Skip to main content

Lira, Lyra

Origin: Latin, Italian, Spanish, Greek

Meaning: the name of the unit of currency previously used in Italy before being replaced with the euro, though apparently it's still used in Turkey, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon. It originally derived from latin libra, referring to the ancient Roman pound.

Lira is also a Spanish surname, derived from a habitational place name. Though the origin isn't certain, it's likely derived from Latin libra, either referring to the ancient Roman unit of weight, or from the constellation and zodiac sign meaning "pair of scales" or "balance".

It's also the name of a musical instrument, the Ukrainian variant of the hurdy-gurdy, a stringed instrument that produces sound by turning a wheel against the strings. The Byzantine lira is also the name of a medieval bowed instrument, pear-shaped with 3 to 5 strings and held upright, its history stretching back to the Byzantine empire and related to the Calabrian lira, the Cretan lyra, and the Lira de braccio.

Lira could also be a variant spelling of Lyra, a Greek feminine name and the name of a constellation meaning "lyre". It represents the lyre of Orpheus, who was given the first lyre by the Greek god Hermes. Orpheus was such a skilled musician that he could charm any living thing in the world with his music. When his wife Eurydice was killed, Orpheus went to the Underworld in an attempt to get her back, and his music convinced Hades to allow him to take Eurydice back but only on the condition that he not look back once until they were out of the Underworld. Sadly, just as they were close to the living world Orpheus looked back and he lost Eurydice a second time.

There's also an animal called the lyrebird, apparently getting its name because of the tail of the male was thought to resemble a lyre. They're also amazing songsters, able to mimic any sound they hear, including car alarms or engines, human voices, and music. They are native to Australia.

Lira is also the singular form of Lirae, from Latin referring to fine lines or ridges outside the shells of various animals, such as the shells of mollusks, snails, oysters, scallops, etc.

Lyra can be pronounced as either lee-ra or lie-ra. I've always pronounced it as the latter.