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Here are ten names for girls which have been often searched for to reach my blog. I chose names that aren’t in the Top 100, and come from a range of origins.
Dutch and French short form of Anna. A famous namesake is celebrated French actress Anouk Aimée; she was born Françoise Dreyfus, and took the name Anouk from the first character she portrayed on film. The name became better known in the English-speaking world after the publication of the award-winning 1999 novel Chocolat, by British author Joanne Harris, in which there is a little girl named Anouk. The character of Anouk is based on the author’s daughter Anouchka, whose name is another pet form of Anna. The book was made into a movie in 2000. Actor and author Andrew Daddo has a daughter named Anouk, born a year after the film was released. Pronounced a-NOOK or an-ook, this exotic name doesn’t have an obviously “French” sound to it, and seems quite sophisticated.
Variant of Blithe, an English virtue name meaning “cheerful, merry” which is first found in 16th century Norfolk, stronghold of the Puritans. Although the name began as a girls name, it has been given to boys as well, particularly in the United States, and overall is fairly evenly divided between the sexes, although more common for girls. In the case of boys, the name probably comes from the surname, which is derived from any of the places called Bligh, Blyth or Blythe; they get their name from the River Blyth in Northumberland, the River Blythe in Warwickshire, or the River Blithe in Staffordsire. The names of the rivers simply come from the word blithe, so in either case the name has the same pleasant meaning. A famous namesake is American actress Blythe Danner, mother of Gwyneth Paltrow; her name is a middle name of Gwyneth’s daughter, Apple. This is a fresh, sprightly name which has a modern feel despite its long history.
Cordelia is a princess in William Shakespeare’s King Lear, a loyal daughter who is disowned by her father because she will not make flattering speeches to him, with tragic results. The character is based on Queen Cordeilla, a legendary queen of the Britons who appears in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of Britain. According to Geoffrey, Cordelia ruled Britain as queen, but came to grief because the rule of a woman was deemed unacceptable. Cordelia is also mentioned in Edmund Spenser’s epic poem, The Fairie Queene, where her role as heroic British queen was probably a compliment to Queen Elizabeth I. The first Cordelias were born around the time The Faerie Queene was published, and were from upper-class families. There is a popular but unsubstantiated theory that Geoffrey of Monmouth based the name Cordeilla on that of Creiddylad (said cree-THIL-ahd), a character in Welsh Arthurian legends who was the daughter of the god Lud, and considered the most beautiful girl in Britain. Another idea is that Geoffrey may have based the name on that of Saint Cordula, a legendary companion of Saint Ursula whose name is from the Latin for “heart” (Cordeilla is also found spelled Cordoyla, which offers this some support). Still another is that it may be derived from the Roman name Cordus, meaning “late born”, with the implication that as Cordelia was King Lear’s youngest daughter, he had her late in life. Although all these suggestions are attractive, the last one may appeal most to older parents. If you are a fan of L.M. Montgomery’s Anne books, you will remember that the heroine wished her name was Cordelia – because it is “perfectly elegant”. This literary name still seems refined, and can be pronounced cor-DEE-lee-uh, or cor-DEEL-yuh.
Derived from the Germanic name Gisela, meaning “pledge, hostage”. Although the word hostage has rather alarming associations today, in the past it was common for political treaties to be accompanied by the exchange of political hostages, as a guarantee of good faith and to maintain peace. Often the children of the ruling classes, even princes and princesses, would be handed over to be raised and educated by a foreign court, with hopes of greater cultural understanding between nations. Gisela and Gisèle (the French form) were popular names amongst medieval nobility and royalty. The name received a huge boost in the 19th century, because of the romantic ballet, Giselle. It tells of an innocent village girl named Giselle who dies of a broken heart after being betrayed by her lover. However, as a sign of her forgiving nature, after her death she protects the man she loves from the spirits of vengeance, and saves his life. Another fictional Giselle is the sweet peasant girl who makes a happy-ever-after transition from cartoon fantasy land to gritty real world in the Disney film, Enchanted. Graceful and fairytale, Giselle is usually pronounced ji-ZEL in Australia, and is #161 in Victoria.
Derived from the Old Norse name Ingríðr, meaning something like “beloved of Ing, beauty of Ing, delight of Ing”. Ing is an older name for the Norse god Freyr – perhaps his true name, because Freyr means “lord” and is his title. Freyr was a phallic fertility god who brought peace and pleasure, and was associated with sacred kingship, male sexuality, prosperity, and sunshine. In Norse legend, Ing is the god followed by the Germanic peoples of the area which is now Denmark and its surrounds, and he is claimed as the first king of Sweden, as well as the progenitor of the Anglian kings. Ingrid is a traditional name amongst Scandinavian royalty and nobility, and there is a young Princess Ingrid of Norway, who is expected to one day be queen. A famous namesake is beautiful Swedish-born movie star Ingrid Bergman, who starred in many Hollywood movies, including Casablanca. Ingrid has a strong and chiselled beauty, and is #481 in Victoria.
