The baby name Freya is borrowed from Norse mythology, but it’s right at home on a modern girl.
Thanks to Mariuccia for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.
THE FAIREST OF THEM ALL
Who’s the fairest of them all?
In Norse mythology, Freya is the name of the Norse goddess of love, as well as fertility.
She’s the Norse equivalent of the Greek Aphrodite or Roman Venus, goddesses of beauty.
No question, she’s also depicted a stunner.
But Norse mythology isn’t as well known as Roman or Greek. Maybe that’s because Renaissance art tended to fall back on images like Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus. Regardless, Freya remains slightly more obscure, if no less ethereal.
Her name literally translates to “Lady.”
That makes her the equivalent – or perhaps simply a slight variation of – the Germanic goddess Frigg. The Germanic title frau probably shares the same roots.
The Old Norse spelling is Freyja, and you’ll usually find the “j” version of the name used in mythology.
Freyja’s twin is Freyr and they’re usually interpreted as lord and lady – among the most important of the gods.
The name for day of the week Friday is traced back to these figures.
Most of her stories are known through collections of minstrel poems dating to the 1000s, and some even earlier. While she’s always described as beautiful, in many tales, she’s also a bloodthirsty warrior goddess, possibly lending Freya a bit more edge than her Greek and Roman equivalents.
She’s also a snappy dresser. Her gold and amber necklace – the Brísingamen – is so famous it earned a mention in Beowulf. She also sports a falcon-feather cloak and sometimes is depicted traveling in an ornate chariot pulled by a pair of skogkatter – bushy tailed cats native to the forests of Scandinavia.
PRONUNCIATION of the NAME FREYA
While there’s some variation across countries and languages, the pronunciation is typically FRAY uh.
The name shares the same long A sound of current favorites like Ava and Layla.
IN the GARDEN
There’s a botanical link to Freya. In Scandinavia, milkwort was traditionally known as Freyja’s hair.
Once Christianity gained hold, references to the goddess were considered taboo, and instead the plant’s name was changed to honor the Virgin Mary.
FREYA of the SEVEN ISLES
The Joseph Conrad novel, Freya of the Seven Isles, was written in 1911.
Conrad did, indeed, travel the world and sail through the Indian Ocean himself.
This story is about the daughter of a Danish sailor, now settled on a remote island. She has more than one suitor vying for her hand, but Jasper is her beloved, and they make plans to elope.
Tragedy follows, and no one lives happily ever after.
Polish by birth, he lived in France as a young man before ultimately becoming a British citizen in 1886. He served in both the French and British merchant marines.
In the US, at least, the story failed to encourage parents to embrace the baby name Freya. Or perhaps Freya of the Seven Isles was too obscure for American parents to discover the name.
FREYA in SCANDINAVIA
In fact, the name of the goddess wasn’t especially common in Scandinavia until the twentieth century. Freja and Freyja are older, and found earlier – but compared to Scandinavian names like Ingrid and Astrid, Freya feels like a relative newcomer.
FREYA in BRITAIN
Instead, English parents might have been the first to embrace Freya, especially in this spelling.
Let’s talk about the Viking Revival.
It turns out that the Victorians quite liked the Vikings. Historians discovered Norse history in England at just the right time; it helped recast the idea of the noble Viking as a bold adventurer. It must have appealed to a people building an empire at their own.
But it wasn’t unique to the British. German composer Richard Wagner’s Ring cycle was written between the 1840s and 1870s, with images of Valkyries and such.
Meanwhile in England, popular stories like RM Ballantyne’s Erling the Bold became favorites among schoolboys. It was theorized that Queen Victoria herself was descended from Viking rulers.
So the door opened to Freya – and other names of Scandinavian origin – just a bit.
Joseph Conrad’s choice almost certainly helped.
The name gained in use slowly during the twentieth century. A BBC production in 1963 introduced Freya of the Seven Isles to a new generation.
Born in 1893 in Paris, British writer and explorer Freya Stark went on to live an astonishing life. Her English father, an English painter, spent years in Italy, taking Freya with him.
Ever since she read One Thousand and One Nights as a girl, Stark was fascinated by the East. She served in an ambulance unit during the first World War, studied Arabic and Persian at the University of London, and eventually, set off traveling.
Freya sailed for Beirut, visited Lebanon, rode a donkey to Baghdad. Her travels in French-controlled Syria were technically illegal, and she was arrested as a spy, though released after a few days. She’d become one of the first non-Arabs to travel through the Arabian desert in modern times, and visited parts of Iran that no westerner had previously seen. She’d later sail the Red Sea to Aden, intent on following an old trade route.
Instead, she fell ill and ended up home.
But her writings from her many trips endured, published in the 1930s and 40s to eager audiences.
During the second World War, she worked for the British government, first in Yemen, and then in Cairo. Her task was to help keep Egypt neutral during the conflict.
In addition to her writings, she was an accomplished photographer.
More famous people with the name have followed:
- Countess Freya von Moltke was a noblewoman who, along with her husband, Helmuth, became a driving force behind an anti-Nazi resistance group operating in Germany during the war.
- Danish singer and television presenter Freya Clausen was sometimes known by her first name only.
