It’s a lovely place name starting with the fashionable V and carrying a rich history, so why has Virginia faded from view while other classic names have held their own? Last year, for example, there were close to 13,000 new little Elizabeths and only 564 Virginias. So what’s the problem with Virginia? Is it the fear of playground taunts via virgin and also a certain female body part? The dated sounding nickname Ginny? The harsh reverberations of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Whatever the issues, I think they’re outweighed by other, more positive, factors. First, there’s the history. Virginia is a venerable name that dates back to ancient times, coming from Verginus, the name of a Roman clan, its derivation related to the Latin root for springlike, flourising. which is from the Latin word virgo, meaning maiden or virgin.
The first known bearer of the name was the beautiful daughter of a Roman centurion whose death led to a revolt that resulted in the protection of the rights of the common people–a righteous legacy. In this country, the first English child born in America parents was christened Virginia Dare, Sir Walter Raleigh had called his newly founded colony Virginia, in honor of Elizabeth the Virgin Queen, and little Miss Dare was given the name for the same reason–an early example of a name originating in America and spreading to other parts of the world.
Though the whole Roanoke colony, including Virginia, disappeared, her name has lived on in books, songs and films, as well as a number of commercial products. The name got a recommendation from none other than Benjamin Franklin who, when asked by the Marquis de Lafayette if he could presume to give his daughter the name of one of the United States, replied, “Miss Virginia, Miss Carolina and Miss Georgia will sound prettily enough for girls.”
Later, Virginia became part of a catch phrase when a little girl name Virginia O’Hanlon wrote a letter to the New York Sun questioning the existence of Santa, which inspired an editorial containing the deathless words, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.” Strangely enough, O’Hanlon’s birthname was Laura, but she chose to go by her middle name of Virginia.
Virginia enjoyed a sudden burst of popularity around 1870, which lasted through the 1950s; it was in the Top 10 for 25 years, from 1912 to 1937, hitting a high of #6 in 1921, when there were 19,000 baby VIrginias in their cradles. Virginia has such distinguished namesakes as British writer Virginia Woolf, has been the subjects of songs by groups ranging frm The Rolling Stones to The Foo Fighters, and has appeared as a character in any number of movies and TV shows.
And its nicknames aren’t limited to Ginny. Also possible are Genia, Gigi, Gina, Ginger, Vee, Virge, and Virgie. International variations include the Spanish Ginia and Ginata, the French Virginie, and the Hawaiian Wilikinia.