Thanks to Sadie for suggesting Bijou as our Baby Name of the Day.
Bijou sits at the crossroads of many a trend:
- We’re mad about French names for girls.
- Gemstone names, from Ruby to Pearl, are quite stylish.
- We’re in love with that oo sound, in Lucy and June and lots of other rising names.
No wonder that Bijou has seen an increase in use over the last few years. She’s first given to five or more girls in 1998. 15 girls were named Bijou in 2012 – that’s about average for recent years, with the number ranging from 11 to 22 over the past five years.
I’m not sure if any girl has ever received the name in France, though I found her discussed as a possibility on a message board – so let’s call her equally rare.
She is a French word, borrowed from the Breton word bizou – a jeweled ring, from the word biz or bez, finger. Don’t confuse bijou with bisou – kiss. Today bijou can be used to refer to jewels and jewelry in English, but is often a synonym for elegant.
Many a theater was named the Bijou, back in the day when they were elegant little jewel boxes. Broadway’s Bijou Opera House opened in 1878, and was demolished in 1915. A second Bijou Theater was built in 1917. It hosted many a notable performance, but you won’t find the Bijou today. Instead, it is the site of the New York Marriott Marquis.
In the late nineteenth century, a cocktail was also christened the bijou, because it mixed gin (diamonds), vermouth (rubies), and chartreuse (emeralds). It’s a cousin to the martini, and has had something of a revival in recent years.
There’s also a geyser at Yellowstone Park, a Citroën coupe, and a nineteenth century palace in Egypt all called Bijou.
None of this makes the word especially wearable. For the transformation of Bijou from a noun to a name, credit celebrity parents, musician John Phillips of The Mamas & The Papas and Genevieve Waite, a South African-born model. Phillips has five children: from his first marriage, Jeffrey and Laura Mackenzie – she’s known by her middle. Then he and fellow musician Michelle Gilliam welcomed Chynna. Lastly, John and Genevieve had son Tamerlane and daughter Bijou Lilly.
Her name came from the song “My Petite Bijou,” by the jazz trio Lambert, Hendricks & Ross.
More recent uses of Bijou may have been inspired by the youngest Phillips. She’s been a model and actress since the mid-90s – shortly before we see the name begin to climb in use.
Still thinking that Bijou is too new and fleeting, maybe better suited for a bichon frise?
Back in the mid-nineteenth century, the name was worn by two child stars:
- Bijou Heron was born Helen, the daughter of an orchestra conductor and an actress. She made her Broadway debut in in 1869 at the age of six.
- Bijou Fernandez started out as a model while in her teens, had a long career on stage, and then transitioned to Hollywood during the silent film era. I can’t tell if Bijou was her given name or not – though it seems possible. A very few US Census records indicate that Bijou was used as a given name a handful of times.
Those uses make Bijou feel more like an exotic nineteenth century revival, a sister for Inez, and a glittering possibility in 2014.