Name of the Day: Veronica

by appellationmountain on November 4, 2009

Her roots are ancient, but her sound remains edgy – even in 2009.

Thanks to Kelly for suggesting Veronica as Name of the Day.

A Top 100 choice from 1898 into the 1930s, today Bernice sounds dowdy and dated. And yet, she and Veronica share roots.

More than 300 years BC, Egyptian royals wore the name Berenike or Pherenike, derived from pherein – to bring and nike - which meant victory centuries before it meant sneaker. At least five queens answered to the appellation, as did other notables into the early Christian era.

This brings us to the saint. As Jesus struggled under the weight of his cross, a pious woman lent him her veil. He wiped the sweat from his brow and returned the fabric – miraculously imprinting his image in the process.

Or so the legend of Veronica’s Veil tells us – it isn’t found in the Bible. The woman may’ve been real, and her name may’ve been Berenice. But the Latin phrase vera icon means true image. So either Berenice was altered to fit the phrase, or a misunderstanding transformed the Latin phrase into the woman’s name.

There’s also the possibility that Veronica is a place name for a woman from the city of Verona. (Some say that the veil was once kept at Verona.)

A second Saint Veronica lived in Northern Italy in the early 1700s, but she was actually born Ursula. A very different Veronica lived in Venice in the 1500s – Veronica Franco was a prominent courtesan and poet.

Veronica had a good run in the 20th century. In 1900, she charted at #213. In 1950, she ranked #194. Last year she was #261. In the late 1970s and early 80s, she reached as high as #68 more than once.

The name conjures up:

  • Veronica Lake, she of the peek-a-boo ‘do and film noir fame. Born Constance Ockelman, she was booted from Catholic school – a Paramount producer chose the saintly appellation. Lake was huge in the 1940s, and while she died destitute, her image lives on – think Jessica Rabbit and Kim Basinger’s character in LA Confidential, for starters;
  • Veronica Lodge, of the Archie comics, was apparently named after Lake and a wealthy Boston family;
  • Veronica Mars was a latter-day Nancy Drew on the small screen in recent years;
  • Elvis Costello’s 1989 memorable single was about an aging “Veronica”;
  • In 1989 Winona Ryder played Veronica Sawyer in the enduring black comedy Heathers, about the perils of popularity in high school.

 

You’ll also come across Veronica in bullfighting terminology (it’s a pass made by the matador) and botany (it is a type of flowering plant sometimes called speedwell.)

With Ava and Olivia in the US Top Ten, and Victoria, Nevaeh and Avery not far behind, Veronica’s v sounds current – and yet she’s got plenty of history. She’s a saint and a pin-up, a queen and a teen. Best of all, she offers up plenty of nicknames, from Vera to Nica to Ronnie to Vee.

If you love Alexandra but fear she’s too popular, perhaps Veronica would make the perfect substitute. Despite steady use, there’s still something unexpected about her.

 

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