Loretta: Baby Name of the Day

Cropped screenshot of Loretta Young from the t...

The stylish Sarah Jessica Parker gave this Hollywood icon name to one of her daughters.

Thanks to Clare for suggesting Loretta as our Baby Name of the Day.

There’s more than one possible origin for Loretta:

  • She could be an elaboration of Lora and Laura.  Lauretta is heard in Italian.  Boccaccio used it in his Decameron.
  • Loreto is an Italian town, a name associated with the Virgin Mary.  Legend has it that the home where Mary once lived was miraculously lifted up and carried from Nazareth to Loreto.  This makes Loreto a Marian name – and possibly Loretta, too.
  • George Sand invented the name Loredana for a novel in 1833.  Sand was French, but three-quarters of a century later an Italian author penned a novel called L’amore de LoredanaMaybe Lor- names were the Kay– names of an earlier time.  I’ve also stumbled across Lorita, though she’s gone extinct in recent years.

I tend to think of Loretta as vaguely Italian, partially for the origins above, and probably partially because my Italian grandmother seriously considered the name for her youngest daughter.  (Or so says family legend.)

My grandmother, the story goes, was inspired by Loretta Young.  Ms. Young was born Gretchen Young, in Salt Lake City in 1913.  She started acting at the age of four, earned a Best Actress Oscar in 1948, and hosted a wildly successful television show, The Loretta Young Show, from 1953 until 1961, when the medium was still new.

Her stage name was chosen for her by her first manager.  It stuck, and as her career flourished, the name caught on.  Between 1931 and 1944, Loretta ranked in the US Top 100.

In 1932, when the name was at the heights of popularity, Loretta Lynn was born a poor coal miner’s daughter in Butcher Hollow, Kentucky.  She’d become a legend in country music, and the 1980 biopic Coal Miner’s Daughter won Sissy Spacek an Oscar for her portrayal of the First Lady of Country Music.

All of this could make Laura feel like a relatively modern discovery in English, but she has a longer history of use than you might expect.  In the thirteenth century Loretta de Braose was Countess of Leicester.

Some of today’s parents – or grandparents – might also think of Loretta Swit, best known as Major Margaret Houlihan on MASH.

And yet, Loretta doesn’t feel like a vintage gem or a revival name.  Today she’s more honkytonk, less Hollywood – a sister for Emmylou.

When Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker named their twins Tabitha and Marion Loretta, there was quite a bit of surprise.  Loretta left the US Top 1000 after 1990.  But Tabitha and Loretta do sound like sisters – unexpected, but not at all unmatched.

122 girls received the name in 2012, up from 84 in 2009, the year the Parker Broderick girls arrived.  Maybe the famous couple has changed the way we think about the name – but only slightly.

For now, Loretta remains a rarity.  Olive may be gaining widespread acceptance, and Harper could be headed for the US Top Ten.  But Loretta remains a rarity, just outside of trends.  And yet, her super-stylish parents could influence the broader adoption of this storied name.

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9 Comments

Lettie also seems like a natural nickname for this Midwest-feeling moniker. I knew an older (and rather intimidating) court bailiff who had this name. She was a wonder! Lovely and gracious whom NO ONE messed with. I wouldn’t use it myself, but with the right last name, this one could be very cordial.

Endorse! I love Lettie 🙂 For reasons unknown *cough* I have to say though, I always preferred Tabitha to Loretta in that sibset.

I love Loretta! I do think of Loretta Lynn, but that’s a huge plus in my book. Lottie as a nickname sends it from merely wonderful to inspired!

I don’t know about anyone else, but to my parents, every Loretta they meet is “the lovely Loretta,” named after a character on “Cheers,” (who was, as near as I can recall, Carla’s ex-husband’s girlfriend), who was always introduced with this sobriquet when she appeared. Until I saw the show, I had no idea what they were talking about, but now even I tend to think this whenever I meet a Loretta!

The Cheers character came to mind for me too. Especially since Carla’s ex-husband had a wonky way of saying Loretta…

I like Loretta, it has an old-fashioned, yet hipster feel I could really get behind.

I quite like Loretta. Tabitha and Loretta do seem to go nicely together, though I can’t really put my finger on why. I like that she could be nicknamed Lottie, too.

A very sweet name but not exactly my style. I’ve never been a huge fan of the -etta names.

Loretta must have been somewhat common back in the day. I have a great-great aunt Loretta on my family tree and my husband has a great-great-grandmother Loretta.