Baby Name of the Day: Ilo

letter i

Image by Leo Reynolds via Flickr

There’s been much buzz about the newly coined Ily, but how ’bout this one?

Thanks to Emma for suggesting Ilo as Baby Name of the Day.

Ily comes to us from an acronym. Unlike Mad About You’s Mothers Always Bring Extra Love – the reason the couple settled on Mabel – Ily is a true creation from a phrase – I Love You, abbreviated I-L-Y when texting. Usually pronounced like Riley without the R, Ily is catching on for daughters. At least, Nancy’s tally indicates that 29 girls were given the name Ily in 2009.

But Ilo? Not even one. No boys received the name, either. And yet, there’s a case to make that this rarity could be bestowed on a child of either gender.

Ladies first: there’s a minor Estonian goddess called Ilo. She’s charged with feasts, and if I’m understanding her role correctly, that’s more along the lines of Dionysus than Demeter.

33rd US Vice President Henry Wallace was married to a woman named Ilo. I can’t say if she was Estonian – most Second Ladies’ bios are woefully incomplete. She was born in Indianola, Iowa, so her given names repeats the sounds of her birthplace. Henry and Ilo didn’t pass the name on to any of their kids: Henry, Jean, and Robert.

A handful of other female Ilos appear in the historical record, along with a few male Ilos. The masculine origins of this name are no easier to unravel:

  • A handful of sources insist that he’s a Nigerian name meaning joy. This sounds plausible, but I can’t confirm it;
  • In any case, the surnames of nineteenth American male Ilos suggest another origin. And for this, we look to the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Sylvia Plath.

After Plath’s tragic demise, her journals and personal correspondence were collected and published. The year was 1950, and a very young Plath worked at Lookout Farm in South Natick, Massachussets. Her description of a stolen kiss appears in her Journals:

Smiling he was between me and the door. A motion. His hand closed around my arm. And suddenly his mouth was on mine hard, vehement, his tongue darting between my lips, his arms like iron around me. “Ilo, Ilo,!” I don’t know whether I screamed or whispered, struggling to break free, my hands striking wildly, futilely against his great strength. At last he let me go, and stood back. I held my hand against my mouth, warm and bruised from his kiss. He looked at me quizzically with something like surprised amusement as he saw that I was crying, frightened. No one ever kissed me that way before, and I stood there, flooded with longing, electric, shivering.

So there he is: romantic and literary, and backed up by brief cameos in US Census records. But I can’t confirm his origins. My hunch is that he’s an unusual nickname for an uncommon name.

Desperate, I turned to the Baby Name Guesser, which tells us that Ilo leans female – but only just. Other names with similar statistics to Ilo include Delta and Bellamy, Wonder and Peak.

The good news is that Ilo is probably closer to Delta and Bellamy – seldom heard, but not a shocker of a given name – than Wonder and Peak, which keep company with Apple and Pilot on the “really!?” side of the spectrum. If you’re looking for an unusual but simple gender-neutral name that isn’t a surname choice, Ilo could be the one.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


This name just came to me in the shower, for the impending arrival of a baby boy. And then I went to look it up, and what a great meaning!

Amazing, my son is about to be born and this is the name we have chosen for him. Sunshine, Joyous and happiness

Ilo is also a nickname for the Hungarian name “Ilona” (pronounced “EE-lo-nah”), which I believe is the equivalent of Helen or Helena. I wouldn’t say it’s common but it’s definitely in use!

My son-in-law and grandson are both named Ilo. I will have to see if I can trace their roots a bit and solve the mystery 🙂

You mentioned in your blog that there are no people by the name of Ilo that you can find who are named that. You also compared that name to Peak being a rare one as well. Well, here’s something for you–My neighbor’s name was Ilo Agnes Peak and she lived in Grainvalley, Missouri most of her life. She died in 2009 at the age of 89. You can find her on-line.

There is also a very cute video game out there called ilomilo. You play as Ilo and Milo, two little cushiony critters that are lost trying to find each other for a playdate. It’s a challenging puzzler and is just too precious!

My mother, ILO, was born 1928 in the Appalachians of Scots-Irish descent. There were at least 2 other girls/women in the community with the given name Ilo that were born at least one decade before she was.

The given female name Ilo is often in association with the surname Campbell or other Scots-Irish names. It is probably of Gaelic/Celtic origin.

It’s a personal quirk, but I just don’t like how an upper case I looks next to a lowercase l. I have the same issue with Ilan and Ilse, in many fonts the letters are virtually identical and the names look odd.

As for the sound of Ilo, it’s interesting and definitely seems masculine, but it reminds me of how little kids say Jello.

I want to pronounce Ilo, EE low, when I read it. I don’t really like the sound of that or EYE low.

Ily is the nn of an friend of a friend of mine – my age – I’m not sure what it’s short for, but she is Brazilian, so maybe Iliana?

Also, Ilya is a Russian name, equivalent to Elijah. I think I far prefer Ilya to Ilo.

I’m not sure what the correct pronunciation would be, JNE, but I was saying EYE low. But I’ve been influenced by hearing chatter about Ily, so that might be a mistake on my part.

Ilya is a great suggestion – very Slavic.

That’s a nice point. My child has been calling herself ee OO, and seems to think that “The Farmer in the Dell” is her personal theme song.

It sounds masculine to my ears too – probably because of the similarity to ‘Milo’. Or it almost sounds like a male version of Isla. I do like the “oh” sound though. But I’d pick Milo for a boy or Sylvia for a girl. 🙂 Oh and it reminds me of a name I read in the local obituaries – Orlo – which I’d presume is male.

Wow, I’d forgotten about suggesting this one! Hm, one of my more wackier ones, not sure I like it so much now. Could be awesome on the right person, though.

Nice to learn the Estonian word for joy! Ilo, Ily and Io are just too spare for my taste. I’d love to meet a baby Gioia or Alegria though.

I’m strangely attracted to Ilo. I’m not usually fond of ends-in-o names, and I’m no fan of Ily, but I love the way Ilo rolls of my tongue. To me, the name reads masculine.

Count me on Io’s fanpage, but not Ilo. Although it sounds rather neat (and masculine to *my* ears), I don’t think it would work for me unless it was a nickname. But for what? Hmmm?

But Io? Love her to pieces. I’ve got her down as both a nickname & a full name. And will probably use her if I get the chance!

It reminds me of one of my Danish students’ names that always intrigued me: Io. I had never seen a two-letter name comprised solely of vowels before.

Not a fan of Ily or Ilo. They just look incomplete to me.

I love Io! I suggested Claire Caroline Io for Clio’s full name – but we ended up with Wren instead. Io is, by far, the shortest name that has ever struck me as complete.

Ilo and Ily, though, do both seem a little bit lacking – maybe because it is so common to see Milo and Riley, Lily, etc.

Thanks, Sebastiane! I wonder if that is pleasure in a G-rated, kid-friendly way? Or more of an overindulgent sense?

Regarding the meaning of Ilo in Estonian, I found this entry in wikipedis:

EtymologyUnknown, but cognate to at least Estonian ilu (