Sunday, July 22, 2012

10 Super-rare French Beauties

Corisande Armandine Sophie Leonie de Gramont (1783 - 1865) by Elizabeth Vigee-Lebrun


Update: here's an extra two - Caspienne & Laureline

Melusina, Melusine

Jessie Bayes, The Marriage of La Belle Melusine

Before 2011 I had never heard the names Melusine or Melusina before, which is weird since Starbucks is so popular and the legend is more well known and widespread than I could have guessed. Maybe it's because I'm American, the the legend is more well known abroad? I've found that these legends are usually specific to Northern Europe. Anyway, Melusine is the mermaid featured on the logo of Starbucks, although sometimes the Starbucks mermaid is simply referred to as the twin-tailed siren or alchemical siren, and the image has been altered a few times from its original form (see this). She is a fresh water spirit, including rivers and springs, sometimes half fish and sometimes half serpent, occasionally with wings, and occasionally considered a fairy. She appears on many Coats of Arms because she was supposedly the water spirit from the Vistula River in Poland who identified the place to build for Boreslaus (Boleslaw) in Masovia in the 13th century.

Jean d'Arras wrote an extensive literary musing of Melusine around 1382 based on oral tales. In these stories her mother was Pressyne, discovered by a Scottish king, and they were married. When the king disobeyed her marriage condition - not to view her giving birth or bathing their three female triplets, she left the kingdom for Avalon. Melusine and her sisters Melior and Palatyne grew up in Avalon, later taking revenge on their father (who would be mad that they grew up in Avalon???) but their mother punished them, and this is how Melusine took on the shape of a mermaid (half serpent or half fish). Later, similar to her mother's tale, Melusine is discovered by a man named Raymond of Poitou and he proposes marriage. Melusine agrees upon the same condition her mother laid out, and she builds them a castle overnight with her magic. Raymond (of course) breaks his promise and sees her true form (on a Saturday), but she forgives him until he insults her in court. She takes the shape of a dragon, leaves him two magic rings, and flees. Melusine was considered the Queen of Columbiers. In Sir Walter Scott's version, Melusine's husband is named Guy de Lusignon, Count of Poitou. In all version mentioned thus far, Melusine and her mother seem very family oriented, and Sir Walter Scott even mentions that Melusine protects her descendants. In some versions she would act like an Irish banshee, warning her descendants that their death was near.

This tale is very similar to that of Lamia and makes me wonder if every European culture had their own version of this tale. Other notable mentions: Martin Luther called her a succubus, and meluzina in Czech refers to a gust of wind heard through the chimney, said to be the wailing of Melusina looking for her children.

Julius Hubner - Melusine

The legend above was so influential that it became connected to Luxembourg through Guy de Lusignon, and in 1997 Luxembourg issued a postage stamp for her. (A few very powerful royals have tried to claim Melusine was their ancestor, including Eleanor of Aquitaine, being that she descended from Raymond of Poitou's line.) In fact, the name Melusine may come from mere lusigne, meaning "mother of the Lusignans," although some believe it came from the Latin mal lucina, meaning "dark light," possibly in reference to Juno, which would make the siren-fairy-mermaid older than medieval times or at least connect Melusine to similar Greek and Roman myths, perhaps Lamia or the sirens.

Additionally, there is the Tour Melusine in Vouvant, the keep of a former castle of the Lords of Lusignan, that locals believed was truly built by Melusine. Other than that, there have been various sculptures and engravings of twin-tailed sirens internationally, including the exterior of the Lapidary Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and one in my hometown at a restaurant (The B.O.B.).

Other than the myths, there was Countess Petronilla Melusina von der Schulenburg of Walsingham, the illegitimate daughter of Ehrengard Melusine, Baroness von der Schulenburg, Duchess of Kendal and Munster, Princess of Eberstein (among other titles), mistress of King George I of Great Britain. It is widely believed her middle name of Melusine was given in reference to the Melusine legends. Petronilla was named for her grandmother Petronelle Oddie de Schwenken. Besides Petronilla Melusina, Ehrengard Melusine also had two other daughters, Anna Luise Sophie and Margaret Gertrude. King George did have a wife, Sophia, whom he had two daughters with, but they both preferred the attention of others. After Sophia's lover was murdered for fear of scandal, their marriage was dissolved, Sophia was imprisoned for more than thirty years until she died. It is unfortunate to know he merely died of a stroke at 67.

