Thanks to Nicole for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.
Looking at the current US Top 100, there’s no shortage of -elle, -ella, -belle, and -bella names. Isabella entered the Top Ten in 2004, and has remained in place for well over a dozen years, reaching as high as #1 in 2009 and 2010.
The Top 100 also gives us Ella and Stella, Bella, Gabriella, and Brielle. Isabelle and Annabelle aren’t far behind.
Neither is Arabella.
Maybe medieval parents in were into the same trend. Amabel – loving – appears as Amabilia and Mabella, along with other forms. Amabel morphed into Annabel, probably in Scotland.
But Amabel also led to Arabella, probably ultimately from the Latin word orabilis – invokable, able to be called upon. If that sounds cryptic, it probably refers to the practice of appealing to the saints. Orabella and Orabilia also appear in the historical record. It suggests that the bearer was given to prayer.
It’s possible, of course, that Arabella evolved first, and the name was later linked to the powerful Latin word.
After all, Mirabel – from the Latin for wondrous – appears in the same era, as do variants of that name.
Or could the name be older still?
Human settlement in modern day Irbid, Jordan dates to the Bronze Age. Sometime from the 300s BC, it became known as Arbella … or Arabella. It might be the same settlement referred to in the Bible as Beth Arbel. In any case, it was a major trading center in the years BC, known particularly for its wines.
What I can’t determine is what Arbel or Irbid or any form of the name meant way back when. But let’s assume that it’s just coincidence that the identical name evolved more than a millennia later.
PRINCESS, LADY, QUEEN
The first famous figure history gives us is Arabella de Leuchars, a granddaughter of King William the Lion, king of Scotland. She was born sometime in the 1130s. There’s another aristocratic bearer of the name born later that century.
Then there’s Lady Arbella Stuart, considered a possible heir to the English throne during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. She married William Seymour, who also ranked in the line of succession. But, but, but … the couple wed without the permission of the queen. They went to prison. She espcaed, dressed as a man. But they were recaptured, imprisoned once more, and Arbella met her end, possibly on a hunger strike.
Some say the would-be royal inspired Shakespeare’s Imogen in Cymbeline – a secret marriage, a heroine disguised as a man – though the dates might not quite line up.
The name continues to appear among British aristocrats. There’s a seventeenth century Arabella Churchill, mistress to King James II, and an ancestor of future prime minister Winston.
In 1712, poet Alexander Pope penned The Rape of the Lock, based on a true story. Society belle Arabella Fermor was insulted when her suitor, Robert Petre, cut off a lock of her hair. Pope’s poem became an overnight sensation.
The second edition contains a dedication to Miss Fermor, perhaps an apology for sensationalizing her tale and lampooning her family.
In any case, the name was already in heavy use:
- One of the ships that brought Puritans to New England in 1630 bore the name. The ship was named for the daughter of a wealthy benefactor.
- A few decades later, a celebrated singer by the name captivated London and the royal court.
- In 1752, writer Charlotte Lennox gave the name to her heroine in The Adventures of Arabella, a sort of female take on Don Quixote.
- Social reformer and philanthropist Lady Arabella Denny worked in Dublin in the 1760s.
BY THE NUMBERS
By the time US data is first recorded in 1880, the name is fading in use. It exited the rankings after 1893, and remained in style limbo for well over a century.
The name’s revival started sooner in Britain, but again, it’s back in favor today.
Arabella’s revival clearly follows all those other -bella and -ella names. It re-entered the US Top 1000 in 2005, and reached #174 in 2018.
While it’s an elaborate, even frothy given name, possible nicknames range from the obvious Bella and Bella or Arie or even Abby. A character on All My Children answers to Babe.
Along the way, other fictional characters, an Arctic Monkeys single, a few high profile births and more have kept the name in the public eye.
If you’re after a dramatic, elaborate name that’s both on-trend and not too common, Arabella might belong on your list.
Would you consider Arabella, or do you prefer another -ella/-bella name?
First published on July 22, 2011, this post was revised substantially and re-posted on November 9, 2019.