Take one Greek god, add a helping of Christian martyr, then serve with a French garnish, and you’ll have this intriguing result.
Thanks to Antigone for suggesting Apolline as our Baby Name of the Day.
Apollo was the Greek god of light and sun, prophecy, music, beauty, poetry, and a few other things, depending on the place and time. He’s a well known member of the pantheon, recognizable to nearly anyone. A thumbnail sketch of the god in question: devastatingly handsome, inspiration for many an artist, twin brother of Artemis, generously shared his moniker with legendary theaters and space programs.
There are competing theories about the origins of his name. Some say it means strength. Others suggest it was borrowed from an earlier god. Some sources connect Apollo to apollymi – to destroy – but that might be an association that developed later.
There’s something unexpected about finding the names of Greek gods on Christian martyrs, but it was more common than you might guess. Saints named after Achilles, Castor, Dionysius, and Hermes all come to mind.
So little wonder there was a woman named Apollonia. By all accounts, she was a well-respected woman, probably a deaconess, in the early church in Alexandria. Anti-Christian sentiment was building, and despite her status, Apollonia was attacked by a mob. They smashed out her teeth and threatened her life if she didn’t renounce her faith. Instead, legend has it, Apollonia leapt into the fire.
In the gory and whimsical way of assigning saints, Apollonia is the patron saint of dentistry.
She may be obscure today, but in the Middle Ages, Apollonia was a rock star. Maybe that’s because praying for a toothache cure was more common in the pre-Colgate era. But most of the credit goes to Jacobus de Voragine and his Golden Legend.
The Golden Legend was a compilation of hagiographies – lives of the saints. It was originally written around 1260, and was a bestseller into the 1400s and 1500s. Today the stories can seem rather graphic and a little bit repetitive, even to a person of faith. But they were the soap operas and Us Weekly magazines of their day – vivid, sensational, memorable.
Churches devoted to Saint Apollonia were popular, as were her relics – often teeth.
Apolline is the French version, and feels like she could have some possibility in English. We’re mad for French names at the moment, from Madeleine to Genevieve to Elodie. And yet her sound is a little bit challenging – easy to confuse with the equally French but somewhat dated Pauline, or maybe an elaboration of Gwyneth Paltrow’s still-controversial name choice, Apple. Apple-een?
On the plus side, Apollonia Kotero put the name on the map when she co-starred in Prince’s Purple Rain at the height of his popularity. And while she’s mentioned only briefly, Apolline Delacour is the half-Veela mother of the lovely Harry Potter characters, Fleur and Gabrielle.
In France, Apolline is currently in the Top 100, and seems to be at her most popular ever.
In the US, Polly seems like a natural nickname.
Overall, Apolline is a fashionable French possibility that could be wearable in the US. She’d be a surprising gem of a middle name, and a truly daring first name choice. If you’re disappointed that everyone else has discovered Madeleine, this one might be for you.