It’s a literary surname with a fascinating history.
Thanks to Angela for suggesting Bronte as our Baby Name of the Day.
Brianna, Brynn, Brielle … there’s been a boomlet in Br- names in recent years. Combined with our affection for literary inspiration – think of Emma, Hadley, Harper – and surname names – Taylor, Emerson, Sloane – and no wonder that a handful of daring families have embraced Bronte as a girls’ name.
How many, exactly? Back in 1992, 130 girls received the name. That’s the year Juliette Binoche and Ralph Fiennes starred as Cathy and Heathcliff in the big screen adaption of Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte’s masterwork.
But the inspiration might not be entirely literary. Andie McDowell and Gerard Depardieu starred in Green Card. McDowell played Bronte. The movie was released in December 1990. In 1991, 48 girls were called Bronte.
Most years, the number is far lower. In 2012, thirteen girls received the name.
Besides Emily and Wuthering Heights, there’s also Charlotte Bronte, whose best known work is Jane Eyre, and Anne. All three sisters were poets and novelists, though they used male pen names to publish their work initially.
The family surname was a suitable one.
It’s Irish, and the original version would have been O’Pronntaigh, descendant of Pronntach. Traditionally, the O’Pronntaighs were scribes. It was once a hereditary role.
O’Pronntaigh was typically Anglicized as Prunty or Brunty. The Bronte sister’s father, Patrick, was born Brunty.
It appears that dad decided to re-spell their surname before the girls were born. He added the diaeresis above the final ‘e’ – Brontë – to indicate that the name was two syllables, not a single-syllable name rhyming with count or won’t.
We’re not certain why Patrick opted for the spelling change, but there are some compelling reasons:
- First, in Greek myth, Brontes was a cyclops, a son of the sky and the earth. He and his brothers were master craftsmen, forging weapons like the thunderbolts of Zeus or the trident of Poseidon. Brontes means thunderer. Despite humble origins, Patrick Brunty was well-read and may have taken his inspiration from the Greek.
- Some thought that the thundering cyclops and his brothers lived under Mount Etna, on Sicily. A smoking volcano must look like the entrance to some mystical forge. A village in Sicily was named Bronte after the volcano’s mythical resident.
- This is where it gets interesting: back in 1799, King Ferdinand III of Sicily was at war with the French. He was briefly deposed, but then reclaimed his throne. Admiral Horatio Nelson, a brilliant strategist, came to his aid. For Nelson’s services, the restored King made him the Duke of Bronte, and gifted him with the Castello Maniace.
We don’t know the exact date Patrick changed the family name, but we do know that he left for college in 1802, and graduated in 1806. It was the height of the Admiral’s career. He died at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, but won the battle decisively. He remains one of England’s greatest heroes. It’s easy to imagine the romance and style that might have attached to Bronte in the early 1800s.
All these years later, Bronte is forever associated with the sisters and their novels. It’s an unmistakably literary choice, especially with Harper and Hadley gone mainstream. While her sound is a little bit harsh, Br- is thoroughly accepted in a girls’ name.
If you’re after an unusual choice with bookish charm, Bronte is one to consider.
I’ve liked Bronte since I heard it on Green Card. I’d definitely use it as a middle.
I like Bronte a lot! Generally I’m not fond of the Br sound, despite or possibly because of it’s current popularity, but Bronte works for me!
I love this name, and it made our top 30 potential names for a girl for #2, but we ended up having a boy.