By Linda Rosenkrantz
There are many girls’ names that mean light. There’s the whole Lu-name contingent: Lux and Luz, Lucy and Lucia, Lucille and Lucinda, for starters. And the bright and clear Clara, Claire, Clarissa contingent. And all the Helen, Helena, Ellen, Leonora et al names that mean ‘bright, shining one.’
But there’s a subset of light-related names that shines even brighter, those with words like radiant, sparkle and brilliance in their definitions, and it’s these that names for girls that we’re looking at today.
Here are 9 brilliant names that will add an electric glow to your baby girl.
Amaryllis—Familiar as a flower name, Amaryllis is derived from the Greek work meaning ‘to sparkle’. The flower is named after the heroine of Virgil’s epic poem Ecologues. It was the name of characters in Shaw’s play Back to Methuselah and the musical The Music Man. There was also an Amaryllis in the Virginia Woolf–Vanessa Bell family. If you’re looking for a showy, exotic floral name, you might want to consider Amaryllis—it’s reached #432 on the Nameberry list..
Bertha —Despite its meaning of ‘bright, glorious’, Bertha is one vintage name that has stubbornly refused restoration, sounding decidedly graceless to the modern ear. It was not always so. Bertha was a Top 10 name in the 1880s, remained in the Top 100 into the 1930s, and then stayed on the list till 1985. In Anne of Green Gables, Bertha was the name of the mother of Anne Shirley, who considered it a ‘lovely name’. There are Berthas in Jane Eyre and The House of Mirth and Harry Potter, there was a beautiful Teutonic goddess named Bertha, an influential St. Bertha, and the first woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize was named Bertha. Is there still no hope for her?
Electra—A Greek name meaning ‘shining bright’ that has suffered from calamitous portrayals in the tragedies of Sophocles, Euripides and Eugene O’Neill, Electra would still make a brilliant, electric choice for a modern girl. Also appealing is the Italian version, Elletra, chosen by Isabella Rossellini for her daughter. Electra is #813 on NAmeberry.
Niamh—An ancient Irish name previously considered a difficult choice because of its pronunciation (it’s roughly neev), Niamh means ‘bright’ in Irish Gaelic. In myth, she was Niamh of the Golden Hair, the daughter of the sea god who fell in love with the poet Oisin. More recently Niamh is the heroine of Christina Baker Kline’s bestselling novel Orphan Train. Popular across the English and Irish-speaking world, Niamh is #109 In England and Wales, 47 in Ireland, 18 in Northern Ireland, 59 in Scotland—and 348 on the Berry list.
The Welsh version is Nia.
Phaedra—Another Greek mythological name meaning bright, the haunting Phaedra (pron. FAY-dra), like Electra, has had a strong and persistent presence in literature across the ages, from Euripedes to O’Neill to a 2011 film, Immortals, not to mention one of the Real Housewives of Atlanta. It would make a distinctive and dramatic choice.
Phoebe—A more familiar Greek mythological name meaning ‘bright, pure’, Phoebe was a Titan associated with the moon, then was also a New Testament, Shakespearean, Hawthorne and Salinger name—she was Holden’s precocious younger sister, and more recently was given a big boost of popularity via the ditzy but lovable Friends character. Bill and Melinda Gates, John Lithgow and Julianne Nicholson are all parents of Phoebes.
Sana/a. This lovely multicultural name has ‘brilliant’ among its several meanings in several languages and cultures and means ’shining light’ in Arabic. American actress Sanaa Lathan is a prominent bearer. A soft and pretty choice
Zahara is the female form of the Hebrew Zohar, which means ‘brilliance, to shine brightly’–it is also a Swahili name meaning ‘flower’. It came under the spotlight when Angelina Jolie bestowed it on her Ethiopian-born daughter, who had the birth name of Yemsrach. The sweet but strong name is now #527 on Nameberry and is a recommended choice,
Ziva. As lively as Viva but far less known, this is a Hebrew name meaning, ‘radiance, brightness, brilliance’ and became familiar via the strong, intelligent Ziva David character on the long-running NCIS. It’s also spelled Zivah and is particularly popular in the Netherlands.