A silhouette of Santa Catalina Island (Califor...
Santa Catalina Island, California; Image via Wikipedia

She’s a spin on the classic Katherine, and a popular island destination, too.

Thanks to Laura for suggesting Catalina as our Baby Name of the Day.

Most baby name books attribute Katherine’s origins to the Greek katharos – pure, but she might trace her roots to the goddess Hecate, or maybe the name Aikaterine. Katharos influenced her spelling, and over the years, she continued to evolve, to Katerina, Caterina, Katrina, and more. I can’t find a single satisfying explanation for the r-to-l shift, but it occurs in several languages, hence Kathleen, Caitlin, and Catalina.

There have been plenty of saints Catherine, starting with Saint Catherine of Alexandria, the whip-smart daughter of a pagan governor. She converted to Christianity in her teens, refused to marry, and eventually died for her faith. Historical evidence for Catherine’s life is lacking, but her biography is strikingly similar to that of Hypatia of Alexandria, a real-life pagan scholar who was killed by a Christian mob around the era attributed to Catherine.

Nonetheless, Saint Catherine was incredibly important in the Middle Ages, and her name has been widely used ever since.

Catalina has appeared in the US Top 1000 in the 1920s and 30s, and again from 1989 to present. She stands at #683 today. But unlike Katelyn or Karen, Catalina hasn’t quite taken hold as an independent given name in the US.

You’re likely to see the names used interchangeably. There’s Henry VIII’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon, born Catalina. My favorite quirk is in California: Santa Catalina Island is the only place you can find a plant known as St. Catherine’s Lace, and the island was also home to St. Catherine’s Hotel. The famous mountains that form the backdrop for the city of Tuscon, Arizona were originally referred to as both the Santa Catarina and Santa Catalina mountains, before the latter was formally adopted.

Other references include:

  • When the Spanish invaded Colombia, they kidnapped a chief’s daughter from the coast to serve as guide and translator – her given name is not known, but her captors called her Catalina;
  • W. Somerset Maugham’s last novel was Catalina, set in 16th century Spain;
  • On My Name is Earl, Catalina was the Brazilian wife of Earl’s little brother Randy;
  • Catalina Moreno scored an Oscar nomination for her role in 2004’s Maria Full of Grace.

Australian disc jockey Jackie O named her new daughter Catalina Mae last year, but calls her Kitty. While we’re on a world tour, Catalina is in the Top Ten in Chile, and popular in Argentina, too.

But my first association isn’t any of those things – it is the island, pictured above, and the Four Preps’ hit 1958 song, “26 Miles.”

26 miles refers to the distance from Los Angeles to Santa Catalina Island. The island has oodles of history, and in the 1920s the S.S. Catalina began ferrying pleasure-seekers from L.A. Service continued into the 1970s, with a brief break for World War II. Spanish explorers reached the island as early as 1542, but it was a later group that landed in 1602 that gave the island its current name. Catalina picks up some Hollywood glam thanks to her proximity to L.A. – and popularity as a backdrop for hundreds of movies and television shows.

With all of this history, it is hard to imagine why Catalina hasn’t taken hold. She shares plenty of attributes with popular picks like Alexandra and Gabriella – elaborately feminine, but without sacrificing any strength. If you’re looking for an alternative to those Top 100 appellations, Catalina is one to consider.

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. I think it’s a lovely name, and possibly my favorite Catherine variant. I don’t have either the salad dressing or island association, but it’s not like they’re bad ones for those who do. And I like the nickname opportunities– Cat or Lina.

  2. Thanks for the post! I’ve always been iffy on Katerina or Catalina but the post really changed my mind!

  3. I like most of the Cat/Kat names, and this one is no exception. I think it is very pretty, and easy to spell and pronounce. Out here in landlocked Nebraska, the island would not be something we would think of immediately, which makes it more usable here, I would think. I like Lina as a nickname, as well as the usual ones of Cat, Cate, et al.

  4. Interestingly, the only Catalina I know is a 10 year old girl who is half Indian and half Palestinian. I think her parents compromised by giving her a “pretty” name from neither culture 😉

    I like Catalina; I don’t think she’s too tied to the dressing or the location. I like that she’s frilly with 4 syllables but shortens easily to Cat.