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?”

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 have the music and lyrics to “Lovely Lake Geneva” in a book about Lake Geneva, WI. If anyone is interested, just email me and I’ll take a picture of the music and send it to you.

  2. 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.