Estee Lauder in Ceaser's Hotel Las Vegas July 2009

As the search for appellations français continues, here’s a rarity that just might appeal.

Thanks to Photoquilty for suggesting Estée as our Baby Name of the Day.

Remember your high school French? Estée means étoile – star. She’s the homespun Esther dressed up in the latest Paris fashions. Esther is also used in France – in fact, she’s far more common than Estée, which is a diminutive form.

Esther had a good run in the US, ranking in the Top 100 from the 1880s to the 1930s. She’s an Old Testament heroine and the name of Ewan MacGregor’s younger daughter, so there’s plenty to love about the original. While she stood at #267 in 2010, she feels like the kind of name that could make a comeback any day now.

But what about Estee? Esther’s Biblical pedigree is fairly well known, but Estee takes the name in a completely different direction – more Chanel than Ruth. Estée is used in French, but she’s not terribly common.

Estée Lauder is a brand, a corporate cosmetics powerhouse. Clinique, Smashbox, M.A.C., Aveda, and Origins are all part of the empire. Odds are pretty good that if you’re using mainstream beauty products, something from Estée Lauder on your dressing table.

But she’s no invented icon. Like naming a daughter after Coco Chanel, there’s something inspiring about the real life Estée Lauder.

Born in humble circumstances, the youngest of nine children, Estée was formally named Josephine Esther, after a Hungarian-born aunt Esty. It is possible that the French spelling of her name was given to her, but it seems like the kind of innovation that Ms. Lauder would make famous – glamorous, but built from the items she had on hand.

Estée’s dad owned a hardware store, where she learned business fundamentals, but it was her uncle who had the gift of concocting skin potions and lotions. Lauder – her married name – would famously say that “the pursuit of beauty is honorable.” It was certainly lucrative. From those first few creams and powders to her best-selling bath oil Youth-Dew, her eponymous company grew and grew, eventually worth more than $10 billion.

Some small controversies surround the company, mostly related to the family’s personal support of Israeli causes, but while this name is connected to a singular person and her image, it isn’t quite like naming your kiddo Kimora.

With similar-sounding Esme in the Top 1000 and climbing, Estee – pronounced ehs STAY – might be more wearable than ever. There’s always the option of putting Esther on the birth certificate – Ettie and Essie are other nickname options, though Esty seems destined to be confused with Etsy, making the more elaborate -ee spelling preferable.

She does feel like the kind of name that might strike a balance between the familiar and the never-used, and while I’d sometimes say that a more conventional English spelling was appropriate, in this case, Estée – diacritical mark and all – could make an interesting choice.

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 am thinking about using Estee as a
    nickname for Estella. I believe that Estée
    would be pronounced “Est-ay” since an
    accent aigu is used. I think that feels a
    little too pretentious for me personally
    since my husband and I aren’t French. I
    do like Estee though. I think I prefer the
    spelling Esty but you made a good point
    about it being confused with Etsy. Thanks
    for the post!