- Australian actress Freya Tingley played Wendy Darling in Once Upon A Time.
- Freya Stafford has had a long career in Australian television.
- Young actress Freya Allan, known for her role on The Witcher.
BY the NUMBERS
No surprise, then, that Freya caught on for baby girl names in the UK first.
Looking at the numbers in England and Wales, the name’s popularity increased into the 1980s. By the late 1990s, it ranked in the Top 100, and would go on to reach the Top Ten in 2021.
In the US, Freya debuted in the US Top 1000 in 2013. The name has marched up the charts, reaching #152 as of 2021.
Variations of the name Freya, like Freja and Freyja, are gaining in use, too. Freyja currently ranks #709.
As for Freja, it’s a Top Ten name in Denmark, and popular in Sweden, too.
The goddess Freya isn’t exactly a household name in the US, but that’s a good thing. It makes this brief, stylish, and strong choice far easier to wear.
If you’re looking for a name both strong and lovely, with a great meaning, and possibly one to honor Scandinavian heritage, Freya – or Freyja or even Freja – has potential.
What do you think of the baby name Freya?
First published on January 16, 2009, this post was revised substantially and re-posted on January 17, 2023.
I love Freya/Freyja. I’m part Scandinavian (not sure of where my maternal ancestors were from specifically though. I’m mostly Irish, but also Latvian, Scottish, and Scandinavian/Viking). I see myself naming my future children Lilia/Lilija Genevieve, Irena Judith, Vera Abigail, and Freya/Freyja Rose (or Rosalie) if they’re girls. Not sure for boys yet, but considering Callum Raymond, Eamon Vincent, Rhys Alfred, Lachlan Elliot, Soren Victor, Ronan Jesse, Dmitri James, Frederick, Henrik, Hugo, Sidney, Robin, and Stanley among others. But still, none of them jumps out as “the right one” and I don’t wanna just settle on something else, especially if I don’t really like it or it’s too popular for my tastes or too modern/trendy. I lean towards uncommon classic/vintage/old-fashioned names and names that honor my heritage. Boys’ names are such a pain, but I can name a bunch of girls with my list! Lol. Both lists are actually very long, but I still have so much trouble picking one freakin’ boys’ name.
I didn’t like Freya when I first heard it, but it’s grown on me in the last few years and now it’s one of my favorites. Weird how that happens sometimes.
This name has become quite popular in the UK over the past few years.
I was at school with a Freya, the only one I’ve ever known. I assume her mother admired the novels of the British writer Dame Freya Stark.
I found this site doing a bit of research on “Freya”. I wrote a short play (perhaps “skit” would be a more appropriate word) a month ago with two strong women characters, which I named “Minerva” (yes, that one’s obvious) and “Freya.” I had read a sentence or two about Freya in a book about cats (cat-lover, I am). I turned to mythology and pagan ideas for these names because, it seems to me, as soon as monotheism came on the scene, the “stories” (Bible, etc.) no longer showed strong women. Instead they became possessions with no voice. For fun, my skit has these strong women dance off stage while “She’s a Bad Mamma Jamma” plays and in the background is an image of a huge female spider compared to a tiny male spider. Ha! Take that arrogant males!
Should I ever have a female child (unlikely, since men here in the South (Bible Belt of USA) like “their” women traditional and not very intimidating), I would have no problem naming her Freya (or Freyja). The goddess has so many attributes (including warring) that the whole beauty-pressure thing could be de-emphasized.
hayley power says
I fell in love with the name whilst pregnant, and the idea of it being unusual and pretty really got me. Then 3yrs later she started pre-school- with another Freya!
Lydia, thank you for visiting – and commenting!
And thanks for the tip about the lingerie brand. That’s the kind of thing that can make a child’s life difficult. It might not be well known now, but can’t you just imagine Victoria’s Secret buying the label and poor little Freya walking past a store in every shopping mall? Then again, Victoria has done quite well despite the brand – or maybe because of it!
Christina, I *love* your Wonder Woman category – what a nice mix!
And Kate, I think you’ve hit on an interesting idea. History is one thing, but I’ve learned that I can dig up information on nearly any name. A consistent history of *use* as a given name is something entirely different.
Love the input on UK celeb baby names, too! I’m starting to recognize more of them as time goes by, but I really do need to read Hello!, don’t I?
Emma, I’m a sponge like that too and I can also tell you that the comedienne Jennifer Saunders has a daughter called Freya as does the newsreader Kirsty Young! Actually, I had a ‘Freya’ phase a few of years ago when she appeared on my lists for a bit, I’m over that now though…
I think I was enchanted by her fresh yet old feel but the thing that attracted me to her is the very thing that has put me off. She just feels too modern in that vintage revivial way that Ava, Isla and Chloe also feel. They have more history that their recent meteoric rise in popularity would suggest but feel intrinsically linked to these times because of it (as Shannon has already mentioned Freya is by no means unusual in the UK anymore, standing at no 27).
Secondly and more importantly, it would feel unnatural for me to choose Freya, the name of a beautiful goddess in Norse mythology. I’m with Lola that this seems a lot to live up to but it’s more than that, I have no link to Norse mythology, no story to tell that would link to the choice of such a name and would always feel far removed from her because of that.
