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.

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 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.

  2. 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…

  3. 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.