The baby name Audra shares roots with the delightfully clunky Anglo-Saxon name Æthelthryth. But it’s long since left Europe for northern California, where it’s taken on a fiercely independent vibe.

Thanks to Pamela for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.

EAST ANGLIAN PRINCESS

The baby name Audra begins in seventh century East Anglia – a kingdom long since absorbed into England, located roughly where Norfolk and Suffoblk stand today.

There’s a princess. Her name is Æthelthryth. The slightly easier version of that name: Etheldreda.

Her name comes from elements meaning noble and strength.

Etheldreda’s dad was a king, and she was expected to marry accordingly. She did, and managed to outlive her husband. And then she was married off once more – but this time, Etheldreda objected.

She fled her new husband’s home, and, possibly aided by a miraculous rising of the tide, Etheldreda made good her escape.

The newly free princess established a monastery on land inherited from her first marriage and took religious vows. Ely Abbey is gone now, but a large cathedral remains on the land where she once found a haven.

She’s now considered a saint, and while some accounts refer to St. Etheldreda, she’s better known by an even more simplified version of her name.

SAINT AUDREY

Æthelthryth became Etheldreda and eventually Audrey in English.

Saint Audrey became an insult in the seventeenth century. Cheap lacework sold at the Ely fair held in her honor was called “tawdry” – from “sainTAWDRY” – at a moment when things were particularly out-of-favor with rising Puritan fervor.

Regardless, the saint was familiar, her life often chronicled in histories.

Today, of course, Audrey suggests a very different image. It’s very Audrey Hepburn – gorgeous, chic, slim. Even so many years after movies like Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Funny Face made Hepburn a star, she remains a style icon.

CALIFORNIA, HERE WE COME

If Hollywood cemented Audrey’s image, we have to turn to another part of California to discover Audra.

Audra is yet another obvious simplification of Etheldreda. It’s used in steady numbers for generations, regularly appearing in the US Top 1000 from the 1890s into the 1920s.

But the name was nearly forgotten until 1965.

That’s the year television Western The Big Valley debuted on ABC.

The 1960s were peak year for Westerns. A story about a wealthy family of ranchers in California’s Central Valley fit right in with Wyatt Earp, Maverick, and Wagon Train.

But the show was different, too. It was led by matriarch Victoria Barkley, a widow, now running her ranch with the help of her grown sons and daughter. She’s loving and sophisticated, but also tough as nails and fearless in the face of a challenge. Played by veteran, Oscar-nominated actress Barbara Stanwyck, the character was quite different than those at the center of many Westerns.

Daughter Audra Barkley was the only daughter. She’s blonde and gorgeous, played by a young Linda Evans. (Evans might be most famous for her turn as Krystle Carrington on Dynasty in the the 1980s.) But Audra is also a talented horsewoman, and every bit as courageous and principled as her mother.

The writers for The Big Valley chose surprising names for their characters: the brothers were Nick, Jared, and Heath – none of which were mainstream favorites, though classic Nicholas comes closest. Audra fits right in with the rest of the Barkleys.

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BY the NUMBERS

It’s fictional Audra Barkley that gives the name a brief, turbo-charged boost.

The baby name Audra left the US Top 1000 entirely after 1938. But in 1966, Audra returned to the US Top 1000 at #283. It peaked a year later, reaching #246.

But then it slowly fell out of use as the name left the spotlight. By 2×002, it had exited the rankings once again.

As of 2023, just 108 girls received the name. That’s not quite unknown, but it’s undeniably uncommon.

AUDRA MACDONALD

Broadway fans will think of another famous figure by the name: Tony Award-winning singer and actress Audra MacDonald, raised in Fresno, California – not too far from the fictional Barkley Ranch.

MacDonald is also an established Emmy-winning television actress, so it’s possible she’s the reason the name is still used in small, but steady, numbers.

RARE and ADVENTUROUS

While sister Audrey has appeared in the US Top 100 for most of the twenty-first century, the baby name Audra has faded in use.

It’s rare, and yet there’s something about Audra that still carries the boldness and energy of California’s Central Valley. If Audrey is gamine and urban, Audra feels more at home on the range.

And yet it’s elegant, too. Maybe it’s that A ending, or the way Audra resembles names like golden Aurelia and goddess Aurora.

If you’re after something decidedly uncommon, with a hint of adventure, but a familiar, storied past, the baby name Audra might belong on your list.

What do you think of the baby name Audra?

Audra

fiercely independent

Take an early medieval princess; slim down her name and transport it to a midcentury California ranch and you’ll have this strong, elegant name.

Popularity

unranked; given to 108 girls in the US as of 2023

Trend

falling in use

Origin

From Etheldreda, an Old English name meaning noble and strength

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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What do you think?

1 Comment

  1. Audra
    Aurelia
    Aurora
    These three sound the better versions.
    Audrey with the different sound ending is least appealing as a name. (Only in my small opinion)
    Thank you so much for the really insightful blog post with the history of this name and geographical location in the UK.