupt surge is even more mysterious in that, as stated, their vogue can’t always be traced back to a specific phenomenon. We can’t pinpoint a celebrity baby name craze, for example, or a world event, or something else that one would assume might trigger an upswing in a preference for certain monikers.

Whatever the reasons, the below names suddenly jumped way up the rankings in one year. They’re all great names, and certainly all worth considering if you’re looking to get ahead of the trends with a truly unique moniker for your truly unique little-one-to-come.


A poetic name meaning “One’s own meadow,” the rare and lovely Ensley increased by a whopping 1461 points last year, thereby catapulting it from being the 2426th most used name in 2016 to being the 965th most preferred one in 2017. 

A variation on the Scottish name Ainsley (which also means “one’s own meadow,”) it’s hard to say what accounts for this moniker’s sudden vogue; can it be attributed to Elizabeth Piper Ensley, the famous suffragist? Probably not. It’s more likely attributed to the birth of Teen Mom 2 star Janelle Evans’ daughter Ensley in January 2017, though, who knows?

Behind the Name has little info on the moniker Ensley itself, but they do explain that its alternative, Ainsley, may be derived from the old English Anne, which means “alone, or solitary; coupled with “ansetl” (“hermitage”) or “leah” or “lea” (woodland clearing) a word we’ve come to know in popular parlance as “the grassy lea,” etc. In any case, Ensley is a lovely choice with a decidedly melodic ring to it — perfect for a beautiful baby girl, which is any baby girl, of course (but especially yours).


Up to a ranking of 886 (circa 2017), from a ranking of 1958 (circa 2016), the name Oaklynn (that is, with two Ns) doesn’t have much history as per Nameberry. Behind the Name simply describes it as a variation on Oaklyn and claims that is is, in fact, English in origin. 

Regardless of spelling, the association is immediate: South Jersey, anyone? The name Oaklyn (with one N) has also had a massive jump in the ranks. Oaklyn rose 749 points in 2017, making it the 676th most popular name in that year, up from its slot as 1425 in 2016.

As for associations, an oak, obviously, is a stately tree, whereas the girl’s name Lynn means “lake.” So if the the image of a placid body of water surrounded by trees gives you sense of serenity, this rare choice might just be a lovely option for your little one. Also, place names (like Aspen, Asia, Austin, Holland, and even France and Adelaide, etc) are increasingly a thing, and Oaklyn fits right in. With its pastoral and pretty association and a sound that rolls beautifully off the tongue, it’s a perfect name for any little girl.


Up to 828 in 2017 from 1668 in 2016, this — well, dreamy — moniker evokes all sorts of associations. There are numerous beautiful musical inspirations — perhaps most notably, “All I Have to do it Dream” by the Everly Brothers. There’s also the Monkees’ “Daydream Believer,” the Mamas & the Papas’ “California Dreamin,” and so on and so forth. 

While “Dream” itself is rare as a name, there’s an even rarer incarnation of it, as evinced by the actress Dreama Walker, for example. In terms of a pop culture influence that may have contributed to the name’s major upswing in the ranks, there’s Dream Renee Kardashian, daughter of Keeping up with the Kardashians television personality Rob Kardashian, and model Blac Chyna. 

Really, when you think about it, Dream isn’t all that different from other virtue and/or “word” names like Faith, Hope, Charity, Destiny, etc. But are dreams really as great as all that? It depends on what’s being dreamed, one might suppose. But when it comes to your baby girl, you sure will be hoping she’s dreaming as much as possible in those early months. And when she is, the REM vibe is definitely all lambs, bunnies, and beautiful things, all the time.


The name Melania was the 930th most popular name in the country as of 2017, up from 1650 in 2016. That’s a 720 point increase. Why the sudden hike? Well, we can all probably guess why. But it’s probably best not to delve too deeply into American politics. 

The name Melania, itself, is quite beautiful, and exotic to boot. A variation on the popular Greek name Melanie, Melania actually means “black,” according to Nameberry; it’s a more feminine, prettier Spanish variation on the variation ending in “nie.” 

In history, there was Saint Melania the Younger, granddaughter of Saint Melania the Elder, the who was known for freeing many slaves and for opening monasteries for both women and men. According to Behind the Name, the moniker Melanie was popularized in the late 1930s by the character Melanie Wilkes in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, and, of course, its subsequent film adaptation.


