Mira: Baby Name of the Day

by appellationmountain on May 7, 2013

The Cetus constellation from Uranographia by J... Photo credit: Wikipedia

She’s a short name on the rise in recent years, an alternative to Mia, a competitor for Mila.

Thanks to Kari for suggesting Mira as our Baby Name of the Day.

There are multiple possible origins and meanings for Mira, and they’re all delightful.

  • First, mir means peace in Slavic languages.  (Think of the Russian space station.)  Mira can be used as a short form of names containing the element, like Miroslava, or she can stand on her own.
  • An ancient Hittite kingdom was known as Mira.
  • Then there’s a Sanskrit version of the word, meaning ocean.  Princess Mira – or Meera – lived in the sixteenth century.  She wrote bhajans - sacred songs – devoted to Lord Krishna.  She’s still an important figure in Hinduism.
  • In Hebrew, Meir and Meira mean light.  But this name has a three-syllable pronunciation: meh EE rah or meh EER ah.  In other cases, I’ve heard it said may RAH.
  • Fulke Greville wrote a poem to Myra in the seventeenth century.  There are two possible ideas about where Greville got the name.  The first is that he was inspired by fragrant myrrh.
  • This would track with another possible reason for Myra’s use.  She could be a feminine form of Myron, which comes from myrrh.
  • Myra is also a re-arranging of the letters in evergreen girls’ name Mary.
  • On a related note, it is easy to see Mira as a short form of Miriam.
  • She might be related to the Scottish form of Margaret, Mairead.
  • It is tempting to link Mira to the Latin miraculum - the source of our word miracle – or mirus and mirabilis - wonderful.  It’s the origin of the name Mirabelle.

While I can’t confirm that any girls were named Mira for the Latin, there is one notable namesake: the star Mira, located in the constellation Cetus.  That’s Cetus in the illustration.  The astronomer Johannes Hevelius named the star for the word in 1662.  Cetus is a sea monster, or possibly a whale.  Mira – a variable star that disappears for months at a time but also shines brightly at other periods – appears to be worn as the beast’s necklace.

This lends Mira a hint of sci fi sensibility, and if you have a child of the right age, you might think of another celestial Mira: the princess Mira Nova from the Disney animated series Buzz Lightyear of Star Command, a Toy Story spin-off.

Mira and Myra have been used steadily over time in the English-speaking world, with the y spelling slightly more popular.

Gore Vidal’s Myra Breckenridge might come to mind as one notable use.  It’s a scandalous bestseller and was adapted for the big screen in 1970.  The story is explicit – among other things, Myra turns out to be Myron.  In our Shades of Gray age, it might not seem quite so shocking.  But somehow I think it would have been unlikely to inspire parents forty years ago.

There’s also Mira Sorvino.  The actress scored an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 1995’s Mighty Aphrodite, and has a quartet of nicely named kids of her own.

Mira’s recent rise probably has more to do with our affection for M names: Mia, Mila, Minna, Mischa, Maya.

Whatever the reason, she’s back today.  Myra ranked #791 in 2011, and Mira stood at #785.

If you’re after a name that feels both vintage and space age at once, Mira could be one to consider.

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