The Women Behind Britain’s Best Names

SO you may have read recently that they’ve just published this year’s list of most popular baby names in England & Wales (I’m not too sure why Scotland and NI have been left out) and I thought it’d be fun to have a look at some of the names for girls and investigate the people behind them who have these names and see what they might have in common. I’m also hoping to find some badass women to inspire me along the way too.

1- Olivia – (‘Olive’).

Most people took notice of the name in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night but it has been used since the 13th century, the oldest reference being the Italian Roman Catholic martyr Olivia of Brescia who died around 138 AD. Other Olivia’s of note include British scientist Olivia Judson who wrote a tongue-in-cheek book called Dr Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation which is essentially a sex advice book to animals wishing to create the best offspring – it was nominated for the Samuel Johnson award in 2003 but didn’t win. There’s also American journalist Olivia Nuzzi, who’s but 24, and left her college degree to take a journalism job as a political correspondent in Washington. The gamble paid off and she’s since been listed as ‘one of 2016’s twenty-five “most influential” people’.  Maybe it’s ok to take a risk if you’re an Olivia – your wit and intelligence will probably see you through just fine. It certainly did for these guys.


***Bonus Welsh Round – Seren – (Welsh, ‘star’)***

I live in Wales now and it’d just be plain rude if I didn’t include the highest-ranking Welsh name on the list. This is a remarkably new name, which makes it surprising that it’s suddenly so popular, placing at number 12 on the list. Luna has also proven incredibly popular this year, so perhaps it’s simply a patriotic leaning towards space-themed names (Wales is most definitely one for maintaining their language, I get daily customers who refuse to speak to me in anything other than Welsh which quickly becomes difficult for both of us).


2- Amelia – (Germanic, ‘work, industrious’).

Of course, the very first person that springs to mind is the indomitable Amelia Earhart, who was the first female pilot to fly, unaided, across the Atlantic Ocean and was a pioneering advocate for female pilots. She also famously disappeared whilst on a mission to fly around the world in 1937, aged just 39. Her body was never found. Other notable Amelia’s I can think of come from fiction, Meg Cabot’s brilliant heroine Princess Amelia (Mia) Thermopolis and Doctor Who companion Amelia Pond. Amelia’s seem to be strong-willed, ahead of their time and not afraid to live life on their own terms. I approve, and am more than a little bit jealous.


3- Emily – (‘ambitious, striving, rival’).

Emily Bronte is the author of one of my favourite books of all time, the dark, brooding and romantic classic Wuthering Heights. Emily Dickinson wrote some of the best poems of the 1800s, and was incredibly ahead of her time in terms of form and thematic ideology. I get the feeling that Emily’s are passionate about the things they love, be that art, sport or beliefs. Emily Wilding Davison was a staunch suffragette in the early 90s, to the extent that she may have committed martyrdom by stepping onto the track of a horse race in 1913 and being struck down dead. There’s speculation as to whether Wilding planned her actions, as she had a return bus ticket in her pocket and had given no indication of her actions before that day.


4- Isla – (Scottish derivation of the Scottish island of Islay).

Can I just start by saying that I love Isla Fisher? She’s pretty, funny, a great actress and writes the best children’s books. And her hair is gorgeous. A slight spelling difference, but I also had to mention Ila Loetscher here, friend of Amelia Earhart and Iowa’s first licensed female pilot. Loetscher was also a passionate conservationist and set up a company to care for injured sea turtles in 1977.


5- Ava – (seemingly no direct translation but could be an English form of  Eva or Aoife).

A poet known simply as Ava in the 1100s was the first female writer in German EVER. There’s now, 900 years on, a Frau Ava prize in Germany that rewards young, female, German writers. There’s also Ava Gardner, the great Hollywood actress of the 40s and 50s. She was married three times, most notably to Frank Sinatra and later complained that being with him (Sinatra) was like ‘being with a woman’ as he was so ‘gentle’. Frank Sinatra famously left his wife for Gardner which caused a scandal at the time but helped to revive both their careers. Gardner became pregnant twice but aborted both children as she knew her management would drop her if she became pregnant. It seems that Ava’s are ambitious and tenacious, with a dash of originality to boot.


6- Isabella – (Latin, ‘pledged to God’).

