Cropped screenshot of Debra Paget and John Der...
Photo credit: Wikipedia

The lovely Lily is a smash hit in 2013.  How about this Lil- name?

Thanks to Laney for suggesting Lilia as our Baby Name of the Day.

Just how popular are Lil- names nowadays?

  • Lily ranks #16
  • Lillian is also in the US Top 100.
  • Lilly and Liliana rank in the Top 200.
  • Then there’s Lilliana, Lilian, Lilyana, and Lillie, all in the Top 500.
  • Finally, Lilianna, Lillianna, Lilith, Lilyanna, and Lillyana all chart in Top 1000.

Lilia belongs with that last group, coming in at #876 in 2012.

It’s a powerfully popular cluster of names, and that’s not counting the similar Lila and Delilah, and a handful of Lil- options not currently charting, like Lilou and Liliane.

Most of those Lil- names are clearly botanical in inspiration.  No matter how she’s spelled, Lily and company are known as particularly pretty blooms.  In Latin, a single lily was lilium.  The plural form was lilia.  It’s not certain where the word originates – possibly Egyptian, though its roots are lost to time.

While Lilia might seem like a modern discovery, she’s been in use in other languages for generations.  She’s Liliya in Russian.  And Laney’s original request was for Lilija, the Latvian and Lithuanian form of the name.

She also has a brief, but fascinating history of use:

  • E.M. Forster gave the name Lilia to a character in his 1905 novel Where Angels Fear to Tread.  His Lilia was Mrs. Herriton, a respectable widow on a visit to Tuscany.  She falls madly in love with one of the locals – and marries him.  Scandal ensues.  Lilia dies in childbirth, leaving her in-laws to quarrel over the child’s fate.  There’s an awful lot of tragedy in the tale, and Lilia isn’t exactly a role model – but finding the name in a classic work of literature adds to Lilia’s appeal.
  • In 1956’s Biblical box office smash The Ten Commandments, Debra Paget played Lilia.  I can’t figure out where they harvested the name.  There’s no Lilia in the Old Testament, nor do any of the variant names appear.  Cecil B. DeMille drew inspiration from lots of sources – maybe Lilia is hidden in one of them?  The picture above is Debra Paget as Lilia.
  • In 1963, Austrian-born actress Lilia Skala was nominated for an Oscar as Best Actress in Lilies of the Field.  She’s an intriguing character – she fled Europe during the Nazi era, and while she held degrees in engineering and architecture in her native country, Lilia had a long career as a television actress in the US.

Despite all of these high-profile Lilias, the name remained relatively unused.

Maybe that’s because Lily is at her most popular today.  Back in 1956, Lily ranked #781, and was on the edge – or just outside – the Top 1000 through the 1960s and 70s.  Lillie was the more fashionable spelling in the nineteenth century, boosted by Lillie Langtry, the English actress, known for her style, beauty, and high profile affairs with the Prince of Wales and other European nobles.

Today Lilia likely appeals for another reason: she’s surprisingly pan-global.  Mexican actress Lilia Prado was born in 1928.  The name is also used in Cuba, Brazil, and the Philippines.  Besides that, she fits right in with choices like Amelia, Cecelia, and other ends with -ia options for girls.  Her status as a flower power pick helps, too.

This leaves Lilia in limbo.  She’s a great pick if you’re after something just a little bit different.  But thanks to the popularity of all those Lil- choices, Lilia isn’t quite a stand-out name, and she’s likely to be confused for Lila or Lillian.

And yet Lilia is truly lovely, on trend, and with plenty of history, too.

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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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What do you think?


  1. I love the name Lilia, I know a friend with that name. I have heard it pronounced two ways, Lilly-ah and Lee-lyah.

  2. I found this post because I thought I’d better see if you’d already done it before suggesting it. I thought I heard the name in reference to Lilia Morris, a hymn-writer (but it turns out her name was actually Leila). Great post!
    Also, Lilia sounds like she would be great friends with Kattia, Nadia, Sonia, and Talia.
    You make a good point, though, that people might “correct” it to Lilian, thinking the N just got forgotten.

  3. I love Lilia/Lilija. I’m obsessed with Latvian names lately and I’d like to stay true to my heritage, so I’d be more likely to use the Lilija spelling.

  4. Lilia is also a Hebrew name, formed from the words “li/lee” [mine, to me] and “yah” [God].