Part 2 of When Every Name Seems Wrong includes Petula as a contender for the hypothetical Smith baby girl. The name struck me as one with potential. I have some theories.

Theory 1:

A look at the top 100 shows these names have something in common:

Aubrey #44
Audrey #52
Julia #55
Lucy #75
Autumn #81

The letter U is in these names.

Lauren #58 could technically be included but was excluded for a couple of reasons:

  1. The U sound isn’t all that prominent; there is a masculine version spelled Loren which sounds almost exactly the same and
  2. The name peaked over 20 years ago, and while still a great name, is not a great example of an upcoming trend.

Names with U were popular before. In the 90’s Courtney and Lauren were hits, and before then in the 60’s Jacqueline was popular. But these names aren’t the same. Courtney and Lauren have the short U sound, and in Jacqueline the Q overshadows the U.

Based on having the short U sound, Aubrey, Audrey and Autumn could be removed from the list too.

Julia, which hit its peak around 10 years ago, was almost excluded as well, but the U sound is very similar to the long U sound in Lucy, making the sound still current.

The long U sound is the one to watch. The sound is found in other stylish vintage names like June and Dulcie. This is a subtle trend. But there is something else about Petula, another subtle trend, giving Petula potential.

Theory 2:

Take a look at these names in the top 100:

Isabella #1
Olivia #4
Ella ##14
Gabriella #33
Layla #37
Amelia #41
Bella #48
Kayla #49
Alexa #50
Julia #55
Camila #61
Alexandra #64
Stella #85
Angelina #93
Natalia #98

What do these names have in common? The L in the middle followed by an A ending. But there is another less subtle letter working in Petula’s favor.

Theory 3:

That trend is the P of course. Names beginning with P, like Penelope, Philippa, Piper, Pippa, Polly, Poppy, and Parker. Most of these, except Parker, are not in the top 100 and some aren’t even in the top 1000, but are seen as very stylish. Whether you like modern names or vintage names, there is a P name to fit the bill.

Adding Up The Theories

Based on the sum of its parts, Petula has a vintage sound like Amelia, Julia, Lucy, Dulcie, Philippa, and June. Yet Petula is actually a modern 20th century creation. The name was made-up by Petula Clark’s father. She is the British signer known for 1960’s pop hits such as “Downtown.” Her full name is Petula Sally Olwen Clark.

Perhaps Petula can be added to the coveted list of modern names with a surprisingly old-fashioned sound.
Yet the name has yet to catch on. In 2010,* fewer than 5, if any, babies were named Petula. How does Petula fare in its homeland? Not much better. In the UK, where Petula Clark was born, fewer than 3, if any, babies were named Petula in 2010.

Sometimes names are less than the sum of their parts. There are some obvious drawbacks. The worst, I believe, is the name fails the “playground call-out” test. I find myself saying it over and over, wondering if I could ever get used to saying Petula every day.

Pet and Ula combined seems off. The story is that Petula Clark’s father created the name by combining the names of two ex-girlfriends. This could be a joke. I hope that story is a joke because I can’t imagine how the singer’s mother could have been on board.

Another possible origin is that the name was derived from the Latin petulantia, which means “pertness” or the Latin petulare, which means “to ask.” This is according to

The name reminds me of the word petulant, an adjective, meaning sudden, impatient irritation. Not necessarily the most positive connection. But there are other beautiful names with worse possible meanings. Another P name, Persephone, perhaps meaning “to destroy” or “murder” comes to mind.

Admittedly, the name doesn’t have enticing origins. I love how the name looks on paper though.

Readers: What do you think? Does Petula have potential?

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*Suddenly 2010 sounds less than current, the 2011 rankings are due soon!

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