Today we’re looking at sweet spot girl names.
They’re the names that we all recognize, but don’t hear everywhere. You may know a kid or two who answers to them, because many are rising in use.
But in terms of temperature they’d please even Goldilocks: neither the white-hot trendy that characterizes fast risers, nor the chill of former favorites now tumbling in use.
What else defines sweet spot girl names?
- One spelling dominates. Sure, you might meet a Kwyn or even a Jynnaveev, but they’re the exception. And even alternate spellings like Hadlee and Jayne lag well behind their more familiar counterparts.
- While they may share characteristics with other names, they’re not part of a name cluster, like the many -bella/-belle names, led by Top Ten Isabella.
- The names claim some history – maybe they’re not traditional girls’ names, but they’re also not truly recent inventions.
- Boy names on girls are excluded. They can be great choices, but it’s tough to gauge true popularity of a name like Logan or Carter when used for a daughter. Will it feel different and fresh? Or too common? Surnames as first names, however, are still very much part of the list.
For numbers purposes, names on this list have not risen dramatically in recent years. (Even though that knocked out a few worthy candidates.) Likewise, names that fell in use sharply were excluded – even though they can still be great choices for a daughter.
For plenty of parents, sweet spot girl names are the goal. And yet, it’s tough to know when you’ve found one.
So no more confusion: here’s an updated list of over two dozen sweet spot girl names.
Current US popularity rank: #263
2016 US popularity rank: #258
In an age of many Addie names, Adelaide feels distinctive. Sure, it shares the friendly nickname embraced by so many Adalyns and Adelines, but the -laide ending stands out, with a strong ‘a’ sound and unexpected ‘d’ ending. Regal Adelaide belongs to a huge name family, but might just be the most distinctive of the bunch, a sister for Elizabeth or Katherine.
Current US popularity rank: #64
2016 US popularity rank: #76
Storybook Alice ages nicely, a sweet name with plenty of substance. That’s a tough combination to pull off! An earlier generation opted for frillier Alice-names, like Alicia and Alyssa. Today, spare and elegant Alice feels like the most stylish of the group. If Adelaide is regal, Alice feels quietly capable – though the names are cousins. Nothing else really sounds quite like Alice, though the ‘s’ ending appears in other classic girls’ names, like Frances and Elise.
Current US popularity rank: #66
2016 US popularity rank: #65
When it comes to perfect choices that balance the novel and the traditional, Autumn feels like an obvious candidate. It’s a noun name that we can all pronounce and spell, and yet nothing really sounds like Autumn. It’s ranked in the Top 1000 baby girl names since way back in 1969, and the Top 100 since 1997. That makes it a modern name that’s already demonstrated its staying power.
Current US popularity rank: #81
2016 US popularity rank: #56
Caroline comes from Charles – just like current Top Ten favorite Charlotte. Both names boast history galore and plenty of famous, accomplished bearers. But while Charlotte sounds like a sister for Sophia, Caroline feels timeless. A long-time Top 100 name, it belongs with the most classic of girl names. But unlike some traditional picks, like Mary or Sarah, Caroline doesn’t seem overused in recent generations. That makes for a winning combination.
Current US popularity rank: #132
2016 US popularity rank: #179
Cecilia comes with a lively pop song soundtrack, friendly nickname Cece, and a lovely -lia ending that matches up nicely to current favorites like Amelia. Traditional and feminine, but never overused, Cecilia makes an appealing substitute for Top Ten favorites like Sophia/Sofia and Olivia. There’s a prettiness to this name, shared by many modern favorites like Sienna. But Cecilia also possesses all the vintage charm of Eleanor or Lillian.
Current US popularity rank: #134
2016 US popularity rank: #190
It’s easy to dismiss Daisy as a too-cute nickname name, and yet that’s not quite right. While it traditionally connects to Margaret, Daisy has stood as an independent name for years, ranking in the US Top 1000 every year since 1880. If Mary and Lucy, Violet and Rose can be complete, why not this name? With nature names, vintage picks, and nickname names in favor, Daisy feels like the best of all possible worlds. And let’s not forget Daisy Ridley, the actor at the heart of the most recent Star Wars trilogy.
Current US popularity rank: #121
2016 US popularity rank: #148
Biblical names boast a long history of use. But Eden doesn’t fit with Ruth and Rebecca. Instead, Eden first caught on as a girls’ name in the late 1960s and 70s – credit to actress Barbara Eden, star of I Dream of Jeannie, maybe? The tie to the Garden of Eden is obvious, but it also brings to mind traditional girls’ names like Edith, as well as tailored favorites of recent years from Lauren to Taylor to Morgan. Call it a modern meaningful with an upbeat sound. Possible nickname Edie is another bonus, but parents might love this one because it feels nickname-resistant, too.
