Thanks to Virginia for suggesting Alexandra as our Baby Name of the Day.
The simplest explanation for Alexandra is that she’s the feminine form of Alexander. If you’re a name fan, you can probably dissect Alexander – alexo or alexein means to help or to defend. Andros refers to men. Both the feminine and masculine forms are usually listed as meaning something like “defender of men.” Pretty powerful.
There’s a second, unrelated name that I always think of in connection with Alexandra – Alix, a medieval French form of Alice. The two names meet and merge with one of the most famous Alexandras – the last Empress of Russia, Alexandra Feodorovna, mother of the doomed Alexei and his sisters. She traded Alix for Alexandra when she joined the Russian Orthodox Church on her marriage to the young Tsar. In 2000, the Russian Orthodox church made her a saint.
But we need to go much further back to find Alexandra’s roots. She may have been associated with the goddess Hera in Ancient Greece, in her role as a protector of soldiers – though we tend to mostly think of Hera as a jealous and vengeful wife.
The ancient world also gives us Emperor Diocletian’s wife, though she’s also called Priscilla. Back in the early 300s, legend tells us that while Diocletian was persecuting Christians, his wife was quietly converting to the faith. She eventually confessed, publicly, and was beheaded along with hundreds of others, including Saint George.
Alexandra has a long history of use, from the ancient world through the medieval era and into today. She picks up some literary cred thanks to Willa Cather’s O Pioneers! It’s the story of Swedish immigrant Alexandra Bergson and her family’s travails on the prairie.
Royal families have used the name since the ancient days, with a long run of princesses Alexandra in the nineteenth century. Danish-born Princess Alexandra became Queen of England as the wife of King Edward VII in the late 1800s. (That’s her in the picture.) There were also German, Greek, and Yugoslav princesses.
The place Alexandra was rare was the United States. She was seldom heard until the 1940s and 50s, when she started to gain in use. By the 1980s, she was a favorite of parents, entering the Top 100 where she remains today.
Plenty of those girls don’t answer to their full name, though. Instead, we embraced the idea of Alexandra called Alex.
Pop culture gave us:
- Alex Owens, welder-turned-dancer in 1980s classic Flashdance.
- Glenn Close wore the name in Fatal Attraction.
- Nickelodeon’s The Secret World of Alex Mack was a hit in the 1990s.
- Degrassi: The Next Generation also included a girl Alex.
- Over on the Disney Channel, The Wizards of Waverly Place featured teen star Selena Gomez as Alex Russo.
- More recently, Modern Family includes Alex Dunphy.
Of course, nickname options abound, and Alex isn’t alone. There’s Lexi or Lexie (think Grey’s Anatomy), Alexa, Allie – in all of her possible spellings, Sasha, Xandra, and Sandy and Sandra – thought those last two are probably too dated to wear.
After so many years in the Top 100, there’s nothing surprising about Alexandra. As of 2012, she’s slipped to #76 and seems likely to continue to fall.
Overall, Alexandra is a well-established classic, a grand and elegant name easily adapted with nicknames for everyday use, that would serve a child well throughout her life.