The fountain at Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C.
Dupont Circle Fountain in Washington DC; Image via Wikipedia

He’s a French spin on a peaceful, saintly appellation.

Thanks to Arthur for suggesting Irénée as our Baby Name of the Day.

Not every saint’s name endures in every language. If you were around in the year 170 or so, and living in the part of France we now call Lyon, you might have met the future saint Irenaeus. Details of his early life are murky, but it is believed he was brought up a Christian, making him a relatively uncommon second generation believer early days. He seems to have repeatedly missed out on martyrdom by sheer luck. He’d been dispatched to Rome with a missive for the pope, warning of religious persecution in Gaul. When Irenaeus returned, there had been a massacre. He took up the mantle of Bishop of Lyon.

But Irenaeus’ strength was writing. In many ways, the church was brand new, and Irenaeus was one of the first to add structure and formal theology as the movement coalesced into an organization. His most famous work was titled “Against Heresies.” He also helped determine which writings should be included in the New Testament.

Irenaeus comes from the Greek word for peaceful; this links him to the Greek goddess name Irene, derived from eirene – peace.

Given his leadership in Gaul, it is little surprise that his name has endured in France, though it is clearly out of favor today. There’s also Ireney in Russian, but there doesn’t seem to be an English masculine form.

The French name sounds something ehr eh NAY. It’s not impossible to say in English, but it isn’t obvious, either.

Still, you might hear talk of this one in the US, thanks to the extravagantly named industrialist, Éleuthère Irénée du Pont de Nemours, known as Irénée or just E.I. He immigrated to the state of Delaware as a young man, a wife and eight children in tow, and started manufacturing gunpowder. E.I.’s little company would become a global enterprise, a chemical enterprise responsible for innovations like Kevlar and Lycra.

Not only did the Du Pont company grow, the name flourished, too. In the early twentieth century, another Irénée du Pont ran the company. He’d also later run the Du Pont Trust, and build an extravagant mansion in Cuba called Xanadu. At least a half dozen other Du Ponts have worn Irénée in the middle spot; a few also have Eleuthère as part of their given name. Other French masculine monikers – Pierre, Philadelphe – appear throughout the family tree. So does Sophie, the given name of E.I.’s wife, though my favorite family name has to be Eleuthera, worn by at least one Miss du Pont in the early nineteenth century.

Washington DC’s Dupont Circle takes its name from the family via Samuel Du Pont, an admiral in the US Navy during the Civil War and E.I.’s nephew. There are too many places named in honor of family members to count.

None of this suggests that Irénée would make a logical name for a child born in the English-speaking world today. He’d inevitably be mistaken for Irene, and then there’s headache of the dual diacritical marks required to make his pronunciation clear.

But if Irénée is on your family tree, or if you wish to honor the saint without resorting to the ancient Irenaeus, there’s some potential in this quirky name with ties to American industrial heritage, especially in the middle spot. He’s completely unexpected and really quite intriguing.

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. I know this was posted in 2011 but I would like to mention that the pronounciation is not ehr-eh-NAY but more like ee-reh-NAY, the ‘r’ is guttural but english speakers can pronounce it with a soft ‘r’. If it was pronounced like the former, it would be written Érénée. French has quite strict pronounciation rules.
    Sorry for the inconvenience, I just saw it and couldn’t help but point it out.

  2. I like traditionally French names a lot (I have a little Stephanie after all) but I think that as a first name it’s a little bit much like A Boy Named Sue. As a middle name, I like it 🙂

  3. I’d never encountered this form of Irenaeus before and I admit to finding it quite delightfully intriguing. However, I’m pretty sure all my attempts of wrapping my tongue around its pronunciations have failed miserably. On that basis alone, this name is out.

  4. Well, I rather like Irene for a girls name-so Irenee would be out on similarity alone! Also, the spelling and pronunciation issues would be problematic, to say the least. It also doesn’t sound very masculine to me. I feel I must point out that I guessed the pronunciation before I opened the post! Yay me!

  5. Eleuthera is a quiet island in the Bahamas, too. One we hope to visit next spring break.
    A little Irenee could also use the nn Rene or Renny for convenience.

    1. My grandmother Irene was Reeny – I knew another Irene nicknamed Reeny, too, so I guess it feels sort of old-fashioned to me. But then, so do Dolly, Sadie, and tons of names that seem fusty AND fashionable.

  6. I must admit that I first thought this was a feminine appellation. That’s probably because I’ve just rewatched HBO’s series “Rome” which features a female character named Eirene. On the show her name is pronounced “ehr reh nee”, which is pretty similar to Irenee’s pronunciation. Interestingly another character notes that “We here call her Eirene, but she was called Adela where she came from,” as she is a foreign slave in Rome.

    Because I really fell in love with the name Eirene, I have a hard time hearing/seeing Irenee as a boy name. And I’m all for boy names remaining on team blue 🙂