Names say a lot about us. Take everyone’s favorite bookworm, Hermione Granger. Her name calls back to a Shakespearean queen and a princess of Greek mythology, which associates her with studiousness and power. Imagine if she were instead named Stacey; it’s unlikely Harry Potter’s best friend would have become so synonymous with confident intelligence if she had been given another name.
Names are one of the first things people learn about us, and like appearances, can lead to rapid judgments before they even get to know us. According to most studies, people decide whether they like someone within the first few seconds of meeting them. This is one reason why choosing a name for a new baby is often such a thorny process -- that name will carry them throughout life and partly determine the first impressions they make on people. How people think of them can, in turn, have an effect on how they perceive themselves, and even determine to some extent the kind of person they become.
Names are also powerful because people model themselves according to associations with that name. Psychologists have hypothesized that a person’s last name can determine the profession they eventually take up -- for example, if someone’s last name is Carpenter, they might be more likely to develop an interest in woodworking. Similarly, a girl named Elizabeth might associate herself with the Queen, and so, model herself after the Queen’s poise and elegance. For a young girl, having a shared name with powerful women can make her feel linked to them and use them as role models. Here are twenty names for baby girls that will encourage them to grow into strong and self-assured women.
20 Beatrice: Witty And Outspoken
Meaning "happy" or "bringer of joy," Beatrice is a classic name with a vibrant literary history. From the Italian in which it's pronounced "beh-ah-tree-cheh," it's most known for the character in Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy. In real life, Beatrice was a young woman Dante had known and loved from afar for her piety and beauty, but she died at a very young age. On his fictional trip through purgatory and heaven, Beatrice becomes Dante's guide, leading him to God. She is the object of his love poetry and his devotion, and in his writing, she becomes an image of perfect virtue.
With what might have been an ironic glance towards Dante, Shakespeare also named one of his characters Beatrice, though she is far from the quiet piousness of her namesake. The heroine of Much Ado About Nothing (played in the 1993 movie by the always wonderful Emma Thompson) is quick-witted, confident, and even brash, always standing her own against her love interest/verbal sparring partner, Benedick. Despite her easy-going attitude, Beatrice is fiercely loyal to the ones she loves and to what she believes is right -- not too far after all from the Dante version.
Beatrice is much more popular in the U.K. than elsewhere because of its use in the royal family, so a young Bea or Bee would stand out from the crowd, living up to the strong independence of these characters.
19 Margaret: The Vocal Feminist
More popular and with an endless supply of nicknames (Meg, Maggie, Peggy, Daisy), the name Margaret goes a long way back. It was introduced to English through the French “Marguerite,” but before that, it came from Latin, Greek, Old Persian, and even Sanskrit (मञ्जरी or mañjarī, meaning “pearl” or “cluster of blossoms”). In French, it means daisy, which explains that seemingly random nickname. If you’re wondering where the Margarita cocktail from the Spanish version of the name came from, the best guess we have is that it was created around the Mexican/American border during Prohibition and named after a woman of that name.
Margaret conjures up a wealth of famous people in history and literary characters, from the beloved main character of A Wrinkle in Time to the martyred Saint Margaret of Antioch to the world-changing political fiction writer Margaret Atwood. These women are all extremely courageous and steadfastly stick to their beliefs. Though Margaret Atwood famously attests that her work is not feminist, her dedication to noting the imbalance of gender roles in society through her fiction is admirable and honest. A young girl looking up to Atwood as a role model would see someone unafraid to speak her mind.
18 Michelle: Ambitious And Intelligent
Another popular name with a French history, Michelle has recently become associated with the former first lady, widely admired for her social work and compassion. Though she is often overshadowed by her husband, Michelle’s own list of accomplishments is staggering. Incredibly ambitious from a young age, she attended Princeton as an undergraduate before attending Harvard Law School; at both institutions, she was involved in advocating for the inclusion of more black students and faculty at elite universities. After graduating from Harvard, Michelle worked as a lawyer before transitioning to politics and nonprofit organizations, where she held roles like “Vice President for Community and External Affairs.” Even before becoming the first lady and working on projects like “Let’s Move!”, she was deeply immersed in charity work.
“Michelle” came to the French from the Hebrew “Michael,” which translates to “Who is like God?” and denotes several biblical figures, from the Archangel Michael to an angel in Revelation who destroys the serpent representation of Satan. The name is imbued with power and will, appropriately fitting with the high-achieving Michelle Obama. Plus, there’s Olympic medalist Michelle Kwan and actress Michelle Pfeiffer. A young Michelle would grow to be intelligent, with a drive to accomplish as much as possible.
