Bernadette: Baby Name of the Day

St. Bernadette Soubirous of Lourdes.

Le St. Bernadette Soubirous of Lourdes. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

She’s part-Beatrice, part-Juliet, but you’re not likely to hear her in use.

Thanks to Leslie for suggesting Bernadette as our Baby Name of the Day.

Bernadette was once in steady use in the US.  That’s probably due to two things: the popularity of her masculine form, Bernard, and the Catholic mystic born Marie-Bernarde in Lourdes, France.

Let’s start with Bernard.  His meaning in a combination of bern, bear, and hard, meaning brave or hardy.  Brave as a bear – that’s pretty fierce.  He traveled to England with the Norman invaders, was boosted by the twelfth century Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, and charted in the US Top 100 from the nineteenth century into the 1940s.  Today he’s out of favor – neither fierce nor saintly, but just sort of fusty and dated.

Marie-Bernarde is another story.  Born a poor miller’s daughter in the foothills of the Pyrenees, there was nothing remarkable about her early life.  She spoke a regional dialect, and would have been known as Bernadette or Bernadeta for every day use.  At the age of fourteen, she was out gathering firewood near the now-famous grotto when her first vision took place.  Two other girls were with her, but neither saw anything.  Bernadette would have seventeen more visions, creating a sensation in her village.  Some dismissed her as mad, but over time the Catholic Church validated her statements.  Lourdes has become a major pilgrimage site – and a starbaby name sensation, thanks to Madonna.

The events unfolded in 1858, and she was canonized in 1933.   Lourdes was often in the news in between, as was the saint.  Jennifer Jones won the Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Saint Bernadette in 1943.  The movie was based on a successful bestseller, a semi-biographical novel published the year before called The Song of Bernadette.

Bernadette is better-used than you might guess:

  • In 1880, she ranked #628.
  • By the 1890s, she was in the 400s.
  • In the 1910s, she climbed in the 300s, where she’d stay for more than two decades.
  • The year after Saint Bernadette was canonized, the name reached #252.
  • The novel and the film boosted her into the US Top 200 for a few years.

But she’s been on the decline for ages.  You might think of The Four Tops’ hit single “Bernadette,” or maybe Broadway and Hollywood star Bernadette Peters.  There’s also Good Times star Bern Nadette Stanis – born Bernadette, but known by the separated name professionally.

The small screen also gives us The Big Bang Theory’s Bernadette.  Her backstory is that she comes from a very Catholic family.  The writers nailed it – should you meet a Bernadette today, chances are good that her family is Catholic, and the name was given in honor of the saint.

Besides her spiritual cred, Bernadette has appeal:

  • She’s French, and while she’s out of favor in France, so are many of the names Americans currently consider stylish.
  • The -ette ending works for Bridget and Juliet.
  • Nancy called her a “girl name for parents who don’t like girl names” – a compromise between Belinda and Blair.
  • Besides the boyish Bernie or Benny, retro Betty could also be a nickname, or the jazzy Etta.

No wonder Catholic parents continue to use Bernadette.  The wonder is that more parents don’t consider her.

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9 Comments

I AM a Bernadette named after my mother, Bernardita – the Spanish form. She was actually baptised Bernarda. My daughter’s middle name is Bernardita after my mother. And yes, we’re Catholic, Filipino and all named for St. Bernadette. I have known only a handful of Bernadettes IRL. They were either Italian, Irish or African-American. We visited Lourdes, France in 1999 and I have to admit never feeling more honored to have been named Bernadette. My given nickname has nothing to do with Bernadette but people outside my family have shortened my name to: Nadette, Dette, B-dette (dislike – too close to bidet, LOL), Bernie (dislike), B, Burning-in-debt (college humor), and Bette. I liked the final one most although “B” is the one I hear most often. Not a favorite either since it seems that anyone with a name that begins with a “B” ends up being called “B”.

I grew up knowing a Bernadette,a long time family friend, she was in her 40’s in the 90’s. Years later, I learned that were related, she married into the family. I think the nicknames for Bernadette are endless. Examples: Netta, Erna (pet form and steal from Ernesta/Ernestina), Detta, Betta, Bette (as in Bette Middler’s Bette), or just say Bette but spelled Bette (Bette/Betty Davis), Lila-Bette (borrowed from Elizabeth), Bunty ( pet form for Elizabeth). Nadette, Nada, and off the beaten path Era since Ara works.

My husband and I chose the name Bernadette for our daughter born in 2007. We think it is beautiful and feminine while still sounding strong and independent. We call her “Bette” for short sometimes. Some people don’t like the full name, but hey, that’s the case with every name. Some people love it and seem thrilled to hear it in use. We were told that it would be hard for her to grow up with, but our daughter really seems to like it. She has two Sophias and two Madisons in her class, and lots of Olivias and Emmas and Mackenzies and Isabellas in her grade too. She likes being the only Bernadette most people know 🙂 And she can’t wait to learn how to write in script because she loves the way it looks when I write it! 🙂

How exciting to hear about a real life Bernadette! Bette is a great nickname. Count me in the “thrilled to hear it in use” camp. 🙂

I love that you named your daughter Bernadette! I was born in ’66 and given the name (my mother was Bernardita and we were both named after St. Bernadette). My daughter carries my mother’s name as her middle name. I, too, never minded being the only Bernadette in a sea of Jennifers, Susans, Christines, Donnas, I was the only Bernadette in college, too, and I don’t recall ever being in the workplace with another one either. You chose a unique and beautiful name, in my humble opinion. 🙂

My MIL’s friend Detty is actually a Bernadette. 🙂 I think I prefer the nicknames to the formal form, but then I love Harriet because I adore it’s nickname possibilities.

I have been expounding the virtues of Bernadette since my teen years. Bernadette Peters and Minnie Driver’s character in Circle of Friends cemented my love for it. My favorite nicknames for it (at least for the cutesy baby years) are Birdie and Bunny. I would most likely swap those for Bette as she grew. Bernadette is one of the many names that the husband believes I’m crazy for liking, though.

I really like Bernadette. Of course, I’m Catholic, so maybe that’s why, but it’s a very appealing name. I never considered Betty as a nickname but I quite like it.