British baby names you’ll fall in love with
When you think of a grand, iconic British name, what moniker comes to mind? Victoria — of course. Elizabeth, perhaps? Agatha? Nigel? Edwin? Percival? Quintessentially English names will never go out of style, but since we’re also talking about Wales, Scotland, and the Irish Republic here, British monikers have an infinite appeal that’s as grounded in mythology and folklore as it is in cultural references.
In fact, British names like Caitlin, Dylan, and Gwendolyn have long been staples in American households, and other such monikers are starting to become U.S. favorites, as well. Names represent a kind of ongoing multicultural renaissance in themselves: Eventually, they cross all oceans and make it to all shores.
So, whether you’re looking to name your little one after a Celtic goddess, a beautiful bird, a famous playwright/poet, a Scottish warrior, any number of Shakespearean heroes/heroines, or destiny itself, read on. Whether you prefer your monikers fancy or folksy, there’s a name for every sensibility (and every adorable baby).
A derivative of the name Alexander, Alastair (or Alistair) — which means “defender of mankind” — is a Scottish baby name whose popularity has been on the rise in the U.S. (erratically, but definitively) since about the late 80s. As per Nameberry stats, it was the 871st most popular male name in England as of 2016.
The name is both unique and distinguished; in Alastair fame-dom, there’s the great Scottish actor Alastair Sim, who’s perhaps best remembered for his superb (and, some say, peerless) performance as Ebenezer Scrooge in 1951’s A Christmas Carol.
There’s also Alistair Cooke of Masterpiece Theatre fame, the august Scottish poet Alastair Reid, and famous magician, occultist, and poet Aleister Crowley, who some say may have been more avant-garde than ominous, despite his reputation as “the wickedest man in the world.” In any case, Alastair is a great choice, and one with a decidedly intellectual ring to it.
Though it actually means “of the meadow,” and is German in origin, according to Baby Center, Lear is a name that will always be as British as British can get — thanks, of course, to William Shakespeare. Based on the real-life travails and triumphs of King Leir of Britain, Shakespeare’s King Lear is an epic odyssey — of madness, of love, and of the stuff that immortality is made of. But the text also abounds with wonderful baby names; and if you’re looking for a moniker that’s as rich in British literary history as it is British cultural history, it’s hard to go wrong with this one.
According to Nameberry, Lear may also be associated with the Welsh sea-god Llyr, which lends its associations even more cultural sophistication. Plus, all that aside, Lear is just a really cool name. Plus, it’s one that’s rare, and yet also instantly recognizable, which is a unique combination, indeed.
This charming name, which shares its origins with Lark and other bird monikers that are starting to catch on, has been experiencing a sharp (but not staggering) upwards flight in popularity since around the early 2000s, according to Baby Center data. A quintessentially English unisex name, Wren is actually a lot more popular as a female moniker, but it’s a marvelous choice across the board, sharing its gender-neutral qualities with much more popular names like Robin.
Like many bird names, it’s also a moniker with musical connotations: a wren is a songbird that gives joy to everyone, and what’s not to love about the image of a little boy cavorting among the wrens? It’s distinctly British, in a Mary Poppins sort of way.
In other words, Wren is a name that can grow along with a child. In babyhood, it’s adorable, and in adulthood, it’s unique and distinguished.
With its meaning of “Lord of the land,” this Scottish baby name has a smooth, elegant, and — well, lordly sound to it. Indeed, Laird has roots in the aristocracy; its meaning is similar to baron (the title and the name), and its popularity has been pretty consistent since around the 1920s, believe it or not. A few years ago, Sharon Stone chose it as a moniker for one of her sons.
Despite its spelling, the name is generally pronounced “Lehrd” as opposed to “Layered,” but, of course, pronunciations can be as fluid as you want them to be, and they often vary according to region and dialect anyway. The bottom line is that Laird is a great choice, so if you’re going to opt for it, there’s no reason not to flesh it out with your own unique spin. It also has a mythical sound to it, so it kind of evokes a romantic Medieval vibe, as well.
From English poet Christopher Marlowe to British-American novelist Raymond Chandler’s iconic detective Philip Marlowe, this name has culture and sophistication written all over it. Marlowe, which has traditionally been used as a surname, actually means “drained lake,” which is ambiguously interesting. And, although it sounds niche-British, in truth it’s never really gone off the charts, popularity-wise.
