The New Belle Epoque

Apr 2nd 2010

What do these names have in common?


OK, the -bell part is a gimme. But there's more. None of them are traditional given names, and all of them have been submitted to Namipedia by readers. They have plenty of of company in the Bell system, too, including 16 names on the girls' top 1000 list. Put it all together and you have the strongest Belle generation this country has ever seen, eclipsing the previous 18th-century peak. (For those of you keeping track at home, I'm only counting names with a full "bell" sound, not names like Campbell and Mabel that swallow the vowel.)

I believe there's still more to come. Bel, Belle and Bella are remarkably flexible combining forms. Most two-syllable girl's name ending in a vowel sound will work, and there's an endless supply of those. Avabella? Sure. Jennabelle? Heck, why not?

Here's how some of the parents who submitted their Belle names to Namipedia described it:

"My husband and I like Elizabeth, but I did not like the possibility my child would be called Liz. Therefore, my husband came up with Elizabella. This allowed us to keep the feel of the name Elizabeth, but have the advantage of calling her Bella for short."

"I have always loved the name 'Bella,' but always felt that something should be added to the name, for example 'Isabella.' I looked for three letter first names with strong meanings. And found 'Adi.' So far, I have been receiving compliments about the name. It's unique, and when you read the name backwards, it's particular meaning says 'Beautiful Diamond or Jewel.'"

That "beautiful" connotation of Belle and Bella is an extra boon to parents who like the idea of names having meanings. It's an interesting example of the difference between "meanings" and "origins". The original -bel names that established the style, like Amabel and Isabel, weren't constructed from the Latin root for beauty. But they coincided happily with it, and centuries of parents have jumped on that coincidence.

That brings us to one other thing that list of Belle names has in common. I let them all stay in Namipedia, based on likely appeal to other parents. The Belles have a powerful style weapon: unlike most contemporary mix-and-match styles, they follow a traditional, old-fashioned form. That leaves even the new inventions with a sweetly antique style that appeals across the fashion spectrum. Admit it, traditionalists -- you kind of like Miabella, don't you? As for Avabella...coming soon to a Namipedia near you.


By Crystal (not verified)
April 2, 2010 11:25 AM

My DD's middle name is Sybella after my grandmother Sybil. We wanted to honor her but with something that flowed a little better with her first name.

April 2, 2010 11:48 AM

interesting post, laura! i can definitely see how the belle/bella inventions could cross style lines. impressive!

from last post:
anne with an e, that's fairly adorable about your husband's password.

oh, and hyz, my feelings are similar to yours. i really love nora, but i prefer it as a nickname, not a full name.

as much as eleanor seems like it is becoming increasingly popular and as much as it is discussed on this board, the name voyager graph really isn't that steep at all. maybe people are just talking about it and not taking the plunge...?

By Qwen (nli) (not verified)
April 2, 2010 11:44 AM

So I'm still hopelessly behind on the last thread but look at me being commenter #3 this time! Let's see if I can keep up...

I actually really DO like most of the names on Laura's list. The exceptions, for me, are Adibella and Sarabella. The former doesn't flow right to my ears and the latter sounds a bit like cerebellum. Though "brain" isn't exactly the worst connection for one's daughter, I suppose.

By hyz
April 2, 2010 12:02 PM

(reposted from last thread)

emilyrae, wow, that's true--I just checked it out myself compared to some of the sibs I proposed for it, and I was surprised to see how much lower Eleanor was on the ranking overall, and to see how much shallower its climb has been. Huh. Wacky. I do see it in my alumni announcements, though, and I feel like it's all over blog land (on real babies, not just in discussions about possible names)--maybe it's one of those names that is still very concentrated among a small group of people, and so seems much more saturated than it is? I would've sworn its graph would look very similar to Henry's and Amelia's at least, but I was wrong.

p.s. Oh, and for the record, the source of my main blog baby Eleanor association can be found here --although I've definitely seen others, this is the first that comes to mind. Maybe this site will help Catherinetoo's DH, too. I know when we were naming, for some reason I really wanted to see pictures of other little kids with the names we were considering. It doesn't make a lot of sense, but it helped me conceptualize the various names.

April 2, 2010 12:02 PM

Ella and -ella ending seems to be hot right along with -bella names - I'm thinking of Gabriella and Stella.

