It’s a terribly romantic name launched by a BBC television series.
Thanks to Kathryn for suggesting Demelza as our Baby Name of the Day.
Demelza and the Revival of the Cornish Language
Let’s start out in Cornwall.
Cornish was around long before English came to dominate the British Isles. It was nearly extinct when before a twentieth century revival, and it is now recognized as a minority language in the UK.
Along with the cultural revival came an interest in Cornish given names. Enter Demelza.
The Cornish Language Project includes Demelza on their list of given names.
Two meanings are given:
- First, according to the Cornish Language Project – and oft-repeated – Demelza means “Maeldaf’s Fort.” Maeldaf is an obscure given name, so if this is the origin, the trail ends here.
- Another explanation? It means thy sweetness. Could the ‘mel’ refer to honey? Hmmm …
Demelza: A Novel Name
The sweet meaning comes straight out of a novel. Winston Graham moved to Cornwall as a young man. Twenty years later, he published Ross Poldark, the first in a series of eleven novels written between 1945 and 2002.
There’s no evidence for the use of Demelza before Graham’s novels.
As for that meaning, credit Graham again. I’ve read that Graham found it on a sign post and found the meaning listed in another book. The meaning is repeated in the book.
Demelza might have remained a Cornish rarity if not for the BBC.
Between 1975 and 1977, Poldark was an absolute sensation on Sunday evenings. Legend has it that churches changed their evening service times rather than compete with the show.
A thumbnail sketch: Ross Poldark was in love with the beautiful, well-born Elizabeth, but she became engaged to someone else while he was away at war. Heartbroken, Ross marries the servant girl Demelza.
Demelza might be Elizabeth’s opposite, but she proves herself brave, loyal, and funny. The character was beloved, as was actress Angharad Rees, who played Demelza in the original television adaptation.
It’s the 1700s in Cornwall, and Ross Poldark runs tin mines. Not exactly Dallas or Dynasty, but the story lines are surprisingly the same – affairs, murder, family discord across generations.
Poldark appears on many a Best Of list, and was shown on Masterpiece Theater in the US as recently as 2007.
Demelza: A Rarity in the US … Until 2015?
Demelza has never cracked the US Top 1000, and only a handful of girls received the name during the show’s heyday.
There’s also a minor Harry Potter character and a British children’s charity named after a real-life Demelza.
Now the BBC has announced a new adaptation of the series set to debut in January 2015.
In our Downton Abbey-world, American audiences are very ready to tune into BBC period dramas.
Could this be Demelza’s moment? Downton Abbey has boosted Cora, so it could be the perfect moment for this Cornish rarity to catch on.
Demi – as in Moore and Lovato – makes a great, wearable short form, and that ‘z’ ending is as current as they come.
What do you think of Demelza? Do you think the new television series will boost this name?
More names to consider: