Lovely and Ladylike Names for Girls

Oct 23rd 2017

What makes a name sound “feminine”? Answers may vary, but generally fall into a few categories: there’s the length factor, with long and melodic names like Isabella and Madeleine in the mix; there’s the connection to “Mother Nature,” with botanical names like Violet and Lily used more often for girls; there are womanly name traditions, with certain names ending in -a, -ette, or -lynn to denote femininity.

Still, the whole is worth more than the sum of its parts, and there’s more to a ladylike name -- there’s a feeling of romance, elegance, and daintiness implied. This list of fifteen such names has choices from every era and across the globe, and each is simply lovely.

Photo: Koshevskyi/Shutterstock

Viveca. This sophisticated Scandinavian choice blends well with popular Vivian and Victoria, but has a more intriguing feeling about it. Viveca sparkles on a few notable Swedish celebrities - Will Ferrell’s wife among them - and American actress Vivica A. Fox wears the spelling variant well.

Primrose. Inspired by the sweet and caring sister of Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games, Primrose has begun to blossom - after 30 years unrecorded in the US, this pleasant name has been rising slowly in use since 2012. It’s already gaining fans in the UK, and it would make an uncommon route to the nickname Rosie.

Linnea. Linnea is a gorgeous name that balances elaborate style with an understated sound. Another Scandinavian choice, Linnea is derived from the surname of Carl Linnaeus - a Swedish scientist in the 1700’s - who used the pretty choice for his favorite flower.

Bettina. Delicate yet memorable, Bettina is an exquisite diminutive option found in Germany - for Elisabeth - and Italy - for Benedetta. Its aural similarities to Betty give it a vintage air, but Bettina fits in with current choices like Brielle and Valentina as well.

Cambria. Originally an ancient name for Wales, attractive Cambria is also the name of a beachside town in California. Cambria can be shortened to sassy nicknames Cam or Brie, while the full form of the name feels bright and friendly. If Cameron is too boyish and Camille too popular, why not give stylish Cambria a try?

Viola. Similar-sounding Olivia and Violet have helped to define 2010’s name trends, but understated and elegant Viola could be the way of the future. Shakespeare’s heroine in Twelfth Night grounds the name historically, while modern athletic, activist, and actress namesakes give the name a contemporary edge.

Odette. A graceful Gallic choice, Odette is best known as the romantic lead character in Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. It’s uncommon yet familiar, with names ending in “-ette” on the rise over the past decade. More than a few celebrities have chosen ornate Odette for their daughters in recent years (including Mark Ruffalo and Jared Padalecki).

Mariska. While lead actress Haritgay of Law & Order: SVU has made this a household name, Mariska is upbeat and charming enough to appeal to all kinds of namers. It’s a Dutch form of Maria, lending itself as an honorific for an assortment of Mary names. Mariska’s harmonious sound and engaging vibe is sure to make an impression!

Leonora. Boys have monopolized Leo names recently, but Leonora is a name fit for a modern princess. It’s actually a form of Eleanor (not Leonard) and has adorned operatic heroines, film characters, and a few real-life role models, including artist Carrington and Olympian Taylor. Lilting Leonora can also be shortened to adorable nicknames Lea or Nora.

Zosia. Pronounced “ZAH-sha,” this Polish form of Sofia has a soft and darling sound. Zosia Mamet of the HBO hit series Girls brought this name to national attention, but it has yet to be bestowed upon more than 27 girls in any year. As fans of multicultural favorite Sophia begin to look for alternatives, Zosia’s unique form and chic style may entice more and more parents in the coming years.

Allegra. Musical Allegra comes from the Italian word for “lively,” and offers a plethora of fictional and nonfictional namesakes, as well as the popular nickname Ally. Unfortunately, an allergy medication has diverted much attention from this beautiful name since its debut in 1996. Might lovely Allegra one day come out from under this unappealing shadow?

Fleur. JK Rowling introduced anglophone Harry Potter fans to exquisite Fleur with the publication of the fourth book in the series in 2000, giving the name to a strong and mesmerizing female character. With the connections to Fleur Delacour fading in public memory, modern parents may find this name especially interesting for its floral and confident air.

Idalia. Though it has a mysterious etymology - possibly connected to an epithet of Aphrodite or a form of classic Ida - Idalia feels fashionable and bold. It was first recorded in a Polish play in 1866 and has been used sporadically in the US since 1889, giving it some historical credibility. Idalia fits in aurally with Delilah and Amelia, but stands out in its rarity.

Novella. If you’re looking for an exceptional way to reach the nickname Ella, Novella could be the name for you. This merry choice has a literary vibe - it’s a piece of prose longer than a short story but shorter than a novel - and comes from the Latin word for “new” -- perfect for a newborn addition to the family.

Amoret. Passionate yet refined, the name Amoret was invented by author Edmund Spenser for his poem The Faerie Queene. The character (and her sweetheart) personify married love, and Amoret is commended for her virtue and loyalty. With such a tender background combined with a contemporary sound, Amoret is a choice worth consideration.


