Parents by the thousands have gone mad for Madeline in recent years.
Today’s Baby Name of the Day is an intriguing, all-but-forgotten variant: Madelon.
I met a little Madelon, and I rolled my eyes. It was a few years ago, pre-AppMtn. I could, in my snobbish way, countenance Madeline. But Madeleine was, I was certain, the most elegant spelling, the one that anyone with style would select.
Then I stumbled on 1931’s The Sin of Madelon Claudet. Helen Hayes won a Best Actress Oscar for the role.
And nope, the sin was not creatively re-spelling her name.
Hayes played an innocent French farmer’s daughter who runs off with her boyfriend, only to find herself pregnant and abandoned. Madelon becomes a wealthy count’s mistress, raising her son in comfort. Only the wealthy count is a jewel thief, and Madelon is jailed for his crimes.
Fast forward to her post-prison life. Her son believes his mother is dead. She becomes a thief and a prostitute to secretly finance his education. And, at long last, she gets her happy ending.
Madelon was a logical name for the character. The New Testament’s Mary Magdalene was a devoted Christian, present at Jesus’ crucifixion. For years, the common reading was that she was a prostitute; today, scholars suggest that’s a misinterpretation. What’s sure is that she was from the village of Magdala, hence her name. Magdala is related to the word for tower, so you’ll sometimes see that listed as the meaning of any of the Mad- names.
Parents have long named their daughters after Saint Mary Magdalene. Magdalena is the formal Latin version. Madelon is found in French and Dutch. She’s not very common in France today, though she’s still in use. She seems equally out-of-step with popular Dutch picks like Sanne and Lotte.
But there are notable Dutch Madelons, and the name appears regularly in the US, just enough to suggest that until the nineteenth century – and even into the twentieth – it was not so very uncommon to meet a Madelon.
- Madelon Stockwell made waves as the first female student to enroll at the University of Michigan when they first admitted women in 1870;
- Molière’s Les Précieuses ridicules told the story of Magdelon and Cathos, two country girls visiting Paris and behaving rather badly. Magdelon is sometimes called Madelon in translation;
- E.T.A. Hoffman’s Mademoiselle de Scudéri: A Tale from the Times of Louis XIV was published in 1819. Set in 1600s Paris with a band of murderous jewel thieves on the loose, Mademoiselle Madeleine Scuderi is a poet who manages to untangle the mystery when all others fail. Along the way, she takes in Madelon, a young woman caught up in the middle;
- In the 1938 Hollywood drama Port of Seven Seas, Madelon of Marseilles was yet another poor forlorn young thing, but this time she has a happy ending;
- During the American Revolution, “Pauvre Madelon” was a popular song – it appears in a 1700s Princeton songbook, among other references;
- On a very different note, HP-exec turned politician Carly Fiorina’s mom was a Madelon.
So Madelon is no creative recasting of a done-to-death appellation. It’s a valid foreign variant. She’s lost steam in the US, but with her history in mind, Madelon seems like an interesting option.
I stand corrected!