Wanna start a fight?
Plenty of parents get downright feisty at the idea of giving a girl a name traditionally reserved for boys. Prepare for accusations of name theft, and predictions of a life of confusion and despair.
While I understand the frustration of having your favorite boy’s name suddenly used by your cousin, your co-worker, and that other playgroup mom for their daughters, I’m not convinced that boys’ names on girls is a sign of the apocalypse.
For starters, try this list of 25 Frills-Free Names for Girls. They’re clearly feminine, but would sound just right on a soccer star, rocket scientist, a prima ballerina, or a prom queen.
Before we get to the names, here’s the criteria used to narrow down the list:
- The name must be primarily used for women, at least throughout the 20th century.
- The name must not be common as surname.
- The name must not currently rank in the US Top 100.
- The name must not be a common feminization of a masculine name. That’s just too easy!
Here are the 25 that made the list:
Ailis: The Gaelic version of Alice is less expected than the original, and free of associations with white rabbits or red queens. It’s pronounced both AY lis and AY lish; parents favoring the latter sound sometimes spell the name Ailish, but it’s not required. Ailis does not appear in the US Top 1000 for 2012.
Briar: When paired with Rose, this name feels fairytale princess, as in Sleeping Beauty. But match it up with any other middle name, and Briar is an appealing botanical choice that’s quite rare. While it is slightly more common for boys, and Briareus is a giant in Greek myth, it still feels like it could be used for either gender. Briar does not rank in the US Top 1000.
Carys: Despite being chosen by Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas for their daughter, this Welsh name meaning loved has not caught on in the US. It has the great “ys” ending shared by so many feminine Welsh names – Dilys, Glynis – but the familiar “Car” at the top makes it very accessible for an American child. Carys is unranked in the US.
Daphne: In myth, she was a nymph pursued by Apollo until the gods took mercy and mojo’d her into a laurel tree. The name has a sort of jazzy, vibrant swing to it. Think of Django Reinhart’s sprightly guitar piece by the same name. In 2007, Daphne ranked #585. By 2012, she’d climbed to #420. That’s far from common, but she could catch on. More obscure, but equally Greek, possibilities can be found here.
Elspeth: A contracted form of Elizabeth used in Scotland, it’s just different enough from the original to stand alone as a given name – though she may still find herself explaining that it’s not Elizabeth, Lizbeth or Elsbeth. The virtue of this two-syllable choice is that while it can generate a nickname or two, it doesn’t beg for one. Elspeth is currently unranked in the US.
Esmé: It’s a simple name with a complicated past. Esmé is French, but was first used in Scotland, probably among French-speaking Normans. And yes, it was first used for boys, but ever since JD Salinger’s short story For Esme With Love and Squalor appeared in the The New Yorker in 1950, this appealing choice has been bestowed exclusively on girls. Not that are currently that many Esmés out there – she’s only recently entered the US rankings, and currently stands at #977.
Esther: She might be your great-grandmother, or favorite great aunt. Esther was once as frequently heard as Sarah or Nicole is today. Now she’s a granny chic name ready for revival, as homespun as Hannah, as Biblical as Rachel, but far less common than both. A Persian name probably meaning “star,” Esther is a triple threat – Biblical, vintage, and nature – plus frills-free. As of 2012, Esther stands at #242, up a few dozen places over the last few years, but still far from common.
Ever: Is this just another word name? Maybe not. Eimhear is an old Gaelic name found in myth, usually pronounced AYV er. Modern usage tends to favor the spelling Emer, and the pronunciation AIM er. When Milla Jovovich chose Ever for her daughter to honor fiance Paul WS Anderson’s Celtic roots, she opened the door for mere mortals to choose this part-noun, part-Irish import for our daughters. Ever remains unranked in the US, but would fit right in with Destiny and Journey. And if Everly really is poised to be the hot name of 2014, Ever could ride her coattails, too.
Haven: Like Ever, you can find this name on the pages of the dictionary. Less overtly religious than Heaven or even Eden, Haven manages to be both frills-free and spiritual. When this post was written in 2007, Haven ranked #580. Since then, Jessica Alba welcomed daughter Haven in 2011. The 2012 rankings put this name at #432, and she could climb even higher.
Hazel: When Julia Roberts chose the name for her daughter, she cemented Hazel’s place on the list of vintage revivals. The name was already back in the Top 1000 and climbing. Today she stands at #176 – up almost 200 places in five years. While floral names can be elaborate and feminissa, tree names manage to have a strength and frills-free simplicity.
