U Is For Ursula, Who's Due For A Comeback

Ursula's not such a popular name these days — but given its sea-witch-meets-Bond-girl pedigree, maybe it should be.

I get that Ursula might not be the most appealing name to American ears. It kind of sounds like "hurt," it looks like Uranus, and its meaning — according to Wikipedia, "little female bear" — is a bit odd. But perhaps all these should be reasons not to avoid Ursula, but to embrace it. Ursulas, few as they are, are girls whose parents didn't care about giving them a conventionally pretty name. As a result, they may grow up with the enviable quality of not giving a shit what people think of them. But they're not all flowy and free-spirited and tambourine-playing — no, Ursulas paint their nails with black Sharpie, get sent to the principal's office for talking back to the teacher, and are generally the nastiest, most ornery, most likely-to-cuss-you-out girls on the school bus — unless you're getting picked on by a Courtney, in which case they'll stand up for you. It's my impression that Ursula is more popular in the UK than here (although at #1296 in 2008, it's not exactly modish over there either), and when I imagine a grown-up Ursula, I tend to picture Emily Blunt.

But young Ursulas don't have to look to an Emily for inspiration. There's Ursula Andress, whose white-bikini-clad appearance in Dr. No inaugurated the Bond girl archetype. I'm not the biggest fan of Bond films or the whole Bond-girl concept, but Andress, who reportedly dated Marlon Brando, Warren Beatty, and Sean Connery, and was once invited by James Dean to ride to San Francisco in his Porsche 550 Spyder, does seem to have had an exciting life. There's also Ursula Le Guin, author of the awesome Earthsea novels and a pioneer of feminist sci-fi. And, of course, there's Ursula the sea witch, technically the villain of The Little Mermaid but obviously the most interesting character in the movie. Even though Ursula gets punished in the end — if memory serves, she's impaled by a ship — I'd still rather have two eel familiars and the power to extract people's voices than a dull prince onto whom no one bothered to graft a personality. Also, her tentacles are awesome.

At least according to Baby Name Wizard, Ursulas stir up controversy. Says one poster,

Ursula's are charming, complex and elemental. Ursula's are people people, who find maintaining a wide range of social contacts essential to their peace of mind. No matter what obstacles life happens to throw in their way, the quick-witted Ursula's overcome them with style and elegance.

Retorts another,

I'm not removing this but it's ridiculous to say 'all people called Ursula are like X' - how many Ursulas do you even know to base this on?! The two I know are nothing like your description, anyway. You also need lessons in apostrophe usage.

Ouch! The second poster probably should not read this feature. But he/she does illustrate that where Ursulas are involved, emotions run high. Which is just another reason that the name — which dropped out of the top 1000 in the US sometime in the eighties — deserves a revival. Parents of little Ursulas might want to brace themselves, though — and perhaps invest in a kitten named Flotsam.

Ursula [Wikipedia]
Ursula [Baby Name Wizard]

Earlier: T Is For Taylor, A Trend That Should Die
S Is For Samantha, A Soccer-Playing, Hair-Modeling Ninja
R Is For Rachel, From Routine To Rad
Q Is For ... Um ...
P Is For Paula, Who's A Little Bit Nutty
O Is For Olivia: Precocious, Passionate, & Up For A Lesbian Cruise
N Is For Natasha, A Femme Fatale
M Is For Michelle, An Elegant Mystery
L Is For Lisa, Whose Looks Are Deceiving
K Is For Kate, Who Kicks Ass, Takes Names
J Is For Jennifer, The Vanilla Of Names
I Is For Isabel, Who's Snooty, But Earns It
H Is For Hillary, A Barrel Of Laughs
G Is For Grace - What's That Up Her Sleeve?
F Is For Francesca, And I Wish I Were Her
E Is For Emily, Who Seems Sweet (At First)
D Is For Danielle (Or Dani, Who's Apparently Kinda Judgey)
C Is For Courtney, Who's Too Cool For School
B is for Beth (And Barack! And Bandana!)
A Is For Anna: What My First Name Says About Me