Arlo is a folk singer. Darla? A little rascal, of course. But what about this rarity?

Thanks to Laura for suggesting Arla as Name of the Day.

Between 1930 and 1941, Arla hugged the outer edge of the US Top 1000 for girls. While she sounds unusual today, the -arl sound was in vogue.

For boys in the 1930s, the following ranked in the US Top 1000:

  • Carl came in at #29, with Carlo, Carlton, Carleton and Carlyle also ranked;
  • Arlan, Arlen and Arland charted;
  • So did Harlan, Harland and Garland.

Girls’ names also featured the -arl, including:

  • The decade’s #11 Carol, plus Carolyn, Carole and Carolee;
  • Carlene and Carleen;
  • Carla and Karla, Darla and Marla.

It was just a hop, skip and a jump from many common names to Arla.

Arla sounds like an antique, perhaps even a bit salvaged from an old Germanic name. But her origins are obscure:

  • Arlo is sometimes listed as an Italian variant of Charles. Carla is, of course, a feminine form of Charles;
  • Arla is a tiny Greek village;
  • Other place names include Sweden’s Arlanda airport and Northern Virginia’s Arlandia – but neither started out as personal names;
  • The Old English ærlice is the source of our word early and an archaic Swedish term for early, arla. It lives on as the name of a Scandinavian food conglomerate;
  • Arland, which may relate to the Old Norse örlendr – foreigner;
  • My favorite is the Norman French verb hareler – to cause trouble. But it’s a stretch;
  • The Fett family of bounty hunters in the Star Wars universe includes Boba’s aunt, Arla Fett.

The two strongest theories link Arla to the Norse element arn, or eagle – as in Arnold or suggest that she’s a twist on Arline/Arlene/Arleen. Arline was coined for an 1843 opera.

And here’s the thing – that 1843 opera was popular for years and inspired several film adaptations. Arlene was a Top 100 name from 1931 through 1945. In 1936, Laurel and Hardy took their twist on the story to the big screen, featuring Darla Hood – yup, the actress from Our Gang – as Arline.

All of those explanations aside, it seems most likely that Arla is simply a modern coinage based on oh so many similar names in use circa 1930.

Arla could sound rather dated, but she fits in reasonably well with two-syllable, ends-in-a names for girls, from old school choices like Emma and Cora to newer ones like Tyra.

Add in the rise of Carly, Marlee and even Harley, plus Scarlett, Charlie for girls and starbaby Harlow, and the -arl sound might be back.

If you’re looking for short and distinctive, and don’t mind a lack of definite meaning or origin, Arla might satisfy.

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. My name is Arla. I have always thought I must be the only one with this name. Its nice to know there are others with the exact name. I hated hearing everyone telling me how odd yet pretty it is.I know its not for everyone, but I have grown to love it. I love not having a common name.

  2. Speaking from the perspective of one whose had the name for many years, I’ve become quite fond of it. Oh sure people often mispronounce it or want to add extra letters, but it’s unique as are all of those I’ve met with the name Arla. The name is actually Danish/Swedish.

  3. Nope, don’t like it. I don’t really like Arlene either, or Marlene, or Darlene. Carla’s ok, but not Arla. I don’t go around calling myself Arlotte.

    1. Charlotte, I hear what you’re saying about Marlene/Arlene/Darlene. They’re all quite dated.

      And Arlotte, no. But Arlette had her moment in the sun …

      1. True, I’d forgotten that. To me it still sounds like a name chopped up, although perhaps better than Arla, which I really quite dislike.

  4. Not a fan. It’s Marla without the M, Carla without the C, Darla without the D…however I do know an Arleigh.

  5. Arla sounds incomplete to me. I agree with Photoquilty that I want to say “Arlo” when I see it. I do like Starla though! Very pretty!

  6. There’s an old Smashing Pumpkins song called Starla. The story Billy Corgan tells is that he met a girl at a party named Starla, and thought it was a cool name, so he wrote a song using it. Then a few years later, he met her again and told her he wrote a song with her name. She looked at him and said, “But my name’s Darla.” It’s an awesome song, regardless – well, it’s probably a better song as Starla than Darla – and my very first license plate read STARLA, as well as my second tattoo, which I got when I was 16. Of course I’d never inflict the name on an actual person.

    So, my point. I like Starla (out of fondness for the Pumpkins), do not like Darla, and am torn on Arla. My mouth wants to say “Arlo”, and I don’t love that -ar sound unless it’s in a word like “star” or a name like Charlotte, maybe. Carl/Carla don’t float my boat, either.

    1. I actually knew a Starla who briefly attended the same middle school as me. I thought her name was pretty ‘out there’ even as a youngin’. I can see it inspiring a song, though.

    2. Fabulous story – I’ve never heard it! Betcha that misheard name has inspired more than one parent. Off to iTunes …

      Which makes Starla the late 20th century equivalent of Shakespeare’s Imogen. 🙂

      1. So…what’s the story behind Imogen? I’m too lazy to look it up. Also, does anyone know why the only Imo- name I ever heard before ‘meeting’ you all was Imogene? Is that a true variant?

        1. Imogen first appears in Shakespeare’s Cymbeline. The story goes that he meant to name her Innogen, a name from legend that fits the overall arc of the play. But Innogen was misprinted as Imogen in an early edition, and she’s been Imogen ever since. Other accounts attribute the typo to the Bard himself.

          I’m still not sure how Imogen became Imogene …

          1. I also don’t know how it became Imogene, but my first encounter was with a literary Imogene (children’s lit when I was in 3rd or 4th grade)… I don’t remember the title, but I think Imogene was an orphan in the book and she was definitely the protagonist. I had thought it was the strangest name when I read the book… by the time I’d made the move across the pond I had become quite enamored with the name. I was completely naive to the origination of the name and it’s Shakespearean roots until I was preggers with our daughter. It was actually something that concerned me because we have a dog called Hamlet (named as a reference to his piglet-like qualities, but understandably people think we are fans of the Bard). In any case, I’d just assumed that the -gene ending/sound was more en vogue in the 20s/30s in the states when the name became more popular here.

  7. I worked with a Darla who’s in her late 30s – the name Arla just reminds me of her… nothing negative really, but it’s a strong association. Funny that I lurve Arlo, but really could leave Arla. Guess I like my pirate-y ‘aaaar’ sounds on boys more than girls.