Because of the film Phaedra, released in late 1962. It was a flop at the U.S. box office, but had a big impact on U.S. baby names nonetheless.
The title character Phaedra (played by Greek actress Melina Mercouri, who’d played Ilya in the hit Never on Sunday) was the second wife of a wealthy man named Thanos. She initiated a forbidden romance with her husband’s adult son, Alexis, and then both of them had to suffer the consequences.
The movie is one of the many modern versions of the ancient Greek tragedy Hippolytus by Euripides.
In the film, the name Phaedra (based on an ancient Greek word meaning “bright”) is pronounced FEH-dra, with a short E. (Say “Ephedra” without the initial vowel.) Looking at online discussions about the name, though, it’s clear that people use various pronunciations, including FAY-dra and FEE-dra.
What are your thoughts on the name Phaedra? Which pronunciation do you prefer?
When Ilya first popped up in the SSA’s baby name data, it appeared as a girl name in 1961:
1961: 5 baby girls named Ilya [debut]
Because the Greek romantic comedy Never on Sunday was released in October of 1960. It starred Greek actress Melina Mercouri as a free-spirited prostitute named Ilya.
The movie was a big hit, and Melina Mercouri was nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role (she lost to Elizabeth Taylor). The film earned four other nominations as well, but only won the Best Song category.
Interestingly, the trailer for the film starts with a string of names: “On Monday, it’s Tonio. On Tuesday, Boris. Wednesday is Spiro the fisherman’s day. And on Thursday, Jorgo’s the lucky fellow. Friday is devoted to Homer…”
Most sources classify the name Ilya and similar names (Iliya, Illya, Ilia, etc.) as male names — specifically, as forms of Elijah/Elias. So my best guess on the character name is that it was a nickname for Iliana, the feminine form of the Greek name Ilias (yet another form of Elijah/Elias).
Do you like the name Ilya? Do you prefer it as a girl name or as a boy name?
A reader named Skylar is expecting triplets in June. She writes:
I do not know the gender of the babies yet as my husband and I have decided to keep it a surprise. The triplets will be joining and older brother Beckett Wade (Wade after my brother) and Britton Pearl (Pearl after my great grandmother, also my middle name). I am looking for boys and girls names to name the triplets. I do not like common names, I would prefer something trendy to pair with family middle names.
I rarely get requests for trendy names, so this e-mail really stood out.
One great place to look for trendy (or soon-to-be trendy) names is the SSA’s Change in Popularity page, which lists names that increased in popularity from 2008 to 2009. Here are some of the names on that list: