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. Valerie was one of the names I had previously suggested for NOTD (Abby, be looking for some new ideas in an e-mail soon); personally it’s a name I probably wouldn’t use myself but like for someone else. Although some think it’s a bit dated, I don’t think it has been too overly popular at any one point in time to be too outmoded for use these days.

  2. Even though it’s legitimately unisex, I only like it for a boy. On a man it seems almost sexy [not an attribute I usually assign to names]. Probably because my immediate association is with Valeri Bure — former NHL player, husband of Candace Cameron Bure, brother of Pavel Bure [my favorite hockey player when I was a kid!].

    1. Panya, I completely agree that Valery/Valeri is not only better as a masculine name but is also downright sexy. And I too think of Valeri Bure 🙂