She’s another popular, poetic choice with a surprising goth undertone.
Thanks to Frances for suggesting Lila as Baby Name of the Day.
Lila’s origins are much debated. Among the many suggested meanings and origins we find:
- From the Arabic or Persian leila, meaning night, dark, or maybe dark beauty;
- You might find her listed as an Indian name meaning beauty;
- The Spanish lila, meaning lilac, which puts Lila in the company of Violet;
- In Sanskrit, she’s a Hindu concept of sport, amusement, or play, also spelled Leela;
- A Swahili word that means good;
- A shortened form of Delilah;
- A feminine version of Lyle;
- Some even say she’s an acronym for Love You Lots, Always;
Given our growing quest for globe-trotting names, Lila’s eastern-leaning origins have some appeal. She’s currently at her most popular ranking ever – #168, but alternative spelling Lyla has fared even better, ranking #152 last year. Add in Lilah, currently at #366, and she’s easily a Top 100 name.
There’s also her lilting L sound, like Lily and Lola.
But she’s also an antique revival, and this is where Lila’s literary pedigree comes in. In the nineteenth century, Lila hovered in the 200s. Chalk it up to Lord Byron.
As a young man, Byron went on a Grand Tour of Europe, including Turkey. Less than five years later, he penned The Giaour, a tale of a harem girl in love with a Christian. Giaour is an insulting term for a non-Muslim. The harem girl – Leila – is drowned when her duplicity is discovered. Her beloved kills Leila’s murderous master, then enters a monastery to repent. The Giaour was a success, but Byron wasn’t the first to cast Leila in a romantic light.
Amongst medieval Arabic writers, Leila reigned as the name of choice for a Juliet figure, possibly based on a real love story from the 600s. Isaac D’Israeli translated the most popular version of the traditional Arabic tale around 1799, also using the Leila spelling.
But Lila would’ve been a nineteenth century variant spellings of Leila. Part of this is because English speakers pronounced Leila several ways: LEE lah, LAY lah, and LIE lah. Leila was slightly more popular than Lila in the nineteenth century, and Layla was unheard of, we can’t be certain that any of the names shared a consistent pronunciation. (It was the twentieth century before scholars turned their attention to a standard transliteration of the Arabic alphabet.)
One name became two: Layla, popularized by Derrick and the Dominos’ 1970 hit, and Lila, probably influenced by the Biblical Delilah.
As for the gothic tones? The Giaour is one of the first works of fiction to mention vampires.
Lila is enjoying much use among fictional characters in recent years:
- In 1960’s Psycho, poor Marion’s sister was Lila;
- General Hospital matriarch Lila Quartermaine was seen on daytime television for decades;
- Lila Fowler was the poor little rich girl of the Sweet Valley High series;
- Sociopath Lila Tournay was a major force in season two of Dexter;
- In 2007’s August Rush, Keri Russell played the well-heeled cellist Lyla;
- Born-again cheerleader Lyla Garrity is part of the cast of Friday Night Lights.
Celebrities have also embraced Lila. Kate Moss gave the name to her daughter; so did fashion journalist Trinny Woodall.
She’s stylish, simple, and has a great story to tell. Lila’s only shortcoming is that plenty of parents have figured this out!