Baby Name of the Day: Enola

The Enola Gay and its crew, who dropped the &q...

Enola Gay and her crew; Image via Wikipedia

Here’s an intriguing tale of an unlikely appellation.

Thanks to Dotmyiis for suggesting Enola as our Baby Name of the Day.

Enola is alone spelled backwards. That’s no coincidence. Back in 1886 author Mary Young Ridenbaugh invented the name for her novel Enola; or, Her fatal mistake. Ridenbaugh’s character, Enola Dale, spoke of her loneliness, musing that her parents “must have known of her future isolation” when they chose her name. Ridenbaugh must’ve been a big ol’ name nerd – in the novel, Alcia and Baring are Enola’s fictional kids.

Ridenbaugh’s novel doesn’t feel like the kind with staying power – it is long out of print and the snippets that I read were a chore and a trudge.

But she resonated in her day, and inspired at least a few parents, including the parents of Enola Gay Haggard. Miss Haggard grew up and married Paul Tibbets. Their son, Paul, Jr., grew up to be a pilot.

If you know your World War II history, this should all be falling into place by now.

Dad wanted junior to be a doctor, but his son had different ideas. He ended up finding his place as a pilot in the US Air Force, and would be the man tapped to fly the B-29 bomber to drop the world’s first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. Tibbets named his plane the Enola Gay after mom.

This is where things really get dicey. Even if you feel, as retired Brigadier General Tibbets has always maintained, that the bombing was morally justified, it is hard to think of the name Enola without picturing destruction and human suffering.

If Enola has a saving grace, it is this: despite the negative associations, ends-in-ola names had a real moment in the late nineteenth century. In fact, Ridenbaugh wasn’t the first to dream up Enola. As with many new coinages, the sound was very much in keeping with current name trends.

From the 1880 Top 1000, we find:

  • Viola in the Top 100;
  • Lola and Ola in the Top 200;
  • Leola, Nola, Iola rounding out the Top 500;
  • Farther down the list, Zola, Creola and Eola were all in use.

Enola isn’t such a leap, and by 1881, she’d start to appear in the Top 1000, leaving after 1926, returning just once in 1953, some years after the war ended.

While most women bearing the name clearly post-date the novel, and handful in the 1930 US Census appear to have been born some years before Ridenbaugh’s work was released.

Many of those same ends-in-ola names are gaining favor today. If you have a grandma Enola, the name easily lends itself to nicknames like Nola or Lola that fit right in on today’s playgrounds.

In 1995’s big screen bust Waterworld, the young girl who holds the key to the future of the human race is called Enola. It’s a strangely appropriate choice, but with all the chatter about the movie, I can’t find anything by the actual scriptwriters commenting on the character’s name.

Overall, I think I’d find it a little jarring to hear the name on a child. If not for the WWII bomber, I would be embracing Enola, a sister for other quirky revivals like Luella and Opal. But Hiroshima is a strong and tragic association, and you might want to give it some serious thought before bestowing this name on a daughter.

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28 Comments

I’m surprised no one has brought this up?

Enola Sciotti, a character (and major plot point) in Guillermo del Toro’s Gothic drama “Crimson Peak”.

In the movie it is explained as an Italian diminutive of Eleonora (the character’s full name it might have been mentioned) I think?

But yes, actually it features quite prominently. The name itself is kind of key, but I won’t give too much away. When I heard it there, it sounded very melodious on the tongue. Very pretty; mysterious which fit perfectly with the tone of the movie.

(Great film by the way! It was mis-marketed, sadly, but the settings are breathtaking and the costumes are so swoon worthy! If you like the supernatural I recommend!)

Hi Dee – Actually, I wrote this post four years before the movie came out! My husband and I actually saw it in the movie theater (which is kind of crazy – we see a non-kid friendly flick as a family about once a year) and loved it. It seems like the writers MUST have drawn on Enola/alone when they chose that character name, right? Also, I noticed that this post is broken, so the content isn’t showing – updating it now! – Abby

I won’t lie, the name immediately struck me as rhyming with granola, but since I’ve an obsession with the stuff, I’m not surprised.
Lana spelt backwards means something altogether more difficult to live with than alone, but she’s had rather more success when it comes to popularity than Enola, so I wouldn’t write the name off yet.

Thank you so much for profiling Enola! I was very curious as to how “alone backwards” translated into a name, and now that I know about the book it all makes a little more sense. 🙂

I love the sound of it, but the history is a pretty huge drawback… I love reading all of the opinions on this one. 🙂

Enola is pretty, but she has far too many drawbacks. Even if I were able to overcome the depressing alone-backwards meaning, the historical connections are simply too horrific — I had a very hard time reading that interview with Brigadier General Tibbets. Also, the whole rhymes-with-ebola aspect doesn’t help make the name any more appealing. Good, young adult historical fiction notwithstanding, I don’t think I’ll find myself recommending this one any time soon.

Also didn’t know about the WWII story – history isn’t really ‘my thing’.

Instead the name makes me think of my depressed teenage years and listening to a song called “Enola / Alone” by the Manic Street Preachers. I guess I thought it was really cool that it was ‘alone backwards’. Good job I was just writing bad poetry and not naming children back then!

I really really liked the name Enola when I heard it in Waterworld. It has such a sweet and unique sound to it. I didn’t know about the WWII association, nor did I notice it spelled “alone” backwards. The spelling doesn’t bother me too much, but the WWII association ruins the name for me. Maybe a pet could get away with it though!

I’ve liked the name Enola ever since I came across it in world history but for some reason I mis-remembered it as the name for Amelia Earhart’s plane :\ I knew that Enola ment solitary so maybe that translated into solo flight and Amelia Earhart.

