The baby name Valerie is a twentieth-century staple that just might make you burst into song.

Thanks to Fran for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.


Valerius was a Roman family name, derived from the Latin valere – to be strong.

English words like valor and valiant share the same root.

Today we equate valor with bravery; the earlier sense is closer to worthy.

Either way, they’re all desirable qualities. It’s easy to imagine parents embracing a Val- name for any – or all – of these meanings.

Besides Valerie, you might hear:

  • Valerian, worn by a Roman emperor and more than a half dozen saints
  • Slavic masculine forms including Valeriy, Valery, and Walery
  • Valerio, heard in Romance languages
  • Feminine form Valeria

And then there’s Valerie. Some might accuse parents of stealing Valerie from the boys, but it just isn’t so.


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 marriage, Valerie was put to death. 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; there’s even a name for them: cephalophore. It comes from Greek and means “head carrier.”

This third century story remained popular. Limoges was a significant medieval city, the seat of the Dukes of Aquitaine and home to a major monastery, the Abbey of St. Martial. Depictions of Valerie appear at the Abbey’s church, where her relics were housed. They’re still in Limoges, now in thirteenth century church at the city’s center.


Despite the lingering fame of Saint Valerie, the name fell out of use until it was revived during the nineteenth century.

Two figures point to the name’s revival.

First, there’s Archduchess Marie Valerie of Austria, known by her middle name. The youngest child of Empress Franz Jozef I and Empress Elisabeth of Austria, she married a minor prince for love, had lots of children, and several grandchildren named Valerie in her honor.

Born Valerie Langdon in 1852, the future Lady Meux started out as an actress. She married the wealthy Sir Henry Meux, a baronet. Victorian society never fully accepted her. She lived a big life anyway, driving herself around London in a zebra-drawn carriage.

It’s not clear if the scandalous figure boosted her name, but she doesn’t seem to have hurt it.

In the US, Valeria is slightly more popular than the baby name Valerie. But by the year 1900, Valerie appears in the US Top 1000 rankings annually.

In the 1930s, the name started climbing in use. By the 1940s, it was a Top 250 name.

One possible reason: British actress Valerie Hobson, who played Mrs. Frankenstein in 1935’s The Bride of Frankenstein. If you know the Mary Shelley novel, Hobson plays Elizabeth Lavenza. (It’s Elsa Lanchester with the iconic tower of lightning-bolt hair, the creature built to be the wife of Frankenstein’s monster.)

Hobson’s career stretched from the 1930s into the early 50s, giving parents plenty of time to note her unusual name.

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In 1951, Valerie entered the US Top 100.

The name stayed there – most years – until 1987.

It’s been a Top 200 name since 1945, ranked #144 as of 2023.

That’s remarkably steady, making the baby name Valerie a modern classic.

What explains the name’s long run of popularity?

Actress Valerie Harper became a household name on The Mary Tyler Moore show during the 1970s. She eventually starred in spin-off Rhoda. Years later, during 1986 and 1987, she headlined another sitcom, titled Valerie.

There’s also Valerie Bertinelli. She starred in hit television series One Day At a Time as a teenager, from 1975 to 1984. Bertinelli’s career continued; during the 2010s, she appeared on Hot in Cleveland.

More fictional Valeries appeared on the small screen, including Beverly Hills 90210, and a Lisa Kudrow series titled The Comeback.

The name grew up with a generation, and yet it stayed forever young.

One possible reason? A succession of songs with the name in the title:

  • The Monkees scored a hit in 1968 with “Valleri” – the single originally appeared on their television show in 1967. (There’s no clear explanation for the unorthodox spelling.)
  • Steve Winwood recorded his “Valerie” in 1987.
  • Chicago-based Material Issue had their biggest hit with “Valerie Loves Me” in 1991.
  • Amy Winehouse’s hit from 2007 is a cover of a song by the Zutons, a British indie band. It’s probably the best known now.


All together, this makes Valerie a modern classic. It’s been around forever, with history stretching from Ancient Rome to Medieval France and all across the twentieth century. It’s been worn by women of accomplishment and re-invented in song lyrics.

