She’s an exotic Z-name, but might prove surprisingly easy to wear.
Thanks to Lola for suggesting our Name of the Day: Zelda.
Zelda’s origins are uncertain. Some speculate that she’s the feminine version of Selig – from the Yiddish for happy. There’s also evidence that Zelda is a diminutive of Griselda, one of those fabulous Germanic names with an ominous meaning – in her case, dark battle.
While she’s always been uncommon, Zelda was once more frequently heard. She appeared in the US Top 1000 every year from 1888 to 1967, peaking at #380 in 1911. At least two works of fiction boosted the name’s popularity:
- In 1866, Jane Howard’s Zelda: A Tale of the Massachusetts Colony and
- Robert Edward Francillon’s Zelda’s Fortune in 1874.
But the first Zelda that comes to mind is half of the jazz age couple F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. Her legacy lends the name an exuberant, 1920s flapper feel. Many of her husband’s heroines share some of Zelda’s attributes. She’s an intriguing, stylish figure.
Others have worn the name, including Israeli poet known simply as Zelda; actress Zelda Rubinstein who played the tiny psychic in the Poltergeist movies; and Robin Williams’ daughter, Zelda Rae, now embarking on an acting career of her own.
The most modern Zelda is fictional. In 1986, Nintendo released the genre-busting Legend of Zelda video game. Players guided their hero, Link, through a series of underground dungeons. Link’s quest, of course, was to find and rescue Princess Zelda.
The game was a bestseller and has been reinvented over the years, becoming more and more sophisticated. Interestingly, the game’s creator has said that his princess was named after Mrs. Fitzgerald while Robin Williams has stated that his daughter is named after the video game character.
A few other pop culture Zeldas bear mention:
- Marilyn Monroe sometimes used the pseudonym Zelda Zonk;
- Sabrina, the Teenage Witch featured an aunt Zelda in both the comic book and television incarnations of her story;
- From 1959 to 1963, the case of CBS’ The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis included Zelda Gilroy. She had a crush on awkward adolescent Dobie.
But none of them can eclipse the legacy of the jazz age figure. And while a celebrity name sometimes feels like a burden for a child, the decades between them serve as a buffer.
It also helps that Zelda shares some attributes with popular names of the moment. The “el” sound is so current, it’s almost overexposed – Isabella, Gabrielle, Ella, Bella. And two-syllable, ends-in-a names continue to be hot. See not only Ella and Bella, but Emma, Hannah, Ava, Mia and Sara – all Top 20 picks in 2007.
The result is a name that sounds distinctive, but not out of step with her contemporaries. If you’re looking for something daring but not outrageous, Zelda might just fit the bill.