She’s a literary invention famously worn by a noble dog.
Thanks to Fran for suggesting Perdita as our Baby Name of the Day.
Perdita’s meaning is obvious to anyone with a tiny bit of romance language know-how. There’s pain perdu for breakfast, possibly with Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington performing jazz standard “Perdido” in the background. In Latin, perditus means lost. While the English word lost derives from an unrelated Germanic root, many other European languages use a form of perditus.
Shakespeare gets credit for inventing the name in The Winter’s Tale. When the play begins, Perdita is a blameless infant, born to the imprisoned Queen Hermione. Dad is the King of Sicilia, and he’s convinced the missus strayed.
The king is dead wrong, but he won’t see reason. Instead, he orders his newborn daughter abandoned. In a literary twist, the babe is discovered and raised by shepherds in a foreign land. Despite her seemingly humble origins, Perdita grows up to be a looker, and catches the eye of a prince. Prince Florizel flees with Perdita rather than give her up for a better-born bride. After many twists and turns, Perdita learns her true identity, and the couple lives happily ever after.
The most famous Perdita was born just plain Mary Darby, in late eighteenth century England. Mary took to the stage and won fame for playing the role of Perdita. Not unlike her character, Darby caught the eye of a ruler. The actress would become the mistress of the future King George IV.
Not only did she achieve fame in the theater, she became a trend-setting fashionista, and a well-established writer. Long after her love affair with the monarch ended, she penned poems, novels, plays, and essays, too, many with messages of empowerment for women.
This makes Perdita an obscure literary gem with a feminist twist, even if her meaning is unfortunate.
But then there’s the Perdita who might come to mind, and while she’s equally literary, she’s of the four-legged variety.
Dodie Smith penned The Hundred and One Dalmations in 1956. She created many of the enduring characters, including the villainous Cruella de Vil and dalmation daddy Pongo. Walt Disney adapted the book in 1961. Pongo and Perdita’s fifteen pups are dog-napped by Cruella, and after a daring rescue of all of Cruella’s canine captives, it is decided that Pongo, Perdita, their fifteen little ones, plus the additional 84 puppies rescued from the clutches of Cruella will all take a country house together.
The 1996 live action adaptation and 2000 sequel might have made Perdita more familiar, but the pup answers to Perdy. It is often spelled Purdy, as if the dog is named for the Southern slang version of pretty.
Real life uses have been few, though she does appear in US Census records. Actress Perdita Weeks played Mary Tudor on Showtime’s The Tudors. There’s also Perdita Avery, seen on a number of BBC series over the last few years.
Perdita’s literary cachet is considerable. Peri and Didi both seem like possible short forms. And yet her sound doesn’t quite seem current.
That could make for a great find, of course – a name borrowed from an admirable Shakespearean character that’s not likely to reach the US Top 100. If that’s what you’re after, Perdita is one to consider.
My Father obviously loved the Winter’s Tale, because that’s where mine and my sister, ‘Perdita’s, names are from. The correct pronunciation is the stress on the first syllable, PERD-ita …. just like you’d say JESS-ica, never jessEEca …. it drives more poor sister mad, people tell her how she should pronounce her name all the time, and invariably get it wrong, mind you, i often get called HERme-own. The reason we know this is definitely the correct pronunciation, is that, as stated above, it was invented by Shakespeare, and it was to go in rhyming couplets with her lover Florizel …. pronounced FLOR-izel, not Floreezel. Obviously we have unusual names, so we know that people won’t immediately always get them right, but the problem is people can get quite defensive when they ask where it’s from and you say ‘The Winter’s Tale’ by William Shakespeare, they feel like you’ve made them stupid, so … amusingly for us, they start naming every other Shakespeare play they’ve read! My Father picked Perdita as her name because she was much later than me and my sister, so it was like she was ‘lost’ for a bit, and then joined us .. so i don’t think that the meaning makes it unusable at all. Most of the time, people really compliment us on having a creative Father and interesting names. : )
Interesting perspective, Hermione – thanks! And that is the problem with having a specific cultural reference in your name, isn’t it? I know someone with a son named after a jazz musician, and my knowledge of jazz is pretty much nil. When I asked, I did have a minute of feeling very much NOT in-the-know.
