When Lola suggested we consider Gloriana, we were intrigued. And we agreed to research, but with the caveat that we’d likely end up making Gloria our Name of the Day.
She sounds like she could be as ancient as Julia, but in fact, Gloria is a fairly recent innovation. And, believe it or not, the elaboration predates the simpler form by centuries. Read on for this name’s interesting tale.
Once we found Gloria extravagantly Catholic. After all Gloria in Excelsis Deo, the Latin for Glory to God in the Highest, is heard at every mass. Vivaldi is among several composers who have set the Gloria to music. Back in 1981, U2 recorded their single Gloria, and Bono sang the Latin phrase Gloria in te Domine – Glory in you, Lord. It’s easy to mistake it for an intensely religious appellation.
But Gloria’s popularity is a purely secular phenomenon. The Latin gloria translates to glory: great praise, honor, magnificence, splendor. The word is in use in English as early as 1300, though it may have sometimes carried an undercurrent of braggadocio. But despite the term’s widespread use, it was not adopted as a feminine given name.
Instead, we find the first use of Gloriana in Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queen, his 1590 epic poem. Gloriana represents Queen Elizabeth, and it is said that following England’s defeat of the Spanish Armada, troops greeted their monarch chanting “Gloriana, Gloriana, Gloriana.” Plenty of biographies and documentaries use the name, too. One assumes that a mere mortal would’ve found Gloriana a presumptuous name to bestow on a daughter, and it does not appear to have been used as a given name in the Elizabethan era, or the years following.
It’s a bit of a mystery when Gloria was first used as a given name. In the US, she briefly charted in the Top 1000 in 1881. Census records confirm that Gloria and Gloriana were both used sparingly in this era. But it wasn’t until 1891, when E.D.E.N. Southworth chose the name for the title character of her novel that it began to attract serious attention. (Southworth may be obscure today, but she was among the most widely read authors of the era.) In 1897, George Bernard Shaw chose Gloria for the headstrong and modern oldest daughter in his play You Never Can Tell.
Gloria was the Madison of her day. From obscurity, she entered the rankings at #526 in 1900 and quickly became one of the most common given names for girls – a Top 100 choice from 1922 to 1963, peaking at #20 in 1925 and 1926.
Silent film star Gloria Swanson lends a bit of Hollywood glam. The Oscar-nominated actress is best remembered for her role in 1950’s Sunset Boulevard, where she played, appropriately, an aging silent film star. She goes mad, and the movie ends on the memorable line, “Alright, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”
There’s also feminist and journalist Gloria Steinem and singers Gloria Estefan and Gloria “I Will Survive” Gaynor. And, of course, Gloria was Archie Bunker’s daughter on All In the Family. Perhaps that’s why we think of this as a Baby Boomer name, and consign her to obscurity along with Linda and Barbara, Karen and Carol. Today, the name languishes at #449.
But Gloria’s glory days actually predate the Boomer era by several decades. If Hazel and Esther, Ruby and Alice, Beatrice and Josephine are among the most fashionable names of 2008, why not their companion Gloria?
Gloriana remains solidly outside of the Top 1000, though she’s used more frequently in the 20th century. It’s a hyper-feminine name, but more along the lines of Juliana or Isabella than Arabella or Caliana – a name with strength, despite her frills.
We think both could make a quiet comeback, fitting in with both Martha and Alice, as well as Olivia and Ava.