Long-time Top Ten staple Helen is barely clinging to the US Top 500. And yet, cousins and descendants and imported forms of the name abound.
Let’s take a look at the Helen names – the ones we love, and the neglected gems, too.
Helen Names: Top 250
Ella, Ellie – Wait, you protest. Ella and Ellie have their own stories, independent of Helen. True … and yet, in plenty of languages, Ella and Ellie follow naturally from Helen, so I’m adding them to the Helen names list. It’s also a good example of the way we like our Helen names in 2016. Hold the H, please. At #18, Ella is the most popular member of the family, given to over 7,800 girls last year. At #47, Ellie falls just slightly behind.
Elena – Move over, Isabella. Elena reigns as the newest, hottest crossover English-Spanish name of the moment. Credit to The Vampire Diaries and Elena of Avalor, but it’s worth noting that this name has been climbing since the 1990s. Just over 2,800 girls were given the name in 2015, taking it to a new high of #106 in the US.
Alina – Oh, those A names! Alina rose to #172 last year – a new high. Strictly speaking, Alina is a member of the Adelaide family. But spell it with an ‘e’ and Alena becomes a Helen name. That makes me think Alina qualifies as a member of the club, too.
Alaina – Not far behind Elena is variant spelling Alaina. The pronunciation is the same, but the E is swapped out for an A, and the ‘e’ becomes an ‘ai’, like in Elaine. At #176 last year, it’s also enjoying a rise in popularity. But just as Alina might be more strongly connected to Adelaide, it’s worth noting that Alaina is often considered a feminine form of Alan.
Helen Names: Top 500
Lena – Lena clearly comes from forms of Helen in some languages, but here’s the problem in English. Elena takes a long ‘a’ sound, like Lane and Jane. But Lena sounds more like Tina and Gina, with an ‘e’ sound. Still, it would be a mistake to exclude Lena from the Helen names list. At #272 in 2015, Lena is quietly rising – though the name remains far outside its former Top 100 status.
Alayna – Take Alaina, add the influence of so many recently popular girls’ names, like Kayla and Layla and even Taylor and Payton, and the Alayna spelling evolves naturally. It came in at #223 last year.
Elaina – Yet another spelling possibility for Elena, this one clearly close to Elaine. Elaina ranked #291 last year. In fact, add up Elena, Alaina, Alayna, and Elaina, and this name rockets into the US Top 50.
Helen Names: Top 700
Helena – How can it be that Helena – the Latinate form of Helen – ranks a mere #534? Sophia and Amelia rank near the very top of the charts. But the equally enduring Helena was given to fewer than 600 girls last year. Perhaps some of it is the question of pronunciation. While Elena is straightforward, Helena can be heh LEE nah, heh len uh, or heh LAY nuh – and maybe I’ve missed a few variations.
Laney, Lainey – These names feel more modern than Helen or Elaine, nickname names that are nearly unisex, and seldom heard as given names before the year 2000. At #577, Lainey is the more popular spelling, but Laney follows closely at #644. Credit goes to 1999 teen comedy classic She’s All That, starring Freddie Prinze, Jr. and Rachael Leigh Cook in a modern twist on My Fair Lady. The movie spelled the name Laney.
Alena – Alena ranked #596 last year, much less popular than Alina – and more clearly linked to the Helen names, too. It’s considered a diminutive form of Helena in German and Czech, and in the Czech Republic, it’s been a recent Top 100 name.
Elaine – I find Elaine fascinating. It’s a name from Arthurian romance, an Old French name seldom heard before Tennyson used it for his famous poem about Camelot. And yet, it became such a go-to choice for girls in the 1940s that it feels practical and everyday – the name of your favorite aunt, your sister’s boss, your neighbor down the street. The recent popularity of Laney and Lainey help to keep Elaine young. As of 2015, the name ranked #673 – down many places from a peak in the Top 100, but still in use.
Helen Names: Top 1000
Ellen – Ellen served as a staple name for girls for generations, ranking in the US Top 100 most years into the 1960s. In fact, it was the general medieval English form of Helen – modern American parents weren’t the first to drop the H. Today Ellen has tumbled to #705. And yet, there’s something simple and appealing about Ellen.
Elin – At #920, Elin is on the fringes of the current charts. It’s much more common in Europe, where it’s often the most familiar of the Helen names. It’s been especially popular in Switzerland in recent years. American parents probably first heard the name thanks to Swedish-born former model Elin Nordegren. She married Tiger Woods in 2004, and by 2006, her name ranked in the US Top 1000. Pronounced with a long E, Elin doesn’t sound very much like Helen, but it is definitely among the Helen names.
Helen Names: Rarities
Eleni – I love this modern Greek spin on Helen. Eleni feels upbeat compared to the more sedate Helen. It’s never been cracked the US Top 1000, but it is typically given to more than 100 girls born in the US every year.
Helene – Helene is pretty close to the original form of the name, which is still in use in Scandinavia. But not often heard in the US. Just 41 girls were named Helene last year.
Nell – There are plenty of formal names for Nell, but Helen is among the better known possibilities. Nellie and Nella could make this list, too, but they’re all pretty rare as given names. In 2015, 61 girls were named Nell.
Helen Names: Distant Cousin
Eleanor – It’s tough to argue that Eleanor belongs with the Helen names. We know that they probably have separate roots – one Greek, the other French. After all they share many nicknames. And the names were sometimes used as equivalents. Eleanor of Portugal married Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III in 1452. During her coronation, she was called Helena, and one of their daughters was given the name, too. Lastly, it’s not entirely clear that Eleanor developed independently of Helen – see this fascinating piece from Kate at Sancta Nomina on the possible connection.
What are your favorite Helen names? Are there others I’ve left off the list?