17 Helena: The Commanding Queen
Helen of Troy. Helena of Adiabene. Princess Helena of the United Kingdom (daughter to Queen Victoria). Helena is a name that immediately conjures up images of a long line of stately and formidable royalty. From the Greek Ἑλένη (Helen), the exact etymology of the name is unknown, but the best guesses are that it comes from the word for “torch” or “moon” -- both with connotations of light that associate the name with these larger-than-life icons.
According to Greek mythology, Paris of Troy was asked to judge the most beautiful goddess between Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite. Because she promised him the most beautiful woman in the world as a reward, Paris chose Aphrodite, earning the wrath of Hera and Athena in the process. The most beautiful woman in the world was Helen, married to King Menelaus of Sparta. She was taken by Paris from Sparta to Troy, thus starting the Trojan war that provides the framework for the Iliad and part of the Aeneid. Whether Helen was happy to be with Paris or wanted to return to Menelaus is a matter of debate between the ancient poets, but Helen remains one of the most imposing and mysterious characters of Greek mythology and literature.
16 Diana: Self-Sufficient And Outdoorsy
Another classical heroine, Diana is the Roman goddess of the moon and the hunt. She is the Roman counterpart of Artemis, sister of Apollo, god of the sun, and she is associated with oak trees and deer. She is also strongly connected to childbirth, and was often prayed to to ensure safe pregnancy and healthy births. According to some variations of her mythology, she led a group of chaste women through the forest, forever escaping men. Perhaps her most famous story is that of Actaeon from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Actaeon was a hero from Thebes who one day went hunting with his dogs, only to stumble across Diana bathing. Enraged, the goddess transformed Actaeon into a stag. Actaeon was then hunted and torn apart by his own dogs.
That gruesome story aside, Diana is a beautiful name with many meanings surrounding nature, like “bright sky,” and “daylight,” before coming to be associated with the moon. A girl named Diana would look up to a goddess who is powerful, self-sufficient, and in tune with nature, though maybe a little hot-tempered. This name would be particularly fitting for a girl born in August, as August 13th was her festival day in Ancient Rome.
15 Iris: Trendsetting And Unique
A little old-fashioned now but still beautiful, Iris in English is a stunning violet-colored flower, and comes from the Ancient Greek word for rainbow. How appropriate for the always colorful and wild style icon Iris Apfel. A lifelong New Yorker, Iris owned and ran an international textile business with her husband for over forty years. The story of her becoming a fashion icon and model in her later life is told in the wonderful 2014 documentary Iris. Always an advocate for breaking out of conformity, she is an icon of individualism and creativity. Best quote? “Fashion you can buy, but style you possess.”
In her Greek origin, Iris is a messenger for the gods and a link between the gods and humanity. She travels between winds, the sea, and the underworld, linking all of them together, and serves nectar to the gods (fitting in with the flower version of her name). She also is referred to as “golden winged” and “swift-footed” and waters the clouds with a pitcher of water. She is associated with balance and continuity in the natural world. This name would be perfect for a girl who isn’t afraid to stand out, knows who she is, and is able to mediate between many different people and situations.
14 Mira: Astonishing And Wonderful
Though the name has many meanings, in Latin, “mira” means “the wonderful” or “the astonishing.” The name was used to name a red giant in the constellation of Cetus in the sixteenth century because it was so different from other stars, disappearing and reappearing at times that seemed totally random. Even now we don’t know if the star’s appearance is changing over time, giving this name an air of otherworldly mystery.
Mira is also used as a name for women that have Albanian, Hebrew, and Sanskrit roots, all of which have different meanings, including “ocean,” “boundary,” “peace,” and “prosperous.” Meera, or Mirabai, was a sixteenth-century Hindu mystic poet who forsake her high caste status to follow a lower caste Guru. Though there are only a handful of famous Mira’s, a large number of them are writers, suggesting this name can inspire expression and creativity. When combined with its Latin meaning, this name would suit an expressive girl who looks to the stars for inspiration. The meanings about the ocean and boundaries also fit in with this idea of far-reaching creativity because they evoke wide expanses, reaching farther than we could ever know. A young Mira would dream with limitless possibility.
