Celebrity Names Blog

Halloween Name Spotlight: Elvira

Halloween Name Spotlight: Elvira
Photo Credit: Juan Rico/Fame Pictures

There are many names we associate with Halloween: Ichabod Crane of the Legend of Sleepy Hollow; Frankenstein; Dracula and even Carrie. But for people of a certain generation, the name most associated with Halloween may just be Elvira.

Elvira, Mistress of the Dark is a relatively recent character. Created in the 1980s as the hostess  of a B-movie series on a local television station in Los Angeles, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark quickly became a cult figure, and eventually a pop culture icon associated with Halloween.  Her black bouffant, drag-queen style make-up and  cleavage-revealing Goth fashions complemented her bubbly-yet-macabre sense of humor and Valley Girl style of speech.

In addition to appearing on a wide array of television shows and series of Halloween-themed beer commercials, Elvira spawned an entire category of Halloween costumes, video games and home video series.

But where did the name Elvira come from?  First things first.  Elvira, Mistress of the Dark is a character played by an actress. That actress is named  Cassandra Peterson. (And could that name itself have possibly suited the character? We think so, but perhaps not quite so well as Elvira, given the history. Read on.)

The character Elvira was developed by television producers in Los Angeles who had originally hoped to revive the popular 1950s television series The Vampira Show, in which Maila Nurmi hosted horror movies in the guise of a comic character she called Vampira. Vampira was at once spooky and campy and comic.  (The Vampira character herself was based on the New Yorker cartoons by Charles Addams that eventually spawned The Addams Family television series). 

Creative differences with Nurmi, who owned rights to the Vampira character, prevented the producers from reviving Vampira, and instead Elvira was born. 

To Americans today, the name Elvira simply oozes with dark charm and goth camp. And the letter combinations that make up the name Elvira call to mind the name Vampira. The transition from Vampira to Elvira was easy to make.

What's more, before Elvira, Mistress of the Dark entered the popular consciousness, Elvira did have previous life as a spooky-yet-comic character. In Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit, Elvira is the name of the central character's deceased wife who returns as a meddlesome ghost. (Comedy ensues).

Oddly enough (or perhaps, aptly enough), the name Elvira itself is believed to be a Germanic derivation of word meaning amiable or friendly. And while you can probably only visualize a raven-haired Elvira today, the name Elvira is actually quite popular in Scandinavia.  Elvira is the 34th most popular girls' name in Sweden and ranks at #162 in Norway.

Can you imagine The Mistress of the Dark by another name? What would it be? And would you be spooked to see a little girl with flaxen hair answer to the name Elvira?

--J.B.

Comments

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October 31, 2010 11:41 AM
By Lane

Very interesting! However, I can't believe you didn't mention the song Elvira, written in 1966 and released by the Oak Ridge Boys as a single in 1981. Because when I see the name Elvira, I automatically think "papa mow mow."

October 31, 2010 11:25 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Also Elvira Kurt, comedienne
Though she pronounces her name El-veera

November 2, 2010 6:24 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

El-veera is closer to the original pronunciation.

November 2, 2010 12:25 PM
By Miriam (not verified)

There was the late 60s Swedish film, Elvira Madigan, based on a real-life romantic tragedy.

November 2, 2010 12:48 PM
By paula (not verified)

If I remember correctly, the character Elvira, played by Cassandra Peterson, appeared on TV around the same time the Oak Ridge Boys' song of the same name came out. I was in high school at the time, and just assumed that her character had been named after the song. Interesting history here! To me, the name Elvira sounds like an old-fashioned, "country" name, along the lines of Elsie, Mae (or Elsie Mae), Thelma Lou, etc., and it was therefore a perfect fit for the Oak Ridge Boys' song. By the way the song "Elvira" was written by mega-songwriter Dallas Frazier, who wrote a lot of hit songs for Connie Smith (of "Once A Day" fame, though her signature song "Once A Day" was written by Bill Anderson) and others of the 1960's and early 1970's. I used to go to the same church as Dallas Frazier and have met him. The song "Elvira" is a bit unusual for him, considering some of his other compositions.

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