Where did the name Capitola come from?

The book "Capitola's Peril" by E. D. E. N. Southworth

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?

I 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).

The book "Hidden Hand" by E. D. E. N. Southworth

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.”

Graph of the usage of the baby name Capitola in the U.S. since 1880
Usage of the baby name Capitola

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

[Latest update: July 2021]

23 thoughts on “Where did the name 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. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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

  10. 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

    elizabeth queener

  11. 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]

  12. 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.

  13. Feb 18,2016, my grandma was named Nell capitol
    hart. Born May 1890. She grew up In lawrenceburg Indiana and ended up in Burlington , KY. Her unwed mother Mary Jane ( I think )died at childbirth . Her father mr tyre was rode out of town . He may of been foreign. I have a whole Other family somewhere I don’t know . Bucket list dream to find them . Judyshair@juno.com in Kentucky

  14. Hi everyone… dang it been yrs and so blessed to have the chance for so many stories..
    I’m Capitola Hankins And I feel the woman speaking of Indiana and family.may be mine… see it funny
    Cause my gma was Capitola
    And her mom name was Nelli.. not.nell
    She.met my GPA cause he was sationed in indiana and went to KY to party back then and.he met my g ma.. and I’m from Evansville, Indiana. .
    I’m Capitola Godslight on Facebook
    Or chankins1983@gmail.com

    Please feel free to reach out


    ENJOY ..


  15. I’m happy to find this site. I’m working in Ancestry.com today, and found a potential connenection to my great-grandmother. We knew her as Grandma Hattie born in 1886 but her full name may have been Harriett Capitola Wideman Clark, born in Wisconsin. In my Clark family I have not found any connection to Wisconsin. They are all from Indiana and Ohio. I hope this connection is real. I searched for Capitola thinking it was a surname, but I love that it may be from a quirky character from a book.

  16. My great aunt passed away March 31, 2019 at the age of 96. We only knew her as “Aunt Jackie”, imagine how shocked I was to learn her given name was Capitola Mae! She married my Great Uncle who was of Italian decent, he was the first generation to be an “American Italian”, our family came to Oklahoma to work in the coal mines. I am not positive if my aunt was Italian or not but I have always presumed she was because they were a close knit community and that generation tended to marry within their own ethnicity. All I have been able to gather is it is a Latin name.

  17. My great-grandmother’s name was Capitola Black Stewart. She was born in 1902 and I’m almost positive her name comes from this book. I had no idea until a couple of days ago! And even better that this character is a strong, independent woman very much ahead of her time! I toyed with naming a girl Kelly Capitola but I knew my husband would never go for it. LOL I wish I had known this back then, I would have definitely considered it.

  18. My middle name is Captolia. I was named for my great, great grandmother who was the daughter of a chief of an Iroquois Native American tribe (found in upstate NY).

    My grandfather wanted me to be named Captolia for my first name, but my parents didn’t want me to be made fun of due to the nicknames that potentially would arise.

    I have tried to research the name, as my grandfather refused to tell me what it meant and took it to his grave…not sure why). The only thing I have found was a possible meaning of “Royal Hawk.”

    Also for those of you referring chief daughters to Native American Princesses, the title does not exist. That was something made up by the English settlers. The Chief was important to his tribe, along with the council, but the daughter of a chief did not hold a title of princess.

  19. I know this originally began years ago but I wanted to share my Captolia story also. Captolia was my fraternal grandmothers name. I know her family moved to Illinois from Indiana. Alvin, Illinois. Her birth name was Captolia McBride. Another family passed name. Captolia had a daughter ( my aunt) names Earleen Hortense, another family name. Love the stories and history here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.