13 Alexi/Alexia: Dreaming Big
Alexi and Alexia are the less common versions of Alexandra, Alex, and Alexa (which, after Amazon, you can’t really use now), meaning “to ward off” or “to protect.” More unique but with all the storied histories of the name Alexandra, this name embodies a perfect combination of differing traits. On the one hand, there’s the current princesses named Alexandra from Greece, Monaco, and Luxembourg, the former princesses of Denmark, the United Kingdom, Yugoslavia, and Prussia, Alexandra the Maccabee...the list goes on. Then there’s Alexandra of Troy, though she is usually called Cassandra, who had the power of prophecy bestowed on her by Apollo, and Saint Alexandra, who was jailed and then beheaded for her Christianity in Imperial Rome. Needless to say, Alexandra is a noble name bestowed on important women of history and myth.
There are drastically fewer Alexis in the world, but those who do have the name show a strength of spirit and commitment that is truly admirable. Alexi Pappas is a Greek-American Olympic runner whose attitude towards life is summed up in one of her tweets: “run like a bravey, sleep like a baby, dream like a crazy, replace can't with maybe, lady.” On top of being a seriously impressive runner, Alexi is a poet and filmmaker, starring in her own movie, Tracktown. Alexi is a worthy role model of any young girl who can set her goals high and pursue them with diligence.
12 Georgia/Georgie: Artistic And Cerebral
Georgia, Georgiana, or Georgie are all variations from the male name George, but the women who have it are anything but derivative. Meaning “tiller of the soil” or just “farmer,” the name is now more associated with royalty and Saint George. Georgia and its variants have come in waves of popularity in the English-speaking world, popular during the reigns of King George I-IV in the United Kingdom, and spiking in the U.S. around 2009, according to babynamewizard.com. Some people are turned off by the fact that it’s the name of a U.S. state, a country, and a bunch of old kings, but Georgia is also a lovely name for a young girl and woman.
Georgia O’Keeffe was an American modernist painter best known for her alluring and larger-than-life close-ups of flowers. One of the most famous American female painter today, she led an academic and artistic life in New York and New Mexico. She won several national titles and awards for her work, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, from President Gerald Ford. Georgia O’Keefe can inspire a young woman into a life of creativity and art. Plus, there’s Mr. Darcy’s sister Georgiana in Pride & Prejudice, a paragon of virtuosity and sweetness.
11 Emmeline: Hardworking And A Natural Leader
Emmeline is a medieval German name with a romantic and almost fairytale sound. More elegant and out-of-the-ordinary than the more common Emma and Emily, it can easily be shortened into either of those names for a nickname. Emmeline is a character in a seventeenth century opera called "King Arthur and the British Worthy" by John Dryden and Henry Purcell, where Emmeline is a a classic Arthurian maiden. Emmeline means “peaceful home,” “work,” and “eager,” suggesting whoever possesses this name would be a tireless and enthusiastic worker.
This is a perfect description of one of the most famous Emmelines, Emmeline Pankhurst, the early twentieth century British activist who led the movement for women’s right to vote. Emmeline Pankhurst was a natural leader with strong convictions who never gave up on her cause. This year (2018) marks the 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act, which granted women over thirty the right to vote in the U.K., the predecessor to the 19th amendment in the U.S. in 1920. Even after she helped win this political right, she spent the rest of her life working on behalf of women’s equality. Emmeline is cropping up all over the place this year, and a girl born in 2018 named Emmeline would be a perfect match.
10 Rosa: Courageous And Tenacious
Rosa is a name with a more obvious etymology, coming from the Latin word for -- you guessed it -- “rose.” However, its German roots are from the word for “fame” and “type.” Today, the name Rosa is most popular in Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian speaking countries. Though, it has been on the U.S. popularity charts since the 1880s, according to nameberry.com.
Perhaps the most famous Rosa, Rosa Parks is remembered for her courage and fortitude during the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Despite being shouted at, getting arrested, and even receiving death threats, Rosa continued to stand up against segregation. When she was put on trial for her actions, the black community of Montgomery stayed off the buses for over a year, until there was such a strain on them that the local government had to remove their segregated bus laws. Among other recognitions, she receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom and in 2005 was buried in the Capitol Rotunda, the first women and only the third non-government official to be buried there.
A young woman named Rosa would look up to Rosa’s strong moral convictions and strength in the face of opposition. Most countries celebrate the name day for Rosa in September, so this name would be especially suited for a September newborn.
9 Rebecca: Firm And Authoritative
Rebecca is a Hebrew name meaning “to tie firmly,” “secured,” or even “captivating.” It's the 268th most popular name in the U.S. and on the rise, according to babycenter.com, Rebecca is a name that is more common but in being so doesn’t lose any of its feeling of uniqueness.
