Formal Names for Nell: Helena, Penelope, Eleanor

Formal Names for Nell

Formal names for Nell range from traditional choices like Eleanor to newer options like Nella.

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.

Nell and Nan evolved from the affection phrase or “mine Elle” or “mine Ann.” Drop the mi, retain the n, and a list of nicknames options appears.

Formal Names for Nell: The Helen-Eleanors

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.

Helena – With three possible pronunciations – or more! – Helena might put some parents off. Too bad, because it feels like a current name. And yet, it currently ranks beyond the Top 500 and slipped last year. Actor Helena Bonham Carter named her daughter Nell.

Helen – Helen seems like a nickname-proof choice, but Nell works well.

Ellen – Ellen could shorten to Ellie, or, of course, Nell.

Eleanor – Classic, intelligent Eleanor qualifies as a nickname-rich choice. Nell might be my favorite of the possibilities.

Elena – The sounds in Elena make it less open to Nell, but it’s still very possible.

Formal Names for Nell: The Anns

Does this seem like a surprising category? A host of names starting with the Ann sound lend themselves to the nickname Nell.

Aniela – 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, Annalee – Possible spellings abound, but this Ann-Lee smoosh puts the Nell sound smack in the middle.

Anneliese – Also spelled Annelise and Annalise to name just two, this German name combines Ann and Elisabeth. Once again, that makes it easy to find a way to Nell.

Antonella – Antonia and Antoinette don’t do it, but this elaborate feminine form of Anthony does, thanks to the -nella ending.

Formal Names for Nell: In the Middle

The Nell sound is everywhere!

Cornelia – Ancient, elaborate Cornelia could shorten to Cora or Neely, or Nell.

Danielle, Daniella, Daniela – Ready for a stretch? Danielle peaked in the 1980s, and Daniela more recently. It’s more of a yell than a Nell, but I think it works.

Fenella – 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.

Nell: At at the Top of the Name

A handful of names start with Nell – or sounds that get us there very

Nelda – 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, consider Nell for your daughter.

Nella – 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, I think Nella might make a more appealing formal name for Nell to some.

Noelle, Noella, NoeliaContract the N and the el, and any of these Christmas-inspired choices leads to Nell.

Formal Names for Nell: Surnames

DonnellyThis name came up a few weeks ago, with the possible nickname Donnelly. I think it works!

Connelly – Of course, Donnelly could open the door for Connelly.

Formal Names for Nell: Two More!

Nephele – Zeus created Nephele from a cloud. She became the mother of centaurs. I’m not sure if Nell logically follows from Nephele – pronounced nef eh lee – but I think it works.

Penelope – Move over Chloe and Zoe! Penelope is the new chart-topper on the block. Potential nicknames abound, but I’m wild for Penelope called Nell.

Do you think Nell stands our her own, or would you use a longer form for the birth certificate?  If so, which one?

This post was originally published on June 8, 2012. It was substantially revised and re-posted on Wednesday, November 9, 2016.

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29 Comments

This was an option nickname for my sister Harriet after my aunt Helen but great-uncle Harry and great-aunt Nina the Hat maker seemed better. Shes a Harriet nicknamed Hattie now but she could have been an Ellen nicknamed Nell/Nellie

I’m a Nell who, like Helena Bonham Carter’s daughter, has just that on my birth certificate! (middle name Anna). I’ve found it to be completely fine as a stand alone name, although one unexpected consequence is that sometimes people scanning paper will say “Neil”, and then be surprised to see a woman standing in front of them! (I think this is a small price to pay for having such a great stand-alone name). 🙂

My mother still calls me “Nella” or “Nella Bella” as a nickname, which I also adore.

Hurrah!! My given name is Ellen though most people in my life call me Nelle, spelt with the -e suffix since that’s Ellen backwards 🙂 Like Ann vs. Anne it just looks complete to me with that spelling. I love both my names, and it’s fun to be a mid-twenties woman with two names out of step with my generation.

I was gratified to see Ellen on the list as options as a way to get to Nell – obviously makes sense to me! I have to share, however, that I’ve had a not insignificant number of people (new acquaintances or strangers) give me grief over my nickname not being “real.” Apparently “Ellie” or “Elle” is more appropriate to some people, as if my appellation was a committee decision! Ugh!

My sister dubbed me “Nelle” as a kid and it’s stuck ever since. She’s got Nelle on her baby list and I have Wren (since ‘Ren is phonetic nickname of hers) on mine.

I like Nell as a nickname and would want a longer form on the birth certificate.

Aniela – I have not heard this before and I like it.

Annelie, Annalee, Anneliese – I like these, but I don’t quite see Nell as nicknames for them.

Antonella – I like this, but not as much as Antonia or Antoinette.

Eleanor, Elinor, Eleonora – I would be most likely to use one of these with the nickname Nell.

