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, Noelia – Contract the N and the el, and any of these Christmas-inspired choices leads to Nell.
Formal Names for Nell: Surnames
Donnelly – This 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.