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:
Unexpected Middle Names for Girls: The Letter E
Fetching Names: So Lovely as a Tree