When it comes to baby names, poetic darkness isn’t, admittedly, a quality most parents are looking for. Nevertheless, the world abounds with deliciously enigmatic and ghostly names, whether they hail from classical Gothic literature or from the kind of classical mythology that’s always fraught with memorable drama.
The word "haunting," of course, can mean anything from unforgettably beautiful to mythically or paranormally symbolic. One might think of Edgar Allan Poe’s indefatigable heroine Ligeia, or perhaps of the dearly departed Lenore of The Raven fame. Others might think of Mina Harker of Dracula, or of novelist Sheridan Le Fanu’s iconic vampire Carmilla, who also went by the anagrams Mircalla and Millarca, to disguise her identities throughout the centuries. Some might think of Bewitched darling Tabitha. Or even of the fairly popular name Colby, which means "coal town," or "dark town" — an aspect that gives it an evocative, "whistling past the graveyard" kind of folklore appeal.
In any case, dark names can be every bit as poetically beautiful as light and angelic ones, so read on for a list of gems that just might be perfect for your little one. Even if they’re not a Halloween baby-proper.
"Here was indeed the triumph of all things heavenly," wrote Edgar Allan Poe of his protagonist Ligeia. Though Poe’s heroine, an intellectually brilliant and beautiful woman, succumbs to a dramatic ailment (consumption), her lust for life is so intense that she eventually succeeds in coming back to life, with all her beauty and vitality intact. Or at least that’s what the story implies. So if you’re looking for a beautiful Gothic baby name that also denotes determination and longevity (after a fashion), this might be for you.
According to The Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, Ligeia was also one the Sirens who tried to lure Odysseus and his men to a seductive death at sea in Homer’s The Odyssey — by way, of course, of her mesmerizing voice. Her name translates to "clear-voiced, whistling," according to Nameberry.
Fans of cheesy horror movies might enjoy the fact that she’s the subject of Roger Corman’s fun camp classic The Tomb of Ligeia, in which she takes the form of a sleek black cat who’s none too pleased with the fact that her tormented widower (Vincent Price) has taken it upon himself to acquire another bride.
Pronounced "Heck-a-tee," this ancient and epic name is both catchy and powerful. According to mythology, Hecate (sometimes spelled Hekate) was a goddess who was associated with witchcraft, magic, doorways, creatures of the night, and the moon itself. However, she was also a guardian of crossroads. Moreover, as the ancient Greek poet Hesoid pointed out, she was a great supporter of "warriors, athletes, hunters, horsemen, herdsmen, shepherds, fishermen, and children."
Hecate also notably appears in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, brimming with ominous tidings: "I have a lot to do before noon/An important droplet is hanging from the corner of the moon." Fans of Showtimes‘ now unfortunately defunct (but hit) series Penny Dreadful will also be familiar with Hecate Poole, the shapeshifting but ultimately decent (if conflicted) witchy seductress who falls in love with Josh Hartnett’s Ethan Chandler, himself an occasional werewolf.
With its Shakespearean, mythological, and pop culture associations, then, Hecate is a sure winner. And you can pretty much rest assured that no other kid in the school (or on the block) is going to have the name, so if it’s uniqueness you’re after, Hecate might just be the perfect moniker for your own adorable little witchy goddess.
No, it’s not just the name of one of the world’s most beloved cult cosmetics brands. Nyx is also the goddess of the night. As the Theoi Project explains it, she was an integral part of the dawn of creation itself, being the child of Chaos; but, interestingly and paradoxically enough, her union with Erebos (aka Darkness) ended up producing Aether (aka Light) and Hemera (aka Day).
Nyx also has some pretty impressive astronomy associations to her credit. In 2005, NASA discovered a series of small moons dancing around Pluto, and named one of them after the goddess (though they modified the spelling to Nix).
Young readers might also know the name Nyx from the popular Goddess Girls series: in Nyx the Mysterious, the plucky queen of the night enrolls at Mount Olympus Academy, where all sorts of adventures ensue. Another interesting aspect of the name is that it can theoretically be unisex, as in the case of Final Fantasy protagonist Nyx Ulric.
So who knows? If you were planning on going with a more standard baby name like John or Mary, you might want to "nix" that idea and go with something epic and mythological instead.
Pronounced "E-on-thee" (or according to preference, "Eye-on-the") this lovely Greek name, which means "purple flower," is both versatile and rich in literary history. The versatility factor comes from the abundance of purple flowers the world has to offer. Since Ianthe only references a flower color, and not a specific type of blossom, the name can refer to anything from lilacs to violets to lavender to wisteria to hydrangeas.
Ianthe was also the daughter of poet Percy Bysshe Shelley — she was one of his few surviving children — and he wrote a number of poems for her, including 1831’s To Ianthe: "More dear art thou, O fair and fragile blossom/Dearest when most thy tender traits express/The image of thy mother’s loveliness." Interestingly, Shelley’s close friend and poet Lord Byron also nicknamed one of his muses, Lady Charlotte Hardy, Ianthe; he dedicated a celebrated poem to her.
