Girl Baby Names: Something Old, Something New

September 7, 2014 Abby Sandel

By Abby Sandel, Appellation Mountain

The good news about naming a girl: the options are limitless.

The bad news about naming a girl: the options?  Limitless!  How do you choose?

In the US, around two-thirds of all newborn girls are given a Top 1000 name.  We play it safe with our sons, with 79% – nearly four out of five – parents sticking with something in the Top 1000.  Sure, Cortez, Kamdyn, and Garrison are included in that Top 1000 definition of safe – but they’re not nearly as out-there as some of the rarities given to girls.

When it comes to baby naming, rules were made to be broken.  But three principles hold true:

First, there will always be innovation in names.  Some of those names will seem fanciful, even silly, early days.  Remember the first time you heard of a baby named Paisley or Summer?  Wait a decade or three and those names feel like well-established choices, the kind of name you barely notice when you spot them on your kindergartener’s class list.

Second, any name can make a comeback.  Yes, any name – let’s stop counting out Ethel and Gertrude, because much as might they feel hopelessly stodgy today, it’s only a matter of time until they feel interesting and fresh again.

Lastly, innovation and revival can co-exist beautifully.  (Or awkwardly – see Drew and Brittany Brees’ Rylen Judith.) My favorite something-old, something-new name of the week?  Nope, not Alyssa Milano’s new daughter, but this birth announcement for a (swoon) Edith Honeybee!

Let’s take a look at two high profile arrivals, plus a second sighting of the new it-girl name, Vale, and a handful of other developing trends.

Crimson – We know that favored name vary state to state, but this analysis by Republic of Names digs deep.  I found it via Nancy’s Baby Names, and immediately paused at one of the outlier names in AlabamaCrimson.  Sure, the University of Alabama is home to the Crimson Tide, so this colorful name is a go-to for alumni.  But in a week when a mama named Scarlett welcomes a baby called Rose, doesn’t every red name feel very wearable?  Of course, about a quarter of those Crimsons are boys, too.

Dylan – Speaking of boy names, Alyssa Milano and husband David Bugliari chose a boyish, artistic, surname name for their new daughter’s middle.  Despite a steady minority of girls given the name – including Drew Barrymore’s character in the rebooted Charlie’s Angels Dylan has remained far more popular for our sons.

Vale – I’m still loving the name that Savannah Guthrie chose for her new daughter.  And surprise!  Just weeks later, professional golfer Graeme McDowell and wife Kristin named their daughter Vale.  Since Graeme is originally from Northern Ireland, it’s perfectly possible he’s never seen Today, and might have missed the headlines about Guthrie’s girl.  Either way, this is another sign that Vale is a name to watch.

Esme – Then again, lots of names are watched – but never boil.  The stylish, literary, triple-starbaby name Esme cracked the US Top 1000 back in 2010, but languishes in the 900s.  Could it be Twilight backlash?  The vampire connection hasn’t hurt Rosalie or Alice.  Or maybe Esme’s best years are still to come? In any case, it is the middle name chosen for Vale Esme by the McDowells, and the combination is as charming as it is unexpected.

Elizabella – After Alyssa Milano and David Bugliari chose the modern Milo for their firstborn, I expected something more restrained for a daughter.  Instead, the couple went with Elizabella, a frilly confection created from an international classic.  Elisabetta is the Italian, Isabella the Spanish, and Elizabeth the English – but of course, the name has seen many forms and spellings over the centuries.  Eliza and Bella are the more popular pieces in use today, so no surprise that they’ve been smooshed together.

Dolly – Here’s a trend from the UK that could be big – the rise of Dolly.  British parents are all about nickname names.  Americans like them for their girls – think of Sadie and Hattie – but we’ve yet to embrace Alfie and Archie.  All of this means that Dolly could have a chance at popularity throughout the English-speaking world.  The numbers in England and Wales suggest that she’s one to watch.

Dorothy – Think Dolly is too cutesy for a given name? Dolly is traditionally short for Dorothy, a name already on the upswing in the US.  The name re-entered the US Top 1000 in 2011, and climbed to #808 by 2013.  Now it is the middle chosen by Scarlett Johansson and Romain Dauriac for their new baby girl.  With all of her over-the-rainbow Dorothy Gale innocence, this name still retains a certain strength.

DahliaElea points out that Dahlia is an undercover member of the Dolly club.  A botanical name with a vintage feel, she’s part-Sophia, part-Lily.  Along with Delia, this name seems to be coming up more and more often.

RoseHow many times has someone said, “Oh, I love Rose!  Why is this lovely name always stuck in the middle spot?” If stars really do spark trends, then maybe Rose is a bridesmaid no more.  Ever since Kate Winslet survived the Titanic in 1997, I’ve been waiting for her character’s name to move up the rankings.  And she’s slowly inched, from #391 in 1997 to #224 today.  Sex and the City gave us another baby Rose in the big screen version.  Now Scarlett and Romain have combined elements of their own first names – Romain’s Ro and Scarlett’s colorful red – to find an elegant, but not extravagant name for their daughter.  Nicely done!

Are your favorite girl names frilly, like Elizabella and Dahlia?  Or tailored, like Vale and Rose?

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


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