Name of the Day: Orla

If you’re looking for an Irish heritage name for your daughter, here’s one far more intriguing than Erin or Megan.

Thanks to Katharine for suggesting the simple but little-known Orla.

Flip through the average Name Your Baby book, and you’ll find plenty of names that supposedly mean princess. It’s an appealing definition that many parents embrace. Unfortunately, very few of those claims are accurate. Here are some you might want to cross off your list: Shaylee, Tiana, Zariel. Sorry ’bout that.

Never fear. Sarah does indeed mean princess. But if classic Sarah is too common for your tastes, there’s the equally simple, but far more distinctive Orla.

Orla is the Anglicized version of Órfhlaith. In Irish, ór means gold and flaith means ruler; the common translation is golden princess. Break out the tiaras.

Two historical princesses were among the earliest bearers of the name – High King of Ireland Brian Boru’s sister and daughter. While Brian Boru reigned from 1002 to 1014, many of his accomplishments were embroidered over the years, possibly by his ambitious descendants. This adds the flavor of legend to Orla’s legitimate history.

You may also see Orlagh or even Orlaith, but the pronunciation is always OR lah.

While not a chart-topper in the UK, it’s far more common on the other side of the Atlantic. Notable bearers include BBC correspondent Orla Guerin, Celtic Woman ensemble member Orla Fallon and designer of everything colorful from sweaters to coffee mugs Orla Kiely. Visit her flagship store the next time you’re in Covent Garden.

Kiely is probably the best known in the US, accounting for the name’s creative vibe. While we’ve heard Orla considered by a few parents, we’ve yet to meet one – and the name has never charted in the Top 1000 for girls.

Surprisingly, though, Orla briefly charted as a boy’s name in the 19th century! We’re still baffled by this, but we did stumble across a Danish statesman called Orla Lehmann. He died in 1870 at the age of 60 after many patriotic accomplishments, so perhaps his career influenced some parents of Danish descent. (Remember that in most decades, the total pool of names given to boys is smaller. In 1890, a mere five uses of a name for a boy got it into the Top 1000; it took nine uses for a girls’ name to chart. By 1950, the numbers were bigger – 40 for boys, 84 for girls – but the proportion is similar.)

Unlike many of our favorite historic-but-underused monikers, Orla is easy to spell and will cause few pronunciation problems. If you’re looking for something widely known but not overly common in the UK, Orla presents a nice alternative to the over-used Ella and Mia. In the US, Orla is even less known and offers parents a chance to import an authentically Irish moniker that will fit in with Ava and Emma, but still never be shared.

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7 Comments

My grandfather was named Orla and I met one other man in my lifetime named Orla.
Both, probably not coincidentally, were born in roughly the same geographical area of southern Missouri – around Plato and Lynchburg.
My grandfather was born in 1903, the other gentleman I met would have been approximately 15 years younger, so born about 1918.
From talking with each, neither one had ever heard of anyone else with their name!

Oh no I missed Orla! Nevermind, thanks for making her name of the day Apellation Mountain, It’s interesting to see that the reaction to her is more mixed than towards Isla. You really have to roll the syllables of Orrrrr-la over your tongue don’t you? I think that makes her sound most alluring but the closeness to Oral does put me off (but then Violet sounds like Violent and Millicent like Millitant and neither association puts me off the name, which leads me to think that I can’t have been that bothered about Orla to begin with)…

Groan, RF! Okay, Peena will not be NotD. At least not until Spring 2009. One of the most enduring searches for first-time visitors to find the site is “stripper names.” If I start finding my site blocked by Net Nanny, serves me right! 🙂

Lola, I agree with you on meanings. Sarah is a huge family name for me, but her meaning puts me off using any of the variants. (I like the sound of Sarai quite a bit.)

Dana, what a cute book. I’m going to ask my local bookshop owner if she’s ever heard of it. But didn’t you torture your parents asking to upend the dining room table after that?

I like Orla for anyone else’s girl, just not mine. It may have a lovely meaning (and that’s always a bonus in my book!) but for me, Dana’s “oral” doen’t even come into it. Orla makes my mind go to Orly airport. (I spent a lot of my younger years travelling, yes, even with the boys when they were little). Told you I was weird! 😀

I do think she’s lovely, just not for me. I’ll call my girls “princess” occasionally but “princess” they really are not. A meaning like that is lovely for others but a bit too unsubstantial for me. (I’d rather “fortunate, happy, merciful or simply wealthy. Also, with the rapid rise of Isla, why not look to Orla as an alternative? They’d make awesome sisters or friends, don’t you think? I do.

I absolutely love Orla! Growing up I had a children’s book called “Orla’s Upside-down Day” in which the main character, Orla, does everything upside-down for a day (they even turn the dinner table over and eat on top of it!). I loved this book but hadn’t thought about it in years! The only thing that would make me think twice about putting it on my list is the fact that it can be rearranged to spell “oral”. Maybe most people wouldn’t even notice this, but for some reason that bothers me.