Larissa's ancient theatre
Image via Wikipedia

If you’re searching for a feminine name that sounds perfectly current, can be worn with or without a nickname, and manages to be familiar without being common, here’s one that might just suit.

Thanks to Kelly for suggesting Larissa as Baby Name of the Day.

Larissa has been more common in Slavic Europe than the US, but her roots are ancient.

Travel back to Thessaly ten millennia BC and you’d find the area inhabited. The name is younger, of course, but still traces to at least the 600s BC. It is suggested that the name’s origin is an ancient Greek term for a stronghold or citadel. The picture above shows the remains of the city’s theater.

Plenty of historical events took place in Larissa. It’s said to be the birthplace of legendary warrior Achilles. Several real-life notables lived there, including medical pioneer Hippocrates. The first saint to call Larissa home was Saint Achillius, a bishop present at the First Council of Nicaea in the fourth century.

Even though the city remains, it seems like odd inspiration for a child’s name. But there are two figures to keep in mind:

  • The mythological Larissa was a nymph, and the mother of several sons with sea god Poseidon. She’s said to be a native of Thessaly, and some suggest the city was named in her honor;
  • While she’s not on the official list of Roman Catholic saints, Saint Larissa is recognized by Orthodox Christians. During fourth century prosecutions, it is said that a King of the Goths burned a tent’s worth of the faithful, including Larissa.

Sometimes spelled with one s, Larisa is a Top 50 pick in modern-day Slovenia, but has never charted in the US.

Larissa has appeared in the US rankings, debuting in 1967 at #908 and peaking at #364 in 1994. Today she stands at just #759.

A few references might have encouraged Larissa’s use:

  • Some speculated that Larissa Tudor, who died in her late 20s in 1926, was actually a lost Romanov princess;
  • Boris Pasternak’s 1957 novel, and the 1965 film adaptation of Doctor Zhivago, made all things Russian quite fashionable, cold war or no. His heroine, Lara, might’ve pushed some parents to discover the longer Larissa;
  • Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina dominated the 1956 and 1960 Olympics, and won a few more medals in 1964 before retiring;
  • When a new moon of Neptune was discovered in 1981, it was named after the nymph.

Today, Larissa could serve as a substitue for the fading Alyssa and Jessica, and fits in with two emerging trends: a modest uptick in Russian names, thanks to First Daughter Natasha, coupled with a craze for names that start with L. Besides Lara, you can imagine a little Larissa answered to Lally, quite the on-trend choice.

If you like her style, Larissa balances being familiar without being at all overused.

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. Like a few other comments, I too, were the only Larissa in my class and at times the only Larissa at my school here in Australia. Yet when I’m involved in Ukrainian Dancing or at Ukrainian events it is the compete opposite!

    There have been times where I have been one of 6 – 9 Larissa’s and one out of 4 Larissa S’! Which then becomes way to difficult to follow! At the moment there are still 4 Larissa’s in my dance class not including me!

  2. My name, Larissa Shea, has served me well. While I do often have to correct people, I’ve met very few others, and never been a double in school. I don’t feel like I have a childish name, though my nicknames, Riss and Rissa, are. Good choice, Mom & Dad. 🙂

  3. I totally love my name and I wouldn’t change it for anything! People often mistake it for Marisa or Clarissa, but I have no problem correcting them.
    Ironically enough all Larissa’s I have met are strong/self-driven/successful females, so nothing prissy or teen-ish about it.

  4. Late to the party but I wish you’d discussed pronunciation! Because it’s Eastern European/Greek in origin, it actually rhymes with Lisa, not Melissa. Even if you type it into Google Translate (English), the voice will say it that way 😀

    Oh, and yes, Doctor Zhivago was the catalyst to my parents giving me the name. Though they also met in Eastern Europe so…

    1. My take on pronunciation is this: the import/export process changes things. I’ve known two Larissas IRL. One was born to Ukrainian immigrants, and maintained close ties to her heritage and spoke Ukrainian fluently. I don’t recall ever hearing her parents say her name, but in English, she was always Larissa-like-Marissa and Melissa. The other Larissa I knew wasn’t even a little bit Ukrainian – her parents just loved the name when they found it in a baby book, so no surprise she was Larissa-like-Marissa.

      Many families who are bi-cultural seem to accept that there are two valid forms of the name. My husband’s family switches from the Polish to English pronunciation of his name depending on context and the language they’re speaking at the time.

      This might be shifting, though. My kids have friends with Indian and East African names, and we do our very best to approximate the pronunciation. The kids don’t seem to question names, no matter how different from their own.

      1. I think you’re right about import/export but I also believe it has a lot to do with parental intent. My parents meant for me to be Larissa-like-Lisa and so were dismayed when people called me anything else. As an adult, I’m pretty good-humored about correcting people. I actually see Larissa-like-Melissa as a completely different name.

        I do think children take it at face value. For example, my boyfriend is called Ciarán (pronounced KEER-on) and I met him in the third grade. Because I was seven-going-on-eight at the time I accepted that that spelling equaled that pronunciation without giving it a second thought. Watching people grapple with it now is puzzling for me but I see that’s because I was conditioned.

        It’s also very amusing when we’re in situations where we have to introduce ourselves at the same time!

      2. I’m Ukrainian and it is pronounced exactly the same as it is in English, just with an accent of course! We are usually automatically called Lara, as a nickname 🙂