Love the name Violet but want to make sure your daughter never shares her name with another girl? Try this exotic twist.
Thanks to Sarah for suggesting Iolanthe as Name of the Day.
Not so long ago, the only girl called Violet was one of the frightful children in the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Fast forward to 2008, and she’s a starbaby staple coming soon to a playground near you. From #904 in 1998 to #184 in 2008, Violets are in full bloom.
Iolanthe may also derive from the Greek iole coupled with anthos – flower. (Violet evolved from the Latin version of the word – viola.) Yolanda may also have come from the same roots.
Yolanda, Yolande, Iolanda and Jolánta were around in the Middle Ages, and worn by royals and aristocrats throughout Europe. A thirteenth century poem celebrates Iolanda of Vianden, a national hero in Luxembourg. Rather than consent to an appropriate marriage, she became a nun – and a legend. Yolanda broke in the US Top 100 back in the 1960s. You can still find plenty of Jolantas in modern day Poland.
But Iolanthe is quite rare. She’s never charted in the US, and she’s often attributed to Gilbert & Sullivan – wrongly.
The comic opera Iolanthe, also known as The Peer and the Peri or sometimes Perola, debuted at the Savoy Theatre in London in 1882. It’s all about a fairy named – what else? – Iolanthe. Years ago, she was booted from Fairy Land for marrying a mortal. Now there’s a movement afoot to welcome her back, along with her half-mortal son. Much merriment, confusion and singing ensues.
Iolanthe – or Iolanta – was also the title of a Tchaikovsky opera from 1892 – well after the Gilbert & Sullivan musical’s debut.
But here’s the thing – Tchaikovsky’s source for the tale of Iolanta, a blind princess, was Henrik Hertz’s Kong Renés Datter – King René’s Daughter. Hertz was a Danish poet and playwright, and he scored a huge international hit with his 1845 play. This puts Iolanthe in use three decades prior to Gilbert & Sullivan’s fairy frolic/political commentary. And lest you think that only the Russians read the Danish poet, Henrik Hertz’ work was translated into most European languages – and certainly English.
Even if Iolanthe wasn’t truly medieval, she’s certianly musical and literary. Perhaps her biggest shortcoming is the pronunciation challenge. I’ve come across at least four options:
- yo LAHN thee
- yoh LAN thee
I’m most fond of #4, especially since it leads to the stargazer nickname Io, making your daugther’s name both botanical and astronomical. And, while I’ve not heard it in use, you could also opt for something like i-oh-LANTH. She’s so rare that few would correct you.
Other than Io, nicknames are a bit tricky. Antha would work, and the old school Iola might be an option, too.
Still, if you’re looking for a seldom-heard botanical name, Iolanthe is worth considering. You might also consider the more accessible Viola. But if you’re looking for a truly daring choice, Iolanthe is certainly distinctive.