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.