Twilight by zoetnet via Flickr

She’s fading into obscurity, but a creative genius combined with a very current sound could make her a great option for a modern girl.

Thanks to Tracy for suggesting Twila as our Baby Name of the Day, and thanks to all who voted for her in this weekend’s poll!

I find it hard to hear Twyla without automatically adding Tharp, as in Twyla Tharp, a ground-breaking innovator in the world of dance.  While at Barnard in the early 1960s, Tharp studied art history – but also dance, under Martha Graham and other leading artists.  She joined the Paul Taylor Dance Company in 1963, and broke out to establish her own company just two years later.  The rest is history.  Tharp has racked up every kind of award imaginable and …

The story of her unusual first name is well known.  Tharp was born in Indiana in 1941.  Her expectant parents visited the Muncie Fair, where Miss Twila Thornburg had been crowned Pig Princess.  Creative names ran in the family.  Her mother’s name was Lecile, and her younger sister was Twanette.  Some reports indicate that Lecile changed the spelling from Twila to Twyla because Twyla would look better on a marquee, but both spellings were in use in the 1940s.

Twila was a Top 1000 name from 1880 through 1970, and Twyla charted from 1925 through 1965.  Neither was ever wildly popular, but that’s a steady history of use, sufficient to produce lots of notable women by the name, including:

  • Ohio politician Twyla Roman.
  • Songwriter, and long-time collaborator with Lou Christie, Twyla Herbert.  Among their many hits?  “Egyptian Shumba” by the Tammys and the oft-covered “Lightning Strikes.”
  • If you follow the Adult Contemporary Christian charts, you’ll recognize Twila Paris, who fared especially well int he 1980s and 90s.
  • Twila Tanner was a runner-up on the granddaddy of reality shows, Survivor, back in 2004.
  • Here’s my favorite: All-American Girls Professional Baseball Leaguer Twila Shively, once called the “Hedy Lamarr of softball.”

There’s more than one possible origin for Twila:

  • She could be based on the word twilight, or possibly the French word for star – étoile.
  • Then there’s the possibility that twy shares origins with the word two.  Several sources say that she means double-stitched, or strong.  Alternately, the same idea could be reached through twile – a Middle English word that became our word twill – woven with double thread.
  • Could it be that Twila was embraced for children of mixed racial backgrounds?  This thread is tantalizing.

Look at the US Top 1000 today, and you’ll find plenty of ends-in-yla options: Lyla (#134), Lila (#155), Delilah (#187), Kyla (#255), Lilah (#331), Nyla (#405), Myla (#511), Skyla (#559), and more.

All of this means that Twila and Twyla occupy one of those curious spaces.  She’s got a trendy sound, but her associations make for the kind of modern moniker likely to appeal to parents fretting that Olive is over-exposed.  Alexa at Flotsam is naming her new daughter Twyla, a little sister for Simone.  If you’re looking a name that has an artsy, edgy vibe without being truly, eye-poppingly strange, Twila should make your list.

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. Twila name is beautiful and I believe more people should consider the name. It is unique and stand for a strong woman.

  2. One of a kind is the same way I feel me and my daughter and one other in 60 years that cool to me and the meaning is exceptional.