Spanish girl's name help


You know, I came here to ask this question 8 months ago, and then I got caught up in the name games and completely forgot about it until now!


Anyway, I’m writing a comedic book about the exploits of a group of American college students and I still don’t have a name for the Spanish exchange student among them. It’s set in the present and she’s 18, i.e. born in ’98-’99. She’s from Spain, not Latin America. I’m looking for a name that’s…


A)  Not stereotypically Spanish (eg. Maria, Lucia, Elena, Gabriella) I’m doing my best to make sure she’s more than just the token foreign exchange student so I don’t want to give her a “token Latina” sounding name. You know how in kids’ shows how there’s always a token version of every conceivable race, and the token black kid has a stereotypically black name (Andre, DeShawn, Keisha, Monique), the token Asian usually has a two part name (Mei Lee or something to that effect), the token white kids have generic names, the boys something like Chris or Andy and the girls Jen or Jess or Amy, and the token Hispanic something like Pablo, Angel, Jose, Julio, Maria, Elena, or Gabriella? I’m really trying to avoid the stereotypes.


B)  But at the same time, not something that sounds like it could just as easily be the names of one of her American colleagues (Julia, Emma, Sara).


C)  She’s a very down to earth character, so I don’t want to give her a name that’s too frilly or sensual (eg. Valentina, Alejandra, Rosalina, Adriana)


It’s also worth noting that the work is going to be a written work, so I’m also trying to avoid names that aren’t intuitive for English speakers (eg. Julia as “Hulia” or Eva with a short e).


Now, I’m incredibly grateful for the top names in Spain list, but remember my character was born almost two decades ago. I don’t know how many of these names were as popular or at all in the late ‘90’s. I also really want to make sure that the name I choose is popular in *Spain*, not *Latin America*. I really don’t want to pick a name that’s *Spanish* but only used in the Americas. A couple of names I’ve picked out:


Martina/Marta: Looking through the top Spanish girls’ names list, Martina immediately stood out as an ideal name: Spanish but not stereotypically so, and not too frilly. However, I have a few worries. A) I worry this might be a name that’s really popular now but was almost completely unheard of 20 years ago, like Ava or Harper in the States. Was Martina in popular enough use in the late ‘90’s? B) I worry Martina reads too Scandinavian/Eastern European. I know it’s popular all over Europe, but I’m worried it doesn’t seem Spanish enough (I’m looking for a nice balance), and C) my biggest worry is that there’s a lot of other characters in the work whose names start with M – in her close group of friends there’s also a Macy, a Madison, and a Monica, and in a more supporting role a Mason. Would a Martina in there be an M overload? Marta I also really like, but I have the same worries about it.


Luz: The Spanish word for light and an occasional female name, I really like Luz. It’s pretty without being too fancy, and it has a connection to one of my all-time favorite movies, Giant. But my worry is, especially since Giant is set in Texas, that Luz is too Mexican/Latin American. Is it used at all in Spain? Could Lucia nicknamed Luz work? Also, her best friend is named Layla, do you think Luz & Layla are a little too similar?


Paulina: I noticed Paula was pretty popular in Spain, but I’ve always been more partial to Paulina. Is Paulina used in Spain?


Paloma: Another name I’m worried sounds too Latin American, but I really love Paloma.


Sofia: I like it but I worry that A) it’s a little too in the company of Maria and Elena as being stereotypically Spanish and B) she’s a little too old for the Sophia boom of the last fifteen-ish years.


I also really like Raquel, but I already have a Rachel in the story so I can’t use it.


Any other suggestions? Thanks so much and sorry this was so long! Also sorry if this comes out in a weird font but it's storming here and I didn't want to lose my progess in an unexpected power outage so I wrote this on a Word doc!



July 22, 2017 10:53 PM

Spaniards I know are Monserrat, Soledad, Inmaculada, Encarnación, Carmen, Nereida, María, Violeta, Begoña, Rosario, Beatriz, and Raquel. None of these women is as young as your character, however.

July 23, 2017 11:53 PM

Thanks! I forgot to mention thought that I'm writing this from a US keyboard and I can never remember those codes for accent marks so I'm hoping to avoid those. I like Carmen but I worry that's too fiesty for the character. Rosario I also like, but I worry that it's a little too associated with Rosario Dawson (who's Puerto Rican). Violeta and Beatriz I'll definitely keep in mind though.

July 24, 2017 9:59 AM

Just google how to make diacritical marks. It's not hard once you get used to it. Violeta and Beatriz are good choices, though.

July 24, 2017 11:11 AM

I really like Beatriz for this. It's familiar enough and easy to pronounce*, but still definitely looks Spanish. I like Violeta, too, but for some reason it doesn't feel as Spanish to me, more generically "Romance".


