This post was originally published on February 4, 2010. It was substantially revised and re-published on October 13, 2014.
A foreign import, a nature name and an unexpected way to get to an all-the-rage nickname? What’s not to love?
Thanks to Corinne for suggesting Elowen as our Baby Name of the Day.
Nature Names: A Trend the World Over
Nature names are big in the US. From Holly to Willow, River to Fox, plenty of our children’s names are English-language words that evoke the great outdoors.
We’re not alone in this habit. While some languages have long used nature names, others are embracing them right now, from the French Océane to today’s Cornish choice.
Elowen: Cornish Heritage Choice
Elowen is simply the Cornish word for elm tree, but it isn’t exactly a traditional name.
Cornwall is a remote, rocky place, located at the southwestern tip of Great Britain. You would expect the language to be different, and so it is. The Celtic language traces back to the sixth century, but was nearly extinct by 1900.
Activists saved Cornish.
It’s been included in the official European charter for minority/regional languages since 2002, and there are now about 3,000 fluent speakers – up from almost zero not long ago.
Cornish parents have embraced Cornish names – whether they’re fluent in the language or not.
Only trouble? The names were forgotten with the rest of the vocabulary.
Name blogger Bewildertrix wrote to the Cornish Language Partnership in 2009 to ask about Elowen’s use, and received this response:
Elowen is indeed used increasingly in Cornwall. … it is a Cornish word and is accepted as a name in Cornwall … The incidence of Cornish names is increasing all the time as people wish to explore their own heritage and pass it on to their children.
The name is pronounced with emphasis on the second syllable: el LOW en. But if you’re in the US, odds are you’ll favor ELL uh wen, sort of like Ellen with an extra sound in the middle.
Elowen: Rarity on the Rise
There’s something almost JRR Tolkein about this name. It brings to mind Arwen and Eowyn.
There’s also Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden’s graphic novel Baltimore, or The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire, first published in 2007. It includes a character named Elowen.
But that’s not a drawback. In fact, Elowen’s fairytale qualities might be a plus.
Other reasons this name could catch on:
- We do like our Ellie and Ella names. Eloise, Elena, Ellison, Elodie … there’s no shortage of options, and Elowen first right in.
- Another Cornish choice made it all the way to the #1 spot in the 1970s: Jennifer.
- There’s something tailored-yet-feminine about Elowen, a little bit like another former favorite, Allison. The name could appeal to parents after something feminine, but light on the frills.
And yet Elowen remains rare. As of 2013, just 19 girls were given the name in the US. Of course, this still represents an increase from a decade earlier.
If you’re after something truly unusual, with ties to the natural world, and yet likely to wear well from birth into adulthood, Elowen is rich with potential.
What do you think of Elowen? Could this name ever be as popular as that other Cornish import, Jennifer?
More names to explore:
Molli Clark says
My daughter, born in May of 2019 is named Elowen Fae. She looks like a little woodland fairy as she loves flowy dresses.
I call her Effie as a nickname, since her first and middle initials are EF. But her dad likes calling her Ellie, her nana calls her Beastie, and her aunt calls her Elle Woods. Lol.
I love the Tolkien vibes the name has. It was one of the reasons I was so drawn to the name.
We have yet to meet another Elowen in person as the name seems to be fairly rare still.
Effie is a darling nickname, and Elowen Fae is gorgeous. And yes – Tolkien vibes is the perfect way to describe it!
Our first child Elowen June was born two months ago. We found out that just a few days later a second Elowen was born in the same hospital! (We live in the US.) My doctor said it was a little confusing for them at first.
Elowen was the only girl name seemingly in existence that my husband and I both liked. (No idea what we will do if we have another daughter someday…) I always wanted to name a daughter Selladore based on the phonaesthetics of “cellar door”, but that was strongly shut down by him as “not a real name”. I’m not upset anymore though: Elowen is just as beautiful and fun a name to say aloud. We haven’t decided on a true nickname yet, but my husband is embracing the alphabet nature of it and calling her Elowen O Pea.
Elowen O Pea is darling, Chloe – congrats to you + what a GREAT name!
