Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Goodbye to A Baby Name Per Day

Last Saturday's notice that I would be switching over to a .com quickly transitioned into launching the new site, Once Upon a Time Baby Names. After 100,000 hits I was afraid of switching to a new site and abandoning this one (and still not sure if I should leave it up, still working out issues). Facebook fans, don't worry - only the name has changed and you need not re-like. Email subscribers, feed subscribers and followers, however, I'm afraid you will need to head over to the new page and re-subscribe. I'm sorry to trouble all of you, and I am so thankful for all of you.

FYI, all the posts here have been moved there.

Saturday, February 2, 2013


eponine baby name les miserables
I'd say Eponine's lookin pretty good...

A little while ago there was this debate on Nameberry about the name Eponine (ay-poe-neen), now in the spotlight because the movie Les Misérables is taking American fans by storm. (I think. And I haven't seen it yet, so I don't know how true it is to the original plot. I've heard physical appearances are a little off. And most musical adaptations are a little different from the novel.) Actually, there are several threads on the internet about this name, and it is a much-searched baby name. People will inevitably be curious about Eponine as a name for their daughter, and opinions most definitely vary on whether it should be used. Some say it is too much the character's name to be used on another face, some say the name goes back further than the play and can be a real choice. I'll give you the facts, and you can decide for yourself if Eponine should be used on today's babies.

Eponine, French variant of Epona from Eponina/Epponnina, all meaning "mare," which is "female horse," and/or "great mare." The exception is Eponina's -ina ending, making it "little horse."

Eponina and Epona go back further than Hugo's Éponine Thénardier, whose story is tragic, yet lovely. The character in the 1862 novel grew up pampered and beautiful, a reversal of the typical rags-to-riches stories. Don't misunderstand - Eponine's parents ran an inn, so they were not poor, but later they went bankrupt and turned into thieves. The novel focuses on characters living in France during a desperate and horrible time of disease, political turmoil and other suffering. (I won't give too much away, as in order to actually consider using this name, you really need to read the novel and be familiar with the character.) Eponine's parents are pretty much scumbags, and eventually Eponine makes money with her father begging, but after falling in love she becomes a better person. Her redemption is the essence and importance of her character. She's not the greatest literary character ever, but there's nothing especially bad about her. Let's just say she's human. She loves a man named Marius, who loves a woman named Cosette. Eponine dies protecting Marius, although he may have been in that position due to Eponine's manipulation. Regardless, the audience sympathizes with her.

Now, it is a widely accepted belief that Hugo invented Eponine. I don't happen to think it took a lot of creativity, however - all he did was take a legit Latin name and add a typical French -ine ending. Besides, it's known that the name was supposed to convey a feeling of being made-up, as it was from a romance novel, but if you've ever read a romance novel the names sound pretty classy...although I'm not sure about old French ones. Anyway, it's a wonder the name didn't exist before that. In fact, maybe it did, but it was just so super-rare we haven't heard of it being used. Even after the novel came out, not many parents chose to use the name. But one commonly overlooked fact is that Charles Baudelaire dedicated a poem to Hugo in Les Fleurs du Mal, titled Le Petit Vieilles, and that its subject of eroticism and decadence most likely directly influenced Hugo's naming of the Thenardier sisters. There is also debate as to the nature of her it a cheesy, trashy name, or a fancy name turned trashy? Or did Hugo intend for it to look trashy, and he failed? All in all, I'd like to say Eponine is a very human name. With human flaws. And it is said that Hugo did not realize how interesting Eponine was, nor did her treat her well as a character.

epona baby name
Epona carving

Epona, on the other hand, was the goddess in Gaulish and Roman tradition, protector of horses, mules and donkeys, as well as fertility, and later armies. You won't find many Gaulish, Pre-Celtic or Celtic dieties in Roman mythology, but Epona was apparently just that influential and/or lovable. It could have been due to a similarity to Demeter, known to be a great mare herself. She even had a proper cult, like Minerva, Juno and Jupiter. To this day, Epona has some influence. I happen to live in Michigan, where there is the Epona Celebration on Mackinac Island in June (high tourist season). Mackinac Island does not allow cars, only bikes and horses. It's an amazing place that seems to be stuck in a previous decade (like maybe the Victorian period).

epona celebration mackinac island 
A personal photo from my honeymoon to Mackinac Island

Now we come to Eponina. Eponina, also known as Saint Eponine and Holy Eponina, was the wife of a Roman man named Julius Sabinus, who rebelled against the Roman Empire. She was a virtuous woman who symbolized patriotism, and she chose to die with her husband once he was captured. As Eponina was a common name from ancient times to post-Revolutionary France, I believe Eponine, which Hugo supposedly made up, would have been today's Porscha to the historical Portia, Bentlee to Bentley, Graycin to Grayson. You get the idea. Trendy, made-up variant, that is intended to make the child seem richer or more fabulous. But now, Eponine has literary credibility. It is also worth noting that Azelma, Eponine's sister in the story, has a name derived from another loyal wife in historical times. In fact, I think Hugo just didn't like names that weren't proper and traditional, as he commented on an "anarchy of baptismal names."