By Guest (not verified)
April 2, 2010 12:01 PM

Just wanted to comment on the Eleanor thing, even though I have never commented before. We named our daughter Eleanor (Nell for short) this past summer, and I know of three other baby Eleanors in my circle since then. So I wouldn't be surprised if it spikes this year. We still love it anyway :-)

April 2, 2010 12:03 PM

Guest - I love, love the nickname Nell!

By Guest (not verified)
April 2, 2010 12:09 PM

I've always LOVED Eleanor, and it was on my lists for both kids, but DH just didn't dig it, even when I offered up Elle, Nell, and Nora for nicknames (I don't care for nicknames, so this was big). I cannot see my Gemma as an Eleanor though, so I suppose it was for the best!

April 2, 2010 12:16 PM

oh, ha, hyz, i just went to check the old thread one more time, saw your post, and came over here to reply, and then saw your repost. i think i'm following you!

but yes, it is surprising how eleanor really isn't climbing that steeply because, though i don't personally know any little eleanors, i feel like we talk about it all the time. maybe, as you say, it is just concentrated among a specific group of people. or maybe 2009 was its breakout year. i guess we'll see what happens with it in may!

either way, i still adore the name. it is currently my number one choice for a girl (though i won't be having children for quite a long time).

By ClumsyKisses (not verified)
April 2, 2010 12:19 PM

Maybelle, though, the vowel isn't swallowed in that.

April 2, 2010 12:52 PM

I feel like Eleanor is often discussed here and on other NE blogs by NEs but maybe the general population isn't as attuned to the name. I know one young Eleanor, she goes by Ellie, and I think the name definitely has all the components of an up-and-comer- great nicknames (I'm sure people are attracted to the Ellie/Ella nickname as well), well-established, versatile, nice background (Roosevelt, Aquitaine, etc.).

Thanks again for the Ruth feedback. I talked to DH last night and Ruth Zipporah is definitely an option. I also love the nickname Ruthie, I think it's so sweet.

Re Zipporah pronunciation: we indeed were going to go with the "Z" pronunciation, the less authentic (in my opinion) version. But then I felt bad about changing it, since I'm generally against changing spellings/pronunciations for most names.

So, on topic, I find "belle" names really interesting. I remember loving Beauty and the Beast when it came out in the early 90's and falling in love with the name Belle. I'm kind of surprised that Bella isn't in the top 1000, maybe people feel like it's too short to be a first name. I definitely see Annabelle/Annabella becoming the next Isabel though. I've met a bunch over the past few years and it has the same appeal as Isabelle, plus it has a bunch of nicknames (Anne, Annie, Anna, Belle, Bella, etc.) which is a plus for most people.

By Keren not signed in (not verified)
April 2, 2010 1:17 PM

I'm laughing about the Eleanor spike, because when I had my daughter, 13 years ago in north London every other baby born then was called Eleanor or Ella. And now she's at achool with them all...many now known as Ellie. It must be one of those names which peaked in the UK first.

Can the Bella thing have to do with Twilight, I wonder? Too close to belly for me...I did know a girl called Belle though, which I thought was a very pretty name. She had a sister called Bunty, and years later I came across a shop called Bunty and Belle, which was the biggest coincidence ever.

By Keren not signed in (not verified)
April 2, 2010 1:19 PM

Oh and re Adibella (which I don't like at all) I just had tea with my friend and her lovely baby girl Adiele (pronounced Adiella) A really pretty Hebrew name meaning jewel.

By Air
April 2, 2010 1:37 PM

Okay, Laura, you caught me. I DO sort of like Miabella. I'd never use it, but it has such a beautiful ring. Darn. ;)

ClumsyKisses - Maybelle definitely fits the trend discussed, but I see it as a completely different name than Mabel.

April 2, 2010 2:12 PM

The thing about Eleanor is that I think it would have a much bigger spike in the present if it hadn't been so overwhelmingly dominant in the past. It has risen pretty dramatically in the last few years, but it's nowhere near the levels of the early 1900s.

I keep consoling myself that it's still not in the top 250 nationwide, and I have yet to hear of one anywhere in Arizona. Plus, I realize that Eleanor is never going to be the next Jessica. I just have to remind myself that it's my own common-name paranoia slipping through!

