Baby name consultation: Baby no. 11 needs a heavy-hitting middle name! Also: are sisters Heléna and Eleanor problematic?

Happy feast of the Epiphany!!

Thank you all for your replies to my Friday question about naming in foster-to-adopt situations! I’m still working through your comments, and hope to compile and condense them all into one post — stay tuned!

Today’s consultation is for Desiree and her husband, who are expecting their 11th baby — a tiebreaker!! This baby girl joins five big sisters and five big brothers:

Olivia Marie (“she is our niece whom we took in when she was 11, so I had no part in naming her“)

Andrew Pick IV (“family name carried on“)

Maximilian Augustine (“I love strong saint names and both of these saints are extremely meaningful for us“)

Heléna Thérèse (“after St Helen of the Cross and she was born on the feast of St Thérèse, so that was a no brainer“)

Tomás Delahanty (“the Gaelic version of Thomas, named after Saint Thomas Aquinas. His middle name is my husband’s middle name“)

Dominic Giles (“named after St. Dominic whom we both have a devotion to. Middle name is after our dear priest friend who married us (who is also a Dominican) Fr. Giles“)

Finnegan Patrick (“solid Irish first name (husband is Irish) his middle name is my husband’s first name“)

Kai Sophia Maribel (“I wanted a sweet Hawaiian name [and] Kai resonated with me. Sophia my husband picked because it was “sweet” and Maribel is for Our Lady 💙”)

Camilla Flannery (“named after my dear, late Grandma Millie (we call her Millie also) middle name after one of my favorite catholic novelists/poets, Flannery O’Connor“)

Karolina Faustina (“she was born in the year of mercy, so naturally I named her after JPII (Karol) and she was born on the feast day of our Lady of Czestochowa, so I wanted a solid Polish Saint — Faustina was perfect“)

These are such a great bunch of names!! So many great saintly connections, and I love that Ireland, Hawaii, and Poland are represented!

Desiree writes,

We are pretty set on naming her after my MIL — Eleanor.

I loved Emmanuella for the middle name but my dh kind of shot it down ☹️ I want a strong saint/catholic/religious name for the middle since Eleanor isn’t a big saint’s name. I LOVE the idea of Caeli for the middle but husband is again iffy.

I’m not super into all the standard/popular catholic names that everyone uses (although the saints themselves are WONDERFUL) ie: Gianna, Elizabeth, Clare — those types of names are just too basic for me.

I’d love a name that is unique, strong, yet feminine and just makes you go WoW, esp since Eleanor is more old world. Hence my two choices were Emmanuella and Caeli.

My husband wants to use my name in the middle, but I’ve never loved my name and it’s not exciting to me at all.”

You all know I LOVE bold Catholicky Catholic names, so I dove headfirst into coming up with ideas for a middle name for Eleanor and didn’t even notice the thing you all probably noticed right away. In fact, I didn’t notice it all until Desiree emailed me after I’d already sent her my ideas to say,

I just completely by accident came across your blog post from 5 years titled “Eleanor=Helen after all” and I’m semi-freaking out right now. lol I have a Heléna. Will I have two girls with essentially the same name if I name current baby Eleanor??

How did I miss that??

We’ve discussed Eleanor and its connection to Helena a few times — my most recent post on it is even entitled “Eleanor: Take 37” because when I wrote it, I felt like I was rehashing something that had already been rehashed and rehashed. That post shared the most recent information I’d come across — that Eleanor is almost certainly NOT a Helena variant, which is usually upsetting to parents of Eleanor who intended to give their daughter a Helena variant. So funny that that same upsetting bit of info may actually be a positive for Desiree and her husband!!

(Please don’t worry if you have an Eleanor! I wrote this post for Nameberry a few years ago in which I argue that intention often matters more than the details when it comes to naming, and a little Eleanor named for St. Helena was the inspiration for my article.)

All that said, however, I do think it’s true that people who know something about names might see sisters Heléna and Eleanor and think their parents gave the same name to two daughters. Even if that were true, it doesn’t need to be a deal breaker necessarily — on the one hand, some people won’t know of the possible connection between the two names; on the other, Desiree and her hubby can just own it and acknowledge to those who ask (if there are any) that they know there might be a connection, but they’ve done some research and found the evidence to be weighted on the “Eleanor does not equal Helena” side. And that, even if it turns out there is a connection between the two names, it was more important to them to explicitly honor Desiree’s mother-in-law.

Other ways of working with this include using a nickname for Eleanor that isn’t obviously Helena-related, like Ellie or Nora. Or they could put Eleanor in the middle spot. Or they could spell it Elanor, which is how Tolkien spelled it and in his books it’s a Sindarin word meaning “star sun,” which is the name of a flower, and Samwise’s oldest daughter is named Elanor after the flower.

What do you all think? I know Desiree and her hubby would very much like to hear your thoughts on whether or not sisters named Heléna and Eleanor are problematic.

