Harry Potter is about confronting fears, finding inner strength and doing what is right in the face of adversity. Twilight is about how important it is to have a boyfriend.
A friend – the father of daughters – texted the quote to me a few weeks ago, and I replied:
May our daughters be Hermiones, instead of Bellas.
Of course, I know some lovely girls called Isabella. A name like Elisabetta or Valentina or Lacey or Tess doesn’t imply that you can’t grow up to be a physicist. But I think there are parents out there looking for a name like Hermione – offbeat, unexpected, brainy, strong – in hopes that their daughter will grow up to be just like that.
But if you’re looking for a Hermione, here are a few options – vintage, but not delicate, and clunky, but still cool.
Agnes – Recently chosen by Jennifer Connelly and Paul Bettany for their daughter Agnes Lark, Agnes still has a whiff of mothballs about her. Worn by an ancient virgin martyr, a popular choice in the Middle Ages, and a nineteenth-century revival, Agnes has been little heard in recent decades. And yet short form Aggie fits right in with Abby and Addie, suggesting that she’s clunky but perfectly wearable, too. Agatha is another one to consider.
Beatrice – She’s the ultimate proof that smart, brainy names can make a quiet comeback. Boosted by a British princess as well as characters like Mo Willems’ Trixie of Knuffle Bunny fame, Beatrice once seemed frumpy, but today feels like the kind of name that you’re suddenly hearing everywhere. She occupies a space formerly owned by Charlotte, and slowly being vacated by Eleanor – the go-to name for parents seeking something enduring, but not as common as Katherine.
Claudia – She’s an ancient name that feels equally right for a villain or a heroine. Claudette Colbert offers up some old Hollywood glam with a French twist, but Claudia seems like the more substantial choice. She’s different, but her -ia ending – shared by the stylish Olivia and Amelia – means that she stands out, but not too far.
Damaris – A New Testament name with a certain Puritan vibe, Damaris has actually been more popular in recent years than you might expect, charting in the US Top 1000 every year since 1992. This Patrick Wolf track tipped me to something I hadn’t realized: she’s pronounced DAM er is, not the more delicate da MER is. It almost makes me like her more.
Esther – An Old Testament heroine, a former first daughter, and the name chosen by Material Girl Madonna when she embraced the study of Kabbalah, Esther has always been in the public eye. She’s also rarely been out of the US Top 300, ranking #267 in 2010. Like celebrity favorite Stella, Esther can be linked to the word star – and has a starbaby link of her own, thanks to Esther Rose, the second-born daughter of actor Ewan McGregor.
Fern – She’s homespun, almost humble when compared to showier botanicals like Lily and Daisy. Fern is also the name of the girl who so famously saves little Wilbur in the novel Charlotte’s Web. She’s a no-nonsense nature name.
Gretchen – New York Times bestselling author Gretchen Rubin gives this name a certain joyfulness. A diminutive of Margaret – definitely a smart classic for a daughter – Gretchen feels like she can stand on her own. With her gruff, growly Gr combo and -en ending, she sounds like a girl with a backbone.
Harriet – Yes, Tori Spelling put Hattie on her daughter’s birth certificate. But Hattie is a sweet, vintage choice, while Harriet is an abolitionist, an aviatrix, a spy. From Harriet Tubman to the fictional Harriet Vane, the women who have answered to this name are a daring, accomplished lot.
Hermione – Remember when Hermione dated Quidditch player Viktor Krum, and try as he might, he couldn’t properly pronounce her name? Thanks to the character’s fame, that would never happen in real life. The Harry Potter heroine isn’t the first literary Hermione, either. She appears in Greek myth as the daughter of Helen, and has enjoyed occasional use over the centuries. Today your daughter would be asked if she’s named after the brave, bright witch from J.K. Rowling’s series – but that’s not really a bad thing.
Imogen – Shakespeare’s typo, this name is popular in the UK and Australia, but is seldom-heard in the US. She’s strong, distinctive, and strikes a balance between the familiar and the unexpected. American parents might resist Imogen because Imogene still feels fusty, thanks to the legendary Imogene Coca. But I think even Imogene might be just a few years away from feeling fresh again.
Jerusha – A J name not used by the Duggars – yet – Jerusha manages to sound modern and old school at the same time. She’s a minor character in the Bible, and her name pops up over the years in surprising places, like filmmaker Jerusha Hess – one-half of the husband and wife team responsible for Napoleon Dynamite. Jerusha’s oo sound is right at home with other smart, slightly off-center names like Lucy and Ruby – but she’s far more rare.
Leocadia – An obscure Spanish saint, Leocadia feels an awful lot like Hermione. She’s heavy, with a conventionally masculine syllable paired with a lighter, unexpected feminine ending. And Leo just flat-out roars. With names like Alexandra and Victoria in the US Top 100, Leocadia isn’t too much name.
That’s A through L. M through Z is available here! Are there others that should be on this list? Would you be happy to have a clunky cool name, or do you think it would be tough to go through grade school answering to Aggie?