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, the French word for the Caspian sea & Laureline, the French take on Laura

Melusina, Melusine

Jessie Bayes, The Marriage of La Belle Melusine

Melusine (mel-oo-SEEN) is a fresh water spirit, including rivers and springs, sometimes half-fish and sometimes half-serpent, occasionally with wings, but definitely considered a fairy, if not part dragon. She appears on many Coat of Arms, including some in Germany. In Poland this was 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 chronicle of Melusine around 1382 based on oral tales like Le Roman de Melusine. In these stories her mother was the fairy Pressyne (Pressine, Pressina), discovered by King Elynas (Elinas) of Albany, 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 (sometimes found spelled Meliora and Plantina) grew up in Avalon, later taking revenge on their father. Their mother punished them, and this is how Melusine took on the shape of a mermaid or half-serpent or half-dragon.

Later, similar to her mother's tale, Melusine is discovered by a man named Raymond of Poitou (or Duke of Aquitaine) and he proposes marriage. In the Romans of Partenay from about 1500, Melusine agrees, with the condition that he could not see her on Saturday (and/or while bathing), and she builds them a castle overnight with her magic. Later she builds the cities of Partenay, Mel, Lusignan, and Rochelle. Melusine and Raymond have ugly male children together that go on to do great deeds and marry well. Raymond (of course) breaks his promise and sees her true form (on a Saturday), but she forgives him until he insults her scaled lower-half in court. She takes the shape of a dragon, leaves him with a prediction of the family's decline, and flees.

Melusine was considered the Queen of the forest of Columbiers. In Sir Walter Scott's version, Melusine's husband is named Guy de Lusignon, Count of Poitou. In all versions 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. Coincidentally, Melusine was often thought of as a "White Lady," or Le Dames Blanches in French, which were female fairies that lived near streams and bridges in the Normandy area. They were thought to be extremely beautiful and possessing the gift of death foresight. Some speculate that Melusine means "black and white," as a Latinization of the Greek words melas and leuke.

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. Many believe Melusine in medieval legend represented the idea of female sexuality and woman's dual-nature.

The legend above was so influential that it became connected to Luxembourg through the real 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 real-life ancestor, including Eleanor of Aquitaine, being that she descended from the real 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-dragon older than medieval times or at least connect Melusine to similar Greek and Roman myths - perhaps Lamia or the sirens. This might also be why Melusine is sometimes connected to the twin-tailed mermaid or alchemical siren. Some have gone so far as to assign Melusine a strict surname - de Alba, and connect her tale and the claim that she was real to the story of Europa and teh Bull. This is especially intriguing because Europe was named for Europa, and this shows another attempt to connect real nobility to mythological figures. There is even mention of Queen Melisande of Jerusalem, who married Fulk of Anjou.

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. 

One story that seems like an early version of Melusine's tale is that of Hippocrate's daughter. She was transformed into a dragon/giant serpant by the goddess Diana, then set to rule over an old castle. If a brave knight were to kiss her on any of the three days of the year she comes outside, she would then turn back into her rightful body. Alas, this never happens for her. The story is written in The Travels of Sir John Mandeville.

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). She was the 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, and Sophia was imprisoned for more than thirty years until she died. It is unfortunate to know he merely died of a stroke at 67.

Melusina Fay Peirce, known as "Zina" but born Harriet Melusina Fay, was an activist and feminist born in Vermont. She also wrote, taught, and led initiatives for street cleaning and historic preservation. Today, Melusine Mayance is a French actress born 1999. There aren't too many real-life namesakes.

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, one by the band Lilys, and one by Nolwenn Leroy, an animation company called Melusine Productions, a 1971 German opera titled Melusine, a character named Melusina in the opera Háry Janosand 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.

But, wait! There's more. Because of her closeness to other watery fantasy creatures, Melusine has been a character in Undine by Friedrich de la Motte, La Magicienne by Halevy, Ondine by Jean Giraudoux, a poem titled Melusine by Georg Trakl and one by Letitia Landon, and the opera Rusalka by Antonin Dvorak.

Here are some extra sources.

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, meaning "to shine" in Latin, 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 Jovani is a form of John and Jovan can be interpreted as such. In 2011 there were only 9 baby boys named Jove. In 2013 it went down to 5 births for the year. 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, laxative tea, although it has a wide array of uses. In Arabic the name  means "brilliance."

This name has been used in a few books and movies, one of which being a vampire in the Twilight series, the other a girl in K. A. Applegate's Everworld book series.

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. Now he's on the move yet again, rising to 132 boys given the name in 2015 from a low dip to 47 in 2006. To be clear, Forest is the word spelling and Forrest the name spelling, and Forrest remains a much more popular choice with 387 boys given the name in 2015, ranking at #659. Forrest also had a dip in 2006 with only 147 births, disappearing from the charts between 2003 and 2013, and it also peaked in 1994 with 1,343 boys born, rising to #217. Historically both spelling options have been very popular.

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, it is up to you.

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"
Ranger - "forest guardian"
Rinji - "peaceful forest"
Sherwood - place name from Robin Hood
Silas - "forest"
Silvan/Sylan, Silvano, Silverio, Silvio, Sylvester & Silvanus/Sylvanus - "of the forest"
Upwood - "upper forest"
Waldo - "woods, forest"
Waldwick - "village in the forest"
Yaar - "forest"

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

Ainsley - "Anne's field," "hermitage field," or "wood clearing or meadow"
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"
Guido - "wood"
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"

Monday, July 9, 2012

Camellia: Perfect for tea lovers

Camellia sinensis (tea plant)

Camellia 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 (and 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. 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. Jump to 2016 and there were 78 girls named Camellia.