All of these names date back to Antiquity, and in some cases centuries upon centuries before Christ. Due to their lasting-attraction and endurance, these particular names have had plenty of time to reproduce several linguistic variations from the original root – not to mention scores of diminutives and short forms that are now considered stand-alone given names in their own right.
These pretty ladies just “keep on giving”. Furthermore, they claim very pleasing etymologies for parents who prefer substance and historical significance in their names of choice. There are very real stories behind the lasting success of these names. The root names below are both classic and classy, traditional and time-tested, meaningful and appealing, but most of all: flexible. Parents who choose one of these seven root names for their baby daughters allow for changeability in the name as the girl matures; in essence, offering your daughter more control over what she prefers to be called later on. These names are truly gifts that keep on giving.
7.) Root Name –> Adelaide (Germanic)
Actually the true root name is Adalheidis, from the ancient Germanic elements “adal” meaning “noble” and “heid” meaning “kind, type”. Adelaide therefore means “the noble one” or “of the noble kind”. The main reason behind Adelaide’s propulsion into widespread popularity as a baby girl’s name starting in the Early Middle Ages was owing to a very “noble”9th century woman Adelaide of Italy (probably the most well-known woman of her day). Born a princess in Burgundy, made a German and Italian queen through marriage to Otto the Great, and ultimately crowned Empress of the Holy Roman Empire by Pope John XII, Adelaide was probably the single most admired woman of her time. Oh, and it also didn’t hurt that she was made a saint by the Roman Catholic Church for her unwavering piety and tireless work toward the promotion and expansion of Christianity, adding religious currency to her name. Here are some familiar names spawned by old Adalheidis:
Other languages: Adèle (French); Adelina (Latin)
Diminutives: Adeline (French); Adelyn (American); Alison/Allison (English)
Short forms: Ada (German); Alice (English, from the French Aalis, short for Adelais); Alicia (Latinized form of Alice); Alyssa (variant of Alicia); Alina (many languages, short for Adelina); Allie (English)
In the United States, over 23,000* baby girls born in 2012 were “nobly” named one of the variations listed above. And this number doesn’t even come close to including the many, many creative respellings of which American parents are so fond. The spellings we list above are the most “legitimate”, traditional or familiar of spellings. Allison and Alyssa are the most commonly used variants of the Adelaide name in America today. Our personal favorite: Adèle.
6.) Root name –> Hannah (Hebrew)
Hannah is an old Biblical name of Hebrew origin meaning “God has favored me”. Not bad. If you could be anybody’s favorite child, it might as well be God’s, right? So now that we know Hannah and her sisters are the Teacher’s Pet of the universe, let’s find out why. We first meet Hannah in the Hebrew Bible (aka Old Testament) in the first Book of Samuel. She is.…none other than….Samuel’s mother. You see, poor Hannah was a barren woman, so she prayed mightily to the Lord for a son. In exchange, she promised God she would give the child over to Him in His service. God listened to Hannah’s prayers and “favored her” with a son, Samuel. Samuel would, of course, become one of the most important prophets in Biblical tradition and it was he who ushered in the first Israeli monarchy, by anointing Saul and then David. And Hannah was his baby mama. Hannah didn’t enjoy widespread usage outside of the Jewish community until after the Protestant Reformation (17th century) when Puritans started looking at the Old Testament for name inspiration in an act of humility and as a way of getting back to their true spiritual roots. However, Hannah’s most popular off-shoot name is Anna (Latin); hugely popular since the Middle Ages thanks to the veneration of Saint Anna, traditionally believed to be the mother of the Virgin Mary. Here is a list of Hannah and her sisters:
Other languages: Chana (Hebrew); Hannah (Hebrew/English); Anna (Latin); Anne (French); Ann (English); Ana (Spanish/Slavic); Anaïs (Catalan); Hana (Slavic); Jana (Croatian/Serbian)
Diminutives: Annie (English); Annette (French) Annika (Scandinavian/German); Anya (Russian); Anita (Spanish)
About 20,000* baby girls were given one of the “Hannah” names mentioned above, and this doesn’t include altered spellings or elaborations (like Annemarie, Annabelle, etc.). Hannah and Anna are by far the most popular of all variations in America today. Our personal favorite: we’re going with the masses on this one. Hannah. It’s just so soothing, soft and lovely (not to mention she’s the original). Anaïs is a close second – something different.
