On 29 May 1913, one of the biggest bangs in classical music history took place in the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris, being the premiere of The Rite of Spring, a ballet by Igor Stravinsky. A combination of the music, stage design, costumes, story and choreography led to a near-riot (or an actual one, depending on whose account you read. In an interview some time later, Stravinsky referred to Vaslav Nijinsky‘s “knocked-kneed and long-braided Lolitas”. There is very little information about the interview, but it is obviously some time later because 1) it was filmed and is now viewable on Youtube, 2) Stravinsky looks considerably advanced in years and 3) he uses the name Lolita in that way, placing the interview after the publication of Vladimir Nabokov’s novel in 1955 (when Stravinsky was 73). (Indeed, the poster of the video suggests the early 1960s.)

A lolita (more often lower-case, but Pages for Mac just upper-cased it), is now an alluring (at least to a certain kind of man) older girl or young teenager. (Nabokov’s narrator specifies the age range nine to 14; he also calls them demoniac, placing the blame on them rather than himself.) Even though The Rite of Spring is about a pagan fertility ritual, it is questionable as to how alluring the dancers were or are, or were or are meant to be.

But the name Lolita goes back further than Nabokov’s novel. Dolores is a good Spanish name (Maria Dolores, Saint Mary of the Sorrows), which became Lola, which became Lolita. 

Despite its sorrowful meaning, Dolores has a spicy Latina feel to it, or maybe all Spanish women’s names have a spicy Latina feel to them (compare the Italian Maria, the French Marie and the English Mary). That said, I can’t find a specific example. On the other hand, Stephen King’s Dolores Claiborne and JK Rowling’s Dolores Umbrage are decidedly un-spicy and un-Latina, and the English 1970s tv comedy Mind your language revealed that the no-nonsense college principal Miss Courtney’s given name was Dolores. 

Lola brings to mind the real-life Lola Montez (originally Eliza Rosanna, later Maria Dolores Eliza Rosanna) and the fictional temptress in the musical and movie Damn Yankees, the showgirl at the Copa-copacabana and the ambiguous person in the club down in old Soho. (A brief discussion of the ambiguity here.)

The previous fictional Lolita was an impoverished noblewoman in a two-person love triangle with Zorro and Don Diego de la Vega. (She was renamed Teresa in one later version.) There are 23 women on on Wikipedia’s list of notable people named Lolita, 13 of them born after 1955, but some of those are formally Dolores (as was Nabokov’s Lolita) and at least one chose the name herself. One is reported as being specifically named after Nabokov’s character, but I wonder if her parents had read the book or seen the movie.

Compare (or don’t, depending on your sensibility) Lolita fashion and lolicon (Lolita complex), overlapping aesthetics in Japanese manga, anime and real life. (Search and you will find.)


6 thoughts on “Lo-lee-ta

  1. Just some random comments from me.

    The name ‘Dolores’ featured in a Seinfeld episode where it was a mnemonic for the name of a woman which rhymed with a part of the female anatomy, noting that US folk emphasise the second syllable in said body part name.

    Then there’s the song ‘Lola’ by the Kinks, which seems all about the male anatomy…


  2. I’m not a big Seinfeld fan. Your comment left me puzzled and the WikiSein article on Dolores doesn’t help much. Taking a wild guess at which part of the female anatomy is meant, I can’t possibly in any pronunciation make ‘Dolores’ rhyme with the word I think you’re talking about. If I had to find a women’s name that rhymes with a part of the female anatomy, it would be ‘Regina’ (middle syllable like EYE).


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