This one is a real rarity, a place name with possible ties to an ancient goddess.
Thanks to Caitlin for suggesting one from her family tree. Our Baby Name of the Day is Cintra.
When Caitlin wrote in, she noted that her aunt Cintra was the only one in her immediate family with an unusual name, deepening the mystery.
But was Cintra always so unusual?
Though she’s never made the US Top 1000, she appears in US Census records, especially in the 1930 Census. Cintra wasn’t common, but she’s not the rarest name I’ve ever researched, either. It suggests something that was once relevant, but isn’t well remembered today.
Does Cintra come from a place? A poem? A peace treaty? Maybe all three.
In the early days of the nineteenth century, Napoleon’s French Empire was at war, fighting for control of Spain and Portugal. The British sided with the Spanish and Portuguese, and together, they defeated the French. In August of 1808, the two sides reached a deal to evacuate the defeated French from Portugal. The deal was signed at a palace in Sintra, but was recorded in the history books as the Convention of Cintra.
Other battles and place names from foreign lands have come into use as given names over the years, like Alma. But this wasn’t a popular treaty. Lord Byron mentioned the Convention of Cintra in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, comparing it to Eden, but adding: “Britannia sickens, Cintra! at thy name.”
This makes it unlikely that Cintra would come into use as a name in honor of the events that took place there.
So back to Portugal. It’s close to the capital city of Lisbon, chock full of stunning nineteenth century architecture, like the palace where the treaty was signed. There are also the Sintra Mountains, and a large nature park. It’s considered a UNESCO World Heritage site, with buildings dating to the 700s and 800s.
The story goes that Sintra comes from Cynthia, and that Sintra was considered a place sacred to Diana and moon worship back in the day. It’s plausible. Ptolemy referred to the area as the mountains of the moon -serra da lua, and the Romans called it Mons Lunae – Moon Hill. It has also been known as Suntria, Sintria, Xintara, and Xentra in various records.
Sintra has featured prominently in Portuguese history and literature over the centuries, and was a popular resort destination for centuries, first for royals, then aristocrats and the wealthy, eventually evolving into a favored place for artists to live and work.
Perhaps there’s a missing link – a lost novel or play, a major news story involving the community from the 1800s.
Because what’s certain is that Cintra has persisted as a given name. Cintra Wilson’s writing has appeared in the New York Times.