I’ll be honest, the first reference that came to my mind when I saw this name on the list was Isabella Swan from the Twilight franchise…hardly a glowing reference for the name. However, on research and reflection, I also found that Isabella was an extremely common regal name. Isabella of France (1295-1358) was known as the She-Wolf of France and orchestrated a plot to kill her first husband and put herself and her lover on the throne. Her son later murdered her lover, but didn’t punish her and she lived out the rest of her days in considerable luxury. She is seen by history as a manipulative femme-fatale. Queen Isabella of Portugal managed to convince her husband to execute his corrupt second-in-command but then suffered heavily from what we would now call PTSD, which seems to have developed into early onset dementia. However, she kept the King’s favour until his death which is proof of her tenacity –  this wasn’t by any means an easy feat in those days! The Isabella’s throughout history seem to have been lucky royals, although they don’t seem to have wed such lucky men, many of whom were sent into exile after being deposed by their countries. If you’re an Isabella, there’s definitely a strong argument to remaining single.


7- Lily – (as in, the flower).

I had a friend at school called Lily who wasn’t really very nice. She was the ‘leader’ of my little clique and always had to get her own way. I used to think she was  super cool but I don’t think I’d have time for someone like her these days. I remember she got me in trouble during my first year of secondary school by bursting into tears for no reason when I brushed behind her chair in French class. Literally. That petty. Here’s to hoping the Lily’s of history are more gracious. After a long search, the best I can find is Lily Cole, who stars in my favourite movie of all time (The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, if you’re wondering) and Lily van Der Woodsen from Gossip Girl.  I think perhaps Lily’s are destined to be headstrong leaders, who are able to remain in control of situations. Perhaps my judgement is simply clouded by the fact that Lily’s inclusion in this list knocked ‘Poppy’ out of the top 10 names.


8- Jessica – (Biblical, ‘to have foresight, to see’).

The first modern use of Jessica, yet again, comes from the master that is Shakespeare, this time from The Merchant of Venice.  You also have the obvious present-day heroines of Jessica Ennis-Hill, Olympian medallist and Jessica’s Alba and Biel respectively (honestly, anyone that can bag Justin Timberlake deserves a place in this article). Perhaps my favourite of the Jessica’s, though, is British American writer Jessica Mitford, who campaigned tirelessly for greater acceptance of diversity in her lifetime. Born in the early 20th century, her family were supporters of Hitler, an ideology which Mitford strongly rejected from an early age and which led her to join the Communist party (which she later also became disillusioned with, when Stalin and Mao began to muddy those political waters). She attended rallies led by Martin Luther King Jr. and got caught up in a riot started by the KKK. In later life, she became an investigative journalist, author and professor.


9- Ella – (Latin, ‘beautiful fairy’).

I also know an Ella, although only one. She’s a scatter-brained, over-excitable bundle of joy and fun. I know I’m making her sound like a puppy, but it’s actually quite a fair comparison. Another weird and wonderful Ella from history is Ella Wheeler Wilcox who was an American poet (1850-1919) who first coined the line, ‘Laugh, and the world laughs with you”, in one of her poems. She also had a passion for the occult and believed that spirits from the dead could communicate with those on Earth. She became distraught when her husband died and did not ‘contact’ her. Ella Josephine Baker was a 20th century African American Black Rights Activist who gave a speech containing this quote in 1964, which is still hauntingly resonant today: “Until the killing of black men, black mothers’ sons, becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a white mother’s son, we who believe in freedom cannot rest until this happens.” In short, Ella’s are awesome. Maybe a bit intense, but still awesome.


10 . Mia – (Italian for ‘mine’).

Mia is another relatively new name, that seems to have been borne from a modernization of Maria and/or Amelia. My thoughts first jumped to Meg Cabot’s Princess Mia again, so perhaps I read too much children’s literature. Some real Mia’s include Mia Love (1975-) who was the first Black Republic elected to congress ever. She did not support Donald Trump in the last election, asking him to withdraw from the election, and is now working to fight climate change. There’s also, of course, Mia Farrow (1975-) who has had an absolute soap opera of a life. Yet another lady in this article who was married to Frank Sinatra (boy, did he get around), she had around 11 children by her various husbands, however some of her children are adopted. She even lost one of her husbands to one of her adopted daughters, whom she (perhaps understandably) is now estranged from! Drama aside, Farrow is well known for her ceaseless charity work. She has visited places such as Rwanda and Kenya to offer support and education to young people and young women in particular. If you’re still not convinced that Mia’s are amazing, just look at Mia from La La Land. That yellow dress from that sequence deserves an article of appreciation all of it’s own.


And there we have it. An absolute monster of a post that I have had SO MUCH FUN researching and writing about. I hope I’ve entertained and not bored you, and do let me know what you thought of this post and what your name means!


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