There is also a main belt asteroid named 373 Melusina (as almost all things in space are named after mythological figures or Shakespearean characters), a Belgian comic book, a song called Melusine by a metal band called Leaves' Eyes, an animation company called Melusine Productions, and quite a few literary references, including Melusine by Sarah Monette, Lady of the Rivers by Phillipa Gregory, The Fair Melusina by Felix Mendelssohn, The New Melusine by Goethe, The Wandering Unicorn by Manuel Mujica Lainez, and Possession by A.S. Byatt. Many stories told of Melusine can be seen as the medieval opinion on female sexuality and the duality of women.

Melusine by Maxine Gadd

This might have been my longest post so far, so I'll end it by suggesting that spelling the name Melusine or Melusina is a personal choice and that there would be little difference in getting your point across - the connection to the legends would still be obviously recognizable, and both have been used countless times without too much favor falling on one or the other. There were no babies born in 2010 or 2011 named Melusine or Melusina. Also, there's a little more information and pictures if you hunt for it.

Saturday, July 21, 2012


Jove is the English name of Jupiter, Roman "King of the Gods," the god of sky and thunder, equivalent to the Greek god Zeus. He was an incredibly important figure for the Romans during the Republican and Imperial eras before Christianity. Romans would swear "by Jove" as some modern day people swear "to God." His symbol was the eagle, featured on many Roman military emblems. (Side note: Aquilina means "eagle.") The Roman government looked to him as a witness of oaths which they would be held accountable for. Those who protected the emperor, his personal guard, were known as Jovians. He has been important in many aspects, even being a recurring part of C.S. Lewis's work, and Lewis loved to use the word jovial, a word that means joyful, of which the name Jove is strongly connected.

I like that this name feels familiar, fitting right in with one syllable popular names like Jack, Jace, James, John or Joel. It is also connected to Jovan and Jovani in sound, though those three names are forms of John. In 2011 there were only 9 baby boys named Jove. If you're looking for a rare mythological gem, I say claim this one.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


Simple botanical name Senna (SEHN-uh) is mysterious and unusual, yet sounds familiar. It has the simplicity of Jenna, but the uniqueness of Gwenna. It can be shortened to Sen, which means "one thousand" in Japanese. (Japanese parents bestowing the name Sen upon their child intend the meaning as "to live one thousand years". It can also refer to the sennin forest/mountain hermit. I named my first cat this, and she definitely suits the name.) The senna plant, specifically the Senna Alexandrina, is a flowering bush with little yellow flowers and can be found in the tropics. Lately it can be found as an ingredient in dieter's tea, although it has a wide array of uses. In Arabic it means "brightness."

Be warned that this name has been used in a few books and movies, one of which being Twilight as the name of an Amazon vampire.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

For prospective parents

Here's a great idea to help you choose a name: the baby name test drive. (

Baby Name Test Drive Link

Just type in the first and last name and you will be given realistic sentences to say out loud. It will help you decide if the name sounds right.

Thursday, July 12, 2012


Here's one of my personal favorites, although I'm surprised I still like it after seeing Forrest Gump so often (thanks Dad). In fact, the name peaked in popularity for the second time the year the movie was released, jumping to number #217 in 1994. 1899 was the first peak. Forest doesn't have an obvious nickname, but it's one of those names you enjoy saying without having to shorten it. Forest is Old French, meaning "woods." A famous namesake is St. John Forest of the 16th century, and another is actor Forrest Whittaker. This name can be spelled Forest or Forrest. The version Forrest seems more popular for boys, but I prefer the direct spelling. In 2011 there were 160 baby boys named Forrest with two R's, ranking just outside the top 1000. Just under that was Forest with one R, with 84 baby boys given the name last year.

Here are some other male names with "forest" in their meaning...

