Last week we compiled a list of boys’ names that have never really taken off in America to a significant degree, and now it is time to do likewise for the girls.
One thing of note is that there’s less of the same dependable dreariness to the girls’ names than there is to some of the boys’ names. There’s no female equivalent for Derek or Clive or Basil. There is, however, a female equivalent for Nigel, so that is where we shall start:
A name most famously used in the naming of Nigella Lawson, by her dad, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson. It’s not the most graceful of names, although this Nigella wears it very well. And it would be far worse if Hulk Hogan called one of his daughters Hulkette, so we should be grateful for small mercies.
There are two variants on this name—Cerys and Carys—both derived from caru, the Welsh word meaning love of family. Cerys is the best known, as there’s a British broadcaster (and former singer with the band Catatonia) called Cerys Matthews. Both names are relatively new, having risen hugely in popularity over the last 60 years or so.
Just because some male names resist feminization, that doesn’t mean they all do. Take Thomas, which can be feminized to Thomasina, and from there to Thomasin, Tamsin, Tamsen, Tamzen, Tamsyn and then it’s a short hop onwards to Tammy, which is where it fuses with the shortened form of Tamara, and we’re into a whole other derivation. Tamsin is most traditionally associated with Cornwall, although it remains popular all over the country.
Always associated with literature and theater, Hermione appears as the daughter of Menelaus and Helen in Greek myths, and as the wife of Leontes in Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale. These associations have become somewhat overshadowed in recent years by swotty Miss Granger from the Harry Potter books/movies, although Hermione Norris (Doctor Who, Mi5) has done a startlingly good job of flying that flag too.
This is, astonishingly, not the female version of Brian, and would be more accurately be described as the Bryonia version of Poppy. By which I mean Bryony is a name taken from a wild vine that has green flowers. It can also be spelt Briony, and there’s some confusion as to whether this means it should be pronounced Bry-on-ee or Bree-on-ee. But providing you don’t pronounce it like a glottal-stopped Brittany, it’s really up to you.
Named after the red flower that symbolizes remembrance for veterans and soldiers and will forever be associated with the First World War, Poppy has somehow managed to transform into the sort of name you’d give to a particularly explosive (and well-to-do) Polly. The name is currently being upheld by Amy Hoggart, who plays the ever-charming Poppy Carlton in BBC AMERICA’s Almost Royal, and London’s baking duo Poppy & Sebastian.
The h has been added to give Nicola it’s most British spelling, but it’s a very common name spelled either way. In fact, it’s a well-used name across all of the English-speaking world—often shortened to Nickie, or Nicky, or Nicki, or Niqee (note: not Niquee)—apart from the U.S. where Nicole is far more popular. Or possibly Nichole.
Whisper it quietly, but this isn’t really a word at all. In Shakespeare’s play Cymbeline, he called one of his characters Innogen, based on a legendary figure whose name derives from the Gaelic for maiden or daughter (inghean). But this was printed as Imogen and never changed, and then the name rather stuck.
Another popular Welsh name, Bronwyn is a variation on Bronwen, which is itself a combination of gwen, meaning white, or fair or holy and bron, meaning breast. So a legitimate interpretation of the name would be “holy boobs.” Just something to bear in mind, especially if your surname is Batman.
Actually, this is quite a popular girl’s name in the U.S. but for one reason and one reason only. Before the 1976 release of the Fleetwood Mac single that bears her name, the most notable use of the name was in Welsh mythology. Rhiannon was the strong-minded goddess of fertility, and a princess, married to Pwyll. The word derives from the Celtic name Rigantona, which means “divine queen.” Since then, the popularity of the name has peaked and wallowed with that of Fleetwood Mac themselves. As they’re currently on tour, there are probably more than a few Rhiannons on the way even now.