Baby Name of the Day: Geneva


Sunset at Lake Geneva

Image by lassi.kurkijarvi via Flickr

Jennifer was the #1 name of the 1970s. Genevieve is her saintly cousin. For parents looking for something more daring still, there’s this pretty place name.

Thanks to Clio for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day: Geneva.

Geneva makes for a stylish balance of the expected and the surprising:

  • Borrowing from the map remains a great way to choose a name that is both familiar and rarely shared;
  • Her Gen- syllable has been in favor for decades;
  • Her -eva ending gives her that vibrant v sound that has pushed Ava and Violet, Eva and Vita to the heights of fashion.

Like many a place name, Geneva has more history of use than you might expect. She appeared in the US Top 1000 every year between 1880 and 1995, peaking at #106 in 1920. Genevieve had been a Top 100 choice for several years by then, and Jennie had been popular for decades.

Parents might have been inspired by the Swiss city, or by the lake. No one agrees on the origin of Geneva, but theories abound:

  • From the Celtic root genu – estuary, possibly shared by Genoa, too;
  • In French, juniper is genévrier. It Italian, it is ginevra. The Italians call the city Ginevra, reinforcing the connection;
  • As a given name, some suggest she’s not related to the place at all. Since Genevieve was popular at the same time, it is possible to view Geneva as a variant.

Could it really be that simple? An awful lot of parents settled on Geneva for decades. Future First Lady Mamie Eisenhower was born Mary Geneva Doud in 1896. Her biography reports that her middle name came from a popular song: “Lovely Lake Geneva.”

That makes sense, but the song has proved elusive.

The 1821 play Thérèse, the Orphan of Geneva was translated from a slightly earlier version in French. It appears to be the typical story of a virtuous girl, wrongly accused of unsavory acts, but eventually redeemed. John Howard Payne is credited as the author of the English version. Payne started out as an actor, then went on to write. He adapted another story as Clari, Maid of Milan, and added the song “Home! Sweet Home!” Could it be that he also added a less-remembered song to his earlier work?

The Swiss lake isn’t the only candidate for inspiring lyrics. Wisconsin’s Geneva Lake is also a popular resort, tracing its history to the second half of the nineteenth century. The first railroad line from Chicago reached the area in 1871. Lake Geneva Yacht Club was established three years later.

While all of the places called Geneva retain their charms, we haven’t heard much of her as a given name in recent years. Ginevra Weasley, better known as Ginny, in the Harry Potter series, could boost the Italian version. And if you’d like to go even farther, Genoveva is the Spanish form.

There is a Geneva in Clive Barker‘s young adult series Abarat. I haven’t read them, but in this excerpt, she slays a dragon with a flare gun.

Overall, Geneva could make for a trouble-free unusual name. You’re more likely to hear “Oh, I had a great-aunt called Geneva” than “Why would you name a child after that place?”

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31 Comments

i named my daughter Geneva. I wanted something strong, unique but not too weird, and it had to have a good easy spelling. Also important to me was to name her after some important people. My aunt is Jean, and my mother inlaw is Eva. I thought this name was a perfect fit. We call her GG or geeves for short. Never has she been teased about the “convention” and is always complemented on her pretty name.

Thats my name and I’ve always hated it. It’s embarrassing. Try going to starbucks with that one…. Or basically anywhere that asks u your name. Everyone spells it wrong, or calls you “genivieve.” Not to mention you will never find anything as a kid with your name on it. Oh and if anyone does recognize it, you’ll hear “oh like the convention?” And then laugh. Yea- no, rethink before naming your kid this lol. I never allow even my husband to call me my full name. Everyone calls me G or Gen.

I like the name Geneva. It is pretty without being too flowery, strong without being too common. However, I have a particular fondness for the name “Genevia.” (Jen-a-vee-ah)
It was my great grandmother’s name. I have always thought this to be a perfectly sweet name, full of charm , strength, and character.

My daughter is a Geneva…we call her Evie or Geeva (with a “guh”) I love the name and that it came from my great-aunt.

I love Geneva. It’s actually one of the very few place names I like. I’m thinking of using Geneva or Genevieve for a middle name for a daughter, but leaning more toward Genevieve because the first name already ends in A and I’m not sure if it’s too much if I use a middle name that ends in A too, even if the last name ends in a long E sound. I like the sound of Lilija Genevieve -Paternal grandmother’s maiden name as her last name, which begins with an R and has 2 syllables-. Lilija is pronounced the same as Lilia in Latvian. I also like Geneva Catherine Rose, Lilija Geneva Grace, and Geneva Madeleine Elizabeth.

