Etymology & Historical Origin of the Baby Name Ursula

Ursula is a diminutive of “Ursa” which is Latin for “she-bear” (as in the celestial constellations Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, aka the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper). According to Greek Mythology, Callisto was transformed into a bear by Hera when it was discovered Hera’s husband, Zeus, had an affair with the beautiful nymph. That union produced a son who almost shot his bear-mother with a bow before Zeus turned him into a bear and set them both, mother and son, together in the night’s sky (hence Great Bear and Little Bear). However, it was not the constellation nor the mythological tale that served to popularize the name Ursula in the Middle Ages. That credit goes to Saint Ursula, a 4th century Romano-British saint around whom a large cult grew and legends developed many centuries later. In fact, St. Ursula was a medieval celebrity. Her legend is largely considered invented (or at least hugely embellished) and very few historical facts survive that might prove she even existed. She was apparently born a princess near present-day Wales (which was then a part of the Roman Empire). Although she herself was Christian, she was betrothed in marriage to a Roman pagan governor of Gaul (present-day France). Ursula received a three-year postponement on the wedding so that she could embark on a pan-European pilgrimage to Rome. She set sail across the North Sea with 11,000 maidens and, upon entering Cologne (present day Germany), she and her virginal party were besieged and killed by the Huns (who had come to occupy the area). A 5th century inscription on the Basilica of St. Ursula in Cologne stated that the church had been rebuilt on the site where some virgins were martyred – and from this innocuous inscription a legend was born. Little known interesting factoids: Christopher Columbus named the Caribbean Virgin Islands in Ursula’s honor; and Cape Virgenes (the southern tip of Argentina) was named by Ferdinand Magellan when he rounded the straights on Ursula’s feast day, October 21. Virgin martyrs were among the most celebrated throughout Christianized Europe in medieval times, and Ursula was one of the favorites; the name was readily bestowed on baby girls in her honor. Today, however, Ursula is pretty uncommon among English-speakers. This little she-bear has clearly gone into hibernation.

All About the Baby Name – Ursula

Personality

OF THE GIRL NAME URSULA

The Number 2 personality in numerology is all about cooperation and balance. It's the number of diplomats and mediators. They are not leaders, but strive rather for harmony in partnerships. These are the peacemakers. Equality and fairness are important in their dealings, and they are willing to share power and responsibility to achieve a harmonious outcome. This personality is calm and patient, waiting for things to evolve instead of pushing aggressively for an outcome. They are good-natured and easy-going, and care deeply on an emotional and spiritual plane. Twos appreciate beauty and nature and are intent on making the world a better place.

Popularity

OF THE GIRL NAME URSULA

Looking for an interesting baby girl’s name that has never been very popular? Look no further than Ursula. While Ursula does date back to the late 19th century on the American female naming charts, she has never reached higher than position #447 (1901). It looked as if the name would disappear in the 1950s, but she did reemerge briefly in the 1960s thanks to the beautiful Swiss actress Ursula Andress who was starring in some notable James Bond movies at the time. However, by 1984, the name was long gone and forgotten again. Unfortunately for this pretty little moniker, Ursula is often too closely associated with the human/octopus villainess in Disney’s 1989 film “The Little Mermaid”. Now that we’re inside the 21st century, Ursula is no longer on anyone’s radar. The name was only given to 27 baby girls (out of nearly 2 million) in 2012. Yet Ursula is a name to consider in our book. It’s been around forever, yet no one is using it.

Quick Facts

ON URSULA

GENDER:

Girl

ORIGIN:

Latin

NUMBER OF SYLLABLES:

3

RANKING POPULARITY:

N/A

PRONUNCIATION:

UR-sə-la

SIMPLE MEANING:

Little she-bear

Characteristics

OF URSULA

Cooperative

Considerate

Compassionate

Nurturing

Sensitive

Patient

Loving

Kind

Gracious

Balanced

Cultural References to the Baby Name – Ursula

Literary Characters

OF THE BABY NAME URSULA

Ursula is a lady-in-waiting to the sweet, love-struck Hero in William Shakespeare’s 1598/99 comedy, Much Ado About Nothing. Ursula is a mischievous, flirtatious little minx of a maidservant, certainly not your run-of-the-mill servile panderer. She takes an active plot in the deliciously devious plan to trick Benedict and Beatrice into believing each is in love with the other, which, after the usual Shakespearean machinations, is proven to be the truth. It is Ursula’s great triumph to be able to announce to the team of B & B that her mistress, Hero’s, stellar reputation has been reclaimed.

Ursula Brangwen is one of the protagonists in D. H. Lawrence’s controversial 1920 novel, Women in Love (she also appears in his earlier novel, The Rainbow, published in 1915). Ursula and her sister, Gudrun, while close, pursue different paths in their romantic relationships, the unfolding of which serve to point out the psychological and philosophical poles between them. Ursula, while believing herself intended for some elusive higher purpose than her fellow man, is nonetheless compassionate toward and respectful of others. She wishes to find the epitome of the perfect romantic involvement, but not at the expense of her own individual nature, which needs and seeks solitude as well as communion with The Other. In a world turned on its axis after World War I, the quest for meaning and solace is fraught with dead-ends, and even though Ursula finally agrees to a marriage proposal, the rift between her and her sister is final. Ursula faces a future she hopes can be redeemed by love, but the history of the world, Gudrun’s world, suggests otherwise.

Popular Songs

ON URSULA

Ursula (The Swansea Song)
a song by Barclay James Harvest

Famous People

NAMED URSULA

Ursula Andress (Swiss actress)
Ursula K. Le Guin (author)
Ursula Howells (English actress)

Children of Famous People

NAMED URSULA

We cannot find any children of famous people with the first name Ursula

Historic Figures

WITH THE NAME URSULA

We cannot find any historically significant people with the first name Ursula