Where Does Capitola Come From?
|24 October 2008|
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?
The character from The Hidden Hand is tomboyish Capitola Le Noir (a.k.a. Capitola Black, Cap Black).
I haven’t had any luck figuring out why Southworth chose this particular first name, but she obviously had a lot of fun with the gender-neutral nickname “Cap.” For instance, chapter titles include “Cap in Captivity,” “Capitola Caps the Climax” and “Capitola a Capitalist,” and part II of the book is called “Capitola the Madcap.” The name also links protagonist Cap to antagonist Cap’n Black Donald. So maybe Southworth chose the nickname first, then lengthened it to a fanciful formal name?
Or, perhaps she envisaged the character as some sort of national symbol? (If so, Capitola’s name may be an elaborated form of capitol, which comes from Capitolium, the name of the Temple of Jupiter in ancient Rome.)
Whatever its origin, Capitola saw moderate usage as a baby name* in the U.S. in the mid-to-late 1800s, thanks to the feisty character. She was introduced to the public in 1859, when The Hidden Hand was first published in the New York Ledger. The story was serialized twice more before being published as a book in 1888, and it was portrayed on stage dozens of times during this era as well.
*The name was also used for other things, such as various types of women’s clothing and a town in California.