Lydia Sigourney
Lydia Sigourney (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Editor’s note: This post originally ran on May 24, 2010, and was substantially revised and reposted on January 21, 2013.

She’s an ancient place name with an appealing spiritual link.

Thanks to Danielle for suggesting Lydia as our Baby Name of the Day.

Luna, Lily, Lila, Lucy, London.  Many a stylish baby names is brought to us by the letter L.  The -ia ending also packs a wallop, too.  Think of Sophia and Amelia.

She’s an ancient place name. Now part of modern-day Turkey, Lydia was a powerful independent kingdom through the sixth century BC. According to Herodotus, the name is in homage to King Lydus.

The first woman called Lydia appears in the New Testament.  She’s a wealthy woman and early convert to Christianity.  Some say she was the very first convert in Europe.  She’s considered a saint.

Lydia first caught on post-Reformation. By 1880, she was a Top 100 choice. Notable nineteenth century Lydias include:

  • Poet Lydia Sigourney earned a living by her literary wits, and inspired many other women to establish Sigourney Societies to encourage reading.
  • Entrepreneur Lydia Pinkham made a mint selling an herbal tonic.
  • Philanthropist Lydia Bradley was the first female member of a national bank’s board of directors.
  • Suffragette and publisher Lydia Becker was active in the 1860s and 1870s.
  • Abolitionist Lydia Child is best remembered for her Thanksgiving poem Over the River and Through the Woods.
  • Portrait artist Lydia Emmet has works hanging in the White House and the Met.
  • Lydia Koidula was an Estonian poet.
  • Russian ballerina Lidia Lopukhova married famed economist John Maynard Keynes.

The name fell into the 200s and 300s for much of the twentieth century.  Spelling Lidia is common in Italian, Spanish, and Polish.

She also has a number of notable uses, some of them deliciously quirky:

  • In 1939, Groucho Marx performed a song called “Lydia the Tattooed Lady” in At the Circus. Marx performed it often post-film, once famously bringing trading at the New York Stock Exchange to a halt during a highly unscheduled performance in 1950. The lyrics detail her tattoos – the Battle of Waterloo, Niagara Falls, Lady Godiva and conclude “You can learn a lot from Lydia!”
  • References to the song abound.  Little sister Dinah Lord performed it in The Philadelphia Story; so did Robin Williams in The Fisher King and Kermit the Frog on The Muppet Show. Most recently, Heroes featured Lydia the Painted Lady, a member of Sullivan Brothers Carnival.
  • The impetuous youngest sister in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice wore the name.
  • Winona Ryder’s character in 1988’s Beetlejuice was Lydia.
  • In 1993’s Mrs. Doubtfire the kids included Lydia, nicknamed Lydie.
  • MTV’s series Teen Wolf includes a Lydia.

In recent years, she’s made a comeback – a sister for Sophia, an alternative to Olivia.  Nickname Liddy or Lydie is just as appealing as Abby or Maddie.  She reached #96 in 2011.

No wonder that we’re meeting more and more little Lydias these days.

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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. My middle name is Lydia, after the Biblical Lydia- my dad’s a clergyman. I do think it has a pretty sound but Pride and Prejudice is one of my favourite books and I don’t like sharing my name with the character Lydia! The ironic part: 1. it’s one of my mom’s favourites too and she actually introduced me to it, 2. my sister’s middle name is Kathryn (Kitty’s full name is Catherine in the novel). My mom says she didn’t realize…

  2. We were clearing out a closet this weekend and found a list of names for our 2005 born daughter. My husband’s list included Lydia. 🙂 We didn’t choose Lydia but it is a lovely choice. I remember meeting one at the library who had an older sister named Rose. That stuck with me, as our daughter is Rose.

    There’s now a Lydia in our Kindergarten Sunday School class and my husband still likes the name.