She’s the literary invention worn by a stand-in First Lady, as well as the bossiest of The Rugrats. Now she’s a pirate queen, a foil for Jack Sparrow. What’s the real story behind this delicate appellation?
Thanks to Fran for suggesting Angelica as our Baby Name of the Day.
No dictionary is required to unravel Angelica. She comes from the Greek angelos – messenger, angel. We’ve been using the term angelic to describe someone pure, sweet, ethereal for centuries. Some might also think of Angelica as an elaboration of Angela.
Angelica makes her first recorded appearance in poetry, the daughter of a king at the court of Charlemagne. Orlando falls for the lovely princess in Matteo Boiardo’s fifteenth century Orlando Innamorato. A few decades later she re-appears in Ludovico Ariosto’s sequel, Orlando Furioso, and from there, she filtered into general use in French legend. They’re not happily-ever-after fairy tales, but they are well-known stories with history aplenty behind them.
I can’t confirm if the flowering herb takes its name from the legendary princess, but Angelica is also a botanical appellation. From candied angelica to an ingredient in gin, the plant has many uses.
In the 1800s, President Martin Van Buren relied on his daughter-in-law to serve as his official hostess in the White House. Van Buren’s wife had died some years prior to his election. Angelica Singleton – born Sarah Angelica, but known by her middle name – hailed from a prominent South Carolina family.
Other famous Angelicas include:
- Oscar-winning actress Anjelica Huston.
- Mother Mary Angelica, founder of the Eternal World Television Network and the order of nuns dedicated to broadcasting the gospel. (Though she was born Rita.)
- Norwegian princess Maud Angelica Behn, the daughter of Princess Martha Louise.
- English television presenter Natasha Kaplinsky is mom to two children – Arlo and Angelica Pearl.
But it is the fictional figures that dominate this name. In 2011’s fourth installment in The Pirates of the Caribbean saga, Penelope Cruz played Jack Sparrow’s love interest, a woman who took to piracy after Jack talked her out of taking up residence in a Spanish convent. You can meet Angelica at Disney World, and word is that two more movie installments are in the works. If you saw On Stranger Tides, it is safe to say that there’s plenty of room for Angelica to return to the big screen, too.
Many modern parents likely think of another Angelica first: Miss Angelica Pickles, the ponytailed dictator of Nickelodeon’s smash hit series Rugrats. Angelica is the bossy older cousin of Tommy and Dil, a memorable character, if not a completely lovable one.
A famous nun, an Oscar-winning actress, a First Lady, pirate, a bratty animated child, an herb, a poetic love interest – there’s no single image for Angelica. She’s on the wane today, ranking just #373 in 2011. (She’d made it as high as #97 in 1996.) That’s consistent with Angela’s fall – she ranked just #189, a steep decline for a name that spent most of the 1970s in the Top Ten. And yet she seems likely to remain in steady use. That could make her an ideal choice for a child – elaborately feminine, but still difficult to pigeon-hole, and literary but current at once.