Etymology & Historical Origin of the Baby Name Alma
Alma is a female given name with quite an interesting story. In 1854, during the Crimean Wars, the combined British-French army won an important victory against Russian troops on the banks of the Alma River in Crimea (which is located on the northern Black Sea and attached to the Ukraine). This event was known as the Battle of Alma as the Anglo-French forces sought to obstruct Russia’s attempt to position themselves strategically in the Black Sea. The Ottoman Empire was in serious decline at this point, and Russia saw an opportunity to exploit this fact to their advantage. France and England, however, fearing an imbalance of European military power, declared war on Russia and joined the Turks. The River Alma’s name is said to come from the Crimean Tatar (Turkic) word for "apple". Alma became a popular girl’s name in the UK as a result of the extensive news coverage describing the Battle of Alma (it was also used as a masculine name, sometimes in the form of Almo). Even a popular folk ballad was written to celebrate the mêlée called “The Heights of Alma”. Aside from this warfare connection, Alma has other etymologies. For instance, the title “alma mater” (nourishing mother) was given to Roman goddesses, from “almus” (nourishing) and “mater” (mother); the British started using the title in the early 18th century to describe where one went to university. Also, Alma is a name favored among Spanish speakers since it’s the Spanish vocabulary word for “soul” (also from the Latin “almus” meaning “nourishing”). Lastly, Alma is the name of a character in Edmund Spenser’s great epic Middle English poem “The Faerie Queene” (1590): “For she was faire, as faire mote euer bee, / And in the flowre now of her freshest age; / Yet full of grace and goodly modestee, / That euen heauen reioyced her sweete face to see” (Book II, canto ix). The character of Alma represents the soul/spirit who presides over the House of Temperance because, as Spenser says, “Of all Gods workes, which do this world adorne, / There is no one more faire and excellent, / Then is mans body both for powre and forme, / Whiles it is kept in sober gouernment.” From this perspective, Alma could be considered a name for teetotalers! In summary, Alma is a multifaceted name which has been in use since the late Middle Ages, first inspired by Spenser and then inspired by the Battle of Alma (which did even more to popularize this name among English-speakers). The Spanish embrace the name in honor of the beautiful baby girls that lift their spirits and “nourish” their “souls”. Alma is currently most popular in the Scandinavian nations of Denmark, Sweden and Norway. It’s also a Top 100 in Spain and Catalonia. Not only that, but Alma is a female name favored by Croatians and Philippinos, as well. We’d say this simple, unassuming and “soulful” name is quite the cosmopolitan gal. Who would have thunk?