Coat of arms of Ravenna

London, Brooklyn, Milan … are there other place names to consider for a child?

Of course!  Thanks to Josie for suggesting a lovely Italian possibility.  Our Baby Name of the Day is Ravenna.

Ravenna is a little off the beaten path today, but back in the 400s, it was the capital of the Western Roman Empire.  Over the next few centuries, it would be the capital city for the Ostrogoths, and later still for the Lombards.

Fast forward a millennium or so, and I had to look it up on a map.  Ravenna is in northeastern Italy.  It’s inland, but a canal connects it to the Adriatic Sea.

The name’s origins are murky.  One theory is that it derives from Rasna or Rasenna, the name the Etruscans used for themselves.  That tracks with history – chances are that the Etruscans were one of the earlier peoples to settle in the area.

Many significant sites remain, including eight listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.  Travel writer Rick Steves called it “Italy’s Byzantium” – though he also calls it peaceful and un-touristy.

Even if you’re not all about mosaics, churches, and palaces, there’s an artistic and literary side to the city:

  • The Ravenna Festival is an annual summer gathering for classical music fans, along with several opera performances and other artistic happenings.  Many of the events take place with the ancient sites as backdrops 0r even venues.
  • Lord Byron lived there.  Oscar Wilde wrote a poem about the city.  German poet Herman Hesse wrote two.  T.S. Eliot set one of his works in Ravenna, his poem “Lune de miel” about a honeymooning couple.
  • Dante mentions Ravenna in his Inferno, and the city also serves as the poet’s final resting place.  You can still visit his tomb.

A handful of girls received the name Ravenna in the 1930s, and she’s been quietly catching on over the past decade.  26 girls were named Ravenna in 2013 – a new high.

Is it just about our affection for place names?

Probably not.  Ravenna also serves as an elaboration of nature name Raven.

Raven came out of nowhere to crack the US Top 1000 in 1977 at #579.  Before the 1970s, there was Edgar Allan Poe, of course.  But nevermore had we heard Raven bestowed as a child’s name.

Why?  I’m not certain.  In 1976, The Allan Parsons Project recorded a song called “The Raven,” part of a moderately successful Poe-inspired album. And in 1977, a BBC mini-series included a boy by the name on a quest.  It was also around the time the similar Robin peaked as a girls’ name.

From 17 American newborn girls in 1975 to 100 in 1976 to almost 300 in 1977, Raven had a rapid rise.

Mythological, Biblical, and artistic references to the bird are many.  But the real boost came in 1989, when pint-sized actress Raven-Symoné joined the cast of The Cosby Show.

Raven leapt from #611 in 1998 to #166 in 1990.  The name peaked at #139 in 1993, the year Raven-Symoné’s debut album was released.

Today, Raven has faltered, dropping to #513 in 2013, as other avian names take her place.

Could it be because of 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman?  Charlize Theron played the evil queen in the fairytale film.  The queen often goes nameless, but this time she answered to Ravenna.

Ravenna might feel like a more feminine spin on Raven, a more daring Italian choice than Francesca, a less expected map-borrowing than London.

Overall, Ravenna feels like a name that belongs in 2014, part-Isabella, part-Wren.  She could make a creative heritage choice.  Or she simply works for parents seeking a name both feminine and strong.

What do you think of Ravenna?  Is she a worthy successor to Francesca?  Or is this one too obscure to consider?

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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What do you think?


  1. Eeeee! Thank you!

    Great write-up. And I’m seeing it as more usable now and not just my own guilty pleasure.

  2. I love Ravenna! I almost wish it wasn’t a place name so I could use it without feeling guilty for not visiting first 😉 It’s surprising and pretty, but not frilly. As a name-only it reminds me of Lavinia.

  3. I would love to visit Ravenna, but don’t care for it as a name – mainly because I feel it would get mispronounced a lot.