If you’re wondering about the origins of the term, it dates back to Florodora, one of the first big Broadway musical hits of the twentieth century—it opened in 1900– and the term came to symbolize a kind of saucy, high-kicking, wasp-waisted show gal who might well have been named Flora or Dora—or Cora or Nora—all names then near the height of their popularity.
In 1900, Flora was Number 106 on the list, Dora, 79, Cora 55, and Nora 83, but their rankings would experience somewhat disparate trajectories. While all four peaked in the 1880s, it was only Nora, with her more classic feel, that would maintain respectable numbers throughout the succeeding decades–Flora was the first to vanish completely, in 1972.
But while these names appear to share such a strong family resemblance, they actually have quite different résumés.
CORA. Though Cora‘s roots go back to the ancient Greek — the word kore, meaning ‘girl, maiden’–and it was a title given to Persephone, goddess of springtime, the modern introduction of Cora to the English-speaking world is credited to James Fenimore Cooper and his creation of Cora Munro, the spirited heroine of his 1826 novel The Last of the Mohicans. Today, Cora is most visibly tied to the American-born Right Hono(u)rable Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham on Downton Abbey. And the sweet, old-fashioned Cora is now at Number 276, the highest it’s been since 1949, with the expanded Coralie getting some love as well.
DORA started life as a shortening of Dorothy or Theodora, Eleanora, Eudora or Isadora, and wasn’t used as an independent name until the nineteenth century, at first mainly in the works of poets like Thomas Campbell and Alfred Lord Tennyson. The most memorable literary bearer of the name is Dora Spenlow, David Copperfield’s impractical child-wife, and for a while it suffered some negative fallout from an old comic strip called ‘Dumb Dora’. Nowadays, it’s more apt to be identified with TV’s spunky Latina Dora the Explorer. Dora dropped off the list in 1992, but we wouldn’t be at all surprised to see this once Top 100 name pop back.
FLORA, the Roman goddess of Spring and flowers, became popular in Scotland and elsewhere via the heroic tale of Flora McDonald’s helping Bonnie Prince Charlie to escape British troops in the eighteenth century. Flora appears in Dickens’s Bleak House and is the young girl in Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw, as well as one of the good fairies in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. With all names floral blooming—from Lily to Lilac to Lavender—the all-encompassing, fragrant Flora can’t help but make a comeback. And vintage Bobbsey Twins nicknames Florrie and Flossie sound pretty adorable in the twenty-first century.
NORA –Nora has an elegant Belle Epoch image that has kept it stylish over the decades. Long before it became identified as an Irish-accented name, Nora was used in its original form, Honoria, in the Middle Ages. The most famous literary Nora is the heroine of Ibsen’s The Doll’s House, whose slamming of the door when she left her husband became something of a feminist symbol, and later Nora was Nick Charles’s witty wife in Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man series; today’s most ublic bearer is the equally witty Nora Ephron. Norah is an alternate spelling. Trivia note: Famed Florodora Girl-era singer Nora Bayes changed her name from Dora to what seemed then like the more dignified Nora.
How do you like this genre of names? If you had to pick one, which would it be?