I’m so interested to see all the Elowen’s that have been born since 2013 when we named our second daughter Elowen Piper. At the time, we had sat for hours fitting syllables together until we came to this name and spelling. We truly thought we made it up! But I love the meaning and history of the word, and that our Elowen will have something to tell about her unusual name.
We receive many compliments on the name, though I’ve had to spell it endlessly. At first, dear aunties kept trying to attach the nickname Ellie to her because they couldn’t seem to wrap their heads around the word. She is Elo to her big sis, occasionally Elle to me, but usually just Elowen. After almost 4 years, we don’t regret this name pick at all.
Hannah, so glad to hear the name is wearing well!
We came across this name while hiking in California. Camp El-O-Win for girls. We were told it’s a Native American word meaning “happy house”. My husband and I love the Elowyn spelling and the Elle-o-when soft pronunciation. Our two girls have Irish and Scottish names so I like adding Cornwall into the mix. I also love that there is an actual fairytale “Elowen and the Bramble bush” in Cornish literature. There is a cute video on YouTube. I had never heard of this name and now I am seeing it everywhere. This name is definitely going to hop, skip and jump up the charts. Romantic, poetic and fairytale worthy! With so many adorable nn like Ellie, Lola and Winnie. Already seeing all the combined spellings starting to add up. 64 girls in total for 2015.
Laura Riley says
Our granddaughter was just born yesterday and our daughter/son-in-law surprised us with her beautiful name: Elowen Victoria. As her last name begins with E, her initials will be EVE. So cute! We adore this name and are so happy that our granddaughter will carry it all through her life. We, too, noticed the similarity to Eowyn from Lord of the Rings but that made it even better in our book!
Laura, congratulations on your new granddaughter! What a lovely, lovely name. Wishing your family joy!
We just had a little girl in May and named her Elowen Sage. 🙂 We love the nature association as well as the whimsy feel! Winnie is the nickname right now but that could change as she gets older 🙂
Lovely name, Ttribemama – congrats!
Just welcomed my granddaughter into the world. The other initial name picked just did not suit her once looking upon her lovely face. Elowen, with the middle name of; Siobhan (mom’s 1st name, pronounced sha-vahn) she is. I too am excited for this name as it is both strong and feminine. The potential nick names of Elle, Elo, Ella, and/or Winnie are also nice for her. Elowen is unique but at the same time uses familiar nick names, is phonetically easy to pronounce, and is an actual historical name, not just some made up name. Very cool!
Congratulations, Staci – gorgeous name!
Ooh, I love this. And if I were named that, I’d milk the Ella Minnow Pea-ness of it. Two name nerd thumbs up.
We named our daughter, who will be one Dec 30, Elowen Sue. 🙂 we love the name. We thought her nickname would be Elle or Winnie, but instead we often call her Elo! Thanks so much for this post, as it was an integral piece when decided on the name Elowen!
Thank you for sharing! I’m delighted the post was helpful. And Elo is a great short form of Elowen. Wishing her an early happy birthday!
My daughter was born on Dec 30 2012 – and we named her Elowen Grace. I thought we’d shorten it, but haven’t. We pronounce it as you would “Owen” if you stuck “Elle” at the front. We chose it as my husband is Cornish. Just love the fact that our daughters share the same unusual name and festive birthday! Hopefully she won’t get bored of having to explain the spelling or pronunciation of her name, but at least she has plenty of options to shorten it. One of the reasons we chose a more unusual name is that we named her older brother Oliver (just turned 4) only we didn’t realise how common his name was! Though have since realised that we named both of our children after trees (olive and elm). We didn’t think we were hippies, but maybe we are after all 🙂
My daughters name is Elowen Grace, too! She was born in January. Love the name 🙂
What a lovely name, Ariel! Congratulations on your new daughter – or should I say happy almost first birthday? 🙂
We’re naming our daughter, due in October, Elowen. I can see the LOTR link because I think it sounds like a fairy. One of the reasons we think its such a beautiful name Ella is a family name but too dime a dozen. So Elowen pays homage to her great-grandmothers without being over used. It doesn’t even show up on the top 1,000 list.
We have just named our brand new daughter Elowen Jane. Thank you for introducing me to this lovely and magical name on your excellent blog!
