Spotlight on: Helena

A reader has requested a spotlight on Helena, which I’ve been trying to get to for weeks … ta da! Here it is!

I’m always interested when variants of the same name all have different feels, and this is definitely one of those names. Helen has an older feel to me, like vintage chic, while Helena feels a bit more on trend and Helene feels mostly out of fashion, but the SSA data doesn’t totally agree with me: Helen is most popular at no. 418, followed by Helena at 516, and Helene at 943. What are your gut reactions about each name?

Then there are the non-H variants: Ellen, Elena, Elaine, Eleni, Ileana, Yelena, and Olena. And maybe Eleanor (which opens up some more variants, like Elea, Nora(h), and Lenora/Lenore). So many gorgeous names! So many ways of choosing a name in this family that suits your taste! I love the nicknames too: Ellie, Nell(ie), Lena, Leni (let’s not forget Dwija’s little Helen Margaret who got called Nellie Peg for a while in the beginning [and maybe still?]. Nellie Peg! So cute! [I can’t find the link to where I read that though!])

But back to Helena for a minute — for the mama who asked for the consultation, and for others I’ve encountered who would like to consider the name or who are, pronunciation can be an issue. There are three that seem to have fairly decent use: HEL-en-na, hel-LAY-na, and hel-LEEN-na. For those who don’t like when names have different acceptable pronunciations, that can be a problem! I did a name poll on Twitter to see if one pronunciation really rose to the surface, and there really was (though admittedly the same size was quite small):


So at least among the Sancta Nomina Twitter followers, HEL-en-na wins the day! How do you all say it?

St. Helena of Constantinople is the first holy Helen(a) to come to mind when I hear the name, and is usually the one parents tell me they’re using as patron (as well as the Eleanors), but there are others with the name or a variant as either a birth name or religious name — do any of you have devotions to any of them?

I’ve also seen people really love the meaning, which Behind the Name gives as either “torch,” “corposant” (a new word to me, but how cool!), or “moon,” and the DMNES says its origin is uncertain.

What do you all think of Helena and/or its variants? Would you consider any of them for a daughter, or have you? Do you know any little ones named Helena, and do they go by a nickname?

46 thoughts on “Spotlight on: Helena

  1. I love Helena, but my own name is in the same family so I doubt I’ll ever use it. I really like the he-LEEN-a pronunciation, so I’d also shy away from the name if that’s going to be difficult for other people! I love the nickname Lena, and will hopefully get to use a name that shortens to Lena eventually!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Elayne, then it could be an honor for you–I love juniors for the mamas.

      Lena could be Eleanor, Lenora, Leonor, Elena, or just Lena.

      As for us, my husband loves Elena and I love Helena, and ne’er the twain shall meet. We love Elinor, but it’s startlingly popular in the Eleanor spelling (especially compared to our Ilaria).

      Liked by 1 person

      • I love juniors for mamas too! Magdalena also gets to Lena, or Milena … so funny that one of you loves Elena and the other loves Helena and there’s no budging! (And Ilaria! How beautiful!)


  2. I absolutely love the name Helena! I’ve always pronounced it Hel-LAY-nah. My second journal was named Helena. Favorite variations include Ileana (thanks to Princess Ileana of Romania), Iliana, Yelena, Elena, Ilona, and Helina.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I might want to say HEL-en-ah right off the bat, but I have actually heard (in my option, the prettier) ha-LAY-na more. I had a Hispanic student with this name and heard both ha-LAY-na and hel-LEEN-a used for her. Maybe the pronunciation varies or is influenced by culture like that?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I more naturally say HEL-ena, but the only Helena I’ve known has pronounced it Hel-LAY-na. If I ever used it, I would probably consider the latter pronunciation… my husband has mentioned not liking that Helen starts with the syllable “hell” (eye roll)

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Very popular in Austria. However it is spelled Helene.but Pronounced like English He LAY na!

    often with nickname LENI! Or HELI

    HEL ena is less common but also pretty.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Very interesting post for me as my mum is a Helen. So Helena Helen with an a is the most instinctive. Although the only Helena I know is actually Hel-EEN-a, so I’m used to that one too now.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I have a little friend named Helen. When she was first born, I was taken aback by and mostly disliked what I perceived as an unfashionable “old lady” name, but now that’s she’s her, I can’t imagine her with any other name! Her very informal nickname is Lala based on how she used to pronounce her own name.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. When I studied in France, my name Mary-Ellen, is perfectly translated as Marie-Helene (pronounced Ay-layn).
    Such a pretty name & a joy to use while I lived there!
    My vote is Helene, all the way!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. The only Helen’s I know are all in their 50s or older. My own daughter is Elaina, spelt that way because the few people we asked about Elena pronounced it Ell-in-a and we wanted the -ay sound. And that is how I would want Helena pronounced too, with the -ay sound, so He-lay-na.
    I love Eleni (I know a girl of Greek descent called that).

