This post was originally published on January 14, 2009. It was substantially revised and re-posted on July 15, 2014.
Looking for a French name less popular than Madeleine, not as celebutante as Paris?
Thanks to Nessa for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day: Genevieve.
Not only is Genevieve authentically French, she occupies a special place in history.
Back in the fifth century, Attila the Hun prepared to march on Paris. Residents were packing up their worldly goods to flee when Genevieve suggested another course of action: pray, fast, and ask for God’s protection.
Believe it or not, Attila directed his troops elsewhere, and the city was spared. Little wonder she’s been the patron saint of Paris for centuries.
A later medieval legend gives us a second admirable Genevieve. This time she’s the wife of a nobleman, wrongly accused of infidelity. In the story, Genevieve flees with her son and, after many years in hiding, her husband discovers the truth and restores her good name. Historians suggest that her tale is based on a real life wife who was not so fortunate – her husband learned of her innocence after she’d met her maker. The legend inspired a nineteenth century operetta by Jacques Offenbach, but is not well known today.
The medieval Genevieve is also sometimes referred to as Genovefa, which is probably closer to the name’s original form. But her origins are murky, with some citing Celtic roots and others arguing a Germanic derivation.
- Ginevra, from the Harry Potter franchise and the lives of Leonardo Da Vinci and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
- Guinevere, a totally unrelated name straight out of Arthurian romance, but with a similar sound.
- A Swiss city, but also close in sound to Genevieve.
Speaking of sound, she’s very different in French: zhan vee EHV, instead of the English jenna VEEV.
Genevieve reached as high as #76 in 1916. She slowly fell out of favor, as other French feminine names took her place. In France, she peaked a few decades later.
In the 1950s, Genevieve was a successful movie musical about a road race. But Genevieve wasn’t the driver – she was the stylish 1904 Darracq race car.
The trend reverses in the 1960s. Why?
- She piggy-backed on the rise of fellow Jen name Jennifer.
- In the wildly popular musical Camelot, Guinevere appeals to Saint Genevieve in song. The musical debuted in 1960, was adapted for the big screen in 1967, and is frequently revived and produced by regional theaters.
As Jennifer stumbled and Camelot faded, Genevieve stumbled. But the twenty-first century has been kind to this name. Credit TLC’s Trading Spaces designer Genevieve Gorder, as well as a general interest in French names for girls.
As of 2013, Genevieve ranks #218 - not quite as popular as her previous high, but with the potential to continue her climb.
And why not? Genevieve is feminine and frilly, but she also has a definite strength to her. Nicknames range fro Genie to Vivi to Evie to Gigi to Gen – something to suit any child. It’s a name that manages to be neither too elaborate or too tailored – the middle road between Arabella and Esther. If you’re looking for a mainstream name that balances sophistication and wearability, Genevieve could be the one.
What do you think of Genevieve? Do you think she’ll return to the US Top 100 any time soon?