How popular is the baby name Nell in the United States right now? How popular was it historically? Find out using the graph below! Plus, see baby names similar to Nell and check out all the blog posts that mention the name Nell.

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Popularity of the Baby Name Nell

Number of Babies Named Nell

Born in the U.S. Since 1880

Posts that Mention the Name Nell

The Baby Name Fifinella

Women’s History Month is almost over, so let me squeeze in a post about Fifinella, a rare-but-real name with ties not only to the pioneering female aviators of WWII, but also to Walt Disney, Roald Dahl, Tchaikovsky, and a champion British racehorse.

Fifinella began as a children’s Christmas play. It was co-written by Englishmen Barry Jackson and Basil Dean, with music by Norman Hayes. Fifinella was first performed at the Liverpool Repertory Theatre in December of 1912.

fifinella - the play
From “The Stage” Year Book, 1913

The play — sometimes called “Fluffy Nellie” — “included 14 scenes and a harlequinade.” It was also adapted into the book Fifinella, a fairy frolic (1912) by Basil Dean’s then-wife Esther Van Gruisen.

The next year, an English thoroughbred horse was born to dam Silver Fowl and sire Polymelus. The chestnut filly, owned by newspaper proprietor Sir Edward Hulton, was named Fifinella.

fifinella in 1916
Fifinella in 1916

Fifinella went on become the last horse to win both the Derby and the Oaks in a single year, 1916.

That’s the same year English author and former Royal Air Force (RAF) pilot Roald Dahl was born — reason enough, apparently, for him to want to use Fifinella in his very first children’s book The Gremlins (1943), “a story drawing on RAF folklore which held that little creatures were responsible for the various mechanical failures on aeroplanes.”

The gremlins are convinced by a pilot named Gus to make peace with the RAF and join forces with the British to combat a more sinister villain; Hitler and the Nazis. The gremlins are then re-trained by the RAF to repair British aircraft instead of destroy them.

In the book, “fifinella” isn’t a name but a noun referring to a female gremlin. (Baby gremlins are called “widgets.”)

The book was put out by Walt Disney Productions and Random House. Walt Disney had wanted to make the book into a movie, but the movie never happened.

The gremlins “did live on in the form of military insignias,” though.

Walt Disney himself granted at least 30 military units permission to use gremlins as mascots/insignias during WWII, and even “assigned several artists to create these one-of-a-kind designs on a full-time basis.”

Units with gremlin mascots included the 17th Weather Squadron of San Francisco, the Royal Netherlands Military Flying School, and the Royal Canadian Air Force ‘Sky Sweepers.’

But the most famous gremlin mascot, Fifinella, belonged to the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), a paramilitary unit of 1,000+ women who flew non-combat flights in order to free male pilots for combat service.

Fifinella

(She had been an unofficial mascot of the Women’s Flying Training Detachment (WFTD), which in August of 1943 merged with another group of female pilots to become the WASPs, even before permission was granted.)

The WASPs put Fifinella’s image on everything from patches to letterheads to matchbook covers. The Fifinella mascot even made an appearance in a mid-1943 LIFE article about the WASPs.

Member of Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) wears Fifinella patch on blouse, 1943
© LIFE

After the WASPs were disbanded in late 1944, ex-WASPs created the Order of Fifinella, a group that was both social (e.g., organizing reunions) and political (e.g., working to gain recognition as veterans).

Finally, one last Fifinella reference: In late 1945, Austrian tenor Richard Tauber recorded an English version of “Pimpinella – Florentine Song” (1878) by Russian composer Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. One of the many lyrical changes he made was replacing the name Pimpinella with the name Fifinella. (Here’s Richard Tauber singing Fifinella.)

So the name Fifinella has been around for at least a century. It’s been associated with theater, literature, sport, war, feminism and music. Has it ever been used as the name of a human being?

