Name of the Day: Oona

Today’s choice is simple and exotic at once – but both her meaning and the most logical spelling are open to debate.

Thanks to Nicole (aka Dirty Hippy) for suggesting our Name of the Day: Oona.

With choices like Mia and Ava topping the charts, plenty of parents are searching for the next simple, two-syllable choice for girls. We’ve suggested that Isla might be a contender; there’s also Anya, Noa and Luna.

But what about Oona?

She has an authentically Irish feel, but it’s rare on both sides of the Atlantic. While she appears sparingly in the US census records, she’s never ranked in the Top 1000. And while she’s slightly more familiar in Europe, she’s far from common.

Variant spellings include Oonagh, which feels even more aggressively Irish, and the Latinate Una. Una regularly ranked in the US Top 1000 from 1880 through 1944, and while she never went higher than the 300s, appears to be the most popular.

But are Una, Oona and Oonagh the same name? There are at least three possible meanings:

  • The name could derive from the Latin for one. This connects to the spelling Una, but seems like a stretch for the other two variants;
  • Some sites indicate that the name means hunger or famine, but we’re hard-pressed to find the etymology behind that claim;
  • The Irish uan, for lamb, could also be the name’s source.

There’s also a saint who might’ve inspired the moniker. In the 600s, a noblewoman called Hunna devoted her life to serving the poor in France. She’s also known as St. Una. That places the earliest use of the name far earlier than most records suggest.

Una also appears in Edmund Spenser’s 16th century epic The Faerie Queen. She represents truth, especially the true religion. Spenser wrote just as Queen Elizabeth I had reaffirmed the Church of England; in the poem, a character called Duessa represents evil, especially the Roman Catholic Church. It’s quite clear that Spenser chose Una to mean one, first or possibly unity – but with a saint bearing the name a thousand years earlier, it’s difficult to say he was the first to use it.

Oona was also the name playwright Eugene O’Neill chose for his daughter in 1919. She grew up to marry Charlie Chaplin – four decades her senior.

Other Oonas and Unas have an otherworldly quality. A fairy named Oona features in the 1985 fantasy movie Legend; a genus of butterflies is known as Una. Princess Oona is a member of Donald Duck’s extended family, though you’ll only find her in European Disney publications, especially in Scandinavia.

If Oona is going to rise, it’s not her meaning or historic uses but her simple and intriguing sound that will have to propel her to greater use. And that could happen – besides the popularity of the name’s style, there’s also the trend for vowels. With Owen and Olivia, Theo and Juno sounding quite current, Oona fits in perfectly.

As for the spelling question? We’re torn. While Oonagh seems too complicated, at least in the US, both Oona and Una seem like appealing options for a modern child. Perhaps it’s simply a question of what draws you to the name – if you’re hoping for an Irish heritage choice, the “oo” spelling has a lot of oomph. The “u” seems a bit more restrained – but likely to be confused with Uma.

Either way, we think this one has a lot of spirit and style.

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40 Comments

I am an Oonagh- have to say it has been the bain of my life. My family is Irish though and it does go with my family name which is a good old Irish one. It is so complicated as a name outside Ireland. Even in Ireland the spelling is an issue and on computers it gets corrected to enough! and all sorts of other things on phones…I always heard that the reason for the different spelling is that in gaelic it is spelt únag with a dot above the g. If you want to do a direct translation into english then the fada (accent) on the U- means you lenthen the sound so it is pronounced ‘oo’ as in ‘too’. The dot above the g acts as an h would – silencing the g but affecting the sound of the a (see below). So again the direct translation for the dotted g is gh. Therefore Oonagh. So your modern day options are chop all the complicated bits off and you are left with Una, or direct translation and you have Oonagh. )after which of course you can chop the complicated bits off again to have Oona- this is what Oona O’Neill, Charlie Chaplins wife did) Think carefully before giving your daughter this name! But Oona O’Neils grandaughter Oona Castilla Chaplin, actress who played Alisa Maegyr in game fo thrones, might popularise the name- who knows. How she copes with this name in Spain where she was born.

Oonagh

The h serves as a notation of lenition (séimhiú): bh, ch, dh, fh, gh, mh, ph, sh, th It took the place of the earlier system of [ 2 ] the old script; a dot (ponc séimhithe) above the consonants (much clearer)
Lenition

I am pregnant with my second child and if a girl she will be called Oona. My husband and I decided before I even got pregnant. Our first born is called Cora which is also an old name that was never super popular but had its highest point of popularity around 1870 -1900.

I am English and I have 3 brothers we all have 4 letters names accidently but I wanted to carry on the accidental tradition.

I think Cora and Oona go really well together although I will wait until the baby is born until I announce the name. That way I am introducing a person which people are less likely to criticize than when introducing a name.

