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.
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.
Baby name history is like a fossil record of culture. You can see broad trends in society over generations, but also individual moments frozen in time. Today we're turning back the clock to look at the American homefront in World War I, as captured by baby names.
The Great War began in Europe in 1914, and the United States entered the fight in 1917. Peace came with the Armistice of November, 1918. Along the way, American parents honored the war's people and places, battles and allies in the names of their children. Each of the names below spiked in popularity in 1917-18. Some, like Freedom, were given to just a handful of children; others, like Pershing, to hundreds.
Foch (Male name spike; honoring Marshal of France Ferdinand Foch)
Haig (M; British Commander in Chief Douglas Haig)
Pershing (M; American Commander John "Black Jack" Pershing)
Adelheid (F; Archduchess Adelheid of Austria, young daughter of the Archduke and a rare name trend-maker from across the lines)
Quentin (M & F; army pilot Lt. Quentin Roosevelt, son of President Theodore Roosevelt, shot down in combat in 1918)
BATTLES & SOLDIERS
Marne (M & F; the Allied victory in the Second Battle of the Marne marked the end of German offensives on the Western Front)
Verdun (M & F; the nine-month Battle of Verdun was the war's longest battle)
Lieutenant (M; military rank)
UNITY WITH FRANCE
PEACE AT LAST
Victory (M, F)
Armistice (F; a brief review of birth records reveals that nearly all of these babies were born on the exact Armistice date, 11/11/18)
Let's not even call them girls' names. The names we're talking about today are women's names. They're all grown up, and they mean business.
The seven names detailed below are classics with a formidable heft. There's nothing lacy about them, and they don't end in the vowel sounds commonly associated with feminine style. Yet they're not boyish either. Names like Margaret and Helen project strength in a confidently female form.
What's more, these names stand tough against the fickle winds of fashion. While trendy unisex names rise and fall, the formidable classics quietly maintain their character. And as familiar as they may sound, most are actually quite uncommon. An American girl today is more likely to be named Symphony or Dior—or traditionally male names like Carson and Noah—than Joan.
Here are our top picks for pure classic power names, along with some historical exemplars. None rank among today's top 100 girls' names, and none will be taken lightly.
Current popularity rank: #132
Year of U.S. popularity peak: 1911
Power precedents: U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher; birth control activist Margaret Sanger
Current popularity rank: #1680
Year of U.S. popularity peak: 1932
Power precedents: French heroine Joan of Arc; rock star Joan Jett
Current popularity rank: #418
Year of U.S. popularity peak: 1911
Power precedents: Author/activist Helen Keller; "First Lady of the American Theater" Helen Hayes
Current popularity rank: #438
Year of U.S. popularity peak: 1911
Power precedents: U.S. Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins; Actress Frances McDormand
Current popularity rank: #846
Year of U.S. popularity peak: 1940
Power precedents: Choreographer/dancer Judith Jamison; the biblical Judith, who slew the general of a conquering army
Current popularity rank: #405
Year of U.S. popularity peak: 1968
Power precedents: Opera title character Carmen; jazz singer Carmen McRae
Current popularity rank: #265
Year of U.S. popularity peak: 1909
Power precedents: Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg; author/screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
Image credits: Judith Jamison via alvinailey.org, others via Wikimedia Commons