Yes, but rarely. I’ve only found a handful of Fifinellas, and all of them were born outside the United States:

  • Fifinella Downes (later Clarke), Australia
  • Fifinella “Fif” Beatrice Evans, d. 2007, England
  • Fifinella Flavell, b. 1923, England
  • Fifinella Hill (later Gratwick), Australia
  • Fifinella Lewis, b. 1914, Ireland
  • Fifinella Mallard (later Newson), 1901-1969, England
  • Fifinella Charlotte Agatha Nelson, d. 1947, Australia
  • Fifinella Patricia Russell (later Ceret), b. 1927, Ireland
  • Fifinella Silcox (later Mccluskey), b. 1948, England

So it’s definitely an unusual name. It’s also quite whimsical, and it has a ton of nickname potential (Fifi, Fina, Nell, Nella, Nellie). Do you like it? Would you ever consider using Fifinella as a baby name?

Sources:


110+ Hidden Gems: Rare Baby Girl Names

gemstoneWant a girl name that’s not popular, but also not made-up?

I looked through the names at the bottom of SSA’s 2011 mega-list and found a bunch of hidden gems:

  1. Alberta (9 baby girls)
  2. Alexandrina (6)
  3. Amity (28)
  4. Apollonia (21)
  5. Augusta (31)
  6. Augustina (15)
  7. Avelina (34)
  8. Bernadine (6)
  9. Bertha (45)
  10. Bettina (8)
  11. Blanche (6)
  12. Bryony (5); Briony (16)
  13. Carlotta (20)
  14. Celestina (19)
  15. Celestine (7)
  16. Cicely (14)
  17. Claribel (19)
  18. Clarice (37)
  19. Clarity (17)
  20. Claudette (9)
  21. Claudine (9)
  22. Clementina (7)
  23. Constantina (5)
  24. Coretta (5)
  25. Corinna (37)
  26. Cornelia (17)
  27. Damiana (10)
  28. Davida (10)
  29. Delphine (26)
  30. Dinah (44)
  31. Dolores (39)
  32. Dorothea (15)
  33. Edwina (8)
  34. Eloisa (42)
  35. Enid (15)
  36. Ernestina (5)
  37. Eugenia (29)
  38. Eugenie (8)
  39. Eulalia (25)
  40. Euphemia (5)
  41. Evita (13)
  42. Fabiana (47)
  43. Faustina (21)
  44. Flavia (12)
  45. Floriana (6)
  46. Florina (6)
  47. Georgette (24)
  48. Gertrude (16)
  49. Gloriana (22)
  50. Golda (34)
  51. Goldie (37)
  52. Heloise (8)
  53. Henrietta (34)
  54. Hilda (40)
  55. Imelda (23)
  56. Io (9)
  57. Ione (26)
  58. Isidora (13)
  59. Jeanne (39)
  60. Josette (27)
  61. Junia (17)
  62. Linnaea (12)
  63. Lucette (7)
  64. Lucienne (43)
  65. Lucilla (12)
  66. Marietta (22)
  67. Maude (9)
  68. Mavis (38)
  69. Minerva (38)
  70. Nanette (8)
  71. Nell (32)
  72. Nella (38)
  73. Nicola (30)
  74. Nicoletta (19)
  75. Nicolina (29)
  76. Odette (48)
  77. Olympia (22)
  78. Orla (28); Orlagh (6)
  79. Phillipa (10)
  80. Philomena (41)
  81. Phyllis (20)
  82. Rhoda (28)
  83. Romana (6)
  84. Rosabella (46)
  85. Rosalba (17)
  86. Rosaline (20)
  87. Rosella (26)
  88. Rosetta (25)
  89. Rosette (5)
  90. Rosina (17)
  91. Rowena (15)
  92. Rubina (5)
  93. Rue (13)
  94. Sebastiana (5)
  95. Seraphine (19)
  96. Sigrid (15)
  97. Stephania (32)
  98. Sybilla (5)
  99. Talulla (5)
  100. Therese (47)
  101. Thomasina (6)
  102. Thora (19)
  103. Tova (43)
  104. Ulyssa (8)
  105. Ursula (25)
  106. Vashti (16)
  107. Verity (38)
  108. Violetta (46)
  109. Vita (36)
  110. Wanda (23)
  111. Winifred (30)
  112. Winona (20)
  113. Xanthe (7)
  114. Zenaida (36)
  115. Zenobia (22)
  116. Zillah (9)
  117. Zipporah (41); Tzipporah (12)

(In some cases, a different spelling of the name is more popular than what’s shown here. For instance, Isidora is rare, but Isadora is more common.)

