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.

Previous post:

Next post: