Baby Name of the Day: Cordelia

by appellationmountain on August 13, 2010

She’s a legendary queen and an impeccable literary choice.

Thanks to Rosy for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day – the surprisingly underused Cordelia.

With Olivia, Samantha, and Gabriella all in the US Top 100, you might be surprised to learn that their style sister Cordelia hasn’t charted in the US Top 1000 since 1950.

I blinked and double checked the numbers when I saw that stat, because there’s so much to recommend Cordelia. Circa 1880, Cordelia appeared in the Top 300. Her most popular days were probably behind her, earlier in the nineteenth century. While plenty of similar antiques are in vogue today, she’s yet to see a revival.

Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote about Queen Cordeilla, a valiant ruler who fought to keep her throne against her treacherous nephews. Geoffrey penned his histories in the 1100s; Cordeilla’s rule was placed sometime in the 8th or 9th century BC. Despite wearing the trappings of history, no evidence supports the tales.

True or false, they’re compelling. Edmund Spenser used the story of the queen and her father, King Leir, in his Faerie Queen. But you’re probably thinking of William Shakespeare’s version.

King Lear had three daughters: Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia. Lear is ready to quit the throne and live out his last years on the golf course, but first he has to hand off the workload to an heir. Absent a convenient son, Lear puts his girls to the test: tell me how much you love me, and I’ll divvy up the kingdom accordingly. Goneril and Regan kowtow, but Cordelia doesn’t play along. Dad sends her off to marry the King of France as punishment, and her big sisters share the throne.

Things go downhill from there, but the important part is this: Cordelia is Lear’s loyal daughter, a worthy namesake.

At the time the Bard penned his tragedy, Cordelia was all but unknown as a given name. Considerable research has been done on Cordelia’s origins:

  • Some link her to Cordula, the name of a fourth century saint. If that’s the case, then she’s derived from the Latin cor – heart;
  • There’s also Creiddylad, a Persephone-like figure from Welsh myth, often Anglicized as Cordelia.

It is tempting to link Cordelia to the Greek korë – maiden – a name sometimes given to Persephone – but that might be a stretch.

You’ll find Cordelia in use over the years:

  • Anne of Green Gables wishes she was named Cordelia;
  • A popular song from 1904 told of how a stablehand won the heart of Cordelia Malone over the telephone;
  • In the 1970s, PD James named her rookie detective Cordelia Gray;
  • During the World War I era, Cordelia Wilson flourished as a painter of the American Southwest;
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s cast included cheerleader Cordelia Chase;
  • There’s a young Cordelia on The Young and the Restless;
  • It’s also the name of a type of butterfly.

She has nicknames aplenty: from the tomboyish Cory and Cordy to the feminine Cora, Della, and Delia.

Best of all? So far, she remains an undiscovered gem. Cordelia is that elusive find – the “normal” name that no one else is using.

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Theresa March 12, 2013 at 11:23 AM

I named my little one Cordelia. She has a sister named Elena, and I wanted something pretty, ending in an “A” and meaningful. I loved the Anne of Green Gables books as a child and always sympathized with Anne over not having a more fanciful name. Haha. I also love the King Lear association since I did Shakespeare plays in high school. My Cordelia has big brown eyes and long lashes and dimples. She smiles a lot and seems to like her name. She’s only 6 months old though. I call her Cora sometimes; my hubby calls her Cordy, and her nanny calls her Cordiz with a Spanish accent. My 3 year old insists on only calling her Cor-Dee-Lee-A with lots of enunciation! We went with Snow as a middle name since it’s a family name.

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appellationmountain March 12, 2013 at 8:30 PM

What a truly lovely name, Theresa – and a great story, too!

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Brin May 15, 2012 at 11:29 AM

My dd is Cordelia. She’s 2. I don’t like nicknames much, but had to have one for “approved” purposes for those people who INSIST on nicknames. Cora was out because my grandmother and her twin are Nora and Dora… and they hate Cora. Cory is my brother-in-law, Cordy seems awkward to me, and I don’t like the D ones because my son’s name starts with a D (I know, I’m picky).

So her nickname, used very rarely, is Cia (said like Kia). She’s an adorably shy little spitfire, with blonde hair and beautiful blue eyes, and the cutest little dimples and scrunchy eyes ever.

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Hetta February 27, 2012 at 2:45 AM

Cordelia was also Uncle Gard’s fiancee in the American Girls Collection Samantha series. She was modern, but tender, sassy, but girly.

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C in DC August 26, 2010 at 4:47 PM

Love this name. There was a wonderful young adult book (The something Cup) about a Cordelia, nn Cori, that I read ages ago that I really liked. I would have used it or Delia, but DH like Lydia better.

Surprised no one’s mentioned Buffy…

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Lady Gwyn August 17, 2010 at 7:00 PM

Cordelia is my favorite girls name! I have loved itr forever, liking both the Shakespearean and Green Gables connections! I would use it in a neartbeat!

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caroline August 15, 2010 at 11:10 AM

There was also a character on the reality series The Bad Girls club called Cordlelia. She was rather an interesting bearer of the name!

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Names4Real August 14, 2010 at 7:31 PM

Cordelia has been one of my favorites for so long, but every time I mention her to someone, they make a face. :( I still love it though.

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Panya August 14, 2010 at 10:09 AM

I say kor-DEEL-ee-uh [k?r'di?l.i.?]. I don’t pronounce the end of any -ia names as ‘yuh’.

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British American August 14, 2010 at 9:21 AM

I want to put a 4th syllable in there. So it sounds like kor-DEE-lee-ah. Which makes it one more syllable than I’d be comfortable using. I do like the name though. I’ve met a couple of Coras but not a Cordelia.

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UrbanAngel August 14, 2010 at 11:48 AM

That’s pretty much how I say it. I put the (y)uh in ,as it it as ”ah” with a bit of a kick. Afterward, I wished that I just wrote core-dee-lee-uh. Cora is pretty

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Joy August 13, 2010 at 10:12 PM

Cordelia also figures into the plot of The Firm, with Tom Cruise and Gene Hackman. It’s the name of Gene’s wife, and also his password that enables Tom to get all the firm’s over-billing records.

I pronounce it kor-DEEL-yah too. I also think of Delia on Ghost Whisperer.

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Julie August 13, 2010 at 3:17 PM

Wow, that’s a surprise! I just assumed Cordelia would of been in the top 300 at least.
I really like Cordelia (pronounced kor-DEEL-yah) it’s quite lovely.

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Danielle August 13, 2010 at 2:28 PM

I really like Cordelia. It’s stately and refined.

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JNE August 13, 2010 at 2:18 PM

@Evie – I pronounce it to rhyme with Amelia Bedilia, and Cornelia, which is the downfall for this name for me – but entirely due to personal association with a truly repugnant adult Cornelia (the names sound so similar!) – I’m sure it would reverse it if I met a cute little Cordelia on the playground!

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Evie August 13, 2010 at 1:38 PM

Hmm how is everyone pronouncing it? Kor DEE LI AH or Kor DE LI AH?

I think the first pronunciation reminds me too much of the children’s books Amelia Bedilia and ruins the name for me.

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UrbanAngel August 13, 2010 at 3:23 PM

core-dee-lee-(y)uh is how I say it

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Rosy August 13, 2010 at 1:02 PM

Thanks for covering Cordelia. It’s one of my favorite names– nice to know it’s still fairly undiscovered! :)

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Christina Fonseca August 13, 2010 at 11:41 AM

Cordelia is a real gem. I like to recommend her on name boards – she fits in with sisters with longish names and is great for those who would only consider names with nickname options.

It truly is a wonder she isn’t in the Top 1000.

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UrbanAngel August 13, 2010 at 11:30 AM

If I remember correctly, Delia Peabody from the In Death books is Cordelia

The character made me be able to appreciate it for what it is; however, it’s not a choice for me. It’d be fabulous in the right family with the right vibes. It’s one of those names that has to fit the family/person/vibe. Not every family can pull off a River, for example.

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Panya August 13, 2010 at 11:00 AM

I’ve always loved this name. It’s 3rd or 4th on our list for a daughter.

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Bree August 13, 2010 at 10:57 AM

Cordelia was also Sebastian’s little sister in Brideshead Revisited. I really like it, I has great nickname options as well.

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appellationmountain August 13, 2010 at 12:45 PM

Thanks, Bree – I knew I was forgetting a literary character! That’s who I missed. Sebastian and Cordelia make quite the sibset.

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Julia August 13, 2010 at 6:29 PM

Sebastian, Cordelia, Julia and Brideshead (nicknamed Bridey) Flyte. Perhaps the most interestingly named family in literature! Not that Brideshead is ever likely to catch on. I was named after Julia.

Cordelia is a treasure. My old English teacher’s daughter was a Cordelia (after King Lear, not Brideshead). I’m also a huge Anne of Green Gables fan, so I love the link with that as well. We later find out that Diana Barry Wright names her daughter Anne Cordelia, and all the Avonlea locals think she must have got it from a romance novel.

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appellationmountain August 13, 2010 at 9:20 PM

What a great name story, Julia! And what a great fact about the Anne series. Anne has a daughter named Diana, right?

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Charlotte Vera August 13, 2010 at 10:00 PM

Yes, Anne has twin girls name Anne and Diana but called Nan and Di.

I love Cordelia. My first introduction to it was through Anne of Green Gables, but I have since encountered it in Monmouth’s History, Shakespeare’s play, and Waugh’s novel. Perhaps if I ever manage to tackle Spenser’s lengthy work I’ll consider using the name, just to show off!

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