Name Help is a series at Appellation Mountain. Every week, one reader’s name questions will be discussed.
We’re relying on thoughtful comments from the community to help expectant parents narrow down their name decisions. Thank you in advance for sharing your insight!
We would love help to settle on a name for our third child, due in August. We seem to be stuck with three names (really, just two because my husband vetoed one of them even though I’m hoping he’ll change his mind!)
My husband is Mexican, so we want the name to be easily pronounced in English and Spanish. Also, for me, the meaning of a name is important – I see it as a way of speaking into a child’s destiny.
My husband’s favourite is Camila – I’m not a huge fan of the meaning(s), but I like the name and I like the potential for nickname Mila. We would pronounce it “Cah-mee-lah”.
The meanings I’ve found are: acolyte (young ceremonial servant), freeborn, noble, virgin of unblemished character. If spelled Kamila, in Arabic the meaning is flawless, perfect. Those sound like high (impossible) expectations!
If there are any other meanings I haven’t found, please tell me!
My favorite is Rafaela – I love it, I love the meaning, “God has healed” and I love the way it sounds. My husband strongly dislikes this one, unfortunately.
Our compromise is Magdalena – we both like it quite a bit. I like Malena as a nickname, or Leni, or Magda (although it sounds a bit abrupt to me), or even “Dolly” (maybe that’s a taking it a bit far!). We would pronounce it “Mag-dah-lehn-uh” – last part rhyming with “henna.”
The meaning I’ve found is: woman of Magdala, which means “tower” — I like the idea of my girl being a tower (strong, unwavering, etc.)
We’ve got middle names already picked out: Sabel Abaranne. Sabel comes from my grandmother’s name, Isabel. (We would pronounce it Sabelle.)
We’ve also considered Michaela, Charlotte, Carlotta, Esme, Serafina, and Salome, but they’ve fallen off our list for various reasons.
Our other children are Emmanuelle (Emma) and Santiago (Santi). Any suggestions of other names we’re missing or not considering would be amazing! I feel like I’ve read them all.
Thank you so much!
Please read on for my response, and leave your thoughtful suggestions in the comments.
Dear Rebecca –
Congratulations on your new daughter!
Here’s the thing about meanings: we want them to be simple and straightforward. Look ’em up in a book, and there it is, easy and unambiguous.
But rarely is that the case.
First, it’s important to recognize that not every language or culture approached naming the same way. And it changed and evolved over time, meaning that the names used in, say, Madrid circa 1200 might not resemble the naming habits of the average family in Barcelona two hundred years later.
Secondly, often what we know is incorrect. Camila might come from the Latin camillus – a term used to describe well-born youth who attended at religious services. (I’m mentally calling them altar servers, but I’m not sure I have that image exactly right.) Or it could – like so many Roman names – have an Etruscan root, in which case, we might never know what the name originally meant.
Very often, a well-established meaning for a given name turns out to be folk etymology. We assume it means something, because it resembles the word – only the name evolved first. A good example? Katherine almost certainly comes form the goddess Hecate, but became associated with the word katharos – pure. The spelling changed, too, to more closely resemble the desired katharos.
Rafaela has to be out if your husband isn’t a fan. But do you prefer Camila to Magdalena? If so, you might get inventive about figuring out what the names means to you.
Camellia, the flower, takes its name from the naturalist Georg Jospeh Kamel. His surname might link back to the Arabic root you mentioned, or it could come from the animal. (For a fascinating look at camels in early medieval Europe, see this essay.) The botanical tie is reinforced by Alexandre Dumas’ 1848 novel, Camille. Camille is the French form of the name; the subtitle of his story translates to The Lady of the Camellias.
With a little bit of stretching, it’s possible to think of Camila as a flower name.
This opens the door to all the various meanings associated with the flower, including faithfulness and the coming of spring, both positive images.
I really like Emma, Santi, and Mila together, though I think I’d like Magdalena as a sister name every bit as much. I also wonder if you could use Mila as a nickname for Magdalena. The sounds are all there: MagdaLenA.
But if I haven’t saved Camila for you, and Magdalena still feels like too much of a compromise, how about:
Antonella – If Rafaela is out, would Antonella – or another Ella name? – be a possibility? I think Emma and Ella work nicely for sisters, at least when they have separate formal names to fall back on. And Antonella could also be Annie or Ana or Nell. It’s a feminine form of Anthony, and while the name’s exact origins are lost, we know that it’s associated with the Greek word anthos – flower.