Oh, but I agree with Becky that An(n)abe(le) is quite possibly the next Isabel(le/a). I know 2 little Annabelles already--one goes by Annie and one goes by Belle.

I guess if I was going to use a bel(le) name, I'd pick one like Rosabel from the last thread, so that nickname options such as Rose/Rosa would differentiate it from other Belle/Bella names.

By EVie
April 2, 2010 2:36 PM

This post is funny for me, considering that I was just commenting on the last post that I've recently developed a thing for the -bel names. I remain staunchly in favor of the one-L ending, though--I find that Isabel, Annabel, Rosabel etc. have a much more serious and mature feeling than Isabelle, Annabelle, Rosabelle or Isabella, Annabella, Rosabella.

In the few years that I've been reading this blog, I've been slowly coming to terms with the fact that although I would rather avoid popular names, my tastes are unfortunately very much in line with the Zeitgeist. For awhile I've been trying to come up with names that are of that style without being popular themselves--e.g. Lilith instead of Lily, Amalia instead of Amelia, Liesel instead of Lila or Leah, Maribel instead of Isabel. I'm afraid that these names will still run the risk of eventually feeling dated, though, just because they're in the same family of names. Ah well, I still have a couple of years to mull it over.

By C, C & B's Mom (not verified)
April 2, 2010 2:37 PM

I have a Campbell but as the post says, it is quite the same as the other Belle/Bella names. Belle/Bella names seems so frilly feminine to me and Campbell definitely isn't that.

April 2, 2010 2:47 PM

I do like the -bella name creations more than most created names. :) Though their increasing popularity makes me glad that I didn't go with one for our daughter. I think Bella alone is nice too.

On the subject of Eleanor. I know one, who is British and 13, as mentioned by another poster. She goes by Ellie. A friend of a friend just named her newborn Ellanor - so they could use the nickname Ella.

By Patricia (not logged in) (not verified)
April 2, 2010 2:50 PM

Interesting post, Laura. But reading it, I was reminded of all the rhyming Aidan/Aiden names that parents got TOO carried away with. Do you think the same thing will happen with all the newly coined -bella, -bel, belle names being added to the already popular Isabella in all it's forms, Annabel(le/a), Gabriella, just Bella, Ella, Stella? Too much of a good thing/name? It seems that we may be coming out of "The Age of Aidan" just to enter "The New Belle Epoque". Now the concern may be classrooms full of little Bella/es sitting side by side with all the _aidans.

April 2, 2010 3:15 PM

Funny that Jane, Mother of 5, was just asking about Rosabel, and now this post... or maybe Laura was inspired by her? I like Rosabel, by the way. Avabel, mot so much. Sounds too kr8ive for my liking.

EVie- interesting that you mention Amalia- when I did some work on my family tree, it appears to have been a family name, back when my ancestors lived in Germany. It's not so well known in English-speaking countries, but I like it.

I agree with whoever mentioned the rhyming -ella/elle trend. We have one set of friends with a Bella (Isabella) and Gisele, and another with Gabriela and Isabella. I often wonder if they must experience a lot of confusion, having given Gabriela only one L!

By Daffy Castilian (not verified)
April 2, 2010 3:41 PM

Knock, knock...
Who's there?
Dora who?


By Eo (not verified)
April 2, 2010 3:51 PM

Well, here's one traditionalist who doesn't like any of the "composed" -bella names at all. They ARE too close to the older, trendy, celeb-and-pop culture-sanctioned names ending in -ella.

I too find the -bel names less frilly and more palatable, although apart from a few strong, less-popular ones like Christabel, they aren't up my alley either.

I guess there needs to be a category for traditionalists who often just aren't sold on the currently popular "traditional" names, especially if they're frilly... Came up with "fuddy-duddy" name category awhile back, but that's a bit broader than what I'm talking about now!

By Eo (not verified)
April 2, 2010 4:20 PM

Oh, Becky I just managed to catch up a bit and wanted to add encouragement for "Ruth". Now it is very distinctive when it appears on a baby or young child-- anyone choosing this name is well ahead of the curve (in a good way) I believe.

I know you favor "Ruthie", but I always have to put in a word for the other soft nickname which is also a botanical name-- "Rue". It somehow adds whimsy to the strength and seriousness of Ruth, and also makes me think of little Roo in Winnie the Pooh...

