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.