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Alternative Top Ten Names for Baby Girls

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by Lindsay Law (subscribe)
I'm a working mum writing about life in Edinburgh (and anywhere else we go) with two curious, adventurous, and imaginative children. Visit my blog at Follow me on Twitter: @LinzerLaw
Published December 10th 2012
Create your own trend
You're having a baby. You've trawled the Top 100 List of Names, which has just been released this week. You like the names, but you don't want your child to be in a class with 5 other Sophies, Emmas and Olivias. So, why not use some of the most popular baby girl names as inspiration, but give them an exotic or unusual twist?

In this article is a selection of the top twenty most given female names in the UK for 2012, followed by my suggestions for an alternative top ten baby names for girls, derived from the most popular list but very different.

1. Sophia this name means wisdom in its Greek roots. Look around for other names with a similar meaning but with a less popular origin in the name list. You could choose Athena. A goddess of wisdom, she might make your daughter stand out in the playground.

2. Emma a classic Jane Austen heroine, and a name which has retained an appeal through the decades. Originally from the German group of names that began with Ermen, meaning whole or universal. Try another classic Jane Austen heroine. It starts with the same letter, but has been less popular as a given name lately: Elinor

A portrayal of Ophelia by John William Waterhouse. Source: Wikimedia Commons

3. Olivia the etymology of this one is unclear. Is it Latin, from Olive; German, meaning "elf army, or did Shakespeare coin it based on Oliver? Pick another Shakespeare character instead. There are so many to choose from, but I've always been fond of Ophelia. It has similar sounds to its more popular sister Olivia, but it's far more distinctive.

4. Isabella Originally, a Hebrew name, meaning God's Promise. It found fame through a Queen of Spain, and more recently as the central character in Twilight. The Spanish version of a similar name, and an equally famous set of Queens: Elizabeth. I'd dispense with both and go really old-school with the anglicised name of an ancient Queen in Roman Syria: Zenobia.

Queen Zenobia
An imagined portrait of Queen Zenobia - far more awe-inspiring than Bella from Twilight. Source: Wikimedia Commons

5. Ava This is another name whose derivation is unclear. Potentially it could be Persian, or German, or related to the Biblical name Eve, or the Irish Gaelic name Aoife. The name rose to prominence with the film star Ava Gardiner. Pick a different film star (not Sophia though!) from the classic era of cinema. There are loads to choose from, but I'd suggest Brigitte.

6. Lily You could go for a different flower like Rose, or Violet, but that would be too obvious. Instead, expand upon the name as given and go backwards a few thousand years to find Adam's first wife in Hebrew legend: Lilith. She was also a near-Eastern deity called Lilitu, a hand-maiden of Inanna, who came to be demonised in Hebrew tradition as the slayer of first-borns.

An image of Lilith in the Garden of Eden with the serpent. Source: Wikimedia Commons

7. Zoe Here's another Greek name with a simple meaning: life. I'm going to stick with the meaning, but take a Latin turn and choose Vivienne. As a bonus, under a different spelling, this could also be used for number 5, a former Hollywood starlet.

8. Chloe Reverse the sounds and pick Cleo instead of Chloe. I wouldn't necessarily take the next obvious step and call her Cleopatra though. Anyone who watches Horrible Histories will know that Cleopatra is not the finest example a young girl could hope for. Unless you're hoping for incest, infamy, and eventual suicide, of course. In which case, go ahead.

9. Mia I'm quite fond of this name, a term of endearment meaning darling, dear, or endearing. So, on this one I'm going to suggest that you look into some of the Slavic sub-forms of the name. I love the Slavic languages where, unlike English, the pet forms of names are often longer than the original names themselves. A similar name, with a similar meaning, is Milenka, which means lovely.

10. Madison This is an interesting exception to the other popular girls' names, because it comes from a surname and ends with a consonant. Names from surnames are more usually associated with boys' names rather than girls', as are names ending in consonants. My first thought when I saw this one was "like the street!" and when I looked into the history it does seem to have risen in popularity after the mermaid in Splash! picks it from the sign for Madison Avenue. I toyed with famous street names (Oxford, Regent?), but they didn't work. So, why not just go for Daryl, after the actress who played the mermaid.