By Philyre (not verified)
April 2, 2010 4:35 PM

I think Eleanor is one of those names whose popularity is concentrated in a very local way. We had it on our list for our son, but removed it when we started meeting actual babies locally and realized that it's really, really popular here (urban hipster stronghold in the pacific northwest). With very good reason: it has great namesakes, and fits right in with other names we hear over and over again in parenting groups (Hazel, Josephine, Cora, Henry), but with a much larger variety of nickname options.

I'm willing to be that chances are very good that there'd be another Eleanor, as well as many Ellas/Ellies/Elles/Bellas/Belles, in our kid's classroom. I think the real shining point of Eleanor is that it has a nickname that fits right in with all the ___bellas but has a more dignified, less frilly longer form.

By Guest (not verified)
April 2, 2010 4:40 PM

My 7 month old is an Annabel. It was a name we had considered for our 2 1/2 year old Oliver before learning of his gender. Both names we thought were so original at the time (I picked up Oliver in New Zealand in the early 2000s), but they seem to be rising the name charts quickly. Oh well. I guess they won't be oddities!

By knp-nli (not verified)
April 2, 2010 4:49 PM

I can't believe how much I like Jennabelle!! OR Genebelle (ala Genevieve)? Gennibel? Could even be a great nickname for any Jennifer!

By Guest (not verified)
April 2, 2010 4:54 PM

I definitely feel that I've heard these versions lately:


By toothfairy (not verified)
April 2, 2010 5:19 PM

Reading Laura's post and then the discussion about the name Eleanor makes me think this name could fit within the "ella" theme, if you add an A to the end: Eleanora. Instead of (something)-ella, it's now Ella with "nor" smashed in the middle. Done this way parents get the trendy -a at the end, and the name gains a more lyrical sound.
I normally do not like name mashups, but I quite like the flow of "Eleanora."

By Jane, Mother of Five (not verified)
April 2, 2010 5:28 PM

Wow! Since I was just asking opinions on Rosabel in the last thread, I am of course finding this post extremely interesting.

I am a little dismayed. DH and I had just agreed on Rosabel, and now I'm not sure again. I mean, yeah, the actual name Rosabel is uncommon, but how common is the "bel/belle/bella" family of names?

According to the post, there are 16 "bella" names in the top 1,000 girls names. So what does that mean? How popular is the name family taken as a whole? If they were all one name, would they be number 1, number 30, number 200? Anyone know how to calculate this?

Will the name seem dated, if, as Patricia wonders, we are entering the Bella Era? I don't want to name my little girl something the equivalent of Caiden or Jaiden - just a random spin on a popular sound.

By EVie
April 2, 2010 5:29 PM

Valerie - I have an Amalia in my German ancestry too--she was from Konigsberg, born in the early 1800s, I believe. I've often wondered why Amalia is relatively unknown in the English-speaking world--perhaps its niche has just been dominated by Amelia? It's ironic, because Amalia is actually the older name. It was my first-choice girls' name until DH vetoed it.

I just went down to the U.S. Virgin Islands for a few days over spring break and learned that the capital of St. Thomas is called Charlotte Amalie, named for the queen of Denmark when the island was taken over by the Danish West India Company in the late 1600s (it is pronounced the same as Amalia). Thomas is going to be the name of my first boy, after my dad--I can totally imagine myself having a sibset of Thomas, Charlotte and Amalia, LOL.

By Amy3
April 2, 2010 5:37 PM

For me most of the -belle/-bell names are too frilly, although I greatly prefer them when they're -bel. I do know a Bella, an Anabelle, and an Isabel (or Isabella, I can't remember).

I also know several girls named Eleanor/Elinor, most of whom go by the whole name or Ella.

April 2, 2010 5:51 PM

Um...caught! There's a list of -bels in my secret file o' names (carefully kept under my finance files, mostly to encourage me to at least think of the finances once in awhile).

My favourites are Christabel and Mehitabel, and I definitely have a soft spot for Rosabel. I would never, ever use it, but I also really like the sound of Jezebel. And then there's Amabel, Isobel and Maribel. Mirabelle, Claribel (in this case, I think I prefer Clara Belle as a double name). Isn't there a small history of Dulcibella as a name? And in Antony and Cleopatra there's a (male) character called Dolabella, which opens up Lolabella (Lolabelle?), Nolabelle. It's a bit syrupy for my taste, but even Dorabelle and Corabella have a certain ring...

