Take the -ia from Olivia and Sophia, borrow the El- from Ella and Elizabeth, and you’ll arrive at a terribly pretty possibility for a daughter, one that just might have ancient roots.
Thanks to Cindy for suggesting her daughter’s name, Ellia as our Baby Name of the Day.
Ellia has multiple possible origins, from the simple assemblage of popular sounds to ties to a traditional Old Testament name.
- Ellia may simply have emerged as a variant, and perhaps even a feminine form, of Elijah and Elias. Elijah was slimmed down to Elia in Italian and several other European tongues – think of legendary director Elia Kazan. Census records suggest that plenty of men answered to Ellia, too, at least in the US, and almost certainly as a twist on the Biblical name.
- In more modern moments, I’ve heard Ellia connected to the French elle – she. But since Elle is also a given name with ties to the popular Ella family, this one is probably on the fanciful side.
But here’s the most intriguing of them all. The Roman gens Aelia was prominent for centuries in the ancient world. The Emperor Hadrian was among their members, as were many distinguished figures well into the fourth century. Aelia Paetina was the second wife of Emperor Claudius, so we know that Aelia was the preferred feminine form for family members.
The origins of Aelia and company are debated, but one suggestion is that it connects to the Greek helios – sun.
Plenty of names have come down to us from ancient days, and while Aelia is poorly represented on the map today, it was once common, bestowed by Hadrian and others to places where they constructed bridges or settlements. Aelia Capitolina once stood on the site of modern-day Jerusalem. Aelia survived in the Byzantine Empire even longer, worn by a few more empresses.
Could the personal name have trickled down over the years? Cindy found it on her husband’s Italian family tree, traced back over several centuries. This tracks with the census records – while some nineteenth century American Ellias were men, an equal number were women – suggesting that two separate origins for the name might be perfectly plausible.
With the exception of Cindy’s report, I can’t confirm another medieval Ellia. Still, Italian was such a fragmented language, and written records were so slim that it means little. It also strikes me that Ellia might have been recorded differently in Latin – could she be hiding as Elisabetta?
Two pop culture references might put Ellia on a 21st century parents’ radar:
- Actress Ellia English has had a long career, from the television adaptation of Fame in the 1980s to the present-day Disney Channel series Good Luck, Charlie.
- There was also a minor – but important – character on sci-fi series Stargate Atlantis. Jewel Staite of Firefly fame, played Ellia.
But is Ellia the kind of name that a modern parent would consider? Look no further than Project Nursery.
Ellia has all the markings of a stylish moniker. Her sound fits right in with Amelia, Stella and Eleanor – strong, smart, creative names for a daughter that wear well throughout life. And while she might strike some as invented, her roots run deep. If you’re looking for something just a little bit different, Ellia is one to consider.