She’s a lovely Italian name, a rarity with a very current sound.
Thanks to Esther for suggesting Romola as our Baby Name of the Day.
We’ve talked about the legendary founders of Rome before – Romulus and Remus. The twin sons of Rhea Silvia were saved from exposure by a she-wolf, raised as humble shepherds, and eventually set out to make their fortunes. The brothers quarreled over the location of their new city, and Romulus offed Remus … which is why the eternal city is not known as Reme.
So Romulus refers to Rome, and Rome’s meaning is debated. Some say it is drawn from the Etruscan name for the river Tiber – Rumon – or maybe a word meaning hill. There are a few other theories, but when a city is as enduring as Rome, it speaks for itself.
The Medicis were big fans of Romola, using the name as a favored middle, in combinations like:
- Lucrezia Maria Romola de Medici, born in 1470, the firstborn daughter of Lorenzo de Medici and his wife, Clarice.
- Maria Maddalena Romola de Medici, Lucrezia’s little sister.
- Contessina Antonia Romola de Medici, born in 1478.
- Isabella Romola de Medici, born in 1542, daughter of Cosimo de Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany.
- Giulia Romola di Alessandro de Medici, daughter of Alessandro de Medici, Duke of Florence.
One Medici child received Romola as a first name, but she died in infancy. It wasn’t just the aristocratic family that embraced the name. The sixteenth century Florence-born Alessandra Lucrezia Romola de Ricci became St. Catherine.
Romola was borrowed outside of Italy by the nineteenth century:
- George Eliot penned the novel Romola as a serial from 1862 through 1863. Her tale was set in fifteenth century Florence, making Romola a very appropriate choice. Eliot’s work is almost certainly the reason Romola gained wider use, though it is not well known today. It was adapted as a silent movie in 1924, with Lillian Gish in the title role.
- Emily Theresa Russell, Baroness Ampthill and Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Victoria, gave the name Augusta Louise Margaret Romola to her youngest of six children, in 1879.
- A prominent New York family gave the name to their daughter, perhaps because of the years her father spent in Rome as a diplomat.
- Hungarian aristocrat Romola de Pulszky is best known as the wife of Vasily Nijinsky. She wasn’t the only Hungarian Romola – an actress born around the same time also wore the name.
- Vita Sackville-West’s 1930 novel The Edwardians included a minor aristocratic character called Romola.
Romola has also been heard in India in the twentieth century.
My favorite use has to be the whimsically named Romola Remus, one of the first actresses to play Dorothy Gale. She worked with L. Frank Baum on the earliest attempts to adapt his Oz novels for the movies. Remus wasn’t interested in a Hollywood career, and didn’t pursue any further acting opportunities.
Today, English actress Romola Garai, best known as Jane Austen’s Emma in the BBC’s adaptation, keeps her unusual name in the spotlight.
Not only has Romola never cracked the US Top 1000, she was given to fewer than five girls in the US last year. But somehow she feels nicely on trend. She shortens to Romy or Lola and feels slightly less clunky that the similar Ramona. If you’re looking for an unusual choice with history aplenty but little use, Romola might be the name for you.