Hoping to raise a Goth supermodel? This could bet the choice for you.
Thanks to Emilie for suggesting Ligeia as our Baby Name of the Day.
There’s haunting beauty, and then there are beauties who haunt. An early Edgar Allan Poe short story places Ligeia in both categories. The pronunciation – lie GEE ah – sounds like few other given names.
Her tale is irresistible: A young man is madly in love with his new bride, the brilliant and lovely Ligeia. Their happiness is cut short when Ligeia falls ill. As she’s dying, she tells her husband that sheer will can conquer death. It appears she’s wrong, however, as she succumbs to her illness not long after.
Ligeia’s widower mourns, then marries again. Wife #2 – Rowena – is as different from Ligeia as can be. But she also becomes seriously ill. She’s on the verge of death, her burial arranged, when she re-emerges, alive once more. Only she’s no longer Rowena, but Ligeia reborn.
It’s not clear if Poe meant the story as a straight-up supernatural thrill or something else, maybe even satire. But Ligeia’s Goth credentials are rock solid – she looked like an extra in a Cure video circa 1986. (Emaciated, raven-tressed, etc.) She was appropriately mysterious, too – the narrator seemed to know only the bare minimum of facts about his wife.
Ligeia has come to life on the big screen twice. In 1964, Vincent Price played the narrator in The Tomb of Ligeia. In 2009, the story was brought into the modern era as The Tomb. Russian ballerina Sofya Skya played the leading lady, this time an all-out, soul-stealing villain.
Prior to Poe, Ligeia was a siren, her name derived from the Greek lygis – shrill, whistling. Today “siren” is synonymous with “seductress” and implies an ample amount of va-va-va-voom. In myth, the only thing alluring about the sirens was their voices. The clawed bird-girl hybrids lured sailors to their deaths on rocky shores. Their number varies – some say just two, others, a flock. Few of their names have made it into common use. Others include Aglaope, Leucosia, Parthenope, Peisinoe, Teles, and Raidne. Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, includes a lake named Ligeia Mare.
Poe could’ve heard the name in myth, but there’s a second possibility: John Milton’s masque Comus includes a reference to Ligea. Written in 1634, Comus was written in praise of chastity, originally commissioned by the Earl of Bridgewater. Masques were big at court, and tended towards the bawdy. Milton’s was different in tone, but it was popular. Still, the reference is a passing one.
The name can be found in sparing use in the US Census records, but she’s never appeared in the US Top 1000, and in 2009, fewer than five girls received the name. (Though the Portuguese variant, Lígia, was given to thirteen newborns.) Unlike the equally Goth Lucretia, there aren’t nineteenth century suffragettes and the like. (Though can’t you just imagine stumbling across a collection of poetry from the 1800s penned by Ligeia Davidson Hale?)
Nickname options Gigi, Gia, and Lia make Ligeia slightly more wearable. But she’s still an exotic choice, with a lot of history for a child to carry. Then again, Annabel hasn’t been hurt any by her status as one of Poe’s tragic heroines.