Christina Fonseca says
Verity, in response to your question – my Wonder Woman Category is composed of
1. Goddesses and muses from different cultures
2. Names meaning
Emmy Jo says
Yet another one of those names that I should like but don’t. She has everything going for her — she’s a goddess, she’s uncommon but simple, and she’s a two-syllable A-ender like so many on my list.
I’ve always pronounced the name as FRAY-uh. I am slightly more drawn to the FREE-uh pronunciation.
I love Freya! I love her simple and refreshing sound. Her slightly unfamiliar vibe that still rings completely warm and feminine. I wouldn’t put Freya in the Aphrodite/Venus category simply because the actual name is so much simpler and breezier (is that even a real word? ;)). Aphrodite sounds lofty and out of reach, Freya has a much more appealing sound, and so I don’t think anyone would expect goddess-like beauty. Does that make sense?
Anyway, I would applaud anyone who would use the name, though I know it’ll never get through the veto process in this house. All the more’s pity for me. I adore Freya (which, by they way, I say Fray-uh. Free-uh is too freesia for me).
LOL, Emma – I know exactly what you mean about retaining useful info.
I’ve been known to read romance novels – I had something of an addiction at one point – and among my favorite series is Mary Balogh’s Simplies, about the Bedwyn family – six siblings who all, of course, fall in love in predictably unpredictable ways. Freya is my favorite character – she’s the not-quite-beautiful sister with nerves of steel.
But I couldn’t ever name a child after a romance novel heroine – could I? 🙂
Donna Air is a fairly unknown TV presenter even here (England) but I do know she has a daughter named Freya as I am a sponge for information like that! I may not remember anything appropriate for my College exams but I remember ‘famous’ people’s children’s names! Anyway, in theory I should love Freya as it is just my style and I adore Freda, but in practice I do not have any liking for it because of a bad association. I do think it is nice on other’s children, though.
Freya is on my “intriguing name that I probably would not use myself list.” It seems it has been quite popular in England lately (just looked at a list). I agree that most people know little about Norse mythology, so a girl named Freya won’t have to live up to an image of beauty. A lot of people would think you made the name up. I like spellings Freja and Freyja but people would get confused.
So glad you did this one! I’ve heard a lot of people considering it lately and wondered where it came from. I thought I knew something about mythology, but I guess not Norse. It might be my lack of familiarity with the god, but I don’t think Freya would have to be a beauty queen to pull off the name. It’s got such a simple sound it balances out the whole beauty thing. Plus the fact that she’s a warrior, too, makes it a little bad ass. Actually I feel like more people would expect a Freya to be a bit of a Plain Jane than would expect her to be gorgeous. Again, this is because I’m not familiar with Norse mythology, but neither are very many people.
Anyway, this is longer than I meant it to be and I’m babbling and not paying attention to what I already wrote because I’m sick. The main point is that I quite like Freya and would love to meet a little one. And it’s been really popular on the boards lately, but I doubt that will translate into real life any time soon, so I’m sure she’ll be rare for quite a while.
Hi, I’ve been lurking on this site for quite a while. I’ve been reading quite faithfully but it’s taken some time for me to muster up the nerve to comment. 😀
I love Freya’s sound, and despite being a mythology buff as well as a Christian (some of my more conservative peers frown upon the practice of giving Christian children mythological names, but I see no problem with it), the mythological associations don’t hold me back. However, there’s a UK-based lingerie brand with the same name, and that is ALL I can think of whenever I see the name, so I couldn’t use it myself. I’m not sure of how well-known the brand is in the UK, but it isn’t that well-known here in the US, so I’m sure it wouldn’t be a problem for most American parents. A sweet little girl named Freya would probably make the underwear association go away. 🙂
Lola, I don’t believe you. Josie is a doll! 🙂
I think you’re right, Paige – it’s a goddess name without being aggressively goddess-like.
Christina, I’m dying to know what other names are in your Wonder Woman category?
Christina Fonseca says
Freya is one I’ve been recommending on the boards for those who don’t want something popular. She has the final -a that gives her a feminine touch; yet she’s not at all frilly or frou-frou. They mythological connection puts her in my Wonder Woman category.
Freya is exotic but not very frilly, and goddess-like without setting expectations TOO high. I prn it Fray-uh, and it is high on my short list.
I would name a daughter Freya, but out of cowardice I’d most likely tuck it in the middle. Still, who knows!
Thanks for the info, Verity, about this wayy underused name.
I know a little dark haired, dark eyed 6 year old Freya! She’s adorable and has a Danish Mom. Still, I find Freya as pretensious as Venus & Aphrodite. Ease of spelling does not distract this mythology buff. I do like Freya in theory, but alll I see with it is the beauty thing and my brain says “what if she isn’t?”. Possible in this house. I’m no stunner; height and horsiness passes for style but handsome is the word even my Pop used for me. Josie might end up beautiful but not I. I probably wouldn’t mind there being a few more Freyas running around but I’m quite pleased with the one in the neighborhood and hope it won’t ever reach Ava proportions!