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When all the name data for the most popular names was released, there were also several articles which looked at some of the names closer to the bottom of the popularity lists than the top. Dorcas at Names from the Dustbin calls these names Bottom of the Barrel – not meaning that they are necessarily of poor quality, but just low in the rankings.

Most names at the bottom of the lists are just re-spellings of common names, or short forms of names that are usually kept as nicknames rather than a full name. However, if you sift through these, there’s some interesting finds at the “bottom of the barrel”, and even some neglected gems.

These names are from the popularity charts of New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, and Tasmania. Nearly all of them are taken from the very rarest names in their state.

Adeline

This is a pet form of the French name Adele; the French pronunciation is a-de-LEEN, but the English is AD-uh-line. The name is well known from the American ballad Sweet Adeline, which was a standard for Australian folk band, The Seekers. There’s also the piece, Ballade pour Adeline, written for the composer’s baby girl, which I had to thump out tunelessly with my chubby fingers during many a childhood music lesson. However, Adeline has got considerably cooler since then; Kasey Chambers has a song called Adeline, Green Day’s Adeline Records handles indie rock bands, and Elliot Smith released his own darker version of Sweet Adeline. I read at Abby’s Nameberry Nine that Simon Helberg from The Big Bang Theory welcomed a daughter named Adeline last month, making it an up-to-the minute celebrity baby name. Adeline has never been on the Top 100; it was #162 for the 1900s, and then sank until it was out of regular use by the 1940s. Today it fits in well with Adelaide, Addison, Madison and Madeline; however it may be difficult for short form Addie to stand out amongst the sea of Maddies and Abbies.

Allegra

Allegra means “cheerful, lively” in Italian, related to the musical term allegro, and has a long history as a celebrity baby name. Romantic poet Lord Byron re-named his illegitimate daughter Clara Allegra Byron (called by her middle name, and originally named Alba by her mother). Despite poor little Allegras’s life being brief and marked by neglect, the name seems to have been an apt one, because she was described as a vivacious child. Her story didn’t stop American poet Henry Longfellow from using it as his daughter’s middle name; in his poem The Children’s Hour, he describes her as “laughing Allegra”. The American inventor and designer, Buckminster Fuller, also gave this name to his daughter. Allegra Versace is the daughter of Italian designer Donatella Versace, and Allegra Kurer is the daughter of British radio host Vanessa Feltz. In Australia, news presenter Jessica Rowe chose it for her eldest daughter in 2007, and last year it was chosen for the daughter of Emmy Kubainski. Frothy and elegant, with a positive meaning, this fashionable favourite would also make a good Italian heritage choice.

Bonnie

Bonnie is taken from the Scottish word bonnie, meaning “pretty, beautiful”; it’s derived from the French bon, meaning “good”. Bonnie has been used as a personal name since the 19th century, and was even sometimes given to boys, but received a huge boost when it was used in Margaret Mitchell’s popular romance, Gone with the Wind. Bonnie Blue Butler is the daughter of Scarlett and Rhett, and receives her name because she has eyes the colour of the Bonnie Blue Flag – the banner of the Confederate States in the American Civil War. British rocker Billy Idol, who sang Rebel Yell, named his daughter Bonnie Blue, and we had a Bonnie Blue competing in the Bonds Baby Search. Another famous Bonnie is Bonnie Parker, one half of notorious crime duo Bonnie and Clyde. Bonnie has been on the charts almost continuously, albeit in rare use in the 1950s and ’60s. It had a peak in the 1920s at #172, then peaked again in the 1990s at #157; it’s currently climbing in the mid-100s in New South Wales, but is obviously rarer in other states. It’s a sweet old-fashioned name which is also linked to rebellion, giving it a spunkier image.

Cleopatra

This Greek name means “glory of the father”, and is almost impossible for us to disassociate from the famous Queen of Egypt. From a dangerously inbred family of Macedonian Greek origin, she ruled Egypt alongside her father, and then her brothers (who were also her husbands), but then seized control and reigned alone for many years. She was able to align herself with Rome as both ally and lover to both Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, but after Mark Antony’s death, is said to have poisoned herself before she could be captured and humiliated. According to tradition, she killed herself with an asp. Her story captured the imagination of William Shakespeare, who based his play Antony and Cleopatra on the last part of her life, and her story has been made into several films, including the lavishly dreadful one starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Cleopatra is always depicted as a woman of great beauty, although early traditions suggest her attractiveness was based more on enormous charm and sex appeal. This ancient, glamorous name carries a lot of weight, but with short form Cleo becoming fashionable, some parents may wish for a long form of the name.

