She’s a fanciful German choice boosted by a popular dramedy.
Thanks to Dirty Hippy for suggesting Lorelei as our Baby Name of the Day.
A mix of mermaid, shape-shifter, and siren, the Rhine Maidens were water-dwelling creatures who lured sailors to their death on treacherous rocks. In Germany, the chief water sprite lent her name to the Loreley, an especially deadly boulder in the Rhine River en route to the North Sea.
Some say she’s the ghost of a lovesick maiden, drowned in despair. Poets, composers and painters have been inspired by her tale for generations:
- In 1801, Clemens Brentano wrote a poem about Lore Lay – nudging the name towards its current form.
- Heinrich Heine’s poem Die Lorelei was written in 1838. The fountain pictured to the right is the Heine Memorial in the Bronx.
- At least a dozen songs share the title, and there’s an Italian opera called Lorelei, too, as well as another one based on the legend called Lurline.
The name comes from the murmuring sound of the water – lurlei or lureln – or maybe from the same root that gives us our word to lure, plus the word ley, from a Celtic word meaning rock.
A handful of women were named after the poetry and operas, but it took a comic novel by Anita Loos to boost the name. Her 1925 bestseller was the story of a stenographer from Little Rock who shot a would-be suitor for his unwanted advances. The judge’s sentence? He re-named her Lorelei and packed her off to Hollywood to use her beauty for good. She ends up in Europe, on madcap adventures with her BFF, Dorothy, and all ends well.
It became a comic strip, a 1928 movie, and then a 1949 Broadway musical. But it was 1953’s big screen extravaganza that has locked Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in our memories. Marilyn Monroe played Lorelei. The diamonds and pink dress are iconic – years later, Madonna borrowed her character for her “Material Girl” video.
But it took the small screen to make Lorelei a hit.
The Gilmore Girls debuted in 2000. The show used the variant spelling Lorelai for three characters – a mother-daughter duo and a grandmother. The daughter was known as Rory, while the matriarch – Rory’s late great-grandmother – answered to Trix. The show was a major success, and the name caught on – maybe because the mom and daughter both showed how wearable the name could be.
Lorelei re-entered the Top 1000 in 2004. As of 2012, the original spelling charted at #533. Lorelai stood at #736.
Some names fizzle; others catch fire. Lorelei jumped nearly 300 spaces in four years, the kind of pattern seen in chart-toppers like Isabella, Madison, and Ashley. She’s plateaued in the last year or two, but both spellings remain quite stylish.
If you’re after something just a little bit different, something with ties to German folklore and twentieth century Hollywood, there’s something quite appealing about Lorelei. It’s tough to say if she’ll continue to climb the charts, or if Lorelei will remain a relatively underused name. Either way, she’s a glittering, tempting appellation with much to recommend her use.