Anything Goes for Girls: Apple, Willow, Mia, and Cai

By Abby Sandel, Appellation Mountain

I’m imagining next Christmas morning at Buckingham Palace.

Sure, it is a palace. Even the simplest room is probably chock full of history and priceless antiques.

The children opening presents might be members of the royal House of Windsor, but they will share their rather ordinary names with children throughout the English-speaking world.  The current generation includes the princely George Alexander Louis, but also three girls – Peter Phillips’ daughters Savannah and Isla, and now Zara Phillips Tindall’s new arrival.

Any of the extended Windsor family names could be overheard on local playgrounds almost anywhere.

Some called the Tindalls’ choice disappointing, hoping for a Eugenie or a Zara.  But it also speaks to the incredible freedom we enjoy when naming children in 2014.

Anything goes, especially when it comes to naming girls – there’s less pressure to honor family, and more acceptance if we borrow a name from a television show or a song, even the phone book or the dictionary.

Many of us still look for names that have obvious spellings and pronunciations, but there’s a bright spot to living in a world where that’s not mandatory.  We can accommodate different cultures and traditions, creating a world that is broadly accepting, even welcoming, in many ways.

A recent Toast essay by Tasbeeh Herwees is electrifying.  She’s the daughter of Libyan immigrants, her name chosen to stand out, not to fit in.  For much of her life, she resists the urge to blend even when teachers suggest calling her Tess.  “My name is a valuable undertaking,” she writes, though only after many years of frustration.

The queen’s granddaughter can chose an almost anonymous name for her daughter.  The most ordinary families can choose dramatically different names for their children.  Families with ties to other countries can honor them – or not.

Anything goes for girls, and this week’s baby names in the news prove that:

Willow Phoenix –  It’s a girl for actor AJ Buckley and wife Abigail Ochse!  Nature name Willow was unheard of twenty years ago, but today she’s well established as a go-to name for girls.  Phoenix, rich with mythology and meaning, is quite the daring middle, a name more popular for boys but increasingly seen as unisex.  It’s also a place name, making it even more appealing to modern parents.

Memphis Rose – Speaking of place names, what do you think of Memphis?  It brings to mind Elvis and Graceland, but also the ancient Egyptian city, long in ruins.  Memphis Rose is the name chosen by Australian footballer Clancee Pearce and his partner, Jessica Samarelli.  What a difference a middle name makes – Phoenix takes Willow in a more adventurous direction, while Rose tones down Memphis.

Moana – While we’re on M names, have you heard about the newest Disney princess?  We won’t see the movie until 2018, but word is that Moana will be a Polynesian princess and a talented sailor who saves her family.  No mention of a handsome prince … While Disney princess names don’t all become instant favorites, Moana might succeed.  She appears to be a historically accurate choice. Disney has delved into Polynesian themes before, so it will be interesting to see this one on the big screen – and to learn if Disney says it mo AHN ah or MWAHN ah.

Apple – It’s another movie name, worn by Disney High School Musical alum Vanessa Hudgens.  But Gimme Shelter is no fairy tale.  It’s the gritty story of a pregnant teenager named Agnes, but called Apple.  Another indie flick with a similar premise launched the name Juno.  I keep wondering if Apple will ever go mainstream. Two dozen girls were given the name in 2012, along with many more called Clementine and Olive, so never say never.

Ellison – I love the possibilities that come up on Swistle’s “to discuss” and “to consider” posts.  This week’s was Ellison.  Take the well-established Allison, add our passion for Ell– names, factor in the popularity of surname names for both genders, and can Ellison be anything other than a future hit?  The comments mention similar options, like Ellis and Ellery, but Ellison seems like the one to watch.  In the last set of Social Security data, she hovered just outside the Top 1000.

Cai MyAnna Shanola Hampton must be having a great year.  She’s part of the cast of Showtime’s much-lauded original series Shameless, and now she and husband Daren Dukes have welcomed their first child.  They chose Cai, a valid spelling variant of the oh-so-popular Kai, for their daughter.  While Kai is mostly masculine, it has some history of use for girls.  As for the C spelling, is Cai the new Cate?

Petra – Forget television dramas.  Next month, my television is going to be set to the Sochi Olympics, and I’ll be name-spotting.  Ayumi, Carmen, Ekaterina, Lene – and that’s just from women’s curling.  My favorite find from Tara Ryazansky’s Olympic name round-up?  Definitely Petra.  A strong, under-used appellation.  Here’s hoping the speed skater wins gold, and pops up on Wheaties boxes and birth announcements in the next few years.

Amalya Dancing with the Stars regular Anna Trebunskaya is a new mom.  The Russian-born dancer had said she planned to choose a name that worked in both English and her native tongue.  A Slavic spin on Amelia, Amalya manages to honor Trebunskaya’s roots while still being accessible in English.

