The baby name Ada combines simplicity with strength, a winning combination.
Thanks to Sophie for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.
NOBLE, BIBLICAL, FIRST
The baby name Ada claims at least three separate and distinct origins.
Spelled Adah in the Old Testament, it comes from a Hebrew word meaning adornment.
Along with Adelaide and a host of related names, it might come from the Germanic adal – noble.
In the West African language Igbo, Ada means “first daughter.” It’s most often used in longer names, like Adanna and Aadeze.
And one more: in Tagalog, Ada means fairy.
Like many mini names, the baby name Ada travels well, crossing language and cultural barriers with ease.
QUEEN of CARIA
The name comes with considerable history, too.
Back in the fourth century BC, Ada of Caria ruled her kingdom as a satrap after the death of her brother-husband, and allied herself with Alexander the Great.
History also gives us:
- The seventh century Saint Ada of France.
- Charlemagne’s sister, for whom an illuminated manuscript is called the Ada Gospels. It may not have been her given name. Charlemagne’s daughters were Adalhaid and Adaltrude. Ada may have been Adelais, and names ending in -ada, like Bertrade and Theodrada, also appear on his family tree.
- Ada de Warenne was the twelfth century wife of a Scottish prince and mother of two future kings.
- Dutch and Scottish countesses answered to Ada in the thirteenth century, along with other noblewomen.
But the most famous Ada is probably the daughter of the poet Lord Byron.
Christened Augusta Ada, in honor of an aunt, she was always known as Ada. She married William King-Noel, the Earl of Lovelace – making her a Countess. But we usually call her just plain Ada Lovelace.
Lovelace was a mathematician, and her work with Charles Babbage is considered the earliest model for a computer and software.
The US Defense Department named a computer language Ada in her honor.
In 1990, William Gibson and Bruce Sterling wrote The Difference Engine, a what-if the computer age and industrial age collided in Victorian England. It’s book pioneered steampunk, and gave a fictional version of Ada Lovelace a starring role.
All of this lends the baby name Ada some edge, making her less of a gentle vintage choice and more of an intellectual, creative one.
BY the NUMBERS
The baby name Ada appeared in the US Top 100 through the year 1912.
By the 1980s, the name left the US Top 1000 entirely, sitting just outside the rankings for years.
But in 2004, the baby name Ada re-entered the US Top 1000. It’s gained steadily since then, reaching #184 in 2020.
Some of that reflects our love of vowel-forward mini names. Mia and Leah and, of course, Ava, all paved the way for Ada’s return.
We love Addie names, too – pick your spelling of Adeline, and surname Addison is only recently fading.
But there’s more to the story.
The baby name Ada was already rising on its own merits when Peaky Blinders debuted.
The British crime drama focuses on the Shelby family – fictional, but based on real life people and events – from the 1890s into the 1920s. It debuted in 2013 and will conclude following season six in 2021.
Ada Shelby Thorne is the only sister in the family, and her story features across the seasons.
No question that the show helped push the baby name Ada even higher. In 2013, the name stood at #435. It might not have made it all the way to #184 as of 2020 without the show.
And, of course, the name could still climb higher.
From an ancient queen to a proto-computer programmer to a fictional character, Ada belongs to women of character and strength. It’s a simple, but solid, choice for a daughter’s name.
What do you think of the baby name Ada?
This post was originally published on July 3, 2009. It was substantially revised and re-posted on September 15, 2014 and again on September 28, 2021.
Can Ada be paired with a middle name that’s a noun (a nature middle name, for example) without it sounding like “Ate a ______?” I originally thought it could, my husband still thinks it can, but I’ve seen some internet comments on this name lately that give me doubts . . .
Good Q, K! I think it depends. Ada Plum seems too much like a sentence to me. But Ada Rose? Fine. Because we recognize both as names immediately, and roses aren’t so obviously edible. Same thing for Ada River, Ada Sky, or Ada Rowan. The more name-like the middle, the less sentence-like the overall impression. I think unusual middles that aren’t obviously edible work, too – Ada Zinnia, for example, doesn’t seem like a problem. I’ll ask the Q on Facebook later today, though – curious to hear what others think.
Thank you! The specific name we’re considering is Ada Wren.
