Name Help: Sister for Gabriel, Zelie, Santiago, SerafinaName 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!

Briana writes:

We’re expecting our fifth baby and we’re totally stumped on girl’s names.

We like to choose a saint’s name, as well as one that will work in both English and Spanish, so that limits our choices a bit. While we like some names, (Dorothy, for example) they don’t necessarily work with our last name or with our other children’s names.

We need a sister name for Gabriel, Zelie, Santiago, and Serafina. If the baby is a boy, he will be Cassian Joaquin. Thanks so much and take care!

Please read on for my response, and leave your thoughtful suggestions in the comments.

Dear Briana –

Congratulations on your baby on the way!

Let me add one more consideration to your list. It seems like you’d prefer names – especially for a girl – that work in English and Spanish, honor a saint, and fall a little bit outside of the mainstream. I’m guessing that Isabella or Sofia isn’t what you have in mind.

I should also add that I know just enough Spanish to be dangerous. I tried to find more names like Zelie – not expressly Spanish, but perfectly wearable in both languages. That proved challenging, mostly because of my own limitations.

Adela, Adelina – An awful lot of girls answer to Addie names. So maybe Adela and Adelina feel too familiar, even though Adelina hovers around the Top 500 mark – and Adela fails to chart at all. But if you don’t mind that similarity, these are lovely choices, with more than one notable saint by the name.

Araceli – Zelie feels almost modern, which made me go looking for a name like Araceli. It’s a Marian name, from the Latin phrase “Ara Caeli” – the altar in heaven. Plenty of telenovelas have named characters Araceli, so I’m not sure how it reads. Perhaps the pop culture use dulls some of the spiritual significance? But it does make a gorgeous and unexpected name, just like Zelie and Serafina.

Avila – How broadly will you define saints’ names? Saint Teresa of Avila makes a worthy role model. I love the sound of Teresa or Therese (we know two under-five Thereses!) but it feels almost predictable. Avila, on the other hand, surprises, while still acknowledging the saint.

Casilda – If Avila seems like an obvious nod to a saint famous far beyond the Catholic church, Casilda might be the opposite. She serves as the patron saint of Toledo, Spain, and the origins of her name are obscure – but intriguing. One hesitation: it might rule out naming a future son Cassian.

Catalina – What do you think of Catalina? All of the Katherine/Catherine names could be considered, and I initially had Kateri on this list. But Catalina makes an obvious Spanish-English crossover, one used sparingly in English, but widely recognized thanks to so many Santa Catalinas on the map.

Elena/Helena – Helena makes for an international name associated with at least two saints, before we count the Helens. Helena drops the ‘h’ in Spanish, to become Elena. While gorgeous with or without the H, Elena ranks in the current US Top 100. And somehow it feels less obviously associated with the religious figures. (Or is that just me?)

Ines – I can list a few saints Agnes, and so Inés naturally came to mind. It feels fresh and modern, but boasts history galore. One note: Blake Lively recently gave the name to her younger daughter with husband Ryan Reynolds. This could make the name feel trendier than you might like, but a) so far, it remains quite rare and b) with your other children’s names, it becomes more obviously a heritage/religious choice.

Jacinta – Since Zelie took her name from a newly canonized saint, would you consider Jacinta? While she’s a Portuguese saint, I assume Jacinta works nicely in Spanish, too.

Luisa, Lucia – Or maybe a Lu- name? Luisa and Lucia come from separate roots, but fit right in with Top 100 girls’ names like Luna and Lucy.

Mariela – I can count dozens of Mary + Another Name combinations. But Mariela seems promising in this case. It reminds me of the ever-popular Isabella, but is far more rare. It can also be a contraction of Maria Elena, so if you like the idea of Elena, but find it too popular, Mariela might substitute. I’ve seen Marielena, too.

Valentina – Valentina ranks just outside of the US Top 100, but feels much less common than, say, Sofia or Isabella. Of course, Valentina charts in the Top 25 and even Top 10 elsewhere in the world. So perhaps this feels too familiar for you?

Vera – Strictly speaking, there’s not a Saint Vera. But Vera comes from the Russian word for faith, and there is a Saint Faith. In Latin, verus means true, which leads to phrases like “vera crux” – true cross and place names like Veracruz. So perhaps it just barely satisfies the saints’ name criteria? Like Zelie, it is not expressly Spanish. But it does rank in the most popular names of Spain, as well as Sweden and the Netherlands, so it seems like a highly portable possibility.

I’m having a hard time choosing my favorites. Maybe that’s because Zelie and Serafina suggest two different directions. One feels more modern and brief, while the other strikes me as romantic and elaborate.

Ines, Jacinta, Vera, and Casilda stand out to me, if only because I think they split the difference between Zelie and Serafina, while remaining nicely distinctive.

Readers, I cannot wait to hear your thoughts on this one. Especially Spanish speakers! Am I completely off base with what works in English and Spanish? Are some of these hopelessly dated in Spanish?

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. Some not mentioned: Albina, Beatriz, Brigida, Carina, Claudia, Clotilde, Elodia, Emiliana, Gisela, Gracia, Jovita, Leocadia, Maura, Rosalia, Rosalina, Sabina, Salome, Tamara, Tatiana, Veronica

  2. Going through a list of saints, what about Vitalina? Vita or Lina are both cute and intuitive nicknames.

    Marcella comes to mind as a really underused, fashionable name that fits the saint requirement.

    I also love the suggestion of Ines.

  3. I would like to suggest Susanna or Cecilia, which can work in both English and Spanish and are saint names.
    I love the name Araceli but feel like there’s a chance it rhymes with Zelie. But if not, it would be a beautiful fit.
    My young daughter’s name is Gloria, a family name on both her white and Hispanic sides of the family–a win-win for us. While not a specifically religious name, I feel like it has a religious sound.