Like any of these?

Did you spot any other great end-of-the-list names?

See the boys’ list, or check out the Rare Baby Names page.

The Minor Mystery of Maginel

I recently learned that actress Anne Baxter had three daughters: Katrina, Melissa and Maginel. Katrina and Melissa are names I’d seen before, but Maginel was new to me. So of course I had to dig a little deeper.

Turns out Maginel’s name is pronounced with a hard g. She was named after a great aunt who was known as Maginel–a contracted form of Maggie Nell, which was short for Margaret Ellen.

Great Aunt Maginel was the younger sister of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, Anne Baxter’s grandfather. (Talk about an impressive family tree!)

Her streamlined nickname reminds me of Melvil, which is the way librarian Melville Dewey used to spell his first name.

Sources:

  • Rosenfield, Paul. “Theatrical Life of a Misfit.” Los Angeles Times. 5 Dec. 1976: S53.
  • Savoy, Maggie. “Anne Baxter Keeps Her Wigs On.” Los Angeles Times. 6 Nov. 1969: F1.
  • Secrest, Meryle. Frank Lloyd Wright: A Biography. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 1988.

Namestorm 11 – Baby Names for Space Lovers

Captivated by the cosmos? You might enjoy this list of space-inspired baby names:

Robert (and Nell)
American physicist Robert Goddard launched the first liquid-fueled rocket (nicknamed Nell) in Auburn, Massachusetts on March 16, 1926.

Yuri
Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to enter space and return safely on April 12, 1961.

Alan
Astronaut Alan Shepard became the first American in space on May 5, 1961.

Valentina
Cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space on 16 June 1963.

Alexey (and Eva)
Cosmonaut Alexey Leonov carried out the first EVA (extra-vehicular activity–in this case, a spacewalk) on March 18, 1965.

Edwin and Neil
Astronauts Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Neil Armstrong become the first men to walk on the moon on July 20, 1969.

Vladimir
Czechoslovak cosmonaut Vladimír Remek became the first Non-American, non-Soviet in space on 2 March 1978.

Sally
Astronaut Sally Ride became the first American woman in space on 18 June 1983.

Svetlana
Cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya became the first woman to perform a spacewalk on 25 July 1984.

Anna
Astronaut Anna Fisher became the first mother in space* on 8 November 1984.

Helen
British cosmonaut Helen Sharman became the first non-American, non-Soviet female in space on 18 May 1991.

Peggy
American biochemist Peggy Whitson became the first resident scientist of the International Space Station in 2002.

And now, a couple of questions:

  • Can you come up with any other space-related baby names?
  • What interests/activities should we namestorm about next?

*By “the first mother in space,” I mean the first woman with children to go into space, not the first woman to give birth in space.

Sources: Key Milestones in Space Exploration, Space Exploration Timeline, Wikipedia, Women in Space

Baby Name Needed – Irish Form of Elaine

A reader named Diane writes:

My Mother passed away 2 years ago and I would like to name my daughter after her. Her name was Elaine. I have already used her name as a middle name for my first daughter. I would like to find a variation of Elaine to use as a first name. My husband is Irish and would love if there was an an Irish connection with the name as well. Any suggestions?

I love that Diane wants to use her mother’s name again. I think both daughters will appreciate having a form of their grandmother’s name to carry with them.

Let’s see…Elaine is an Old French form of Helen. Irish forms of Helen include Léan and Léana, which I believe are pronounced “layn” and layna” (please correct me if I’m wrong). The Irish name Eileen is sometimes considered to be a form of Helen, though technically the names aren’t related to one another.

Other variants and pet forms of Helen/Elaine include Ella, Ellen, Ellie, Helena, Lena, Nell and Nelly. And of course there’s always Helen itself. None of these are specifically Irish, but they’re all used in Ireland — perhaps that’s just as good.

What other ideas can you come up with?

UPDATE – The baby is here! Scroll down to the last comment to see the name.