Need a different name for "Sophia"

She's in her 20s, was born in Charleston, South Carolina in 1820ish, and is of French Huguenot extraction.  I originally named her Sophia, with a (hated) nn Sophie, but I'm not really happy with that name now.   


I know it's not exactly realistic, but I'm really not digging Mary, Elizabeth, Sarah, Ann, Nancy, Catherine.... in other words, any of the really popular names of the time :)    and Margaret is already taken for her little sister.  Names for this family so far have really trended towards Classical and Ancient History (see the list at the bottom).


Parents are Ada and Francis, sister is Margaret nn Pearl.  Last name is Gentry.


If possible, I'm feeling out Poesie (Posey) as a nickname for her (which exists as a childhood name that she hates) but I'm not too thrilled with either Josephine or Penelope.  Both of those are mainly failing because I can't come up with an alternate nickname for her to like better, and I really don't want to write out Josephine or Penelope all the darn time for her.  :) 

Nickname trouble is also why Sophia is bothering me.  Sophie wouldn't be any better than Poesie from the character's viewpoint, and I already have a Sophronia (Sophie) and a Sophia (Fifi) as established characters.  I could just leave Sophia alone with no nickname, but since that name is already bothering me a bit, I don't know whether I want to go that route. 


Persephone is an option (with Persis as the preferred nickname - what can I say, she's a weird person), but it is not my first choice due to story considerations, and I also don't feel like Persephone is the best match for Margaret as a sibling.  If I can't find anything better, I do currently like Sophia best (even though it's bothering me) and then after that, it's Persephone better than either Josephine or Penelope.


Poesie isn't required as a nickname, but if I can wrangle it in, I'd like to.

Off the table (mainly because I've used them for other people already) but useful to know for ideas on how this family names their people:


Margaret (Pearl)
Sophronia (Sophie)




Thank you all!!


By Guest (not verified)
May 8, 2012 9:11 PM

Well, for Josephine, you could use the nn Jo or Josie or Phina or Sadie or Jody. Penelope could be Penny, Poppy, Pip, Pippa, Elle, Ellie, Nell, or Nellie. Then siblings would be Penny and Pearl.

-sharalyns (nli)

May 9, 2012 2:11 PM

Thanks for the nn suggestions, but I think maybe I wasn't clear in my post - I know there are lots of nicknames available, but I don't like any of the nicknames for Josephine or for Penelope.


I was actually hoping for suggestions of other full names instead - something that seemed similar to Sophia, Josephine, or Penelope, but wasn't any of those (or the names I'd used on other characters).


Thanks for the response tho!



By Guest (not verified)
May 10, 2012 1:46 AM

Ah, got it. Yeah, I couldn't come up with anything different unless you use a "P" name in general. Unless you try Mariposa, Zipporah, or Pomeline? What about Primrose or another floral name?

By Guest (not verified)
May 9, 2012 9:41 PM

A few preliminary thoughts first: You have an interesting collection of names here! Have you done any research as to how popular or plausible they are for the time period? I have no expertise here myself, but a number of posters on this board who are geneology buffs may be able to give you a better sense. Just in general, I’d expect that flowery classical names like Parthenia and Persephone would only appeal to a very particular demographic, and Ginevra and Fidelia feel a bit out of place with the others. (Also, most families would not think to use Pearl as a nickname for Margaret – they would be unusually literary or linguistically aware, I’d think.) I am aware that many slave owners were fond of giving their slaves Greek and Roman names like Chloe and Cassius, though I do not know any details on how widespread this practice was geographically or though time. If you do want to go with a family full of classical names in the antebellum South though you may want to look a little bit into this context. (If you do end up doing research on this, please let us know what you find or direct us to interesting links; I for one would be interested.)

Another thing to consider is your protagonist’s family’s relationship to their French heritage. I notice that Josephine is the only French name on your list, and you have Clara instead of Claire, Julia instead of Julie/Juliette, etc. Is there a reason this family has abandoned French names in the U.S. and is it important to your story? I was curious enough to skim the Wikipedia article on the Huguenots, and it notes that Huguenot migration to the Charleston, S.C. area began in the mid-1680s, so I guess your fictional family would have had many generations to assimilate. Wikipedia does state: “Most of the Huguenot congregations (or individuals) in North America eventually affiliated with other Protestant denominations with more numerous members. The Huguenots adapted quickly and often began to marry outside their immediate French communities fairly rapidly, which led to their assimilation.[39] Their descendants in many families continued to use French first names and surnames for their children well into the nineteenth century, as they tried to keep some connection to their heritage.” Anyway, it’s an interesting topic to think about – perhaps one you’re exploring in the story? I assume there’s a reason you chose a French Huguenot family for your protagonist. If she does end up going by Josephine or by Sophie vs. Sophia in different contexts, that could be an opening to explore conflict between her perspective and her family’s on their French background.


