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What is a Diva?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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A diva is a woman who is extremely talented. The term was originally used to refer to stars of the operatic world, and now more generally to talk about talented female musicians in all genres. Alas, the name has acquired some negative connotations, and it is also sometimes used to describe difficult women or women who have an inflated opinion of themselves. This is unfortunate, as highly talented female performers deserve credit for their hard work and natural ability.

This term is Italian, taken from the Latin, and means “goddess” or “divine one.” The use of the term is meant to suggest that a woman is so incredibly talented that her voice in performance approaches the divine. Divas have historically acquired huge numbers of fans, and their talents are often in high demand.

The first divas were probably notable prima donnas from the opera world. A woman does not become a leading lady without some singing skill, and the finest of leading ladies were being heralded as early as the 1880s. Some examples of famous operatic divas include Maria Callas, Nellie Melba, Renee Fleming, Leotyne Price, and Joan Sutherland. A performance by a diva of a new opera can serve as the benchmark that all singers attempt to reach.

Over time, the term began to spill into other musical genres as well. Performers like Aretha Franklin, Patsy Cline, Diana Ross. Madonna, and Whitney Houston have all been called divas at some point or another, along with numerous other women. Many of these performers are famed for their grace and culture as well as their musical talent, and performances by these celebrated singers tend to sell out quickly.

Some people associate large amounts of artistic talent with short tempers and difficult personalities, and this probably explains why the word “diva” is used to describe women who are difficult to deal with. Many actual divas are in fact known for their gentle, generous, courteous personalities, as these women are far too busy with their professional careers to be petty or hard to handle. Some have become known for certain unusual quirks and expectations from their support staff, however, which may seem a bit odd to the general public.

PublicPeople is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PublicPeople researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon262634 — On Apr 20, 2012

I always thought a diva was a high maintenance woman. She's hard to please and the world revolves entirely around her.

By anon183887 — On Jun 06, 2011

@anon92583: Yet another country used the word "divas" for all female singers who sing like crap. It is Vietnam and Vietnam overseas.

By anon161831 — On Mar 21, 2011

I went to visit a male, who is a friend of my deceased husband and he called me a diva. What was he trying to say?

By anon159897 — On Mar 14, 2011

Yes i think the real meaning of "diva" is becoming a big controversy, but it's all derived from italian and means, "goddesses" and it's adopted to english in the late 1900s, considering its meaning in english version is a lady singer.

By anon117345 — On Oct 10, 2010

Diva is derived from latin divine that had roots of sanskrit daivya which means godly.

By anon92583 — On Jun 29, 2010

In Ghana, particularly by the media, the word 'diva' has been used every now and then. Every lady singer or actress, to say the least, is eventually called a diva. Recently, a prominent newspaper published pictures of some lady singers it considered 'the divas.' Many readers then started to question the criteria for deciding who is a diva.

By your explanations, I think you can do more to enlighten me on the word, especially as I'm planning to write an article on how the media uses certain words anyhow. I am waiting for your response.

By anon78724 — On Apr 19, 2010

yes, some twenty years back, in webster's, a diva was described as having something to do with the devil. In time it has been changed. I too, am curious as to why the term has changed.

I ran a reference on the name diva and it did explain that it had had something to do with witchcraft. Not only have they changed the meaning, it's being used in churches all over? Please shed some light on this.

By BabyLove777 — On Nov 12, 2008

There was a discrepancy about the word diva. A few of us were told that the word diva meant evil. That is was a form of witchcraft. I found it a little difficult to believe. Could you please elaborate on this, and let me know if this has any truth to it. If not, what would make a person think such a thing.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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