Fenella – this is interesting.

Helena – I do like this. .

Noelle, Noella, Noelia – I really like these, but I would not use a nickname for them.

Nephele – interesting, but I don’t get Nell from it.

Penelope – this is not really a favorite name of mine, but I think Nell is a great nn for it.

My -nel- list:
Anelie, Anelle, Anelyse, Annelaure, Anneli, Annelien, Annelies, Annelise, Annelle, Annelore, Annelotte, Annelyse, Antoinela, Antoinella, Antonela, Antonella, Brenel, Brenelle, Brennel, Brennelle, Brunella, Brunelle, Canelle, Cannelle, Chananela, Chananele, Chananella, Chananelle, Chanel, Chanele, Chanelle, Channel, Channele, Channelle, Cornela, Cornelia, Cornelie, Cornelienne, Cornella, Cornelya, Danela, Danele, Danella, Danelle, Darnella, Darnelle, Denela, Denele, Denella, Denelle, Donella, Donelle, Fannelle, Fenella, Finella, Ganel, Ganela, Ganele, Ganella, Ganelle, Hananela, Hananele, Hananella, Hananelle, Hannele, Hannelore, Ionela, Jabnela, Jabnele, Jabnella, Jabnelle, Janel, Janela, Janele, Janella, Janelle, Janello, Jannel, Jannela, Jannele, Jannella, Jannelle, Javnela, Javnele, Javnella, Javnelle, Jenel, Jenela, Jenele, Jenella, Jenelle, Jennel, Jennela, Jennele, Jennella, Jennelle, Jonel, Jonela, Jonele, Jonella, Jonelle, Jonnel, Jonnela, Jonnele, Jonnella, Jonnelle, Khananela, Khananele, Khananella, Khananelle, Kornela, Kornelia, Kornelienne, Kornella, Kornelle, Kornelya, Leonela, Leonele, Leonella, Leonelle, Lionela, Lionele, Lionella, Lionelle, Lyonela, Lyonele, Lyonella, Lyonelle, Manel, Manela, Manele, Manella, Manelle, Marianela, Marianella, Marinela, Marinella, Matanela, Matanele, Matanella, Matanelle, Menela, Natanela, Natanele, Natanella, Natanelle, Nathanela, Nathanele, Nathanella, Nathanelle, Nela, Nelda, Nele, Neli, Nelia, Nelie, Nelinha, Nella, Nelli, Nellie, Nelly, Nelsa, Netanela, Netanele, Netanella, Netanelle, Nethanela, Nethanele, Nethanella, Nethanelle, Ninel, Ornella, Parnel, Parnele, Parnelle, Penelope, Penelopi, Pernel, Pernele, Pernelle, Peronel, Peronele, Peronelle, Peronnel, Peronnele, Peronnelle, Petronel, Petronela, Petronella, Petronelle, Peyronel, Peyronele, Peyronelle, Peyronnel, Peyronnele, Peyronnelle, Pietronella, Prunela, Prunele, Prunella, Prunelle, Ranela, Ranele, Ranella, Ranelle, Ronela, Ronele, Ronella, Ronelle, Sanela, Sefanela, Sefanele, Sefanella, Sefanelle, Sepanela, Sepanele, Sepanella, Sepanelle, Sephanela, Sephanele, Sephanella, Sephanelle, Shanel, Shanele, Shanelle, Shannel, Shannele, Shannelle, Sharnel, Sharnele, Sharnelle, Tanela, Tanele, Tanella, Tanelle, Tsefanela, Tsefanele, Tsefanella, Tsefanelle, Tsepanela, Tsepanele, Tsepanella, Tsepanelle, Tsephanela, Tsephanele, Tsephanella, Tsephanelle, Tzefanela, Tzefanele, Tzefanella, Tzefanelle, Tzepanela, Tzepanele, Tzepanella, Tzepanelle, Tzephanela, Tzephanele, Tzephanella, Tzephanelle, Vernela, Vernella, Yabnela, Yabnele, Yabnella, Yabnelle, Yavnela, Yavnele, Yavnella, Yavnelle, Yvanelle, Zefanela, Zefanele, Zefanella, Zefanelle, Zepanela, Zepanele, Zepanella, Zepanelle, Zephanela, Zephanele, Zephanella, Zephanelle

My aunt’s name is [email protected] [email protected] [email protected] L., and her grandfather called her Nell, both as a nickname for Elizabeth [the name my gramma planned on calling her (she’s now Beth)], and as a play on her initials. I’ve always liked that.

Because of the ‘mine’ blending origin, I think that any name starting with El- could have the nickname Nell, just as any An- could have Nan, and any Ed- could have Ned.

My great-grandmother was an Aniela, and it was on our short list if we had a second daughter. We probably would have gone for Anya as a nickname, but I like the idea of Nell too!

