Tristan and Isolde with the PotionShe’s a literary rarity, seldom heard in real life, but with a certain allure.

Thanks to Katie B for suggesting Bragnae as our Baby Name of the Day.

Tristan and Isolde were Romeo and Juliet before there was Romeo and Juliet. The ill-fated lovers’ tale appears in Arthurian legend, and has captured the imaginations of plenty of storytellers through the years.

The most recent adaptation was 2005’s movie version, with James Franco as Tristan, Sophia Myles as Isolde – and Bronagh Gallagher as Bragnae, Isolde’s faithful maid.

She’s not exactly the bit character that is typical of servants, nor is she comic relief like Juliet’s unnamed nurse. Instead, Bragnae is an important plot point in several versions of the tale. Instead of admitting her identity, Isolde claims to be Bragnae – after all, Tristan is the knight sent to fetch her for her betrothed, who happens to be the would-be-groom’s nephew.

By now you’re probably staring at Bragnae wondering how to say it, and maybe you filed Bronagh away with a question mark, too. Turns out they’re most likely variations of the same name. At least they’re both pronounced something like this: BRON ya.

So is Brónach, believed to have been the name of a fifth or sixth century saint, a holy woman who established a church in a remote area near the coast. It is said in some legends that she used a bell to guide sailors to shore.

I’ve also come across Bróna and Bráinne – but I suspect that second one is an error, from association with Gráinne.

All of the names share a rather unfortunate meaning – sorrow, from the Gaelic brón. But it isn’t a deal-breaker. Mallory has flourished despite her less-than-cheerful story.

Bragnae’s burden is undeniably her spelling. Bragnae baffles American English speakers. Bronagh and Brona are at least as accessible as Oonagh or Eithne. But I find the Bragnae spelling strangely attractive – and I can’t help think that Bronagh loses a little something, even though she gains a clearer pronunciation.

The challenge isn’t a new one, either. Bragnae is almost entirely absent from US Census records, and while I’ve turned up a horse and a kitten who answer to the name, real girls are not to be found.

Bronagh, on the other hand, has enjoyed modest use through the ages. If you were going to put this one in the first place, one of the more modern spellings is a safer bet. But in the middle, Bragnae could be a completely unexpected literary choice, with ties to an obscure Gaelic saint as a bonus.

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About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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What do you think?


  1. Wonderfully, as I look through this, I smile because this is my daughter’s name. Well Bragnae-Jo. I call her Brawny to help others adapt to a name that the American culture cannot seem yo wrap their head around. Of course my mom would find this first 🙂 such a fantastic name

  2. I know a number of Bronagh’s – it was quite popular in NI in the 80’s-90’s, although it seems to be a bit isolated there. Perhaps because of its associated meaning, usually given as “sorrow” or “sorrowful”. It doesn’t appear as frequently south of the border, which intrigues me.

  3. YAY! My first name of the day! 🙂 Thanks for information…I too am a bit apprenhensive about the original spelling…much too difficult for us Americans to say. I do like the name however, it is similar to Bronwyn but has a bit softer sound that is quite elegant. If only its elegance would transfer over to a more usable spelling :\

    1. Bragnae is my grand-daughters name. It is the original spelling, it is a very old Gaelic name. Meaning strength. We call my grand-daughter either Brawny (her mother’s choice) or BB (mine)

  4. Ooooh, I’d forgotten about this gem from the Tristan and Isolde narrative! I wouldn’t use it myself for the same reason I wouldn’t use Tristan — its unfortunately depressing meaning — but I’d be thrilled if more parents started bestowing it on their young’uns.

    1. What’s wrong with Tristan? It’s almost certainly not from the Latin trisits ‘sad’, you know! The tale is Celtic, and the earliest versions are Welsh. Tristan is almost certainly cognate with the Pictish Drostan, and both come from the Common Celtic *trusto-

      1. I do know a little Tristan. Meaning and origins aside, I always find it the tiniest bit off-putting to hear Tristan on a child – doomed romantic hero names are a lot to carry when you’re still sporting Spider-man footie PJs. The same with Romeo, or Heathcliff. I don’t think most people make the immediate association – and somehow, I’m less judgmental about doomed romantic heroine names. Juliet is, I think, just fine. So it isn’t really fair of me to think that way …

      2. I’m a fan off Tristan (hero and name!). He may have been doomed, but he was one of the most marvellous knights in shining armor that ever was. I’ve never thought it odd on any of the little boys I’ve ever known of the name. Just a beautiful and evocative name 🙂 .

  5. I’m not really into names with extraordinarily non-intuitive spellings/pronunciations in English. Bragnae is okay but not my cup of tea. I prefer Bronwen 🙂

      1. I like that it sounds like Bonnie but is really *strong*; as you said, “frills-free”. I’ve been trying to sell Mike on Arwen, but no luck yet! Maybe he’ll like Bronwen instead 🙂

    1. Sarah A, if he’s not fond of Arwen (presumably because of LOTR), why not try Anwen on him? 🙂

      1. Nook of Names, Anwen is a great suggestion, thanks! I can see him disliking it though because (at least in our MI accents), Anwen sounds a bit like “and when?”

        Oh, and it’s precisely because of LOTR that I love Arwen and he doesn’t! The thing is that Mike is a really, really big fan of the books and the movies, and so he thinks it will seem “dorky” to give a child a name from LOTR; he calls Arwen a “nerdy fan” name. I personally really love the character, I like that Arwen is “frills-free” and the big bonus for me is that my Arabic speaking side of the family could call her Arwa 😉

  6. I’m not a fan, for some reason the sound reminds me of the clunky and not so funky Brunhild. The only spelling I find appealing is Br

  7. I think they made Bragnae up for the film — goodness knows why! I’ve never encountered it anywhere but there. The traditional form of the name is Brangain(e) (and the other forms it occurs in are: Braginja, Brandina, Brangane, Brang

    1. That makes sense – I was puzzled that Bragnae only pops for the movie. Much like Brainne, it must’ve someone looking at the options and deciding that Bragnae appeared legit without being completely inaccessible. But the characters of Isolde and Bragnae are Irish – even though the name Isolde isn’t exactly Irish.

      1. Isolde is intended to be Irish, I’m not sure it states anywhere what Brangaine’s original nationality was intended to be. There was a fair bit of traffic across the Celtic Sea in that period and numerous Welsh/Irish myths involving characters crossing. Not to mention slaves captured in raids! It’s generally thought that the story of Tristan and Iseult originated in Cornwall, Brittany or Wales, so it’s not surprising the characters have names which lean towards Brythonic Celtic rather than Goidelic.

        Isolde’s a whole other kettle of fish!

  8. Yeah, I think Bragnae is just a bit too way out there. I’m always in search of uncommon, appealing names, but not so unusual that the first reaction most people will have to it is, “What, now?” I think Bragnae is in the, “What, now?” category.

  9. I know a girl called Bronagh who’s just gone to University in the past year. As for Bragnae, I fear I could only see her as a middle option. She’s intriguing, but I just like Bronagh more.