Mia Grace – Let’s end with the daughter of Mike and Zara Tindall, sixteenth in the line of succession to the English throne.  While odds are against her ever wearing a crown, I keep thinking of the character Anne Hathaway immortalized in The Princess DiariesAmelia of Genovia, Princess Mia.  Despite being just three letters, and wildly popular throughout the English-speaking world, Mia is great name that wears well from childhood into adulthood.  It might not be the most interesting choice we’ve ever heard from a member of the royal family, but it is easy to like the upbeat, straightforward Mia.

Do you feel like girls’ names are easier or harder than boys’ names?  Were you surprised by Mia Grace?  And do you think Moana will catch on in a few years?

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16 Responses to “Anything Goes for Girls: Apple, Willow, Mia, and Cai”

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WaltzingMoreThanMatilda Says:

January 27th, 2014 at 2:12 am

I never thought of Princess Mia! I wonder if the Tindalls did?

Abby Says:

January 27th, 2014 at 9:32 am

@WaltzingMoreThanMatilda – I wonder … was Princess Diaries big elsewhere, or was it just an American thing? And if you are actually descended from a reigning queen, do you watch movies about princesses?

tararyaz Says:

January 27th, 2014 at 9:38 am

Great Olympic pick! I’ve always loved Petra as well!

jem Says:

January 27th, 2014 at 9:51 am

My auntie’s name is Petra! I’ve always thought it was really cool!

ClaraOswinOswald Says:

January 27th, 2014 at 11:44 am

I really like Memphis for a boy, I have a soft spot for Egyptian place names!

CsprsSassyHrly Says:

January 27th, 2014 at 11:45 am

I’m glad to see Petra getting some love. My grandma and her namesake, my cousin, are Petra, but neither of them love or even like their name. My grandma goes by the Spanish Petrita and my cousin goes by the cutsie nickname Pety. My grandma absolutely despises her name.

Abby Says:

January 27th, 2014 at 12:17 pm

Wow – great to see all of the cheers for Petra! Stella, Emma, Petra … why not?

miloowen Says:

January 27th, 2014 at 12:21 pm

Mazel tov to AJ, who, along with his mother and father, helped save my son’s life back when they were running Tir na Nog, a therapeutic home for traumatised children.

I’ve always loved the name Willow, after hearing it and Rowan used in the terrifyingly-creepy British movie The Wicker Man (not the daft remake by Nicolas Cage).

Aside from Petra, the others are just meh to me, particularly the name of Zara’s daughter. Her name was so unusual at the time, so perhaps Mia is a response to that.

charlieandperry1 Says:

January 27th, 2014 at 1:00 pm

The Royal Family actually spend Christmas at Sandringham and they open presents on Christmas Eve (:

Girl names are way harder than boys for me. I really like Petra and Moanna (wasn’t that the name of the girl in Pan’s Labyrinth?), though I’d rather meet girls with those names than bestow them on my future daughters. Mia Grace wasn’t surprising but I just don’t find either name particularly enthralling, especially when paired together. The others aren’t my style, particularly Ellison which is all boy to me.

findemaxa13 Says:

January 27th, 2014 at 3:05 pm

I love Petra and Willow, although I do not like Willow with Phoenix, it’s much too much. Memphis Rose is probably my sleeper favorite of the bunch. Memphis is a big GP for me, mostly for the NN Mem, and it’s wonderful with Rose.

Abby Says:

January 27th, 2014 at 4:26 pm

@charlieandperry1 – Thank you!

And yes, Moanna was used in Pan’s Labyrinth! But I think they pronounced it more like MWA nah. And IMDb doesn’t list it, so I’m not sure if it was Moana or Moanna. Any fans out there?

@findemaxa13 – I love the nn Mem! Do you know the writer Mem Fox? Her birth name is Merrion. I’ve always thought of Remember as a way to get to Mem, but of course, Memphis works, too.

sharimsh Says:

January 27th, 2014 at 4:28 pm

For those looking to “feminize” Ellison, the variant is Ellasyn which lends itself to the nn Ella which is up and coming.

findemaxa13 Says:

January 27th, 2014 at 6:34 pm

@Abby Remember is my favorite way to get to Mem, but it’s even odder than Memphis. I’ve never heard of Mem Fox. I suppose you could use it for Miriam, Emily, or Emma, which are much more traditional.

tabitha Says:

January 27th, 2014 at 11:05 pm

The only name I would use from this list is Cai, but even then I prefer Caia… I just have to say that the girl in the picture is adorable though!!

miloowen Says:

January 27th, 2014 at 11:51 pm

I used to represent Mem Fox….long time ago now. I love her books.

peacebird10 Says:

January 28th, 2014 at 3:25 am

Initially I thought Mia Grace was boring, then I thought of the two names together. Mia means ‘my’ in a few languages (Italian?) so now I think of a rather punny ‘My’ Grace…for the granddaughter of someone who refused her kids titles (Princess Anne). Kind of interesting to me.

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