Thanks to Kayt for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day, and to Aurelia for suggesting her name’s post needed a refresh!
If you know your periodic table of the elements, you might remember that AU stands for gold.
That’s because aurum is the Latin word for the precious metal; aureus means golden. The family name and given name come from the same root.
The Aurelii were an ancient Roman family. The mother of Julius Caesar was a member of the Aurelii. In Roman culture, women were addressed by a form of their family name, so Julius’ mom was called Aurelia Cotta.
There have been saints named Aurelius, Aurelian, Aurea, and yes, Aurelia.
In fact, it’s the name of several minor early saints.
There’s the eleventh century Aurelia of Strasbourg. Legend holds that she was born a princess, only to devote herself to God and become a hermit. A church named for her still stands in Strasbourg, though it has been a Lutheran church since the Reformation.
It may be that she was the second Saint Aurelia of Strasbourg. Other accounts suggest that the first Aurelia accompanied the fourth century Saint Ursula on her pilgrimage, a journey that ended with all of the women marytyred for their faith.
In any case, the stories preserved the name from Ancient Rome, and spread it across Europe. Variations like the French Aurélie, the romance language Aurélia, and the Slavic Aurelija are seen, too. It can shortened to Aura or lengthened to Aureliana. It might even be spelled Oralie in English, though that feels like a different name.
A handful of famous people helped raise the name’s profile, including:
- Aurelia Plath, mother of author Sylvia Plath, known for publishing her daughter’s letters after her death. Aurelia was named after her Austrian-born mother.
- Speaking of Austria, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s mother was also named Aurelia.
- Mexican opera singer Oralia Dominguez was at the height of her career in the 1950s, famous internationally.
- Almost a year before Rosa Parks famously refused to vacate her seat, Aurelia Browder did the same thing. She became a life-long civil rights activist.
- Romanian gymnast Aurelia Dobre won World and Olympic titles in the 1980s.
None of those women are household names.
Instead, it might’ve been a fictional Aurelia that first caught parents’ attention.
2003’s Love Actually featured a cast of British A-listers. Hugh Grant played the prime minister; Liam Neeson, a grieving widower; Keira Knightley, a young newlywed. The movie is all of their overlapping and intersecting love stories.
One of them features Colin Firth as Jamie, a writer coming off a bad break-up who takes refuge in France, where he falls for his Portuguese housekeeper, Aurelia.
BY the NUMBERS
Love Actually has become the kind of movie compulsively re-watched. It’s centered around Christmas, making it a modern seasonal favorite. And so, at least once a year, many of us rediscover Aurelia.
It seems to have had an impact.
The baby name Aurelia appeared in the US Top 1000 through the 1950s. But then it left the baby girl names list, slipping into obscurity for more than five decades.
In 1990, just 75 girls received the name. In 2000, the number dropped to 58.
But then something started to happen. In 2005, just two years post-Love Actually, 112 girls received the name Aurelia.
The 2008 version of this post called Aurelia “one of those throwback names that is primed for a revival.”
And by 2012? The name re-entered the rankings at #1000. Aurelia charted at #490 in 2022.
But a minor character from a beloved holiday movie probably can’t explain the name’s increased popularity. Instead, the baby name Aurelia owes its success to:
- The rise of Aurora, which brought more attention to this other Au- name.
- Our love of girls’ names ending with -lia, like Amelia and Cecilia.
- An uptick in the use of ancient names in general, making a feminine form of the Latin Aurelius something parents would notice.
It helps that Aurelia requires no nicknames. Or shorten it to Lia/Leah, Ella/Ellie, Ari, Relia, Rella, Rel, or Rea – to name just a few.
One drawback: pronunciation of Aurelia varies. Sometimes it’s three syllables; other times, it’s four. Emphasis ranges from ow REHL ya to ow REH lee ah, with some of the REHs and REHLs traded for RAYs and ows swapped for aws.
If you’re looking for an alternative to long-time favorite Olivia, Aurelia is one to consider.
What do you think of the baby name Aurelia?
This post was originally published on August 17, 2008. It was revised and re-posted on July 6, 2015 and again on August 12, 2023.