*  Easy to pronounce in my head; I have no idea whether that pronunciation is authentic...nope, according to Behind the Name that Z is pronounced -th in Spanish Spanish, so I was way off.

July 24, 2017 7:03 PM

Seconded that Carmen, Luz, Soledad, and Beatriz are lovely. Perhaps also Alma, Alba, Mariana, Marina, Elena, Ana, Graciela, Ines, Ambar (not sure if this is Spanish or just South/Central American). I tried to pick names that aren't spelled the same as English names so don't rely upon pronunciation (like Sara or Gloria) to sound Spanish, but sound pretty enough even if mangled with an English accent.

Disclaimer, though, that I've spent over a year in Latin America and less than a week in Spain, so my knowledge is far from expert.

July 25, 2017 4:35 PM

Marta has been in popular use throughout Spain since the 70's; I think it's more popular now than Martina. Luz is more Latin American than Spanish, although it probably could be a nickname for Lucia.

Many of the very popular names in Spain around the turn of the millennium would fit in with an American audience: Paula, Andrea, and Laura were in the top five. I can't help but sense a bit of tension between points A and B, where your stated desire to avoid tokenism clashes with your desire for an "exotic" name.

Point C is the most interesting obstacle, because the number-one way to make a name "frilly" is an -a ending, and most popular Spanish names end in -a. There are some exceptions, although most of them are imperfect choices. For instance, the most popular Spanish girls' name with an -a ending circa 2000 was... Irene. (Pronounced ee-RAY-nay.) Carmen might be too stereotypically Spanish for your tastes. Beatriz was relatively popular in the late 90s, but could pose a problem: an American (or Latin American) audience would pronounce the names differently than Spaniards, who typically pronounce z with a th sound.

I'm partial towards Ines and Pilar myself. A potentially intriguing pick from the top 50 would be Rocío, which means dew.

By EVie
July 26, 2017 1:45 PM

It's nice to see real data! I haven't known very many Spanish women, but of the two that come to mind, one of them was an Irene. She was probably born around the late 1980s, so maybe a bit ahead of the trend? The other one was probably born in the early/mid '80s and is Cari--not a name I would have pegged as Spanish. It's possible it was short for something like Caridad. 

Rocío is lovely. I've also always been partial to the Spanish names that end in -el, e.g. Isabel, Maribel, Mariel. 

Does it need to be Castilian Spanish? Exploring Basque, Catalan, Galician, etc. names would open up some interesting possibilities that are definitely not Spanish clichés. Maybe something like Anaïs (Catalan form of Anna). I also really love Monserrat.  If you're interested, try exploring the lists on Behind the Name:

I don't know much about current usage patterns in Spain vs. Latin America, but just browsing the Spanish list for names that don't end in -a and don't strike me as either overly bland or overly clichéd, I am attracted by: Amarilis, Anabel, Candelas, Caridad, Cloe, Clotilde, Ester, Inés, Leonor, Maite, Maricel, Marisol, Matilde, Nieves, Noemí, Odalis, Rosario, Salomé, Soledad.

There are also plenty of names that do end in -a that I wouldn't consider overly frilly. Vera, Silvia, Rita, Pía, Luisa, Isa, Gisela, Alma, Alba.

July 27, 2017 12:27 AM

Thanks for all the help! I'm really leaning towards Marta now, it's just in that sweet spot - Spanish but not stereotypically so, feminine but not frilly, not a name her American coleagues would have, no accent marks, and easy to pronounce. That still however, leaves the problem of Monica, Madison, Macy, and Marta - now a third of my main characters have names that start with M. That too much? If I go with Marta, should one of the others get a name change? Monica and Madison both have plot reasons to have those names, but outside of the fact that that's what I've been calling her for the good 18 months since I started the story Macy doesn't have any ties to the name.

July 27, 2017 9:43 AM

Could Madison become Addison and still keep the plot reason for the name? Similarly, could Monica become Valerie? Could Macy be Sierra or Kyla instead?

July 29, 2017 4:17 PM

I would generally avoid having more than one major character with the same initial, or two if it's a large cast (which it sounds like yours is) with three being the upper limit. I would not use four names with the same initial except maybe if all four names were absolutely essential to the story, and no other names could be substituted. And regardless of the number of names, I would try to make them all fairly different in length, sound, and style. (e.g. Marianna and Meg would probably be okay; Maddie and Marcie probably wouldn't) 

In your case, I would urge you to keep looking for another name instead of Marta (although I know how frustrating it can be when you think you've found the perfect name, and then it doesn't work out. Ugh!), and also for Macy, if you can bring yourself to do so.


