Name of the Day: Nicola

Nicole was one of the most popular girls’ names of the 1980s and Nicholas spent the 1990s in the boys’ Top Ten. Both are still common, pleasing picks. But after so much use, can any of the Nic- names sound fresh?

Thanks to Corinne for suggesting one that just might – our Name of the Day: Nicola.

There’s nothing wrong with Nicole. We’re big fans of Nicole Kidman. It’s a name that has worn well on countless women, from childhood into their adult years. But that’s just it – Nicole feels rather dated and unoriginal. Some parents have opted for Nichole – a defensible spelling based on Nicholas, but not one that makes the popular moniker any more distinctive.

But swap out the final “e” for an “a” and all of a sudden, a two-syllable, slightly spare, vaguely French-ish appellation is a three-syllable, quite feminine and slightly Italian-sounding name.

All three names trace back to the Greek Nikolaos, from nike – which means victory, not running shoe – and laos – people. The fourth century Saint Nicholas was quite popular in the ancient world, and so Christians have kept his name alive in both masculine and feminine forms.

In fact, Nicola started out as a masculine moniker. In the 1200s, Nicola Pisano was a renowned Italian sculptor. Even into modern times, Nicola Berti was an Italian footballer.

But most recent Nicolas have been women and most of them have been English: actress Nicola Wheeler played character Nicola De Souza on the ITV drama Emmerdale. Singer Nicola Roberts earned a spot in the pop group Girls Aloud on the 2002 ITV1 reality competition Popstars: The Rivals. In the 1970s, Nicola Pagett played Elizabeth Bellamy in Upstairs, Downstairs.

Head to Japan and we understand that you’ll find Nicola on the newsstand, where she’s a tween fashion ‘zine.

You’ll also find Nicola on the map in British Columbia, though again, the Nicola River and Lake are named after a male bearer of the name – in this case, a famous Okanagan chief from the 1800s. In his case, Nicola was an Anglicization of Nkwala.

While we find Nicola far more intriguing than Nicole, there are two serious drawbacks: first, she’s likely to end up Nicky/Nicki/Nikki, a diminutive at least as dated as Nicole. Second, because Nicole is so common and Nicola so rare – she’s barely charted in the US, appearing just a few times between 1968 and 1978 – odds are that when she isn’t being called Nicki, she’ll be called Nicole.

But if you prefer a nickname-proof moniker, Nicola is thoroughly charming – vaguely English, nicely rare without being truly unusual. She’ll blend in with Sophia and Julia, but remain distinct. And while Nicola is pretty, she has the strength and history of Nicholas behind her, including that appealing, victorious meaning.

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12 Comments

I am a former Nicola. I bore it for 25 years before officially changing my name to Nina after many years of deliberation. It caused trouble in my transatlantic childhood; in Canada I was often called Nicole, or Nic-OH-la, or, worst, Ricola (sung in the yodel). Nicki never suited me (Nic did, but it’s obviously shortened). Back in the UK as a teen, there were THREE of us called Nicola in my class of 16!

I’m going to finish this over on the Nina page, as that’s where I finish too!

A dear friend of mine is a Nicola! Her parents are rather elderly and British (she was 30 and they were in their 70s when I met her) so I suspect that’s the origin of the name. I absolutely love it and hope to meet a little Nicola on a playground one day.

I’ve never met a Nicola. While in the US I’m sure it rhymes with Ricola, I think in England the accent is on the first syllable. I like it a bit more than Nicole (which I don’t mind at all), but actually I like Nicolette the most of the 3. In Italy it’s for boys.

Nicola is much better than Nicole, but I still don’t love it. I definitely have pronunciation trouble with this one.

I’ll be happy to see Frederick on 12/8. It’s one of the few boys’ names I like that my husband has approved. 🙂

I’m pretty sure Nicola rhymes with Ricola. And so Cat and Lola, yup, I hear the exact same sound that you do when I think about this name!

Photoquilty, Nicolette was my Cabbage Patch Kids’ name! We adopted them from Germany, so we got to choose their English names. Mine was Nicolette Charyl; my sister’s was Mary Lou. (As in Retton.) I wonder if the dolls still have crazy names?

I’ll put Frederick on my NotD list for 12/8. It’s one of my favorites, too.

When Arthur read this post, he immediately thought of the most famous male bearer of the name who I’d overlooked – Nikola Tesla! So there’s another point in favor of Nicola as a boys’ name, though I’m partial to Nikolai.

The pronunciation leaves me mystified. Is it NI-co-la or ni-CO-la? Either way, it’s not my favorite. For a boy, I’d prefer Luca and for a girl Nicolette is more my speed. Still, I wouldn’t use any of those, I’m just hypothetical-izing.

Oh, and do you have Frederick on your NotD list? After a quick search I couldn’t find a post on it, and would love to hear the history behind one of my favourite names. 🙂

I like Nicola in theory. But the Ricola lozenges mixed with the gender thing keeps it in theory. I certainly wouldn’t roll my eyes at a girl Nicola, but I think it’s very handsome on a boy. I’d expect a tall, dark and handsome type to be carrying it. I like the clear tones as well. The world could do with less Nicoles and more Nicolas, I say!

I studied abroad in the UK and fell in love with this name there. It was a delightful surprise to me each time I met a Nikki to discover that she was actually Nicola rather than Nicole, but then that gradually turned to disappointment that so many beautifully named Nicola’s seem to go by Nikki (why, oh, why?). It’s out for us because it was my husband’s first girlfriend’s name, but I do hope someone will use it!

I’ve got a step-brother with this name (named for his dad, a Nicolas), so it doen’t stuke me as particularly feminine. I hear it and expect a guy. My other, freaky problem with Nocola? I sing it, like the Ricola cough lozenges? Yeah. Can’t help it. I have to force myself to say it evenly and even then, want to say it the way my step-brother does, ni-COL-ah.

Ken was pushing for Nicolas for one of the boy, long distance but it felt tired to me, even then (1986). So I vetoed it. If he’d suggested Nicola, I could see me using that, Leo’s dark, and could carry Nicola, I think.

I see why she could appeal to the parents of a girl, she’s got all the right elements. And I surely would be relived to find out that pretty little baby girl at WalMart is a Nicola, rather than a, say, Murray. But I’d still rather see it on a boy. Beats Jacob!