October 23, 2017 3:51 PM

Mariska is a Hungarian and Dutch diminutive of Maria. Neither Hungarian nor Dutch are Slavic languages. (Hungarian is not even Indo-European.)

C'mon, please stop making Laura Wattenberg look ignorant!

October 23, 2017 8:10 PM

HNG, I couldn't help wondering if Ms. Cardoza knows how Mariska Hargitay's name is pronounced. 

October 23, 2017 10:27 PM

Miriam, I'm pretty sure Ms. Cardoza hasn't a clue how to pronounce Mariska. She probably assumes that the 's' is like in Sam and she almost certainly stresses the wrong syllable.

I'm also pretty sure that Ms. Hargitay herself has trouble with the proper Hungarian pronunciation of Hargitay. My maiden name has the same -tay /tah-yee/ ending, and very, very few English speakers are ever capable of saying it right.

For the curious, Forvo has decent pronunciations of both name parts under the Hungarian tab:

The full name found under the English tab has a rather Americanized version of the surname, but has the given name basically correct.

October 23, 2017 11:11 PM

To my ear, the -tay ending in that recording sounds quite a bit like the speaker has a cockney (or similar) accent! 


And thanks to Paw Patrol, the name Bettina is now 100% bovine. 

October 24, 2017 1:16 AM

HNG, Ms. Cardoza doesn't have a clue as to how to spell Mariska Hargitay's name either. No, it's not Haritgay. Ms. Cardoza went to the trouble to remove the erroneous reference to Slavic, but then she also removed the correct reference to Hungarian. I spent a lot of time in the Netherlands, and I never happened to run into a Dutch Mariska. Dutch Marias are more likely to be Mieke, Meike, Marijke, Miep, than Mariska. It is a misrepresentation to say that Mariska is (only) Dutch. Hungarian should be restored.

When one is correcting an error, care should be taken not to introduce new ones.

October 24, 2017 9:22 AM

I so appreciate the high level of commentary on this board.  Thank you Miriam and HNG for raising the bar.  It is because of the commentary I come back year after year, even though I'm way past naming actual children.

October 24, 2017 12:32 PM

Yeah, um, Ms. Hargitay is of Hungarian descent, not Dutch, so the "correction" really doesn't help.

(In modern-day Hungary, a Mária is more likely to be Marika than Mariska. The -ska diminutives have a folksy/rural vibe nowadays: Juliska and Mariska are what you name the cow or the washing machine.)

October 25, 2017 1:25 PM

I cannot believe the nasty and ignorant tone of these responses.  These are comments made by angry people looking for a safe place to put their anger.  With 7 years experience in etymology, and international law, I can tell you these comments are a combination of half truths, and just plain bull.  The audacity to tell someone they don't know how to pronounce their own name is bewildering, and my guess is that if they had the chance to say it to her face, they would keep their mouths shut.  How disgusting, and cowardly.  I'm curious how much time any of you have spent abroad?  I don't care for many of the names on this list, but I do not feel the need to be belligerent about it.  Are you adults, or teen trolls?

October 25, 2017 3:59 PM

@Mrs.Hayward, are you reading the same comments I am? Until you came along, nobody posted anything that could even remotely be taken as a personal attack, and nobody said anything particularly bad about any of the names on the list, let alone "belligerent". The point of our comments, which you either missed or are totally ignoring in favor of a rant, is that Ms. Cardoza's article is unsourced, unresearched, and full of glaring errors. 

October 25, 2017 8:16 PM

Mrs. Hayward: ??

Please reread the commentary. Nobody said the actress can't say her own name: I said that she likely has trouble with the proper Hungarian pronunciation, because it's hard for English speakers. This is a plain fact, one that I can attest from personal experience with a phonologically very similar name.

I admit I was less charitable toward the author of the blog post; perhaps she does know how to say all of these names. However, given what I've seen of her writing, and the new error she introduced in lieu of a correction, I feel justified in my assessment.

Where do you see a "nasty and ignorant tone" or "half truths and plain bull"?

By mk
October 26, 2017 12:56 AM

The comments aren't nasty, just correcting errors.

Though, yes, Mariska can speak Hungarian (and other languages) so probably handles the difficult sounds better than English speakers. 

October 30, 2017 11:29 AM

On a totally different note, I have to say that the very, very last thing I personally am looking for in a girl's name, despite loving a number of very traditionally female, embellished, and literally and metaphorically "flowery" names, is for it (or the child bearing it) to be "ladylike". It smacks to me of something you'd say when hauling your overall-clad and grubby tomboy out of a tree. "Julietta, how many times do I have to tell you that climbing trees isn't ladylike? And remember, boys don't like girls who beat them at sports...!" Ugh.

November 24, 2017 9:24 PM

Isn't it pronounced Mah-RISH-ka?