Looking for an alternative to Top 100 picks like Lily, Leah and Layla? This is one for you to consider.

Thanks to Muppy for suggesting Lyra as Name of the Day.

Lyra has a lot to offer. She’s classical and futuristic. Plus she has a musical and mythological backstory, too.

Greek myth tells us that sun god Apollo and the muse Calliope passed on their musical talents to a son called Orpheus. Dad also gifted Junior with his very first lyre – a stringed instrument, sort of a small harp. In Ancient Greece, a performer would strum his lyre as he recited poems. Orpheus was aces with the instrument, so good that they said he could charm the birds and the beasts.

When Orpheus’ beloved Eurydice died, he ventured to the Underworld to convince Hades and Persephone that his beloved should be released. Thanks to Orpheus’ lyre-work, the gods relented, on one condition. Orpheus couldn’t look back as Eurydice followed him back to life. Predictably, poor Orpheus snuck a peak – and his love was lost forever.

The story has inspired writers, composers and artists for generations, right up through the 20th century. Tennessee Williams, Nick Cave and Rufus Wainwright have all referenced the myth.

The origin of the lyre itself is a bit of a mystery. While the Ancient Greeks mastered it, the word is clearly foreign – and its origins are also lost to time. Thrace, Lydia and Egypt are all possible sources of the instrument and its name.

Today, we pronounce Lyra LYE rah while the small harp is LYE uhr. But the Latin and Greek for lyre was lyra. You could argue that it is sort of like naming your daughter Mandolin or Tuba – a simple use of the instrument’s name.

But few of us have lyres in our living rooms. And the Greek lyrikos, meaning “singing to the lyre” gave us the word lyric. Lyric ranked #551 for girls in 2007 and #951 for boys. By comparison, Lyra looks downright subtle.

For many, Lyra conjures up the night sky. The details vary, but once Orpheus died, his beloved lyre was retired to the heavens as a constellation. (Some say Zeus sent an eagle to fetch it; others claim the Muses were responsible.)

In the first century, Ptolemy listed Lyra among the 48 constellations in his second century Almagest. It remains among the 88 modern constellations today.

As a given name, Lyra got a boost from Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. Lyra is the heroine of the fantasy epic. The first book was originally published in 1995 and served as the basis for 2007’s The Golden Compass. While the movie wasn’t a huge hit, thanks to its controversial portrayal of organized religion – and big screen stars Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig – it attracted quite a bit of attention.

So while Lyra had not appeared in the US Top 1000 as of 2007, it is a safe bet that she charted in 2008.

And why not? Unlike creative respellings of Madisyn, Lyra’s “y” seems sophisticated. She’s not too different from girls’ staples like Laura and Leah, and fits in nicely with emerging choices like Luna and Lila, too.

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. On the “master list names for girls”, Lyra was the last name beginning with “L” in alphabetical order. I think that Lysette should be on there as well. My friend is called Lysette (we call her Lizzie) and I think that it’s a lovely name.