Is there something about Poesie that gives it extra meaning within the context of the story? What comes to my mind are the words poesy (poetic language, as opposed to prose) and posies (flowers plucked for bouquets) – do you mean to reference both of these aspects with your chosen spelling, or is one or the other something your character objects to, and why? If it’s the latter, she could just as easily resent being called Grace and for the latter any girlish, diminutive-sounding nickname might provoke her annoyance (Fifi, Nanette …).


Keep in mind that nicknames don’t need to derive directly from the name in question: they could just as easily arise from some aspect of personality, appearance or history. This would be a particularly good route to a hated childhood nickname: one that reminds your protagonist of something mildly embarrassing about herself when she was small, while here she is as a young adult trying to get people to take her seriously. She could have gotten stuck with Poesie because she fell into a flower pot as a toddler, or was chastised for being a “Nosy Poesie” butting into other people’s business, or because her younger sibling couldn’t say Sophie (a la poor Beezus Quimby).


Also, if one of your existing characters seems to have the perfect name for your protagonist already (or simply one that conflicts), surely it’s easier to rename a bit player than your heroine. I’d be tempted to poach Rose or Sophronia and come up with a new name for the robbed character – unless all your characters’ existing names are equally important to their roles.


I did try to come up with some alternative full names to give you the nickname Poesie, but I’m running into the same problem of finding other potential nicknames far more plausible (without even getting into whether your character would find them preferable). My paltry list is Apollonia (Polly? Lony?), Pauline (Polly, Line/Lina), Philomena (Phila, May, Minnie) … I think you could plausibly coax Poesie out of any name starting with P (though perhaps it works better when pronounced as P rather than Ph). Pauline I’m not sure fits the time period, and the other two feel a little over the top even for your classics-loving family, especially next to Margaret.


For what it’s worth, here are a few names I do see as plausible siblings to Margaret, along with some possible nickname options:

  • Abigail (Abby, Gail, Apple)
  • Amanda (Amy, Mandy)
  • Caroline (Caddie, Callie, Carrie, Line/Lina)
  • Catherine (Cat, Cathy, Kate, Trina)
  • Cecilia/Cecily (Celia, Celie/Silly, Ceecee, Cissy/Sissy)
  • Elizabeth (Eliza, Ellie, Elsie, Bess, Beth, Betty, Libby, Liddy, Lily, Liza, Lizzie, Zibby)
  • Esther (Essie, Ettie)
  • Henrietta (Hennie, Hettie, Hattie)
  • Louisa (Lou, Lulu, Leeza, Weezy)
  • Ruth (Rue, Ruthie)
  • Thomasina (Tamsin, Tammy, Tommy, Sina)
  • Virginia (Ginny, Vinnie, Virgie)

Or, would a virtue name fit? For example: Patience (Patty), Prudence (Prue, Prudie), Temperance (Tempie, Perry, Princie).


Lastly, I’m aware there was period when Sophia was pronounced “so-FIE-uh” in English, rather than “so-FEE-uh.” I’m thinking this would have been true during the mid nineteenth century when your story is set, but you may want to check, or perhaps one of the knowledgeable regulars here will weigh in (EVie?). That doesn’t rule out Sophie as a “nickname” but it perhaps makes it less likely.

Good luck with your writing, and I hope some of this helps! Sorry it was a bit of a tome.

- kalmia (not logged in)


By Guest (not verified)
May 10, 2012 1:44 AM

kalmia, you're at least partially right about Sophia. I know that it was pronounced so-FIE-uh in 18th century and Regency England (and Maria was pronounced mah-RIE-uh, like Carey). I don't know exactly when the so-FEE-uh shift happened, though, only that it was due to Continental influence, and I don't know when that might have happened in America (America in the 1820s is a bit outside my wheelhouse). Perhaps Miriam knows? 

