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Eugene & Eugenie

eugeneeugenie
Napoleon III, Eugenie, and their Son for Adoption Siamese Ambassadors, by Jean-Leon Gerome


Eugene is a boy's baby name of Greek origin, coming from the word eugenes, meaning "well-born," as in "noble." In my little corner of the world this name was regarded the same way the character Eustace acted in C. S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia - a bit of a dweeb, a dated name, and very annoying. But there is always more to a person than meets the eye, and name judgement can be unnecessarily harsh. That is why I was thrilled to hear the love interest's real name in Disney's Tangled (2010) animated film: he goes by Flynn Rider, but he reveals his birth name Eugene. He expressed a sort of embarrasement that his name was Eugene, much the same way actor Jim Carrey did when revealing his middle name was Eugene.

While Flynn went from almost rare and 81 boys given the name in 2010, to 212 the next year and still rising, Rider only went up a little bit and came back down to 45 births in 2016, but the spelling Ryder sits at a very happy rank of #102. Eugene last saw its heyday in 1927, when it was given to 9,745 boys that year, but was never outside the top 1000. It was top 50 between the start of the charts and the 40's. In 2016 Eugene was only given to 298 boys, a rank of #788, barely rising since Tangled. The variant Eugenio was given to 44 boys in 2016. But Eugene definitely deserves more recognition. It has a Gene (Eugene!) Kelly sort of classy-handsome quality, and international appeal, while being historically dense (four popes and several saints) and ideally unique thanks to its spelling, at least compared with modern names like Ryder.

What other historical namesakes does Eugene have? Playwrights Eugene Ionesco and Eugene O'Neill, romantic painter Eugene Delacroix, socialist politician Eugene Debs, French naturalist Eugene Simon, theoretical physicist Eugene Wigner, three NFL football players, astronaut Eugene Cirnan, and many more. Don't forget Prince Eugene of Savoy, but here's a long list of others, including six prime ministers and fourteen Olympic medalists, and here's one that seems to go on forever.

In the arts there is Pushkin's novel Eugene Onegin, a character in the Grease musical, a character in Dickens's Our Mutual Friend, a character in the DC Universe's Preacher, and two different songs.

Eugenie (yu-JEE-nee), Eugena (yu-JEE-nah) and Eugenia (yu-JEEN-yah) are girl's baby names that are rare. Eugenie saw two spikes in popularity since 1880. One was in 1920 with 72 girls given the name, and another in 1953 when 60 girls were given the name. You can see that by 'spike in popularity' I mean it went from being a little obscure to a little bit more noticeable, although it was never so rare that it was unrecognizable, and the overall amount of babies being born in 1920 was much lower than it is now. In 2016 it was even less popular, given to only 7 girls. Eugenia saw one big spike in 1921 when it was given to 606 girls, much more popular than Eugenie. In 2016 it was given to a mere 40 baby girls. The most Eugena was given was in 1965 to 33 girls, and it was last on the records in 2007 when it was given to 7 girls.

The spelling options Eugina and Euginia have also been used, along with Evgenia and other spellings where v is a typical replacement for u. There's also short forms Eugie and Genie, and the TV show I Dream of Jeannie, although not how a Eugenie variant would be spelled, may have given that nickname a little boost.

As for credentials, the Duke and Duchess of York named one of their daughters Eugenie, and there was a 3rd century saint from Rome who escaped death by disguising herself as a man. There's also Princess Eugenie of France (1853-1971), Victoria Eugenie of Battenburg, Saint Marie-Eugenie, Blessed Eugenia Ravasco, and Blessed Eugenia Picco. And here's a fun fact: the film maker and actor behind My Big Fat Greek Wedding is actually Eugenia (Nia) Vardalos. Here's a very long list of namesakes.

You might also consider the exotic Russian variant, Zhenya, or short-form Gina, which can be derived from other names as well.

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Lavinia

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Lavinia (lah-VIN-ee-ah) is a Latin name possibly meaning "purity," but the name is so old that no specific meaning can be given. It could simply mean "woman from Lavinium," which was an ancient town in Rome/more ancient than Rome/Etruscan. Lavinia was known as the "Mother of Rome." In Virgil's Aeneid, Lavinia was betrothed to a man named Turnus, King of the Rutuli, but when the hero Aeneas came to town her father, King of the Latins, changed his mind and wanted Lavinia to marry Aeneas. The two men then fought for her hand, but Aeneas won. Aeneas then built the town of Lavinium for her. Shakespeare had Lavinia as a character in Titus Andronicus, but her story is an unfortunate one not worthy of repeating and not true to Virgil's Lavinia. Ursula le Guin later wrote more in depth about their relationship in her 2008 novel Lavinia. And she's been a character in many more stories, including The Hunger Games. In all l…