Name of the Day: Opal

The rise of Ruby has prompted parents to rummage farther back in the jewelry box for a daughter’s name.

Thanks to Paul for suggesting Opal as Name of the Day.

Let’s just say it. A diamond might be a girls’ best friend, but as a name? Not so much. Ditto Emerald, Topaz and Lapis Lazuli. Opal, on the other hand, has much to offer:

  • Vowel names are big, and O-names are modern staples – think Olivia, Oliver and Owen;
  • She’s a gemstone like the fashionable Ruby;
  • While Opal comes in various shades, a greenish hue is most common – placing her in the company of colorful appellations like Violet and Scarlet;
  • She has a definite antique feel;
  • Like Ruby – and Alice and Willow and lots of other choices – she’s feminine but frills-free;
  • Maybe this is a stretch, but like rising star Matilda, Opal has an Australian vibe – the majority of opals come from down under, where they are the national gemstone.

Opal’s roots are Sanskrit. Upala meant precious gem or jewel. The name morphed over the years to opalle in Old French and, by the 1600s, opal in English.

The stone has been in use for generations. The Romans went wild for them. In the Middle Ages, the opal was considered lucky. But the gemstone really took off in the second half of the nineteenth century, and the name followed. In 1880, Opal ranked #912. By 1911, she’d reached #81.

1911 marked Ruby’s most popular point, too – she peaked at #22. But while Ruby stood at #113 in 2008, Opal has yet to re-enter the Top 1000. In fact, she’s been out of the rankings entirely since 1960.

A handful of notable Opals come to mind:

  • On The Simpsons, Opal is a talk-show host, modeled on Oprah Winfrey – Marge is a fan;
  • In the early twentieth century, Opal Whiteley was a writer – who also claimed to be a French princess adopted by a poor Oregon farm family. True or not, her childhood diaries were popular reading;
  • West Virginians might remember former First Lady Opal Wilcox Barron from her Cold War-era television spots explaining what you’d need in your fallout shelter;
  • In the 1930s, Opal Hill was a professional golfer, one of the founders of the Ladies Professional Golf Association;
  • All My Children features recurring character Opal Cortlandt, Pine Valley’s resident psychic and candidate for What Not to Wear.

Speaking of fictional Opals, there’s one that could’ve inspired hordes of future mothers to consider this name: the ill-fated Opal Mehta. Back in 2006, Kaavya Viswanathan’s debut novel How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and got a Life was the big noise in young adult publishing. But when Viswanathan was accused of plagiarism – a charge that stuck – the title was yanked, and Opal Mehta is now a mere bit of trivia.

Another Opal lurks in the bookstore, this time in the Artemis Fowl series. But Opal Koboi is a “power-mad pixie” and one of Artemis’ arch-enemies. Opal headlines the fourth book in the series.

She’s tailored, but still pretty; old-fashioned and undiscovered and intriguing all at once. There’s reason to believe that Opal will not remain an undiscovered gem for long!

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8 Comments

This is my great-Aunt’s name. I’ve always liked it, but in my other culture, Opals are considered bad luck. I still like it though. Enjoy using it if your brave enough.

I’ve always loved Opal! It’s just so pretty! It’s my favorite gem. I once watched an old Hallmark movie about a little girl in the olden days named Opal. She asked her mother why she named her that, and her mother said because she thought that Opals were like great women, milky on the outside which means pure and sweet and innocent, but with a fire inside. I thought that was so great!

Opal is so pretty and sweet. I love her antique charm and her gem stone references. I also like the French variation of Opaline (OH-pah-LEEN).

Opal is on our long list for middle names — potentially to be used if we have more than one girl.

It’s my step-great-grandmother’s name. She’s still around, and quite healthy for her age. A very sweet old lady and a worthy namesake.

I’d love to see Opal succeed Ruby and Olive, Violet and Hazel. I think this one has real comeback potential.

Opal is also the little cousin that frequently visits Toot & Puddle, the porcine traveling ‘best friends’ on the same-named Nick/Noggin TV series. But then, Olivia the pig (books and now animated TV) hasn’t done anything obvious to hinder the popularity of that name.

While I generally go for open vowel names, I only sort of like Opal. It’s the -uhl ending; I don’t say OH-pahl, I say OH-puhl. The end is kind of clunky somehow.

Opaline as Sebastiane suggested would be more up my alley if it were said (OH-pah-LINE), as I don’t much like names ending in -leen.

Still, those are very personal points of view. Overall, it’s an appealing name with a pretty gemstone (especially good for October babies – Opal was the traditional gemstone for that month). It’s surprising it isn’t in wider use, really.