April 2, 2010 5:51 PM

So, I was mistaken earlier, Bella is actually in the top 1000. Woops, blame it on the baby brain.

Jane- I checked the top 1000 and most of the -bel names are variations of Isabel/Isabella and Annabel, plus there's Bella, Arabella (#657), Campbell (762), Maribel (935), so i think in general the less common -bel names are safe for now.

toothfairy- I know a woman named Elianora who goes by Nora, so I don't consider Eleanora a mash up name. It was in the top 1000 from 1909-1939 so it's pretty established as a name.

By Amy3
April 2, 2010 6:07 PM

Random names overheard at the park (these kids are generally 3 and under, I'd guess):

Ariel (g)
Ellie (x2)

By EVie
April 2, 2010 6:08 PM

Jane, Mother of Five - I did a quick analysis of the bel/bell/belle/bella names in the top 1000 for 2008. They are, in order of popularity:

Isabella, Isabelle, Isabel, Bella, Annabelle, Izabella, Isabela, Annabella, Arabella, Anabelle, Isabell, Annabel, Anabella, Maribel, Anabel, Izabelle

Their total numbers were 35,167 births. For perspective, the #1 name for 2008, Emma, totaled at 18,587; Jennifer, at the peak of its popularity in 1972, totaled 63,596 (#2 was Michelle at 29,273).

However, if you remove Isabella, the #2 name, there were only 16,790 "bel" names (which would land them between #6 and #7, Olivia and Sophia). If you remove all the Isabel variants, you end up with 7,141, which lands you between #26 and #27 (Anna and Victoria). Remove Bella itself, and you get 4,394, which puts you between #65 and #66 (Mackenzie and Arianna).

Then you're left with mostly Annabel variants. Take those away, and you're left with only Arabella and Maribel, for a total of 750 (between #425 and #426, Melany and Cali).

So I guess my conclusions are that, while Isabel and Annabel variants ARE taking over in huge numbers, the rest of the -bel names are safer... for the moment at least. Also, the one-L form is consistently the least popular for all variants (Annabel beats Anabella, but Annabelle and Annabella beat Annabel, and Anabella beats Anabel).

Interesting trivia: there were three "bel" names I didn't include because I didn't think they fit with the style in question. They were Belinda, Campbell and Belen. The only male name in the top 1000 that contained "bel" was Abel.

April 2, 2010 6:18 PM

My favorite is Marabel, but yeah I would hack of the a at the end. I'm not much for frilly I guess.

I also love Eo's recommendation of Rue (or Ru?) as a nickname for Ruth. So cute.

By Marzidotes (not verified)
April 2, 2010 6:18 PM

This also made me think of combo names that start with the popular Ella sound as a variation. Perhaps a name such as Ellarosa/Elirosa?

April 2, 2010 6:21 PM

Oh, also I went to elementary school with an Annabelle. She was one of those who was fashionable and into doing her hair and make-up even at that young age. And her older sister was a teenage mother. So those are my associations with that name. I think I went to school with Christabels too. I think Annabelle and the Christabels were Filipino.

April 2, 2010 6:35 PM

@Jane - I think that Rosabel is actually OK as it's a little different and the stats Evie did seem to confirm that. I think if you are planning on using a nn of Rose or Rosa/Rosie then it will be much less on the 'bella' trend.

@Becky - I really like Zipporah but I think Ruth Zipporah is lovely and goes well with your other children's names.

As for the 'bel' trend, I generally don't like most of the names as I find them too frilly (and I like frilly girl names). It is also my maiden surname so I think of the sound slightly differently to most. I have however considered Bellamy as a middle name as a tribute to my maiden name. I also quite like Sybella and plain old Annabel, maybe for a middle name.

April 2, 2010 6:52 PM

EVie- interesting that you have an Amalia in your family tree too. I love your fantasy sibset of Thomas, Charlotte and Amalia!

April 2, 2010 7:26 PM

I liked the -bella names when just scanning through the list, but I don't know how I would feel when examining one in particular. I quite like Belle though.

