Spotlight On: Lavinia

LaviniaLavinia was the dark horse among our 8 Rising Baby Name Stars For 2013 for the girls. I always root for the dark horse, and that is why today we are spotlighting Lavinia. But that’s not the only reason Lavinia is today’s spotlight name. Lavinia has appeared on this site before as one of our early 20th century Oklahoma names.

Lavinia also has more mass appeal than most of our other spotlight names, in my humble opinion. It’s remarkable that only 39 newborn girls were named Lavinia in 2011. Consider its obvious similarities to the #4 girl name, Olivia, given to 17,169 newborn girls in 2011.

Based on Lavinia’s style, it doesn’t seem the least bit unusual. I’m left wondering why more girls weren’t named Lavinia in 2011. Often when a name seems extremely underused, I conclude that the public simply isn’t familiar with the name yet. Such was the case with Phaedra. But I don’t think that is the case with Lavinia considering the following:

Lavinia is a character from the hugely popular young adult novel, and film, The Hunger Games. Admission: I’ve never read the book or seen the movie but, from what I gather, Lavinia is a minor character and her name wasn’t revealed in The Hunger Games, which is the first book in a trilogy. It wasn’t until the third book in the trilogy, Mockingjay, that the character is revealed as Lavinia. In the first two books, The Hunger Games, and Catching Fire, she is simply known as “the Avox girl”.

Lavinia is the middle name of Fancy Nancy’s doll, Mirabelle Lavinia Chandelier, from the popular children’s book series, Fancy Nancy. But again, a middle name of a doll that isn’t mentioned in every Fancy Nancy book may be a weak association. The doll’s name was memorable to me, but may not be memorable to everyone, and someone expecting their first child or first girl may not be familiar with the books.

The name has even more literary connections. Lavinia is the name of a novel by science fiction / fantasy author, Ursula K. Le Guin. The book by Ursula K. Le Guin was based on the life of princess Lavinia from Roman Mythology. The mythological princess was a minor character in Virgil’s epic poem Aeneid. The life of the mythological Lavinia is the basis for Ursula K. Le Guin’s novel. According to legend, Lavinia was the daughter of King Latinus and wife of Aeneas and ancestor of the Roman people.

Lavinia was also a favorite of the Bard who has influenced such popular name choices as Jessica, Olivia and—to a lesser extent—Miranda and Bianca. Lavinia appears in Shakespeare’s first tragedy, Titus Andronicus. This tragedy was known for being among his bloodiest and least respected. Yet this has not kept Titus, the title character, from reaching #365 on boys last year.

Lavinia also has First Lady clout, being the middle name of the first wife to 23rd President Benjamin Harrison, Caroline Lavinia Scott Harrison.

One somewhat obscure association is the name of Emily Dickinson’s younger sister, Lavinia, who discovered the bulk of the poet’s work after her death.

Lastly, there is the namesake with the least appeal, Lavinia Fisher, recognized as the first female mass murderer in the U.S.

This is such a long list of associations, you would think Lavinia would be top-of-mind to most people, but perhaps upon inspection, most of these associations are too weak: a minor character… a middle name of a minor character… a middle name of a former First Lady from over a century ago… the younger sister of a highly respected poet. And a couple of them are a less than favorable: a tragic character from a gory Shakespeare tragedy…a mass murderer.

Nevertheless, I believe Lavinia’s sheer beauty and mythological roots can overcome any negative associations. Bear in mind, some negative associations have been ignored by parents in recent years in regards to a beautiful name. For example, Delilah, the unsavory Biblical character, had been hurt by this association for years only to rise to its highest rank in 2011 at #172. And Ophelia, the depressing character from Hamlet, while not in the top 1000 yet, joins Lavinia as one of our 8 rising stars that could soon hit the top 1000.

Something else working in Lavinia’s favor is its historic usage, which positions it as the perfect revival name. Most revival names were never terribly popular the first time around. They were only popular enough to be imaginable on the great grandparent generation.

Lavinia has never been popular. It has never reached the top 300, but it was in the top 1000 from 1880 (the earliest year data is available) until 1929. It peaked in 1880 at #352. This makes Lavinia ripe for rediscovery.

Overall, Lavinia makes a terrific underused choice.

Readers: What do you think of Lavinia?

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  1. In addition to the other more modern uses of Lavinia you listed, it is also the name of one of the characters in Downton Abbey. She was only in season 2, but given the huge popularity of Downton Abbey, I bet that will also contribute to more familiarity with the name. She was a fairly likable character, although she was unfortunately the side of a love triangle that I imagine most viewers were cheering against.

  2. British American says:

    Yes, the name immediately made me think of Downton Abbey when I saw it on your list the other day. That will help make it more familiar to some people.

    The one downside I see to the name is that “Lav” also makes me think of “lavatory”. When I used to live in the UK, I think “lav” was used as a slang word for toilet.

    I’d definitely like to see the name used on a little girl. 🙂

  3. Lavinia is absolutely stunning. I’m also surprised by the name’s lack of popularity. How about the light, spirited Liv or the boyish, spunky Vinnie for nicknames?

    I would use this name.

  4. So funny! When my sister and I were little and played dress up one of us would ALWAYS choose the name Lavinia.

  5. I agree with everything you wrote about Lavinia, but I can’t get on board with it. The “lav” sound reminds me of lavatory. I have the same issue with Lavender.

  6. Well it’s my name but is mispronounced and misspelled all the time. For that reason, I would use it only as a middle name. My middle name is Grace, go figure, they should have named me Grace Lavinia and not Lavinia Grace. I often use Grace because it’s easier.

  7. Rachel Brown says:

    Hi, I love the name Lavinia and our second daughter who is now 9 is called Lavinia, when Niamh our eldest was trying to say her name, she could call her Inya, and a friend’s son called her Yigah, for ages. We didn’t want the Lav abbreviation so we have pushed quite hard for Liv, Vin or Vinya as nicknames. And most people use those; I do have a friend who will use Lavie which is like nails down a black board for me. But then both my parents will occasionally refer to our oldest as Neev-ey and that too leaves me cold (and I would have never anticipated someone would do that with Niamh). I think that part of the beauty of Lavinia is that it has so many options within it.

    • Lavinia does have many nickname options, but I think I like it best in it’s full-form. Liv and Vin are cute though.

      I agree with you on Lavie – that sounds too much like lavatory for me.

      • My granddaughter will be named Livinia. She is due to be born in December, 2013. My daughter changed the spelling purposely because she intends to call her Livi for short. I personally thought Livvy would be a cute spelling as a nickname, but my daughter likes Livi. I like the more contemporary spelling, too.

        I think the name Livinia is adorable and I love the fact that few others will share her name. Whether her name is frequently misspelled or not, I can tell you from personal experience that it is quite nice to have a unique name. People have always had a difficult time spelling and pronouncing my name; nevertheless, I have enjoyed having a name “all of my own.” 🙂

        • Such a coincidence I stumbled upon this article! My daughter was born in June 2012 and we (my husband and I) watched downtown abbey at the time and loved Lavinia’s character. So we named her Livinia and we get so many compliments when we get asked her name. We call her Livvy/Livi for short. Many ppl mistake her pronounciation and say Laa-vinia but we like the Lee-vin-inya pronounciation better!

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