Wednesday, November 14, 2012
It seems to me that modern parents in the U.S. only fawn over a select few French names. Noelle, Madeline (Madeleine), Isabelle, Natalie, Sophie, Charlotte, Elle, Claire and Caroline can all be found high on the top 1000, but where are the unique and uncommon French names? Where's Jessamine, Felicienne, Marcheline and Emmanuelle? Where are Corisande, Melusine and Chantal? Where's Ombeline?
Ombeline (ohm-bell-een, om-bell-een) saw no U.S. births in 2011, and remains unheard of here. In France in 2000 the name ranked at #375. Similar sounding and sea-sweet Ondine fared only a bit better with 7 births. Ombeline is also connected to water, as Greek philosopher Pliny claimed it was one of the stones that fell from heaven during rain and thunderstorms. Known then as Ombria, the "rain stone," Notia, meaning "south wind," and occasionally the Scirocco-stone, and Brontia, meaning "thunder-stone," even the gemstone is hard to find information on. Ombria was used to prevent offerings from being "burnt away" or eaten after placed on an alter, according to Pliny the Elder, "gemstone philosopher." Ombeline is the French variant of Ombria, transferred to use as a female given name, but also the female form of medieval Humbert, from Old German, meaning "renowned warrior." This is apparent in the versions Humbelina and Hombeline.
A French source claims Ombeline was not used much until the 1980's, and is now given about 150 times a year if I'm reading French right. It is well liked in France. A possible meaning is "glittering spirit," from the French word for spirit and some Germanic tracings. However, the gem Ombria's etymology has much more in common with the place name Umbria, from Ombrii, meaning "people of the thunderstorms," also according to Pliny. "Of the thunderstorms" or even "thunderstorm" is a simpler way to go, and keeps the connection to the gemstone's meaning and origin. But Umbria is also connected to shadow, as "shadow" is ombre in French and umber/ombra in Latin. Italian folk etymology connects Umbria to ombra, shadow. In Umbria, tall hills and mountains cast shadows. Umber now refers to a shadowy brown color of earth, and earth is another connected word. And yes, umbrella comes from ombra as well.
Saint Ombeline, also known as Holy Ombeline, or Hombeline, only seems to be well known in France. She was a 12th century Cistercian nun (prioress), born 1092 AD in France. She was the sister of Saint Bernard, and was known for giving up a life of frivolous pleasures (and a marriage) for a humble religious life. Oddly, Humbeline is a name sometimes given in her honor. Good luck trying to figure out anything else unless you speak French - U.S. searches turn up next to nothing. Thank you Google translator.