The name may be a contracted form of the Latin female name, Viviana.
It seems to have first appeared in both Scandinavia and the United States around the 19th-century. Its earliest records in the Nordic countries can be traced to 1842 in Finland. In the United States, it appears in American folklore as the name of a scorned woman who disguised herself as a soldier in order to seek revenge on her lover.
According to legend, Vivia Thomas was a Bostonian socialite who had been jilted by her fiance, an army officer who decided to go out West to the Indian Territories. Her lover eventually ended up stationed at Fort Gibson, Oklahoma. In order to seek revenge, Vivia decided to disguise herself as a man and set out to enlist herself in the Army at Fort Gibson. She passed herself off as a soldier at the fort for several months, while spying on her former fiance, whom she soon found out was courting a local Indian woman. One evening, while her ex-fiance went out on his horse to meet his new girlfriend, Vivia took her rifle, hid behind a rock as he rode by and shot him dead in the chest. Vivia soon came to regret her actions and was so distraught over what she did that she spent her nights, in the cold, weeping over his grave. Before she died, the chaplain found the “soldier” distraught upon the dead Army Officer’s grave. Vivia confessed her entire story to the Chaplain, revealing herself as a woman. Her gravestone can be found at Fort Gibson National Cemetary, simply marked as, “Vivia Thomas, January 7, 1870.”
The earliest the name appears in the U.S. top 1000 is in 1880, when she came in as the 679th most popular female name in the United States. She remained within the top 1000 until 1930.
As of 2010, Vivia was the 7th most popular female name in the Faroe Islands.