Rebecca, the wife of Isaac in the Hebrew Bible, is best known for the story of her helping trick her husband on his deathbed into bestowing his blessing on the son she believed was meant to receive it, Jacob, in place of the son he intended to give it to, Esau. As Isaac was blind, she had Jacob tie hair to his arms to mimic his hairier brother and deceive his father. After Jacob received the blessing, Esau was bound to serve his brother for the rest of their lives.
This is a hard story to make sense of in terms of wanting to name a child after a woman best known for her deception. However, Rebecca acted as she did because she knew God’s will for Jacob to receive the blessing, implying that she had an understanding that Isaac didn’t have. This figure is one of spirituality and foreknowledge, understanding the big picture and how to get there.
8 Lena: Inventive And Creative
Lena, from a huge range of independent languages, is the 329th most popular name for baby girls in the U.S. Some of its various etymologies include “generous” and “kind” in Arabic languages, “sunlight” in Greek and Persian, and, less suitably, “procuress” in Latin. It is a pretty and ancient name for a girl with a varied and multicultural history.
One of the most famous women named Lena at the moment is writer, producer, and actress Lena Waithe. In 2017, she became the first black woman to win an Emmy for writing for a comedy show for her work on Aziz Anzari’s Master of None, where she also acts in a leading role. She won for an episode that honestly and skillfully deals with the struggles of coming out as homosexual to your parents, based on her own experiences. She also wrote a new drama called The Chi about her experiences growing up in a primarily black part of Chicago.
Lena has a remarkable ability to express herself and evoke empathy. Anyone listening to or watching her stories feels like they’re experiencing some part of her life. A little girl named Lena would have this extremely expressive heroine to look up to.
7 Elinor: Sensible And Practical
This might be the second character played by Emma Thompson in this list, but who doesn’t love Emma Thompson? Here she is pictured in her role as Elinor Dashwood in the 1995 adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. Thompson plays the elder, practical sister to Kate Winslet’s Marianne. Marianne is much more emotional and rash than Elinor, wearing her heart on her sleeve and sometimes getting badly hurt for it.
Elinor is sometimes outshined by her more vivacious and outgoing sister, but as the film makes clear, she is the glue holding her family together, making all the important decisions and not letting her emotions cloud her good sense. Despite all her rationality, Elinor is never cold, instead deeply warm and caring for those she loves. While she has a great deal of difficulty expressing her emotions, when she does it becomes clear how deeply feeling she is.
Elinor, or Eleanor, means “shining light” and has varied in popularity over time (there was a noticeable spike in babies named Eleanor after the release of the Beatles song, “Eleanor Rigby.”) A young woman named Eleanor would become a compassionate guide to those around her, always helping the ones she loves.
6 Lois: Persistent And Smart
Lois, meaning “more desirable,” or “better,” is another biblical name, though this one from a slightly more minor character. Lois is mentioned in the pauline letter of 2 Timothy as the pious grandmother to Timothy. More popularly, Lois Lane is the main female protagonist of the Superman comics, a hard hitting reporter often showing courage in the face of danger.
Slightly more obscure, Lois is the heroine of the 1929 Elizabeth Bowen novel The Last September, a beautiful and stirring story about a girl coming of age during the Irish civil war. Lois is a big-dreaming girl who wants to see the world, but finds herself limited by the connections she has to her family and home in County Cork. Throughout the novel Lois learns to stand by herself without depending on any men. She also finds herself struggling between the luxuries of her life as a member of the Anglo-Irish gentry in Ireland and the forward-looking politics of the Irish.
Lois would be an ideal name for a girl who can perfectly blend her ambitions with her love for her family. Lois is a high-achiever, but she never sacrifices her relationships with loved ones for her career or her success.
5 Amelia: Fearless And Pioneering
Amelia, a name of Germanic nature meaning “laborious,” “striving,” or “defender” -- which seems appropriate for one of the most famous Amelias, pilot Amelia Earhart. Earhart was a pioneer not only as the first major female pilot, but simply for the feats she achieved as a pilot in general. Earhart was the first woman to fly alone across the Atlantic Ocean, which she achieved five years after Charles Lindbergh and making her one of a small handful of people who had done so. In the following years she achieved many other firsts for women in aviation before being lost on a flight circumnavigating the world.
Undoubtedly, a girl with the name of Amelia would have a lot to look up to. Amelia Earhart was a person exemplifying great courage and pioneering. Another meaning for the name Amelia is “work,” suggesting women with this name are known for their ingenuity and industriousness. While its roots, like those of Emmeline, are in the more common name of Emily, the slightly different connotations of Amelia give the name an extra feeling of courage and uniqueness. An Amelia is someone who will never settle for anything less than the best, and never backs down from a challenge.