So, there you go, my alternative Top Ten names for girls, if you don't want to go along with the crowd:

1. Athena
2. Elinor
3. Ophelia
4. Zenobia
5. Birgitte
6. Lilith
7. Vivienne
8. Cleo
9. Milenka
10. Daryl
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Your Comment
Very interesting article! I don't know about Zenobia though ;)
by Midlands & More (score: 2|560) 3481 days ago
alternative boys names next?
by Oxford Explorer (score: 2|655) 3483 days ago
you've picked some nice ones here, although Cleo to me is always a Golden Retriever(!). I'm always a bit appalled by the way parents seem to name their kids by what is most popular, and often oblivious to the spelling, as in Chevaun. Worse still all those who follow the American trend to equip their unsuspecting offspring with 'powerful sounding surnames', as first names. I guess the same people are painting their houses murk because everyone dose does.
Silly really when there are a plethora of really good and strong (if you like) names in other cultures, well, other than anglo. I'm a Perry (Pericles or Peregrine) and have never met another one. I have sons Emile and Zoltan. Give them a real name and allow them to make their own destinies, without being saddled with whitney, madison or whatever the current aspirational dream is for boys.
by perry (score: 1|10) 3473 days ago
My name is Anthea, fairly original.. but I found a gorgeous name for my daughter on a Welsh names site - Llewella - also can be spelt Louella and her middle name is Maeve, witch is a nice alternative to Mai, Mae, May. Still we could not decide until we had got to know her, her name was Jellybean for around a week ;) the nurses and midwife thought this was actually what I was naming her!!
by panth (score: 0|6) 3472 days ago
Great article!
by EricaL (score: 3|1684) 3482 days ago
What an interesting article. I really like Kaitlyn and Isabella.
by Ms. Samantha (score: 2|362) 3475 days ago
I'm a bit traditional I'm afraid. I like Ophelia, and Elinor, because they are very traditional. Not at all sure about Zenobia. Sounds too like Xenophobia. Fear of strangers. Interesting though! :)
by Sally Writes (score: 2|539) 3472 days ago
All great ideas. Though if you're worried about the example Cleopatra sets maybe Ophelia isn't such a great one either!
by Jennifer Muirhead (score: 3|1373) 3479 days ago
Zenobia? Wasn't that the kingdom Princess Amelia became heir regent to in 'The Princes Diaries"???

Sorry, I am reliably informed that it was Zenovia. A name like that is probably better shortened to Zen, but really?

I like different names from different cultures; but I agree with the writer who had to spell their name most of their life, ditto, but I don't really care. When it comes down to it. It's your name; the one that identifies you only and people should try and get it right respectfully. The other thing is , if you give an unusual name, perhaps give a more 'normal' middle name; one of my daughters has consistently gone by the familiar form of her middle name, at every given opportunity. That's who she (and we mostly too) feels she is.
I remember my mother-in-law preferred not to allow a name akin to 'Juliet' for my second daughter, as the character had had an untimely demise, like Juliet. Leyonsari pron. Layonsari.
There are some beautiful names of Islamic origin too - Layla/Leila.
Imagine if you dared to call your daughter Fatima today, though?? And she got called 'Fat' for short. Dead, you'd be when they hit school age.
And what's with 'Apple'???? 'Moonunit'????????????????????????Please. Parents die and then the kids have to live on after their whims, be kind and considerate.
by curiouser&curiouser (score: 2|526) 3469 days ago
I'm a teacher and always feel sorry for the children with the 'weird' names! How would you like to be called Shy-Ann? Or Tyrannee - or Destinee or Dacoda??????
by pauld (score: 0|6) 3466 days ago
I don't understand parents' wishes to give their children unusual names or spelling. I had an unusual name which I still hate to this day and I'm 46! My whole life I've had to spell it out and pronounce it to people so I ended up shortening it to a more "normal" name I rarely have to explain or spell out! Think about your kids when you choose their names. It can really affect their childhood if they have to correct people constantly. I gave my two daughters common names, but I still have to spell them out because other parents feel the need to change the spelling so their little darlings stand out. Kids don't WANT to stand out from their friends - they want to fit in and be "normal".
Having said that though, I do like Milenka. It's very pretty. Don't know about Ophelia, Zenobia and Lilith. You would be subjecting your daughter to a lifetime of misery if you gave them those names and expected them to like them.
Mandy(my preferred moniker)
by steve (score: 2|134) 3476 days ago
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