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.