Current US popularity rank: #111
2016 US popularity rank: #174
From My Fair Lady to Hamilton, Eliza carries a musical theater pedigree. Like Elise, Eliza started out as a short form of the enduring Elizabeth. (Mrs. Alexander Hamilton, in fact, was named Elizabeth.) Today it feels like an independent name, and that zippy ‘z’ makes it at home in the age of Olivia and Zoe. Despite years of steady increases in use, the vivacious name remains just uncommon enough that it belongs with the sweet spot girl names.
Current US popularity rank: #156
2016 US popularity rank: #183
Until recently, Esther might have belonged with the newly-ready-for-revival camp. But that seems unfair, too. After all, Esther ranked in the US Top 100 into the 1930s. Today, the name picks up on several trends. It combines a nature name meaning (star), Old Testament baby name status, and that stylish -r ending shared by Harper and Piper. Esther could substitute for equally substantial and storied girls’ names like Abigail or Evelyn.
Current US popularity rank: #296
2016 US popularity rank: #211
Switch around the sounds in chart-topping Sophia, and you’ll nearly arrive at Fiona. A literary Scottish invention, Fiona became famous to an entire generation as the ogre-princess in Shrek, voiced by Cameron Diaz. Despite sounding very much like a traditional name, Fiona first appeared in the US Top 1000 in the 1990s – very recent history! Shameless and Nurse Jackie have named characters Fiona, but the original famous Fiona might be Brigadoon’s time-warped daughter, first introduced by the 1947 Broadway musical, and later by the 1954 film.
Current US popularity rank: #155
2016 US popularity rank: #188
The patron saint of Paris, Genevieve combines sophistication with a sprightly sound. Nickname-rich and almost considered a classic, this name makes a great substitute for Madeline or a sister to Charlotte. French names for girls always fare well in the US, and yet Genevieve isn’t quite the runaway success you might expect. It has quietly climbed the charts over the last dozen years. But that’s a far cry from the 1910s, when it ranked in the Top 100. Take it as proof that the name will stand the test of time.
Current US popularity rank: #112
2016 US popularity rank: #108
Quick: think of a literary surname name that begins with H, and was boosted by a recent bestseller. Nope, it’s not Harper. Instead, Hadley comes from The Paris Wife, a fictionalized account of Ernest and Hadley Hemingway’s life in Europe. The first Mrs. Hemingway was born Elizabeth Hadley Richardson, but known by her middle. Hadley fits neatly into our Hailey-Harlow moment, an H surname name for a girl with a link to an intriguing part of literary history.
Current US popularity rank: #286
2016 US popularity rank: #293
Celebrities put Haven on parents’ radar. It’s the name of Jessica Alba’s second daughter, born in 2011. But the name was on the popularity charts since the 1990s, a virtuous word name that shares sounds with favorites like Ava and Hailey. With Old English roots, Haven isn’t a vintage name by any means, but it feels like one that will endure.
Current US popularity rank: #265
2016 US popularity rank: #279
Jane feels like an every-girl name, but it’s not. You’re more likely to meet a Skylar or a Brooklyn. Spare and frills-free Jane combines the sensibility of modern unisex names like Kai with the classic status of Eleanor. Janie makes for a cute name, right at home on the playground with Sadie and Ellie. Plus, what girl wouldn’t like to share her given name with Jane Austen? Nineteenth century activist Jane Addams and world-renowned scientist Jane Goodall serve as more examples of women of accomplishment.
Current US popularity rank: #72
2016 US popularity rank: #114
Joseph belongs with the boys’ names never out of style. But Josephine has long been less popular in the US. Like Genevieve, it ranked in the Top 100 in the early twentieth century, but is only now being rediscovered. Chock full of nicknames, Josephine could appeal to parents who love Eleanor, or maybe families after a formal name for Josie or Jo. Another bonus? Little Women’s strong-willed March sister Jo was born Josephine, too.
Current US popularity rank: #413
2016 US popularity rank: #231
Call Katherine a classic, and Kaitlyn a 1990s favorite. Where does that leave Kate? With the sweet spot girl names, of course! Sure, you’ll have to answer “is it short for …” But that’s a small hassle compared to spelling Caitlin/Katelyn/Catelynn every time. Kate feels retro – think Cole Porter music Kiss Me, Kate – and powerful – think Kate Middleton, or maybe Katharine Hepburn – often known as Kate. (The Connecticut performing arts center named for Ms. Hepburn is called The Kate.) Kate could be a sister for Lucy or Blair, a name that spans styles effortlessly.
