Top Italian Girls' names that Americans Haven't Discovered

Jul 30th 2018

For fresh names with crowd-pleasing appeal, one of the best places to look is abroad. Italian parents have already given their seal of approval to the names below: they all rank in the top 200 in Italy, but have yet to make the top 500 in the United States. Some will sound familiar, some more surprising, but each of these names has a feminine sweetness that could appeal to American namers.

Chiara. Melodious Chiara is the Italian variant of Claire, commonly associated with Saint Chiara of Assisi (a follower of Saint Francis). While many European parents have embraced this beautiful name, it’s yet to gain comparable recognition in Anglophone communities - perhaps its similarities to Cora and Keira will encourage English speakers to give it a try.

Viola. Sophisticated and dramatic, Viola is a gorgeous choice currently flying under the radar. Its Shakespearean background will appeal to literary tastes, and its aural closeness to favorites like Olivia and Violet will help it fit in on the playground - but Viola’s confident personality makes it stand out from the crowd.

Rita. Though Americans may associate this sassy name with 1940’s starlet Rita Hayworth, Rita is also well-used abroad as a nickname for the longer Margherita. With short vintage classics like Ava and Ruby back on the scene, Rita’s retro style and multicultural appeal are sure to attract attention.

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Caterina. With Katrina out of the picture, the elegant, Italian form of Catherine is perfectly primed to cross the Atlantic. Caterina combines a musical sound, a pleasant meaning - from the late Greek word for “pure” - and a variable choice of fabulous nicknames, making this name particularly attractive.

Gioia. Pronounced “ZHOY-ah,” this pretty name adds a syllable of flair to the already-delightful Joy. It’s rarely used in the United States, but would work well as an alternative to Gia or Gemma. If you like virtue names but want something with a little more glamour, Gioia is for you!

Livia. There’s a balance of strength and femininity in this lovely name, dating back to the days of Roman emperor Augustus and his wife, Livia Drusilla. American audiences are likely to relate the name to Olivia or Lydia, but Livia has its own unique history separate from those of soundalike choices.

Flavia. From the Latin flavus, meaning “golden-haired,” Flavia is a shining option with an unusual sound. The name has been used in a number of books and films, and also boasts connections with at least two saint Flavias. Striking yet accessible, Flavia merits more attention in Anglophone countries.

Eleonora. Stately Eleanor remains in the top 100 for a number of countries, but lilting Eleonora has yet to achieve similar popularity. Its euphonic sound matches modern trends, but Eleonora has an uncommon sense of regality and inherent grace. The name is also a gold mine for nicknames - Ellie, Leo, Leonie, and Nora are just a few of the possibilities.

Ilaria. Refreshing and vibrant, Ilaria feels like a pleasant pick for a little girl today - especially since English variant Hillary hasn’t been popular since the 1980’s. The name comes from the Greek hilaros, meaning “happy,” and it’s been worn by a variety of notable Italian athletes and actresses.

Gaia. In Greek mythology, Gaia is the personification of the Earth and the divine mother from whom all life originated - a powerful and awe-inspiring namesake. This illustrious history has led to Gaia’s inclusion in everything from rock music to science fiction, yet the name remains comparatively rare in modern usage.

Marika. This variant of Mary is decidedly not Italian - Greek and Slavic languages claim Marika - but this upbeat name has already reached #111 on the Italian popularity charts. Marika blends a spirited melody with a friendly vibe, and it works exceptionally well as a cross-cultural choice.

Morena. Originally a name for a woman with darker hair or skin, Morena fits in stylistically with modern “raindrop name” trends - think Melanie, Ariana, or Maya. As a word, Morena can be found in a number of global languages, relating to religion, physiology, and even geology.

Annamaria. Romantic and refined, Annamaria is a name combination that’s greater than the sum of its parts. Popular among Italian Catholic families, Annamaria might offer a beautiful, multisyllabic alternative to the -ella and -bella names of today.

Giada. Many Americans were first introduced to this charming choice via Giada De Laurentiis, the Food Network star and mother to namesake Jade (who wears the Anglicized version of the name). Today, Giada feels more approachable next to Gia and Gianna, but holds its own as an unexpected choice.

Rossella. If Scarlett and Ruby are too mainstream for your taste, why not Rossella? Vivacious and colorful, Rossella gained recent attention in Italy as the heroine of an eponymous television show. It’s also another unorthodox route to a variety of sweet nicknames, like Rosie and Ella.


July 30, 2018 1:33 PM

I love so many of these! Several are popular among American Catholic families I know (Chiara, Rita, Caterina, used in honor of St. Clare of Assisi and/or Bl. Chiara Luce Badano, St. Rita, and St. Catherine of Siena), and I know a little Gioia and Giada as well. Such pretty names!

July 30, 2018 1:59 PM

Marika is a standard Hungarian Mary-diminutive. Hungarian is neither Greek nor Slavic.