In many ways, Valerie is a chameleon of a name – impossible to pin down, infinitely versatile, strong in meaning, upbeat in sound.

What do you think of the baby name Valerie?

This post was published originally on June 6, 2011. It was revised substantially and re-published on June 6, 2024.


modern classic

baby name Valerie

From ancient Rome to medieval France, Valerie evolved into a strong, spirited name. Now it’s a modern classic.


#144 in the US as of 2022


holding steadynd goes here


from the Latin valere, to be strong

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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What do you think?


  1. I like Valerie, but my virtue name loving self always wants to spell it Valorie! It isn’t the first of my V-girl names (I have a lot on that one), but it is on there. For a boy, I like Valor, and I like Valeria, as well.

    1. Valor is strangely wearable, isn’t it? The rare virtue name that could work for a boy …

  2. Stacy Dash’s new television show Single Ladies features a main character named Valerie.

    1. Thanks! I saw it was on last night, but I think I dozed off without ever getting to it!

  3. I love Valerie! I think it would sound adorably retro on a little girl. I don’t like Valeria, though (too similar to malaria, as already noted).

    P.S. Even though Rhoda was before my time, I’ve always thought she was wicked cool (and Valerie Harper, too).

  4. My friend’s mother is named Valerie, (my friend is Mallory, and has the same middle name as her mother, although her older sister is Cassandra, because their father wanted to name her Cassiopeia, and Cassie was the compromise). I always think of them as Val and Moo (that’s a long story). So I could never use it. I do like Valeria, but because I take Latin, I read it as WA-lair-ee-a, the way it would be pronounced in Latin, and that’s just not quite as pretty. And there are other Latin names I like more, like Aurora, Aurelia, and even my own name.

  5. I have a childhood friend whose maiden name was Valerie Horn******. Since middle school kids are horrible, she had the unfortunate nickname Val-hornie. I still hear it whenever someone says this name.

    Valiant or Valor could are quite appealing, in the same way I’m drawn to Honor and Rune. Maybe as a middle name?

    1. Valiant makes me think “Prince Valiant” – but I’m guessing that’s a fading reference, so maybe it could work as a first name – and definitely in the middle spot.

  6. I find Valerie remarkably pretty, but with an aunt through marriage and a cousin’s fiance both named Valerie, there’s no way I could ever use it.

    I’m not very familiar with the songs or famous 20th-century personages you mentioned as bearing the name, but one namesake that does come to my mind is the heroine of Wilkie Collins’ 1875 _The Law and the Lady_. The appropriately named Valeria Brinton is usually cited as English literature’s first female detective.

    1. Charlotte Vera, as always, thank you for elevating the conversation! I’m vaguely aware of the Wilkie Collins novel – is it a good read? I’ll add it to the stack for the summer, something to keep my brain from leaking out of my ears as I watch all of the reality television on my DVR …

      1. Haha, last night I was letting my brain leak out by watching School of Rock. It’s not my usual style of movie, but I wanted to watch it because the writer (who also acts in the film) competed in two seasons of The Amazing Race!

        I enjoyed The Law and the Lady. It’s a quicker read than some of Collins’ other works, but my favourites are still The Woman in White and Man and Wife.

  7. My DH has an Italian cousin named Valeria. When I first met her, I heard “malaria”. That ruined any fondness I might have had for the name.

    1. Huh. They do rhyme, don’t they? I wonder how Valeria sounds in Spanish? I need to go find a native speaker …

  8. I’ve been tempted to use Valerie to honor my mom (who is Val). It’s quite pretty. I was good childhood friends with a Valory, I like the spelling too.

    1. Thanks and d’oh! I listened to their version on YouTube, too – but it didn’t occur to me check which came first …

  9. I like Valerie, but adore the frillier Valeria. That was my Aunt’s birth name. Not that she went by it, she was known to all as Violet. Go figure. Now I prefer Val on a guy, but Valerie in full is happy, sweet and linked to a virtue I admire. Beats Kimberly & Donna (no offense to anyone with those names) to me!