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Imaginative Names for Girls: Aurora, Angelou, and Elle

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By Abby Sandel, Appellation Mountain

When it comes to naming a daughter, imagination reigns.  From Hollywood birth announcements to literary powerhouses, blog babies to the most random of name spottings, a great name can come from anywhere.

This week’s potential seismic name influence?  Disney’s big screen retelling of Sleeping Beauty.  This time, we’re getting the villain’s side of the story in Maleficent.  Angelina Jolie might make the two-horned headdress look elegant, but I doubt she can sell her character’s name to future parents.  Maleficent is too downright evil!  But plenty of other choices associated with the big summer film could get a boost.

On a sad note, this was also the week the world said farewell to the towering Maya Angelou.  If Francis has gained currency as a hero name, could the widely admired writer’s names – first and last – be next?

Together, they point towards some of the most interesting sources for naming daughters in our age: myth, fable, and literature, much of it ancient and well-worn, but some of it modern, even newly invented.

Between the fairy tale and the legendary writer, the news was all about girls’ names that are imaginative, feminine, and powerful.

The nine most newsworthy baby names for girls are:

LucyParty of Five alum Scott Wolf and wife Kelley are now parents of three.  Daughter Lucy Marie joins Jackson Kayse and Miller William.  Call it proof that parents can have very different taste in names for girls and boys.  The vintage Lucy goes well with the surnamey Jackson and Miller, but I might have guessed their sister would be Hadley or Sloane.  Lucy made my predictions list for the Top Twenty baby names of 2033 – she’s definitely one to watch.  My favorite literary Lucy?  While I like Peanuts’ Lucy van Pelt, I’d give the title to E.M. Forster’s Lucy Honeychurch, in A Room with a View.

Petra – Maybe this feminine form of Peter hasn’t made headlines, but she caught my eye.  I’m visiting family in St. Alban’s, outside of London, this week – and Petra is the barista at the local Costa coffee shop.  Just 133 American girls were given the name in 2013, making her quite rare.  But if you’re after a feminine-yet-strong name for a girl, I can think of few better.  It’s also an ancient city in Jordan, an archeological site unknown until the early nineteenth century.

Maya – Was there ever a more international, versatile name?  The poet was born Marguerite, named after her grandmother.  But her brother called her Maya, and it stuck.  Maya is the eldest of the seven sisters in the Pleiades, related to the Hebrew word for water and the Sanskrit word for illusion – she’s rather magical.  Maya has ranked in the US Top 100 since 2002, and has fallen slightly in recent years.  The passing of Maya Angelou could reverse that trend.

AngelouJust like we prefer Lennon and Jagger to John and Mick, could parents settle on Maya’s surname?  It came from her first marriage, to Greek-born aspiring musician Tosh Angelos.  Like all of the Angel- names, it means messenger – as in the winged angels of Christianity.  It’s a fitting meaning for such a powerful voice.  Angela feels dated, but the -lou ending on Angelou makes her an interesting idea – and an unmistakable homage to the author.

Aurora – From an angelic messenger to an ancient goddess.  Once the name given to the Roman goddess of the dawn, today Aurora is better known as the Disney-approved appellation of the princess in Sleeping Beauty.  Aurora has climbed steadily in recent years, up to #145 in 2013.  With the movie hitting theaters now, it’s possible that plenty of parents naming a girl in 2014 could fall for the name.

Elle – Teenage actress Elle Fanning (shown) was once known mainly as little sister to fellow screen star Dakota, but she’s earned more and more roles on her own talents.  Now it is Elle – born Mary Elle – who holds her own against Angelina Jolie as the grown up Princess Aurora, and proves more heroic than the original, animated version of the girl.  As names go, isn’t Elle stunning?  Less expected than Ella, as spare as Grace or Claire, with an undeniable French appeal.

VivienneMaleficent also marks the big screen debut of the youngest Jolie-Pitt, Vivienne Marcheline.  She played the young Aurora – reportedly because Vivienne, unlike other child actors, wasn’t spooked by Angelina in her witchy wear.  Miss Jolie-Pitt has been a trendsetter since her 2008 arrival.  Her name went from unranked in 2008 to #280 in 2013, and has since been used by ever-so-stylish maternity concierge Rosie Pope for her daughter in 2012.  The French -ienne version of the name could soon eclipse the more common Vivian.

Havana – One more from the movies, this time from an upcoming Julianne Moore role.  Moore recently took home a Best Actress award at Cannes for her turn as an aging actress in Maps to the Stars.  Her character’s name?  Havana, borrowed from the map just like sound-alike choice Savannah.  It seems like an obvious possibility, one that has quietly seen more use in recent years.  Clearly one of the writers is a name nerd – there’s also a young Agatha and an aged Clarice in the flick.

Priya – And now for something completely different! Blogger Georgia and husband Errol are the parents of three: boys Theo and Florin, and daughter Priya.  Priya is my choice for new import set to make a splash.  How can you argue with a name that means beloved?  And her sound is both distinctively different and perfectly easy to read and pronounce.  It’s a winning combination, and sometimes hard to find in non-Western names.

What are your favorite names for girls?  Do any of them come from myth, literature, or stories, ancient or otherwise?

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