She’s part Everest, part Assumpta.
Thanks to Tina and to Poesy, too for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day: Montserrat.
At first glance, Montserrat is a mountain name, and not a terribly creative one. A little bit of Latin will give you serratus – jagged, the source of our word serrated, while mont is a mountain.
But it’s not just any ol’ jagged mountain we’re talking about. Head to Catalonia, now a part of Spain, but with a long independent history of its own, too. You can fly into Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, where Catalan is a separate language.
Many visitors find themselves day-tripping to Montserrat. The mountain is home to the abbey Santa Maria de Monserrat, a major religious retreat in the region, and home to la Moreneta, one of the many images of a dark-skinned Virgin Mary found in Europe and beyond, known as a Black Madonna.
The story goes like this: the image was carved by St. Luke and brought to Spain. It had to be hidden from the Moors in a cave; after many years, la Moreneta was rediscovered by shepherds. The local bishop was summoned. He ordered the astonishing find moved to his church, but the statue wouldn’t budge.
So the Benedictine monks came and built their abbey around her.
Historians suggest that la Moreneta is of more recent vintage, but she has plenty of importance anyhow. Ignatius Loyola visited the shrine in the midst of his conversion. Monserrat is also known for helping to preserve Catalan culture over the years and for being just plain ol’ drop-dead gorgeous.
Montserrat is often listed as a Catalan name. Like Lourdes, she has some pretty heavy religious symbolism, too.
If that appeals to you, Montserrat might still give you pause. The name sounds like this: mon sur AHT. Or possibly MAWN sur AHT. There’s just the tiniest hint of a “t” in the first syllable.
Both Tina and Poesy actually suggested Monserrate, the version of the name that I, too, thought was most common, and that Tina found on her family tree. Monserrate is in use two places:
- It is the spelling favored in Portugal – there’s Monserrate Palace in Sintra;
- In Bogota, Colombia, the mountain that dominates the city’s skyline is named Monserrate, named after Montserrat in Spain.
There’s also a Caribbean island named after the Catalan mountain, but it is spelled Montserrat. (And, incidentally was named by Christopher Columbus.)
I suspect Monserrate might be the tiniest bit easier to wear in English. Removing the “t” and adding the “e” at the end seems to give more guidance. It also removes the visual similarity to “monster.”
A few uses have made the name more visible:
- Barcelona-born soprano Montserrat Caballé has had quite the career in twentieth century opera, earning considerable fame in the 1960s and 70s;
- Montserrat Lombard, a London-born actress from Spanish and Italian descent, appears regularly on television shows in the UK, and had a small role in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus;
- The 1994 movie Barcelona included a character called Montserrat.
While Montserrat has a history of use in the Spanish-speaking world, she’s nearly unknown in the US. You’ll have to gauge whether her pronunciation is too much of a hurdle, but she’s really quite lovely – that rare name that feels tailored and yet ethereal, too.