Could butterfly baby names be the next wave in nature name possibilities? With choices like Rowan and River, Willow and Autumn so popular today, it’s easy to see parents moving on to all things lepidopteran.
While having butterflies in your stomach signals nervousness, almost all the associations with the beautiful bugs are positive. Many cultures consider them symbols of the soul. Their transformation from drab little caterpillar to glorious winged creature can be read as a story of rebirth – religious or secular. You’ll find dozens of inspirational quotes that go something like this: Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it turned into a butterfly.
Still, finding butterfly baby names proves challenging. Many of the most wearable possibilities don’t scream butterfly, which might make these less appealing for parents looking for a clear link. Considerable problems attach to the many Native American names that might carry the meaning. Other potential foreign imports refer to something else, like the Italian farfalla. Even if you like the sound, in the US, that’s just pasta.
While you’re not going to name your baby Zebra Swallowtail, many of these choices are quite subtle. If you’d like to nod to the natural world and modern virtues like renewal, then butterfly baby names might be just right for you.
But dozens remain, so let’s look at butterfly baby names more closely.
THE KYLIE EFFECT
A few years ago, it was widely rumored that Kylie Jenner would name her daughter something butterfly-inspired. (Instead, she’s Stormi.)
What sparked the story? The people of the internet noticed that Kylie was sporting butterfly jewelry, including a gift from boyfriend Travis Scott. Butterflies also featured in her nursery decor, the matching tattoos the couple got, and a song the new father released a song titled “The Butterfly Effect” a year earlier.
While the story has faded over time, it did spark a modest increase in butterfly baby names.
BUTTERFLY BABY NAMES
A tropical-dwelling butterfly, the Catocyclotis adelina was first described in 1872. A sweet little children’s book titled Adelina Carolina and the Butterfly plays on the species’ name.
This name is found among dozens of clearwing butterflies, in the brush-footed family Nymphalidae. Like Adelina, Aletta is one of many cousins to Adelaide.
Alexandra is a classic, enduring name, worn by many famous figures. It makes the list of butterfly baby names thanks to one of them – Denmark’s Queen Alexandra. In 1906, English naturalist Albert Stewart Meek explored Papua New Guinea in search of new discoveries and found this butterfly, the largest in the world. It’s full name is Queen Alexandra’s birdwing.
A blue-spotted black butterfly native to Africa, this is one of many butterflies to borrow a popular girl’s name.
The Diaethria anna is also called Anna’s eighty-eight. That’s because distinctive markings on the butterfly’s wings resemble the number 88.
ANNABELLA and ANNABELLE
Vanessa annabella is the scientific name for the West Coast lady, one of the “painted ladies” that we all think of when we picture a butterfly.
But there’s also Annabelle Moore, born Annabella Whitford. She starred as the original Gibson Girl in the 1907 Ziegfield Follies. She also starred in several early silent films. In one, she performs the Annabelle Butterfly Dance, complete with wings attached to her back. That makes this name vintage, artistic, and doubly tied to the creatures.
This lovely name is literary, ancient, and yes, shared by a butterfly, too.
Sometimes called the Mountain Apollo, this is a bright white butterfly with colorful spots.
In Greek mythology, Atalanta is a young woman who wishes to remain unmarried. She convinces her father that she’ll only wed the man who can best her in a footrace. Atalanta vanquishes all comers until Hippomenes relies on distracting Atalanta with golden apples, supplied by the goddess Aphrodite. The story inspired a butterfly name, too.
Avalon hairstreaks are native to California’s Santa Catalina Island. The island’s sole populated city is named Avalon – just like the butterfly.
A sweet nickname for Elizabeth, Bettina is the name given to a butterfly found in Central America.
Best known as the daughter of the late Steve Irwin, Bindi Irwin has grown up to be a conservationist and zookeeper herself. Her name means butterfly in Nyungar, an indigenous language spoken in Western Australia. Other meanings and origins are possible.
Maybe this works better as a middle name, but Birabiro is the Amharic word for butterfly.
Or maybe you like the idea of naming your daughter just Butterfly. She wouldn’t be the first.
