Is this name Sophia’s more elaborate sister?
Thanks to Winter for suggesting Sophronia as our Baby Name of the Day.
Sophronia: Saintly Heritage
If you didn’t guess, Sophronia has nothing to do with Sophia.
It’s from the Greek Sophronios, ultimately from sophron – sensible.
There was a seventh century Saint Sophronius. He led a fascinating life, serving as patriarch of Jerusalem, tangling with all sorts of religious questions, and interacting with Muslim leaders after the city’s conquest. It seems like his name’s meaning was quite fitting.
The name wasn’t widely used in Europe, but survived in the east.
In the 1700s and early 1800s, the future Saint Sophronius of Vratsa became a leading figure in the early Bulgarian National Revival. Bulgaria had been under Ottoman rule since the late 1300s, and would achieve independence in the nineteenth century.
Sophronia: Literary Invention
The first certain use of Sophronia is fictional.
Torquato Tasso named a character Sofronia in his 1581 epic poem Jerusalem Delivered.
Tasso was a major literary force back in the day. Born in Sorrento to a noble family, Tasso showed promise as a young child. His family’s fortunes suffered due to politics, and Tasso’s father was determined to find a practical career path for his son. Tasso studied law, but it didn’t stick.
Jerusalem Delivered is Tasso’s masterpiece. It’s a retelling of the First Crusade, featuring the historical Godfrey of Bouillon as the hero. While Godfrey was real, much of the story was fiction.
Sofronia was one of Tasso’s inventions, a virtuous maiden in Jerusalem. Sofronia attempted to intervene in a persecution of Christians by claiming responsibility for a crime. Her beloved, Olindo, then claims that he’s actually responsible. They’re both about to be burned at the stake when the warrior-maiden Clorinda arrives and saves the day.
Paintings were inspired by Jerusalem Delivered, and operas galore.
But were any children named in honor of Tasso’s enduring characters?
Back in 1895, there were 26 girls named Sophronia. In 1900, there were 33. Another 18 in 1942, and seven in 2014. Most years, there were at least a dozen girls given the name, but it’s definitely fading in the new century.
A few notable uses:
- There’s at least one type of orchid known as the sophronitis.
- Joseph Smith, Jr., founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, had an older sister called Sophronia.
- Alpha Delta Pi, generally considered the first sorority, counts Sophronia Woodruff Dews of Augusta, Georgia among its founders. (Also, an Octavia and and a Eugenia!)
- In Margaret Sidney’s Five Little Peppers, the youngest of the Pepper children wears the name, though she’s usually called Phronsie. The series of a dozen books, published between 1881 and 1916, also inspired movie versions in 1939 and 1940.
- Gail Carriger’s Finishing School series is a steampunk tale of a school for proper young ladies interested in learning extraordinary skills. The main character is Sophronia. I’ve yet to read them, but they’re going on my list, if only for the names!
While Sophronia is an elaborate name, nickname Sophie makes this perfectly wearable in 2015.
If you’re after an underused gem with a strong meaning, a long history, and literary ties both grand and sweet, Sophronia might be the name for you.
What do you think of Sophronia? A great substitute for Sophia, or too much?