Cassandra: Baby Name of the Day

by appellationmountain on May 29, 2013

Cassandra Photo credit: Wikipedia

She’s a Greek cautionary tale and a lovely name.

Thanks to Laney for suggesting Cassandra as our Baby Name of the Day.

You probably know the bones of Cassandra’s story:

She’s a princess, and a looker, too.  Apollo notices her.  Somehow – either because she spurns his advances, or maybe because she doesn’t – Cassandra ends up able to see the future.  But there’s a catch: try as she might, Cassandra’s prophecies will never be believed.  She can’t change her fate, and she can’t convince those she loves to choose differently, either.

And Cassandra has quite a bit of calamity ahead of her.  She’s a princess of Troy, and her country is about to go to war.

Despite all of that tragedy, her name’s meaning is positive.  Most suggest that the first part means shining, and the latter is the familiar ander - man.

Cassandra and Cassandry were in use in medieval England – probably because tales of the Trojan War were popular.

But she fell out of use and languished for centuries.  She made a modest comeback in England – Jane Austen’s mom, born in the mid 1700s – was a Cassandra.  So was Jane’s big sis.

Up until the 1940s, it was rare to meet a Cassandra in the US.

Dodie Smith deserves much credit for reviving the name when she chose it for her heroine in I Capture the Castle.  Smith’s tale told of the Mortmain family, living in genteel poverty in a moldering castle – their family estate from better times.  The Mortmains are wonderfully eccentric, and Cassandra is the younger daughter, the narrator, and something of the hero for her entire family, though it comes at a price.

I Capture the Castle was published in 1948.  It’s gone in and out of print, been adapted for the stage and screen, and remained a beloved novel.  Miss Mortmain has done her name proud.

Except that Cassandra was already on the rise, and I’m wondering if Smith was inspired by a news story that might explain things.  French journalist Genevieve Tabouis was ahead of her time – a well-born female political correspondent in the early twentieth century.  Tabouis called for France to respond to Hitler’s aggression early, prompting a diplomat to call her Cassandra for her dire predictions.  It wasn’t exactly a barb – after all, the diplomat conceded that Tabouis was often right.  An article in Time Magazine in 1942 was titled “They Called Me Cassandra.”  Could it be that post-World War II, Cassandra briefly meant not doomed princess, but astute political observer?

Pop culture Cassandras followed:

  • Falcon Crest included a character named Cassandra in the 1984-85 season.
  • A young Demi Moore answered to the name in 1986’s One Crazy Summer.
  • Cassandra Cain was one of the later incarnations of Batgirl in the DC Comics universe.
  • Tia Carrere wore the name in 1992’s Wayne’s World.
  • She’s done well on British television.  Do you remember Hex?  Cassandra was the name of the main character.  There was also a Cassandra on Skins.

That’s just a few.

Cassandra peaked in the 1980s, spending 1982 through 2000 in the US Top 100.  She’s been falling ever since, and at #422 in 2011, you could argue that she’s headed for obscurity.  After all, short form Cassie and cowgirl Cassidy also had a good run in the same era.  Are Cass- names best left to hibernate?

I’d say no.  While there’s a whiff of shoulder pads and big hair about Cassandra, she never reached as high as other elaborate classics, like Alexandra or Elizabeth.  I’d file her with Veronica – names that are no longer at their most popular, but that remain solidly wearable now that we know they won’t be reaching the US Top Ten anytime soon.

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