(Incidentally, my other Polish great-gran was Waleria. Angela and Valerie — if you translate the names, they could have been sorority girls born in 1990 instead of farmers’ daughters born in 1890.)

I like Nell quite a bit and would use her as a nickname for Petronella, if I could. Penelope is lovely but getting too popular for my comfort. I’m going to go super obscure if I ever have a 4th, I think. And growing up with 3 Aunt Helens, while I’m fond of the Aunts and think the name is lovely, three is already too many for my comfort.
Way to go, Nell! 😀

I’ve only recently started to like Nell/ie, and mostly because of the song “Far Away” by Ingrid Michaelson. She sings one line: “I will bear three girls all with strawberry curls, Little Ella and Nelly and Faye” (I prefer Luella, Nelly, and Faye). Those are adorable names for sisters, especially as I’m in love with Lu- names and Faye. Nell is mostly favored by association.

As far as Nell standing on her own or as a nickname, I think she works on her own…for someone else’s Nell. I’m more likely to use a longer form for the birth certificate. And from your list, Eleanor, Annalee, and Annelise are lovely. Annalee especially would make a good tribute to my husband’s side (he comes from Lees).

However the name that really grabbed my attention was Nelda. My grandmother’s name was Donelda (a feminine form of Donald). She went by Donna, but Donelda could be a sweet way for me to get to Nell. But probably not, as even Grandma thought her name was a bit of a clunker…

Finally, my absolute favorite name on the list: Penelope. This name has been climbing my list of favorites lately. The only problem…my favored nickname for her is Pepita.

Nelida, Donatella, and Petronella from the comments are also cute. And I grew up with a neighbor named Janelle; when not using her full name they called her Nellie or Jelly.

My contribution to the list: Elanorelle. Very similar to Eleanor, but with major Tolkien nerdiness attached.

Well, I adore the nickname Nell for Eleanor, Penelope and Helena…I had thought of the first two but Helena never crossed my radar, so thanks, Abby! I think Nell is ready for a resurgence as a stand alone, a la Tess/Tessa and the Ellie sisters.

Interesting aside on namesakes: singer Nelly Furtado was named for Soviet gymnast Nellie Kim (according to Wikipedia, at any rate). So two votes there for Nelly/ie as a stand-alone.

For an unusual route to Nell, my husbands’ cousin takes her nickname from Nelissa (as in, Melissa with an ‘N’). Not sure as to the etymology of that one (if any), but another option.

My grandmother was baptized Anna, but she went by Nellie for most of her life.
Helen is my favorite way to get to Nell, but I also know a Manuela (Lovely!) who goes by Nellie.

It’s totally contrarian, but maybe Lena (and other -lene names) could also use Nell as a nickname? That way you could honor “Gramma Marlene”, but still give the child a retro-cool nickname.

Nell is one of my all time favorite names. I’ve thrown around the idea of Helena, Penelope, Eleanor, and Ellen. If there wasn’t an in-law named Helen, I would probably be into that. Ultimately, I decided I like Nell most on its own, which is very un-name nerd of me. 😀

When I was really little I was convinced I’d use the name Nelly for a daughter of mine, and that idea sort of fell by the wayside until I started listening to this French song called Nelly by Superbus, and have since re-warmed up to Nelly. I do love the name Nell, too, and kinda prefer Helen over Helena, despite Ms Bonham Carter.

I love Eleanor, Penelope, and Nephele!

More Possibilities:
Annabel, Annabella (though Abby is my favourite nickname)
Brunella
Donatella
Marinella
Manuela, Emmanuella, Emanuelle
Ornella
Petronel, Petronella

You just made my day! Nell has been my favorite name for a good two years now (though as a teen I have a while to go before I have my first baby). I LOVE Nell by itself, and some of the longer forms are nice too. However I am opposed to nicknames, so I prefer just Nell. This post was so fun to read, thanks so much AM!

My great-grandmother was named Nellie — just Nellie. If I were to have another daughter, I would definitely consider Helena or Penelope, nn Nellie, to honor her. I never thought of Aniela, but I love that name too!

I love this whole list! I like a lot of names with the Nel element and recently started getting into Nell/Nellie. 🙂 bookmarked!

I have long loved the idea of Nella as either a name or a nickname. I like Eleanor and Elinora, but Nell isn’t a logical stretch for me. I also love Nephele and Noella. My secret crush is Penelope. Totally NOT my style… and yet…!

I think Nora/Norah could also be a plausible option.
From Nameberry – Junelle/Junella, Nelida.

Oh I love Nell as a nickname either from Penelope or Helena! But I think it would be too much with daughters nicknamed Neve and Nora already!

Neve is Genevieve and Nora is Lenora. I am actually expecting again, and since it will be our last child (this one will be our sixth!) I’m falling in love with a different name every week! Looks like Penelope might have too go back on the long list 🙂