Cropped screenshot of Julie Christie from the ...Take a Russian novel, and a female Indiana Jones, and you have the makings of a hit name.

Thanks to Angela for suggesting Lara as our Baby Name of the Day.

Once upon a time, movies didn’t come from video games or amusement park rides.  It was a simpler age.  Movies, mostly, came from plays and novels and, of course, original scripts.  It was the era of James Bond, not Jack Sparrow.

It was also the age of Lara.

Lara was used sparingly until Boris Pasternak’s tragic novel.  The story of the book is a tale in itself – after years of work, it was smuggled out of the Soviet Union and first published in Italy.  It won the Nobel Prize for Literature, but Pasternak couldn’t leave the Soviet Union to accept the award.

Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago spanned two World Wars and the Russian revolution.  Lara and Yuri – Doctor Zhivago – had a difficult romance, separated by war and obligation.

Then came the movie.

Omar Sharif played the title role, with the lovely Julie Christie as Lara.  It won five Oscars, and was nominated for five more, including Best Picture.  “Lara’s Theme” remains among the best known movie scores of all time.

That was 1965.  In 1966, Lara entered the US Top 1000 for the first time, at #617.  She leapt to #277 the next year, and has remained in the Top 1000 ever since, though at #848 in 2012, she’s not nearly as popular as she once was.

As a Russian name, Lara is short for Larissa – the character’s full name, one that entered the US Top 1000 in 1967, and ranked #853 in 2012.  Larissa was a Greek martyr and a saint in the Orthodox church.

Even farther back, Lara or Larunda was a nymph in Greek myth, the mother of the Lares, minor deities charged with protecting households.

Lara can also be seen as a variant of Laura, at least in some languages.

So she’s a literary name with an intriguing blend of saintly, Slavic, and mythological backstory.

Lara Croft: Tomb RaiderThen there’s Tomb Raider.

Lara Croft debuted in a 1996 video game, one that has become the foundation of a long series of games and associated merchandise and movies.  A beautifully educated aristocrat, she survives a plane crash.  Her mother disappears and her father goes in pursuit, followed by Lara.  She’s a talented linguist, a crack shot, and downright fearless.

Angelina Jolie was eventually cast as Croft in both the 2001 film and its sequel.  Now a prequel is rumored to be in the works.

This puts a very different twist on the name – strong, independent, daring.  If Pasternak’s Lara is tragic, Jolie’s Lara is undaunted.

Other notables include:

  • Actress Lara Flynn Boyle.
  • The aristocratic Lady Lara Spencer, daughter of Charles, 9th Earl Spencer and his ex-wife, the former Caroline Hutton.  Charles is the late Princess Diana’s younger brother, which makes Lara cousin to Princes William and Harry.
  • If you remember the 80s sitcom Gimme a Break!, an actress named Lara Jill Miller played Samantha on the show.
  • Dutch model Lara Stone was born in 1983, but named after the Zhivago character.

Lastly, Lara is sometimes a surname, thanks to a handful of villages in Spain, all named for a medieval family of landowning aristocrats in Castile.  I can’t figure out how the de Lara family derived their name, but it lends another dimension to the lovely Lara.

On balance, Lara is a culture-spanning choice.  She’s as simple as Lily or Emma.  Her only drawback is inevitable confusion with the more popular Laura.  And yet, if you’re after a name that stands out as distinctive and strong, Lara is a contender.

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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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  1. I was named after the Dr. Zhivago character. I hated it when I was younger, always having to correct people (my in-laws still call me Laura after 10 years). I always wanted a name like Jennifer or Alison, but I love it now. I pronounce it Lah-ra but I know some people pronounce it like Sarah with an L. I happen to prefer my pronunciation. 😉

  2. I’ve also suggested Lara before! (By the way, are you still looking for NOTD ideas? I have a couple of ideas for a “theme week” if you have a full week or two open in the near future.) This was one of the names I’ve liked since my early days, and yes it’s tricky for some to pronounce. (I’ve always been told the “correct” way is with a sound similar to car, but then Lara Spencer who is now on Good Morning America pronounces it like Sarah with an L.)

  3. Thank you for featuring my daughter’s name. 🙂

    There’s also an Australian model/minor actress named Lara Bingle.

    Our Lara is named after Lara Croft – my hubby is a huge Angelina Jolie fan, and there was no way I was letting him name her Angelina when my name is Angela. 🙂