Avalon: Baby Name of the Day

by appellationmountain on October 18, 2012

Avalon Bay around 1910, before the constructio... Avalon Bay around 1910, before the construction of the casino (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Take Ava, add Evelyn, factor in a love of place names and riddle me this: why aren’t we meeting more girls called Avalon?

Thanks to Chantal and Heather for suggesting Avalon as our Baby Name of the Day.

In Arthurian legend, Avalon is an island where King Arthur goes to convalesce after being wounded in battle, and his final resting place.  It’s the hometown of sorceress Morgan le Faye, and Geoffrey of Monmouth tells us that the sword Excalibur was forged there.  It’s part-paradise, part-magical realm.

The name comes from the same roots as apple.  In Old Welsh, the word was abal.  In Breton, it is aval.  Avalon is usually translated as island of apples.  That’s a smidge poetic, but basically correct.

Interestingly, Avalon isn’t limited to tales of King Arthur.  Avalon appears in a twelfth century French romance, and various folk tales list Avalon as the birthplace of the mermaid-like figure Melusine, to name just two.

There’s been plentiful debate over Avalon’s real location, much of it wrapped up with attempts to prove Arthur’s historical existence.  There are tantalizing clues – a tiny town settled since Roman times in the Burgundy region of France is called Avallon, and a fifth century king who may have inspired the Arthurian legends disappeared nearby.  A twelfth century find at Glastonbury Abbey may have been the remains of the king.  Other locations also vie for the title of the real Avalon.

But you can visit Avalon.  The name has been borrowed for real places throughout the English-speaking world.

  • One of the earliest European settlements in North America is Newfoundland’s Avalon Peninsula
  • Surf Avalon Beach in Australia … or New Jersey
  • Santa Catalina Island’s Avalon Bay and the adjacent city of Avalon are historic tourist destinations in Los Angeles County, California

Over the years, the name has also been used for theaters and performances venues.  San Francisco’s Avalon Ballroom was a big deal in the 1960s.  Brooklyn’s Avalon Theater operated from the 1920s into the 1980s.

It’s also a sensible Toyota sedan, a very popular series of novels by Marion Zimmer Bradley, and a successful 1982 album from Roxy Music.  Perhaps there’s a push-pull effect – no one wants to name their daughter after the car, but The Mists of Avalon and the musical references probably put it on some parents’ shortlists.

Not too many shortlists, though … 118 girls were given the name in 2011.  Actress Rena Sofer has two daughters: Rosabel and Avalon.  Canadian actress Sonja Smits has a daughter by the name, too.  And in the recenet Disney Channel original movie Frenemies, one of the main characters answered to Avalon.  Census records tell us that she’s been in sparing use for decades – the earliest one I found was listed as born around 1885.

All of this suggests that while Avalon might be on the uptick, she’s far from common.  And yet she works well as a girls’ name – a successor to Allison and Brooklyn, a less ordinary spin on Evelyn, and a successor to all of our favorite Av- names of the moment.

A little bit mystical, literary, legendary; decidedly different and yet comfortable with mainstream favorites – what’s not to love about Avalon?

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