I had some similar thoughts, though, about whether a white Protestant family in the antebellum South would really be using classical names like Parthenia and Sophronia. I might buy it if the story were set in England, because the classics were all the rage in the decades after 1800 (the high-waisted, straight-lined dresses that were in fashion, for example, were inspired by classical statuary), and it's possible that a slightly eccentric classics enthusiast might give those names to his daughters. In the American South, though, I thought that classical names were given to slaves because they were considered too pagan for respectable Christians. 

November, if I were you, I would probably do a bit of research on your time period and on Huguenots in America to get a sense of what they were actually naming their kids around 1800. This book seems like a good place to start: The Huguenots in America: A Refugee People in New World Society by Jon Butler. There are also a bunch of historical societies dedicated to the Huguenots, some of which keep detailed geneological records to the present day. Try getting in touch with and to see if they can help you get access to some of their resources.

Sorry not to have more info on specific names—it's a time period and culture that I don't know a whole lot about, and as a history and historical fiction lover I don't want to give you anachronistic recommendations. Good luck with your story!

-EVie, not logged in

May 10, 2012 3:43 AM

EVie, I can't really say authoritatively when Maria and Sophia switched to the continental vowel, but my guess would be latter part of the nineteenth century into the early twentieth under the influence of the massive immigration from southern and eastern Europe at that time.  That's absolutely speculation.  I do know that in Fielding's Tom Jones, the heroine is So-FYE-a Weston.  Also the mother of one of my son's classmates was So-FYE-a, but her father was a classics professor :-).

Where I grew up in southeastern Pennsylvania, there were a number of families with Huguenot surnames, but I didn't notice anything out of the ordinary about their given names that I could ascribe to Huguenot custom.  I do know something about naming patterns in French-speaking Louisiana.  I don't know how far back it goes, but France had (has?) naming laws which permitted only canonical and classical names.  Hence Diane de Poitiers.  This has persisted in New Orleans and Acadiana until this day.  Among the old creole and Cajun families you will still see names like Ulisse, Alcee, Alcide (see the werewolf in True Blood), Aristide, Delphine, Theophile, although perhaps mostly in the older generations .  And there's always Hercule Poirot, but he's Walloon :-).

In Francophone Louisiana, the classical pagan names were certainly given to Christians, indeed from the most prestigious creole families.  And slaves often had biblical names like Mary and John, Sally and Samuel, Jim and Jane.  Indeed the stereotypical slave names were Mose(s) and Jemima.  My impression is that some slaveowners gave slaves names like Pompey, Cicero, Crassus, Cassius, Scipio, and so on, because they derived a certain amusement from the ironic imposition of  the names of the great figures of Greece and Rome on their own personal human property, slaves named after notable slaveowners.  I rather doubt that the slaves and their descendants enjoyed the joke.  At least Cassius Clay certainly didn't.

May 10, 2012 4:29 AM

A further thought--how common were Maria and Sophia in 19th century (Protestant) America in any pronunciation?  I don't know about Sophia vs Sophie, but I am reasonably sure that Mary was way more popular than Maria.  With the Louisiana Purchase several French Catholic populations entered the US, and they would have used Marie and Sophie.  When (formerly Mexican) Texas joined the US in 1845, the Spanish-speaking Catholic Texans would have used the names Maria and Sophia.  Nonetheless most of the US population were English-speaking Protestants of Anglo-Saxon heritage, and I think they would be relatively disinclined to use Maria, preferring Mary.  OTOH as far as I know Sophia was preferred over Sophie in both English-and German-speaking populations in both Europe and the US during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  The German pronunciation would have had the continental vowel, while the English pronunciation would have the diphthong.  (BTW the character in Fielding's novel was Sophia Western, not Weston.  It's the middle of the night, and I am not thinking all that clearly.)  The great influx of southern and eastern Europeans at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries would have given a big boost to Maria (now with the continental vowel) and similarly probably made Sophia more popular than it had been-and also with the continental vowel.

Now I need to go to bed before I slump over my keyboard.

May 18, 2012 3:48 PM

One of my professors in graduate school was very insistent that Maria in one of Henry James's novels was Ma-RYE-ah, not Ma-ree-ah. I think she was a character in The Ambassadors. James was born in the latter half of the 19th century, so assuming that my professor was correct, the So-fye-ah pronunciation would have been standard in the 1920s.

May 10, 2012 9:53 PM

Holy crap!  That was a lot of feedback!  Wow... I feel honored!  :)


I think I'm going to do a general reply for some of the common themes in all of the responses, but I wanted to specifically address some of the names that you suggested here.