Back to Desiree’s original question about a middle name for Eleanor: What names would be on a list of “strong saint/catholic/religious” names that are “unique, strong, yet feminine and just makes you go WoW”?

Her ideas of Emmanuella and Caeli are both amazing! They gave me great direction in terms of what other kinds of names to suggest.

First, though, I have to admit I’m kind of with Desiree’s husband on using her name! Eleanor Desiree sounds wonderful together and I could see it pairing nicely with a lot of other names as well; I love the idea of their baby girl having that connection with her mama; and I think Desiree is objectively a pretty great name! The meaning of “desired, wished for” is a lovely one for a child. Desiree is a feminine form of the male name Desideratus, and there are three Sts. Desideratus that I found; this one is my favorite. In fact, Desiree is the French form of the feminine form Desiderata — maybe Desiree would prefer to use that? Eleanor Desiderata? Could be perfect!

Of course I can come always come up with more ideas! You all know that I almost always start consultations by looking up the names the parents have used and those they like/are considering in the Baby Name Wizard as it lists, for each name, boy and girl names that are similar in terms of style/feel/popularity. That strategy didn’t work so well for this family though, not least because Emmanuella and Caeli don’t have entries! But I’ve done a few posts that I found helpful, and of course my book of Marian names has a lot of fun ideas. These are what I came up with:

(1) Archangela
Archangela was actually my first idea, before I did any research, and it was 100% inspired by Eleanor. In that “Eleanor: Take 37” post, I shared a reader’s email about Bl. Archangela Girlani, whose birth name was Eleanor. A legitimate non-Helena holy Eleanor that can be used as patron! Anyway, I love the name Archangela — what a heavy hitting name, with THREE archangels as patrons! Eleanor Archangela is lovely!

(2) Immaculata, Immaculée
I love to tell the story of how it was meeting a little girl whose middle name is Immaculata that inspired me to start compiling non-Mary Marian names, which eventually turned into my book! You can’t get more heavy hitting than Immaculata! A variant of it is Immaculée, which could be nice because it’s French, like Desiree’s name, and ends in ee, like her name. There’s also a current famous Immaculée — Immaculée Ilibagiza, who has written about surviving the Rwandan genocide. Eleanor Immaculata and Eleanor Immaculée are both beautiful.

(3) Mariae (or …?)
I spent a little time looking up names that have a similar meaning to Desiree’s name, as a way of nodding to her hubby’s wish to use her name, while not actually using it. One of the meanings that’s been theorized about Mary is “wished for child,” which is perfect! Even if that isn’t what Mary means (and it seems likely that it’s not), how can you wrong with a Mary variant?! One of my favorites is Mariae, which is the Latin genitive version — it literally means, “belonging to Mary.” Eleanor Mariae is stunning. There are so many other Mary variants they could consider as well!

(4) Maristella
Speaking of Mary variants, Maristella is another of my favorites — it’s a variant of Stellamaris/Stella Maris, and I think Eleanor Maristella sounds really beautiful.

(5) Madonna
I know, I know. But I really really want us to reclaim this beautiful Marian name! I think the middle name spot is the perfect place to start — like this mom did, naming her daughter Indigo Madonna, with this reasoning: “I just love the title of Madonna for Our Lady, and I’ve always wanted Catholics to take it back after it’s been so pop-culture secularized.” I love Eleanor Madonna!

(6) Avila, Ave
I was excited to see Avila in the list of names having “desire” in their meaning on Behind the Name! It’s not totally a sure thing, but “desired” is possible. Regardless, it definitely has that Catholicky Catholic vibe, and Eleanor Avila has a cool rhythm. I like it! Ava was also included in that list, which didn’t seem quite right for Desiree, but it reminded me of Ave (like, Ave Maria), which I have in my book as a possibility for a given name. Eleanor Ave is unexpected and beautiful!

(7) Emmaus, Edessa
I’m not sure these are totally right for what Desiree’s looking for, but I love how they each sound with Eleanor, so I thought I’d include them! Emmaus is from the story of Jesus meeting His apostles on the road to Emmaus — I have a friend who used Emmaus for her baby, which opened my eyes to the possibility of it being used as a given name. Eleanor Emmaus. Then, Edessa is from the Marian title Our Lady of Edessa, and I think it’s such a pretty name. Eleanor Edessa.

(8) Assumpta
Assumpta comes from Assumption, of course — it’s a beautiful and little-used Marian name these days. But one of the main reasons I wanted to suggest it is because Desiree and her hubs made a point to work some Irish sensibility into their kids’ names with Tomás and Finnegan’s names, and Assumpta is listed on Behind the Name as the “Latinate form of Asunción, used especially in Ireland.” How fun is that? I like Eleanor Assumpta.

(9) Cruz
I’m not sure they’ll love this one, but I love that Cruz (Spanish for “cross”) can refer to the Cross of Jesus, and also to Our Lady at the foot of the Cross. Eleanor Cruz is pretty cool.

