Strong Names for Girls: Inspired by Eleanor, Part I

Strong Names for Girls: Inspired by Eleanor

So many parents are looking for them: strong names for girls.

There are different types, of course. We’ve talked about names inspired by fictional heroine Katniss Everdeen – modern, strong, unexpected, and frills-free. We’ve also talked about strong names for girls that are more reminiscent of the fictional Hermione Granger – obscure, rich in history, capable, and ever so smart.

But how about strong names for girls inspired by a historical figure? Like, say, Eleanor Roosevelt?

These names tend to be older, but they’re not necessarily tied to names that were in vogue during the former First Lady’s lifetime. Instead, they reflect the traits and qualities that we associate with her legacy.

To be an Eleanor, a name must be strong and sensible. It must sound like the name of an accomplished woman, even though we’re choosing the name for newborn babe.

Eleanor names need something else, too. They must have a certain tailored quality. Helena and Amelia are the tiniest bit too frilly to qualify. But the names can’t go over into the clunky category, either.

If you prefer your names traditional and mainstream, this is the list of strong names for girls for you.

Strong Names for Girls: A through D

Diana, 1892 - 93, 1928 cast. Augustus Saint-Ga...

Abigail – Is Abigail too frilly to make this list? I’m not sure, but I do think that the enduring legacy of former First Lady Abigail Adams makes his name an Eleanor.

Adelaide – There’s something weighty about Adelaide. It’s a grand name, with a big meaning – noble type. Because Adelaide is the French form of the German Adalheidis, it’s the tiniest bit more graceful than some names on this list. But then, Eleanor’s roots are French, too. Another variant I’ve recently heard? Adalind, which almost fits on this list.

Adele – Adelaide’s sparer sister. Definitely among the strong names for girls.

Agnes – Agnes tends towards the clunky. But lately, I think this one is on the right side of wearable. It shortens to Aggie, which isn’t so different than Abby or Addie or Maggie. Agnes has a long history of use, and is associated with an early Christian martyr. It’s also the name Jennifer Connelly and Paul Betany gave to their daughter, Agnes Lark, in 2011.

Beatrice – Beatrice has a romantic side, thanks to Dante’s beloved in the Diving Comedy, as well as Shakespeare’s sharp-tongued character in Much Ado About Nothing. But in recent years, I think Beatrice feels more buttoned-down. I’d trust a Beatrice to perform open heart surgery or complex financial transactions – wouldn’t you?

Constance – Constance has been out of favor in recent years, but it fits with so many trends. It’s a virtue name, and Constance undeniably fits with other strong names for girls like Eleanor and Beatrice. So why isn’t this name back? Despite medieval roots – this name came to England with William the Conqueror – it was popular through the 1950s. And while Constance is elegant, default nickname Connie is cute – and dated. Still, call her Constance, no nickname needed, and it’s a great choice for a daughter.

Diana – It’s the given name of Wonder Woman, as well as the much-admired late Princess of Wales, born Lady Diana Spencer. But Diana makes the list thanks to the Roman goddess, goddess of the hunt, and the tremendously talented singer Diana Ross. And maybe, just a little bit, because of widely influential fashion editor Diana Vreeland.

Strong Names for Girls: E through H

Edith – Downton Abbey’s Lady Edith is the Crawley family malcontent, who launches a career as a journalist after her attempts at traditional marriage-and-motherhood founder. The name peaked more than a century ago, meaning that it’s one of those long-neglected names that feels fresh again. Cate Blanchett recently gave the name to a daughter. Keira Knightley opted for the related Edie.

English: Eleanor of Aquitaine

Eleanor, Elinor – Does it go without saying that Eleanor is an Eleanor name? It’s a strong, classic choice for a daughter. Centuries before Mrs. Roosevelt, Eleanor of Aquitaine was among the most powerful women in Europe, a wealthy duchess in her own right, Queen of France by marriage, and later Queen of England as the wife of King Henry II. It’s sometimes said that the name was invented for her, based on her mother’s name, Aenor. But Eleanor of Aquitaine was born in the 1100s, and there was an earlier Eleanor, the daughter of the Duke of Normandy, born a century earlier. As for Elinor, Jane Austen boosted this spelling with Miss Elinor Dashwood, heroine of Sense and Sensibility.

Esther – The name of a heroic Old Testament queen, there’s no question that Esther belongs on a list of strong names for girls.

Evelyn – Tailored and slightly vintage, Evelyn feels like the most capable secretary in the steno pool, the most tireless mechanic in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps. It was a name from another time, but now that it’s entered the US Top Twenty, Evelyn feels completely at home – and equally talented – in the twenty-first century.

Florence – The Lady with the Lamp is enough to earn Florence a place on this list. Florence Nightingale’s given name is pure poetry, evoking the famous Italian city of her birth as well as a musical bird. But she’s known for founding the modern practice of nursing, saving countless lives from the Crimean War forward.

Frances – Another First Lady name, thanks to Mrs. Grover Cleveland, Frances has been worn by some notable women. Author Frances Hodgson Burnett comes to mind, as does tireless activist and suffragette Frances Willard. It’s a gentle name, but one with quite a bit of strength, too.

Grace – Gracie is homespun and spunky, but Grace has a cool elegance. It’s a traditional name, and a very popular one, too. But nothing says that a Top Ten name can’t be strong, and Grace Kelly lends the name quite a bit of style.

