Today’s post is appearing on Thanksgiving.  Whenever I compile my own gratitude list, our warm and welcoming neighborhood is always near the top.

So it is fitting that our Baby Name of the Day belongs to my newest, newborn neighbor: Zoila!

Zoila: Zoe’s Quiet Cousin

Zoila is a rarity, given to just over two dozen girls in 2013.  You might meet a Zoila, but chances are she isn’t American.

And yet you almost certainly know girls named Zoe.  Or Zoey.  Zoila shares the same onomastic roots, making this an ancient name, indeed.

Zoilos the Just ruled a kingdom in the part of the world we know as Afghanistan and Pakistan back around 130 BC.  Another Indo-Greek king wore the name a few decades later, and there’s also an ancient philosopher from Thrace called Zoilus.

Flip to the Z section of an especially complete index of ancient saints, and you’ll find Zoticus or Zotikos.  We don’t know much about his life, but travel to Canada, and you can visit a Montreal suburb called Sainte-Zotique.

In each cases, the first syllable almost certainly comes from the Greek zoe – life, and the source of the unstoppably popular name for girls.

Zoila: Just add -la

It isn’t clear when Zoila first came into use, but she’s definitely more popular in Spanish than English.  A handful of figures might come to mind, including:

  • Let’s start with my favorite: Zoila Ugarte de Landivar, born in Ecuador in the middle of the nineteenth century.  She was a journalist and suffragette, writing under the pen name Zarelia.
  • This was the birth name of Yma Sumac, an internationally-known Peruvian soprano.  Her heyday was the mid-twentieth century, but Sumac’s recordings had a resurgence in the 1990s.  (That’s her in the picture above!)
  • Sandra Cisneros gave the name to Lala’s mom in her 2002 novel, Caramelo.  It’s the story of Lala’s life, split between Chicago and Mexico, and it’s considered semi-autobiographical.

Pop culture makes this one a name for the help:

  • Zoila Chavez graduated from Bravo’s Flipping Out to Interior Therapy with Jeff Lewis.  Chavez is interior designer Lewis’s housekeeper, and she’s got plenty of fans herself, thanks to her no-nonsense attitude.  Chavez was born in Nicaragua.
  • The cast of Devious Maids includes the fictional Zoila Diaz, as well as her daughter, Valentina.

Dig a little deeper, and you’ll find beauty queens and athletes, politicians and actresses from across the Spanish-speaking world answering to Zoila.

In an era when names like Sofia and Isabella make it to the top of the popularity charts because of their wearability in English and Spanish, Zolia feels promising.

Zoila: Underused Gem

Let’s say you don’t speak a word of Spanish.  Or it isn’t priority to find a name that works in any language other than English.  How does Zoila wear then?

This name still has a lot going for it:

  • That letter Z!  From jazz age Zelda to literary Zora, we’re wild for Z names.  While few Z names for girls have cracked the US Top 100, it would be hard to argue that they’re anything but stylish.
  • As for the -oila, Zoila reminds me of Twyla – one of my all-time favorites, an under-used gem with a nod to the night sky and a vintage feel.
  • The Z names that have been most popular are, of course, Zoe and Zoey.  Given our penchant for finding names that are just a little different, doesn’t Zoila seem like a logical successor?

All of this makes lively Zoila an underused gem rich with potential.

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. As someone who is a Zoila… It can be pronounced 2 ways. Spanard way as, Thoy-la but for me, how we said out name is: Soy-la or Soil-a. Z is pronounced like an S.

  2. How is it pronounced? I could see it be anything from \zoy-lah\ to \shwa-lah\ or \zoh-ee-lah\, and that along makes it difficult to consider in my book (maybe with a simple, easy to spell surname. My guideline, when my sister (whose surname is unpronouncable AND unspellable) came to me asking for baby name advice was that either the given name or the surname can be unspellable or unpronouncable, but no loving parent should saddle their child with a name no part of which anyone will be able to spell or pronounce without help.)

    1. I basically tell people that my name is pronounced like this soy-la don’t say the Z as a Z Even though it’s there