I rather like the name, all the variants of it. Some characters in my favorite stories are named that. In Michael Moorcock’s novels, there’s an Una Persson, Oon, a dreamthief, and Oona, her daughter, and then her daugther Oonagh. And I just was watching the 2007 movie Stardust, and the main character’s mother is Una, the oldest child of the King of Stormhold. Anyway, quite a good name. Oona reminds me of Anna, which I also like 😛

I have been loving this name for a few weeks. I even put it on my future baby list! Then I realized (I am slow sometimes) that my daughters name is June…and some relatives call her Juna. June and Oona might be a little too similar.. but I still kinda like it. It brought me to think that I like the spelling of Joona over Juna. I don’t really like the spelling of Joon though. Anyways, I love this name!

My name is Oona and I am 34 years old. I have no middle name, as it is not necessary to add to an already original unique name. Sometimes people have mistaken the ‘O’ to be ‘D’ in my experience as well which BTW would be an odd way to spell/pronounce the name “Donna”. I especially find it to be difficult for some people to pronounce my name when they read it out loud. I believe it couldn’t be a simpler two syllables to read and say! I have only a few memories of coming home from elementary school in tears because some children may have teased me for my name and would rhyme it with “tuna”. As I grew older I began to realize how fortunate and privellaged I was to have been given such a beautiful and unique name. Thank you for putting such thought into your only daughter’s name, Dad.

My first daughter will be named Oona.

A gal in college had it, and it was perfect. But before that I came across Gunvor Nelson (Swedish/American avant-garde film maker from 60’s) who’s movie about her daughter hypnotized me. And I enjoy drone music, so it’s meaningful on many levels.

Not for everyone, but to my mind no “Oona” conversation can happen without knowledge of this “landmark” 1969 avant-garde short.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8pe8O5h9EEs
http://arethehillsgoingtomarchoff.blogspot.com/2010/11/my-name-is-oona-1969-film-by-gunvor.html

I named my daughter Oona (inspired by Oona Chaplin O’Neill). Oona is a pleasure to pronounce, it feels lovely rolling off the tongue. I noticed that small children especially seem to enjoy saying it. As an aside “My Name is Oona” was the first film we allowed our Oona to watch (when she turned seven.)

Oona is the name of my female Flat-Coated Retriever. She was a singleton puppy, which is quite unusual in a large breed dog. Her AKC name is One-Hit-Wonder. The name really suits her, as she has a personality all her own.

Really? No one prefers Una to Oona, huh?

I’ve been in love with Una since reading the Fairy Queen. I much prefer her to Oona, which I didn’t know about until I looked up Una on nameberry. Una is more literary, more Latinate, more English and less Irish.

Hello, my name is Oona too. I’m from Finland and here everybody is spelling my name with “oo” never “u”. My mom named me from Oona Chablin.
I was little amazed a while a go when I found out that my favorite comic’s one character is actually Oona. We call the “Princess Oona” for “Una”.

Btw, my middle name is Karoliina. Karolina would sound as fine.

I’m thinking of naming my child Oona (provided she is a she!) but having problems with a middle name. I was thinking Oona Clare, after County Clare in Ireland, where my family is from. Our last name begins with an M and is two syllables. Our 3 year old daughter is Stella June. What do you think, Oona lovers?

My name is Oona. People tease me sometimes but most of the time I hear it’s pretty. I like it and it’s easy to write, although many think the “o” is a “d” and call me Dona. I also think the “oo” spelling is cooler than the “u”, although I may be a bit biased.

OMG! My name is Oona too! I personally think it is an awesome name, for obvious reasons. I also have the same problem with people thinking the first o is a d. Once, for soccer pictures my dad even wrote on the envelope ” that’s 2 o’s not a d” and they still messed it up and said “Dona”. Jeeze, its so annoying! I do think that the Oo spelling is better than U. Some people would always want to pronounce it differently but its not complicated at all; it just sounds like its spelled! All my friends agree with me and say that Oona is a really great name.

My mother, half Sioux maternally and Black Foot with one African-American in the DNA, was named Ona, named after someone her mother admired, an Ona Allbritton. My father, two generations from Ireland, was a flamin’ Fenian and he raised me “that Irish aren’t white,” and told me as many of the old stories as he could remember being told–but he especially and often told me about the heroes of the Easter Rising and The Foggy Dew was played by an Irish piper at his burial, but that is the story for another day.

So I got the Oona, as the 2nd Ona and more Irish spelling. My mother did not like Una and the very idea of Oonagh was a bit much for MS in 1953. And I was called by my Anglicised 2nd name “Lisa” (Eilis, Elisabeth) until my first Irish dance lesson when (another long story), my name changed in an instant when I fell into a sobbing heap after my first reel. So I am, by birth, Oonagh Eilis Brid Parnell ni Riain. When I married and we were hyphenating names, I went the whole route and changed my “official” name to
oonagh Eilis Brid Parnell Cionaodha ni-Maoilriain Bean-U

My mother, half Sioux maternally and Black Foot with one African-American in the DNA, was named Ona, named after someone her mother admired, an Ona Allbritton. My father, two generations from Ireland, was a flamin’ Fenian and he raised me “that Irish aren’t white,” and told me as many of the old stories as he could remember being told–but he especially and often told me about the heroes of the Easter Rising and The Foggy Dew was played by an Irish piper at his burial, but that is the story for another day.