Virtue names are an option for other characters.  However, due to the dynamics of the family I'm creating, I'm staying away from them for the most part for the immediate family.  (Which is sad, because I dearly love virtue names.)

Likewise I'm trying to stay away from any names that "feel" too modern, or too Old Testament.  Thus avoiding ones like Amanda or Abigail or Ruth or Esther.  I know they're possible in the period and for the background, just not as good a fit for the story.

I LOVE the suggestion of Philomena, and I am actually considering repurposing some other character names for my heroine. 

I'm so glad that you picked up on the double meaning for Poesie - it does indeed hearken to both backgrounds (posies and poesy), and if I can keep it, could be an interesting little touch to keep around. 

Thank you for all of the really interesting comments and suggestion, and check my huge answer-everyone post at the bottom of the thread if you're interested!


By Guest (not verified)
May 10, 2012 2:19 PM

EVie and Miriam, it is always a pleasure as well as an education to read your well-informed and thoughtful comments. The notes on related naming cultures and connections to other cultural aspects such as fashion just tickle me no end.

I stopped by to note that I'd checked the birthdate for the one American Sophia-pronounced-"so-FIY-uh" data point I know of, Sophia Smith, who established Smith College (a fitting legacy, I've always thought, for a woman named Sophia). She was born in 1796, earlier than I'd remembered; I'd only recalled that she died in 1870, when my alma mater was founded. Thus, while there were certainly "so-FIY-uhs" around in the mid-century, there's enough of a time gap between when she and November's character were named that perhaps the vowel shift had happened by then. I still don't know if that's the case, but at least you have the context for my impression.

- kalmia (not logged in)

By Guest (not verified)
May 10, 2012 3:49 PM

Another So-FIY-uh was Sophia Peabody Hawthorne, born in 1809. Both of the these women were New Englanders, though, and it's possible that pronounciations could have varied depending on the region.

By mk
May 10, 2012 3:57 PM





Maybe not necessarily a fit for a French Huguenot family, but they do fit the time period.


May 10, 2012 10:22 PM

Goodness, where to begin?


First off - my own research and background on names.  For this particular work, I'm not being really horribly obsessed with accuracy and legitimacy.  I'm sourcing names from the Brontes and Austen, from period Charleston gravesites and geneaology boards, and from which is a neato listing of names and frequencies in the various decades based on census data and the ages listed for the people in them.  My main rule is that I have to see the name in at least two of my sources before I'll consider it, but that I won't be overly concerned about matching up exact populations and usage patterns.


The reason I'm not being hugely worried is that this is a gothic comic work - think The Picture of Dorian Grey crossed with Fried Green Tomatoes.  :)


Basically, our heroine is the slightly less favored daughter of a heading-for-bankruptcy family with a socialite-schemer mother and a younger sister who is much more marketable.  Our heroine gains posession of a journal which allows her to record her life, and she ends up a sort of ghost, watching over the family through the generations, as fortunes wax and wane, before having to finally decide whether she'll sacrifice to help her family's descendants, or refrain out of spite for her original family treating her less than admirably.


Now, all that said, from what I have determined, most French Huguenots in Charleston tried their darnedest to fit in socially, and names were pretty much similar to those of others in their respective classes.  The one thing that I did keep for this family was that very French interest in having "official" names - either cultural or classical, which plays very well into this particular family being overwhelmingly stuck up about their ancestors, and of their own cultural and educational levels.  I purposefully used many names that have obvious French counterparts so that I can have some of the family members using a French version of their name with certain people, or in certain situations, just to add to the pomposity if I feel that it's needed. 


I've also tried to keep modern tastes in mind when I went to naming people - Jemima may have been a perfectly acceptable name in Regency England, but now, in America, it brings to mind only one thing, and so I simply accepted that and moved on. 

Likewise for names/nicknames like Hetty, Fanny, or Biddy - just too old-fashioned to modern eyes to really use with a clear conscience. 

Names like Lucy or Janet get axed for the opposite reason - they seem more modern than they really are, so I don't want to confuse people.

So, that left classical names, and all of the old "traditional" standbys - the Marys, Marias, Catherines, Carolines, and Julias.  The jury is still out on Rose - I currently have it on one of the more recent generations, because I'm not having any luck finding any actual Roses in the 1820s.  I'm still searching through for Rose variants, because Rose does show up as a nickname.  I would love to find better proof of something like Rosemarie, because that would lend nicely to Poesie for the hated nickname, and Rose itself as a "good" nickname.