4 Elaine: Noble And Passionate
Elaine, like Helena, is a variant of Helen, but one with a particularly French and English history in comparison to the Greek background of Helena. Elaine is a recurring character (or, possibly, group of characters) in the King Arthur legend. One of her most famous appearances is in Thomas Malory’s Morte D’Arthur, where she reveals the holy grail, thus setting the knights on this famous pursuit.
In the legend, Elaine is a typical example of female medieval nobility: beautiful, subservient, and a bit mysterious. However, despite her not-fully-realized character in the Morte D’Arthur, she exemplifies a particular kind of strength in choosing to reveal to a knight of the round table the grail, embarking him and the others on a spiritual and worthy quest. She has a child by Lancelot, in this version, who is named Sir Galahad, though he is in love with Guinevere. However, he later falls in love with her and they live together as man and wife for many years. In this version, Galahad is the only knight pure enough to be successful in his quest for the grail.
In another Arthurian legend, Elaine is again in unrequited love with Sir Lancelot, who instead loves Guinevere. She dies of heartbreak, showing a depth of passion that is both beautiful and tragic. In both versions of the story, Elaine is associated with spirituality, love, and closeness to God.
From these medieval origins, Elaine has come to be a fairly popular name in recent years. Meaning “light,” “sun,” or (like Helena) “torch,” a young Elaine would be a guiding light for those who had lost their way. Compassionate and morally strong, she remains steadfast in the face of adversity.
3 Sonia: Resolute And Honorable
Sonia is derived from the name Sophia, which comes from the Greek word for wisdom. According to ohbabynames.com, women with the name Sonia are “courageous leaders, innovative thinkers, extremely wise and highly organized.” How appropriate when thinking of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina member of the Supreme Court. Sotomayor was educated at Princeton and at Yale Law School before working as a lawyer in New York for many years. She was elected to the Supreme Court in 2009 by President Barack Obama, working most notably on causes of social justice relating to gender, race, and ethnicity. Sotomayor is notable for her fair and nuanced rulings, favoring decisions that make sense of the whole of a situation rather than arguing always in one direction.
A young woman named Sonia would look up to this high-achieving role model with independence and confidence in her own viewpoints. Sonia is extremely intelligent but not elitist. She is deeply concerned in practical social and political matters with a mind set on changing the world for the better. Harnessing her wisdom for the good of the world, she focuses not on her own gain but on the success of her world at large.
2 Jean: Curious And Honest
Jean Genie, Billie Jean, Bobby Jean... pop culture is full of this slightly androgynous and cute French name, but it’s much more rare to encounter it in daily life. With the same etymology as Jane, which comes from the male name John, which means “Yahweh is good.” So, meaning alone is not enough to sell this name as great for a strong young female.
However, who doesn’t love Scout Finch, full name Jean Louise Finch, of the classic To Kill A Mockingbird. Curious and sweet, young Scout makes her way through her small world by exploring, asking questions, and meeting people. She is wonderfully naive, never judging a person before she knows them and instead taking in the whole world at face value. While she sometimes gets into trouble, it is usually because she’s too curious about investigating everything around her. A young woman named Jean would look up to this model of exploratory sweetness, similarly questioning everything around her. More cool and modern than its origin of Jane (which can feel a bit plain), Jean feels like a throwback to the midcentury when the clothing was becoming just as popular as the name. This would be particularly perfect if there’s a John in the family to indirectly name a child after.
1 Edith: Altruistic And Expressive
A little more antiquated than some of the other names on this list, “Edith” conjures up images of elegant drawing rooms, meticulously served tea, and English accents. This might be largely because of the Downton Abbey character Edith Crawley. While Edith is smart, beautiful, witty, and ambitious in her own rite, she is often outshined by her sister Mary, and sometimes comes across as self-deprecating and even mean.
Slightly less au courant but more groundbreaking is the novelist Edith Wharton, a turn-of-the-nineteenth-century New Yorker who wrote about the social limitations of women in all levels of society. She was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for literature for her novel The Age of Innocence, which questions the strict rules placed on how women could act in the upper class circles she lived in. Wharton is praised for her unique ability to accurately portray people and situations without passing judgement, instead showing things as closely as possible to how they are.
Edith is an Old English name meaning “riches” or “blessed,” as well as “war.” Largely out of favor between the 16th and 20th centuries, Edith is now making a bit of a comeback and ranks as the 488th most popular girl’s name in the United States.