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I love the name Elena – one of my favorites, so am partial to that form of the name. But I do like Helen and Helena, too. I probably say both pronunciations equally – HEL-en-na and hel-LAY-na. The first would be more natural to me, but know some little hel-LAY-na s so have gotten used that way to pronounce, too.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I have never met anyone with the name, but I do like it. I live near Montana, so I pronounce it like Helen with an a on the end. It also reminds me of Queen Victoria’s daughter, who was called Lenchen in the family, and the evil (but royal and very elegant ) Helena Cassadine, a character on the soap opera General Hospital. That character’s name rhymes with Elaine. I think Helena was also the name of the Countess Andrenyi in Murder on the Orient Express.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Nell is one of my all time favorite names so Helen, Helena, Eleanor have floated off and on my list over the years. I honestly don’t love any of them as much as Nell itself and just Nell wouldn’t really mesh well with our other kids names. Besides we’ve been blessed with had lots of boys to name instead.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. So happy to see this post, although it does still leave me unsure. We have 2 boys–Damian and Isaac–and just found out baby #3 is a girl. I love the name Lena (pronounced Lay-nuh), but it seems like the American pronunciation of the name is more commonly Lee-nuh. We’ve always favored names that are saint names, hard to shorten to a nickname, not used for a boy or a girl, and no questionable pronunciation (which takes out a lot of the beautiful A names for us). Our last name is already butchered half the time, so not sure if we should go with my beloved Lay-nuh for fear of mispronunciation. Hmmm…?!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hmm my guess is you’re right — though the majority of people I polled say hel-LAY-na for Helena, when it’s just Lena I would default to LEE-na. Would you consider a different spelling? Like Laena as share by Leah P. above? (I love Damian and Isaac!!)


  14. Helena (I pronounce it Hel-LAY-na) is my one & only pick for a girl’s name, as my mom’s middle name is Helen & my grandma’s middle name is Lena. I would probably use the nickname Lena. Also tempted to just go with Elena bc it seems most people don’t pronounce Helena like I do!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I love Helena to pieces! 🙂 It’s one of my all time faves. It was one of the names my parents considered for me, and then even more so for my sister, we actually talked about her as Helena for the entire pregnancy. And my grandma’s name is Helena. Here in Poland it used to be very popular, you can find many Helenas among older ladies, 60+ maybe, I know a fair few, but also it’s rising like crazy for the little girls as we’re having a real traditional names revival. It was #23 last year. And there is also Lena, which has also been extremely popular, at #6 last year. I am not a big fan of Lena, or another Polish nickname Hela, but I love Helenka! Sadly, although Helena is so popular at the moment, I actually haven’t met any little Helenka in person so far, I only know elderly ladies with this name, oh and my cousin’s middle name is Helena, in honour of our grandma. I don’t plan having children of my own, but if I would have any, I would definitely consider Helena, at least as a middle – I guess I wouldn’t like it as a first name because it’s so popular right now, but otherwise why not. – Of the international forms of Helena, I love most of them, and even if I don’t love some, I usually at least like them a bit. I love Helen, Helene, Ellen, Elen, Elin, Elaine, Elaina, Elena, Yelena, Eleni, Eline, Elina etc. etc. Also, I like the actress Helena Bonham Carter, and recently I’ve discovered that her mum calls her Hellie! Isn’t that gorgeous?! I really like Hellie. 🙂 As for the pronunciation, well I am Polish, the Polish pronunciation is he-LE-nah, and that’s my “default” pronunciation. But I’ve noticed that when I’m thinking or pronouncing this name in English it’s more like HE-le-nah, as that feels much more natural in English, with the accent on the first syllable. I really dislike the he-LAY-na pronunciation, and he-LEE-nah is OK but it makes me think more about our Polish name Halina rather than Helena, or makes me feel like it should actually be spelled Heleena or Helina, well Helina actually looks very nice. As for the patron saint, my grandma’s patron is st. Helena of Constantinople, so I’ve always liked her and I think she was a wonderful woman, but there are really so many wonderful saints and blesseds and servants of God with this name! One of my favourite Polish saints – st. Faustyna Kowalska – was born as Helena. There is also st. Elin of Sweden, and little Nellie of Holy God, – Ellen Organ – (I love the nickname Nell(ie) and Ellie by the way :D) about whom I’ve learnt just very recently. Just so many things to love about this name.

    Liked by 1 person

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