Current US popularity rank: #293
2016 US popularity rank: #276
Lena might be short for a longer name ending with those sounds, but really, this one stands on its own. Sleek and stylish, and beautifully portable across language barriers, Lena is familiar throughout Europe. Pick your famous Lena: Dunham if you’re a Girls fan, Horne if you’re more into the legendary singer. Lena sounds like a perfect substitute for Ava, a simple, straightforward choice with a dash of glam. In the US, Lena always rhymes with Tina and Gina. It’s worth noting that the English favor a different pronunciation – Layna.
Current US popularity rank: #125
2016 US popularity rank: #139
Margaret belongs with the venerable classics, every bit as buttoned-up as Elizabeth, Eleanor, or Katherine. And yet it hits the sweet spot because it remains far less common than any of those three traditional favorites. Odds are good that you know a Margaret, and that’s she’s well out of preschool. That’s why this one makes the sweet spot girl names list. Can you imagine a name more immediately recognized – and yet so seldom heard? With nicknames galore, from Peggy to Meg to Pearl – as well as fellow sweet spot name Daisy – Margaret makes for a shape-shifting name.
Current US popularity rank: #133
2016 US popularity rank: #126
Yes, Mary! As with Margaret, you know a few Marys. But chances are that those Marys are older. Probably much older, like 40-something plus. After reigning as the top name for girls in the US for decades, parents cooled to naming their daughters Mary during the 1970s, and the trend continued. Mary left the US Top 100 after 2008. That’s precisely why Mary belongs with sweet spot girl names. In a sea of parents debating if Madelyn is more distinctive than Bella, it’s actually Mary that stands out as fresh and new.
Current US popularity rank: #54
2016 US popularity rank: #74
An Old Testament name, Naomi has a Hebrew origin. It means pleasantness. While it’s appeared in the US Top 1000 every year since the data was first released in 1880, the name has enjoyed a resurgence in the last decade. That’s a hallmark of a sweet spot name – one equally appropriate for a little girl or a grown woman, a name that feels vintage and current at the same time.
Current US popularity rank: #247
2016 US popularity rank: #314
Names like Penelope, Chloe, and Zoe are style standouts in recent years. Other Greek names with mythological ties feel right at home today, too – like Phoebe. A charmer with a stylish sound, it’s also the name of a bird. That also puts Phoebe in the company of names like Raven and Wren.
Current US popularity rank: #80
2016 US popularity rank: #79
The 1990s gave us two female Quinns. First came Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. In this case, Quinn sat in the familiar surname place. It’s every bit as Irish as Riley or Kelly or plenty of other surnames that have migrated to the first spot. Then along came MTV’s animated Daria, with the vapid, fashion-obsessed Quinn. Not a promising role model, and yet, the 1990s pushed Quinn from a surname-used-for-boys to unisex. Then came Glee’s Quinn Fabray, and the name accelerated for girls. Today it feels spare, no-nonsense, and yet still distinctive even as it climbs into the Top 100. Credit to the letter Q. One more factor: DC Comics’ Harley, as played by Margot Robbie, lends this name an edge.
Current US popularity rank: #62
2016 US popularity rank: #71
Ruby sparkles, and yet feels far less flashy than Diamond or even Emerald. Maybe it’s because Ruby reminds us of so my favorites for girls, from Lucy to Ruth. Or maybe it’s songs featuring this name, remembered from the radio – Neil Diamond and Kenny Rogers, or, more recently, Rancid’s “Ruby Soho” and the Kaiser Chief’s “Ruby.” An early twentieth century favorite, vintage Ruby has made a comeback, without being absolutely everywhere. Maybe that’s because equally vibrant color name Scarlett has caught on, or maybe it’s just plain chance. Either way, Ruby remains with the sweet spot girl names.
Current US popularity rank: #312
2016 US popularity rank: #290
Thea is short for Theodora, a traditional name with a lovely meaning: gift of God. But Thea also feels like an update to the long popular Leah or Top Ten Mia. And with Theodore among the hottest baby boy names of the moment, it feels quite current, too.
Current US popularity rank: #153
2016 US popularity rank: #160
Valerie reached the US Top 100 way back in the 1950s and stayed there most years through the 1980s. Since then, the name has never left the US Top 200. The Monkees, the Zutons, Amy Winehouse, Steve Winwood, and Material Issue have all used the name in songs. Maybe that’s why it feels pop culture current in so many decades. Or maybe it’s that enduring three-syllable, ends-in-ie construction that puts Valerie on the same lists as Kimberly and Avery. Valerie feels slightly surprising for a daughter born today, and yet it sounds right at home on a playground today.
