She’s a quirky Slavic elaboration based on an enduring name.
Thanks to Sarah for suggesting Madlenka as our Baby Name of the Day.
Madlenka sounds like an exotic twist on Madeline, but that’s not quite true. Instead she traces back to Miriam.
Stumped? I’ll admit I’m a bit confused by this one, too. Miriam became Maria in Greek, Marie in French and Czech.
The list of diminutive forms of Marie and company is extensive, and subject to vagaries of language. A sampling includes:
- Marika and Mariska
- Mariella and Mariel and Marisela
- Maureen and Marlene
- Mia and Maja
- Mies and Mairwen and Maiken
The endings -enka and -anka are typically used to form diminutives in Czech, so while I can’t explain the r-to-d switch, Marie-to-Madlenka tracks.
If you’re doubting that Madlenka has been used as a nickname in recent years, look no further than former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. She was born Marie Jana Korbelová in Prague, but known as Madlenka. She became Madeleine while studying in Switzerland.
Several sources do attempt to connect Madlenka to Madeline and Mary Magdalene, but Magdalena is a separate name in Czech.
There’s another high profile Madlenka in recent years, and she’s pictured above. Illustrator and children’s book author Peter Sís created a series of stories about a little girl called Madlenka. It’s the name of his darling daughter, but as the original 2000 book review in the New York Times notes, it is also links the story to the enduring classic Madeline. Since Madlenka first joined the ranks of children’s literary heroes, she’s gone on the get a dog and play soccer in two additional titles.
There are other Madlenkas out there, but they all appear to be of Czech descent without exception. The question is whether a name ending in -lenka would work for someone from another background – not Czech, not even Slavic, maybe not even European.
While I sometimes hesitate on this controversial question, I think this is one that isn’t so strongly or obviously tied to her heritage that it is fair game. It might be tough to be a Nigerian Ingrid or a Swedish Kwame – though I’m sure it happens. I’m not even positive that -lenka is widely recognized as a diminutive ending outside of name nerd circles. Plus, obvious nickname option Maddie immediately takes her into the mass of girls born in the last decade.
Of course, if the -ka ending gives you pause, there’s the Italian Maddalena or the Portuguese Madalena.
Like Mariska, Madlenka is different, unexpected – she’s the kind of name that makes you pause and check that you’ve got it just right. But she’s also easy to spell and close to enough familiar names that she might be the-just-a-little-different option you’re seeking.