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.

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. My Mother was raised in Ireland and, as a young woman, she carried the name Finola in her heart across the ocean and gave it to me. I love the name. My family now has three generations of Finolas. My wee name in my big family was Nola. In college, they called me Fin. I like both.

  2. I named my youngest Finola after discovering it in a book of Irish names, and I love it even more today.Although it pained me to changed the Irish spelling, I decided on the anglicized spelling because I wanted to make it easier on her: the name itself is unusual so I didn’t want to burden her with a tough spelling. It’s feminine, lyrical, and the uniqueness makes it spunky– just like my little girl . My husband calls her Nola although she prefers her full name.

  3. I also prefer the spelling Fionnuala, which I had on our list of baby girl names. For those put off by the “ola” ending of Finola, Fionnuala would sound more like “Feh-NOO-la.” I think it’s a gorgeous name, even if it would be a pain for an American child to deal with.

  4. This spelling feels odd for me, I much prefer Fionnuala, it makes my preferred nickname for this name, Nuala more natural. It’s probably just the Irish in me.

  5. I think this is a beautiful name. Its a great alternative to Fiona, which feels like its becoming slightly more popular the last few years, thanks to Shrek. I really started to like it after I noticed Finola Hughs on that makeover show she used to host (I cannot think of the name) but after hearing it on person several times, I really started to like it.

  6. Thanks again, Verity, for feeding my obsession. Finola and Fern in one week is almost too much for me to handle 😉 (Finola Fern is actually a top combo, haha)

    I often suggest this as an alternative to Fiona, which I find kind of lack-luster (mostly since discovering Finola). The nickname Nola really appeals to me too. Honestly, I just can’t find something I don’t like about the name, though I’m not a real fan of Fenella. The -ella bugs me and brings the name into frilly land.

    I agree, though, that the traditional spelling is just a wee too much for most people, including me. Seems like it’d be one of the biggest headaches ever, despite my usual propensity to say stick with the original…

  7. Finola is quite nice… not quite my style (plus I have an unhealthy affinity for the word “crapola” which has that -ola ending), but I would definitely appreciate it on someone else’s baby. For some reason, Fenella just doesn’t feel ‘right’ to me, even though I do like the -nella ending a lot. Nuala doesn’t do anything for me.

    1. I agree — the “ola” ending puts me off a little too. I do like Nuala though! Don’t think I’d ever use it, but I like that it’s out there being used.

  8. I think it’s quite nice, and a wonderful name to suggest to mothers hell-bent on naming their daughters Finley. Perhaps Finola or Fenella would appeal to them?