She’s part-frills free, part-place name. Add in her Latina vibe and her link to the nickname Bella, and how can you go wrong?

With the Christmas holiday just behind us, thanks to Photoquilty for turning our attention to Belén as Name of the Day.

You can find Belén on the map from Argentina to New Mexico and beyond. It’s a contracted form of Bethlehem, as in O Little Town Of, and the Spanish translation for the place name.

This gives Belén two meanings:

  • From the Hebrew beit lehem, Bethlehem means “house of bread.” The area has been settled since 1400 BC and today is part of the West Bank;
  • Bethlehem is believed to be the birthplace of King David and Jesus, lending the name religious significance, too.

Belén wasn’t a blip in the US until the year 2000. She’s lingered on the fringes of the Top 1000 since then, ranking #869 in 2008.

US Census records reveal plenty of bearers of the name earlier in the twentieth century, but most of them are found in Puerto Rico, California, Texas or Arizona. Spanish speakers commonly bestow Belén as part of a compound name, like Ana Belén and María Belén. In the US, they’d be recorded as Ana and Maria.

But more American parents are hearing the name these days, and with the popularity of Isabella and Annabelle, she could appeal more broadly.

Notable Beléns include:

  • If you’re a horror film buff, you might recognize Belén from 2007’s Spanish import The Orphanage. Madrid-born actress Belén Rueda starred;
  • A handful of models sport the name, including Argentina’s Belén Rodriguez;
  • South Carolina governor Mark Sanford made headlines when his affair with María Belén Chapur was revealed in 2009;
  • Belén Montilla Torreblanca represented Chile in the Miss Universe pageant in 2006;
  • A 2001 Argentine children’s film, Chiquititas: Rincón de luz told the story of Belén, a girl who turns down the chance to live happily-ever-after in favor of writing her own story.

Earlier in the twentieth century, there’s Juana Belén Gutierrez de Mendoza, an activist and journalist during the Mexican Revolution. A few Spanish aristocrats wear it as a compound name, too.

One drawback to the name for non-Spanish speakers is the pronunciation. bay LEN and beh LEN are both suggested in English. The unfamiliar would probably put the emphasis on the first syllable – BELL en.

JRR Tolkien, that tireless creator of names, also arrived at Belen – as a male name for a member of the House of Bëor, part of the family of Men. And while Kellen is a masculine moniker in the US, it is hard to imagine any name beginning with Bel- wearing well on a boy.

Nameberry listed her among those choices popular in the Spanish-speaking world, “virtually unused here but ripe for import.” She’s a Top 20 choice in Chile.

She probably won’t reach those heights in the US, but she is an interesting option. Romance languages tend to give us flowery, feminissa choices like Esmerelda or Alessandra. Belén is tailored, suitable for a banker or a flamenco dancer.

Or maybe even for your little girl.

      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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        1. That’s interesting – it does look very pretty, and even sans diacritical marks, I think the final e makes the pronunciation clearer.

      1. I like Belen – pretty and unfussy. It hadn’t dawned on me that someone might say BELL en, but now that you’ve pointed that out, I can hear more neighbors saying that first. But perhaps in a more urban area it wouldn’t be an issue… or in a more latin-influenced community. Still, I like it a lot.

        1. I think we’d manage with Belen here. I mentioned our neighbor Rosa and her son Santiago this morning, and my husband said “You’ll have to be more specific.” But that said, I don’t think I’ve ever met a Belen … I’ll have to listen for it.

      2. I quite like Belen. Its not something I would use, but I like the fact that she is a legitimate female name that is frills-free. A better option to the modern masculine name like Bailey.