Oh, those hidden o's. They're the special ingredient in hot names from Margot to Willow to Pharaoh. End a name in the sound "o," but not the letter o, and you have a recipe for high style.
The final o may be cloaked by a silent letter, as in Harlow and Shiloh, or an alternate spelling may lead to a similar sound, as in Beau. The effect of the spelling is subtle, but it shapes the name's impact. Think of how different Harlow and Arlo feel, despite being just a breath apart in pronunciation.
I first talked about hidden o's when they started rising in girls' names. Parents loved the unconventional sound for girls, and the fact that spelling set them apart from the many boys' names ending in o. That trend is still growing. Seven different hidden-o names now rank among America's top-1000 names for girls, vs. zero with the final letter o. But the style is catching on for boys, too. You'll find it lending an edge to new, adventurous choices like Arrow, and making throwbacks like Roscoe intriguing again.
Even with their rise, the hidden-o names still sound fresh and have plenty of potential ahead. So far, only Willow has broken through to become a major hit name for either sex. See the potential for yourself in these 37 options, from the familiar to the fanciful.
Artistic and Literary Names
Familiar and Throwback Names
Bold Meaning Names
The sound of the times in girls' names is freshness with a liquid grace. It's no surprise, then that Hawaiian names are on the rise, both in the Hawaiian Islands and throughout the United States. Their distinctive flow is a perfect twist on current style, and captures the imagination, too.
If you're looking for genuine Hawaiian girls' names that are currently popular in Hawaii, you can scroll down now to browse the list. But if you'd like a little more background on Hawaiian names, read on.
The Hawaiian language is built from a small set of sounds, including very few hard or rough-edged consonants. Consonant sounds are always separated by vowels—almost like islands surrounded by the flow of water. The shape of the names conveys a powerful sense of place, which makes parents particularly eager to match the sound to literal meanings and origins.
Understanding the full meanings of Hawaiian names, though, can be a challenge. After generations of suppression, Hawaiian is an endangered language with few native speakers. It's also a language with no traditional writing system, so written Hawaiian is an English-based alphabet that can blur some distinctions, especially when you drop the markings that distinguish, say, kalia from kālia from kali'a.
What's more, many popular name roots have a wide range of meanings that can lead to wildly different interpretations. Take the classic Leilani, which has been familiar to mainlanders ever since Bing Crosby sang about a "Sweet Leilani" back in 1937. You'll usually see the name's meaning given as "heavenly flowers," because it's built from the word lei (a garland, as of flowers or shells) + lani (sky, heavens). But lani also means "highness" or "royal," especially when used as a form of address to a high chief…or in a name. And lei can also refer to a beloved child, reportedly due to the lei-like shape of a child's legs as she rides on a parent or sibling's shoulders. So "royal child" may be a better interpretation of the name.
I am no expert on Hawaiian language or culture, but understanding and respecting names is high on my agenda. To compile a list of real Hawaiian names, I looked in two directions: to scholarly resources, and to the people of present-day Hawaii. Every name on my list is currently used as a baby name in Hawaii, and much more common there than in the rest of the country. And every meaning and derivation has been verified in multiple reputable sources. Note, though, that in name origins "real" doesn't necessarily mean "traditional." Names continue to evolve in every culture. Some of the names listed are contemporary, or borrowed from English words (like Anela, meaning "angel"). But every one is distinctly, and proudly, Hawaiian.
Photo: Getty Images
|Anuhea||Cool mist; fragrance of a mountain forest|
|Hali'a||Fond recollection, cherished memory|
|Hi'ilani||Praise, exalt; care for|
|Kailani||Heavenly sea ("sea" + "sky/heavens/highness")|
|Kailea||Joyful sea ("sea" + "joy, pleasure")|
|Kaʻiulani||The most elevated majesty or sacred heaven (the name of an admired Hawaiian Crown Princess)|
|Kealani||Clear sky ("white/clear" + "sky/heavens/highness")|
|Leilani||Royal child; heavenly garland ("garland" + "sky/heavens/highness")|
|Lilinoe||Fine rain or mist, and the name of a goddess of mist|
|Luana||To be at ease and live in pleasure|
|Mahealani||Night of the full moon ("hazy, as moonlight" + "sky/heavens/highness")|
|Mahina||Moon, moonlight; also the name of the lunar deity|
|Maile||A native Hawaiian plant from which leis are made, which also represents four maile sister dieties|
|Malia||A Hawaiian form of Maria/Mary|
|Nalani||The heavens; the high chiefs ("plural article" + "sky/heavens/highness")|
|Nanea||At ease, tranquil; to relax|
|Noelani||Heavenly mist ("mist" + "sky/heavens/highness")|
Familiar names, rare names. The two are opposites. Yet a handful of names manage to hit both contradictory targets, and zero in on the style bullseye at the same time.
I've uncovered 15 examples of girls' names that have flown consistently under the radar. Not only are they rare today, but they've never been popular in the United States. None has ever ranked among America's top 300 girls' names, a bar low enough that even names like Elva and Floy have crossed it. That makes them true individuals, names that your daughter could feel she had full ownership of.
At the same time, each name is pleasingly familiar. Some have famous standard bearers, others have more common name "relatives," and a few are just so simple and classic-sounding that they sound like old friends. That familiarity lends them the warmth of tradition, and should spare them from the spelling and pronunciation headaches that come with most rare names.
Best of all, these names should fit in with contemporary style, even as they stand apart. Their tones vary, from the light touch of Calla to the storybook charm of Clementine, but all have fashion elements that keep them current.
Photo: Getty Images
|NAME||WHY IS IT SO FAMILIAR?|
|Calla||From the calla lily flower, and because it's so close to the nickname Callie (traditionally short for Caroline)
|Blythe||From actress Blythe Danner, and Blythe fashion dolls
|Paloma||From the Spanish word for dove, and from designer Paloma Picasso
|Clementine||"Oh my darlin', oh my darlin'..."
|Hollis||Because it's been quietly present as a girl's name, boy's name, surname and place name
|Rhea||From celebrities including actresses Rhea Perlman and and Seehorn, and from the mythological mother of Zeus
|Cecily||Because it's the antique English form of Cecilia, and from comedian Cecily Strong and actress Cicely Tyson
|Adela||From the French form Adele, and a global history ranging from a daughter of William the Conqueror to telenovela star Adela Noriega
|Petra||As a female form of Peter, the name of an ancient stone city in Jordan, and slow but steady usage in multiple languages
|Mercy||From the common word mercy, and occasional fictional characters
|Daria||From the MTV animated series Daria
|Sylvie||As the French form of Sylvia, and an occasional nickname for it
|Althea||From barrier-breaking tennis champion Althea Gibson
|Coralie||Because it's popular in French, and hits the same sweet old-fashioned notes as Rosalie
|Beatrix||From the form Beatrice, "Peter Rabbit" creator Beatrix Potter, and Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands