If you love the idea of a daughter answering to slim, trim Nell, but want something longer for the birth certificate, this list is for you.
The story behind Nell is just plain fun.
Back in the day, the affectionate phrase “mine Elle” was smooshed into my Nell. That means that many an El- name could’ve become Nell.
The same thing explains why Ann became Nan.
But even without my Nell, the sound occurs in plenty of feminine names, traditional favorites, rarities, and modern innovations, too.
Helen and Eleanor seem like completely different names, and indeed, each claims distinctive roots.
But something funny happens over the years, and they get mixed together. That’s probably because of names like Elena. Many languages translate Helen as Elena, as yet Elena looks an awful lot like a cousin to Eleanor. The same thing happens with Ellen, which might serve as a form of Helen, or a nickname for Eleanor. Or maybe they are related after all. Kate covered a possible connection between the two names here.
Whatever the case, all of the Helen-Eleanors potentially become Nell.
Capable and classic Eleanor qualifies as a nickname-rich choice, from the expected Ellie to the equally wearable Nell.
A Disney princess and the most popular of the Helen names today, Elena seems less likely to shorten to Nell – but it could.
Brief and complete, Ellen requires no nickname, and yet Nell works well.
As with Ellen, Helen seems spare, tailored, and nickname-proof. But Helen called Nell could be a delightful surprise.
With three possible pronunciations – or more! – Helena might give some parents pause. Too bad, because it could fit right in with Sophia and Amelia. Actor Helena Bonham Carter named her daughter Nell. Bonham Carter’s mother was named Elena; her grandmother, Hélène. That makes Nell the fourth generation with some form of the name.
Does this seem like a surprising category? A host of names starting with the Ann sound lend themselves to the nickname Nell.
The Polish form of Angela is pronounced ahn YEL uh. It could become Anya or Annie, but Nell seems like an original short form for a daring name.
ANNELIE and ANNALEE
Possible spellings abound, but this Ann-Lee smoosh puts the Nell sound smack in the middle.
Also spelled Annelise and Annalisa to name just two, this German name combines Ann and Elisabeth. Once again, that makes it easy to find a way to Nell.
Antonia and Antoinette don’t do it, but this elaborate feminine form of Anthony does, thanks to the -nella ending.
NELL IN THE MIDDLE
The Nell sound is everywhere!
A vintage name with an intriguing backstory, Avonelle easily lends itself to Nell.
Ancient, elaborate Cornelia could shorten to Cora or Neely, too.
Danielle peaked in the 1980s; Daniela followed more recently. While it sounds more like yel, the letters suggest Nell, too.
In Irish legend, Fionnuala’s evil stepmother transformed her and her siblings into swans, cursed for 900 years. The name eventually came into Scottish and English as Fenella, a rare name that certainly gets to Nell.
One of many feminine forms of John, Janelle is a 1970s favorite. Pairing it with a vintage nickname would be an unconventional and intriguing choice.
In Greek myth, Zeus created Nephele from a cloud. She became the mother of centaurs. Pronounced nef eh lee, there’s a hint of the Nell sound there.
A favorite of recent years, Penelope comes with plenty of nicknames options. With “nel” right in the middle, no question Nell belongs on that list.
NELL AT THE TOP
A handful of names start with Nel.
Retro Nelda brings to mind Lorna and Twyla, or other 1930s choices like Rhonda, Elda, Vida, Glynda, Gilda, and Ouida. Glenda reached the US Top 100 in the 1940s. If you have a Nelda on your family tree, Nell might be the modern update.
It might be short for names like Cornelia, but if Delia stands on its own, why not Nelia? Nell – or maybe Nel – serves as the logical nickname.
Nella last appeared in the US Top 1000 around 1941. Since then, similar names have taken a generation by storm. Hello, Ella, Bella, and Stella. Just like parents now choose Tessa instead of Theresa, Nella might make a more appealing formal name for Nell to many.
Contract the N and the el, and this Christmas-inspired choice leads to Nell.
An Irish surname name with Nell baked right in.
If Connelly is an option, then Donnelly might work, too.
What are your favorite formal names for Nell? Or would you stick with Nell on its own?
This post was originally published on June 8, 2012. It was revised substantially and re-posted on Wednesday, November 9, 2016 and again on March 25, 2021.