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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?


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. 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.

  2. 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!

  3. 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).

  4. 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.

    1. 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.

    2. 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!

  5. 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

    1. 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…

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

  6. “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.”