Nora: Baby Name of the Day

Nora Gregor

Editor’s note: This post was originally published on December 7, 2008.  It was substantially revised and re-posted on December 23, 2013.

She was a nineteenth century staple, and now she’s a rising favorite in the twenty-first century, too.

Thanks to Photoquilty for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day: Nora.

File Nora with diminutives that have long since shed their formal names.

Once she would have been short for Eleanor or Lenore or maybe Honora or another ends-with-ora name.  But Nora has ranked as an independent given name every year since 1880, when the rankings were established.

Not only was Nora in steady use, she was popular, charting in the Top 100 from 1880 through 1905.

There’s also:

  • Norah, a variant spelling that’s seen some use in the US.
  • Noor, an unrelated Arabic name meaning light.

Henrik Ibsen used the name for the main character in his 1879 play A Doll’s House.  While that lends her some literary style today, his Nora was terribly controversial.  At the play’s end, she leaves her husband and children to find herself – an incredibly unorthodox step for a woman in her day.  Why did Ibsen name his character Nora?  She was based on a real-life woman with a similar story, a friend of Ibsen’s named Laura.  Nora is also a well-established Norwegian given name, related to Eleonora or possibly North.

Then there’s Dashiell Hammett’s Nick and Nora Charles, the original husband-and-wife detective team.  Mr. and Mrs. Charles were tremendously popular, leaping from the pages of 1934’s The Thin Man to films, radio, television, and even a Broadway musical.  Plenty of other fictional couples were modeled after the duo.  And there’s something about saying Nick and Nora together – just ask the pajama company, or the Michael Cera flick, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist.

Other famous Noras include:

  • Ballerina Nora Kaye.
  • Charles Darwin’s granddaughter – and his editor – wore the name.
  • So did the wife of James Joyce.  Her 2000 biopic might’ve helped push the name back into wider use.
  • That’s Nora Gregor in the photograph, an actress from the early 1920s.
  • Who can forget Helen Reddy singing “Candle on the Water” from the lighthouse in Pete’s Dragon?
  • Writer Nora Ephron, of When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle fame.
  • Or is her revival due to Norah Jones, the Grammy-winning singer-songwriter who burst onto the scene in 2002?
  • More recently, Sally Field wore the name as the Brothers & Sisters matriarch.

She’s a place name from Zimbabwe to Sweden.  There’s an ancient Roman site abandoned in the 700s, now little more than an archeological site, partially under the waters of the Mediterranean.

While she remained in use over the years, Nora fell steadily out of fashion as a given name.  She spent the 1930s through 50s hovering around the 200 mark, then fell farther.

In 2000, she ranked a chilly #500.

But just as quickly, Nora reversed, clearing the way for Cora.  Attribute it to our affection for short, complete names for girls that feel literary and accomplished.  Nora is a sister for Emma or Sophia, slightly more substantial than Ella or Mia.  And yet she’s not quite as classic as Margaret or Elizabeth.  Nickname-proof Nora hits a lot of the right notes for parents today.  No wonder she’d climbed to #107 by 2012 – and seems poised to return to the Top 100 she knows so well.

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24 Comments

I love the name Nora! It was joyful Great Grandmother’s name. I would love to honor her for a future daughter, but my own rhyming name that begins with L is a stumbling block. The only idea I can think of is Elinor as a nod to her. Any other suggestions?

How beautiful is Nora? Love it!

Noor (pronounced as the English ‘pour’ not ‘look’) is a really popular first name in The Netherlands – in 2013 even more so than the also popular but more ‘official’ Nora/Norah.

http://www.meertens.knaw.nl/nvb/naam/is/noor vs http://www.meertens.knaw.nl/nvb/naam/is/nora. Also, see ‘Noortje’ (little Noor): http://www.meertens.knaw.nl/nvb/naam/is/noortje

Noor as an Arabic name is also in use, but more often written as Nur or Nour.

BTW. When you see my name Lisanne.. How do you think it is pronounced? (Sorry if I make a mistake.. my English isn’t very good)
Do you think it’s like Liz-En or something like that? And is it a rare name? Or are there many girls named Lisanne?

Lisanne, your English is better than my Dutch! 🙂

I’d say it LEES ann, two syllables, with a long “e” like me or see. But I’d be prepared to be wrong about that. I’m reading it like an elaboration of Lisa, which I guess is why I’m saying LEES.

Lisa was the #1 name for girls born in the US in the 1960s, so I’ve known quite a few. But Lisanne? It’s rare – Lisanne has never been in the US Top 1000. I don’t think I’ve ever heard it before.

Lee Anne, Liane, Leigh Anne, etc. is heard in the US, but isn’t fashionable at the moment. Anneliese – or Annalisa, Annalise, etc. – is on the rise. (Actually, as I type that, I’m thinking that Lisanne might be LEE sahn ah?)

It’s very pretty.

Thank you so much for your answer! Well, I’m from Holland and I think Noa is a little ‘overused’.. But I still like it. I think it sounds cute.

That’s really hard to say, Lisanne. I would’ve said I like Noa better – something about the sound, I guess, and I’m a sucker for underused names with history. But with Noah so hot for boys, I can’t help think that Noa would be a headache.

I like Nora just as much, but would probably use it as a nickname for Honora or Honor. I’ve seriously considered the name Honora, so I guess I’m more likely to use Nora.

But I really do like Noa – she was NotD a while back and got a favorable response, too!

Thanks for posting that link Emmy Jo, it was really interesting. Actually, I once stumbled across a top 300 UK names list somewhere on line but have racked my brain and really can’t remember where. It was probably unofficial but nonetheless offered a deeper insight into UK naming trends. Ah well, the hunt continues!

Good question about the UK list going above the top 100. I’ve been wondering that too, I tried to find it, but couldn’t.

I love Nora. If Clara weren’t our #1 baby girls’ name option, Nora would definitely be on our list. As it stands, Clara and Nora feel just a little too similar for sisters, at least to me.

I really like Nora and also prefer her without the H – it seems like an unnecessary addition to me. Nora is simple, smart and rare (or so I thought)… I can’t quite believe she’s charting at 242, I’m sure that can’t be the case in the UK because I’ve never met a Nora(h) or even seen a birth annoucement proclaiming the arrival of one. Still, it would be refreshingly lovely to come across one and would certainly make a change from all the Ellie’s… Actually this brings me to a point I’ve been meaning to ask: Does anyone know if there is a UK chart that goes beyond the top 100? Thanks in advance…

I love Nora. I prefer it without the h. It’s a pretty, classic name and the H ruins it for me. The girl is gonna be correcting people constantly and that gets annoying really quickly. Nora looks nicer than Norah too.

I’d probably use Nora if it wasn’t for my boyfriend. He doesn’t like it for some reason. lol

I love Nora. Since my husband is waaaaaaaaay more traditional than I am, this is our current top of the list girl name. I don’t feel I’m settling with this name – as long as both of us like it, I can go without Carys, Clara, Sybil, etc. Our inspiration for Nora? Nora O’Donnell, an MSNBC journalist. Anyway, if there is ever a baby girl for us, she will most likely be Nora. (Unless something better comes along…)

I like her, but prefer Elinor, nn Nora. I like having options! Nora’s just a bit too sweet for stand alone use for me, too and I really dislike that ‘h’ at the end. It just looks wrong. Nora’s perfectly lovely on a girl or woman, a nice, solid choice for anyone!

I quite like Nora. Don’t mind Norah but prefer no h. I thought this name was already a little more popular. I like it as a full name, but might use it as a nickname for Eleanor, etc., just so she could have both options.