Thanks to Breanne for suggesting her daughter’s name as our Baby Name of the Day: Alette.
Alette is a commune – a tiny village – in northern France, about an hour’s drive from Calais, in Pas-de-Calais, near the Strait of Dover.
On the opposite side of the country, there’s Alet-les-Bains, once known as Aleth. And in Brittany there’s a former Aleth, too, once home to a cathedral, and the sixth-century Saint Aaron of Aleth.
If Alette is a place name in France, it is rarely a given name. A few girls were called Alette in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s. Given the region’s involvement in both World Wars, it seems possible that the few girls born were named after the place.
But she must have a different origin, too, because Alette seems most common in Norway.
I found Alettes as early as the eighteenth century, and by the nineteenth, it seemed like Alette might have been a fairly common choice, as both a first and a middle name.
The portrait is of Signe Alette Arbo, daughter of Peter Nicolai Arbo, a noted Norwegian painter of the nineteenth century, known for his depictions of Norse mythology.
More recently, Claudia Alette Bull won Norway’s Next Top Model, Cycle 7, in May 2011.
Search for meaning of Alette, and you’ll find some conflicting information:
- Some sites claim that Alette is from the Latin ala – wing, plus the diminutive form -ette, and give the meaning “little wing.” Maybe – but that doesn’t feel quite right.
- Then there are attempts to connect Alette to Alethea – from the Greek word for truth. This seems much more plausible, especially as the form Aleta has been used.
- How would either name end up in Norway in such frequent numbers? Aleta led me to Alida, and that’s when the light bulb turned on. Could Alette be a form of that enduring Germanic favorite, Adelaide?
Sure enough, the Nordic Names Wiki lists Alette as a variant of Ahlet, a short form of Adelheid via the Low German. Variations abound: Alet, Allett, and Aletta.
Empress Adelaide ruled the Holy Roman Empire as regent for her grandson in the 990s, before retiring to a nunnery she’d founded. She’s been revered as a saint for hundreds of years, and was the subject of a nineteenth century opera. A second Saint Adelaide, a noblewoman by birth, lived around the same time. She spent most of her life in a convent, and is also revered as a saint.
- Sidney Sheldon wrote about three colleagues – Toni, Ashley, and Alette – in 1998’s Tell Me Your Dreams.
- In the big screen adaptation of Confessions of a Shopaholic, Becky Bloomwood aspires to work at a magazine called Alette, named after French fashion editor Alette Naylor, played by Kristin Scott Thomas.
If you’re after a true rarity in step with today’s affection for French names, but with a long history, Alette is one to consider.