Camille: Baby Name of the Day

by appellationmountain on February 4, 2013

La Dame aux camélias from the novel by Alexand... La Dame aux camélias, engraving by Adolphe Pierre Riffaut (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Editor’s note: This post first appeared on January 24, 2008 as Doomed Heroines: Camille.  It was substantially revised as re-posted on February 4, 2013.

She’s a français, feminine pick associated with a handful of tragic heroines.

Thanks to Melissa for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day:  Camille.

Camille makes me think of camellias, but this isn’t another Jacinta/hyacinth case.  Instead, the camellia takes its name from botanist Georg Joseph Kamel.

The name has completely separate roots.  She evolved from Camillus, which had two meanings in ancient Rome.  First, it was a cognomen, worn by Marcus Furius Camillus, a successful fourth century BC solider-statesman.  But it was also a term for a young acolyte in a religious service.  It’s not clear whether the name is linked to the term or has other roots.

In Roman Camilla was a warrior maiden. She has a long history of use as a given name.

Camillus became a saint’s name around 1600 in Italy.  Camillo, Camilo, and Camille all evolved in romance languages.

Camille is both masculine and feminine in French, but since the middle of the twentieth century, she’s almost exclusively used for girls.

Could it have something to do with Alexandre du Mas, fils?  His 1848 novel La Dame aux camélias was the story of Marguerite, a courtesan who falls in love with a regular Joe called Armand.  When Armand’s scandal-fearing father intervenes, Marguerite agrees to leave quietly, and eventually dies alone.  It’s all quite romantic and tragic.  du Mas adapted his novel for the stage in 1852, and it remains among the most popular productions of all time.

Verdi adapted the story as La traviata - the fallen woman.  He changed Marguerite to Violetta.  It remains a standard in operatic repertoires, among the most-performed of all time.

But how do La Dame aux camélias and La traviata lead to the given name Camille?

In 1915, the story was adapted for the big screen.  The movie and the heroine were both now called Camille.  A second silent film came along in 1917, with Theda Bara as Marguerite.  Then came 1936′s film starring Greta Garbo.  Garbo’s character started out as Marguerite and became known as Dame Camille.

Camille has been in the US Top 1000 since 1880.  Garbo won a Best Actress Oscar for her performance, and also lifted the name.  Prior to 1936, Camille typically ranked in the 400s or higher.  She ranked in the 300s after the movie, and has generally fared better in the twentieth century.

Today’s trends favor her:

  • Cameron and Camden have been popular Cam- names in recent years.  Camila is currently #48 for girls.
  • French names for girls are ever so stylish.
  • She feels like a vintage name ready for rediscovery, a sister for Amelia or Olive.

Starbaby Willow Smith’s full name is Willow Camille Reign.  Princess Stephanie of Monaco has children named Louis, Pauline, and Camille Marie Kelly.  And, of course, Prince Charles married Camilla Parker Bowles in 2005.

And yet Camille remains relatively underused.  At #240 in 2011, she’s gained modestly in recent years.  Tessa, Hazel, and Miranda are all slightly more common.

This makes her a great, wearable possibility for parents seeking an alternative to Genevieve and Madeleine, or even tailored feminine choices like Adele and Charlotte.  Tragic heroine aside, Camille would wear well in 2013.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Panya February 28, 2013 at 12:31 PM

As a huge impressionism fan, I think of [male] Camille Pissarro when I see Camille. This is one of those names that makes no sense to me on a girl since there are other female forms.

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Julie February 4, 2013 at 4:52 PM

My niece has a half-sister named Camille Rose. They live in the south, so that probably colors my opinion, but I think Camille gives off a very strong “southern-belle” vibe. It’s very pretty.

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Eponymia February 4, 2013 at 4:25 PM

I first think of Camille Paglia — who, depending on your leanings, could be seen as a tragic figure ;) Love this one, and wonder why I don’t hear it more often.

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C in DC February 4, 2013 at 12:22 PM

A fictional Camilla, this one filled with teen angst: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camilla_Dickinson.

Then there’s Hurricane Camille, the Katrina of its day:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hurricane_Camille

I know a 5 y.o. Camille, and it’s cute on her.

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danielle February 29, 2012 at 11:44 PM

What about the mythological camilla who was said to have run across grass so fast that it set fire and then was given the gift of being able to walk across the sea without getting her feet wet. From what I understand she was somewhat of a strong female character

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youcantcallitit September 5, 2008 at 3:22 AM

Just came back to look at this again to see if Camille is really that bad– I don’t think it is. And yes, we would be using it in the middle to honor a happy, well-adjusted grandmother. :-D

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appellationmountain May 18, 2008 at 1:14 PM

Oh dear – you’re right! Surely there’s a Camille out there with a happy ending. Anyone have a happy, well-adjusted grandmother Camille?

Let’s ask around. ;)

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Elisabeth May 18, 2008 at 3:49 AM

Let’s not forget Camille Claudel! The most tragic of them all, she was horribly mistreated by her lover, the sculptor Auguste Rodin. She was a brilliant artist in her own right, but “doomed heroine” could not be more appropriate for her.

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