She was worn famously by an ill-fated queen. Could this fussy français appellation wear well on a modern girl?
Thanks to Lauren for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day: Antoinette.
History knows her as Marie Antoinette, but the queen who lost her head was born Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna. Her mom was Austrian Archduchess Maria Theresa, whose sixteen pregnancies didn’t much interfere with her forty-year reign. All ten of her daughters wore a compound name just like mom: Maria Elisabeth, Carolina, Johanna, Josepha, Christina, and Anna. (Some of the names repeated after a child died young.)
And then there’s Marie Antoinette, her fifteenth child and youngest daughter, who married the heir to the French throne at the tender age of fourteen. There had been a few noble bearers of the name earlier, but without her, the name might be little more than an obscure diminutive for the international Anthony.
Marie Antoinette’s marriage to the future King Louis XVI was a long-planned dynastic match. France was beset with any number of ills before the young Louis ascended the throne – wars, debt, a series of poor harvests. The queen was a subject of much public scorn, but most historians suggest she wasn’t nearly the villain we sometimes imagine.
She’s been an irresistible subject for writers and filmmakers. Alexandre Dumas, pére penned a series of historical novels featuring the queen, beginning with Le Chevalier de Maison-Rouge in 1845. Biopics ranged from 1938’s starring Norma Shearer to 2006’s with Kirsten Dunst.
The name caught on in the early 1900s in the US and France. Maybe it was because of Antoinette de Mérode, the Brussels-born Princess of Monaco who put Monte Carlo on the map in the nineteenth century.
But it might have been Scott Joplin’s spritely 1906 “Antoinette,” a ragtime piece that’s mostly forgotten today, that boosted the name. Plenty of his compositions bore feminine names: Eugenia, Leola, Cleopha, Bethena.
While solid, clunky names topped the charts in the 1910s – Mildred occupied the Top Ten, and Gertrude and Ethel weren’t far behind – Josephine, Lucille, Marguerite, Blanche, and Genevieve were also in the Top 100. Antoinette peaked at #169 in 1917. Antoinette was equally popular in France into the 1920s.
Oscar-nominated actress Andrea Leeds was born an Antoinette in 1914, but changed it in Hollywood; Antoinette Perry was a stage star in the early 1900s, but we remember her only as Tony – after the awards that bear her name.
Anthony has been in the US Top 100 since before 1900, and in recent years has reached the Top Ten, so it’s no surprise that feminine forms caught on. But Antoinette is far from the only option:
- There’s the literary Antonia;
- The Italianate Antonina and Antonella;
- The nickname Toni.
Antonia and Antonella seem especially stylish circa 2011, but none of the feminine forms of Anthony currently rank in the US Top 1000. Antoinette last appeared in 2000.
Today, Antoinette seems out of step. But with the arrival of Vivienne Jolie-Pitt, French names for girls got a real boost. It’s not a stretch to think that parents might reconsider the frilly, regal Antoinette.