Congratulations, Emily! What a lovely, lovely name.
I have just Googled my daughter’s name too. We pronounce it Elle-oh-when, I like the slow, soft sound and the way the word feels. My husband and I had trouble deciding on a name, Elowen was 2 weeks old and we were under pressure to name her. He found the name and we both loved it immediately.
Unfortunately we have ended up shortening her name to Ella but they use Elowen at her pre-school and this is what she writes. She said to me the other day “Which one am I Mummy, Elowen or Ella?” She has just turned 4 and since her comment my husband and I have made an effort to call her Elowen.
We have recently moved from England (though not Cornwall) to Australia and some Aussies have trouble with the pronunciation but this doesn’t bother us, we appreciate it’s an unusual name. Like Steve’s post above, if we get any comments people are simply interested and don’t assume it’s a Tolkien or a Welsh name (though as a Tolkien fan I don’t mind the association).
I am pleased to have read this blog as it has has made me even more determined to stick with Elowen and not use Ella any more (though I still like the name Ella a lot).
i love this name, but i’d spell it elowyn…just feels more right
I found this page while googling our daughter’s name so I thought I’d leave a comment. I was in a graduate linguistics program when my daughter was born, so the idea of choosing a name from a language undergoing a revival was very appealing to me. However, the main reason we picked it is that it sounds pretty.
Only a few people have ever assumed the Tolkein thing (and I had a little fun with one of them by claiming the name was actually from Battlestar Galactica); most people are courteous and curious enough to just ask rather than assume we’re nerdy enough to name our daughter after a fantasy or sci-fi character. Occasionally people will assume it’s spelled “Elowyn” and will look really confused when we explain that it’s not.
She’s in first grade now, about to turn 7, and she loves her name. We pronounce it with stress on the first syllable because that fits the typical American English stress pattern, but we don’t reduce the /ow/ entirely to a schwa. We have never, ever called her Ellie, though when she was very little we sometimes called her Lowie. She’s quite happy with Elowen as it is, and we are too.
Thanks, Steve. It sounds like the perfect choice for you – and I appreciate that you opted for the pronunciation that makes sense to most American English speakers. I’m sure that’s part of what makes the name so easy for your daughter to wear.
I too just saw this while googling my daughter’s name, she’s almost 3. We are plain old English not Cornish but have spent a lot of time there so thought we could get away with it. We also thought we’d end up shortening to Ellie or Elle but that’s never happened as Elowen suits her so well……a beautiful name for a beautiful girl!
Wow! The American pronunciation really surprised me. I say it th other way. Though, that’s purely just accent etc . I can see the Lord of the Rings association, though that doesn’t bother me. It’s too similar to some of the names that I come across & just sounds very Welsh-like to me. It’s a pretty name, though not one I’d go for
It’s very nice. A bit more user friendly than
We’re going to be naming our new daughter Elowen! She’s due in February. We are all in love with this name, even my 4 yo. Now, for a middle…
I love this. I’d never use it myself, but I think it has such an elegant sound.
Forgive me; I thought this was a Lord of the Rings name. Not my thing, I guess.
I agree: total Lord of the Rings feel to Elowen. And I’ll offer this comment again: if you’re just trying to get to a very-common nickname, the unusual name doesn’t accomplish much. Your child may feel quite ambivalent about their given name.
I don’t know, Joy. I think that the unusual name/common nickname can offer a compromise when parents’ naming styles are miles apart. Or just in case your child would rather blend in than stand out. I knew an Andromeda who answered to Andi. She didn’t hate her given name, it was just a bit much for everyday use.
British American says
Yeah, it sounds Lord of the Rings to me too.
Pretty sound to the name though.
“Elowen” definitely hits a number of current trends: the “Elle/Ellie/Ella” crowd, the Tolkien-esque Arwen, Anwen, Bronwen types, as well as the new popularity of the lavender-scented Elise, Elodie, and Eloise. It won’t appeal to everyone, but it seems to hit an intersection. I love the history, but can’t seem to shake the “Ella Minnow Pea” association. “These are my twins: L.O.D. and L.O.N.”