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Laura is a feminine forename used in Europe. It comes from the Latin laurus, 'a laurel' or 'bay-tree'. (This was used to garland heroes, or winners of various competitions, or wars. Hence 'he wore the laurels' means 'he was honoured', and 'to rest on one's laurels' is 'to cease to strive for a result, having already achieved a prize.)

In late Latin, laurus was used as a masculine forename. The feminine form Laura may have been popularized by Saint Laura, who was martyred in 9th century Spain. Other forms of the name include Laure, Laurette and Laurelle - though not, apparently, Lauren or Loren.

In English, the first vowel sound of the name Laura is pronounced as in 'law', or 'taught' and 'caught', IPA: /ɔː/, giving IPA: /ˈlɔː rə/. In Italian and other languages, it is given its more phonetic value, sounding like the vowel in 'how' and 'now', IPA: /aʊ/, giving IPA: /ˈlaʊ ra/.

For the famous Laura, the beloved of the Italian poet Petrarch, see Petrarch.
For a sidelight on the pronunciation, see Intrusive '-r-'.