Dancer-turned-actress Butterfly McQueen was born Thelma, and acquired her nickname after dancing the role of the butterfly in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It stuck, and she later legally adopted it. Her most famous role came in 1939’s Gone With the Wind, but she appeared on stage, screen, and television for decades. In several cases, the played characters also named Butterfly.
Despite her high profile, only a very small number of girls have ever been given the name. Still, if kids are called Fox and Wren, why not Butterfly?
Plenty of butterflies are native to North and South Carolina. But a few include the states’ names, like the Carolina satyr. Though they’re actually found as far north as New Jersey, and as far south as Texas and Florida.
The Cassius blue makes its home in Texas and Florida, Mexico, the Caribbean, and all the way to South America. While only males are blue, this species inspires the name of Blue Van Meer, the main (female) character in 2009’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics.
Also known as the “southern gatekeeper,” Pyronia cecilia is found between southern Europe and northern Africa.
In the Wizarding World, Cho Chang is a Quidditch-playing Hogwarts student, and Harry’s crush. While Cho means butterfly in Japanese – at least some times – her name is often translated differently in international versions of the books, to a word that means autumn. And the phrase “chou chang” means melancholy – which foreshadows events to come.
A fascinating word, chyrsalis referrs to the mid-point of a butterfly’s life cycle, smack between larval and adult. It comes from the Greek word chrysos – gold, because of the color of the hard shell that protects them during this stage of development.
It’s been used as the name of a minor DC Comics character and a My Little Pony villain, but it’s unknown as a child’s given name. Still, it sounds like it would work, a modern spin on all of the Christine/Kristen/Crystals of an earlier generation.
The Cressida cressida is a clearwing swallowtail.
Cynthia is the name for a group you may know as the painted ladies. Originally considered a genus of butterflies, they’re now part of the much larger Vanessa genus. And while Cindy seems to belong to another era, the name Cynthia – in full – sounds right in our age of Sophia and Thea.
Edith’s checkerspot is native to North America, black with red and bands in various shades of yellows or even white.
Another name from mythology, Electra has a Greek origin; it means amber. Counsel electra is native to South America. It’s possible the name refers to the color of their wings, though plenty of butterfly species borrow names from legend and myth.
The Magnastigma elsa is mentioned occasionally on very long lists of species. Another cultural reference ties the insect to the name. French fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli famously decorated an evening gown with a butterfly print in 1937.
An entire genus of brush-footed butterflies answers to Euthalia. The Greek name comes from words meaning “good” and “blossom.”
Also known as the banded peacock, Anartia fatima is native to Texas, Mexico, and Central America.
Also called the mangrove buckeye, Junonia genoveva comes with a gorgeous scientific name.
The glasswing Greta oto has wings that are transparent in places. The Spanish name is espejitos – little mirrors.
An ancient goddess of magic lent her name to the Brenthis hecate, also known as the twin-spot fritillary.
Callophrys henrici is also known as Henry’s elfin.
The genus Adelpha is usually referred to as sisters. That’s because observers thought that the distinctive white stripes looked like a nun’s habit. Heraclea is one of many types.
Marpesia hermione is among the hundreds of species of butterflies known to live in Colombia, in South America.
Aglais io is better known as the European peacock.
The purple wing color gives Apatura iris its name. It’s also called the purple emperor.
The Dryas iulia is a bright orange color, sometimes called the flame or flambeau. But it makes this list of butterfly baby names because it’s also known simply as the Julia butterfly.
Juno is a Roman goddess, of course, but it’s also the Dione juno, sometimes called the juno silverspot.
Skippers are, strictly speaking, butterflies. But they’re a distinct group, and scientists have debated how to best classify them over the ages. Regardless of that decision, Justinia is a lovely name for a butterfly – or a child, too.
Frequently listed as a Native American name meaning butterfly, this name might carry that meaning. But a great many languages fall under that umbrella. And Native American naming customs are very different from mainstream twenty-first century American practices, so tread very lightly before considering such a choice.
The same disclaimrs apply about using Native American names, but Kimimila does appear to translate to butterfly in Lakota.
Borrowed from the European Coenonympha leander.
The Melanitis leda is a mostly brown butterfly, known for being active at dusk.
The Asterocampa leilia is also known as the Empress Leilia. And Marvel Comics took inspiration from this name to create Layla Miller, a.k.a “Butterfly.”