Important note: Empona, a variant of these, means "heroine." (As in female hero, not the drug.)

As a name, Eponine, Epona and Eponina have never ranked in the U.S. top 1000. As none or less than five babies were given the name Eponine in 2011, I turned to White Pages to tell me how many people named Eponine were living in the U.S., and the grand total is 7. White Pages may not be able to accurately track all people, names, etc, but this seems fairly accurate. While I was at it, White Pages says there are four people named Epona and one Eponina. Eponine is much more popular in France than it is in the U.S., yet it is still extremely rare there.

If Eponine is too reminiscent of the character for you, but you love the history and imagery, I'd suggest Epona or Eponina.

~I Will Be Moving~

This is a notice that I will be switching over to a .com site soon. I feel like the name of the blog isn't a perfect match for what I really want to cover, and how often I want to write. I will be posting updates as they happen, and I do hope that when I make the switch, my readers will continue to follow me.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

An Alternative to Maiden Name vs His Name

I debated for a long, long (LONG) time whether I should post this or not, because a) it has little to do with baby names, and b) it's personal in a could-be-bad way, and c) who really cares? So today I said screw it. I'll just post it so that someone else taking the boat I took can either laugh at me or find my words helpful.

I was over at the Baby Name Wizard's blog ( ) A LOOOONG time ago, and read an interesting article, "Living Surnames: A Manifesto." I must say I didn't make it more than two paragraphs down before I started reliving my own nightmare of deciding whether I should keep my maiden name, and I didn't make it more than four paragraphs down before deciding to write this post. Now, I won't pretend to have any new and exciting information on keeping your maiden name - that debate has been done repeatedly and others can debate it much better than I. Also, I don't want to debate it. As long as the person keeping or changing their name is doing it solely because they really want to, I think that's great.

My own story is a little different. When I got engaged it wasn't long before someone called me "Mrs. Hislastname." And I cringed. I immediately hated the idea of changing my last name, and I swore to myself I wouldn't change it. Not that he had an awful last time, because that would be an entirely different story and I would have made the extra effort to keep my last name. In the end, I changed it anyway, because I didn't like the idea of having a different surname than my future child. If I have kids, 'cause that's another entirely different story. (Our last names didn't look good hyphenated, or I probably would have done that.) I asked my fiancee to change his last name to mine, and I honestly don't remember how that conversation went. I also threw around the idea of my husband and I changing both of our last names to one of our choice, and I don't remember how that went either, but I didn't know anything about that at the time, much less how to go about picking a totally new surname. That doesn't mean those options aren't open to others, though. Because they are. If you read nothing else in this post, know this: don't let our culture brainwash you into thinking your only options are accepting his last name, keeping yours, or hyphenating. There's more.

But for a while there I had everyone worried. Everyone looked at me like I was nuts and scoffed at me. Like I had to change my name. My mother's biggest comment was that she'd have to return the (non-existent) monogrammed towels she got us. She totally tricked me on that one, and being the cheap-o that I am, that was actually a huge factor. Then, my now-husband virtually had a meltdown for several reasons. Did I hate his family? Did I not want to be known as his wife? Did he not make enough money? He made it clear that he would feel emasculated if I kept my maiden name, and everyone would laugh at him. None of these reasons were enough to make me feel sorry for him/change my mind, though his pleas and woeful stares did get to me. I was not about to give up the name I had used for twenty-four years, the name I was comfortable with and fit me, the name that my mother and father had, just to make him feel like a man. Oh, the things you do for kids that aren't even born yet. To this day I still get a homesick type of feeling when someone calls me by my new last name, almost like I've given up a little piece of me. (Well, I guess I did.)

The only reason I even debated keeping my maiden name was because I had the choice. This has not always been the case. Women are still becoming more equal to men. A woman changing her name is what I would call a "societal norm." I suspect the top reason women change their name is because they think they have to, because society demands it and looks at you funny if you don't. Most people probably assume the only women who can keep their maiden name are those who have established a strong career. And I suspect the top reason women sometimes decide not to keep their maiden name, even if they want to, is for their future children. Hyphenating two names probably comes from a desire to keep one's history and future together. I don't mean to offend anyone, this is just what I think. I haven't done research on it, this post is more like a personal rant.

The decision is ultimately up to you and you alone. My husband may have made his case against me keeping my maiden name, but his input and everyone else's input didn't sway me one way or the other. The towels did, and the thought of my future children's last name. Of course, yeah you're supposed to start deciding things as a couple, but when one party blatantly refuses a suggestion, you're left to decide things for your own side. If someone is going to try to force you/expect you to change your name, they may only have their own interests in mind. Your name is what makes you an individual, and no one should expect you to do something you're not comfortable with. My advice in this post is to come to that decision on your own. I don't think it is right for anyone else to have a say. If you want to keep your maiden name because it was the name you grew up with, the name of your mother or father, the name that fits you it. If you want to hyphenate in order to get the best of both worlds or make everyone (including yourself) it. If you want to change your name so that you will share the same name with your husband and it. But don't let others make you feel like crap for it, and keep in mind that your husband could just as easily change his name.

