Goth Week continues with Zella as our Baby Name of the Day.
Zella: From Everywhere and Nowhere
It seems like Zella has been rattling around, appearing on the occasional forum post or favorites list.
But the name jumped out from this list of Goth names, and I knew Zella had to be included in this week’s names.
Let’s start with Zella’s possible meanings and origins, of which there are many:
- Zella could be short for Marcella, or nearly any name ending with the -sella sound. Perhaps even Isabella, or other names with both a s/z sound and an -ella ending.
- In the nineteenth century, ends-with-ella was a big category. Think Ella, Stella, Della, Estella (as in Great Expectations), Bella, Luella, Rosella, Nella, and plenty of others. Doubtless, some families simply invented Zella from the sounds of the day.
- Nameberry lists Zella as a Bobangi name with an amazing meaning: one who knows the way. Bobangi is spoken in Central Africa.
- Some have connected Zella to zealous, via the Latin zelus – zeal. It’s another appealing meaning, though one that might be more folk etymology than actual origin.
- Others link Zella to the Yiddish names Zelig and Zelda, both of which mean happy or blessed.
The meaning that put Zella on the Goth list was shadow – and that’s the one that has proven most elusive.
Zella could be short for the Germanic Griselda – once a faithful wife in Chaucer’s tale. Griselda comes from gris – grey – and hild – battle, making her a clunky cousin to Matilda and Clothilde. Grey doesn’t quite equal shadow, but there’s a hint.
YA literature might get credit for this one.
In 2007, Zoe Marriott published the re-telling of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Wild Swans” called The Swan Kingdom. There’s a heroine named Alexandra, and an evil enchantress called Zella. When she’s introduced, Alexandra remarks that Zella is an old word for shadow.
Zella: In the Real World
That’s a lot of potential meanings, and most of them are rather auspicious. But how have real world bearers of the name fared?
It turns out there are plenty to choose from. The name was given to over 200 girls most years during the 1910s and 20s. By the 1980s, Zella was bound for obscurity. But our affection for -ella has revived this one, and 100 newborn Zellas arrived in 2013.
You might think of:
- Country singer Zella Lehr, the unicycle girl on 1960’s variety show Hee Haw.
- Early twentieth century vaudeville star Zella Russell.
- In 1919, Washington State University student Zella Melcher wrote the words to the school’s fight song.
It’s also a place name, sometimes spelled Cella or Celle. In German, it means fishing bay – from Kiellu. Altzella and Neuzella – old and new – are seen, too.
One more from the map: once upon a time, the half-way mark between Los Angeles and Chicago on Route 66 was marked by a cafe called Zella’s, operated by a woman named Zella Prin. It’s still there, now known as the Midpoint Cafe.
Zella: Ready for Revival?
All of this makes Zella a rarity, but one with a vintage vibe.
Nordstrom has used it for a line of activewear – but Lulu and Lucy haven’t been hurt by similar clothing lines.
Name your daughter Zella and you risk repeating, “No, not Stella. Zella-with-a-Z.” But this is the kind of name that’s just one high profile use away from catching on.
If you’re made for the -ella names, but eager for something just slightly different, Zella is one to consider.
What do you think of Zella? Is this one too close to Bella-Stella-etcetera? Or does Zella feel like a vintage name ready for revival?