Many baby names have hazy origins. Not Trilby. Trilby comes from a very specific fictional character that was popularized during a very specific period of time.
The character? Trilby O'Ferrall.
The time? The very last years of the 19th century.
Trilby O'Ferrall was featured in the gothic novel Trilby by French-born British author George du Maurier. The novel a was first published serially in Harper's Monthly in 1894. It was a great commercial success and was later adapted into a long-running play.
In the book, Trilby is a naive, tone-deaf woman who becomes a famous singer. How? A hypnotist named Svengali puts her into trances. While under his spells, she's able to sing.
Where does her name come from? Well, because of the character's connection to singing, it's reasonable to assume the author coined it as a play on the musical term trill, which refers to rapid alternation between two adjacent notes. Then again, he may have taken the name from an earlier literary source--the novel Trilby, ou le Lutin d'Argail (1822) by Charles Nodier.
In 1895, the year after du Maurier's Trilby was first published, the name Trilby became the 978th most popular baby girl name in the United States. That was the only time Trilby managed to rank in the top 1,000.
And the name wasn't given just to babies. It was also used for:
- A hat. Actors in the stage production of Trilby donned a particular type of hat while they performed. The word Trilby was soon adopted as the name for this type of hat (a soft felt hat with a narrow brim and an indented crown).
- Several U.S. towns. The U.S. Post Office approved requests from Florida, Illinois, Kansas and Ohio to name towns Trilby. The Trilby in Florida even had streets named after characters in the book.
- A number of products. At the height of the Trilby craze, consumers could purchase Trilby tea, Trilby sausage, Trilby pie, a Trilby cocktail, a Trilby belt, a Trilby high-heeled shoe, even a Trilby Hearth Brush.
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