Thanks to Dotmyiis for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.
E-N-O-L-A SPELLS ALONE … BACKWARDS
Back in 1886, author Mary Young Ridenbaugh used the name for her novel Enola; or, Her fatal mistake.
Ridenbaugh’s character, Enola Dale, spoke of her loneliness, musing that her parents “must have known of her future isolation” when they chose her name. The author clearly loved dramatic, one-of-one names. She called Enola’s children Alcia and Baring.
Enola wasn’t a stretch – and Ridenbaugh wasn’t the first to use it. Girl names ending with -ola were enjoying a burst of popularity in the 1880s. Viola, Lola, Leola, Nola, and just Ola were the Mia, Leah, and Thea of their day.
Sometime around 1883, Enola Miller was born in Pennsylvania. The surrounding town bears her name, and her historic home still stands. During her childhood, her father sold land to the railroad, which led to a rail yard named Enola, too.
So it’s not clear if the novel gets credit for the name’s rise – or if Ridenbaugh merely borrowed a rare, but on-trend name.
ENOLA GAY HAGGARD
In 1890, Enola Gay Haggard was born in Iowa. She married Paul Tibbets in 1912, and a few years later, they welcomed a son. Paul Jr. grew up to be a pilot.
If you know your World War II history, this should all be falling into place by now.
Tibbets joined the US Air Force, and named his B-29 bomber after his mom. The Enola Gay would eventually drop the world’s first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan.
It’s a heavy legacy for the name to carry.
In the immediate aftermath of World War II, the baby name Enola remained in sparing use, given to between a dozen and two dozen girls most years.
But in 1953, it rocketed up to an all-time high – 99 births, and the very last time the name would appear in the US Top 1000.
One possible reason? In 1953, the Enola Gay took its last flight, arriving at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.
The aircraft is now on display at the Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia.
That might’ve been the end of the baby name Enola. It fell in use, and by the 1980s was given to fewer than five girls a year.
But in 1995, the big screen extravaganza Waterworld starred Kevin Costner as the Mariner, and a young Tina Majorino as Enola. It’s a post-apocalyptic vision of the future, where nearly everything is submerged – but Enola’s back is tattooed with a map leading to the last bit of actual above-water land on Earth.
In some ways, the movie was a spectacular failure – expensive, and nominated for half-a-dozen Golden Raspberry Awards. But it debuted at #1 in the US, and clearly was seen by plenty of people.
After all, in 1996, eight girls were named Enola.
The name remained in sparing use, just a handful of girls every year. While -ola names remained mostly in style limbo, a few were heard, including Lola.
And fiction helped keep the name alive, too.
In 2015, horror flick Crimson Peak took us to turn-of-the-century America, where wealthy heiress Edith Cushing – played by Mia Wasikowska – falls for an Englishman with a title, a crumbling manor, and absolutely no money. She marries him – I mean, he’s played by Tom Hiddleston – but you know it’s not going to end well. The creepy family mansion turns out to hold secrets, including the belongings of one of the Englishman’s former wives, Italian heiress Enola Sciotti.
So could it be Italian?
Names like Fabiola and Paola suggest that the -ola ending isn’t unknown. And there’s a town called Lenola in central Italy. But if it’s used as an Italian given name, it’s beyond rare.
SHERLOCK’S LITTLE SISTER
But there’s only one reason we’re talking about this name now.
In 2006, author Nancy Springer gave the world Enola Eudoria Heddassa Holmes, (much) younger sister to Sherlock and Mycroft. The story sets her birth in 1874, making the name implausible but not impossible – certainly not for a family who named their boys Mycroft and Sherlock.
Enola’s mother disappears in the first book, and the girl detective is the one to crack the case.
The series is now up to six books, and Netflix has adapted the first story as a movie, starring Millie Bobby Brown as the teenaged sleuth.
ENOLA: THE NEXT ELEVEN?
Millie Bobby Brown, of course, became famous as Jane/Eleven on Stranger Things. While we haven’t seen rafts of girls named Eleven, it’s become a sometimes-heard name.
In 2019, a mere eight girls were named Enola.
Here’s guessing that a successful Netflix series could change the name’s image – and lead to the tiniest boost in the use of the baby name Enola. After all, alone might imply sadness. Or it could suggest a Han Solo-like independence.
What do you think? Will we hear more girls named Enola?
First published on November 1, 2011, this post was revised and re-published on September 20, 2020.