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

January 26, 2014 Abby Sandel

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?

About the author


Abby Sandel is nameberry's Senior Editor and resident Name Sage. Look for her baby name news round-ups every Monday, and her Name Sage columns on Wednesdays. Abby is the creator of the baby name blog Appellation Mountain and mom to Alex and Clio. For a chance to have your questions answered, contact Abby at

View all of Abby's articles


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

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

leave a reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.