Clementine: Baby Name of the Day

by appellationmountain on March 11, 2013

ClementineEditor’s note: This post was originally published on May 19, 2008.  It was revised and edited for re-posting on Monday, March 11, 2013.  Thanks to Zoe for suggesting the update!

We all recall the brouhaha following the birth of Gwyneth Paltrow’s daughter Apple. But at least one fruit has been a respectable name for girls for generations. It is a tale that begins in ancient Rome, travels to the palaces of Europe, makes it way to the wilds of the American West, and eventually to the gardens of an orphanage in Algeria before arriving at a produce aisle near you.

Thanks to Elisabeth for suggesting today’s Baby Name of the Day: Clementine.

At the dawn of Christianity, several early church leaders took the name Clement, including Pope St. Clement I. It may be derived from a family name – St. Clement of Alexandria, for example, was born Titus Flavius Clemens.  Related surnames abound.

Clement comes from the Latin for mild, gentle.  Early feminine forms ranged from Clementia to Clemencia to Clemence to Clemency.  All of the Clem- names fell out of of favor during the Reformation, but Clement made a comeback in the nineteenth century, and this is when Clementine surfaces as the preferred feminine form.

Two notable royals wore the name.

  • First was Princess Clementine of Orleans, born to Louis-Phillipe, King of the French, in 1817.
  • Princess Clementine of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was born in 1872.  Clementine married Prince Victor Napoleon in 1910, and if not for some trifling matters of state, might have become Empress of France.  The romance between the princess and the pretender to the throne was widely reported.

In 1880, the first year for which Social Security data are available, Clementine was the 376th most popular name for girls born in the US – not Mary, but far more popular than Ava or Abigail.

In the 1880s, in the American West, Percy Montrose penned the lyrics to Oh My Darling, Clementine, a mournful ballad about a lovely girl who meets a sorry fate. Odds are you know the refrain; it’s been a staple ever since.

The citrus fruit connection actually comes last.  In 1902, Father Clement Rodier discovered the hybrid growing the gardens of his orphanage in Algeria, then a French colony. He dubbed the new fruit a clementine, and a few years later they made their way to the US.

There’s one more Clementine to mention in our whirlwind tour: Clementine Churchill, wife of Winston Churchill, known for her leadership in the Red Cross and YWCA during World War II and as a steadfast and loyal partner to her husband.

Kate Winslet played Clementine in 2004’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.  Clementine has been on the rise ever since, but she’s yet to return to the US Top 1000.  She hasn’t ranked since 1953.

Clementine has become a starbaby staple in recent years.  Claudia Schiffer and Ethan Hawke both have daughters by the name.  So does Rachel Griffiths.  Jack Osbourne’s baby girl is Pearl Clementine.

Like any ends with-ine name, there’s a debate about pronunciation.  Some rhyme her with final syllable with teen, others with line.  There’s no right answer, but I typically hear the rhymes-with-line version in the US.

Overall, Clementine is ripe for a revival – she’s sweet and slightly old-fashioned, worn by princesses and historical figures and boasting a ready-made lullaby and color palette, this is a name with depth, character and charm.

Previous post:

Next post: