There are royal names, and then there are regal names. One is purely a matter of history, the other of image and style. And when it comes to names, regal style is the scarcer commodity.
The plain fact is that plain names dominate most royal family trees. The roots of those trees were planted back in an age when baby naming was dominated by a handful of core classics. Tradition-minded royals stayed close to that naming path, and set the style for generations of commoners. Today, names like Henry and Alice sound sweetly familiar rather than regal, despite their royal histories.
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Royal style pairs history with a stately elegance and steely backbone. A name doesn't have to be fussy to hit the mark, but it does have to be formal. In fact, many regal names are undermined by their own nicknames. Compare the effect of a couple called Victoria and Philip versus Vicki and Phil. The latter pair may sound like nice folks, but it's hard to picture their coronations.
The names below are our picks for timeless regal style. If that's what you're aiming for, be prepared to fight off un-regal nicknames -- or to accept the possibility that your Josephine may end up preferring FiFi or Jo.
The smoothest of all regal names, Amalia retains a bit more formality than the equally royal but more familiar name Amelia. (Royal Example: Princess Amalia, 2003- , heir apparent to the Netherlands throne)
Straightforward Anne may seem like an unlikely choice for our list, but its simple elegance is refreshing and the name has become remarkably rare. (Royal Example: Queen Anne of Great Britain, 1665-1714)
The -x version of the name sounds more obviously exalted to American ears, but both variants are regal. (Royal Examples: Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, 1938- ; Princess Beatrice of the United Kingdom, 1857-1944)
The name of Britain's young princess is cute on a little girl and dignified on a grown woman. (Royal Example: Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, 1744-1818, Queen of Great Britain)
This is a serious, grounded name, and yet if you take a moment to hear it fresh it sounds surprisingly romantic. (Royal Example: Eleanor of Aquitaine, 1122-1204, Queen consort of France and England)
Most Josephines choose one of the name's jazzy nickname options, but the full name is all elegance. (Royal Example: Josephine of Leuchtenberg, Queen Consort of Sweden and Norway, 1807-1876)
More than a century after Queen Victoria's death, her name still carries all of its regal power. (Royal Example: Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom, 1819-1901)
This name has been regal for millennia, borne by monarchs from ancient times to modern. (Royal Example: Alexander the Great, 356 BC-323 BC, King of Macedonia)
The most modern-sounding name on the boys' list, Christian is a kingly classic in Northern Europe. (Royal Example: King Christian X of Denmark, 1870-1947)
Edmund edges out Edward on our list; less common and more unexpected, it makes a bigger impact. (Royal Example: King Edmund I of England, 921-946)
This substantial classic could stand out in an age of smoother, lighter boys' names, but it's particularly prone to nicknames. (Royal Example: Frederick the Great, 1712-1786, King of Prussia)
In contrast to Frederick, James is sleek, timeless, and increasingly nickname-free. (Royal Example: King James I of England and Scotland, 1603-1625)
Never common in the U.S., Magnus could hit a rare two-fer as both a royal classic and a creative name choice. (Royal Example: Magnus Barefoot, 1073-1103, King of Norway)
Understated, Maximilian is not. But if you like your regal elegance full-throttle, you can't do better. (Royal Example: King Maximilian II of Bavaria, 1811-1864)
A generation of guys called Phil has left this refined classic overlooked. The full name is still a perfect gentleman. (Royal Example: King Philip IV of France, 1268-1314)
A small, elite group is quietly taking over American baby names. Not Hollywood celebrities, not Wall Street bankers…vowels. The letters a, e, i, o, u and y have become the most dominant force in modern baby name style.
Of course, vowels have always been powerful. They're an essential ingredient in every word and every name, the glue that holds it all together. Over the past generation, though, they've risen from supporting players to star attractions. Vowels make up a much greater proportion of American baby names than ever before.
This trend holds true for boys and girls alike, across all name styles. In the historical graph below, you'll see the ratio of vowels to consonants in all names given to American babies. The ratio reflects actual name usage, so if 50,000 girls were named Jennifer in a particular year, the name Jennifer would count 50,000 times in that year's tally. The top orange line represents girls' names and the bottom green line boys'.
The first thing you'll notice is that girls' names have always featured more vowels than boys' names. The biggest driving factor in this difference is name endings. An -a ending is the classic feminine name marker, and diminutive endings like -ie are mostly female as well. Hard consonant endings, meanwhile, typically point toward the masculine. (Try thinking of a girl's name ending in -rd, or -k.)
Looking at the trend, the concentration of vowels has risen dramatically for both sexes since the 1980s, with both currently hitting new all-time highs. On the boys' side, the rise in vowels is unprecedented. Boys' names used to change more slowly than girls', and the boys' graph reflects this with a century of stable vowel usage. Then in the past generation, everything changed. Boys' names became just as subject to the changing winds of fashion as girls', and that meant more vowels.
For perspective, take a look at the dotted gray line on the graph. That line represents the vowel/consonant ratio in typical English text, like a book or newspaper. Historically, boys' names have always been heavier on consonants than common text. Now, for the first time, they're lighter.
The trend would be even more dramatic if we looked at distribution of vowels throughout a name. Parents prefer to insert vowel sounds between consonant sounds, rather than allowing consonants to mass together and gain strength. The only boy's name in today's top 10 with consecutive consonant sounds is Alexander. Compare to Robert, George, Charles, Edward, Frank and Walter a century ago.
The movement toward vowels isn't absolute. It's easy to find examples of new consonant-packed hits, like Harper and Jackson. But it is a style trend of extraordinary scope. It encompasses other big trends I've identified, like liquid names and raindrop names. It's the engine in the background propelling traditional names like Olivia, Isaiah and Abigail to new heights, and making Aria, Aiden and Ava some of the fastest-rising names of their generation. At the same time, it has sped the decline of classic English names like Margaret and Richard, and kept Mildred and Walter from enjoying the same kind of antique revival as Amelia and Oliver.
Incredibly, a megatrend like this can shape a whole generation of names without any parents deliberately favoring it. If you like classic names, or unisex names, or cowboy names, you know that and you target the style. But millions of parents didn't start their name hunt by saying "let's hold down the concentration of consonants." Vowel dominance isn't a style in itself but a secret sauce that makes one name sound a little bit better than another. It might have started with just a couple of stylish sounds, or a desire to move away from the familiar English standards. Then it developed its own momentum, as the sound of vowels increasingly represented the fresh and contemporary. Now it quietly guides your choices within your own sense of style, whatever that style may be.
Today, Romeo and Juliet don’t have to work hard to find each other - they’re at the highest ranking they’ve ever been on the US Top 1000. With other love-ly names like Valentina and Tristan on the rise, one might say modern namers have been struck by Cupid’s arrow! Here are some more modern (and unique) romantic name options for your little love.
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Amyas. Also spelled Amias, this handsome, ethereal name comes from the Latin for “beloved”. And despite its low popularity, the name fits in well with popular boys’ names like Elias, Atticus, or Moses. Historically, Amyas has been used in the UK a few times, but its uncommon sound and darling meaning make it stand out in a crowd.
Philo. Boy’s names ending in O have been on the rise for the last decade - from Leo to Milo to Theo, namers love the O-pen ended options. Philo would suit this trend perfectly! Another name meaning “love”, Philo speaks to classic names like Phillip - to please conservative tastes - or academic subjects like philosophy - to please intellectual tastes.
Corwin. With last names like Cooper, Parker, and Carson feeling worn, why not look at Corwin? The hard-C beginning is tempered by the soft -win ending, which is a nice balance. Corwin means “heart’s friend”, relating directly to the romantic theme, but I think Corwin also sounds like a heroic name: courageous and winning! Bonus points for animal lovers - Jeff Corwin of Animal Planet is a passionate conservationist, and a great namesake.
Liev. An anagram of the popular Levi, Liev has gained notoriety in the United States through X-Men actor Schreiber. Its solid single-syllable sound helps it fit in with the current trend of short boys’ names like Max and Luke, but the vibe is somehow lighter and more appealing. Perhaps Liev’s closeness to “love” has something to do with it? The name also means “heart”.
Adonis. It wasn’t too long ago that Romeo was thought of as overly romantic, but in today’s world of uncommon naming, everything out is in again! Adonis, like Amyas, fits in with other popular boys’ names, but its robust melody and confident connotation help to individualize the name. Uber-masculine and handsome, Adonis means “lord”, and lends itself to the vintage nickname Don.
Didier. It wouldn’t be a true romantic list without a few French options! Didier reminds one of springtime in Paris, but it’s not quite as recognizable as Pierre or Jean-Claude. Didier will also have a unique sound to English listeners, but it isn’t impossible to pronounce. The name means “desired one”, and any long-awaited baby would wear the name with pride.
Ceri. Pronounced “Seh-REE”, this name features on 30 Rock as the beautiful secretary at NBC, from the French cerise, for “cherry”. Pronounced “Keh-REE”, this name is a diminutive of Ceridwen, a Welsh name meaning “beautiful as a poem”. Either pronunciation is lovely and feminine, and the name is short enough to be a nickname but solid enough to feel complete. Ceri, of course, recalls the delicate nickname “Cherie”, and it really is oh so dear.
Esme. While this name certainly isn’t overused, it still hasn’t quite reached the popularity of sister name Amy. To that I say, why not? It’s similar to adorable Emma and Esther, and the meaning - related to both “beloved” and “emerald” - is pretty and striking. Plenty of heroine Esme’s feature throughout literature, from Salinger to Snicket. Of course, the lilt of French adds an air of romantic intrigue to this gorgeous name.
Dove. With names like Fox and Bear coming into the spotlight, Dove could easily join the menagerie. The bird inspires thoughts of peace and love, and the sound of Dove is as soft as fluttering wings. Not sure if Dove is strong enough? Similar names Dawn and Wren have done well, and Dove even ranked in the top 1000 at the beginning of the twentieth century!
Seraphina. Ardent, fiery Seraphina more than merits a place on this list! Melodic and feminine, this name is surprisingly underused despite its similarities to other Latin favorites Isabella and Serena. The name originally refers to an order of angels, but it’s less expected than Angela or Angelique. Of course, the four-syllable cadence helps Seraphina’s staying power, and the name just brims with passion.
Zelia. Zealous Zelia is fun, fresh, and full of possibility. The name has the popular -lia ending, but it’s distinctive from most other names out there (Cecilia being the closest, I think). The spirit of Zelia is reminiscent of young love and happiness, but the name also fits in with vintage and retro trends. This energetic find is still rarely used, but it won’t be long before Zelia’s energy sweeps up the popularity charts.
Mireille. This light and fluffy French name just exudes positivity and love - like “miracle” meets “hooray!” It seems to have almost an excess of letters, but on paper they give the name necessary substance. Mireille offers a variety of accessible nicknames, from Mira to Ellie (for English speakers), but any little Mireille in the US will be one of a kind.