She’s a literary, regal, place name with an undeniable romance. Yes, Virginia – it is your turn to be featured as Baby Name of the Day.
Thanks to Emily for the suggestion.
Virginia conjures up the American colonies, but her story is older still. She’s related to two ancient Roman family names:
- The poet Virgil‘s full name was Publius Vergilius Maro. Virgilia was the wife of fifth century BC Roman general Coriolanus, immortalized in William Shakespeare’s play;
- Flip open your copy of Livy and find this tragic tale: the counsel Verginius had a lovely young daughter called, naturally, Verginia. A higher-ranking Roman noble decided he wanted her for his own, and managed to outfox her dear daddy. Rather than surrender Verginia to the lecherous schemer, her father killed her. The story appeared in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Saverio Mercadante’s opera, Virginia.
Some associate the names with the Latin ver – spring. Others connect Virginia to virgo – maiden, which might connect to virga – young shoot.
Fast forward to the sixteenth century, and Virginia was the first English place name in the New World. Sir Walter Raleigh initially recorded it as Wingina, after the leader of the Secotan Indians. It was quickly changed to Virginia to honor Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen.
When Ananias and Eleanor Dare welcomed their daughter in the fledgling settlement in 1587, they gave her the name of their new home. Virginia Dare vanished with the rest of the settlers. The only reason we’re confident of her birth is that sole survivor, John White, was her grandfather. He’d left the colony to drum up support in England. Three years later, he returned to find little more than a mystery. The lost colony is now part of North Carolina – and American legend and lore.
Virginia was gaining in use in the early twentieth century. Then came bestselling novelist Ellen Glasgow’s 1913 novel, Virginia. The name entered the Top Ten in 1916, and stayed through 1928, peaking at #6 in 1921.
Between her Roman roots, Americana style, and fashionable V sound, Virginia could be coming back into vogue. Other 1910 favorites – like Lillian, Alice, and Ruby – are back. But Virginia dropped to #617 in 2009, her lowest ranking yet. Could the virgin association be such a killer?
Two great namesakes stand out:
- Virginia Woolf remains one of the 20th century’s most highly regarded literary figures, known for a string of 1920s novels, and the enduring essay A Room of One’s Own;
- Coroner’s assistant Philip O’Hanlon won immortality for his young daughter when he wrote to the New York Sun make an inquiry about Santa Claus on her behalf. Francis Church’s immortal response: “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” has since become the most reprinted editorial in the English language.
Nickname Ginny boasts plenty of Harry Potter style, though the red-headed heroine was Ginevra. Gina is also a possibility, as is Gigi.
But you’ll have to get over the fear that the name holds too many teasing possibilities. It is a valid concern, but the nicknames and pronunciation should put her at a distance. She’s more classic than Savannah, less expected than Ava – and far less common than either.