Friday, November 30, 2012


As I often find myself saying on this blog, here's a name you don't hear every day. The lovely Fenella is an acquired taste, but enchanting once you consider it. Fenella is the (Scottish) Anglicized version of the Gaelic name Fionnuala, meaning "fair shoulder/white shoulder," which has ties to Fiona. I could only find a few namesakes - British actresses Fenella Fielding and Fenella Woolgar, and  radio presenters Fenella Fudge and Fenella Kernebone. Fenella Paton was a British radical who "emphasized with working mothers" and helped push along the birth control movement. In history, Fenella (Finnguala) was the daughter of Cuncar of Angus in the 10th century, and legend has it she was responsible for killing the King of Scots after he killed her son. In mythology she was the daughter of Lir, who was turned into a swan by her step-mother, and wandered for 900 years until the spell was broken. This became the subject of Thomas Moore's "The Song of Fionnuala."

It features in just a few fictional works as well. Fenella Feverfew was the name of a character in The Worst Witch, Fenella Scarborough was a character created by Nancy Werlin, and Diana Wynne Jones used the name in The Time of the Ghost. The Fate of Fenella was also an experimental novel inspired by J. S. Wood that appeared in a weekly magazine, and was written by several different authors. Supposedly, the name was first used with this spelling by Sir Walter Scott in Peveril of the Peak in 1823.

There were no babies born in 2011 named Fenella, nor for the past few years that I've checked. Its cousin Fionnuala, however, had 7 births in 2011, and its other cousin Finola had 9 births. White Pages tells me there are 128 living people named Fenella in the U.S. Choose Finella, Finola, Fionnuala, Finlea, or Finelia, and the meaning will stay the same.

If you're wondering why this name might sound familiar, it might be because of the plant fennel, of which licorice is made. While you ponder that, also consider the nicknames Fen, Ella, Nell, Nellie, Nella and Finn. This is a name I'm very excited to share, and I really love it. I hope someone else will love it enough to use.

1 comment:

  1. I was just thinking bout this name the other day - I once knew one when I was in school. I think it has a quiet, understated elegance to it. Fenella is such a pretty name.