I’ve also heard that it was a name used by the native american’s but knowning how well my memory is treating me that may be incorrect.

I can’t find any evidence that it is Native American, but the naming possibilities are vast, and I can’t say I’ve done a comprehensive search. Amelia Earhart flew an Electra – but it wasn’t the plane’s name, it was the model. It seems like her aircraft didn’t have names. I don’t know much about aviation history – did all planes typically receive names? Or only those flown in war? I’m going to quiz my pilot friends …

I don’t think the WWII connection is all that strong for the newer generations of Americans and it will continue to fade. Unless you have Japanese heritage I doubt many of the next generation will even remember its ties to the A bomb.

The fact that people aren’t learning about Hiroshima makes me sad. My Grandmother’s name is Cecilia but everyone calls her Jeanne. When we discovered that Saint Cecilia was the patron saint of the blind, it was a spooky feeling. She has asked us not to name any grandchildren after her. Blindness is nothing compared to an atom bomb. That’s just my two cents. Everyone is entitled to their options. Many people don’t care about name meaning/associations.

You’re right, Saillie – some people do completely discount meanings, and others place tremendous importance on them. I’m less bothered by the idea that Enola was the name of the plane that dropped the bomb, and more put off by the whole alone-backwards idea. But then, if Enola were my beloved grandmother, neither of those associations would necessarily be enough to strike the name from my list.

Sallie, I was intending more along Abby’s lines; people are still learning about Hiroshima, but I think the name of the plane will just fall out of the learners brain unless they are particularly interested/involved in WWII history. I probably would have had to think about it for a bit if you had asked me “What was the name of the plane that dropped the bomb” and I’m a name geek, but clearly not a history geek. 🙂

That’s an interesting observation, KO. It isn’t so much that Hiroshima won’t be discussed, or the decision to drop the bomb debated. But there are finer points of history that fade with time, and it may be that the name of the plane is the kind of thing that we won’t remember in another generation or three. It’s hard to say – the photos are so present, or at least they seem that way now, and the name is so prominent in the photos. But if I’d majored in biology or accounting, maybe that wouldn’t have registered …

Alone? Not something we should want for our children. This trumps heaven backwards in my book.
Also, ww 2 association isn’t that great either.

To my mind, Enola has not 1 but 3 strikes against it. First and worst is the WWII Hiroshima connection; it doesn’t matter about your politics, it’s just an all-around negative association. Second, Enola sounds way too close to another harbinger of death and destruction: Ebola. I know that many names are only 1 letter off from a bad association (such as the wonderful Angus) but I really hear/see Ebola virus in Enola. Lastly, it’s alone spelled backwards, not cool! I could buy that you want your daughter to be independent, but that’s a stretch.

While I don’t think the sound is bad (really-is one syllable that much “uglier” than Nola and Lola?), I’d be pretty appalled to see Enola on a child. It’s quite a horrific connection, really, and even if it’s a family name I think the plane trumps that. We all learn about the Enola Gay in school, and I can’t imagine that knowing that a plane bearing your name caused that kind of devastation would be a good feeling. I would seriously question the judgement of any parent of an Enola post-WWII.

There is this really great young adult book series about Enola Holmes, Sherlock Holmes’ younger but just as brilliant sister. They’re really well written and historically accurate to boot.

Nancy Springer’s series are very clever (and would make an excellent television series.) They’ve won a couple of Edgar awards… so children will definitely be exposed to the stories and maybe Enola Holmes will become their first exposure to the name. “If” that happened I could see Enola coming back… but not for the time being.

Now that is a great addition, Bree – and Julie is right, almost the only way I can imagine the name making a comeback in the short term!

I’m a huge Sherlock Holmes fan, so I think a few of the Enola books are in my future …

I had a hairdresser named Enola once. She hated the name because of the associations. Born in the seventies. I never asked her at the time, but now I wonder if it was a family name or if her father was a big WWII nut or something.

Wow, what an association! I didn’t know any of the WWII connections, which may be a sign that Enola could be used without stirring up dark feelings (or maybe after one more generation). It might be comforting to bestow the two names: Enola Ton, so that you get “not alone”. In that sense it wouldn’t be much different that Neveah.

Enola Ton is nice in theory, but I think it wouldn’t be fun as a girl, no matter how skinny you are, to have to go through school with the middle name Ton.

And I’m sorry, but the only way to make Nevaeh worse is Nevaeh Tnes. Enola Ton gives me the same feeling 😉

Not only the awful history, but it sounds really clunky to me. Other -olas though: Viola, Lola (my cat’s name), Leola/na, Iola/na and Finola, are nice.

If someone liked the sound but wanted to avoid the tragic overtones, there’s Anola. It’s a small town in Manitoba. I always thought it was named after a real woman, but I don’t know for sure.

Personally, I don’t think Enola is usable given the history.

The obvious association is pretty horrific (for some reason the Gay part always bothered me, as if the bomb was “gaily” or merrily causing destruction; it almost seemed like a cruel joke). And a name meaning “alone” backwards seems gloomy, even if words spelled backwards as names doesn’t grate on you.

But more than anything, I find the name flat out ugly. It sounds quite whiny to me. I can’t stand the name Nola, and putting an E in front of it doesn’t help me warm to it.

No – this isn’t dumb at all. This is the question. If you have a beloved grandmother named Enola – because yes, it was and remains a name worn by actual human beings – would you still use the name for a future daughter, despite the cultural association with a horrific event. I suspect that most parents would not. You’re welcome to say that you don’t like a particular name for any reason under the sun, but you may not be dismissive of others’ opinions here.