Delta Queen in the Ohio River
Delta Queen in the Ohio River; photo by steamboatsong via Flickr

She’s a Greek letter and a television dynamo, a nature name and a musical one, too.

Thanks to Night for suggesting Delta as our Baby Name of the Day.

If you know your Greek alphabet, you can rattle off alpha, beta, gamma, delta. It’s the fourth letter, equivalent to our letter D, derived from a Phoenician word. If Jay and Kay, Dee and Bea can be names, why not Delta?

But there’s much more to Delta than just the alphabet.

First, the nature name link: the ancient historian Herodotus used the term to describe the mouth of the Nile River, and eventually the term was applied to other river mouths.

From the Nile to the Mississippi, the Mississippi River Delta forms as the river approaches the Gulf of Mexico. But that’s not the famous Mississippi Delta. The famous Delta isn’t a Delta at all, but an alluvial plain between the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers.

And now the nature name link leads us to the musical connection.

Blues and jazz both trace their roots to the Mississippi River Delta, as does rock and roll. It’s a desperately poor area, once dominated by cotton plantations.  Post-Civil War, many of the African American families became sharecroppers, an economic arrangement that offered little hope of advancement.  No wonder the Delta gets credit for musicians like Blues legend Muddy Waters, born McKinley Morganfield outside of Clarksdale, Mississippi.

Other references take Delta into given name territory:

  • You might remember the song “Delta Lady,” written by Leon Russell for Rita Coolidge, best known for racking up Grammy awards and hits in the 1970s and 80s, on the country music and pop charts, too.
  • As for women who have actually worn the name, there’s another singer.  This time, she’s Australian.  Delta Goodrem has appeared on soap Neighbors while scoring hit singles and successful albums.  She’s now a coach on The Voice Australia.
  • Long before Delta Goodrem came Delta Burke, Suzanne Sugarbaker on the 1980s smash hit Designing Women.  She’s had a long career since the television series’ heyday, but Delta still conjures up images of an aging Southern belle and former beauty queen.
  • Lastly, there’s a Tanya Tucker song called “Delta Dawn” and countless musical references, too.

All of this puts Delta squarely into given name territory.  Delta charted in the US Top 1000 most years from 1880 through 1918, and again a few times into the 1930s.  But today she’s slipping away.  Part of it may be that the current generation of parents thinks of Delta as too linked to the 80s sitcom.  But there are other references, too.

  • Delta Air Lines – headquartered in Georgia – makes this name a no-go for frequent fliers.
  • Sororities and fraternities use the Greek letter, including Delta Delta Delta.
  • It’s a fitting name for a steamboat, too – like the one pictured above.
  • In scientific notation, the letter delta is used to signify change.  This might restore some of the name’s appeal, putting her in the same camp as Destiny.
  • Then there’s the association with Anais Nin’s Delta of Venice, a collection of literary erotica published posthumously in 1978.

On balance, Delta feels quirky and Southern – a vintage gem from a time gone by.  She’s not without possibility circa 2012, especially if your tastes run to hipster picks like Opal and Rufus.

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.

You May Also Like:

What do you think?


  1. in australia there is a singer named Delta Goodrem she is quite well known and is a judge on our version of the voice

  2. While I adore Rufus, my girls favorites tend to be more refined: a sister for Rufus would be Aurelia or Daphne. Delta makes me sing too, but I find I don’t dislike her despite the song. I’d much rather meet a tiny Delta than yet another Madison or Isabella! Delta feels refreshingly sweet and I adore some of the assocations. Delta gets an enthusiastic “Huzzah!” from me. 😀

  3. As an alum of Delta Zeta, the Greek letter is forefront in my mind, closely followed by Delta Airlines. I’d much rather see Della.

  4. I saw the post title and started humming “Delta Dawn”. If I could get rid of the earworm, I’d like it as a name. As it is, I prefer Delia or Della.

  5. I think also of the character Delta from the comic strip Luann. She’s smart, conscientious and battled cancer many, many years ago (while in high school, no less). She’s just a weekly comic strip member, but she’s pretty admirable too.