Not every nineteenth century name has made a comeback.

Thanks to Photoquilty for suggesting the undiscovered Cornelia as our Baby Name of the Day.

Cordelia was given to 173 baby girls in 2009. From Shakespeare to Anne of Green Gables to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, there is no shortage of places parents might hear this name.

Cornelia is just one letter different, but completely unrelated – and far less common. She ranked #147 in 1880, but has been falling every decade since, leaving the rankings entirely after 1965. She appears to have been most popular before we even started counting.

The first famous Cornelia was a virtuous woman, all-but-worshiped as the model Roman matriarch. Her dad was a military hero back in the second century BC. Cornelia was happily married and bore a dozen children. Two of her sons went on to establish themselves as popular reformers, though they were eventually assassinated.

The Cornelius family was a big deal in Ancient Rome, and there’s a long list of well-born Cornelius daughters answering to Cornelia. Cornelius is thought to relate to the Latin cornu -horn – as in cornucopia. There were several early saints Cornelius, and so the names fell completely out of use, though they’ve never been wildly popular in English.

Notable Cornelias include:

  • Cornelia Knight socialized with England’s Who’s Who in the eighteenth century, though her given name was Ellis Cornelia;
  • Cornelia Hancock was a Civil War nurse;
  • If the noble Roman family doesn’t come to mind, maybe you’ll think of American royalty: Cornelius Vanderbilt built an empire, and Cornelia Stuyvesant Vanderbilt numbered among his privileged descendants;
  • Other blue-blooded American types include Cornelia Guest, author of The Debutante’s Guide to Life, as well as Philadelphia-born Cornelia Adair, who built a castle in Ireland with her husband;
  • Cornelia Connelly founded a religious order, the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, and many schools;
  • Suffragette Nellie Fairbanks was married to the 26th Vice President of the US, Charles;
  • Among German athletes, politicians, and other distinguished Cornelias, there’s Cornelia Funke, the author behind the popular young adult Inkworld trilogy;
  • Cornelia Clark Fort was the first woman female pilot to die during active duty, as a member of the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron during World War II;
  • There’s also Cornelia Froboess, a sort of German Annette Funicello, who answered to Conny;
  • Along the same lines, there’s one of the comic book series W.I.T.C.H.’s five heroines – Irma, Will, Taranee, Hay Lin, and Cornelia.

If not the writer or the fictional character, today’s parents could hear Cornelia two other places:

  • In NYC’s Greenwich Village, the Cornelia Street Cafe has been a magnet for emerging artists since the late 1970s. Suzanne Vega got her start there. Rumor has it that Lady Gaga once waited tables at the cafe;
  • If you’re watching Discovery’s reality series about crab fishing, then you’ve seen the boat captained by the late Phil Harris, and named after Mrs. Harris – Cornelia Marie.

With nickname choices like Nell and Neely, Cornelia could wear surprisingly well on a 21st century child. She’s feminine, but she’s not quite delicate. There’s something ancient, enduring, and more than a little bit upper crust about Cornelia. If you’re looking for a compromise between Sophia and Beatrice, Cornelia might the name for you.

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. I love both Cordelia and Cornelia, but still I love Cornelia much more. I think nickname Nellie for it would be endearing, just as Nella would be. Kornelia is a very popular name here in Poland at the moment – #26 – and there were also 6 girls born last year that were named Cornelia – and the popularity of Kornelia is the only reason why I probably wouldn’t name my daughter that even if I had a baby girl, despite I really love this name. Kornelia Wilhelmina is a combo I find absolutely adorable!

  2. My middle name (before marriage) was Cornealia. My mom called me Courtney as a nickname. Very unique family name!

  3. I think I actually prefer Cornelia to Cordelia, but I like both. Cornelia would take more guts to use though, and I’m not sure I’d be brave enough to saddle a child with it though.

  4. Love Cordelia, like Cornelia. Unfortunately, I will never be able to use both. Cordelia has been a favorite for years, though, so I will more likely have a Cordelia (nn Cora) over a Cornelia. (I like Neely or Nell as a nickname.)