Baby Name of the Day: Soleil

Claude Monet's "Impression, Sunrise"

Claude Monet’s “Impression, Sunrise”

Think June and Ruby are too retro? Here’s another choice for a daughter born in the summer months.

Thanks to Urban Angel for suggesting the warm Soleil as Baby Name of the Day.

Soleil is simply the French word for sun. Trace back a little farther and you’ll find the Latin sol – sun, the source of our word solar. And while it’s masculine – le soleil – the few times the name has been used for a baby, it is almost always a baby girl.

Pint-sized actress Soleil Moon-Frye became a household name as prime time’s colorfully-dressed orphan Punky Brewster in the 1980s, but it wasn’t enough to popularize the name. Some parents probably tripped over the pronunciation, saying so LEEL insteady of so LAY. Maybe Soleil struck others as too unusual to consider.

Or maybe we were all too busy getting our San Tropez tans, thanks to low-SPF sunscreen Bain de Soleil.

Whatever the cause, Soleil has never charted in the US Top 1000 and is equally rare in France. (According to Meilleurs Prenoms, four newborns were named Soleil in 1997 – the peak year!) But could it be different circa 2010? After all:

  • Summer currently ranks #175, one of several noun names gone mainstream;
  • Speaking of noun names, kids answer to Destiny and River;
  • French names are in vogue, from Brangelina’s Vivienne to model Niki Taylor’s daughter Ciel – the French word for sky;
  • Speaking of sky, you’ve probably met a Skye or a Luna, and maybe even a Skyla or a Starr;
  • While Soleil doesn’t exactly scream “Supreme Court Justice,” the French twist makes her a smidge more sophisticated than Adam Sandler’s simple Sunny, the hippie chic Sunshine or Kerri Walsh’s lil’ cowboy Sundance;
  • Between the actress formerly known as Punky Brewster and the sunscreen, pretty much everyone knows how to say Soleil – an advantage over plenty of established names with multiple possible pronunciations.

If you’re willing to stretch, you might even call Soleil a name inspired by fine art. Claude Monet’s Impression, SunriseImpression, soleil levant in French – gave the name to the Impressionist movement. Critic Louis Leroy’s (scathing) article about an early exhibition derisively dismissed the artists’ work as fleeting and unfinished, saying “A preliminary drawing for a wallpaper pattern is more finished than this seascape.” His article was titled “The Exhibition of the Impressionists.”

And, of course, the sun symbolizes many things: hope, glory, joy.

But you need not apply any deep meaning. Explaining “it’s the French word for sun” should suffice whenever someone asks about your daughter’s intriguing name.

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18 Comments

I love this name, we were going to use this name for Aisha but found it to rhymey with my name Sade (Sha- day) so we went with Aisha Arabella instead. Considering it as a middle name for our next one if it is a girl.

Soleil is beautiful. I wouldn’t mind if it was used more. I have had it on my list of names, but don’t think it’s quite right for me to use. But it is delightful, and makes me happy to hear…

I generally find that I dislike summery names — I’m not sure why — and this one’s no different. The word is pretty, but it definitely sounds like a word to me, not a name. Also, being from Canada, the Cirque du Soleil associations are hard to overcome.

Soleil is one of my husband’s favorite names for a daughter. He is also of French descent, but he also likes word names so it balances out quite well for him. I think it’s a beautiful name, though a little rhymey with our last. He doesn’t mind, though, and it will remain on our list for a hopeful future little girl 🙂

Soleil is a nice name, but it’s just not for me.

I speak French, so weird to see someone being called “Sun”. Then again, I don’t really care for Sundance, Sunny, etc. either.

I love French names though, and I think Ciel, on the other hand, sounds really pretty! I quite like Skye too.

Soleil is a total guilty pleasure for me. It’s beautiful, but I don’t think I’d have the guts to use it. Plus, my husband would never go for it.

I’d be more likely to go with Marisol, Summer or Zinnia than Soleil, but it is a very nice option for a little girl.

not really one for me but i can appreciate the prettiness of the name. i love french names too but this one is maybe a little too light, plus what would be the nickname options. i also agree that autumn is the nicest sounding season name but my sister has a summer and it would just be a little too matchy for me

Wow – Autumn Sommer! That’s one of those names that you KNOW every one has to comment on. Forever.

I like Soleil. It’s not for me, but I do like it.

My favorite sun name is Marisol, but Sunshine is adorable in the middle to balance out a more traditional or buttoned up first name. And while Summer is nice, I do prefer Soleil (and Autumn is the loveliest of season names in my mind). Hmmm, June and Ruby not cutting it would probably lead me to Juno, Julia, Augusta (or Jules, Julius, Julian, or Augustus for a boy)… Sunny/Sonny aren’t my deal. Or maybe something beachy? No, thinking about it, beachy names are not my thing either (Sandy, Ocean, Shelly, Azure…. nope – even my favorite beaches aren’t working Bournemouth, Hatteras, Myrtle… maybe you could do Frisco or Buxton, meh). Realistically, I’d do a floral/botanical. And then there’s Sunindiya – I have a cousin of sorts with that name – it’s an Indian name and beautiful, but has nothing to do with the sun or summertime (I was told it means ‘sleep well’ or some such thing)!

Soleil gets good marks from me, but wouldn’t be a first choice.

Thanks for doing this, Abby ! You even put in a pretty picture !

I like Soleil a lot. It’s great as a mn, as I find that it ’rounds off’ a lot of names.It’s a very ‘light’ name. It’s a refreshing French name for where I live, in comparison to the others that are popular here. If Jacques & Francois are popular & people here don’t battle with pronunciation, I don’t see why Soleil can’t be used . I must admit, I adore Soleil Moon-Frye’s name & the names that she chose for her kids

Anyway, thanks & you did a great job as always ! I also liked a lot of the names that you compared it to 🙂

Don’t forget about the Cirque du Soleil: that fantastic variety of acrobatic shows. I saw Alegria recently, my first Cirque ever, and if that show isn’t mezmorizing enough to inspire a name, I’m not sure what would be.

My sister-in-law is Solange – not related to the sun, but I always think of her when I hear sol- names. 🙂