I adore Perdita.
Emmy Jo says
Back to the word-association thing. If Jove=jovial, Perdita=perdition. Shakespeare fan that I am, I WANT to like this one, but it just doesn’t appeal.
I didn’t think about that, but you’re right. It’s a very unfortunate association.
It’s lacking something. I can’t place it.
Another noteworthy (current) bearer of the name is Canadian Olympic hurdler Perdita Felicien. According to Wikipedia, her mum chose the name after seeing a contestant (named Perdita) on the Price is Right (so the name is out there, being used!)
Interesting! Thanks for that story. I wonder how many babies are named after game show contestants?
I really like Perdita, but I’ve heard two possible pronunciations– per-DEE-ta, my favorite, and PERD-it-a, which I think is pretty ugly. I like the name and its history, though, and I think it’d make a great pet or character name.
As a recovering 101 Dalmatians fangirl, I seem to recall that in the book, Perdita was not the mother but the wet nurse for the pups, called so because she was a stray whom they found in the street after being left for dead. The actual mother of the pups went by “Missus.” At the very least, it would explain the author’s choice of the name.
In other news, I’d like to announce the birth of little M@rcie Lisa, the first child of my cousin and her husband. The middle name is after my aunt, but the first name came as a complete surprise, to me at least. It’s a bit old-fashioned like many of the names like, but then again, so is my cousin’s name, Betsy.
Exactly so, Claire! I couldn’t explain it as well as you did, so I cut it … but you’re right, it really does explain Perdita’s name.
Congrats to your cousin! What a lovely name. And yes, quite a surprise to hear Lisa in the middle spot.
Charlotte Vera says
Congratulations to your cousin!
I can’t say I’m a fan of Perdita, but the background information you provided to _101 Dalmations_ makes me want to read the book (I loved _I Capture the Castle_).
Perdita is nmsaa, but I’ve always loved it, probably because I love the original movie. If I ever had a female dog, that would be her name [I currently have males named Poe & Pip]. My brother has a dog he named Pretty, and I tried to talk him into naming her Perdita formally.
That said, I can’t see it on a human now. It’s thoroughly a “dog name” to me. Which is totally weird, since I’m definitely the type to use “human names” on animals.
I’m most familiar with Perdita (beyond dalmatian fame) through Terry Pratchett. Painfully shy, but super talented at singing, witch Agnes Nitt changes her name to Perdita X. when she hits up the big city. She was looking for a glamorous and mysterious name to hide behind. It works, haha.
I can’t say I love anything much about Perdita. It always feels/sounds awkward in my mouth.
You know, I have tried to read the Discworld series but somehow it never takes. A friend of mine said the secret is to begin in the middle. Any thoughts on where to start?
If nothing else, Pratchett is an AMAZING namer.
I started in the middle, too. The first books focus on Rincewind and other wizards, and I’m just not as into those ones. My favorites involve the witches. I’d say a great starter would be Wyrd Sisters. 🙂
Thanks for the tip! I’m adding it to my list.
I’ve long liked Perdita, her meaning strikes me as very romantic! “Lost” in what sense? I’ve always imagined Perdita as an explorer, a world -traveller, maybe even a jet -setter.
I suggested this as a possibility long ago, before my boys were known boys. Oh, but Perry is a cool option for a nickname and Dita strikes me as a rather continental nickname choice. Well, that’s my thinking anyway. Perdita is my second favorite Shakespearean name, right behind the lush Portia.
Perdita is not for the faint of heart but Wow, what a memorable moniker! 🙂
Not my style at all. Sounds like a quirky 70s name – or maybe even the 40s. Not sure why it is conjuring up these decades. Perdy is cute for a dog though!
M B says
Such a pretty name and one of my favorites. It’s sad that the meaning makes it unusable.