Thanks to Felecia for suggesting Bellona as our Baby Name of the Day.
List every Bel- or -bel name you can imagine, and odds are you still won’t think of Bellona.
She’s less the pretty Belle and more bel as in belligerent and bellicose, for Bellona was the Roman goddess of war. Bellum is the Latin for war, as in antebellum, and originally duellum, which gives us our word duel.
Belle, on the other hand, comes from the French word for beautiful, via the Latin bella and bellus – handsome, pretty. Women have been referred to as belles since at least the seventeenth century. Thanks to phrases like Belle of the Ball and Southern Belle, plus names like Isabella and Mabel, it is easy to imagine Belle as a given name.
And indeed she was. Belle ranked in the US Top 100 in the nineteenth century, but has gone unranked since the 1930s. Bella, once the much less popular possibility and equally obscure after the 1930s, is white hot today, in our age of Ella, Stella, and Twilight. She ranked #54 in 2012.
The list of Bel-/-bel names currently in vogue is long, but Bellona has never been given to more than five girls in any year.
Why? Blame it on bologna, maybe. The name is pronounced with emphasis on the middle syllable: bel OH na. It is rather close to the lunchmeat.
Or maybe we just haven’t heard Bellona, even though she was more widely known in the past:
- The image in this post is a sculpture by Rodin, one of many artists to depict the goddess. Rembrandt painted her, though I find his Bellona a little bit frumpy. They’re not all tucked away in museums, either – plenty of the statues stand in public places. She’s even part of the embellishments on London’s Waterloo station.
- References to the goddess are plentiful, from Shakespeare to music.
- The original Temple of Bellona was in Rome, a place for the contemplation of war. Other temples followed.
- In 1760, a Temple of Bellona was added to London’s Kew Gardens. It comes complete with Doric columns, but is made of wood.
- Bellona is the name of a small Italian town in Campania, north of Naples, the site of a former temple to Bellona.
- It was chosen as the name of a nineteenth century foundry and arsenal in Virginia that would eventually supply the Confederate Army.
- Ships aplenty have worn the name. One ship gave its name to a tiny island in the Solomon Islands.
- Norway’s Bellona Foundation is an environmental organization, dedicated to issues like climate change and clean-up of nuclear waste. It’s a powerful, and very different, spin on the warrior goddess name.
But how would it wear on a child? Bellana and Bellanna might sidestep the similarity to bologna, but they’ve never been much used. Belana and Belanna have seen some use, peaking in 2001. Attribute that to Star Trek: Voyager’s half-human, half-Klingon B’Elanna Torres. Voyager ran for seven seasons, ending in 2001.
Overall, Bellona has like a slightly awkward sound. And yet it is surprising that Belanna – in one of her several possible spellings – hasn’t enjoyed more use. The names are approachable, under-used, and rich with a story of strong women. There’s something very appealing about Bellona.