Honor: You would expect a virtue name to be simple and straightforward – the perfect source of frills-free names for girls. But are Grace, Hope, and Faith a smidge too gentle? And more obscure choices like Amity might feel a little too elaborate. But what about Honor? It has history as a given name, but feels a little more forceful – a sister for Carys. Or, as it turned out, Haven. Jessica Alba’s Honor was born in 2007. So far, the starbaby connection hasn’t helped this name catch on – it remains unranked in the US Top 1000.
Ingrid: A royal name in Scandinavia, and Hollywood, too – Casablanca‘s Ingrid Bergman, anyone? I might be alone on this one, though – Ingrid ranked #626 in 2007, and fell to #908 by 2012. It’s a strong, distinctive choice and while Ingrid has never been popular in the US, she’s also very, very rare.
Iris: The Goo Goo Dolls gave this name to their 1998 single. It was recorded for the City of Angels soundtrack, though there’s no character named Iris in the movie. The song was a smash hit. Then in 2001, Kate Winslet and Judi Dench played the writer Iris Murdoch at different stages of her life. And let’s not forget the goddess Iris, messenger for the gods, and the rainbow personified. She’s a smart, capable sounding name.
Ivy: Yes, there’s Poison Ivy. But there are also all of Ivy’s seasonal associations with winter holidays. And her sound is irresistible – a mash-up of favorites like Isabella, Ava, and Zoe. In 2007, Ivy ranked #301. By 2012, she was up to #187, and climbing quickly.
Juno: A hit movie about teenage pregnancy put this one in the spotlight. But Juno is a mythological name with a long history of use, and an appealing, buoyant feel. The “o” ending is lively without sacrificing femininity – after all, in the Roman Pantheon, Juno was Queen. The name is not currently in the US Top 1000.
Luna: The breakout name from the Harry Potter series, another Roman goddess, this time associated with the moon. She was sometimes heard in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but she’s really catching on now, rising from #457 in 2007 to #223 in 2012.
Lyric – Looking for a musical name less delicate than Aria? Look no further than Lyric. Jada Pinkett Smith wore then name in 1994 movie Jason’s Lyric, and the name has risen steadily since then, charting at #295 in 2012. There’s definitely a case to use this one for boys – Eric, Derek. Lyric – but the numbers give this one to the girls.
Maren: The venerable Mary could make this list, too, and Marie isn’t very frilly, either. But if you’re really looking for something tailored, how about Maren? She’s one of many names sometimes listed as a form of Mary – and sometimes given separate roots. Either way, she’s a frills-free feminine name that is just a little different. As of 2012, Maren was unranked in the US.
Margo, Margot: The classic Margaret could make this list, but with her upbeat ‘o’ ending, I think diminutive Margo might fit best. She’s more traditional than Juno, less expected than Iris and Ivy. Neither the -o or the -ot spellings currently rank in the US Top 1000.
Olive – The chart-topping Olivia raised parents’ interest in the remove-the-a version, Olive. In 2007, she’d just snuck into the US Top 1000 at #999. Then Isla Fisher and Sasha Baron Cohen gave the name to their daughter in 2007. And in 2012, Drew Barrymore welcomed her Olive. In between, the name skyrocketed to #368 in the US. Despite her increased popularity, Olive remains a spare, frills-free choice for a girl.
Romy – One of my personal favorites, a contracted form of Rosemary, Rosemarie, or maybe even Romilly. But Romy stands on her own, too. Matt Lauer has a daughter named Romy, and screen legend Romy Schneider lends her some glam.
Sarai – If Sarah is a classic, with or without the final ‘h’, then Sarai is the Old Testament original, a stand-out name with deep roots. Pronounced sah RYE, her second syllable rhymes with Kai and Skye, and so feels quite current in 2012. Sarai continues to hover around the #400 mark – neither common nor shockingly unusual.
Tamar – Another one from Old Testament, this time from the Hebrew word for palm tree. She’s never cracked the US Top 1000, but with that -r ending, Tamar feels like an alternative to the oh-so-popular Harper.
Tamsin – If not Tamar, how about Tamsin? She’s a contracted form of Thomasina, originally heard in Cornwall. You’re more likely to hear her in the UK than the US, where she’s never broken the Top 1000. What explains the reluctance of American parents to use Tamar and Tamsin? Maybe we’re reluctant to tempt others to shorten them to Tammy, but neither name requires shortening.
Willow – File her between Hazel and Juno. She’s a nature name, but doesn’t feel old school like Hazel. And while she’s only been embraced by parents in recent years, she’s not quite as daring as Juno. In 2007, Willow ranked #428. As of 2012, she was up to #171. Between young actress-singer Willow Smith, the Buffy the Vampire Slayer character, and other uses, no wonder Willow is on the rise.
There you have it: 25 conventionally feminine names, and not a frill or flounce to be heard!
What are your favorite frills-free names for girls? Are there other names that should be on this list?