About Names: Dr. Evans on “Amelia”

Several individuals standing around an airplane piloted by Amelia Earhart.

Amelia Earhart, one of the more famous Amelias in recent history, about to take off as a crowd of onlookers admire her plane and watch the famous aviator take to the skies (Photo: Public Domain)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his June 18th column, he discusses the name “Amelia”.

Amelia became famous 95 years ago today.

Amelia Earhart, Kansas-born in 1897, was log keeper on a plane that landed in Wales on June 18, 1928, becoming first woman to fly across the Atlantic. Though Wilmer Stultz and Louis Gordon were pilot and co-pilot, the flight made Earhart famous. She was declared “Queen of the Air,” a title cemented when she piloted a solo cross-Atlantic flight in May 1932. Today she’s remembered for her mysterious disappearance over the Pacific July 2, 1937, while trying to circumnavigate the globe.

Amelia’s a variation of Amalia, a Latinized short form of German names like Amalburg and Amalgund. Germanic “amal” meant “vigorous.” Its use in names honored the Amali, a fifth-century dynasty leading Goths attacking the Roman empire.

Amelia was rare in England until the German Hanoverians inherited Britain’s throne in 1714. Princess Amelia (1711-1786), daughter of George II, loved riding and hunting. Amelia County, Virginia, and Amelia Island, Florida, were named for her. Her great-niece Princess Amelia (1783-1810) was the youngest and favorite daughter of George III.

Amelia rather than Amalia became the common English form through confusion with Emilia, which has a separate Latin origin. Both Princesses Amelia were nicknamed “Emily.”

Novelists further popularized the name. The heroine of Henry Fielding’s “Amelia” (1751) saves her husband from gambling debts. In William Thackeray’s “Vanity Fair” (1848), Amelia Sedley is the sweet naïve contrast to conniving seductive Becky Sharp.

The 1850 American census found 29,484 Amelias. In 1851, the British census included 32,243.