5.) Root Name –> Helen (Greek)
Helen is not only the beautiful woman who launched a thousand ships to go fight the Trojan War in Greek Mythology, but she is also the lovely lady who launched a thousand names (ok, maybe not that many). The point being, the name Helen is just about as ancient as they come, because the Trojan War probably occurred sometime in the 13th century B.C. That’s “Before Christ” folks. Not long after Moses had safely led the Children of Israel out of Egypt, miraculously crossed Red Seas, suspiciously talked to Burning Bushes and angrily broke God’s instructional tablets. In fact, to give you an idea just how old the name Helen is, the 13th century B.C. marks the very first time Egyptians even identified in writing that Israelis were an actual tribe of people. The etymology of Helen is up for debate, but it’s clearly related to the “sun” or “torch, fire”. We like to think of her as a “ray of sunlight” shining her beauty upon the earth. There are two primary reasons why the name Helen persisted for the past 3,000+ years. One, Saint Helena was one of those early saints that medieval people resurrected in veneration, and gladly gave her name to their medieval babies as a protective measure. Trust us, back in the Middle Ages, Christianized Europe wanted nothing to do with the ancient pagan Greek mythological beauty known as Helen of Troy. Far, far too scandalous! Saint Helena was Emperor Constantine the Great’s mother (he was the 3rd/4th century Roman Emperor who made Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire). St. Helena is also credited with finding a relic of the True Cross upon which Christ was crucified in one of her archeological digs in Jerusalem financed by her son. The other reason why Helen maintained her popularity is thanks to a 12th century woman named Eleanor of Aquitaine. Wait, did you say Eleanor? Yes, many etymologists believe Eleanor developed as a Medieval Provençal form of Helen (just as Isabel emerged as a Medieval Provençal form of Elizabeth). Eleanor of Aquitaine was one Bad-ass Betty of the Middle Ages (the Queen Consort of both France and England via different husbands). Probably the most glamorous and awe-inspiring women of her time. Here’s a list of names Helen is responsible for launching:
Other languages: Aileen (Scottish); Eileen (Irish); Elaine (Old French); Elaina (English); Eleanor (Provençal); Elena (Italian/Spanish); Elin (Scandinavian/Welsh); Ellen (Medieval English); Helena (Latinized); Hélène (French); Iliana (Spanish)
Diminutives: Ella (English dim. of Eleanor); Laney (English dim. of Elaine); Ellie (English dim of Eleanor/Ellen); Leni (German); Lenore (English); Nell/Nellie (Medieval diminutive)
Short forms: Alena (German/Slavic); Lena (German/Polish); Nora (English)
A little over 23,000* baby girls were given a Helen name mentioned above in 2012. Although this is a little deceiving because, by far and away, the most popular baby names on Helen’s list right now are Ella and Ellie (which are considered diminutives of several other names, not just Helen). Otherwise, the Provençal Eleanor and the Spanish Elena win the race. Our favorites? Eleanor and the Old French Elaine.
4.) Root Name –> Catherine (Greek)
Catherine’s actual root name is Hekaterine (Αικατερινη) which is Greek, believed to be connected to Hecate, a very powerful Titan goddess of Greek Mythology, meaning “the far reaching one”. Her far-reaching patronage extends to childbirth, the household and the crossroads. However, it’s not this formidable goddess to whom we give thanks for the name Catherine. Rather, the reason for Catherine’s enduring popularity as a baby girl’s name in the Western World is owed to….you guessed it, another saint. Saint Catherine was one of the most popular early virgin saints venerated in the Middle Ages. Born in Alexandria, Egypt at the end of the 3rd century, St. Catherine converted to Christianity at the ripe old age of 14. She also went about successfully converting scores of other Roman citizens to her faith, much to the chagrin of the pagan Roman authorities. She was sentenced to death at the wheel (a particularly cruel punishment of its time), but the wheel miraculously broke the moment it came in contact with the young, innocent beauty. So she was beheaded instead. We cannot underscore the importance of Saint Catherine in the Middle Ages. In fact, she was one of St. Joan of Arc’s spiritual guides (having appeared to her in a vision). The “h” in Katerine was added later in order to connect the name to “katharos” (the Greek word for “pure, clear, innocent”) since St. Catherine was revered for medieval ideals of innocence and purity. The French were especially crazy over Catherine; as one of the Church’s 14 Holy Helpers, St. Catherine was invoked to prevent sudden death. Here’s how “far-reaching” Catherine has become:
Other languages: Catherine (French); Cateline (Medieval French); Katherine (English); Caitlín (Irish); Katelyn (American); Catalina (Spanish); K/Cathleen (Irish/English); Kathryn (English); Katrina (German/Scandinavian); Kakalina (Hawaiian); Katerina (Latin)
Diminutives: Katie (English); Kit/Kitty (English); Karina (Swedish); Kaja (Scandinavian); Katya (Russian); Kaia (Norwegian)
Short forms: Karen (Scandinavian/German); Kate (English); K/Cathy (English); Kay (English); Tina (Italian/Dutch); Kalena (Hawaiian form of Karen)
Although barely 18,000* baby girls were given some form of Catherine in 2012 (at least in the familiar forms detailed above), we still hold this name in high regard for its time-tested endurance and dignified sound. It is also a name that has produced several interesting off-shoots in many different languages (although we only focused on the most familiar). Katherine is the preferred spelling in the United States and the Americanized form of the Irish Caitlín (Katelyn) is currently this country’s second most favorite. We prefer the French Catherine and the Irish Caitlín over their “K” counterparts. Our sleeper favorite? The Norwegian diminutive Kaia.
