Looking for an Irish name for a daughter? This choice from legend could be the perfect fit.
Thanks to Bek for suggesting Finola as Name of the Day.
You might recognize the elements that make up the Gaelic Fionnghuala. Fionn means fair; ghuala means shoulders. Finola is a common Anglicized version of the name. Sure, you could insist on the authentic version, but this is one name where a little bit of phonetic transparency makes sense.
Pronounced finn OH lah, she’s the right combination of feminine and quirky – sort of like a new Matilda.
In Irish legend, she’s one of sea god Lir’s children. Along with her three brothers, they suffered at the hands of a jealous stepmother. Stepmama couldn’t bring herself to kill the quartet, but she did muster up enough magic to turn them into swans. Hundreds of years passed, the four swans lived out their curse until a monk intervened. Returned to human form, they still missed out on happily ever after. The exact details vary – in most, the spell is broken, but their human forms are aged and they quickly die. A few stories allow them enough time to be baptized – in the nine centuries they a-swimming, Ireland had become Christian, after all – while others are silent.
Variants of the name abound. Fenella is another popular Anglicization, one that leads to nicknames Nell and Ella, and so might appeal. There’s also Fionnuala and Finnguala. Nuala, originally a diminutive, has become a common given name in Ireland in the 20th century. She’s pronounced NOO lah.
Famous bearers of the names include:
- Probably the most familiar Finola is Finola Hughes, a soap opera staple and Daytime Emmy winner for her work on both General Hospital and All My Children. She’s also the former host of Style’s makeover show How Do I Look? and appeared as Patty Halliwell, mother of the Charmed ones on television’s long-running story of sister witches Prue, Phoebe, Piper and Paige.
- In the 1960s, David Gentleman wrote a series of children’s books about the adventures of a girl called Fenella as she toured Europe;
- You’ll find Fenella Beach on the Isle of Man and a town in Ontario;
- Sir Walter Scott used the name in his novel Peveril of the Peak. Fenella starts out as a deaf and dumb maidservant of sorts, but she actually turns out to be the daughter of another character in disguise;
- Fenella Fudge sounds like a Harry Potter character, but she’s actually heard on the BBC’s Radio 2;
- Andrew M. Greeley has penned a long series of mystery novels featuring sleuth Nuala McGrail;
- Irish journalist Nuala O’Faolain authored several New York Times bestsellers;
- Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman comic features a character named Nuala, a strong-willed faerie.
There are more, too, both fictional and real, throughout the UK and Australia. But in the US, every form of this name is a true rarity. None of them have ever made the US Top 1000.
And yet, all three could work in American English. Nuala would suffer from the same pronunciation challenges of other Gaelic imports like Niamh, but Finola and Fenella are straightforward. They’d make interesting Irish heritage choices for a daughter today.