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 I’d call them Goldilocks: neither the too-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 names like Ana and Elyse 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.
- The names claim some history – even if they’re not traditional girls’ names, they’re not recent inventions.
For numbers purposes, I avoided names that rose dramatically in recent years. (Even though that knocked out a few worthy candidates.) I also skipped names that fell in use sharply – though some names on this list have declined slightly in use in recent years.
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 my list of 28 sweet spot girl names.
Current US popularity rank: #305
2018 US popularity rank: #298
2017 US popularity rank: #276
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: #73
2018 US popularity rank: #71
2017 US popularity rank: #70
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: #63
2018 US popularity rank: #54
2017 US popularity rank: #53
2016 US popularity rank: #51
Classic and enduring Anna almost cracks the US Top 50. She’s sister to Queen Elsa in Disney blockbuster Frozen. Quvenzhané Wallis starred in an update of Annie at Christmas 2014, followed by the new Netflix Anne with an E series, based on the Anne of Green Gables stories. This name is everywhere – and yet it doesn’t feel overexposed. Anna makes an alternative to Top Ten picks like Emma or Ava, a two-syllable, ends with -a girls’ name that hits the sweet spot.
Current US popularity rank: #61
2018 US popularity rank: #55
2017 US popularity rank: #55
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: #153
2018 US popularity rank: #155
2017 US popularity rank: #168
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 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: #164
2018 US popularity rank: #169
2017 US popularity rank: #170
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 new Star Wars trilogy.
Current US popularity rank: #145
2018 US popularity rank: #146
2017 US popularity rank: #139
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 catches 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: #207
2018 US popularity rank: #176
2017 US popularity rank: #177
2016 US popularity rank: #166
From Beethoven to The Cure, Elise has featured in many a musical composition. Originally a short form of Elizabeth, Elise has slowly inched into wider use since the 1980s. Today it feels sophisticated and spare, the kind of name that has always been around – but never been so dramatically popular that it’s tied to a decade.
Current US popularity rank: #119
2018 US popularity rank: #131
2017 US popularity rank: #140
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: #167
2018 US popularity rank: #153
2017 US popularity rank: #165
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: #265
2018 US popularity rank: #222
2017 US popularity rank: #181
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: #168
2018 US popularity rank: #172
2017 US popularity rank: #184
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
2018 US popularity rank: #104
2017 US popularity rank: #113
2016 US popularity rank: #108
Quick: give me a literary surname name that begins with H, and was boosted by a recent bestseller. Nope, I’m not thinking of 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: #478
2018 US popularity rank: #458
2017 US popularity rank: #516
2016 US popularity rank: #518
If Helena comes with a flaw, it’s pronunciation. I’ve counted three distinct possibilities: hel AYN ah, hel en UH, and heh LEEN uh. I favor the first, but that’s just preference. Plenty of subtle distinctions exist, too. And yet, Helena belongs with sweet spot girl names. It feels as sophisticated as Sophia and as strong as Victoria. Instead, it’s Elena that’s on the rise. It misses out on sweet spot status because of the many alternate spellings in use. Helena remains nicely uncommon, but known to all.
Current US popularity rank: #277
2018 US popularity rank: #291
2017 US popularity rank: #282
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 nickname, 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: #89
2018 US popularity rank: #91
2017 US popularity rank: #107
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: #324
2018 US popularity rank: #285
2017 US popularity rank: #275
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: #267
2018 US popularity rank: #301
2017 US popularity rank: #304
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.
Current US popularity rank: #367
2018 US popularity rank: #323
2017 US popularity rank: #307
2016 US popularity rank: #281
Musical baby names continue to fare well, with Aria at the top of the list. Lyric will surprise the grandparents, but the name has ranked in the US Top 1000 since 1995, the year after a young Jada Pinkett Smith wore the name in the movie Jason’s Lyric. Nothing sounds quite like this word-name, one of the reasons it belongs with sweet spot girl names. Another reason? Lyric has ranked in the Top 500 for nearly a decade, slowly becoming familiar, without ever feeling as trendy as Cadence or Aria.
Current US popularity rank: #127
2018 US popularity rank: #127
2017 US popularity rank: #132
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 – including fellow sweet spot name Daisy – Margaret makes for a shape-shifting name.
Current US popularity rank: #126
2018 US popularity rank: #126
2017 US popularity rank: #126
2016 US popularity rank: #127
Stay with me here. 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: #161
2018 US popularity rank: #158
2017 US popularity rank: #166
2016 US popularity rank: #157
Ask most people if Molly is a nickname for Mary, and you’ll be met with a blank stare. We see them as distinct names today, but in fact, Molly – and Polly – started out as diminutives for that oh-so-common name. Count Molly with Daisy – a name sometimes dismissed as too cute, but quite able to stand the test of time. One reason for this name’s capable image? The Unsinkable Molly Brown – born Margaret – a Titanic survivor who captained a lifeboat to rescue others. Or so the story the goes – it’s become a Broadway musical, blurring the line between truth and good storytelling. Speaking of stories, legend tells of fearless Molly Pitcher, who helped her husband load the canons during the American Revolution. And an entire generation grew up with Molly Ringwald. The name has fallen slightly in recent years, but retains all of that history.
Current US popularity rank: #83
2018 US popularity rank: #84
2017 US popularity rank: #76
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: #66
2018 US popularity rank: #74
2017 US popularity rank: #79
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: #260
2018 US popularity rank: #245
2017 US popularity rank: #246
2016 US popularity rank: #229
Not long ago, Theresa reigned as a traditional, steadily used name for girls in the US. But lately it’s become rare, while Tessa – originally a diminutive – has caught on. In an Emma-Stella world, Tessa feels complete. And while it debuted in the US Top 1000 in the mid-1960s, it feels vintage. After all, Tessa and Tess aren’t new as nicknames. That makes this name traditional and innovative, the kind of name you might have heard in the nineteenth century, but wouldn’t find on a birth certificate until more recent years. That contrast helps put Tessa with the sweet spot girl names.
Current US popularity rank: #149
2018 US popularity rank: #156
2017 US popularity rank: #167
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: #252
2018 US popularity rank: #257
2017 US popularity rank: #278
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: #354
2018 US popularity rank: #384
2017 US popularity rank: #454
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.
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.