So I got the Oona, as the 2nd Ona and more Irish spelling. My mother did not like Una and the very idea of Oonagh was a bit much for MS in 1953. And I was called by my Anglicised 2nd name “Lisa” (Eilis, Elisabeth) until my first Irish dance lesson when (another long story), my name changed in an instant when I fell into a sobbing heap after my first reel. So I am, by birth, Oonagh Eilis Brid Parnell ni Riain. When I married and we were hyphenating names, I went the whole route and changed my “official” name to
oonagh Eilis Brid Parnell Cionaodha ni-Maoilriain Bean-U

My mother, half Sioux maternally and Black Foot with one African-American in the DNA, was named Ona, named after someone her mother admired, an Ona Allbritton. My father, two generations from Ireland, was a flamin’ Fenian and he raised me “that Irish aren’t white,” and told me as many of the old stories as he could remember being told–but he especially and often told me about the heroes of the Easter Rising and The Foggy Dew was played by an Irish piper at his burial, but that is the story for another day.

So I got the Oona, as the 2nd Ona and more Irish spelling. My mother did not like Una and the very idea of Oonagh was a bit much for MS in 1953. And I was called by my Anglicised 2nd name “Lisa” (Eilis, Elisabeth) until my first Irish dance lesson when (another long story), my name changed in an instant when I fell into a sobbing heap after my first reel. So I am, by birth, Oonagh Eilis Brid Parnell ni Riain. When I married and we were hyphenating names, I went the whole route and changed my “official” name to
oonagh Eilis Brid Parnell Cionaodha ni-Maoilriain Bean-U

My mother, half Sioux maternally and Black Foot with one African-American in the DNA, was named Ona, named after someone her mother admired, an Ona Allbritton. My father, two generations from Ireland, was a flamin’ Fenian and he raised me “that Irish aren’t white,” and told me as many of the old stories as he could remember being told–but he especially and often told me about the heroes of the Easter Rising and The Foggy Dew was played by an Irish piper at his burial, but that is the story for another day.

So I got the Oona, as the 2nd Ona and more Irish spelling. My mother did not like Una and the very idea of Oonagh was a bit much for MS in 1953. And I was called by my Anglicised 2nd name “Lisa” (Eilis, Elisabeth) until my first Irish dance lesson when (another long story), my name changed in an instant when I fell into a sobbing heap after my first reel. So I am, by birth, Oonagh Eilis Brid Parnell ni Riain. When I married and we were hyphenating names, I went the whole route and changed my “official” name to
oonagh Eilis Brid Parnell Cionaodha ni-Maoilriain Bean-U

I don’t find the sound of the name that appealing but is interesting. I knew a girl once with this name (she’s probably in her late 40s now). She was Irish American and she spelled it Una.

To me, either one (Oona or Una) looks like a name a cave woman might have. It sounds positively ancient. I just don’t like the sound of it at all. I went to camp with a little girl named Una (I guess she’s about 25 by now, actually). No one teased her because her name was weird, but we all acknowledged its weirdness nevertheless.

I love Oona but not Una. I think it was the double “o” that grabbed my attention and i really love that spelling. It is so spunky whilst Una seems reserved.
Great name and i love saying it and writing it out – Oona 🙂

There’s a little girl who comes into my store named Oona… I believe she’s named after Ms. O’Neill. I think Oona is quite charming, Una, however, I don’t like at all. I know it’s pronounced the same, but I wouldn’t consider them to be the same name at all. Oona is quirky, cool, bohemian, chic, etc… while Una is a Mexican grandma, just not appealing at all.

I fell in love with Una after reading The Faerie Queene my freshman year of college. It’s a tough one to match with last names, though. It needs a last name with very soft sounds, I think. Unfortunately, my last name doesn’t work! If it did, I might be considering it instead of Clara.

Oona’s long been a favorite. Dad was a Charlie Chaplin fan and Oona O’Neill was a familiar name around the house. She was a gorgeous woman (google images for her, what a stunner)! Funny though, I thoroughly dislike Una (reminds me of my kid brother’s favorite card game when we were growing up: Uno) and Oonagh looks like it might appeal to the trendies. (and I dislike Uma as well, I always expect a sister named Radha). But Oona’s darling. Sound wise, she’s refreshing and packs a punch. Looks wise, she’s a bit of an odd duck but again, completely refreshing to see. I tried for a while to use her in the middle somewhere but sadly, everything I like just clashes with her. I think she’s a bit too open sounding and Irish to mesh with my generally English oddballs (occasionally French).

I would adore meeting a little Oona (and wouldn’t frown at a tiny Una) but sadly, I don’t think she’s for me. Elisabeth, Oona would make a fantastic sister for Bea! 😀

I am Irish and the correct Irish spelling is actually Una. Oonagh is an anglicised spelling of the name. This is a common misconception especially outside Ireland.