There are some names that, even now, after writing so much about the subject, I hear and think, "Wow, that's a great name. I wonder why people don't use that one more often?"
Sometimes, the answer is that a name was just too popular too recently for parents to appreciate its intrinsic wonderfulness: the lush biblical Deborah is one that might fit in this category, though I didn't include it in my ten examples.
Other times, a name carries an unappealing association for enough people to keep it from becoming popular. And there are a dozen other reasons why a perfectly wonderful name just might not make it big - which can be good news for the parent in search of a name that's both top-notch and undiscovered.
Here, ten names we think are underrated right now:
BARNABY - This name scores high by virtue of feeling both energetic and classical, a rarity among boys' names. The medieval English form of an ancient Aramaic name that means "son of the prophet" or "son of encouragement," Barnabas was given as a surname to a biblical missionary named Joseph.
BRIDGET - The original Brighid was the ancient Irish goddess of poetry, fire, and wisdom, and the name in its many versions has been born by a host of saints, servants, and one extremely curvaceous French actress. An Irish immigrant maid was commonly called a "Bridget," an epithet that caused many young women to change their names to something more acceptable, like Bertha. But today, the original Bridget or Brigitte or Brigid or Birgitta is much more appealing.
DINAH - The Old Testament Dinah - pronounced dye-nah - was the daughter of Jacob and Leah whose story was popularized by the novel "The Red Tent." The beauty of this classical name was obscured by so many similar and more popular versions: Dena and Deena and Diane and Diana. But Dinah, if you can get people to say it properly, remains a relatively undiscovered gem.
GREGORY - Gregory is one of those names that, like Deborah, was so popular in recent decades that parents tend to bypass it now: It peaked in 1962 and remained in the Top 50 through the late 1980s, though now it's down to number 223. Greek for "vigilant" or "a watchman," Gregory remains a name that's both strong and friendly. The highly respectable name of popes and saints, it also carries the earthy short form Greg.
MARGARET - Margaret was so widely used for so long - it remained in the Top 25 from 1880 well into the 1950s - that it came to be seen as one of those quintessential old lady names, but not in a good way. Greek for "pearl," Margaret has a rich, classic feel and was the name of many queens and saints. Another plus: a raft of great nicknames, from older choices like Peggy, Meg, and Maggie to new spins such as Maisie or Molly. The French Marguerite is very fashionable.
OLYMPIA - Why has Olivia achieved mega-popularity while Olympia has languished? The mythological connection might be a negative, or is it something about that "limp" sound? Whatever: It's a name of champions and the fewer people that realize that, the better it will be for the selective few discerning enough to choose it.
REUBEN - The sandwich connection may be what's holding back this Old Testament name from catching up with mega-popular brothers like Jacob and Benjamin. The stylishness of sister Ruby may give this name a boost. It's a treasure for adventurous yet classical-minded namers....and it can even work for girls.
ROY - This name that means king has a mid-century cool-guy feel, thanks to Roy Orbison and Roy Rogers. It's short, it's simple, yet it stands out: What more could you want from a boy's name? The next Ray.
TABITHA - Forever Samantha's daughter on Bewitched, this exotic choice from the New Testament never became as popular as her mother. Like Keziah or Lydia, Tabitha is that rare Biblical girls' name that remains distinctive yet feels totally appropriate for modern life. The nickname Tabby is cute, but the name really blossoms in its full form.
THOMAS - Thomas is not exactly an underused name, but it is an underrated one. So plain as to fade into the background, Thomas and Tom are masculine names that manage to be at once soft and strong, modern and traditional. Originally used only for priests, Thomas is Aramaic for "twin" and comes attached to many appealing figures, including Thomas Edison and Jefferson, Tom Sawyer and Hanks.
Pamela Redmond Satran is the coauthor of ten baby-naming guides, including Beyond Ava & Aiden, due out next month, and a developer of nameberry.