First of all, this name is also a Literary Surname, taken by famous French-Italian writer Emile Zola (1840-1902). This form of Zola tends to be feminine despite being a surname originally. However, it is said that this form of Zola does not have a known meaning as it may have been invented as a surname. Emile Zola's father's surname was actually Zolla. Either way, it has been used occasionally in English-speaking countries since the 19th century.
The version of the name that I'm featuring today is typically female when it is used as a first name, but it is sometimes used on African males as well. It is of Southern African or Zulu origin and it means "quiet or tranquil" in Zulu.
The name is on record for having been used in the US since 1880. Zola's biggest year was 1924 when 184 baby girls were born. Usage declined after the 20's but it has always been in regular use. In 2012, there were 92 baby girls named Zola, ranking the name at #2075. The name gained some popularity from 2011's 57 births, and the 44 Zola's born in 2010.
It is impossible to know if parents who used the name Zola for a daughter were inspired by the writer or by the Zulu name, or possibly neither! I'd like to know how many of them were inspired by Zola, the adopted African daughter of Derek Shepherd and Meredith Grey on the TV show Grey's Anatomy. She first appeared on TV screens in May 2011, but saw more screen time in fall 2011/spring 2012. Perhaps she helped to boost the usage in 2012! Who knows!
If I wanted to choose a traditionally African name to pair with Zola, I would use Zola Dumisani (which means "give praise" in Zulu) or Zola Mbali (which means "flower" in Zulu).
However, for those of us who like the name but are not African, here are some cute Americanized combos with a French influence:
What do you think of the name Zola? Would you ever use it? What would you pair with it?