Marlowe is also a trending girl’s name, and according to Nameberry, it has a different meaning of “driftwood” when used in a feminine context, which makes it even more versatile and compelling. Actor Jason Schwartzman (of Moonrise Kingdom and Grand Budapest Hotel fame) and his wife Brady Cunningham have a little Marlowe, as do actress Sienna Miller and her fiancee, actor Tom Sturridge.
Still, the moniker has a special kind of film noirish intrigue for a boy — especially one that just might end up being a detective or a poet. Or both, perhaps?
Anne of Green Gables said it best: “Cordelia is a perfectly elegant name.” As the virtuous, noble daughter of Shakespeare’s King Lear, Cordelia is a British moniker for the ages; the name means “heart,” or “daughter of the sea,” and has a quaint old-fashioned ring to it, as well: It was quite popular in the late 1800s.
Cordelia has a long lineage of possible origins: Some say that the moniker is derived from the Welsh name Creiddylad. There’s also a German variant of it in the form of the three syllable Kordula, or it might be derived from Saint Cordula, who hailed from the 4th century. But the Cordelia that Anne loves is surely its most beautiful incarnation.
Whatever its genesis, however, the moniker will always belong primarily to Shakespeare and to the British. And with its lovely array of possible nicknames — from Delia to Cord — it lends itself to modern versatility, as well.
Can there be a more British baby girl name than Brontë? With its evocation of the wild, windswept moors of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, the name practically exudes dramatic, Gothic vistas and theatrical majesty. And let’s not forget sister Charlotte Brontë’s epic (and equally great) novel Jane Eyre, which conjures up similar imagery.
Though the name sounds French, it’s actually Greek in origin, according to Baby Center, and it means “thunder.” Its popularity in the U.S. is perhaps surprising: It’s experienced something of a surge in the past 20 or so years. It’s also a unisex name, but with the Brontë sisters being who they were, the moniker seems to be the perfect tribute to strong femininity.
The name can be spelled with or without the exotic umlaut above the last letter, and it can be pronounced Bron-tay or Brun-tee, according to preference. Either way, just beware of taking your little one out for a moorland stroll on full moon nights.
This rare and beautiful Welsh name encompasses a wealth of mythological power and allure. A revered Welsh white witch and enchantress, Cerridwen (or Ceridwen) was a goddess of poetry and transfiguration, and her story is indeed as poetic as it is harrowing. Though the name appears to have experienced an upsurge in vogue-ness in the mid to late 90s, it is, of course, ancient.
According to Nameberry, Cerridwen, in accordance with its mythological counterpart, means “beautiful as a poem,” and it’s pronounced Kerrid-when, or Keh-rihd-wehn. Its three syllables give it a caressing and/or soothing kind of sound. Indeed, as Behind the Name explains it, the moniker is actually a combination of several words, including the Welsh cerdd (meaning “poetry”), ven (meaning “woman”) and gwen (meaning “white, fair, blessed”).
So really, Cerridwen is several names in one, if you want to get technical. It’s also a unique and gorgeous choice for what will surely be a unique and gorgeous baby.
Shakespeare monikers appear for the third time on this list in the form of Cressida of Troilus and Cressida, the Bard’s epic tragicomic love story. Because of its ubiquitous association with English literature, Cressida is almost universally regarded as a quintessentially British name, even though it’s actually Greek in origin.
By itself, Cressida (pronounced Kress-ida) means “gold;” and, since it’s never been particularly popular in the U.S., you’ll probably never have to worry about a “gold rush” of parents choosing the name and making it too common anytime soon.
In celebrity-dom, there’s English model and actress Cressida Bonas, also known as Prince Harry’s ex. There’s also renowned English children’s author Cressida Cowell. There’s even a Cressida (or Kressida, as NASA calls it) asteroid. So, if you’re looking for a golden name for a golden child, Cressida might just be a solid nugget of a choice for your little girl.
Even without Pippa Middleton to make the British association complete, this English name, said to be descended from Philippa (which is, of course, a derivative of Phillip), is darling, catchy, and endearing; and its meaning of “lover of horses” makes it even more evocative of English equestrian glamour. It’s hard to think of Pippa as anything other than a perfect name for an adorable, free-spirited little girl.
According to Baby Center stats, the name experienced quite a spike in popularity starting in about 2004, and it shares similarities with the far more popular Piper. Pippa is also the subject of Pippa Passes, the celebrated poem by English poet Robert Browning.
An ebullient name for an ebullient personality, Pippa almost looks like it’s jumping (or actively bouncing) off the page. So if you have an active little girl kicking and tumbling away in there, she might just be trying to tell you what she wants her name to be.
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