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.

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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What do you think?


  1. 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.


    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)

  2. 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.

  3. 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 😛

  4. 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!

  5. 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.