Thanks so much for all the commentary and help - it's been really fun reading through the comments.  I do think that with the Sophia pronunciation change (I didn't even think about that, but it is early enough that she would most likely still be Sofai-uh) that's another knock against it as the main character's name.  I doubt this will ever get published, let alone audiobooked, but I would want people to pronounce it correctly, and that would never happen.  :)

May 10, 2012 11:11 PM

What about Flora (Fr. Fleur)?  I know Flora was popular in the mid- to late 1800s, but I don't know about the early part of the century.  Fleur goes back to the Middle Ages (see the romance Floris and Blanchefleur), but again I don't know about usage in your time period.  Poesie/Poesy/Posy would work as a nickname, and alternate nicknames would be Florrie and Flossie.

BTW are you familiar with poesy rings?  Popular in the 15th-17th centuries they were plain bands with internal or external inscriptions, usually in French and sometimes in English, of lines of poetry or sentiments.  The theme was usually love and the rings exchanged between lovers or used as weddings, although the sentiment could be about friendship and given to a friend rather than a lover.  In your time period they would have been heirlooms (it wouldn't be strange for one to have come down in a French family), and they still are available as antiques today.  Also new poesy rings are available with old or more modern sentiments in whatever language desired.

May 11, 2012 12:40 AM

I love how, on this blog/forum I don't only learn about names! Poesy rings? How fantastic is that?!

ETA: Now that I think about it, I guess that wedding bands that say Ani L'Dodi V'Dodi Li ("I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine") are a form of poesy ring, eh?

May 11, 2012 2:03 AM

Yep, that's a poesy ring.  The original ones that are hundreds of years old have inscriptions in Anglo-Norman, French, Latin, and English.  They come up for sale every so often and can be a bit pricey, but not out of the question, usually several hundred dollars depending on condition and so forth.  The modern ones can have whatever inscription in whatever language.  They come in gold, silver, platinum, and steel, museum replicas and modern designs, with stock inscriptions or custom engraved.  And the modern ones are cheap, because they are essentially plain bands, no gemstones.  I just took a look, and not only can you get ones that say Ani L'Dodi v'Dodi Li, but you can also get ones that say Bashert and Mazel Tov.

May 11, 2012 12:55 PM

Aww, it gives me the warm fuzzies to think about engraving a ring with bashert. The inscription that my husband had engraved inside my wedding band is "She is to me, as I am to her".

Oh, and regarding the name Poesie, poésie is the French word for poetry, so that link was clearly obvious to me. The name also reminded me of one of the three sisters in Ballet Shoes, Posy, which is a very positive association for me.

By Guest (not verified)
May 11, 2012 1:53 PM

November, your story sounds like a lot of fun to write - and to read - and it's interesting to hear more about how the names will help you tell the tale. If you do end up publishing (e- or otherwise), I hope you'll let us all know where we can read it!

Thanks too for sharing a bit more about your research and approach. If I ever try my hand at historical fiction, that link sounds like a useful resource.

I had never heard of poesy rings - but what a charming idea! I can also picture such an heirloom fitting into your story in interesting ways, passed down through the generations of the family you're following (and perhaps illuminating family conflicts as only one individual in each generation would get the ring), and that would make an additional argument for fitting the nickname Poesie in there.

- kalmia (not logged in)

May 11, 2012 6:46 PM

I can't improve on the comments already made, and I don't know if they fit the time period/context, but a few other names springing to mind are Paulina (I think Pauline has already been mentioned), and Rose- names like Rosabel, Rosaline and Rosamond (Rosy Posy), though they might not work since there's already a Rose.

By Guest (not verified)
May 11, 2012 10:10 PM

An old name (found in the New Testament, according to Wikipedia) is Priscilla.  It comes from the Latin Priscus, meaning 'old.'  I have no idea how common this name was in the 1820s in America, though.  But Priscilla would allow you to keep the nickname Poesey, and the nickname she likes better could be Cilla (I doubt that anyone would prefer Prissy to Poesey.) 

October 28, 2012 12:36 PM

Unless you're writing a Harry Potter type "impossible to name off every character" story, I would stray away from multiple characters' names starting with "Soph" it'll just get too confusing.

November 8, 2012 12:40 AM

From your suggestions, I love Lydia and Julia! Maybe Jules for a nn for Julia, Lyd for nn for Lydia? Idk, I'm not that good with nicknames. Good luck, though, I always have trouble with naming characters!