Delfina – Delfina is slightly on the unusual side, at least in English. But I think it works nicely across languages, and Emma and Della sound very much like sisters. It comes from the ancient Greek city of Delphi, known for its oracle, which ties this ancient name to the ever-evolving future. But there’s also the delphinium flower – you might know it as larkspur. It’s also the root of our word dolphin, and curiously, the crown prince of France was once known as the Dauphin – same word origin. So Delfina means pretty blue flower, friendly and intelligent maritime creature, and, maybe even princess.
Mariana – This long and lovely name shortens to Mia, which is close to Mila. Mariana can refer to lots of things, including the ocean. (In Latin, marinus means ‘of the sea.’ Mary is also sometimes associated with the Egyptian word for love, and Ana comes from Hannah – grace. They might not be at the very top of the meanings list in your average baby name book, but they’re all defensible.
Miranda – This name comes from the Latin mirandus – wonderful. Shakespeare invented it for the daughter in the The Tempest. While it saw some heavy use in the 1990s, it never reached the heights of Jessica/Amanda/Rebecca, so I think it still feels very wearable for a daughter born today.
Valentina – We think Valentine’s Day – a good association! But the name comes from the Latin valens – strong, which is even better. Nicknames abound.
Valeria – I’d shorten it to Via, but Val, Vale, and Valley are options, too. It’s meaning is familiar; it comes from the Latin valere – to be strong, so it’s cousin to Valentina.
Overall, I’m inclined to try to convince you that positive associations abound for Camila, because I love that it’s your favorite, and I think it works well with your children’s names. But if a strong meaning matters more? Then the Vals could be your go-tos.
Readers, what do you think? Am I stretching too far on the meanings? And can you think of any more options for Emma and Santi’s sister?
How fun that your older two children have the same names my friend considered for her babies. In the end the chose Annalise instead of Emmanuela (they had Emmanuela on the list). So, maybe something in the Anna family.
That is so cool she considered the same names. Annalise is a great name. I’ve got two sisters (one in-law) with “Anna” in their names, so it’s out for us…!
Team Camilla here, for all of the reasons already listed. I really love the sound of sisters Mila and Emma.
Yes Mila and Emma sound great together – i like it too 🙂
I happen to agree with Abby that Camila is just such a good name along side Brother and Sister’s, if not Camila then Magdalena gives you loads of choice in regards to nicknames or if you use it in it’s full glorious form.
Other names to consider are:
Good luck xx
Thank you for your kind words, Laura! Ismeria and Sapphira – i like! Gonna check ’em out 🙂 thx!
I suggest the name Elena. I think it has a beautiful sound and meaning and transitions easily between Spanish and English. I also suggest Rosa. It has a simple meaning but lovely imagery. Rosana/Rosalba is also beautiful.
But between magdalena and camila I prefer Camilah.
Elena is beautiful yes! Thx for the suggestion 🙂
Camomila in my first language, Portuguese, means chamomile (plant which brings “serenity”) and I have always associated with the name Camila (which is very common here in Brazil).
Amazing – love this. I’ve also found in Dutch Camila is the name for the chamomile flower as well. Serenity — wow – can’t go wrong with that meaning 🙂
I love your children’s names.
For Emma (Emmanuelle) and Santi (Santiago), the most obvious sibling choices to me are Mari (Marigold) and Rosa (Rosamund).
Thanks for your feedback, Nessie!
How about Mariposa (nn Mari, Posey, Ari, Rosa, Isa) or Maribel (nn Mari, Belle, Ari, Elle/Ellie…you could get to Mila if you moved the letters around or used Maribella)? Interestingly enough, I read that in some Spanish speaking cultures that Maribel can stand on its own or be a nickname for Maria Isabel. Instead of having two middle names, this could be your honor to your grandmother.
Or even Mirabella could be more obvious to get to Mila.
Good thinking, Em! Very creative and never would’ve thought to combine names into first name to honour grandma this way. We are pretty sold on Sabel as is, but Mirabella and Maribel are so cute too 🙂
The Mrs. says
The breezy and beautiful Marisol might suit you. The ‘sea and sun’ meaning is picturesque and fitting for an August girl.
Nickname could be Mia (or Sally or Mari or Risa).
