Romola (film)
Romola (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

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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.

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What do you think?


  1. Oh, and in case my characterization of the novel Romola as “long” sounds like negative criticism, it’s not. It’s a wonderful 19th century novel — go for it!

  2. Romola is the name of my little girl in utero! I’ve wanted this name for years, and though this is my second daughter, I’ve finally mustered the guts to go for it (first daughter is Iris Annie). I am a big George Eliot fan (the novel is long, Bryony), and also love Romola Garai (she was also very good as Gwendolen Harleth in a BBC production of George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda: neat coincidence).

    Now I just need to find a middle name. Right now I’m liking Romola Catherine (the latter is a family name).

    1. Congrats on baby #2! Romola Catherine is great – the perfect balance of the unexpected and the classic. So happy you’re getting to use your favorite name!

  3. This is a wonderful find. I think “clunky” or “heavy” names are going to start catching on. Case in point: Philippa. I personally find Philippa a bit “heavy” but it has that spry nickname that many people love. And the nickname Romy softens Romola. Romilly seems like a modern path to Romy, while Romola offers an ancient alternative.

  4. This is a beautiful name, and I love Romola Remus!

    To me it does seem a bit vampiric and old-castley as well. Maybe that’s a plus to some people?

  5. Holy Mola Batman! 😛 Was my first thought seeing Romola today. I think I prefer Romilly. Romola seems very heavy to me, not sure why. Romilly’s lighter feeling.
    I love Remus & Lucrezia, but Romola? Not so much.

  6. I find this name much more clunky than Ramona. I do like that it could shorten to Romy, but that’s about it.

  7. It’s like Pamela! I’m so happy this name has been featured; I absolutely loved it and keep meaning to read George Eliot’s book just for name appreciation purposes. Romola Garai is also my favorite actress alongside Evanna Lynch — Emma was fab, and so was Glorious 39 and I Capture the Castle if anyone has seen those. I love how close the sound is to Romilly, yet how the final “a” gives it a certain elegance Romilly doesn’t have.

  8. I loved Romola Garai’s portrayal of Cassandra in the movie adaptation of I Capture the Castle. That alone made me a fan of the name. Reading more about the name’s history in this blog post has made me like it even more. Thank you!

    I believe some of Ms. Garai’s background is Hungarian, which makes me wonder if her given name is a family one. Oh, and I believe that Romola de Pulszky’s famous husband’s name was Vaslav, not Vasily.