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She’s a twentieth century staple that might make you burst into song.
Thanks to Fran for suggesting Valerie as our Baby Name of the Day.
Valerius was a Roman family name, derived from the Latin valere – to be strong. It’s the same root as our words valor and valiant. Today we equate valor with bravery; the earlier sense is closer to worthy. Either way, they’re desirable qualities and it is easy to imagine parents embracing the name.
Val names are plentiful, including:
- Valerian, a Roman emperor and more than a half dozen saints;
- Valeriy, Valery, and Walery, Slavic masculine forms;
- Valerio, found in Romance languages;
- The feminine Valeria.
And then there’s Valerie. Some might accuse parents of stealing Valerie from the boys, but it just isn’t so. She’s a feminine form dating back to at least medieval France.
St. Valerie of Limoges may be pure fiction. Her gory story goes like this: either because she was a Christian convert, or possibly because she refused to marriage, Valerie was put to death. But no mere beheading could stop her. Valerie picked up her noggin and marched into the church. Depictions of headless saints were more popular than you might guess.
Valerie begins to resurface in the nineteenth century. At least two figures wore the name:
- Archduchess Marie Valerie of Austria, usually known by her middle name only;
- Lady Meux, born Valerie Langdon, who made the kind of marriage that romance novelists invent. Langdon was either an actress or a prostitute or both when she captured the heart of Sir Henry Meux, a baronet and wealthy brewer. She drove herself around London in a zebra-drawn carriage.
Valeria was slightly more common in the late 19th century. The French form began to catch on in the 1930s, reaching #214 in 1940 and peaking at #60 in 1959. Part of her initial boost might have come from actress Valerie Hobson – Frankenstein’s beloved in 1935’s The Bride of Frankenstein.
Rather than a steady rise and equally measured decline, Valerie has reached a comfortable plateau. In 2004 she ranked #180; by 2010, she was back to #149. She can’t be called dated, exactly, even though a great many Valeries belonged to the Baby Boom generation.
Maybe it is the steady succession of songs that keeps her young:
- The Monkees scored a hit in 1968 with “Valleri“ – the single originally appeared on their television show in 1967. I can’t find any explanation for the unorthodox spelling;
- Steve Winwood recorded his “Valerie” in 1987;
- My favorite – Material Issue – scored their biggest hit with “Valerie Loves Me” in 1991;
- Amy Winehouse’s hit was also covered on Glee.
The small screen has also been kind to the name:
- Valerie Harper played Rhoda on The Mary Tyler Moore Show then starred in her own spin-off;
- Valerie Bertinelli hit it big on One Day at a Time, married a rock star,and rebooted her career as a Jenny Craig spokeswoman;
- Tiffani Thiessen moved to Beverly Hills 90210 as Valerie Malone, a bad girl who made Brenda look like a saint;
- In 2005 Lisa Kudrow starred on short-lived HBO original series The Comeback as Valerie Cherish.
Material Issue’s single lends the name a certain indie edge. 1996’s I Shot Andy Warhol is based on the true story of Valerie Solanos, the radical feminist turned would-be assassin – and gives good-girl Valerie a dark side. Speaking of dark, Amanda Seyfried donned a red cloak and the name Valerie to take on a werewolf in 2011’s Red Riding Hood.
And so Valerie remains – never quite fresh, just short of truly stylish, but somehow still current, even surprising.