What a Difference a Letter Makes


An expectant mom we know wants to name her daughter-to-be Madeleine.  But only Madeleine, not Madeline, not (God forbid) Madelyn.  What’s the difference?

Everything, in her mind.  Although the names can all be pronounced the same way, all have the same root (the Greek Magdalen) and the same meaning (high tower), they feel completely different to our friend.  Madeleine, the French version and the name of cookie Proust rhapsodized over, feels elegant, well-balanced, distinctive.

Madeline, on the other hand, which is the number one spelling of the name and the way the little Parisian girl of Bemelmans’ books spells it, feels too spare, too apt to be pronounced with a long i to rhyme with line or wine rather than with the more refined “en” sound at the end.

And Madelyn?  She shudders.  Like Carolyn or Kathryn, that feels like an attempt to “modernize” whose result is anything but.

Sophie/Sophia/Sofia is another great example of a name whose variations feel completely different to different parents.  The three versions together were given to nearly 27,000 baby girls last year — 7,000 more than got the top name of Emily.  But most parents who choose one form of the name that means “wise” in Greek would never choose the other.

Sophia is by far the most popular of the tree, at number 6 on the Social Security list, and is for English speakers the most classic version.  Refined and sophisticated, it feels grownup and, well, wise, a name that would serve any girl well throughout her life.

Sofia, the second most popular version at number 35, is favored by Latin parents and those who prefer a more phonetic (fonetic?), streamlined spelling.  Some parents in search of the exotic have gone all the way to Zofia.

Sophie seems saucy, a little grandma, a little quirky.  A Sophie is far less conventional and more animated than any Sophia or SofiaSophie as a name is closer to Sadie or Millie, while Sophia‘s equivalents are Isabella or Olivia.

About the Author

Pamela Redmond

Pamela Redmond is the cocreator and CEO of Nameberry. The coauthor of ten bestselling baby name books, Redmond is an internationally-recognized name expert, quoted and published widely in such media outlets as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, The Today Show,, CNN, and the BBC. Redmond is also a New York Times bestselling novelist whose books include Younger, the basis for the hit television show, and its new sequel, Older.