Baby Name of the Day: Lisieux


Basilique de Sainte-Thérèse

Basilique de Sainte-Thérèse (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s a français place name with ties to a popular saint.

Thanks to Shelby for suggesting Lisieux as our Baby Name of the Day.

Let’s say that you want to name your child after a Catholic saint, but you’re not attracted to Agatha or Gertrude or Ercongotha.

There are names like Everild, names so old that they start to feel modern once more.  But there is another path, one that is quite modern in more ways than one: saints’ surnames.  Saints John Vianney and Thomas Becket both come to mind.

Of course, many a saint lived ages before we had such a thing as a surname.  Even those that did are often better known the place from which they hailed.  Saint Teresa of Avila is one, a saint associated with a place name that translates nicely to a given name.

What of Lisieux?  Lisieux is a place, a city in northwestern France’s Calvados region.  You can hear the pronunciation of Lisieux here.  The closest the average American could come is probably lees eh YUH.

The town’s name is ancient – so ancient that its exact roots are lost.  A Gaulish tribe known to the Romans as the Lexovii are the source of the name.  Paris was named in a similar fashion.  Inhabitants still answer to the demonym Lexovien, and there’s plenty of the tribe in the record – coins and such, though of course the Romans were ultimately victorious.

The future saint Thérèse of Lisieux was born in 1873, the daughter of a lacemaker.  Anonymous in her lifetime, she became a nun at 15 and died just nine years later.  A year after her death, her memoir – The Story of a Soul – was published.  The work emphasizes small choices in daily living:

Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.

Thérèse took the express route to canonization in 1925.  The Bascilia of St. Thérèse in Lisieux is a popular pilgrimage site.

Which brings us back to the place name, and the question of whether or not it makes a plausible name for a child.

Looking at the Top 1000 for 2010, plenty of feminine names include similar sounds:

  • At #20, Alyssa is falling, as is #38, Allison.  But Alice is gaining, up to #172.
  • There’s also Felicity, Melissa, and Elisabeth – all with the same lis sound.

But that’s where the familiarity ends.  Despite laments about wacky spellings, the truth is that most parents stay on the right side of phonetic transparency.  Lisieux is no wild, made-up spelling, but it isn’t easy to pronounce in regular English conversation.  Easy nickname option Lissie could help overcome some of that concern.

If you’re comfortable with the religious associations, and confident that you can handle spelling and repeating your child’s name constantly, this is an intriguing rarity.  If you have your doubts, well, Lisieux would be brilliant in the middle spot, too.

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7 Comments

Sorry, I’m late!
I’m taking French l and I have issues with Lisieux. The -ieux ending in French is the one for masculine adjectives. I just can’t get that out of my head when I read it. It’s a shame….such a pretty name.

It’s more like LEEZ-yuh, but with a rounded mouth like when saying ‘oo’.

This is one that looks nice in print, but just doesn’t sound like a person’s name to me.

St. Therese of Lisieux is pretty well-known, especially among American-Catholics. Though, the Americanized pronunciation I have heard sounds way more like (lih-SYOO).

I am surprised you covered this 🙂 I have a fondness for the saint, but I have never been a fan of Therese. I have considered that if I ever had a daughter someday, I’d like to honour her in some way. I have dabbled with Lisieux (as a middle name) and even Fleurette (little Flower). Its nice to know I am not the only one who has considered Lisieux as a given name.

I have zero knowledge of French and my first stab at pronunciation was something like “Lisoo”. I’m sorry but I don’t think it really works in English. The story behind the saint is really lovely though, so I agree Lisieux would be great in the middle spot.

I think people would want to make it the ubiquitous “Lisa” or at least Lisoo (Lisa Sue?). Tough name. Perhaps best left as a mn – Theresa Lisieux? If you want to go the French saint name route, Lourdes would probably work better.

It would never occur to me to use this as a name – in France it would be seen as very odd, and in the US I just think people would have no idea what to do with it. I’d say an existing French name with similar allure would be a better choice: Lysiane or Lisette if it’s the ‘lis’ sound that appeals, or Alix if it’s the exotic look of the X that you’re seeking.