This word is, of course, instantly evocative. One thinks first of the rockabilly star, in the beginning the great king of rock and roll, later on the king of glitz, and since 1977 perhaps the most impersonated entertainment personage ever and the subject of rumours that he’s not really dead.
One may also think of other famed Elvises: Elvis Costello (born Declan McManus in London), another star of music – if not exactly the comet that Elvis Presley was – and husband of jazz singer Diana Krall; Elvis Stojko, former world champion figure skater noted for his very guy-ish approach (including karate kicks) who, in retirement, while his peers are skating in star-studded glamorous touring shows, seems mainly to be filling his time saying worse-than-inane rubbish about the current crop of figure skaters (just because he was unartistic and had to rely on jumps doesn’t mean the same should be true for everyone); Elvis Grbac, star NFL quarterback; and Elvis Mitchell, movie critic for National Public Radio. All of them have a clear influence in image from some aspect of the overtones that Elvis carries with it.
Those overtones include a southern-US, almost hick-style image (the name Elvis has been used occasionally in cartoons and comedies, typically for a southern-hick-type character), a tone perhaps also influenced by Elvira and Mavis; the kind of fame that requires telling people that “Elvis has left the building”; the inevitable and frequent rhyme pelvis (and perhaps a subtle background influence from swivel, and the evils of that lusty grinding); and a taste of the Levis that pelvis is clad in. And of course the mutually anagramming protestation Elvis lives!
It seems that another overtone many people get from Elvis is a somehow Latinate one, at least for the -is part. This shows itself through one surprisingly common plural formation (after all, with all those Elvises, real and imitation, one does need a plural): Elvii.
Now, I’m generally more a descriptivist than a prescriptivist, but I do feel compelled to point out here that Elvii is just plain old wrong as a plural. Certainly people may find the adjoining alveolar fricatives at the end of Elvises to be a bit unpleasant and may want to avoid them, but let’s be clear about a couple of things:
First, only Latin masculine nouns (used qua Latin words) ending in -us in the singular (and their descendents, Italian masculine nouns ending in -o) take -i as a plural ending – any other ending, be it -is, -os, -as, what have you, or even an -us that is not from a masculine noun (e.g., ignoramus, which is an inflected verb in Latin, or mumpsimus, which is an erroneous version of an inflected verb) or is now fully integrated as an English word, simply does not get changed to -i.
Second, it’s -i, not -ii. Those who have noted forms such as radii should take note that the singular is such as radius. The first i in the ii is the same i that was there in the singular next to the us. The us by itself makes only one i. (Ironic, isn’t it – in English I is one person and us is several, and in Latin -us is one and -i is several.) So even if the two i‘s seem (as my wife says) more sophisticated, using them is less sophisticated; and anyway, it’s even more sophisticated to be a four-eyes, but we don’t see Elviiii unless his convertible is going off a cliff.
Elvis, in any event, is not a Latin name. The Oxford Dictionary of First Names declares frankly that it is “of obscure derivation”: “It may be derived from the surname of an ancestor, or it may have been made up…” It may also have been modified from Saint Elwin, who came from Ireland to Cornwall somewhere in the Middle Ages; there are chapels in his name in Cornwall and Brittany. What we do know is that Elvis Presley got the name from his father, Vernon Elvis Presley. And when Elvis Presley entered his sainthood in his early middle age, it spawned a host of apostles and epigones, and chapels too (e.g., a wedding chapel in Vegas), which no doubt have corny walls showing many a Brittany making her match. And now, along with the ersatz Elvises, it seems that Elvis itself has taken on a late career as a rather iffy Latin impersonator.