Orson Welles is the most obvious association, but this classical moniker, which stood at 1419 in 2016, went up to 915 in 2017. And, though Orson is obviously a great cinematic namesake, the name Wells has more than just moviedom appeal to it: According to Nameberry, it means “spring” (as in wellspring — the wellspring of creation, which is a great metaphor for upcoming babies if there ever was one).

There’s also, of course, novelist HG Wells of The Time Machine fame; in pop culture, the name (or a variation thereof, Wellington) was given a leg-up by maternity-and-baby-clothes entrepreneur Rosie Pope, who bestowed it upon her son. Behind the Name points out that Wells has traditionally been uses as a surname; but then again, surnames-as-first-names are becoming increasingly popular, so that could be a hint to it’s rising rank. Whatever the reasons for its popularity, Wells is a choice that has both class and elan.


Cairo, Egypt, anyone? This exotic name increased by 423 points between 2016 and 2017, going from 1226 to 803 on the charts. Nameberry simply describes Cairo (with a C) as a place-name, but babynames.co.uk explains that the K version of it is actually a rare Arabic baby name that means “victorious,” or “victory.”

South African entrepreneur and entertainer DJ Zinhle and rapper AKA chose to give the name (with a K) to their daughter, however. And as place names go, you can do a lot worse than naming your child after one of the cradles of art, anthropology, and, in general, civilization itself.

Cairo with a C is also the name of model Cairo Peele, daughter of supermodel Beverly Peele; both are known for the television series Growing up Supermodel. Though, what that has to do with the growing popularity of the boy-version of this name is anybody’s guess.


This wonderful boy’s name, which instantly calls to mind both the Caspian Sea and C.S. Lewis’ Prince Caspian of Narnia (who was later incarnated onto the screen) has become something of a sensation. Though it ranked at just 1196 in 2016, it rose to the 868th spot in 2017. It’s also something of a celebrity thing: in 2012, actress Neve Campbell of Scream fame, and her partner, JJ Feild, chose the name for their son. There’s also Caspian of Highlander: The Series, for those who are into that sort of genre.

The general consensus, then, appears to be that Caspian is both a notable place name and a notable literary name. But for some, the name’s lineage may matter less than the stately and, indeed, princely ring it has to it: It’s somehow heroic sounding in the timeless ways of knights, dragons, and intrepid world travelers and/or adventurers like Indiana Jones and co.


Nova, in the top 5 rankings for a boy? It does seem odd, as this moniker has generally/historically been used as a female name. Technically, though, it is very much unisex, and it means “new” — perfect for a baby who will be equally new. Nova is also, of course, an astronomical term used to describe a star whose brightness sparkles and ebbs, by turn — the perfect metaphor for a sleeping/waking infant?

In any case, Nova is a marvelous name; and it rose from the 1241th slot in 2016 to the 918th slot in 2017. The name can perhaps also be associated with Nova Scotia, a picturesque and idyllic coastal region if there ever was one. It’s also a moniker that’s almost certain never to go out of style: According to Behind the Name, it first began to be used by parents in the 19th century; and with its timeless associations and beautiful pronunciation, it’s a “star” that’s bound to keep on shining.


As wonderful and mysterious as the late Catherine Coulson, the Log Lady from Twin Peaks, was, we know that the sudden popularity of this name can’t have anything to do with her — or can it? In any case, this enigmatic boy’s name, which means “swarthy, coal black,” or charcoal,” rose to number 736 in 2017, up from its former place as up 323 points from its place at 1059 in 2016.

Whether you spell it Coulson or Colson, the moniker appears to be a derivative of Cole, which means the same thing; Behind the Name even suggests it may be a diminutive of the name Nicholas (we assume because of its pronounciation, Nick-cole-as?) or even of the old English name Cola, as in Coca. All very interesting; and then, of course, there’s the iconic nursery rhyme “old King Cole was a merry old soul” as a reference point. On that note, this is another example of a wonderful last name as a first name.

Colson is bound to be a great name for your baby boy, who will surely love playing in the dirt and getting sooty, anyway; as children do.

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