(10) Perpetua
Finally, Perpetua can refer to the beautiful Marian title Our Lady of Perpetual Help, and also to the second/third century martyr who is an amazing patron for a little girl and is in the Canon of the Mass.

And those are my ideas for a heavy-hitting middle name for Desiree and her husband’s baby girl! What do you all think? What names would you add to this list? And please weigh in on the Heléna/Eleanor question!


My book, Catholic Baby Names for Girls and Boys: Over 250 Ways to Honor Our Lady (Marian Press, 2018), is available to order from ShopMercy.org and Amazon — perfect for the expectant parents, name enthusiasts, and lovers of Our Lady in your life!

20 thoughts on “Baby name consultation: Baby no. 11 needs a heavy-hitting middle name! Also: are sisters Heléna and Eleanor problematic?

  1. Very fun post! I like Assumpta. It would definitely have impact. It made me think of a few middle name ideas- Anastasia, Evangeline or Chiara/Kiara. Best wishes!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think Eleanor Perpetua is my favorite. Perpetua is a great saint. In the Roman Canon like you said, and she is very historic as an early female martyr who was literate. She even wrote part of her own story, which someone else finished after she was martyred. IIRC she is the first female martyr whose passion account we have.

    Re: Heléna and Eleanor, even if the names are related I see them as phonetically different enough to be seen as two distinct names if that makes sense? As opposed to Helen and Ellen sounding almost the same. I know Heléna and Eleanor have the same amount of syllables too, but I think the different emphasis on the syllables helps. (If I correcrly interpret that the penultimate syllable of Heléna is stressed, and assuming most people stress the first of Eleanor, and at least in the US pronounce the r at the end.)
    And considering you have two distinct namesakes, Helena for the Saint and Eleanor for a relative, I think it can make sense. And you’d have a good naming story too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Another thought came to mind yesterday. If it turns out Heléna and Eleanor sound too similar, what about Lenore? It’s a shorter form of Eleanor, but is seen as its own name, not a nickname. Kind of like Rita coming from Margaret. I actually have a friend whose mom’s name is Lenore, named after her mother Eleanor. Don’t know why I didn’t think of it right away. Lol.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I think this is where big families get a pass. If she had only 1 daughter named Helena and she named her next baby Eleanor I would definitely think it was a bit off not because of share etymology but mainly because they can share nicknames like Nell and Ellie. In a bigger family especially where the Helena is among the oldest I think it’s fine unless her Helena actually goes by Ellie or Nell/Nellie. Then it would seem a bit odd. The only concern that remains is if they were my girls I would probably end up combing their names and saying Elena because the names do share similar sounds but my brain gets names a bit jumbled up and perhaps she’ll do fine.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. About Helena and Eleanor, in a family that has a Kai and a Karolina, Helena and Eleanor sound like two very different names. Plus, different patron saints, different namesakes, some age difference… I think it’s different enough, and if anyone doesn’t agree, you can always embrace it because that will create a special connection between sisters 🙂

    I love your reasoning behind adding Faustina to your last baby’s name, I mean, the “solid Polish saint” you needed to add because the first name was *only* after John Paul II 🙂 Don’t get me wrong, Faustina is perfect for the year of mercy and Our Lady of Czestochowa, and JPII next to Faustina is so sweet 🙂

    Some ideas for Eleanor’s middle name: Felicity, Kateri, Jacinta, Anastasia, Benedicta, Aurora, Leticia, Veronica, Fidela and Basil (Basil is a style match for Eleanor, Helen, Olive and Sophia, I think it could work as a middle).

    I agree with using mom’s first name. It makes sense because dad’s first and middle names were already used for 2 of the boys. And the meaning is beautiful.

    Another option is Eileen instead of Eleanor. It derives from Avila, so it means “desired”, and it’s an Irish name similar to Eleanor, so it can honor both mom and grandma. I like Eileen Veronica.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I personally wouldn’t use Helena and Eleanor, because I am one of those people who has always assumed they were related! Haha. Although I learned a while ago that Eleanor probably comes from Aliénor, they still seem too similar. But if course, this family will be able to pull it off 🙂 The spelling Elinor definitely seems to distinguish the two.
    My idea of a hard hitting Catholic saint name may be a little different from theirs, but I humbly offer these ideas. (Some of which have been worn by male saints but I found appealing.)
    Elinor Agnes (or Agnese pr. Ahn-yay-za)
    Elinor Bernadette
    Elinor Gertrude
    Elinor Gervaise
    Elinor Hildegarde
    Elinor Magdalen
    Elinor Melisende (Millicent)
    Elinor Peregrine
    Elinor Photine (Photina, Photini)
    Elinor Winifred

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I love Mariae and Magdalen(a)! What about:
    Eleanor Eulalia (after St. Eulalia, a brave child martyr.)
    Eleanor Mairead (Mairead is the Irish form of Margaret, and they seem to like Irish names! 😊)
    Eleanor Chiara
    Eleanor (A)zelie (although is this too popular?)

    Liked by 1 person

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