July 29, 2017 7:23 PM

Madison was named after James Madison (He - yes he, it wasn't his fault it worked out that way - is the fourth kid with older brothers Washington, Adams, and Jefferson,) and Monica is actually short for something, so they kind of have to stay, that leaves Macy. (As for the minor Mason, he and Madison are never in the same scene so I've been letting it slide so far).  I think Martina and Monica are too similar, but I'm a bit on the fence about Monica and Marta. As for Macy, she's the party girl of the group, the closest thing the story can have to a hooker with a heart of gold, so I want her to have a "party girl" name, which is a very, very nebulous category. The obvious change would be Macy to Lacey, but since there's also a Layla I think that's too close. I also knew a Lacey in college, and since the character's not based on her I don't want her to think it is. For that matter, I don't want any of the people who Macy is kind of based on to catch on, so Kaylee, Addison, Aidan, Kiersten, Cassidy, Jordan, and Courtney are off the table, but I'd like something in the veins of those. The name that the matchmaker came up with that I like the most is Harley, it's in the same style as Macy, there's no other characters whose names start with H or end with -ley, and it seems to fit her nicely, but I worry A) the only Harley there can ever be in fiction is Harley Quinn and B) it would be a weird name for someone whose parents neither like motorcycles or comic books. Thoughts on Harley? What about Harlie? Is Harlie too weird looking? The other name I think would work nicely for her is Aubrey, but does that sound a little young? Do you think there are enough 18 year olds out there named Aubrey that it doesn't sound out of place?

July 29, 2017 7:56 PM

Aubrey Plaza is my go-to association for that name and she's 33, so I have no problem seeing it on someone older than a teen. 

I know a Harley (35 year old male) and a Harlee (girl under 1) both named after men named Harry, where the parents aren't comic book nor motorcycle fans, so it does happen in real life. Of course sometimes things that happen in real life feel off in fiction because things such as character names are often expected to have Deeper Meaning.

In my experience, "party girls" come with all sorts of names, from Amy to Layna to Michelle, and really any name can be that character. Grace may be rebelling against her religious parents and needs to hide her activities, while River might have been raised with very few restrictions and shares details of her partying with her parents. Etc. With the right story, any name you choose can work. 

July 29, 2017 9:46 PM

For "Macy", I was more thinking a name that was surname-y, boyish but not masculine, and very modern - I felt like the girls who were the most hardcore partiers, drank the most, and got into the most trouble tended to have those sort of names, at least in my neck of the woods. I also think it would set her apart from her more stereotypically girly friends, like the aformentioned Layla and Rachel. Her family situation leans more towards your "River", but River reads very hippie and I already have another character who's hippie-ish so I'd like to avoid nature names for her. Do you guys think Mackenzie sounds too young? I feel like that's been a stereotypical, archetypical "child" name for a while. Same goes with Ainsley. I also like Kennedy, but I already have a Kendall (a boy) in her lot of friends, and I don't want this to spiral into a domino effect and have to change everyone's name.

Going back to "Marta", anyone have any thoughts on Paulina? Does that sound Spanish enough?


July 29, 2017 10:19 PM

I think that Mackenzie works fine, but it's another M name, which doesn't help you! I'm someone who tends to just recognize characters by the way that their names look rather than reading their names every time, so I agree that the fewer repeated initials, the better. 

If you know approximately what year the characters would have been born, you can look at the top 100 from that year and see if anything strikes your fancy...

July 30, 2017 12:08 AM

So, the full roster of main characters is (there's three sets of four that also work together as 12):

(1) Kendall "Kenny" (b) / Layla (g) / Kingsley (b - long time best friend to Kendall, their close-ish names are something of a plot point as people assume they're brothers) / Spanish girl (Marta? Beatriz? Paulina?)

(2) Josh (b - he's the hippie) / Zach (b) / Madison "Sonny" (b) / Azalea (g - she has really non-conformist parents)

(3) Monica (g) / Sloane (g) / Rachel Anne "Raeanne" (g) / "Macy" (Harley? Ainsley? Aubrey?).

So far, that's two K's, an L, a J, a Z, two M's, an A, an Sl, and an R. Harley/Ainsley and Kingsley wouldn't be too close, would they? Especially given that they're a girl and a boy?

What about Skylar? Too close to Sloane? Hayden, Devon, and Riley all came up but I haven't quite felt the planets align with any of them. Plus Riley and Raeanne might be a little close.

July 30, 2017 12:53 AM

I think that for your party girl, the name you're looking for is Hailey. It has exactly the same "surname-y" feel as Harley (and Macy), but without the motorcycle problem.

