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 rapid 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 Kwynn or even a Jenavieve, but they’re the exception. And even alternate spellings like Hadlee and Jayne lag well behind their more familiar counterparts.
They’re not part of a name cluster.
While they may share characteristics with other names, they’re not part of a name cluster, like the many Layla/Lyla/Lily names so in favor right now.
The names have some history.
Maybe they’re not traditional girls’ names, but they’re also not truly recent inventions.
Fewer unisex names qualify.
Nothing against unisex names – in many ways, they mark the future of naming. But it’s tough to gauge the popularity of a name like Remy or River, precisely because they’re used for our daughters and our sons. And hitting the sweet spot means that popularity is a paramount consideration.
They’re not soaring or plummeting.
For numbers purposes, names on this list have not risen dramatically in recent years. Likewise, names that fell in use sharply were (mostly) excluded – even though they can still be great choices for a daughter.
SWEET SPOT GIRL NAMES
A brief, complete name with plenty of vintage strength, Ada is less common that glamour girl Ava or vintage favorite Eleanor, but it sounds like a sister for them both.
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, an alternative to Elizabeth
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.
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.
Trim, tailored Brynn makes for a surprisingly timeless pick. Originally launched by an actress in the late 1970s, Brynn fit right in with Brooke, Beth, and Lynn. All these years later, it’s equally at home with Sloane, Reese, and Quinn. Originally from a Welsh name meaning “hill,” Brynn is masculine in the original, but nearly always feminine in the US.
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.
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 the vintage strength of Eleanor or Elizabeth, too.
Gently French, Colette developed as a nickname for Nicole. Really! Nicole becomes Nicolette, and voilà, Colette. Worn by a saint and a famous writer, Colette has history to spare. With names like Scarlett and Juliette in favor, another -ette ending names make an easy choice for sweet spot girl names.
Some dismiss Daisy as a too-cute nickname name, but 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 Daisy? 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.
There’s the Kansas farm girl who slipped over the rainbow, and the strong-willed member of the Golden Girls. But that’s all in the past. Today, Dorothy sounds stylish, just old-fashioned enough to share the playground with Hazel and Evelyn. But it also fits with twenty-first century favorites, like Avery and Delaney. Multiple nicknames make Dorothy even more versatile, but there’s no need to shorten this storied name.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It sounds like Emma-with-a-G, but Gemma comes from the Italian word for gem. While it doesn’t sound as traditional as Francesca or Vittoria, it’s been in use for ages. Medieval author Dante Aligheri’s wife was named Gemma, which dates this name to at least the 1200s. The Dictionary of Medieval Names from European Sources traces it back earlier still. But because it’s been seldom heard in English until recently, Gemma feels like a fresh, interesting choice – the very definition of a sweet spot name.
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.
Quick: think of a literary surname name that begins with H, and was boosted by a 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 the Hailey-Harlow generation, an H surname name for a girl with a link to an intriguing part of literary history.
Celebrities put Haven on parents’ radar. 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, a sister for Willow or Jade.
Jane feels like an every-girl name, but it’s not. You’re more likely to meet a Stevie or a Jordyn. Spare and frills-free Jane combines the sensibility of modern unisex names like Kai with the classic status of Anne. 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.
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, and is 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.
A mini- name like Jane, but with all the sweet promise of early summer. Unlike, say January or November, June has a long history of use as a given name. After all the month, is named for the goddess Juno. Like several choices on this list, June straddles the vintage-modern divide.
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. And while the name’s fall in use almost disqualifies it from this list, at the same time, Kate is the very definition of a sweet spot name.
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. That almost pushes it off this list, but the pronunciation question seems easily resolved based on where you live, not a question of choice and confusion.
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.
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.
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. Recent gains in popularity might push Naomi off the list … but for now, the fact remains that few names sound anything like Naomi, keeping the name distinctive even as it grows more popular.
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.
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 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.
A European take on the Latin Rosalia, Rosalie is a sparky, spirited Rose name. A 1938 musical led to a sharp spike in use; by the 1980s, it teetered on the edge of obscurity. But in the last dozen years, Rosalie is back in a big way, a vintage charmer with ties to the garden.
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.
As lovely and flowing as Sophia or Olivia, as meaningful as Melody or Grace, Serena is a name with a long history of use that’s surprisingly uncommon by 2023 standards. Powerhouse athlete Serena Williams makes this name a little aspirational.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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; May 17, 2022; and July 5, 2023.