From kottke I just learned about NameTrends, a naming visualization tool I'd think primarily used by soon-to-be parents. Being relatively new I decided to plugin Ella's name, and got a nifty (and hoverable) chart showing that the name's popularity was on a long, slow decline from the late 1800s, bottoming out in the 1970s until picking up again in the late 1990s, climbing to its current #21 rank. (BTW, kudos on the URL-addressable chart.)
This was surprising, to say the least. I have no idea why it picked up. I can't think of any cultural icons out there named Ella except Ella Fitzgerald. Was she prominent in the Ken Burns series on Jazz? Were some of the now-elderly Ellas from the early part of the 20th century passing away and their grandkids hoping to honor them? Who knows? There's always a weird tightrope parents are perceived to walk with naming popularity. Choose too popular a name and you're just one of the crowd. choose too exotic and you're trying too hard.
But that's the perception, from the outside looking in. I'd bet an awful lot of people choose names based on an intensely personal connection, and would've chosen that name no matter what the popularity. In the weeks leading up to Ella's birth we were still talking about names, although our universe had narrowed to a handful at most. Ella was at the top for a girl with Sophie up there too; I think for a boy Eliot and James were our choices. (Barb might have to correct me there.)
Neither of the boys' names was personal, but we chose Ella for my mom. Her name was Pamela, and if she were here she'd have been calling nearly every day, asking joyfully, "How's my Ellie?" Another possibility is laying claim to our attic and moving in.
If my mom were here she'd be named something else -- Sophie, or Zoe, or something pretty and short. Now, of course, I can't think of her as anything but Ella.