We named our daughter Geneva because my husband loved the name. It has the advantage of being different yet established, fun yet sophisticated. I think a great name has longevity, appropriate for a young child, teen, and adult. As a teacher of 30 plus years, i can tell you that so many names come and go and some become so popular that they can be shared by a number in the same class making it frustrating for both student and teacher. Many students I have met are disappointed in having to share the same name with many others. Geneva will stand out for many great reasons.

Your daughter has a beautiful name. I agree with you that a name should work whether you’re a child or an adult. Nevaeh and Mackenzie may work for children, but for adults they sound silly and unprofessional, but Geneva works for any age.

I used to work in daycare about 6 years ago and I’ve heard a lot of names too. Several Madison’s (and one Maddison), Two Jacob’s, a female Taylor (and baby sister Karlee), a Mackenzie, an Alyvia, a Sidnie (girl. her big sister is Riellie, pronounced like Riley, and little sister is Maddison), and a Gwen just to name a few, and then the weird ones: Alizé (after the liquor), Montreal (Mon-trel. Brothers are Sevion and Adrien), and Remmington (AKA Remmie. Her dad likes guns, so he decided to name her after one, but spell it differently. Her little sister is Mackenzie AKA Mackie). Yes, it is frustrating to have an extremely popular name, but also to have one that is constantly misspelled or just plain terrible. Listen to the names on the Maury show. They make you go “what the h-e-double hockey sticks?!”

My name is Geneva. True, people always say it was their great aunts name. It has been a good name as an audult. Not so great as a kid. I HATED people trying to call me Neva. Maybe it was the way kids said it. I went by Gennie when young, but by junior high that proved too confusing for people. My family calls me Gen. Its a nice name that is different but not so different that it confuses people….usuallly. People are always hoping for a fun story as to where my name came from.

I do love this name. My husband and I had a mutual friend named Geneva. She was a fun quirky girl. However, Genevieve has been our compromise name for years, so Geneva is out.

Geneva is one of my favorites! Except when I first saw it as a kid I thought it was pronounced “JEN-eh-vah” with a soft j, not “jen-EE-vah.” I still kind of like my pronounciation better.

Geneva is pretty, but I really like Genevra, Ginevra, or …Genevieve! Genevieve is my absolute favorite. (My Francophilia strikes again!) I like Geneva with a nickname of Neva or Gennie!

I like Geneva, but its the name of a main street (Geneva Street) in our city so it would be very odd to name a baby girl that 🙂

Since my dad’s name is Gene, I had Genevra and Geneva at the top of my list… until I married my husband. Now my surname means “Swiss”, so that would be a really bad baby name.

We’ll have to save it for a pet, but I’d love to meet a little Geneva.

I do have to wonder about the Geneva Conventions. They might be why the name originally gained (1900’s) and then dropped (1950’s) out of favor. Not that the conventions were a bad thing, but international treaties don’t usually influence baby names.

Julie, that’s a fascinating theory. It would have been in the media for decades. (Well, it still is.) I can only imagine that when the treaties were first being discussed, Geneva took on a vague meaning of mercy, temperance, measure, at least in the popular imagination.

Our daughter (born in 2011) is named Geneva. I am a lawyer and was working on a book with the Hague and Geneva Conventions in it. We had been searching for a “G” name for her (three brothers with “G’s”, but were having a hard time. The minute I saw it I fell in love with it, so Geneva she became. We started out calling her Evie for short, but her brothers call her Neva so now everyone calls her Neva for short (or Nevie). We love her name and couldn’t have picked a better one. It’s pretty but not too unusual and I know she will probably never have another Geneva in her class growing up. We’ve met a few very senior adult Genevas since naming her and they are always tickled pink to she a young girl with the name.

Thanks so much for featuring Geneva! I fell in love with it about a year ago when I met a little girl with this name! (her little sister calls her Neva which I love!) I love the sound and how Geneva looks written out! Gorgeous name with lots of nickname possibilities!

I grew up near Geneva, NY, so always think of this first as a place name, although I also knew a little old lady named Geneva (nn Gennie) when we lived in Virginia.

There’s also Genovia – the fictional country in The Princess Diaries.

Genovia, that’s right! Far more unusual than the name boosted by Anne Hathaway’s character – Amelia, nn MIa.

I love Genevra and have since reading “Too Deep for Tears”. She’s easily my favorite character.

I’m not really fond of the Gen- sound, but I *do* like Geneva. It’s elegant, pretty & easy to figure out. I just prefer Italianate Genevra. I would love to meet more!