Ianthe is also the name of the daughter of famed counter-cultural novelist Richard Brautigan, who perhaps had Shelley’s daughter in mind when he collaborated in naming his own child. Too, Ianthe is a Greek ocean nymph, according to Behind the Name. As of 2017, it was the 589th most popular moniker on Nameberry.
In addition to being the name of Kyle MacLachlan (aka Agent Cooper’s) son, this wonderful Scottish baby name, which translates to "dove," is starting to become vogue on American shores (in fact, it’s been steadily rising in popularity in the US since 2008).
Behind the Name points out that Callum is actually a variation on several other names, including Cailean, Colm, and the far more popular Colin. But none of those seem to have as unique and as memorable of a ring to them, somehow.
Originally, Callum (sometimes spelled "Calum") was a Latin name, and it references the good Saint Columba, "the Apostle of Caledoniam," and the Patron Saint of Derry, Ireland. So if you consider being haunted by a saint a good thing, then the name would certainly count as "haunting," in the most benevolent of ways. Just think of it as having a Casper the friendly ghost kind of a vibe.
With its meaning of "fruitful, fertile," this fantastic Irish baby name, which looks like "dare" with a twist but is actually pronounced "daw-ra," has rich roots in Irish mythology, most notably in the epic poem The Cattle Raid of Cooley.
Behind the Name charts show Daire as being a pretty steadily popular name in Northern Ireland from 2001 to 2015. It’s also unique because its spelling contrasts so fascinatingly with its actual pronunciation: as in other Irish names like the female Saoirse (which is actually pronounced "Sear-sha), it takes the eye on an entirely separate journey from the palate.
In fact, its pronunciations may be legion: according to other sources, it can be pronounced, by turns, as "de-rye-ah" (English), "dairy" (English UK) or just flat-out "dare" (Canadian). In any case, it’s kind of a shape-shifting name, and everyone knows that shapeshifting things are generally haunted. In a whimsical way.
If you’re looking for a witchy, evocative, autumnal name that packs a profound punch, Salem is a great choice. And it’s certainly a unique one in a world where "place" names (like Brooklyn, Dallas, Paris, London, etc.) are most definitely a thing.
Yes, the name evokes images of the Salem Witch Trials, which were obviously a tragedy of epic proportion. But there’s more to it than that. Today, the women who were accused are now considered to be martyrs and symbols of innocents wronged, and the Massachusetts General Court even established day of tribute to the victims as early as 1697.
Nowadays, however, Salem is mostly associated with Halloween, harvest festivals, pumpkins, cider, and the excitement of autumn and all the crunching leaves, candy corn, and hayrides that come with it. In other words, it’s a name that has historical significance, and that’s also a nod to the ebullient joys of life in picturesque New England. Plus, it’s a strong name with some powerful feminist connotations. Which makes it pretty badass, and more than a little haunting.
This wonderful Irish baby name comes to us from cats, and particularly from the famous, and ancient, Irish poem Pangur-Ban, which was written by a monk about his beloved white feline. The word "ban" means "white," in Gaelic. The poem has been translated by many scholars over the years, including poet W.H. Auden and the late, august Irish poet Seamus Heaney.
But the name is also great for a baby for another reason. The legend of the monk and his cherished cat has been adapted into an acclaimed children’s picture book, which is designed for preschool-aged children. Pangur-Ban also features in the 2009 children’s film The Secret of Kells. So to sum it up, the name is charming as all get-out all the way across the board.
It’s also really rare: Nameberry doesn’t even have any stats on it. And as far as "haunting" goes, what ghost can be better than the ghost of an angelic white cat?
There really is something to a name, or a phrase, that’s just straight-up beautiful to hear, whether it means anything profound or not. That’s the logic behind the famous "cellar door" philosophy of linguistics, anyway — and there’s a lot of truth to it.
"L" names have a tendency to be particularly gorgeous and lilting, mostly because of L’s fluidity and effortlessly transitional quality as a sound. The name "Lilia" is actually not all that uncommon. Though it’s not popular in the US, Nameberry shows it as the 270th most popular name in Germany as of 2016, and the 399th most popular name in England, also as of 2016.
Lilia (or Lillia, if you will) is a flower name. It comes from "Lily," and its more well-known (and equally beautiful) variations, like Liliana, Lalaina, and the old-fashioned Lillian, are more or less household names. But if you’re looking for a name that’s going to sound hauntingly lovely no matter who’s pronouncing it or how it’s spelled, Lilia is a wonderful choice, and kind of a perpetual dessert for the palate as well. Just call it the Cellar Door of Female Names.
