The eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in the year 79 A.D. buried a number of nearby communities, including the now-famous ancient city of Pompeii.
The city was forgotten for centuries, rediscovered in 1599, forgotten again, then rediscovered a second time in 1748. Excavations finally began in the mid-1700s, and the rest of the world soon came to know of Pompeii and its sad fate.
After Russian painter Karl Bryullov visited the ruins in 1828, he was inspired to create The Last Day of Pompeii (1830-1833), which depicts the destruction of Pompeii as Vesuvius erupts in the background. The massive painting (which measures 15 feet high by 21 feet long) became extremely popular.
English writer Edward Bulwer-Lytton (of “It was a dark and stormy night” fame) saw the painting while it was on display in Italy. It inspired him to write the book The Last Days of Pompeii (1834), which also became extremely popular.
One of the book’s main characters is a blind slave-girl named Nydia (pronounced NID-ee-ah) who sells flowers to earn money for her owner.
She’s a memorable, tragic character who has since been portrayed in other works of art, most notably the sculpture Nydia, the Blind Flower Girl of Pompeii (see above) by American sculptor Randolph Rogers. Here’s a description:
[Nydia] struggles forward to escape the dark volcanic ash and debris of Mount Vesuvius as it erupts and buries the ancient city of Pompeii. Clutching her staff and cupping hand to ear, she strains for sounds of Glaucus (a nobleman with whom she has fallen desperately in love) and his fiancée Ione. Accustomed to darkness, blind Nydia uses her acute hearing to find the two, leading them to safety at the shore; but in the end, despairing of the impossibility of her love, she drowns herself.
In the book, Nydia tells Ione that she originally came from Greece:
“What is your name, fair girl?”
“They call me Nydia.”
“The land of Olympus–Thessaly.”
Her name was not used in ancient times, though, and the author doesn’t offer any clues about how he coined this (ostensibly Greek) name. Many sources echo the theory that the name Nydia was based on the Latin word nidus, meaning “nest,” but this shouldn’t be interpreted as fact.
So…has the literary name Nydia ever been used as a real-life baby name?
Yes, but the name has never been very common. Here’s the number of U.S. baby girls that have been given the baby name Nydia since the turn of the century:
- 2014: 27 baby girls named Nydia
- 2013: 16 baby girls named Nydia
- 2012: 26 baby girls named Nydia
- 2011: 30 baby girls named Nydia
- 2010: 31 baby girls named Nydia
- 2009: 29 baby girls named Nydia
- 2008: 52 baby girls named Nydia
- 2007: 53 baby girls named Nydia
- 2006: 52 baby girls named Nydia
- 2005: 53 baby girls named Nydia
- 2004: 62 baby girls named Nydia
- 2003: 69 baby girls named Nydia
- 2002: 69 baby girls named Nydia
- 2001: 72 baby girls named Nydia
- 2000: 82 baby girls named Nydia
While a handful of people were named Nydia prior to the publication of Bulwer-Lytton’s book, consistent usage of the name began only after the book came out. Usage was at its highest during the last quarter of the 20th century. Even then, though, the name never managed to earn a spot among the top 1,000 girl names in the nation. Usage has been in decline ever since. (The spelling Nidia has followed a similar trajectory.)
So, not only is Nydia a relatively young name that originates in literature, it’s also a relatively rare name that’s reminiscent of more familiar options (like Lydia and Nadia). So it might be particularly appealing to parents who like literature names and/or “sweet spot” names (that is, names that are uncommon but not unheard of).
What do you think of the baby name Nydia?
- Rogers: Nydia, the Blind Girl of Pompeii – National Gallery of Art
- The Last Day of Pompeii – Wikipedia (painting)
- The Last Days of Pompeii – Wikipedia (book)
Image: Adapted from Full Length view of Nydia by Mary Harrsch under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.