I often hear the criticism on naming message boards that a name is “trying too hard.” It’s a rather odd thing to criticize. Of course parents try their hardest to give their children the best possible name. Of course it’s not a bad thing to put a lot of effort into naming a child. Nevertheless, the comment seems ubiquitous. I think what it really means is that the name in question is too hip. There’s a category of names that get a lot of buzz in certain communities- often “hipster” communities- but aren’t popular with everyone else. This includes names like Felix, Oscar, Orion, Astrid, Persephone, and Florence. I spend a great deal of time in Brooklyn, the hipster capital of the world, and it certainly seems like you’re more likely to meet a baby in Park Slope named Esme than one named Emily.
So I think the “trying too hard” comment is really more about avoiding a trendy style than putting too much effort into a name. And there are ways to avoid that type of name; there are plenty of names that have the same qualities of hipster names- long history of use, unusual but generally well-known, often vintage- without actually being hipster names. A few are below: