Thanks to Haley and Caroline for suggesting Delia as our Baby Name of the Day.
Delia: Ancient Place Name
Think all those kids called Savannah and Brooklyn signal a new trend? We’ve been naming ourselves for places for millennia.
The island of Delos lies in the Aegean Sea. It means brilliant. Myth made Delos the birthplace of the twins Artemis and Apollo. Temples were built in their honor, and today the island and its ruins appear on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
Artemis sometimes answered to Delia, a reference to her birthplace.
First century poet Tibullus composed works dedicated to Delia, too, but it appears to be a pseudonym for a (possibly married) woman he loved.
Delia: Renaissance and Beyond
During the Renaissance, poet Samuel Daniel chose the ancient name for his idealized beloved.
At some point, the name caught on. US Social Security birth records begin in 1880, when the name ranked its highest ever. It remained in the US Top 200 for another fifteen years.
Edith Wharton gave the name to a character. So did James Joyce.
During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, we find British composer Derbyshire, Italian ballerina Scalla, and Argentine actress Garces. The variety suggests sparing, but steady and global use!
Then the name fell and fell and fell, and left the Top 1000 entirely after 2007.
A song gives us one possible reason. Johnny Cash recorded “Delia’s Gone.” He even made a video for the song in 1994, featuring Kate Moss. He wasn’t the first, either. Versions of the song have circulated for decades, with everyone from Cash to Bob Dylan to Pete Seeger covering it in one form or another.
You would expect a song might boost a name, especially a name with this much appeal. But the lyrics tell a tragic tale.
On Christmas Day 1900, a teenaged Moses Houston shot and killed his young girlfriend. Her name? Delia Green. Houston spent his life in a Georgia prison. His beloved became immortal.
As a result, the name feels sweetly Southern, but also, perhaps, a bit mournful.
Delia: Recent Years
You might also think of:
- An online store by the name, styled dELiA*s. It used to exist in American shopping malls; now it’s online-only.
- Writer Delia Ephron is sister to Nora, Amy, and Hallie. She’s worked on scripts for movies like You’ve Got Mail and Bewitched.
- VC Andrews’ estate used the name for a character. She’s a Mexican teenager who moves in with her wealthy American relatives following her mother’s tragic death. More heartache follows.
- Characters by the name have appeared on Everwood, The Ghost Whisperer, and Call the Midwife.
Delia: Ready for Revival
On sound alone, this name feels ready for revival. Amelia is poised just outside the current US Top Ten. Cordelia started a comeback in just the last few years, with Ophelia right behind. In between, we find plenty of ends-with-lia names in use for girls. Natalia or Aurelia, anyone?
And yet the numbers show Delia stuck in limbo. In 2015, 196 girls received the name. That’s more than the 177 born in 2013, but fewer than the 249 in 2011. The name see-saws – up a little, and then down.
In other words? One good push could put Delia back on parents’ shortlists. Until we get that popular fictional character or celebrity baby by the name, this remains a simple, sweet, and under-the-radar option for a daughter.
Does the song bother you? Or do you think Delia qualifies as a neglected gem?
Originally published on November 18, 2010, this post was revised and republished on May 3, 2017.