These days, Melissa is another mom in your kid’s playgroup. But here’s an unexpected starts-with-M, ends-in-a choice for a daughter that won’t be shared by another child – or parent!

Thanks to Mookie for suggesting Milena as Name of the Day.

In nearly any Slavic country, Milena is a perfectly reasonable choice – heard in Poland, Bulgaria, Russia, Slovenia, Czech Republic. She’s currently a chart-topping favorite in Armenia.

Milena also surfaces in Italy, where she’s a place name on the island of Sicily. It lends her a pan-European vibe, but turns out the Sicilian village is named in honor of a Slavic queen.

Back in the nineteenth century, Milena of Montenegro was the wife of King Nicholas I. The aristocratic Milena was a child bride – just 13 when she said her “I do” in a dynastic match. Over the course of their long marriage, Milena and Nicholas had a dozen children of their own, most of whom made advantageous alliances themselves. Daughter Elena married King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy.

Vittorio reigned for nearly fifty years (1900 through 1946) and also answered to King of Albania and Emperor of Ethiopia some of the time. In 1933, the Sicilian village took the name Milena in honor of Vittorio’s royal mother-in-law.

Elena and Vittorio had four daughters and a son of their own, but the closest they came to passing down the name was with their firstborn: Yolanda Margherita Milena Elisabetta Romana Maria.

A fictional Queen Milena appears in Terry Goodkind’s novels. If not through Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series, American audiences might have heard of the name thanks to actress Mila Kunis, best known as Jackie on That ’70s Show. Mila is short for Milena.

Milena’s meaning is debated:

  • Some link her to Ludmila, as an elaborated nickname/spinoff, sometimes with the meaning beloved attached;
  • Others connect her to the Slavic mil – gracious;
  • On a similar note, some suggest that her occasional use among Spanish speakers relates to milagros – miracle – associated with the Virgin Mary;
  • You can find other sites that say she means dark – though they’re probably thinking of the far older, worn-by-saints and Greek-in-origin Melania. (It’s also the spelling worn by the Slovenian-born Mrs. Donald Trump.)

Greek and Spanish attributions aside, most notable Milenas come from Eastern Europe. A smattering of singers, athletes, journalists and others have worn the name. Milena Jesenská, a Prague-born journalist, died in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II. Besides the royal and Mrs. Trump, she’s probably the best known Milena.

The name has never charted in the US Top 1000, and a few variant pronunciations are heard: meh LEH nah, meh LAYN ah and meh LAH nah are all out there – as with any rarity seldom heard in English, it’s tough to insist that one is correct.

Overall, Milena is pretty and sophisticated. If she’s a bit exotic for a small child, then Mila, Millie or Lena could all serve as appealing nicknames. She’s accessible, unusual and wouldn’t be out of place on a playground with Isabella and Olivia.

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. I had an Eastern Eurpoean client with this name and it turned me off of it for a while, but reading about it here kind of revives it for me. Mila is an adorable nickname.

    1. Too bad he doesn’t love Millicent – Millie is such an appealing, retro-chic nickname. I’m pretty sure one of Jane Green’s heroines names her daughter Millie at the end of The Other Woman.

  2. While I’d never use the name myself (I’m trying to avoid names that begin with “m” since it’s such a popular letter), I find this name decidedly pretty. I have a friend whose sister is Melina, but I think I prefer this sound-alike more.

  3. I agree with JNE. Its a very nice choice, and Mila or Lena are adorable nicknames. It has some nice associations too.

  4. Ooh, my first suggestion in a post! How exciting! I have to say, Milena was on my list for a long time, and is now on my first-middle-name list because I can’t bear to part with it. I pronounce it “Mee-LAYN-ah” or “Meh-LAYN-ah” most of the time, but people I’ve asked about it say that would pronounce it as “Mill-lee-nah”, like Malina. My nickname of choice is Mila.

  5. I love it! It seems modern and classic at the same time, somehow. I would pronounce it “Meh LAY na”

  6. This is my daughter’s name. I’m so happy to see it here as the name of the day! I pronounce it Mil-LEE-na and call her “Mina.” So far we haven’t encountered another Milena.

  7. I think Milena is exceedingly wearable and a lovely choice for a girl. I especially like Lena and Mila as nicknames. It does seem a little exotic, but not exceptionally so – I’m surprised it has never charted.