Thanks to Rachel for suggesting Oriana as Name of the Day.
Search the US Top 1000 today and Oriana is nowhere to be found. The same is true of Orianna, Oriane and Oriande. Swap the O for an A, and the story changes. Arianna ranked #66 in 2008 while the slightly sparer Ariana came in at #81. Add them together, and she’s a Top 25 pick. The only time an Ori- name ranked was back in the nineteenth century, when Orrie appeared a handful of times – for boys.
Like Aurelia, Oriana is often linked to the word for gold. Aurelia comes from the Latin aureus; Oriana is via the Spanish oro. Other meanings have been suggested, but her origins seem to support the precious metal vibe.
Before he sent Don Quixote tilting at windmills in the early 1600s, Miguel Cervantes read Amadis of Gaul. Everyone knew the sweeping romance Amadis of Gaul, along with prequels and sequels galore.
Amadis may have been inspired by real world events in the thirteenth century. The tales are referenced as early as the 1300s, but the first written version dates to the early 1500s. A Spanish writer named Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo is generally credited with assembling the text. Montalvo was more editor than author, but he did pen at least one sequel – in which he named a mythical island California.
Amadis was born the bastard child of a king and a princess, left for dead but rescued and raised to be a knight. He meets Princess Oriana, heiress to the throne of Great Britain, when they’re still children. He’s a nobody and she’s a blue blood, but they fall madly in love anyhow. Drama follows.
It’s a plot line that never grows old, but in several tellings, Amadis and Oriana do end happily ever after.
Four operas have been based on the story. Scholars debate the original author’s identity and speculate that Eleanor of Aquitaine or Constanza of Aragon might’ve been the inspiration for Oriana. Sue Burke is translating the original and commenting on the backstory at her blog. Amadis is fascinating, as is the conversation about what’s real and what’s pure fiction.
Other uses of the name include:
- English composer Thomas Morley compiled a book of madrigals called The Triumphs of Oriana. The book was first published in 1601, and it is generally thought that Oriana was one of many poetic references to Queen Elizabeth I, akin to Gloriana;
- At about the same time as Cervantes’ novel, the tale of another princess Oriana was recorded. This time, it was about a Moorish princess called Fatima, kidnapped by a Christian knight. He married her and she took the Christian name Oureana. It’s almost certainly a myth, but you can still visit a town – and castle – called Ourém in modern day Portugal;
- Marcel Proust gave the name Oriane to a duchess in his Remembrance of Things Past;
- One of the Orient Line’s luxury cruise ships wore the name, but that might’ve had just as much to do with the relatively limited selection of O-appellations.
Oriana is a feminissa pick, and a truly distinctive one. Her origins in medieval romance put her in the company of names like Juliet and Isolde. Her similarity to Arianna could cause some confusion, but if pretty and literary is your vibe, Oriana is one to consider.