Maori name meaning “shine, glisten”. It isn’t unusual in New Zealand, and is still given to girls today; it can also be found as a surname. It’s not common in Australia, but I think it would work well here, and has a pleasingly cross-cultural feel, since it is similar to Italian Pia and Pieta. I believe it is pronounced pee-AH-ta.
Persian form of the Arabic name Thurayya, meaning “the Pleiades”. The Pleiades is the familiar group of stars in the constellation Taurus, sometimes known as The Seven Sisters. The name became better known in the west because of two royal Sorayas. Soraya Tarzi was a liberal Muslim and feminist who married into the monarchy of Afghanistan and became queen; she appeared in public alongside her husband as an equal and together they tried to modernise their country. Afghanistan wasn’t quite ready for it, and the couple went into exile in Rome in 1929. Even more influential was Soraya Esfandiary-Bakhtiari, who was Queen of Iran as the second wife of the last Shah. Very attractive and western-educated, Soraya and her husband were forced to divorce in 1958 because she was apparently infertile. She also went into exile, under the name Princess Soraya, and lived in France, where her story evoked much sympathy. Her divorce inspired a song, I Want to Cry Like Soraya, and a variety of sunflower was named in her honour. A beautiful star name, Soraya is similar to familiar names like Sarah and Zara, and in Australia is usually pronounced soh-RAY-uh.
A place name of Native American origin, this probably means “town” in the Creek language. Tallulah Falls is a small town in Georgia, in the United States, which has attracted tourists since the late 19th century. Parts of the film Deliverance were filmed there, so you may even have seen it on screen. Tallulah has been used as a girls name since the 19th century, and records show that the name originated in the southern states, with most Tallulahs born in Georgia. The most famous namesake is flamboyant actress and party girl Tallulah Bankhead, who was from Alabama, and named after her grandmother. Despite being a name of American origin, Tallulah has never charted in the US, and is far more popular in the UK. Tallulah Bankhead was a huge celebrity in 1920s London, and her name is very fashionable in England, chosen as a baby name by the upper classes and minor royals. Spunky, sexy and fun to say, this fits in with familiar names such as Tully and Tahlia, and comes with cute nicknames like Lula and Lulu.
This Indian name is one of the epithets of the benevolent mother goddess Parvati, the wife of Shiva. Its original meaning is “mother (goddess, wife of) Shiva”. Because Parvati is a goddess of light, the name Uma also came to be understood as meaning “light, radiance”. In a previous incarnation, the goddess (then called Sati) committed suicide by throwing herself on a sacrificial fire, and her ashes became the sacred spice turmeric; because of this the name Uma came to be understood as meaning “turmeric”. The meaning of Uma is also glossed as “O child, do not (practice austerities)!”, because as a young girl Parvati’s mother chided her for the extreme ascetisim she practicised in order to please her future husband, Shiva. By coincidence, uma is literally translated as “flax” in Sanskrit, although this doesn’t seem to have any connection to the goddess. The most famous namesake is American actress Uma Thurman, whose name is said to have a different origin. Uma’s father was the first westerner to become a Buddhist monk, and the term uma chenpo means “Great Middle Way” in Tibetan – one of the guiding principles of Buddhism. In modern Hebrew, uma means “nation”, and in Israel Uma is a patriotic unisex name. In the Tiv language of West Africa, the name Uma means “life”, and can be used for both sexes. Simple yet multi-layered, this is a fascinating cross-cultural name which isn’t common in any country of the world.
Ancient Greek name meaning “yellow, yellow-brown”, often translated as “blonde, fair-haired”. There are several figures from Greek mythology with the name. Xanthe was one of the Oceanides, the three thousand daughters of the Titan sea gods Oceanus and Tethys. The Oceanides were nymph-like goddesses who were responsible for the world’s fresh water, and were often pictured married to river gods. In some sources, Xanthe is imagined as presiding over the yellow clouds that can be sometimes be seen at sunrise or sunset. Xanthe is also given as the name of one of the Amazon warriors, and Hesiod mentions Xanthe as being the mortal wife of Asclepius, the god of medicine. Actress Madeleine West welcomed a daughter named Xanthe last year. This quirky, stylish name is usually pronounced ZAN-thee in Australia, and comes with the cool nickname Xan or Zan. The name is #469 in Victoria.
POLL RESULT: People’s favourite names Blythe, Cordelia and Xanthe, and their least favourite were Giselle, Piata and Uma.
(Photo shows a scene from the ballet Giselle, performed by the Queensland Ballet)