Arden - "great forest"
Boyce - "forest"
Dagwood - "shining forest"
Fraser - "of the forest men"
Heywood/Haywood - "hedged forest"
Holt - "woods, forest"
Keith - "woodland, forest"
Kimberly - "Cyneburg's meadow" (Cyneburg means "royal forest")
Kirkwood - "church forest"
Lockhart - "deer from the forest"
Lockwood - "forest near the fortified place"
Morio - "forest boy"
Ranger - "forest guardian"
Rinji - "peaceful forest"
Sherwood - place name from Robin Hood
Silas - "forest"
Silvan/Sylan, Silvano/Sylvano, Silverio, Silvio & Silvanus/Sylvanus - "forest"
Upwood - "upper forest"
Waldo - "woods, forest"
Waldwick - "village in the forest"
Yaar - "forest"

Similarly, here are male names that mean "wood/woods"...

Ainsley - "only hermitage wood or clearing"
Atwood - "at the wood"
Bosley - "meadow near the woods"
Boston - "town by the woods" (place name)
Boswell - "well near the woods"
Bosworth - "fenced farm near the woods"
Burl - "knotty wood"
Calhoun - "the narrow woods"
Carden - "wood carder" (occupation name)
Carver - "one who carves wood" (occupation name)
Covert - place name that refers to a small area of woods that gives shelter to game
Coy - "woods"
Culley - "the woods"
Deodar - "divine wood"
Early - "eagle wood" (also a word)
Elwood/Ellwood - "noble wood"
Farley - "fern wood"
Fleetwood - "woods with the stream"
Glade - refers to a clearing in the woods
Greenwood - "green wood"
Grimshaw - "dark woods"
Griswold - "grey woods"
Guy - "wood"
Harwood - "wood of the hares"
Hazelwood - "wood of hazel trees"
Holt - "woods"
Locke - "woods"
Marwood - "lake near the woods"
Norwood - "woods in the north"
Oswald - "man from the south woods"
Renshaw - "raven woods"
Roscoe - "deer wood"
Sawyer, Sayer & Turner - "wood worker" (occupation name)
Shaw - "wood"
Sherwood - "luminous wood"
Stanwood - "stone woods'
Waldorf - "village in the woods"
Winwood - "friend's woods"
Woodrow - "row of houses by the wood"
Woodson - "wood's son"
Woodward - "warden of the woods"

Silvester/Sylvester - "wooded"

Monday, July 9, 2012

Camellia: Perfect for tea lovers

Cultivated camellia flowers

Camellia sinensis (tea plant)

Whether I included Camellia in my "new nature names" post or not, it is the perfect name for tea lovers and nature name lovers. Most people are aware that the camellia, native to Asia, is a flowering plant, known for its pretty pink blooms, but the camellia sinensis is what produces tea leaves. There is a difference between the two kinds of camellia (any many more varieties), one difference being that camellias grown for their flowers are often hybrids or cultivated. A little known fact is that camellias are evergreens.

Fun fact: Camellia in Japanese is Tsubaki, also used as a girl's name. Camellia has always been a rare name. In 2010 there were 28 baby girls named Camellia and 22 spelled with only one L, Camelia (which to me seems a little too "camel"). There were also similar names - 11 Camella and 15 Camillia. In 2011 there were 33 baby girls named Camellia and 22 spelled Camelia. Camellia comes with the cute and kind of rare nickname Cammy.

Thursday, July 5, 2012


St. Clelia

Clelia, used in the Italian film Le Amiche and several other movies, also the name of several Italian actresses such as Clelia Rondinella, Clelia Bernacchi, and Clelia Matania. This is pronounced CLAY-lee-ah, and was the name of Dr. Clelia Duel Mosher, a Victorian era female doctor who researched sexual knowledge before Kinsey and commented on the dangers of Victorian sexual beliefs with evidence in tow. The name is derived from the Latin name Cloelia meaning "illustrious, famous," which seems dead-on considering all the famous Clelia's. Clelia Barbieri was an Italian saint, the youngest founder of a religious community in Catholic history, and Clelia Strepponi was an opera singer. Cloelius was a Roman family name. Also, Cloelia was the name of a female hostage given to the Etruscans by the Romans, who was able to escape by swimming the Tiber.