Freya (or Freyja, as you prefer) is yet another powerful warrior name for a powerful warrior girl. The mythological Freya was a revered Norse goddess who presided over "love, fertility, battle, and death," according to legend. She was the daughter of the sea god Njord, and had a fabulous mode of transportation in the form of a chariot drawn by cats.
Fierce as she was, she was also sentimental, and was known to weep tears of gold. And as far as death went, her privileges were indeed profound. She got to decide which fallen soldiers would enter her particular segment of heaven (a variation of Valhalla) after their heroic deaths. She was also revered for her beauty, and known for her many lovers.
The name Freya literally translates to "noble woman," and Nameberry calls it "one of the fastest rising names of the past few years," which probably means you have, in fact, heard of it. As of 2013, it’s been climbing the charts in the US, which must mean that its haunting quality is becoming even more haunting.
As a Queen of Macedonia and the daughter of the great Egyptian ruler Ptolemy, founder of the Ptolemaic dynasty, Lysandra was as powerful a figure as her epic name suggests. Her moniker also, however, refers to a species of exquisitely lovely blue butterfly, the Lysandra Bellargus, a painterly beauty of nature if there ever was one.
As Nameberry explains it, Lysandra is also a female version of the name Lysander, one of the star-crossed, enchanted lovers in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Like its male counterpart, Lysandra means "liberator," so it’s a moniker that has some pretty powerful feminist connoations to it, as well.
In pop culture, Lysandra is also a powerful witch, and a member of the Black Family Tree, in Harry Potter. So if you’re looking for a name that has strength, beauty, and an array of very interesting (and quite divergent) meanings attached to it, this gorgeous moniker might just be perfect for you and yours.
Pronuonced Al-sigh-eh-nee (or Al-see-oh-nee), this beautiful baby name comes to us from a tragic but ultimately uplifting (at least symbolically) tale out of Greek mythology. Alcyone was the wife and true love of Ceyx, a sailor; the pair was said to have angered the gods Zeus and Hera by comparing themselves to said deities, and Zeus retaliated by sinking Ceyx’s ship by striking it with a thunderbolt.
When the ghost of her husband appeared to her in a dream to tell her what had happened, a heartbroken Alcyone threw herself into the sea, and the gods, remorseful for their own venegeful conduct, turned the pair into halcyon birds/kingfishers, which thereafter flew and swooped together through the sky in ecstatic reunion, their troubles at an end.
So, there you have it: sad/happy, but most definitely epic and unique. As Behind the Name points out, Alcyone name is also the name of the brightest star in the pleaides.
Pronounced "Nee-eh-va," this beautiful Spanish name, which means "snow, or "it’s snowing," is an evocative and very rarely used "nature" name, far less popular than other monikers (like the Welsh Eira) that also mean "snow." It’s also rarer than almost all female names that allude to winter in general, like Holly; or, indeed, Winter (or Wynter, as it’s often spelled nowadays).
Nameberry describes Nieva as being a variation on the male name Nieves, which also means "snow" and is associated with the Virgin Mary, who was said to have performed a miracle (known as Nuestra Senora de la Nieves) having to do with unmelted snow appearing in the summer heat in Rome.
In other words, Nieva is loaded with poetic symbolism, and if you’re looking for a lovely name for a winter baby (or, who knows? Perhaps even one born in August, like the above-mentioned miracle) Nieva might be well worth considering.
With its meaning of "thunder and lightning," this great Japanese boy’s name appears to be growing in popularity. Comparatively speaking, anyway: It’s in the top 500 on Nameberry, and was even number 400 as of 2017.
Raiden (or Raijin, as it’s traditionally spelled) is actually the Japanese god of Thunder himself; the moniker is pronounced Rye-gin, like the alcoholic beverages, but it’s certainly far from being your average "Brandy," or some other such moniker that references "spirits" (pun intended).
If you’re into gaming and that kind of thing, Raiden is also the name of a character in Mortal Kombat. It’s also a wonderfully original spin on other, more popular names that sound a bit like it (like Jayden, for example). Plus, "Rye" (as in the grain, of course, not the alcohol) might make a really cute nickname. It has kind of a princely sound too it, as well — almost like Prince Rainier of Monaco.
No, it’s not about money — it’s about vintage Americana, the hauntingly good old days of ma and pa diners and quaint roadside attractions and, of course, the king of all Cashes, the late, great, unsurpassable Johnny Cash.
The moniker "Cash" has a dashing and yet retro ring to it — in other words, that is, a working class appeal, yet also much of the cinematic glamour of the Old West. It’s kind of similar to names like, say, Wyatt or Wayne in this sense, but it’s arguably much cooler than either of those.
Cash is also more popular than one might assume: it sits at number 285 at Nameberry, as of 2017. The name itself means "hollow" (as in the hollow of a tree, maybe?), and appears to be a derivative of the name Cassius. Cash also has some celebrity appeal: actress Annabeth Gish and actor Wade Allen chose it for their son.