I hope Eleanor never becomes truly popular. It has been my favorite name since I read Ella Enchanted in second grade. And Eleanor of Aquitaine is one of my favorite queens (haha... I actually do keep a list of my favorite royalty). Unfortunately, I'm only fifteen and can't claim the name for a looooong time :(
I'll just keep my fingers crossed until then...

Oh, and I love the name Rue!

By RCO (not verified)
April 2, 2010 7:45 PM

Thank you so much for this incredibly timely article. I was up late last night trying to come up with a bella name that my husband and I both could agree on. He likes Rosabella and Elisabella, while I like Arabella and Rosabel. I will suggest Miabella to him later.

April 2, 2010 9:47 PM

Dorabell rocks! Thanks for the chuckle, Daffy.

By Patricia (not logged in) (not verified)
April 2, 2010 10:26 PM

Jane, Mother of Five,
I haven't been on here for a while and am wondering if you know the gender of your baby by now? Rosabel is a pretty name, but I can see how this discussion may be giving you second thoughts about joining the 'belle' choir.

I hadn't realized 'belle' names are now being created in the same way names like Raiden and Zayden grew out of Aidan. Aidan is the name of our oldest grandson, almost 9, and seemed unusual when he was born, but now Aidan and its spin-offs are everywhere.

Our 12th grandson, 9th with our (and your) surname, is due tomorrow, but no sign that he's going to 'show up' then, maybe preferring to wait until his next oldest brother's 2nd birthday the following day. He will be called Henry. I suggested Patrick :-), using your Patrick of the same surname as an example, but his parents have decided on Henry, another traditional name I suggested. I'm pleased to be having a little Henry in our family.

Best wishes!

By Moll (not verified)
April 2, 2010 11:12 PM

When I first read this post, I thought that I was SO not buying into this trend, that the inventions were kind of silly, etc. I still doubt I'd ever use a Bel/la name, but I realized that when I read the Coleridge poem back in 5th or 6th grade, I hardcore loved the name Christabel. And, that for a long time, Amabel was leading my short-list of hypothetical baby names. And, that I have an ancestor named Tessiebelle, which is an invention surprisingly similar to the ones listed.

Darn it, trends... I'm not above you after all, am I? I do prefer pre-existing to invented, and -bel to -bella.

I bet part of the -bel(le)/(la) appeal is that it's "double the nicknames, double the fun". You can use Belle/Bella, or even Ella, and usually the root of the name as well (Izzy, Annie, Ava, and so on).

April 3, 2010 12:00 AM

I have a friend with a daughter (age 5) named Ellanora. It is a mashup of her two grandmothers' names. She doesn't often go by simply "Ella," but it is the nickname of choice.

Loved the name when I first heard it (although I prefer the spelling Eleanora) and thought it was so nice that they could use either Ella or Nora as nicknames! The name has definitely caught on in my neighborhood/demographic, and I would not be surprised if the nicknames Ella and Ellie are part of the charm. It is a still a lovely name.

Jane, Mother of Five: Rosabel is my favorite "Belle" name after Amabel. It is lovely. And it's true, there is something Shakespearean about it.

However, I understand and sympathize with your hesitation to use it and potentially be submerged in a strong trend. EVie's excellent number crunching and Laura's post together suggest that "Belle" names will have something of a date stamp about them . . . among my acquaintances under six, I know an Annabel, Isobel, and Mirabelle (who goes by Mira). As others have mentioned, the fact that you can use "Rose" or "Rosa" might mitigate the "Belle" effect.
Congratulations, and best of luck with your decision.

By Allison (not verified)
April 3, 2010 12:09 AM

I actually quite dislike the bel/belle/bella ending. It reminds me of "bellum" ("war" in Latin) as well as "bellow" which is sort of an ugly concept to me.

By silverly (not verified)
April 3, 2010 12:16 AM

One of the names we considered for my daughter was Mirabel. One of the things I didn't like about the name was that the traditional spelling is not the spelling most people would expect. I very much prefer to use traditional spellings of names, but I know that everyone would expect the name to be Mirabelle, not Mirabel.

By Mara (not signed in) (not verified)
April 3, 2010 3:50 AM

My name is Mara and an old friend always called me MaraBella - mar-ruh-bell-uh. That is all.

April 3, 2010 9:46 AM

The -bella era reminds me of the -issa era of the previous generation - the Marissa, Alissa, Clarissa and even Melissa which was more my generation.