Regardless of what the two of you want, talk to your significant other about this impending name change and have an open conversation about either one of you changing your last name(s). Open communication and healthy dialog can solve a lot of questions. Why should it have to be the woman? Why can't he change his name? If hyphenating is out of the question, how about both of you change your last names to something else? As I was reading the article mentioned above, she writes that "nobility first started adopting hereditary surnames in the Middle Ages." Before that, surnames told people something personal about you, such as your occupation, physical appearance or who was your mother or father. You could be an Erikson as likely as you could be a Leifsdottir, a Baker or a Brown. So for you, in the modern day, you could look into your ancestry for a new surname (maybe both of you had an ancestor that was a blacksmith, so you change your last names to Smith, for example), or you could be inspired by your own self (maybe both of you have black hair, so your new surname could be Black). Either way, at least one of you is going to lose the visual connection to your side of the family, meaning, if a woman changes her name she will visually be related to her husband's family -- with a quick glance on paper there will be no way for a stranger to know if you were born into that family. Likewise for the man. So if all else fails, maybe both of you can start fresh. You're beginning a whole new family, after all.


French word names

A small selection...

Fleur - flower
Blanche - white
Etoile - star
Belle - beautiful
Beau - handsome
Bijou - jewel
Elle - she
Boheme - Bohemia
Miette - small and sweet
Reve - dream
Reverie - daydream
Soleil - sun

Saturday, January 26, 2013


Two of the easiest (only?) ways to get Letty as a nickname are Elettra and Violetta. Violetta (vee-oh-let-ta) is a more elegant, romantic and European version of the trending and popular Violet, and while both of them mean "purple," it is a very distinct shade of purple they refer to - the shade violet, as in the flower. It is of Latin origin but used in several countries.

One of the most well known namesakes of Violetta is from Giuseppe Verdi's opera "La Traviata," which was originally titled "Violetta" after the main character. The story in the play was adapted from Alexandre Dumas junior's novel The Lady of the Camellias. (Side note: I had no idea Alexandre Dumas was part Afro-Carribean Creole until I saw "Django Unchained.") In the opera, Violetta is a respected courtesan who abandons her lifestyle when she falls in love with a man named Alfredo. A few events and misunderstandings unfold, Violetta breaks off their relationship, and... well, I won't ruin the ending for you. But I kind of love this play and Violetta's character, because even though she is a courtesan, she is highly respected and loved.

I once read that there was a Saint Violetta of Verona, Italy, but cannot find any record of her.

What's shocking is that Violetta only ranked once - in 1884 at #849. In recent years it has been very rare. 46 girls were given the name in 2011, and no more than 30 since 1884. In most years it was given between 5 and 20 times.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


Why did I decide to highlight Carlo and not Carl or Carlos? Besides a really unpleasant association with a Karl, it's a very dated name, while Carlos, in the US, is very region and culture specific. And Carlo is my cousin's name. Carlo, on the other hand, is less tied to any one thing or person. This Italian, German and Spanish variant of Charles means "free man," and ranked on the top 1000 until 2009, from 1905. Yet, it's still a name you don't hear often. If not for my cousin, I would have never met a Carlo. Although this name has European charm, it would fit right in with American kids today, hundreds of which start with a hard C or end in an O. (Camden, Cleo, Milo, Indigo, Leo, Shiloh, etc.)

Carlo also has a saintly namesake - Saint Carlo Borromeo, also known as Saint Charles, who died in 1584, and whose name day is November 4th. Saint Carlo was cardinal archbishop of the Catholic Church in Milan, Italy, and is now Patron Saint of many things, including apple orchards, bishops, spiritual leaders, starch makers, and stomach problems. Four kings of Spain also bore this name in the form of Charles as we know them today. Carlo Alberto Amedeo was the King of Sardinia in Italy between 1831 and 1849. Napolean Bonaparte's father was also named Carlo.

Fans of Sophia Loren might like to know that her son was named Carlo. Other namesakes include Nobel Prize winner Carlo Rubbia, six professional painters, two Olympians, an actor, and a historian. Many may also think of the Monte Carlo hotel and casino.

In 2011 there were 190 boys named Carlo, ranking slightly below the top 1000, as compared to about 140/150 in the 90's, and just 5 in the early 1900's. There are many carl- variants, such as Carlton, Carlos, Carl, Carlson and Carlito. Carlo is less popular than Carlos, which was given to 4,158 boys in 2011, and less popular than Carl, which was given to 420 boys in 2011. Carlos ranked #91 and Carl #591.