Elif

This Turkish name is after Alif, the first letter of the Arabic alphabet, and has connotations of “tall and slender”, as if the person is shaped like the letter, which is a long vertical line. It is pronounced ay-LEEF. You probably recall that Natalie Portman had a son named Aleph last year; Aleph is the Hebrew form of the same letter. The meaning of the letter goes back to the West Semitic word for “ox”, as the cuneiform originally represented the shape of an ox’s head. In Arabic, the word is connected via folk etymology to the word for “coy, tamed”, giving it a subtly demure feeling. It’s a common girl’s name in Turkey, and there are several Turkish celebrities with this name. There’s also a town in Turkey called Elif. I’m not sure a non-Turkish person would ever use it, but it’s certainly an attractive name that is easy enough for an English-speaker to understand and pronounce, once they’ve learned how it’s said.

Harlow

This name is inspired by Jean Harlow, a Hollywood superstar of the 1930s. With her platinum hair and vampish image, she was the forerunner to many blonde bombshells of the movies. Despite her beauty and success, Harlow’s life contained much tragedy, and she died of kidney failure while only in her twenties. Harlow took her mother’s maiden name as her stage name; her birth name was Harlean Carpenter. The surname Harlow is from several places in England. Harlow in Yorkshire means “hill of rocks” in Old English, while the meaning of Harlow in Essex is disputed. One theory is that it means “army hill”, with the idea being that local landmark Mulberry Hill was a meeting place for the local people. Another is that it means “temple mound”, as there is an Iron Age burial mound in the area which later had a Roman temple built on the site. Harlow is a unisex name, but more common for girls; the name came to public attention when Nicole Richie named her daughter Harlow in 2008. There were 20 babies named Harlow in Queensland last year, up from 12 the year before. Although numbers are still low, that’s a significant jump.

Pixie

This name is after the small mythological being of English folklore, tales of which come from Cornwall and Devon. They are usually depicted as small sprites who could be mischievous, but were often helpful to humans. A famous Australian with this name was the prolific illustrator and artist Pixie O’Harris (aunt of singer-artist Rolf Harris). Her real name was Rhona Olive Harris, but when she migrated to Australia from Wales she changed her name to Pixie because she was nicknamed “the Welsh pixie” on the boat over. A printer’s error changed her name from Pixie O. Harris to Pixie O’Harris, and she stuck with it as her pseudonym. Last year, businesswoman Roxy Jacenko named her new baby Pixie-Rose. I think some people will find the name Pixie adorably cute, and others impossibly twee; it’s bound to get some interesting reactions, and does have the fashionable X in it.

Sippie

The only person I know of named Sippie is the blues singer Sippie Wallace, who was born Beulah Thomas. Her career spanned seven decades, and although she found fame as a young woman in the 1920s, she was rediscovered in the 1960s and ’70s and was a big influence on Bonnie Raitt, who went on tour with her. Her album Sippie won the Blues Album of the Year in 1983, so her comeback was a definite success. The name Sippie is one that she gained in childhood because the gap in her teeth meant that she had to “sip” all her food and drink. Coincidentally, there is a place on the Gold Coast called Sippy Downs; its name is a corruption of an Aboriginal word meaning “winged creatures”, and interpreted as meaning “birds”. As Sippie Wallace was billed as “The Texas Nightingale”, I find this juxtaposition very charming. Sippie is an unusual name, but what a wonderful namesake. This would be very suitable for a family who loves music, especially jazz and blues.

Torah

In Australia, this name is well known as belonging to snowboarder Torah Bright, who won gold at the 2010 Winter Olympics. Her parents named her after the Torah, which is the Jewish word for the first five books of the Old Testament. The word is from the Hebrew, meaning “teaching, instruction”, however, Torah Bright’s mother believed that it meant “bearer of a great message”. Torah Bright is a member of the Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormon), and lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. There was slight disbelief at this name on The Baby Name Wizard, with a couple of people feeling that it seemed rather offensive, or at least strange. Torah’s name was reported on in Washington Jewish Week; there was no mention of it being offensive to Jews, but they did appear to find it slightly amusing. Like calling your child Bible or Gospel, many will find this name a head-scratcher. It would be given in honour of our Olympic champion, but the religious ramifications may be lost on some people. The fact that it sounds as if it could be short for Victoria is probably a help.

Zahlia

This name is pronounced ZAH-lee-uh, and as far as I’m aware, it’s a modern invention. It seems to be an elaboration of the name Zali; Zali Steggall is Australia’s most internationally successful alpine skier (now retired). Her name has proven a great success here, and spawned many variants, such as Zarly, Zahlee, Zalie etc. It’s unclear where the Stegalls got the name Zali from, and to the best of my knowledge, it’s made up. Zahlia does well in Australia, because it sounds rather exotic, while also being similar to popular names such as Zara and Tahlia (it even looks like a combination of those names). Despite being listed as a rare name, I have seen some parents dismiss Zahlia as being “too common”; perhaps it’s not rare enough to seem “unique”, or perhaps the many variants and sound-alike names make it appear to be one of the pack.

(Picture is from one of the posters for the 1963 movie Cleopatra)

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