Where Does Capitola Come From?

A reader named Paula sent me an interesting question not too long ago:

My sister-in-law found ‘Capitola’ as a first name in her family’s history. We know it comes from E.D.E.N. Southworth’s “The Hidden Hand” but we cannot discover its meaning or derivation. Can you help us?

hidden hand southworthI tried, but I wasn’t able to find out exactly what inspired Southworth to choose the name “Capitola” for her tomboyish character Capitola Le Noir (a.k.a. Cap Black).

She did have a lot of fun with the gender-neutral nickname “Cap,” though. Different parts of the story have titles like “Cap in Captivity,” “Capitola Caps the Climax,” “Capitola a Capitalist,” and “Capitola the Madcap.” I think it’s entirely possible that Southworth chose the nickname first, then lengthened it to something more fanciful/formal.

Regardless of how/why she chose the name, it does bear a strong resemblance to the word capitol, which comes from the Latin word capitolium, which referred to the Temple of Jupiter in ancient Rome.

The Hidden Hand was first published in 1859 in the newspapers. It was serialized twice more before being published as a book in 1888. The book ended up selling millions of copies. It went on to be adapted for the stage dozens of times.

Capitola encounters many adventures and withstands much danger, starring in sensational plots that some critics worried were too stimulating for delicate female readers. The mass public loved Capitola, however, and one California town still bears her name.

The book and its sequel, Capitola’s Peril, inspired expectant parents across the U.S. to name their baby girls Capitola. From the mid-1800s until the mid-1900s, hundreds of babies got the name. A handful even got the first-middle combination “Capitola Lenoir.”

P.S. Wondering what “E.D.E.N.” stands for? The author’s full name was Emma Dorothy Eliza Nevitte Southworth.

Source: Beyond Domesticity: U.S. Women Writers, 1770-1915
Image: Copyright © University of South Carolina Board of Trustees

14 Responses to Where Does Capitola Come From?

  1. my first name is Capitola and it was a family name. I couldn’t believe that there were people just recently thinking of the name. I am 25 and it is a 3rd generation name. that goes every other generation. I was raised and live in southern indiana and I am kinda tomboy, but I am a lady too. it was very interesting. Congrats to your new baby and I hope she likes it as much as i do. it so diff. so unique. I am too. I never knw it was clothing but the did use to be an indian princess with that name. a long time ago, I met another lady with my name and thats y her dad chose to name her that. neat huh. i am looking for more. just stay postd

  2. My daughters name is capitola it was my aunts name, she is 106 and is still alive so it was passed on directly from her and from the book to my aunt, or great aunt sometimes over etc.

  3. I was named after a distant relative.. Capitola, Capi for short. “Aunt Capi” always said she was named after a character in a book that her Dad had read, but I never knew what book. This is probably it!!

  4. I was looking for the origin on the name Capitola for clues to my family tree. One of my Grandmother’s sisters was named Capitola Minerva. Never heard of the name before & hoped I would find something to help me along. It’s nice to see family names passed along & hear that not everyone dislikes a name that is unusual or different.

  5. my name is spelled captola,i dont know much about my name.
    my mother worked with a lady by this name,and that is how i got it.
    i haven’t been able to come up with alot of info on the name. i was glad i finely came up with this site.

  6. Capitola Hankins –

    Are you related to Capitola Gunning?

    Thanks,

    Deanne

  7. My mom passed away in 1992. Today going through recipes, I was really missing her more than ever. Her name also was Capitola Diane,”Cappy”. My grandmother named her after a friend she met from Switzerland. My mom always said she disliked her name. Lol people would always ask her “where did that name come from”. I. Was surprised when I typed her name into Google and found how many others shared this name.

  8. elizabeth queener

    I am looking for the descendants of Capitola Frierson
    who was born in 1859/60 in College Hill, Mississippi.
    She was the daughter of a slave girl named Judy who
    was born in South Carolina and had lived in Tennessee.
    Her father was the son of the planter who owned Judy.
    He was murdered by his father-in-law and Judy was sent
    to live in Brookville, Florida. Judy and Capitola are
    in the 1879 census. Apparently, Judy married a fellow
    slave named Paul Frierson. I have information that Capitola
    married someone named Saunders.
    I would like to find the descendants.

  9. elizabeth queener

    If anyone has a connection to anyone named
    Capitola Frierson or who is familiar with
    the names Frierson or Saunders will you let
    me know. I am writing a family history and
    she is the mystery person.

  10. Capitola Murphy-Baran

    My first name is Capitola, as was my mother’s, my grandmother’s, great-grandmother’s etc. My grandmother always claimed to be the 7th consecutive Capitola in our family, however I can only confirm 5, including myself. Our family emigrated from Ireland around the time of the potato famine (1840’s-50’s), and the name allegedly came over with them. Origins of the name are definitely not Irish. We always assumed an ancestor had a devotion to Saint Capitolina, a Roman martyr. It is also interesting to note that the orphan twins Romulus and Remus, the founders of the city of Rome, were nurtured by a wolf, whose name was Capitola.
    My mother and I are both called Tola for short. I’ve run across a handful of other Capitolas over the years, including one African American woman and a white woman of English ancestory. Years back, I found 59 other people with Capitola as a first name in the US listings of WhitePages.com. Greetings to all other Capitolas. It’s great to be unique!
    Tola Murphy-Baran

  11. elizabeth queener

    Hello Do you know where I could contact the
    African American named Capitola? If you
    could give me any information such as
    where she may have lived I would be most
    appreciative.

    elizabeth queener

  12. Capitola Murphy-Baran

    Re the African American Capitola – could I give you the info via email? I feel uncomfortable talking about her in such a public forum. Write to me at tola[at]comcast[dot]net.
    She told me she was named after a family friend.

    [Hi Capitola! I altered your email address a little because I don't want the spambots to find it. ~Nancy]

  13. My Great Grandma’s name was Capitola we called her Cappie. She passed away today and I was just looking to see if I could find what her name meant, she was born in 1914, She almost made it to her 100th birthday.

  14. @Cynthia – I’m sorry to hear about your Great Grandma’s passing. My condolences.

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