It’s pretty obvious that some popular names start a daisy chain of cousins that become equally popular, as was seen most recently in the progression of a group of top girls’ names beginning with E. First there was Emily, which was the Number 1 name from 1996 to 2007. One year after that, Emma reached the top spot, only to be trailed by Ella, who has now been in the Top 20 since 2008.
Yet as recently as the 1980s, Ella wasn’t even in the Top 1000, seen as a rather frumpy has-been, stuck in appellation limbo. Which leads us to wonder who will be next? Which two-syllable E-name will escape from the lower depths to follow in this progression?
The leading contenders:
ETTA has taken the first step, having recently been picked by a celeb, Carson Daly, said to have been inspired by the late great soul singer Etta James, just as previous parents were similarly influenced by Ella Fitzgerald. Etta was born as a shortening of names with that ending, such as Henrietta—in fact Etta James’s birth certificate name was Jamesetta. Etta was a Top 100 name in the last decades of the 1800’s, then slid down until it fell off the list completely in 1966. But with its delicate sound that also has a bit of crackle, and its new starbaby status, we can see this as a likely successor.
ELSA is similar in structure but with quite a different feel. A German offshoot of Elisabeth, Elsa came into English-speaking use in the nineteenth century, boosted by Wagner’s operatic bride in Lohengrin—the first to walk down the aisle to the famous wedding march. For a while Elsa projected a leonine image via the lioness in the popular book and movie Born Free, but she has also had lots of varied and interesting human namesakes—designer Schiaparelli, writer Morante, Bride of Frankenstein Lanchester (borh Elizabeth), and several current stunning European models.
ENID lacks the feminine ending of Emma, Ella, Etta and Elsa, but it’s still another forgotten four-letter E-possibility: Enid has been M.I.A since 1954. You might not know it to look at her, but Enid is Welsh, from the word meaning ‘life’ or ‘soul.’ Back in the Age of Chivalry, to call a woman ‘a second Enid’ was the greatest of compliments, as she was a legendary romantic figure, revived in Tennyson’s Idylls of the Kings. In more modern times: not so much, unless you want to count the title of a Bare Naked Ladies song or a quirky character in the quirky film Ghost World.
EDNA is probably the longest shot of the group, if only by virtue of its sound, so that today’s parents looking for a female relative of Edward would more likely choose Edwina. Edna, a Top 25 name for decades, has the assets of biblical ties, Irish roots and some highly regarded literary namesakes—Edna St. Vincent Millay, Edna Ferber and Edna O’Brien—but its more recent references have been a lot more clunkier—I’m thinking Dame Edna and Mama Edna Turnblad in Hairspray.
There are a few other outliers as well, though not as directly connected: the soulful Alma, the star-sanctioned (via Lily Allen) Ethel, the Gallic Esmé and—I probably shouldn’t even mention it– the beyond unlikely Erma. But then there’s also the possibility that Ella will lead instead to one of the other types of El- names: Elle, Eloise, Elodie, Eleanor, Elsie and Eliza are all on the upswing