The baby name Lilou blends old school French roots with a sci-fi sensibility.

Thanks to Lily for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.

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Before we travel back in time to unpack the baby name Lilou’s French origin, let’s skip ahead to the twenty-third century.

Celebrated French filmmaker Luc Besson scored a hit with 1997’s The Fifth Element. It starred Bruce Willis as Korben Dallas, an unassuming taxi driver who becomes responsible for the fate of the Earth when a beautiful, mysterious woman crashes into his cab.

Korben and his passenger must gather four stones that will help the planet fend off an attack from the great evil, which now looms in the sky above.

The passenger calls herself Leeloo. She’s played by supermodel Milla Jovovich, and it turns out that she’s an integral part of stopping the great evil.

All ends happily, with Korben and Leeloo falling for each other. Love saves the day, and life on Earth continues. The movie was a hit, in France, the US, and elsewhere.

It also launched the baby name Leeloo in France.


Besson dreamed up the story for The Fifth Element, working on for decades, from his teenage years until it finally became reality.

So it’s easy to claim he invented the baby name Leeloo.

But we’re talking about Lilou. And that name? Has at least some history in France before the movie came out.

French actress Lilou Fogli was born in 1981. That same year, author Jean-Pierre Thibaudat published a novel titled Lilou nuage.  Author and speaker Lilou Macé was born in California to French parents in 1977.

And names like Malou are familiar in French, too.

But what might it mean?

Two main theories compete:

  • First, it’s often considered a smoosh of names like Lily Louise or Amelie Louise – anything with a strong L sound plus lou. This tracks. After all, Malou comes from Marie-Louise. Or it might simply be a nickname, again for anything with a strong L sound, like Liliane. Catherine becomes Catou in French; Madeleine, Madou. It’s rare, but not unknown, before the 1990s.
  • Second, it might come from a dialect and mean lily. This gets a little twisted. After all, if Lilou is a nickname for Liliane, well … the connection to Lily is easy to make, right? But there’s no specific language that lists lilou as the translation for lily, so it’s not exactly like azalee being the French word for azalea.


In 1997, the baby name Leeloo debuted in the French popularity data, with nine births. Another five were called Leelou.

One year later, in 1998, 78 girls were named Lilou. Lylou also debuted that year, with nine births, as

Regardless of any deeper roots, there’s no question: The Fifth Element launched this name’s popularity.

The names all peaked around 2009, with the baby name Lilou by far the most popular spelling.

In the US, the story is a little different.

The baby name Lilou debuted in US popularity data in 2002, with five births. Leeloo followed in 2008.

It seems like the movie inspired the name in France, but it wasn’t until American parents took note of the French trend that it caught on in the United States.


Lily has been a wildly popular name in the US in recent years, with more than one spelling and several forms of the name ranking in the US Top 1000. It’s traditional, too. Lillie was big in the late 1800s; Lillian was a favorite in the early part of the twentieth century.

And this might be the golden age of L-L names. Think of Layla, Lila, and Delilah, Ella, Estella, and Ariella. L is the fifth most popular first initial for girls’ names as of 2022, but that obscures just how many names include a strong L sound, including Top Ten picks like Olivia, Amelia, Luna, and Isabella.

So how about the baby name Lilou, and all of the associated spellings?

  • As of 2022, there were 20 newborn Lilous, down from a high of 41 in 2016.
  • Another eight girls were named Leeloo, down from a peak of 14 in 2021.
  • While Leelou has been heard, it did not appear in the US data for 2022.
  • And Lylou has never been given to even five girls in a single year.

And, of course, Lilou could be used as a nickname for plenty of longer names, so it’s possible it’s heard slightly more often.


Overall, the baby name Lilou is an intriguing rarity. There’s just enough history to suggest it’s not an invention, but the name’s popularity is clearly tied to the enduring sci fi film.

When we talk about French names for girls, we tend to stick to the classics: Genevieve and Madeleine. But names trend everywhere, including in France, where you’re more likely to meet a baby girl named Ambre, Agathe, or Romy.

It’s worth noting that The Fifth Element recently celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary, including a re-release to theaters. So it’s possible a few parents may have reconsidered the name – or heard it for the very first time.

Altogether, it makes Lilou an intriguing rarity, a substitute for Luna and a fresh nickname possibility for Louise.

What do you think of the baby name Lilou?


French form of Lily

French filmmaker Luc Besson gave us Leeloo, which just happens to sound like traditional French nickname Lilou.


unranked in the US


falling in use


Either a French form of Lily, or a smoosh of double names like Amelie-Louise

First published on October 7, 2015, this post was revised on January 18, 2024.

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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What do you think?


  1. I know a little Lilou! And she is adorable. It does feel very nicknamey to me but you’re right that perceptions are different in France (just as in the UK parents don’t seem to shy away from nicknames as given names). I’d actually use Lilou as a nickname for my daughter except that she associates the name with her friend, so we call her Lilas (lee-lah) instead.

  2. I like the sound of Lilou, but think of it as “cute”, an attribute I personally would not choose as a given name for my own child.