Current US popularity rank: #228
2016 US popularity rank: #308
Vera comes from the Russian word meaning faith, but it’s easy to mistake it for the Latin verus – truth. Either way, the meaning appeals. The sound, too, takes the best of Emma and Cora and mixes in the V of Evelyn and Ava. It’s a winning formula, and Vera’s vintage style bolsters the name even further. After hibernating outside of the Top 1000 for much of the 1980s, 90s, and early 2000s, Vera has staged a quiet, steady comeback.
Current US popularity rank: #353
2016 US popularity rank: #463
Ella, Stella, Bella. We love an -lla name, so why not Willa? A feminine form of the evergreen William, Willa seems simpler than regal Wilhelmina. Willa claims the literary pedigree of Willa Cather, and a sensible, even homespun style that feels right at home with recent Top 100 favorites like Hannah and Emily. The fact that Willa has yet to become truly, wildly popular makes this a great choice for families after something just so slightly different. It’s a substitute for Emma, a sister for Hazel or Grace.
Current US popularity rank: #213
2016 US popularity rank: #319
Sarah is a classic. Clara, too. Zara looks a little like a creative take on those names. But there’s more than one possible origin for the name. It might come from the Arabic Zahra meaning brilliant, and a character in an eighteenth century Voltaire play. And, of course, Zara is the eldest granddaughter of Queen Elizabeth II. The connection to the royal family has kept it in the spotlight for decades, making it feel familiar and yet not too common – the very definition of a sweet spot name.
Would you consider any of these sweet spot girl names? Are there others you’d add to the list?
Originally published July 28, 2017, this post was revised on September 25, 2020 and updated on July 10, 2021 and again on May 17, 2022.
We are in Canada and I’m from Quebec. I’m so grateful for this response! Many of these points resonate with me and will help when the decision must be made! Thank you!
Having a girl soon and love these names but my partner has vetoed all of them. Haha. What are your thoughts on Clara, Renée and Heidi? These are basically our only mutually liked names.
Are you in the US?
I think Renee is quite dated. Not a bad name, but it peaked in the 1960s. The smash hit song “Walk Away Renee” came out in 1966, and the name hit a true peak in 1967, but it was already popular by then. Maybe in another 20 years, it will feel fresh + unexpected. That doesn’t mean you can’t use it, but my gut reaction is that Renee is a mom name … or maybe even a grandma name?
Heidi ought to be in the same camp – it peaked in the 1970s. And yet somehow I like it an awful lot. (I was just thinking earlier that it’s one of those names that shouldn’t be ready for revival … but seems to be making an ahead-of-schedule comeback.) Maybe it’s because it’s a storybook name like Alice + Eloise. Maybe it’s because we’re wild for other names from this family, like Adeline. (Heidi is originally short for an older form of Adelaide – Adelheidis.) In England, Heidi is a Top 100 staple and has been for a few years.
Clara is the kind of name that’s perfect right now – very current. It’s Top 100 in England + just outside the US Top 100. It’s the easy choice here, in-step with her generation, with a great meaning (light), and a good mix of antique charm and current energy.
But somehow, I’m really drawn to Heidi. It feels like the midway point between Renee and Clara – a little unexpected, but surprisingly stylish.
So many great names on this list! I’ll add my daughter’s name, Miriam. I think it goes with Naomi and Esther on the list and it’s popularity over the years is remarkably consistent! Miriam is familiar but not too common.
Love this list and hope you’ll do a part 2 for 2022. My 7-year-old niece has friends named Josephine and Margaret, (called by their full names, not a nn) and I named my cat Willa. Seems I’m surrounded by lovely “Sweet Spot” names. I would add Thea to a 2022 list, and if Margaret wasn’t already on it, Margot.
I’d add Maggie to this list.
This remains one of my favorite lists of yours, Abby, and I often direct expecting relatives to it when they feel lost for names! I saw your recent tweet about adding to this list, and the names that come to mind are:
Frances or Francesca
Eve (while it technically violates the rule re: huge “name families,” I think that Eve is spare enough to be distinctive even amongst Evelyns, Everlys, and Evangelines.)
