She’s a little bit campy, a whole lot tragic and surprisingly musical.

Thanks to the incomparable Lola for suggesting Elvira as Name of the Day.

Elvira has at least three possible derivations, each of which bears minimal resemblance to the final product:

  • First, she could be yet another elf name, related to the Germanic element alf – elf – which appears in Oliver, Alfred and more;
  • There’s also Geloria or Gelvira, usually listed as a Visigoth name meaning lofty and true. At one point in Medieval Spain, Gelvira was probably more common than Maria;
  • Lastly, some give her Arabic origins and the meaning fair or white.

Elvira first appears on the map. A fourth century church council was held at Eliberri, near Granada. Eliberri was Latinized as Elvira. You’ve probably never heard of it, but for Spanish church leaders, the Synod of Elvira was a landmark event.

A few centuries later, aristocratic Elviras appear in the historical record, including:

  • Elvira Menéndez, the Queen of León in the early 1000s;
  • Elvira of Castile, wife of Rogert II of Sicily, about a century later in the early 1100s.

A trio of operatic Elviras includes Bellini’s heroic Elvira in his 1835 I puritani and Verdi’s tragic newlywed Elvira in his 1844 Ernani. But before Bellini and Verdi used the name there was Mozart’s Elvira – one of the women wronged by the cad Don Giovanni. Mozart penned his tale in the 1780s, but based it on the Don Juan legends, which were at least two centuries older.

Elvira picks up a literary edge thanks to nineteenth century Argentine writer Esteban Echeverría’s poem Elvira.

And then there’s Elvira Madigan.

Born Hedvig, Elvira Madigan earned her keep as a tightrope walker and trick rider in her stepfather’s circus. All was well until she fell head over heels for a married Swedish military man. They ran away together, but instead of living happily ever after, her lover murdered her and killed himself.

In 1967, Swedish director Bo Widerberg turned their tragedy into an acclaimed film. He also links the name to music and Mozart once again – Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 in C is now often referred to as the “Theme from Elvira Madigan.”

On the lighter side, Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit featured the ghostly Elvira trying to prevent her still-living husband from remarrying. The play has inspired a Broadway musical, as well as film and television adaptations.

Two Central American hummingbirds are known as Elvira.

With nature, operatic, aristocratic and film references, Elvira ought to be a promising pick for modern parents. Too bad that the 20th century gave us:

  • Elvira Duck – grandma to Donald;
  • The Oak Ridge Boys’ 1981 hit Elvira; and
  • Campy Cassandra Peterson, known as Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, probably the best known hostess of creature features on television in recent memory.

Through the 1920s, Elvira regularly ranked in the Top 300 names for girls born in the US. She was no Mary, but that’s reasonably common. She fell in use after that and hasn’t been seen on the charts since 1981.

She’d be a daring pick for parents today, but with nickname options including Ellie and Evie, Elvira could choose to blend in – or stand out with her dramatic, operatic given name.

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 think it is a beautiful name!! So musical and with a royal, medieval feel to it! It has a lot of tradition in Spain, Portugal, Italy and even France with Elvire. Our daughter is called Elvira (EL BEE RA) and we love every bit!

  2. I know an Italian girl named Elvira, who pronounces it “el-VEE-rah.” I like this name. It’s a good alternative to the nicknamey Eliza, and does have a lyrical quality to it.

  3. I just want to say how incredibly IMPRESSED I am with your name histories, Verity. They go so beyond all other websites.

    While I also can never shake Elvira Mistress of the Dark, the detail of this write up is AWESOME. And helps me to understand why some parents *might* name their daughter this….

  4. Lola, I sidestepped the pronunciation issue on this one, sure that the VYE would carry the day! My mistake. 🙂

    Julia, that’s awful! But I do think Elvira ends up being a bit problematic, thanks to all these associations.

    Too bad, because I love her sound – and her Mozart link!

  5. I love how this contains Vera, and shortens to Evie. The Mozart association is also rather nice.
    But I have a particularly negative association – there was a dodgy “healer woman” in my area called Elvira who basically forced her cancer patients to stop seeing doctors, then charged them a fortune for bogus treatments. Now she’s either in jail or on the run, I’m not sure which. She puts me off the name quite a bit :S

  6. Thanks, Verity! Elvira’s a favorite for not only her familial link but I love her substantial sound. Wrenn, I loved that song when I was in the 8th grade! 😀

    My problem with her is not the “Mistress of the Dark” (who doesn’t bother me the slightest bit and actually rather ruined Cassandra for me!) but rather, her waffly pronuncation. My Great Aunt said el-VEER-ah not what the Oak Ridge Boys sing: el-VYE-rah. I dislike el-VYE-rah. I prefer the lighter el-VEER-ah. The G. Aunt went by Evie (Eh-vee) which also works for me. I also think Vera would make a lovely nickname option. I happen to know the G Auntie got Elvira in the middle, for Mozart. It was a piece her Father loved but Mom didn’t, hence, middle spot (seems to be a family thing)! Now my other half loves Mozart but I’m only tolerating him, even after 20+ years together. So while it honors family for me, it makes him smile because he relates his favorite composer with it. So Elvira works all the way around for us. Now to takle that pronuncation. There’s MY sticking point!

    But yeah, Elvira’s mighty luscious and perfectly lovely. What a standout of a name! 😀

  7. I think you left out the best nickname: Vi. Have to say it: WOULD NEVER NAME MY CHILD ELVIRA. Sorry. Vi is cute, though. Pobably better as a nickname for Violet…

  8. I love Elvira! The three syllables sound substantial but not overdone. And I love names with the long “i” sound! Unfortunately I could never use this name because of the Oak Ridge Boys’ song. My family would never stop with “Giddy Up Oom Poppa Omm Poppa Mow Mow”…

  9. Ooooh boy…. all that history and all I have in my head is long black hair and that perennial full-size cut out of “Elvira” squeezed into a cut down-to-there dress next to the Coors display around Halloween. High society. I wish I could shake it, but for me – Elvira = mistress of the dark. I tried to move past that to think about the name by itself, and was woefully unsuccessful – slack brained, me. In any case, Elvie is a cute nickname… that’s as far as I can remove myself. Kind of sad to realize what a death grip the 80s/marketing has on my synapses. I imagine that, if I were introduced to someone’s baby Elvira, I’d both muse about it (privately, afterwards) and also kind of respect the ballsiness of being willing to go there.