Hi Duana,

My partner and I are expecting our first child in a few weeks and, though we’re happy with where we’ve landed if baby turns out to be male, we’re at an impasse on the female side of things. 

We both LOVE Ursula but I’m concerned The Little Mermaid has made it impossible to use  My partner doesn’t feel the same way—he believes that, despite her infamy as a sea witch, the character of Ursula is intelligent, resourceful and competitive (all attributes he wishes for his child).

I, on the other hand, worry that—despite how beautiful the name itself is—she’ll be immediately pounced on for having the name of such a well-known villain. That movie is still popular with kids today…let alone what a big deal it was for their parents.

So: am I giving this one character reference too much weight? Is Ursula really as synonymous with wickedness as I think it is?

Because of this hesitation I’ve got Saskia in the lead with Ursula in second and Ingrid, Lorelei and Mirren rounding out my top five. He’s not as sold on Saskia. Ursula is his #1 with Frida, Zelda, Astrid and Irma (!) following close behind.

We’re both partial to Dutch, German and Scandinavian names but our only top five crossover is Ursula. Having said that, I don’t feel like we’re miles apart anywhere else (i.e. Saskia is in his top ten, Zelda’s in mine). So is there a perfect name that cuts across both lists that we just haven’t seen yet?

Not sure if it helps but we’ll be naming him Roland if the baby is male.

Thanks so much for your help!


I had a lot of fun with the title of this article. But I hope it doesn’t come off as condescending. A few weeks ago Lainey and Kathleen and I, delirious on post-Oscars no sleep, had an animated conversation about whether the current state of storytelling is poorer than it has been in past generations – whether the ‘kids these days’ are missing essentials. And by animated conversation, I mean our server was afraid of us. 

But I bring it up because I don’t think most people, at least consciously, are making the connections you indicate here. That Ursula is ‘synonymous’ with being evil and calculating is a sophisticated idea, rather than being the name of someone who happened to be that way. 

I’m not trying to dismiss it out of hand, because of course, I think there are all kinds of names that are influenced by their most famous bearers, from Miley to Usain. But even though the movie is popular, I think Ursula is more accurately known as ‘The Sea Witch’, first of all – and I also think it’s long enough ago that it’s not an immediate one-to-one comparison. After all, this child is going to grow up with classmates who are unironically named Abraham and Sylvie and Maud, all of which would have been ripe for a Golden Girls joke just 15 years ago. 

I’m even more struck by the fact that your husband doesn’t like the name in spite of the Disney character, but because of her positive qualities – that’s going to go further than anything else in shaping your Ursula’s impression of herself and the name, and I highly endorse this way of talking about it – and that’s before I get to the very real fact that some of the most publicly evil people we know about today have ‘normal’ names. 

So I heartily encourage you to use the name you both love, because as you know if you’ve been reading this column for any length of time, that’s very hard to come by, particularly for two people. It’s a gorgeous, underused name that has a lot of positive literary associations that shouldn’t be diminished by one errant Sea Witch who, let’s be honest, was kind of straightforward about the transaction… 

The only reason I’m not finishing the column right here is because I do love some of your other choices. I am enamored with Saskia and Zelda and Frida and Lorelei and would endorse any of these choices, and also feel compelled to offer you the little-used Una, which, while it doesn’t have the combination of unusual consonants you guys are so adeptly selecting, does include that great ‘U’ sound. You can’t go wrong with any of these – and if you’re worried about adults’ perceptions, rather than kids, you should know that any of the above will get a raised eyebrow and a ‘that’s …different’ from someone who’s inclined to be a dick. But you don’t care about them, obviously, and more importantly, neither will your daughter. 

Imagine the freedom of not caring! Name her Ursula and love it every time you say it, and nickname her Sulie and watch people marvel at where it comes from! I promise you that as soon as she arrives you’ll either never think of the Disney character again, or else be so delighted by her name that you’ll decide to order a stuffed octopus for her room as a sign of my – and more importantly, your – hearty endorsement. 

Please let us know!