Saturday, October 6, 2012



Christabel Pankhurst was the inspiration for today's post. Born in 1880 (the year the U.S. started keeping track of how many babies were born with a name per year) this suffragette from England helped found the Women's Social and Political Union, even while in exile. She was one very inspirational woman, from going to prison to support her beliefs, to writing a book on how sexual equality would help protect women from sexually transmitted diseases. She earned a law degree, but was unfortunately not allowed to practice. Her parents believed in causes and raised their children (Christabel, Sylvia and Adela) to do great things. Her mother Emmeline was a political activist and suffragette as well, helping women win the right to vote. Emmeline was named one of the "100 Most Important People of the 20th Century" by Time in 1999, and she as well was raised by politically active parents. Emmeline's husband, Christabel's father, supported women's right to vote. Richard also supported free speech, free secular education, and the disestablishment of the Church of England. He did two very important things for women's rights: he drafted the Women's Disabilities Removal Bill, and was author of what became the Married Women's Property Act.

Christabel was named after another, older famous Christabel, that of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem "Christabel." It is said the direct influence for this name came from the line "The lovely lady Christabel / Whom her father loves so well." Criticism of the poem falls under many categories, one of which having a feminist reading to it, which could have been another reason why Emmeline thought it would make a good name for her daughter. However, it can also be read with a critical eye toward gothic literature, and the unfinished poem had a haunting undertone, especially since the poem was modeled off of Poe's "The Sleeper," which in turn inspired Poe to write something else. For those unfamiliar with gothic lit, here are the basics (because it's not what you think): innocent virgin lives in a scary place, old pervert wants the young beauty, scary stuff happens, virgin usually makes it out alive. In the poem, Christabel is an example of purity and innocence. The name was given to Coleridge's grand daughter, who also became an author.

Another famous Christabel (last name Burton Bielenburg) lived through World War II Nazi Germany, and another, Lady Alice Christabel Montagu-Douglas-Scott married King George V's son Prince Henry.

Like Christina and Christopher, the French name Christabel is a coinage combining "Christ" with the -bel suffix to mean "beautiful Christian," after the French form of Christopher, Christobal. It was not invented by Coleridge. Since reading as a child that Cristina meant "annointed," yet modern sources say "follower of Christ," a little more digging told me that Christ (Christos, Khristos, Cristo) means "annointed" from an ancient Greek word meaning "to rub with scented ointments/oils." Christos was not originally a Christian name. The variants used as given names came about long after Christ, with the intended meaning being "follower of the annointed one." Christabel can be spelled any number of ways, from Christobel to Christabelle.

For those seeking the famous "belle" name without having to worry about popularity, look no further. This rare name was only given to 20 baby girls in 2011, and has never ranked in the top 1000. There were 5 baby girls named Cristabella and 5 Christabella, 6 Cristabel and 7 Christabelle. There were 77 baby girls given one possible nickname, Christa.

1 comment:

  1. It was such a frilly name for such a strong woman. Although many see Emmeline Pankhurst as a feminist, Christabel wasn't always happy with her mother's stances. Christabel was more radical, and the mother and daughter relationship suffered because of it. If I remember right, a sticking point was that Christabel wanted to keep protesting for women's rights during WW1 but Emmeline wanted to support the country's war efforts and put women's issues to the side. Very interesting character with a lovely name.