14 Unexpected Baby Names From The '90s That Work Today

As a writer, I spend an inordinate amount of time considering names for characters, and, as a mother, names for children, too (despite the fact I don't plan to have any more). And since I also probably devote far too much time to waxing nostalgic about my favorite decade, it's not surprising that lately I've been thinking about unexpected baby names from the '90s that still work today. After all, the '90s is experiencing one heck of a revival — why not think outside of the box and bring back a few iconic names that are less mainstream than Jessica or Michael?

It's no secret I'm a lover of unique names. My daughter's name is Marlow, and my son's name is Bowen. What can I say? I like quirky. But when you glance back at data from the Social Security Administration's top names of the 1990s, there aren't exactly a ton of offbeat names on the list: Jessica, Ashley, Emily, Sarah, and Samantha reigned supreme for girls, while Michael, Christopher, Matthew, Joshua, and Jacob were the most popular picks for boys. The good news is there is no shortage of names that are now synonymous with the '90s that are distinctive. They come from movies, TV, music — just because they didn't make the cut of trendiest names during the decade doesn't mean they aren't good.

If the '90s revival has taught us anything, it's that some things are better the second time around. So here are 14 unexpected baby names from the '90s that would be incredibly cool today.

1. Leilana

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Meaning: “Heavenly lei (flowers); royal child.” Hawaiian.

Did any character capture the disenfranchised lives of Gen X'ers better than Reality Bites' Leilana Pierce? I think not. She was cool, her haircut was cool and, for goodness sake, she was played by the quintessential '90s cool girl, Winona Ryder. (Just, y'know, be careful of cultural appropriation. In retrospect, this may have perhaps been a poor character choice.)

2. Cobain

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Meaning: Surname of Nirvana lead singer Kurt. Irish, Scottish.

Granted, grunge rock god Kurt Cobain's story had a decidedly tragic ending. However, true fans will always remember Cobain as a pioneer of the '90s alt music scene and a deeply fascinating soul. According to Ancestry.com, Cobain is mainly Irish and Scottish in origin.

3. Jubilee

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Meaning: “Ram's horn.” Hebrew

My siblings and I were all about the animated X-Men series in the early '90s and, because my name is Julie, I was dubbed the Jubilee of our fam. I like to think it was also due to my dynamic personality — I mean, the woman could shoot fireworks out of her fingertips. Plus, I'm only marginally embarrassed to admit that I'm a big fan of Jubilee from Ben's season of The Bachelor.

4. Cody

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Meaning: “Helpful; pillow.” English.

Why don't more people talk about Bad Girls? IMHO, it was one of the best movies to come out of the '90s, and Madeleine Stowe's Cody Zamora was one of the most badass female characters ev-er. So while Cody was a Top 25 name in the '90s and remains popular for boys, I think it should be resurrected as a fierce AF name for little girls today, too.

5. Kit

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Meaning: “Pure.” English.

There will never be a time in the history of the universe when watching A League of Their Own is considered uncool. Am I right? This classic 1992 movie is fun, feminist and, fine, a bit of a tear-jerker at the end. Part of what makes it so special is the bond between sisters Dottie (Geena Davis) and her fiery little sister Kit (Lori Petty). Both names are pretty great, but Kit just has a certain je ne sais quoi. Plus, it's unisex, so it works no matter what. (Hi there, Kit Harrington.)

6. Jules

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Meaning: “Youthful; soft, downy.” French.

Is it possible I'm partial to this name because it is my nickname? Sure. But it's also possible my proclivity for Jules is due to Samuel L. Jackson's amazing (if somewhat terrifying) character in the undeniably iconic '90s film Pulp Fiction. It's also gender-neutral, so it's perfect for parents who choose to wait to find out their child's gender but want to go ahead and give the kid an incredible name.

7. Veda

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Meaning: “Knowledge.” Sanskrit.

We '90s babies mainly associate this name with Anna Chlumsky's adorably precocious character in My Girl, but the name actually has quite the context outside of the film, too — the Vedas are considered the most sacred texts of Hinduism, thus its meaning of "knowledge."

8. Ellis

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Meaning: “Benevolent.” Welsh.

The Shawshank Redemption is one of those movies that transcends time, but still ... the '90s gets to take credit for it, along with Morgan Freeman's character, Ellis Boyd Redding or "Red." Ellis is a winner, for little boys or little girls.

9. Imogen/Imogene

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Meaning: “Maiden.” Celtic.

To be clear, the name Imogen has been around since at least Shakespearean times. However, we're talking about the '90s, so stay with me here — there are few female film characters that stand out as much in the fabric of the '90s as Fried Green Tomatoes' gutsy Idgie Threadgoode (Mary Stuart Masterson) who, of course, was actually named Imogene. So if you name your daughter Imogen or Imogene, you get to call her Idgie. Fun, no?

10. Beck

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Meaning: “One living beside a small stream.” English.

If I had to pick one song that defined the '90s, I think it would quite possibly be "Loser" by Beck. It was a defining moment in American culture, by which weirdness suddenly became, well, not weird. It became cool. Beck's music served as the soundtrack for countless '90s kids' most enduring memories, so it's only fair we give him a nod here.

11. Matilda

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Meaning: “Battle-mighty.” German.

There is no shame in my Matilda game — I readily admit I've watched this 1996 movie no fewer than 100 times. I love it, y'all. Who wouldn't want a kid like Mara Wilson's magical little girl who loves to read and is perfectly polite? Besides, the name means "battle-mighty." Slay, future Matildas ... slay.

12. Murphy

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Meaning: “Sea warrior; hound of the sea.” Irish.

Surnames as first names are on the rise, making Murphy an ideal '90s name-revival surprise. Thanks to Candice Bergen's TV series Murphy Brown, this surname or otherwise traditionally male first name started pinging as a pick for baby girl names. Today, it's still rad, and it still works for girls — and boys.

13. Alanis

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Meaning: “Handsome; cheerful.” Irish.

The exact origin of the name Alanis isn't crystal clear, but Nameberry attributes it to none other than everyone's favorite angsty-alt fem rocker of the '90s, Alanis Morissette, who was named after her dad Alan. The name is by no means mainstream these days, which is puzzling since it's so frickin' pretty and has a stellar '90s namesake.

14. Cher

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Meaning: “Beloved.” French.

Do you believe in life after ... Clueless? When it comes to this one-syllable moniker, the answer is resoundingly yes. It's a lot to live up to, admittedly — for a long time, there was only Cher the pop goddess. Then, along came Alicia Silverstone's inimitable turn as Cher Horowitz the 1995 cult classic, Clueless. So if you know your precious little bundle is destined for the limelight, this name is a no-brainer.

Images: Columbia Pictures; Giphy (13)