She’s a blast from the past, a once common name worn by a famous writer. Today, she’s all but unknown – and not likely to return.
Thanks to Beth one from her family tree for our Baby Name of the Day: Zona.
Zona literally translates to girdle in Greek. Plenty of ancient mythologies considered them garments of great power – Aphrodite’s could ignite love and passion. Ishtar’s girdle kept the world fruitful and multiplying. They could be borrowed and stolen, and men wore them, too – Odysseus had a magic one that was part-life vest, and Thor stored his weapons in one. They’re little more than a belt.
Since then, girdles evolved to a sort of women’s foundation garment, something to cinch in the waist, and then changed once more, to something also as obsolete as a petticoat.
Zona is also the source of our word zone – a geographic belt. The sense has expanded until zone is synonymous with area.
I’m not clear if the given name is related to the Greek word. But here’s what I do know: Zona ranked in the US Top 1000 from 1880 through 1941. A few possible origins include:
- Other -ona names were big in the era – Nona, Ona, Lona, Leona, Dona, Mona, Iona, Arizona, Winona, Ramona, Verona, and Frona all ranked in the Top 1000. And short, seemingly invented Z-names were in favor, too, including Zella, Zula, Zora, Zelma, Zola, Zetta, Zilpha, Zada, Zettie, Zelda, Zoa, Zelia, and Zana.
- Zona has Serbian roots, too, though I can’t pin down a specific origin. A 1906 novel was titled Zona Zamfirova, and it was successfully adapted for the big screen in 2002. In the story, a rich man’s daughter – Zona – falls for an ordinary Joe. All ends happily.
Speaking of literature, Zona Gale was born in Wisconsin in 1874, became a writer, and eventually the first woman to the win the Pulitzer Prize for drama. Gale was well-educated – she earned a master’s degree – and worked as a journalist in New York before returning home to devote herself to fiction. Her stage adaptation of her bestseller Miss Lulu Bett would win her the Pulitzer in 1921. In the story, Lulu strikes out on her own, leaving an unappreciative family and a failed marriage. Besides her literary triumphs, Gale was a suffragette and activist.
There’s another nineteenth Zona, and her story is very sad. Zona Heaster was murdered by her husband in 1897. The crime might have gone undiscovered, but shortly after Zona’s funeral, her mother claimed that her daughter’s ghost appeared and explained that her death was no mere accidental fall, but murder. Her mother successfully campaigned to have her daughter’s body exhumed, and an autopsy performed. Sure enough, Zona had met a bad end, and her husband spent the remainder of his days in prison.
All of this makes Zona feel like an intriguing forgotten name with a modern sound. And yet there is one almost insurmountable problem. In Hebrew, Zona translates to prostitute – and that’s a gentle translation. In our ever-so-connected world, this fact would be readily discovered by a daughter.
If you have Zona on your family tree, she’s a lovely choice for the middle spot, with her subtle connection to mythology and her literary pedigree. But as a given name, it seems likely to prove challenging. There are many other Zo- names from the same era without baggage. Then again, I’m not certain how widely known zona is as an insult in the US. Have you heard it? And is it a deal-breaker?