Best wishes to your growing family!
Thanks for the suggestion!
Thank you, Abby, for your analysis and suggestions! It’s good to be reminded of the etymology of names — sometimes it’s just not as concrete as we’d (I’d) like.
I LOVE the idea of using Mila as a nickname for Magdalena, if we decide not to go with Camila. I hadn’t thought of it before and you’re right that the sounds are all there. Thank you for that! Never would’ve arrived there from Magdalena on my own but I like it…!
I’m also very grateful for you pointing me to the flower and camel for alternate meanings of Camila. I will definitely look into those and perhaps, as you say, I can find what Camila means to me.
We seem to be sold on either Camila or Magdalena — but one of your other suggestions caught my eye – I like Delfina – super cool and hadn’t heard of it before. Not sure if hubs will like. Hehee!
Anyway, thanks so much for this “Name Help” series — I look forward to seeing more comments as well!
My great aunt—my nonna’s big sister—was Delfina, and they were SO Italian. Such a pretty name, and she was my sassy Aunt Del. If she’d been more… something…she could’ve been Della, Deeny, Fifi, or Didi.
So cool that you’ve got a Delfina in the fam! It’s new to me 🙂
I love Camila and Magdalena! I think either would be great with Emma/Emmanuelle. I also love Abby’s suggestions- Antonella and Delfina are my favorites.
A few other suggestions for you-
Marguerita called Greta
Francesca called Franny or Chesca
Catalina called Tally or Lina or Cate
Estella called Stella or Ella
Good luck and congrats on baby 3!!
Thank you, Renée! I agree – Delfina is unique and pretty. Thanks for the other suggestions as well. Back in high school, I played the part of “Estella,” a Puerto Rican in the musical Westside Story (I was just an extra/dancer). Brings back fond memories! 🙂
How fun Rebecca! I love west side story too. I just love Tony’s description of Maria’s name “Maria- say it loud and it’s like music playing, say it soft and it’s almost like praying”… Who wouldn’t want their name to be described this way?! 😉
I thought of one more for you. If you wanted a name that had similar sounds between both Camila and Magdalena – Carmelina would be one to consider. I knew one in high school and always thought her name was so pretty. Delfina is so pretty too.
It sounds like you’re down to Camila and Magdalena as your front runners, and you really can’t go wrong- they’re both beauties. 🙂
Congrats again 🙂
Haha – yes, what a memorable way to describe a name – Go Tony! 🙂 Thx for the last suggestion, Carmelina 😉
And I love your name, btw. It was on our shortlist for middle names forever!
I love how Mila fits with your sibset and I love the name Camila, pronounced as you prefer. I also really like the suggestion of Mariana nn Mia. I would add Milagros as another route to Mila. I am not generally too concerned with name meanings, but Magdalena carries some strong negative associations for me, not so much the biblical story as some institutions that were named after the story, that would cause me to hesitate.
Erin – a huge thank you for making me aware of the Magdalene Laundries. I had no idea. The hesitation is certainly understandable. Taking it into consideration for sure… Also thanks for your other suggestions 🙂
I have to put in a shout-out for my two favorite girls’ names in use in Mexico: Ximena (which is popular) and Paloma (which is rare). I also once met a baby Engracia, which I found to be so beautiful and delicate.
Ximena was on our shortlist for a bit as well – beautiful!! Engracia — love that one too! New to my ears, and I like it! Thx!
Since meanings are very important to you, I feel obligated to make sure you know that meaning of Magdalena is tied up with one very specific woman from Magdala, Mary Magdalene in the Bible. There’s different interpretations of her story, but it’d likely be good for you to be familiar with them since it’s a strong association for a lot of people.
Based on your like of Rafaela’s meaning, I wonder if you’d like Socorro? Cora or Coco could make good nicknames, and it comes from “Our Lady of Perpetual Help.”
Or – stylistically a long shot – but lately I’ve been really liking Ernestine? (Maybe Nessa?). My little girl is 5, and her earnestness is such a wonderful aspect of her personality.
Yes, you’re right about Magdalena and the meanings/associations to Mary Magdalene… I haven’t been bothered/worried so far about them, but it’s a good idea to read a bit more into it – thanks for that! Ernestine — super cool. We toyed with Enriqueta as a middle name; Ernestine is beautiful as well, and meaning too!