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.