Editor’s note: This post was originally published on December 7, 2008. It was substantially revised and re-posted on December 23, 2013.
She was a nineteenth century staple, and now she’s a rising favorite in the twenty-first century, too.
Thanks to Photoquilty for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day: Nora.
File Nora with diminutives that have long since shed their formal names.
Once she would have been short for Eleanor or Lenore or maybe Honora or another ends-with-ora name. But Nora has ranked as an independent given name every year since 1880, when the rankings were established.
Not only was Nora in steady use, she was popular, charting in the Top 100 from 1880 through 1905.
- Norah, a variant spelling that’s seen some use in the US.
- Noor, an unrelated Arabic name meaning light.
Henrik Ibsen used the name for the main character in his 1879 play A Doll’s House. While that lends her some literary style today, his Nora was terribly controversial. At the play’s end, she leaves her husband and children to find herself – an incredibly unorthodox step for a woman in her day. Why did Ibsen name his character Nora? She was based on a real-life woman with a similar story, a friend of Ibsen’s named Laura. Nora is also a well-established Norwegian given name, related to Eleonora or possibly North.
Then there’s Dashiell Hammett’s Nick and Nora Charles, the original husband-and-wife detective team. Mr. and Mrs. Charles were tremendously popular, leaping from the pages of 1934’s The Thin Man to films, radio, television, and even a Broadway musical. Plenty of other fictional couples were modeled after the duo. And there’s something about saying Nick and Nora together – just ask the pajama company, or the Michael Cera flick, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist.
Other famous Noras include:
- Ballerina Nora Kaye.
- Charles Darwin’s granddaughter – and his editor – wore the name.
- So did the wife of James Joyce. Her 2000 biopic might’ve helped push the name back into wider use.
- That’s Nora Gregor in the photograph, an actress from the early 1920s.
- Who can forget Helen Reddy singing “Candle on the Water” from the lighthouse in Pete’s Dragon?
- Writer Nora Ephron, of When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle fame.
- Or is her revival due to Norah Jones, the Grammy-winning singer-songwriter who burst onto the scene in 2002?
- More recently, Sally Field wore the name as the Brothers & Sisters matriarch.
She’s a place name from Zimbabwe to Sweden. There’s an ancient Roman site abandoned in the 700s, now little more than an archeological site, partially under the waters of the Mediterranean.
While she remained in use over the years, Nora fell steadily out of fashion as a given name. She spent the 1930s through 50s hovering around the 200 mark, then fell farther.
In 2000, she ranked a chilly #500.
But just as quickly, Nora reversed, clearing the way for Cora. Attribute it to our affection for short, complete names for girls that feel literary and accomplished. Nora is a sister for Emma or Sophia, slightly more substantial than Ella or Mia. And yet she’s not quite as classic as Margaret or Elizabeth. Nickname-proof Nora hits a lot of the right notes for parents today. No wonder she’d climbed to #107 by 2012 – and seems poised to return to the Top 100 she knows so well.