If you mostly use Sonny for your Madison, then he doesn't count as an M name, but you still get the plot point of the presidential name.

That leaves Monica (what on Earth is it short for?) and your possible Marta for the letter M. I'm another initial-focused reader, and I know I'd get those confused: I wouldn't remember which label went with which character, especially because both names have a similar international-indeterminate flavor. (I have no idea whether they use Monica in Spain, but I wouldn't be surprised if they do.)

I think either Paulina or Beatriz could work for your story. Beatriz is the more obviously Spanish of the two, but it'd work especially well if you work into the story how she's given up on teaching people the correct Spanish pronunciation and just answers to /Bee-uh-trees/.

July 30, 2017 11:28 AM

I think I'm going to go with Paulina for the Spanish girl. Thanks for all the help!

Monica is short for a long name her uneducated and young mother made up based on Monica, which Monica hates because she's trying to distance herself from her wreck of a mother.

My problem with Hailey though is that I'm worried "Hailey" as a rebellious teenager is kinda called for by the character in Modern Family. Since my story is also a comedy with an ensemble cast, I'm trying not to use any names in similar shows. It's for the same reason I nixed Britta early in the process - I was thinking Britney was a little too cliche of a party girl name, so I remembered Britta and thought it was a fresh modern take on the name. Unfortunately, Community already used this very unique and distinctive name, so I couldn't use it. Same reason I wouldn't want to use Harley in a superhero story.

I'm starting to think Ainsley and Kingsley are too close, anyone have any thoughts on that? Same with Riley and Raeanne.

And my worry with Hayden, Riley, and especially Devon is the "brother and sister Jordan and Taylor" problem, as mentioned in the "Respectful Requests for Writers" page. I'm more worried about Kendall than Madison in this case - Kendall also has a pretty unis3x name, but seeing as it was still reasonably common among boys 20 years ago, we don't really make a big deal out of it. Which might lead to some confusion that Kendall's the boy and Devon's the girl.

July 31, 2017 10:21 PM

I actually think that in the context of writing, Ainsley and Kingsley are fine. When I'm skim-reading names, I tend to just look at the first letter. If the names in question were Madison and Addison, itmight be a problem (although honestly, I probably wouldn't get tripped up by those either), but Ainsley and Kingsley don't bother me at all. You could even have them directly point out at some point that their names sort of sound alike, and then leave it at that. You could also change up the spelling of Ainsley - Ainslee, Ainslie, Ainsleigh, etc. - but I don't think you have to. Assuming Ainsley fits the character at least reasonably well, it sounds like you have the perfect name!

FWIW, though, if Madison always (or almost always) goes by Sonny, that leaves only Monica and Macy as M names, and they're different enough that I don't think it's a huge deal if you just want to keep Macy's name as it is.


(On a side note, I was amused to find my own name in your list of party girl names, down to the pretty unusual spelling- I've never actually met anyone else with my spelling!)

July 31, 2017 10:26 PM

I think I'm going to go with Harley for "Macy". Kingsley and Ainsley I think is a little much but Kingsley and Harley I think are different enough to warrant them both. I think Madison doesn't go by Sonny often enough to really say he doesn't have an M name. Thanks for all the help!

January 7, 2018 3:01 AM

I know a female Harley who is 26.

February 5, 2018 6:25 AM

I'm super late to the party, but then novels take a long time to write and "find and replace" tools are God's gift. :-)

Just to say, I've never met a Spanish woman called Paulina, and neither has my Spanish husband, though these things can obviously be highly regional. I looked it up on the Spanish statistics site, and the average age for Paulina is 62, while the average age for Paula is 19.

I think Martina would be fine. It is way more popular now than it used to be, but the average age is 18 and there are some famous adult models with the name, so it doesn't seem unbelievable.

I looked up the birth records in Catalonia for 1998 and filtered out names that are identical to their English counterparts or too obviously Catalan (though I think Laia would be a great choice if you want to go that way). Good options with a definite Spanish flavour include Alba, Marina, Marta, Cristina (with that spelling), Mar, Aina, Mariona, Blanca, Carlota, Raquel, Lídia (that spelling) and Ainhoa (which is Basque, but Basque names were starting to become trendy across the peninsula). I also know a 20 year old Malena, which is a diminutive of Magdalena but used as a name in its own right.

I also think Luz would be fine (on its own, not as a nickname for Lucia, because Lucía is popular now and I don't see Spanish people using the one as a nickname for the other). Luz does tend a bit older in the statistics, but it doesn't sound like a total anomaly.

And Ana is perpetually popular, though maybe a bit stereotypical.