Emesis lucinda, also known as the Lucinda metalmark, can be found from Mexico to Brazil.
A few years ago, it was rumored that Kylie would name her baby Mariposa, nickname Posie. While Jenner didn’t choose the name, it feels like someone else should! Mariposa is the Spanish word for a butterfly, and it has the most fascinating origin. The Spanish phrase “María pósate” means “Mary, alight.” That makes this modern nature name quite religious.
Borrowed from the Roman goddess of wisdom and war, the Minerva owl butterfly is officially known as Opsiphanes blythekitzmillerae. That’s because naming rights were sold off in a lottery-style system, and the highest bid when to Margery Minerva Blythe Kitzmiller of Ohio.
Close your eyes and picture a butterfly, and it’s probably a Monarch. Their black, orange, and white wings are familiar to many in North America. It’s said the name came from King William III of England – William of Orange.
As a name, Monarch seems dramatic. Except this is the age of Maverick and Reign, Princess and King. Monarch is nearly unknown as a child’s name – but in 2021, five girls were named Monarch, marking the name’s debut in the US popularity data.
The Obrina olivewing is another South American possibility, one that puts vintage nature name Olive on the list of butterfly baby names.
Found from Europe to Japan, the Scolitantides orion is better known as the chequered blue. Orion, the constellaion named for a mythological hunter, is already part of the night sky. This reference places the name in the daytime, too.
Paloma means dove, not butterfly. True – except that in some Spanish dialects, paloma also refers to a butterfly. And here’s a fun twist: Tiffany & Co. designer Paloma Picasso has designed butterfly-inspired jewelry. Either way, this is a name with wings.
With sophisticated black and white wings, the Perrhybris pamela looks a little like it’s ready for a grand ball.
Borrowed from the Persian word for butterfly.
The Pearl crescent is native to North America. Obviously, Pearl is already a gemstone name, and one with ties to the ocean. But this adds a connection to the sky, too.
Every thing about this species’ name is magical. They’re known as the Curetis, or sunbeams. And they have gossamer wings.
Found in the American West, the Rita blue – scientific name Euphilotes rita – has colorful light blue wings with black and orange spots.
It’s possible that this color name is more associated with a moth than a butterfly, but the Xanthiris flaveolata – Saffron playboy – boasts a vivid, golden-orange hue on its wings.
The Eurema salome, or Salome yellow, is found from Peru to Texas.
The Rocky Mountains provide the habitat for the Anthocharis stella, or the stella orangetip.
Born in 1647 in Germany, Maria Sybilla Merian became a world-traveling naturalist in an era when such an endeavor was rare – and almost impossible for women. Many years later, a rare species was named in her honor.
Another tropical butterfly, and another entry on this list inspired by Greek mythology, the official name of the butterfly is the Morpho theseus.
The Hemaris thisbe might be more moth than butterfly, but with colorful wings with clear patches, it feels like it belongs on this list.
Coenonympha tullia prefers grassland in North America and Europe. Tullia comes from an ancient Roman family name of uncertain meaning.
The Ornithoptera croesus is better known as Wallace’s golden birdwing. It’s also occasionally described as a saffron butterfly, though that seems to be more about the color of its markings than a formal name. In this case, the name honors Alfred Russel Wallace, who first described the species.
A genus of butterfly, the two-dozen Vanessa subspecies are found nearly everywhere.
Native to Texas and surrounding states, the Vesta crescent takes it name from the Roman goddess of hearth and home.
Fritillary caterpillars love to eat violets – the flowers – and a tremendous number of butterflies bear some purple – or light purple or violet or lavender – markings. But Violet is specifically the name of Lycaena helle, the violet copper, native to Europe.
Borrowed from the Victorine Swallowtail, this name is less expected that Victoria, but every bit as wearable.
Like many short names, Yara claims multiple possible origins from across the world. It’s a goddess name in Brazil, a surname in Japan. Change the spelling slightly, and even more possibilities emerge. But Yara makes this list because it appears to mean small butterfly in Arabic.
What are your favorite butterfly baby names?
First published on February 16, 2018, this post was revised and updated on April 16, 2020 and again on February 16, 2023.