Harriet – Harriet Tubman wasn’t just an abolitionist who traveled the Underground Railroad to bring other slaves to safety. During the Civil War, she served as a spy for the Union Army. Like Agnes and Florence, Harriet is still in style limbo in the US, but all three seem to be on the verge of rediscovery.

Helen – Helen is sometimes linked to Eleanor, but this name’s roots go back far deeper in history. In Greek myth, Helen of Troy was known for her beauty. Today, Helena feels like the beauty queen, while Helen fits best with strong names for girls. That’s not to say this name isn’t glamorous. Oscar-winning actress Helen Mirren lends this name some Hollywood shine – and quite a bit of backbone, too.

Strong Names for Girls: I through L


Strong Names for Girls: Inspired by Eleanor, Part I

Irene – Maybe it’s Irene’s simple, frills-free sound. Maybe it’s the name’s meaning – peace. Or maybe it’s Irene Adler, of Sherlock Holmes fame, or Academy Award-nominated actress Irene Dunne. Whatever it is, Irene manages to feel straightforward, strong, and glamorous, too.

Joan – From Joan of Arc to Mad Men’s ambitious Joan Holloway Harris, this name brings to mind some fearless women. Jane is slightly more ladylike, and Jeanne is très français, while Joan is out to change the world.

Judith – The Book of Judith probably isn’t historically accurate, but that doesn’t diminish the character Judith. In her story, she bravely beheads the enemy general, Holofernes, and saves her people from defeat. If you’ve ever seen Caravaggio’s famous painting of the scene, there’s little doubt that Judith is fierce.

Katharine – Katharine Hepburn is a Hollywood legend. It’s one of the less common spellings, but between Hepburn, the late Washington Post editor Katharine Graham, and a few other notables – including Saint Katharine Drexel – it’s definitely one with cachet. I’d call Katherine and Catherine strong names, but this spelling is the stand-out.

Leonor – International forms of Eleanor are plentiful, but spare Leonor stands out. Maybe it’s Leonor’s tailored sound. Or perhaps it’s the emphasis on Leo, as in the lion. Other Leo- names, like Leontine and Leonarda, might also make this list, if only they were a little less rare.

Which are your favorite Eleanor names? Are there others that should be on this list? What would you like to see on the M – Z edition?

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22 Comments

All my girls names are consonant heavy— I always think “would this name work if she’s president one day ?” . I have a Diana and we are considering “Irene” if we have a girl next. I think Gwendolyn, Susan , and June are all appropriate for this list but I’m biased;)

So many of my favorites – Helen, Frances, Edith, Esther, Eleanor, Beatrice, Irene, Judith and Joan!

I also think Ingrid could work.

I really like a ton of these: Agnes, Beatrice (though I prefer Beatrix), Edith, Eleanor/Elinor, Esther, Florence, Frances, Grace, Helen, Leonor…

Beautiful, elegant, no-nonsense names. Love it!

Just pointing out that in French, Eleanor of Aquitaine was actually named Aliénor, which is closer to her mother’s name. The name then travelled to England with her, became Eleanor, and then came back to France as Eléonore. Both names coexist in France today, although Aliénor is more distinctly medieval and clearly associated with the queen, whereas Eléonore has a 19th-century vibe. The “alien” in Aliénor would be a problem in English-speaking countries, just as the “viol” (French for rape) in Violette troubles us.
Another, more Southern version of the name: Azénor.

Love seeing my second daughter’s name, Katharine, included on this list. These are the type of names I favor, but my husband tends to shy away from them. I especially love Grace, Ester, Eleanor, Frances, Joan and Agnes. I agree that Mary should have a place on this list.

What makes a name strong is clearly very subjective because at least half of the names on your list don’t strike me as particularly strong – old-fashioned (or until recently old-fashioned and now trendy), yes, but not strong. Abigail, Beatrice and Grace definitely don’t belong on the list in my book.

I actually think a huge number of girls’ names could be interpreted as strong or not depending on individual taste – Vivian, Arwen, Ariane, Marion, Ruth, Rebecca, Isabel, Elizabeth, Zoe, Martha, Victoria, Ingrid, Daria, Alexandra, Stella, Julia, Margaret, Maeve…in any case, it would be an interesting experiment to ask twenty people to write a list of ‘strong’ girls’ names and see how much overlap there is in the lists. I’m betting there would not be that much.

Frances Perkins, Grace Hopper, and Helen Thomas are other role models for those names. I think Mary needs to be on the next list.

I love so many of these. My absolute favorites are Agnes, Beatrice, Edith, Florence, Frances, Harriet, and Joan. My mom’s name was Judith so I have a soft spot for that one too, and I know a young Elinor (Ella).

Love Irene! I thought to be the only one, so it’s surprising to see that you listed Irene here 🙂 Beautiful meaning, and beautiful sound too (at least to me, but I’m not an English native speaker!).

This is my favorite type of name. I’m surprised that Josephine is not on the list. She’s a historically strong archetypal woman – an empress who marries Napoleon and civil rights activist Josephine Baker.

Beatrice for me is forever tied up with Beverly Cleary’s Beezus. But just the other day I was reflecting on the fact that in a room full of Hollys, Amelie/Emily/Amelias, Sophie/Sophias, etc., the only three girls in my daughter’s nursery whose names didn’t end in \[email protected]\ or \-ee\ where Gwen(dolyn) (though she is still sometimes “Gweni”), Beatrice, and Karen. I hadn’t specifically sought out a name that ended in a consonant, but in retrospect, I’m glad we did!