Also, I’m not sure if you are seeking inspiration for new lists, but I noticed that some of the names on this list (Quinn, Kate, Tessa, and Lyric come to mind) could fit with an equally intriguing and appealing group: Modern staples. We discuss modern staples on this site fairly often, but we don’t have a definitive list yet! 🙂
All three of my daughters names are on this list…We must really have a thing for sweet spot names. It makes sense. I like girl names that aren’t common, but have a sense of strong history. I know where to check first if we ever have baby girl #4!
Love Daisy, Esther, Molly, Quinn, Mary and Ruby. Oh, and Margaret but mostly because I love all the nickname options. My niece is Margaret, called Maggie. And we strongly considered both Daisy and Ruby for our last daughter.
Great list! It had a lot of my choices. I have a 4 month old daughter. I had Anna on my list to have a junior, but we thought it might get confusing with myself being Jana. I also had Elena and Elizabeth. I was going to call Elizabeth, Elisa. I had the hardest time deciding when I saw her and none felt perfect. Ultimately we called her Alina. She was born at 12:08 during the solar eclipse in August. Hubby found it for meaning light I wanted a Sweet spot sort of name that ended in A. If I wasn’t going to have a family name (the others all were) I liked that it had a -na like my name and it’s also Russian, Ukrainian like mine. It also feels like Anna, Elena and Elisa put together! Her middle name is Sofia, a family name we always loved but it’s way to popular so we used it in the middle. Alina Sofia!!
That’s a gorgeous name, Jana – and how cool that you had a solar eclipse baby!
Thank you!! It was pretty cool! We live in a place that had almost 100% blackout and she came out right when the light came back!
This is a great list! My favorite’s are Anna, Tessa, Josephine, Eliza, and Willa. I’m looking forward to your write up on Anna; we are using it as a nickname for our Vanessa.
Laura Powell says
Good list! lot’s of names I have a “sweet spot” for are on there, I quite like Joan Nn Joanie I think that could be a sweet spot name. Look forward to the boy list.
Love this list and love it even more that my little girls name (20 months now) Tessa is on it. I know we picked it because it wasn’t a name we’ve heard a lot, easy to learn how to say and spell, and the fact that it sounds good both yelling it in a good way and a disciplinary way.
I love this list! Please do one for boys too!
I will, L. – thank you!
Christina Fonseca says
Great list, Abby! Looking forward to seeing your posts on Anna and Tessa.
Ha! My three girls are Adaline, Cate, and Esther! Esther’s mn is Margaret, and I have two nieces: Anna and Molly. We were also thinking of Daisy and Tessa when we were expecting Esther. What a list!
This is a beautiful list. I love so many of these names. What about Naomi? Naomi belongs on this list!
Oh – Naomi *totally* fits!
I’d definitely put my Susannah in this category. Everything I read on this name before she was born had it as a name everyone seemed to like but no-one seemed to use. And the last four years of usage has confirmed that to be the case.
Wow, this definitely varies depending on your location! Caroline is a top 10 name in my state, and Anna and Mary are at #19 and #21 respectively. I hear them all the time as the first half of double names.
I love so many names on this list! Anna is my favorite and I can’t wait for her to be Name of the Day!
This list truly surprised me – it had so many of my favorites, and made me reconsider new names too! There are two little girls in my family named Caroline and Genevieve, and those names are darling. Vera & Kate are in my personal top three, but I also love Alice, Anna, Adelaide, Fiona, and Mary!!!! Mary is such a classic and so rare now too.
Do you think Quinn has gone to the girls or can a boy still wear it well?
I think it still works for a boy.
In general, I think parents are MUCH more likely to shrug off the worries about a name going girl today than they were 20 years ago. We’ve had a generation of girl Jordans and boy Jordans, Tylers and Taylors, Peytons and Charlies, Alexes and Sams. Now names like Rowan, River, and Remy feel likely to stay unisex long-term.
Quinn could easily be a boy, and I doubt there would be much drama about it. It sounds and feels masculine, and over 1,000 boys were named Quinn last year. There were over 3,600 girls named Quinn, so it’s more common for girls – but those are still big numbers for a boys’ name.
British American says
I know of two Quinns in my kids elementary school and they are both boys. One is in Kindergarten and one is in 4th grade. So it very much works as a boy’s name to me. I think my sons would be surprised to hear it on a girl, as they know it as a boy’s name.
I have a daughter Quinn and am considering Blair for our next daughter – thoughts?
I really like those together. Tailored, almost unisex but far more likely to be used for girls, and similar in length and feel but very different in sound. I think they’re perfection together!
My favorite on this list is Mary. I have such a soft spot for that name. There’s a sweet little preschool neighbor of mine who’s called Mary. I’m sure she won’t meet many others her age!