3.) Root Name –> Miriam (Egyptian)
Shut the front door. Miriam is an Egyptian name? Wait…whhaaattt? Yes, Miriam comes from Egypt and if you showed up for Bible Studies you would probably find this obvious. The very first Miriam Western civilization ever met was in Exodus (Moses’ spunky, rebellious sister). And if you’ll remember, the “Moses” family was living in captivity in Egypt so it’s not a stretch of the imagination that Miriam’s name comes from the Egyptian element “mry” meaning “beloved”. Even Moses’ name may be derived from an Egyptian element loosely meaning “born of god” or “born of the water”. What’s even more striking: sturdy, old Miriam is is the root name of Mary. It’s a little known fact that through much of the Early Middle Ages the name Mary was considered too holy for use (fast forward to 2013, even “Messiah” is no longer off-limits). Mary was the name of the Blessed Virgin Mother, after all. What poor medieval baby girl could live up to that standard? Exactly. Well, once Europeans began embracing the name Mary, there was no stopping them (Mary is probably the most successful female name of all time). Miriam’s usage is still largely restricted to the Jewish community and/or Christian fundamentalists. Here are some other Miriam/Mary names to consider:
Other languages: Miriam (Hebrew); Maria (Latin); Mary (English); Marie (French); Myra (anagram of Mary); Marilyn (American); Máire (Irish); Malia (Hawaiian); Maura (Irish/English); Mariah (English/African-American)
Diminutives: Mae (English); May (English); Mamie (English); Mariel (English); Malle/Molle (Medieval English); Polly (Medieval English variant of Molly); Marianne (French); Mariette (French); Marion (Medieval French); Molly (English); Mia (Scandinavian/Dutch/German); Mariska (Hungarian/Dutch); Maureen (Irish); Mimi (Italian); Marzena (Polish); Masha (Russian); Mirele (Yiddish dim. of Miriam)
Short forms: Mare
The long time #1 female name of choice among English-speaking parents, Mary has gracefully taken a backseat, relinquishing her long-held dominance to other versions of Miriam. Almost 30,000* baby girls born in 2012 will find their “beloved” root meaning in Miriam. The runaway favorite is, of course, Mia. And it’s our favorite, too! Simple and sweet. In fact, Molly, Maria and Mariah are all now more popular than Mary or Miriam in the United States. We also like the Hawaiian version Malia.
