This literary invention hopped off a New Orleans streetcar and is headed for the US Top 100.
Thanks to Melissa for suggesting Stella as Name of the Day.
Stella is Latin for star, and she’s appropriately big in celebrity circles. Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffith used the name for their daughter in 1996, when Stella was unranked in the US. By the time Tori Spelling welcomed her daughter Stella on Tori & Dean: Home Sweet Hollywood in 2008, the name had climbed to #186.
Her comeback isn’t just about star power. Stella was a Top 100 staple from the late nineteenth century into the 1920s. Her -ella ending fits with many of today’s most popular choices, from Isabella to Gabriella to just Ella.
Catholics have referred to Mary as Stella Maris since the ninth century. Her title may have been based on a typo. In the fourth century, St. Jerome called her stilla maris – a drop in the sea. You’ll find seaside parishes, schools and at least one monastery referred to by the name all over the world.
The Elizabethan-era poet Sir Philip Sidney was the first to use Stella as a personal name when he wrote his “Astrophil and Stella” sonnets in the 1580s. If you unpack the Latin, Astrophil is a a lover – phil – of stars – astro, making Stella the logical choice for his object of desire.
While Estelle was indeed in use in Medieval France, it isn’t clear when Stella debuted. It may have been Charles Dickens’ use of Estella in Great Expectations, published in the 1860s, that sparked the rise of all three.
For rise she did, and not just for people:
- In 1879 there was a short-lived push for the US to mint a four dollar coin, officially called the Stella;
- Belgian beer Stella Artois was first brewed during the 1926 Christmas season. Artois was the surname of the brewery’s founder;
- Stella D’Oro cookies were named by an Italian immigrant Joseph Kresivich for his family bakery in the Bronx, back in 1932, though they’re now owned by Lance.
The coin didn’t make it, but the consumables are widely available today.
Stella got her biggest boost from literature and film:
- 1918’s Stella Maris starred Mary Pickford as an invalid who ultimately finds true love – though she’s the only one who ends happily;
- Olive Higgins Prouty’s 1923 novel Stella Dallas is about a woman who sacrifices everything for her daughter’s happiness. Multiple film adaptations and a long-running radio show followed;
- Jazz standard “Stella by Starlight” was composed for 1944’s The Uninvited, the tale of a haunted mansion by the sea. Lyrics were added later, and it has been oft-recorded and performed since.
- But the big kahuna, is Tennessee Williams’ 1947 A Streetcar Named Desire and the film that followed. Marlon Brando bellowing “Stella!” is a cinematic classic, but her life is not one you’d choose for a daughter.
As a given name, Stella’s decline started in the 1940s. Maybe it was her association with so many suffering women, but odds are she simply sounded dated after so many years’ heavy use.
In 2010, however, Stella sounds fresh. She’s also nickname-proof and appropriate for a child or an adult. Add it all up, and you’ll find her only drawback is that she’s so very appealing. Odds are good that you won’t be the only parents discovering Stella!