She’s a big screen favorite and a world famous destination, too.

Thanks to Tara for suggesting Nola as Name of the Day.

You’ll find plenty of meanings listed for Nola. That’s probably because of her status as a diminutive for a range of names – Nicola, Eleanor, Leonor, Magnolia and Finola, to name just a few.

But Nola is frequently bestowed as an independent name, too. She regularly ranked in the US Top 1000 in the nineteenth century, right into the 1960s.

Today, Nola is often heard in references to New Orleans. (New Orleans, Louisiana – New Orleans, LA – NOLA.) But that’s far from the first time Nola appeared on the map.

Back in the Bronze Age, Nuvlana was an ancient settlement, probably decimated by an eruption of Mount Vesuvius circa 1600 BC. It’s not far from modern day Naples. Today, it is a sleep little village called Nola, but over the years it featured in many a significant event.

A world away, there’s a Nola in the Central African Republic.

As for New Orleans, it is a place long been immortalized in fiction. Travelers come from across the planet to take part in Mardi Gras. And in the post-Katrina era, everyone knows New Orleans.

The city features in countless films, as does the name Nola. If you’re naming a quirky, beautiful female character, Nola has been a likely choice in recent decades:

  • Spike Lee was first. His Nola Darling was the “she” in 1986’s She’s Gotta Have It. Filmed in just two weeks on a shoestring budget, the flick catapulted Lee to fame. Nola couldn’t decide between three suitors. Lee himself played one of the three, bike messenger Mars;
  • Emmy Rossum played the title role in 2004’s Nola. It’s a sweet tale of a young woman running away to the big city to find her true father/launch a singing career/escape her ho-hum smalltown life. She ends up working for an escort service, but never fear – she’s just their Girl Friday;
  • In 2005, Woody Allen’s Match Point took the name in a darker direction. Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays a tennis pro engaged to a rich girl – but having an affair with an American actress – Nola, played by Scarlett Johannson.

And then there’s her rhyming cousin Lola, also a diminutive frequently bestowed as an independent name back in the day.

While Nola would make for a fun nickname, she could also fit right in with many modern monikers. Think of other brief-but-complete choices from popular picks like Emma and Zoe to the newly fashionable, like Isla and Esme. Nola strikes a nice balance between antique revival and modern coinage.

After many years out of sight, Nola reappeared in the US Top 1000 rankings at #918 in 2008. That’s the only possible drawback to this appealing choice – she could leapfrog up the charts like Lola. Not only does Nola seem a smidge less like a nickname, she’s got none of that bad-girl-baggage.

Overall, Nola makes for a good choice for parents seeking a distinctive, but still straightforward, easily-spelled name for a daughter.

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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  1. When I click on this link I do not get the full article. Has it been archived? I only see the first three sentences. Would love the full low down.

  2. My 2 year old is also called Nola, I have never come across any Nola’s so it is lovely to read this! I obviously love the simple but pretty name also!

  3. We named our daughter Nola. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been told how pretty her name is. We just love it. It’s simple and feminine, with a kind of melodic quality. The only real downside is that you’ll–of course–be hard pressed to find the name on any of those novelty items that come with names pre-printed on them–e.g., cups, bicycle license plates, etc. This little factor has frustrated our daughter from time to time, but is no real biggie in the grand scheme of things. A few custom orders from time to time have resolved this issue.

  4. Don’t forget Magnolia, the heroine of Show Boat, whose father called her Nola and Nolie.