Dawn by oarranzli via Flickr

She’s a little bit retro, a tiny bit modern, and a whole lot stylish.

Thanks to Krystyna for suggesting Alba as our Baby Name of the Day.

With Anniston gaining traction as a girl’s name, you’re forgiven if you dismiss Alba thanks to Honor and Haven’s mom, Jessica.  But Jessica’s surname just happens to be an appellation with a real history of use.

There are plenty of possible origins for Alba, and they tend to share a certain vibe.

First there’s the Scottish Gaelic name for Scotland.  It’s the same in Irish, with similar words in use in other Celtic tongues.  Things get a bit muddled, because similar-sounding names, likely sharing the same roots, were also used to refer to other parts of Great Britain.  Albion typically refers to England – apparently New Albion was a possible name for Canada back in the day.  The Gaelic word is thought to derive from an early Indo-European root meaning white, as in the white cliffs of Dover.  Alba and Albion also inspired Albania in Latin and Albany in Middle English.

But there’s more:

  • Alba is the feminine form of Albus, a Late Latin name meaning bright or white.  You know him as Professor Dumbledore, but before JK Rowling wrote a word there was at least one ancient poet and another philosopher who answered to the name.
  • We used to think that the Alps also took their name from Albus.  Now most suggest that the Alps, as well as other place names, related to an even older word that means hill.
  • In Italian and Spanish, Alba is a straightforward nature name – dawn.
  • There’s a literary twist, too.  In Occitan – a Romance language spoken in southern France and the surrounding region – an alba is a medieval poem about lovers who must part at sunrise.

She’s quite popular in Spain in recent years, but that doesn’t explain why she’s generating more attention amongst American parents.  There are a handful of literary explanations:

  • Isabel Allende’s sweeping 1982 novel House of the Spirits followed the Trueba family of Chile.  Allende gave three generations of women names meaning light, bright, or white – Clara, Blanca, and the youngest, Alba.
  • Lord Byron had a daughter with Claire Clairmont.  Clairmont named their daughter Alba, but Byron re-christened her Clara Allegra.  Alba/Clara died in childhood.
  • Then there’s Audrey Niffenegger’s 2003 bestseller turned 2009 movie, The Time Traveler’s Wife.  The couple in the romance names their daughter Alba.

It’s also worth noting that Alba was in sparing use from the late nineteenth century into the 1920s.  It was an age of many similar names: Elva, Alta, Thelma, Alma, Hilda, Velma – names with a certain amount of crunch and resistance, different from the mellifluous, vowel-heavy names of 2012 – Ella, Leah, Layla, Mia.

Still, 114 girls received the name in 2010.  Alba is anything but gone.

If you’re eager to find a name that will work in many European settings, one with a positive meaning, and a simple but strong sound, Alba is a great option.


About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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What do you think?


  1. In Scots Gaelic, Alba is pronounced Al a puh. Despite being Scottish I had never heard this until a took a class in Gaelic and watched the launch of BBC alba where they all sang Al a pu.

  2. My name is Alba Amalia. When I was young I used to hate it, but as I grow older, I’ve learned to embrace it for its meaning and uniqueness.

  3. We recently named our second daughter Alba after months of indecision. The name had never really been on my radar but was pointed out to me on Nameberry. I instantly liked it, then a few days later I rewatched Time Travelers Wife and saw the lovely Alba in that. To me, Alba has a lot going for it – it sounds modern but has a solid historical background, it sounds gentle to my ears, something about the the L and As sounds gentle, whilst the B gives it a punchiness and strength I don’t get from similar names like Alma. It is feminine yet strong, and you cant beat its meaning of dawn in Spanish or indeed the meaning of bright/white in Latin, conjuring a sense of hope and purity. All in all, we think we found the perfect name for our little girl, and she will fit in among the Avas and Ellas at school, whilst still being a little different. Thanks for the write up!

  4. I adore Alba! She would have been high on my list for my second daughter, but I have a four-letter last name and just couldn’t see going with such a short first name (especially since my other kids have 3- or 4-syllable names).

  5. I met a woman with a two year old son named Alva today! She said it’s her middle name and her dad’s name.

  6. Alba is one of those names I’d love to see on someone else, but would never use for my own child. I greatly prefer Alma, as far as similar-sounding names go.

  7. Thank you for the meanings behind Alba! I know a 1 year old named Alba, but not well-enough to ask her parents why they named their daughter that. I love the Occitan meaning, even though it sounds sad.

  8. Ugh, Jessica Alba is all I hear. Not a fan of hers, and wouldn’t want others to think I named my daughter for her.