July 31, 2018 8:39 AM

To be fair, Behind the Name says Marika is both Greek and Slavic (as well as Czech, Slovak, Polish, Finnish, Estonian, and Georgian, in addition to Hungarian).

July 31, 2018 11:41 AM

Traleerose, and what do all of those languages have in common? Yep, that's right, not a single one is Italian.

July 31, 2018 1:03 PM

The post promised names popular in Italy, not popular names of Italian origin. I'm just a casual reader of this blog, but I signed up to comment specifically because even as a casual reader, I see how often you leave disparaging comments on Emily's posts and I think it's awful. I have no skin in the game, but I used to write for a popular website and I can tell you that writers read the comments and the snarky ones hurt, as baseless as they may be. Would you say the kind of things you write to a person's face? If so--well, I guess if being that type of person has worked for you so far, I suppose you won't stop on the Internet. If not--think about why you feel it is OK to do it online, but not face to face. Courtesy to fellow human beings shouldn't stop in the comments section.

July 31, 2018 1:29 PM

TheOtherHungarian: She specifically notes that it's not Italian, but was included in this list because it's in the top 200 in Italy. I don't see any problem with what she's written -- it's all accurate as far as I can tell.

July 31, 2018 5:27 PM

@traleerose: sorry, I have to admit, I did not actually read the article, so I did not see the disclaimer about the name not matching the title. ("Top Girls' Names in Italy..." would perhaps have been a better choice of wording for said title.)

August 1, 2018 7:43 AM

Italian here, Marika is indeed not Italian, however it's been used in Italy for the past 30 years or so, sometimes with the spelling Marica. It's never been very common, I only know one who is 20 years old. It's not considered to be very classy, especially the K spelling. 

Gioia is pronounced JAW ya. Actually in some parts of Tuscany people may pronounce it ZHAW ya, but it's not the standard Italian pronunciation.


By mk
August 1, 2018 11:21 AM

I know a few Violas born in the past few years. I've always liked Chiara and Flavia. I wonder if the Flavia de Luce series will give it more popularity.

Gioia is lovely, but I think the pronunciation may be difficult for many English speakers.

August 2, 2018 9:35 AM

I think Chiara18's comment may highlight the problems of trawling foreign popularity lists for names. You never know just what the connotations or history are that lead a name to be on the most-popular list, nor how it could be read on visits to that country. Though maybe it doesn't matter for the average American family.

By EVie
August 2, 2018 10:28 AM

nolanamer - I sympathize with the reminder to be kind and courteous, and agree that the Internet can use a lot more kindness. I also totally see the pattern that you are commenting on, and understand where you are coming from. However, long-time readers of the blog and forums may have a somewhat different perspective, which I will try to explain for those who might not understand the context.

Laura Wattenberg is a phenomenal writer, researcher and data scientist. Her posts are always gleamingly polished, deadly accurate and thorough. She identifies fascinating topics in the naming universe to explore, and then she turns them inside out, uncovering new patterns and stories that would never otherwise be discussed. She is also the founder of this site, and for years ran it independently and was the sole contributor to the blog. The regulars here started coming here for her content, and we have become spoiled by its quality and depth. 

Emily was brought on as a contributor only recently, after the site was acquired by a larger web media company and they apparently decided they wanted even more "content." Most (all?) of her posts are lists of names that fit a certain theme with a little bit of background info, without the depth of analysis that we have gotten used to from Laura. That's fine; there's a place for that on the Internet. And I don't know anything at all about Emily personally, but I know it's hard for writers who are hired as "content-creators" who are under pressure to constantly churn out material that will generate page-clicks by companies who care more about the number of clicks than the actual substance of the piece. They often resort to trawling the internet looking for other sources to regurgitate under their own branding. 

This is where a name blogger runs into trouble, because the Internet is absolutely riddled with misinformation about names, and Emily is writing for an audience that is a) already very well-informed, and b) used to the high-quality analysis and fact-checking that Laura provides. She makes a lot of mistakes, and the pattern has become frustrating for many of us. We don't want this site to become another vector for misinformation, which is why it's valuable to leave corrections in the comments.

Emily, if you are reading the comments as nolanamer believes, I highly recommend moving away from Internet sources on name origins and get your hands on some books published by reputable academic presses. The Oxford Dictionary of First Names is a good start, and since so many surnames and place names are being used as given names these days, I also recommend the Oxford Dictionary of English Surnames and the Oxford Dictionary of British Place-Names. I know some of the other regulars have their own go-to sources, which they can suggest if they want. I would also recommend familiarizing yourself more with Laura's blog archives, because I vaguely recall instances when you have given information that contradicts what she has written in the past. 

And if you ever need an idea for a post, may I suggest "Ten Names that the Internet is Totally Wrong About"? It would be interesting to compare and contrast the information that different name sites provide with the information given by more scholarly books. I'll even give you one to start with: Charlotte.