I’m hoping Ada Wren falls into the 3rd category you mentioned, am guessing it falls into the 2nd, and fear (that since it’s an animal name) some people might consider it in the first. The fact we didn’t come across this interpretation possibility with “Ada” until we’d entertained the name option for a while is a good sign, but I’m still nervous about this one.
I don’t think Ada Wren is a problem! Especially because … well, we don’t eat wrens, right? I tried searching a bunch of ways, including “roasted wren” and came up with not a single recipe. So … feeling like I wouldn’t hear that at all.
I love the name Ada! It brings to mind Charles Dickens’ character, Ada Clare, in Bleak House. It is pretty on its own, but I also think it is lovely as a nn for Adeline or Adelaide.
Love Ada! For our oldest child we picked Ada as our girl name. He was a boy so he got the boys name we picked out. We chose not to use Ada for our next two kids though. In part because when speaking and introducing it sounds so close to Ava that it would be commonly mixed up with that beautiful but very popular in our area name.
C in DC says
With the Ada Project and Code for Girls becoming a big thing, I can definitely see this one rising. My college has a group of women called the Adas, after the women for whom their program was named, Ada Comstock Scholars.
My favorite Ada name is Adelais.
Adah will be my daughter’s name. It is my great grandmother’s name and my mother’s middle name, so it means a lot to me. I hope no one else uses it so it can stay unique, but I’m hoping my Adah will be a rarity in her preschool class, unlike my own overly popular name.
Emmy Jo says
Ada is beautiful, and I love all the German “noble” names, particularly Adeline, Adelaide, and Adelie.
Last year’s Christmas tree was called Adah because with the biblical spelling it means “adornment.” Yes, I do name my Christmas trees.
Adelaide was on my short list for years – my husband’s nn is Del, so Adelaide and Cordelia would honor Dad. But I hear you about all the Addies out there … it’s not quite as common as Maddie, but I’m sure she’s on her way. Factor in the Avas and yeah, this one isn’t as distinctive as she appears at first glance.
Too bad, because she’s really quite charming.
It is pretty, and I love the sound of Addy, but honestly? You did way better w/ Clio/Claire. Claire just sounds so bright and shiny, and Clio is as distinctive as it is cute. Hard to beat, I say. Bonus points for timelessness: you can’t tell by name alone how old a Claire is; she could be eight or eighty.
Poor Ada sounds overused through no fault of her own. People are naturally inclined towards names that sound familiar, and then change it slightly if it seems too popular (which is ironically what made it attractive in the first place). Emma/Emily become Emerson, Ava becomes Eva, and Madison becomes Addison. Ada is really close to Ava, and there’s already a slew of little Addies. A completely admirable choice, but not a standout by any means.
Thanks for another NotD 🙂
I really began to like Ada through my long love of Adeline, which I don’t like as much any more. I like that she’s more streamlined and simple, and down here, I don’t think she’d get mixed up with Ava (even though she sits at #6). Most recently, I’ve become enamoured with Ida though – I love her! But can’t use her up front, hence Beatrix Ida Primrose!
Wow, I could have sworn I answered this earlier! Weird.
Anyway, to repeat myself, I need to meet a little ada, right now all that’s in my head is the nasty old lady three doors down (or was it two? I forget). Ada & Nellie were sisters that lived together, Nellie was nice, Ada was mean.
So while I like Ada’s sound and agree, she’ll be mistaken for Ava quite a bit; Ada for me needs a new image, I can’t help but think of the one I did know. I’d rather Adele or Adeline, the only two longer forms I do like. And even then, I’d nickname Della before Ada, because of that nasty one. Ada’s lovely, but I love Ida (and Della)! 🙂
I think Ada is adorable. I actually knew a little Polish girl named Ada and it was pronounced (AH-dah), which I thought was just downright pretty. I also adore the English pronunciation of Ay-dah. Speaking of “adore,” Ada could also make a great nickname for Adora.
I’ve known a girl named Ada, pronounced AH-dah. Not my cup of tea. My newest SIL is considering Ada (AY-dah) for her bun in the oven.It’s okay…but the babe will get confused with Ava allllll the time. Still, I’m glad she’s not into Madison. My other SIL picked nice, classic/traditional names, nothing trendy for her kids, and I would hate the new SIL to mess up the standards we’ve set. LOL
I love this name but do think it would get constantly confused with Ava. Plus, Addie is absolutely everywhere and puts me off all the Ad- names.