We must admit, Lola’s suggestion is one of the most exciting we’ve unpacked in a while. It’s a little bit Ancient Rome with a smattering of Renaissance Italy, and a whole lot Goth girl. And yet, it just might work on a modern child. Ready or not, here comes June 30’s Name of the Day: Lucretia.
In the 2006 high school comedy John Tucker Must Die, Coach Williams splits the typically named “Jennifer, Allison, Molly, Sarah, Denise and Kimmy” to one side for volleyball. Kimmy, sporting dark black straight hair and heavy eye makeup, retorts, “My name is Lucretia!”
For those of us who have long disliked our given names, it’s the kind of teenage angst that resonates. Lucretia may be a current favorite among disaffected youth, but she has a long and complicated history.
The most famous Lucretia was the rape victim who committed suicide in the waning days of the Roman Kingdom. Her attacker was son of the current king for life; and her confession and subsequent death served as a rallying cry for advocates of the Republic. She lived circa 500 BC; her image has been recreated in artwork and referenced in literature ever since. William Shakespeare told her story in his poem The Rape of Lucrece in 1594.
Eight hundred years later after the noblewoman’s suicide, in western Spain, Saint Lucretia met her death during a wave of Christian persecutions. Little is known of her life, but she, too, lives on in art.
We have tales aplenty of Lucrezia Borgia, but fact and fiction are tangled. Her father, Rodrigo Borgia, went on to become Pope Alexander VI. Some paint her as a femme fatale, working to advance the ambitions of her father and brother, decanting poison from a cleverly fashioned ring. Others suggest she was simply a pawn. What’s known is that was thrice married, and even more often affianced for political gain. Victor Hugo turned her life into a play; Donizetti transformed it into an opera. Though, of course, it may have been one in the first place.
The powerful Medici family also used Lucrezia for several daughters during the same era. From the Roman nobility to the rulers of the Renaissance, this suggests that the given name was used steadily for over one thousand years.
Centuries later, Lucretia was worn by several notable American women in the early 19th century. Lucretia Rudolph married James Garfield, and become First Lady of the United States when her husband took office in 1881. Abolitionist and suffragette Lucretia Mott went on to help found Swarthmore College. In the arts, we find poet Lucretia Maria Davidson and author Lucretia Peabody Hale.
When the US first compiled data on given names in 1880, Lucretia still ranked in the Top 300. But she has fallen steadily out of favor, dropping with each passing decade. Her last appearance in the Top 1000 was in 1977.
Thirty years later, it’s a bit of a mystery as to why such a long-used name would simply vanish from most parents’ awareness. Perhaps it is because of the Gothic overtones that the name assumed. But The Sisters of Mercy’s Lucretia My Reflection, probably the source of her Goth edge, didn’t appear until 1987. And while she’s been captured elsewhere in pop culture – the video game “Final Fantasy VII,” songs by Megadeth, Garbage and Dead Can Dance – none of these are widely known references.
Lucretia may simply have gone the way of Ophelia. As more parents completed higher levels of education, they became aware of the tragic overtones of this name and discarded it in favor of those without baggage.
Today, the name sounds unusual and distinctive, but not at all invented. It doesn’t even strike us as dramatically obscure. With the easy nickname Lucy, it’s very wearable for a small child. Mrs. Garfield was known as Crete – an intriguing short form that might also work.
We can’t help but feel that Lucretia might just be ripe for a comeback.