Anna Karenina
Anna Karenina (Photo credit: Roberto Verzo)

She’s a lovely rarity with a literary sound-alike.

Thanks to Karena for suggesting her own name as our Baby Name of the Day.

Karena is a pretty possibility, with more than one origin to consider:

  • In Danish, Katherine shortens to Karen.  In Swedish, she becomes Karin.  The -en spelling was a smash hit in the US during the 1950s and 60s.  Karena and Karenna follow logically from Karen and company.
  • Cara is an Italian endearment, akin to sweetheart.  It became a name in the 1800s, and caught on around the same time Karen was popular.  Kara was actually the more successful spelling.  Carina is a diminutive form of Cara – little sweetheart.  While Carina and Karena are probably pronounced differently by most, there’s probably some crossover.
  • Cara is also sometimes linked to Charles and Caroline and all of the other names in that family.  In Czech, both Kara and Karen are sometimes heard as surnames derived from Karel, the Czech form of Charles.
  • Then there’s Corinna, from the Greek word for maiden. Corinna was popularized in a seventeenth century poem – Corinna’s going a-Maying. Plus, Ovid used Corinna in one of his works. She has a similar sound to Karena.
But Corinna isn’t the unexpected literary twist.
Former vice president Al Gore and his wife Tipper – born Mary Elizabeth – have a daughter named Karenna.  Apparently, Tipper read Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina while pregnant and thought that Karenna made for a wearable version of Karenina.  Clever, right?

Karenna Gore is all grown up now, of course.  Her daughter is named Anna.

Today, Karena appeals for another reason.  It might be a great way to honor a loved one named Karen.  Karen  occasionally charted in the Top 1000 from the nineteenth century through the 1920s.  She started to climb in 1928, reaching the Top 200 in 1935 and #50 in 1938.  From 1951 through 1968, she was a Top Ten choice – meaning that odds are good that you might be trying to honor a mom, grandmother, sister, or aunt called Karen.  While some ends-in-en choices for girls feel classic – like Lauren or maybe Allison – Karen has fallen steadily to #287 in 2011.  Fewer of us will consider Karen for a daughter.
Karena feels markedly different.  Maybe it is because we’re still fond of the -en, -ena, -enna ending.  Sure, the never-ending versions of Makenna and Mackenna are tired, but think of:
  • Wren and Wrenna
  • Siena, Sienna
  • Brenna
Add in certain pronunciations of Helena and Madalena, and the sound feels quietly stylish today.
Karena is also rarer than you might expect.  The name was given to just 26 girls in 2011, and has never cracked the Top 1000.  The -enna spelling is even less common – she was given to just eight girls.  Karina – which almost certainly sounds like kah REE na – peaked just outside of the Top 100 in the mid-90s and remains relatively common.  But Karena feels like a different name.
A few notable Karenas include Hong Kong-based singer/actress Karena Lam, and, of course, Karenna Gore Schiff.
On the downside, Karena could cause some confusion with pronunciation and spelling.  But if you’re looking to honor a beloved Karen, she’s a brilliant way to update the name without making too much of a change.
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About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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1 Comment

  1. Wondering why this page is so lonely.

    I very much enjoy the name Corinna, but for some reason not Karenna. Maybe less country bumpkin and more refined?