Violet is white hot. Cadence is climbing. And Juliet is back on the charts.
Today’s choice combines elements of all three fashionable choices. Thanks to Sophie for suggesting Viola as Name of the Day.
Even before the Garner-Afflecks called their firstborn Violet, the botanical name was racing up the charts. By last year, Violet ranked #184. Viola was unranked, but she’s the original Latin word for the plant with pretty, purplish-bluish blooms. Viola became viole in Old French, and acquired the diminuite “ette” ending – violette. With flower power picks like Lily all the rage, Viola could fit right in.
She also meshes with a second trend: musical choices. Cadence, Harmony and Aria all rank in the US Top 1000. A viola is a string instrument – smaller than a cello; slightly bigger than a violin. Instead of French, we can thank the Italians for this word. It traces back to the Latin vitula. Vitula was a Roman goddess of joy. Over the years, Vitula gave us the words for the humble fiddle and the sophisticated viola. While you’ll usually hear a viola in a symphony orchestra, artists from Kansas to the Goo Goo Dolls have also employed the instrument.
Some say that vee oh la applies only to the musical term while vye oh la is reserved for living things. In practice, the line is not so neatly drawn. (Though if you’re talking to a musician, vee oh la is a safe bet.)
I’m not certain when Viola first came into use as a given name, but we can thank William Shakespeare for some of her history. In his play Twelfth Night, Viola was the shipwrecked heroine who disguises herself as a boy, becomes embroiled in a series of love triangles and somehow puts it all right in the end. Twelfth Night has given us two other popular appellations: Sebastian and Olivia.
It appears that the Bard didn’t invent Viola. Instead, the bones of Twelfth Night were borrowed from earlier works, including an Italian comedy. This likely includes the heroine’s name.
A trio of big screen uses in recent years could’ve boosted Viola:
- 1998’s Shakespeare in Love nabbed the Oscar for Best Picture. While the film was pure fiction, it featured a young William Shakespeare in love with the wealthy Viola de Lesseps, played by Gwyenth Paltrow;
- 2006’s She’s the Man translated Twelfth Night to an American high school, with the likable Amanda Bynes playing Viola;
- Viola Davis is best known for her Tony-award winning performances, but she’s also garnered recognition for her big screen roles, including an Oscar nomination for her work in 2008’s Doubt.
Lop off the V and you arrive at Iola, related to Iole – yet another word for violet, this time the Greek. They’re not quite as wearable.
But Viola might be a perfect choice. She regularly ranked in the Top 100 back in the nineteenth century. (Far outranking Violet!) And given her ties to the botanical, musical and literary worlds, Viola is truly an underused gem.