2.) First Runner-up…. Root Name –> Margaret (Sanskrit/Hebrew/Greek)
Margaret’s etymological root can be found in the Greek word for “pearl”: margarites (μαργαριτης) from the Hebrew "margaron", which several linguists believe is ultimately derived from the Sanskrit “mañyarÄ«” (à¤®à¤žà¥à¤¯à¤°à¥€) meaning the same. In order to determine the reason behind Margaret’s ultra-popularity and Ï‹ber-endurance over the years, we must once again look confidently for a saint. In this case it was the 4th century St. Margaret of Antioch around whom Europeans in the Middle Ages developed one of their many cults – and let it be said, Margaret was a medieval poster-girl when it came to the so-called “Virgin Martyrs”. Just remember, in the Middle Ages people suffered from poverty, famines, plagues, political unrest, Church corruption, you name it. They knew very little, and believed with reckless abandon the legends which grew up around the saints they worshipped. For instance, it was believed that Margaret of Antioch was swallowed by a dragon (yah, a dragon), but because she had been carrying the cross of Jesus, the dragon’s digestive tract got so irritated that he had to spit her up. The invocation of saints in times of trouble was a daily necessity, and Margaret was particularly summoned to help in childbirth. Medieval folks also called upon her to rescue them from that ever-lurking, tempting nuisance known as the devil. Crazy? Maybe. But it certainly wasn’t crazy 700 years ago. It’s not like they were splitting atoms back then. Open up the oyster and we shall find the following “pearls” of Margaret:
Other languages: Margaret (English); Marjorie (Medieval English); Marguerite/Daisy (French); Margarita (Latin); Mairéad (Irish); Margit (Scandinavian); Marit/Merit (Swedish/Norwegian); Maighread (Scottish)
Diminutives: Madge/Midge (English); Mae (English); May (English); Maggie (English); Mamie (English); Marge (English); Margie (English); Meg (English/Welsh); Meggy/Peggy (Medieval English); Molly (English); Gretchen (German); Gretel (German); Marzena (Polish); Maisie (Scottish); Megan (Welsh)
Short forms: Greta (Swedish/German); Margot (French); Rita (Italian)
When we counted up the number of 2012 baby girls given one of the names above, it only amounted to less than 12,000 (not including other variants). This surprised us for a couple reasons. First of all, when did Margaret become so soggy? We didn’t get the memo. Secondly, the name’s meaning, “pearl”, is literally a hidden gem. Lastly, this name offers so many interesting yet dissimilar variants opening up a whole host of choices. Molly is the most popular form of this name right now, but Molly is also considered a diminutive of Mary. Margaret is the second most popular, followed by Daisy, Megan and Maggie. Our favs? The German/Swedish short form Greta and the Scottish diminutive Maisie.
#1) And the winner is….drum roll, please….Elizabeth (Hebrew)
Elizabeth is our winner. Why? Well because she not only has the most variations, but she also has the most disparate, seemingly unrelated variations. That makes Elizabeth one of the most flexible choices around today. The name comes from the Hebrew Elisheva meaning “God is my oath” (first borne in the Book of Exodus as the wife of Aaron, who was Miriam and Moses’ brother). The Greek translation of the name is Elisabet (Ελισαβετ), a name appearing in the Christian New Testament (written in Greek) as the mother of John the Baptist. Elizabeth was the BFF of the Virgin Mary who, at the same time, was preggers with Jesus. When their respective sons grew older, it was Elizabeth’s John who baptized Mary’s Jesus in the River Jordan (thus recognizing Him as the Messiah). It’s no surprise that the Biblical Elizabeth became the inspiration behind the usage of her name, and why so many Christianized European countries embraced it since the Early Middle Ages (her Feast Day is November 5). A couple medieval saints also named Elizabeth added further currency to the name.
Other languages: Elisheba (Hebrew); Elisabeth (French); Elizabeth (English); Isabel (medieval Provençal); Elikapeka (Hawaiian)
Diminutives: Babette (French); Liesel (German); Lisette (French); Lilly (Scandinavian); Lizzie (English); Lillian (English); Bess/Bessie (English); Libby (English); Ella/Ellie (English); Elsie (English); Elyse (English)
Short forms: Beth (English); Betsy (English); Bette/Betty (English); Buffy (English); Elisa (German/Italian/Spanish); Elise (Scandinavian); Eliza (English); Lisa (Italian/German/Scandinavian); Liz (English); Lizbeth (English); Elsa (German/Italian); Liza (English)
Pet form: Lizeth (Spanish)
As a root name, Elizabeth is hot, hot hot. Like en fuego hot. Over 60,000* baby girls born in 2012 were given one of the name variants mentioned above (and that’s just the tip of the iceberg). Apparently this country has taken a collective “oath” to uphold the sanctity of Elizabeth’s name. And what a gorgeous name she is. The obvious impetus behind this name’s collective popularity right now is owing to the Ï‹ber-trendiness of Isabel/Isabella as well as diminutives Ella and Ellie. Let it be known, however, that while Isabella is currently in 3rd place nationwide as a preferred baby girl’s name, Elizabeth is no wilting flower coming in at position #10. Picking a favorite is no easy task, but we hands-down love both Elizabeth and Isabel equally. Liesel and Elsie are the best diminutives in our opinion.
So there you have it. Seven root names that keep on giving: Adelaide, Hannah, Helen, Catherine, Miriam/Mary, Margaret and Elizabeth. Looking for a risk-free baby girl’s name that is virtually regret-proof? Look no further.
*The data for the amount of 2012 baby girls given one of the root names is a gross underestimation of reality because we did not include several lesser-known linguistic forms of the names; altered and creative respellings of the names or elaborations on the names. We achieved our 15% number by roughly estimating that 300,000 baby girls were given some form of the seven root names listed above, out of nearly 2,000,000 baby girls born in 2012. It could very well be more than that.