Thanks to Kaeli for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.
ANNE of GREEN GABLES
Avonlea is, of course, the setting for Anne of Green Gables, Lucy Maud Montgomery’s perpetually popular novel, as well as the sequels that followed.
The pronunciation is three syllables: ah von LEE.
Anne Shirley, the young orphan in the title, is a kindred spirit for any name fan. When she first arrives in her new home, she attempts to convince her new family to call her Cordelia. When they refuse, she tacks the “e” on to Ann. A recent television adaptation took the titlle Anne With an E.
Since the original novel’s 1908 publication, it has been translated into many languages, spawned sequels and stage and film adaptations, and sparked tourism on Prince Edward Island, the site that inspired so many of the fictional Avonlea locations.
There is a real village in Saskatchewan called Avonlea – but it was named after the books.
In the 1990s, a television series called Road to Avonlea was adapted from some of Montgomery’s other novels, the ones that started out with the arrival of Sara Stanley in Avonlea.
PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND
Known for its rugged, natural beauty, Prince Edward Island is one of Canada’s thirteen provinces. It sits in the Gulf of St. Lawrence,
It was also the birthplace of author Lucy Maud Montgomery. She drew inspiration from her home, including a real farm called Green Gables. The property was owned by relatives, and it’s now preserved as Green Gables Heritage Place.
While Avonlea might be imaginary, the tranquility of a small farming community and the appeal of the natural world are very real.
It’s clear where the author found the inspiration for her fictional community.
But how about the name Avonlea?
It’s not certain, but a few possibilities include:
- Avon is an old Welsh word meaning river, and it’s a common river name throughout the UK. It’s a cousin to Afton. (So River Avon means, loosely, “river river.”)
- Lea almost certainly comes from the Old English word leah, meaning woodland or clearing. It’s the source of the -ley ending in names like Ashley and so many many more.
- It’s also similar to Avalon, the name for paradise in Arthurian legend.
The most obvious interpretation is to combine the first two distinct elements and arrive at “clearing by the river.” Even though Avonlea is a name rich with charm, that’s a surprisingly generic – and flexible – meaning.
BY the NUMBERS
Few cultural influences are as enduring as Anne of Green Gables. The books have been widely read for over a century.
And yet, at least in the US, it wasn’t until the 1990 television series based on the books debuted that parents started to choose Avonlea as a first name.
The name peaked in 2017, the same year Anne With an E debuted internationally. 95 newborn girls were named Avonlea.
While it’s fallen in recent years, 64 girls received the name in 2022.
In many ways, Avonlea blends multiple characteristics: it’s a place name borrowed from fiction, which makes it quite bold and modern. But the stories themselves are from a simpler time, a mix of nostalgia and classic literary appeal. It’s a different name, to be sure, but it’s one that suggests a sort of old-fashioned sensibility.
BELOVED LITERARY GEM
In many ways, the baby name Avonlea fits with popular names right now. We love girl names like Evelyn and Everly. Potential nicknames, including Ava and Lea, are current favorites, too.
Choosing the name clearly marks the parents as fans of Anne, in a way that Anne, Lucy, or even Cordelia wouldn’t achieve. It’s a bolder choice, one that makes clear a connection to the fictional world.
And yet, there’s a simple beauty to Avonlea. It’s not nearly as novel as Khaleesi or Mazikeen. Yes, it’s a borrowing from fiction, but it’s a classic work with years of history behind it, and solid real-world inspiration.
If you love the stories, and hope to blend the unexpected with the more traditional, Avonlea is the rare choice that hits the mark.
What do you think of the baby name Avonlea?
First published on May 15, 2013, this post was revised and re-published on November 14, 2023.