She’s a tragic operatic heroine, and Alec Baldwin’s new baby girl, too.
Thanks to C in DC for suggesting Carmen as our Baby Name of the Day.
Carmen was whispered down the alley from a spiritual name to a musical one.
Carmel is the mountain home of Elijah in the Old Testament, near the Mediterranean in Israel. Sometime in the 1100s, a monastic order known as the Carmelites was established on the mountain, devoted to the Virgin Mary – Our Lady of Carmel.
In Hebrew, karmel means garden. Carmel and Carmela have seen some use as given names.
But Carmel also morphed into Carmen, inspired in part by the Latin carmen – song.
Carmen is occasionally Italian, but most often Spanish, especially in combinations like Maria del Carmen. Carmen, Carmine, and Carmelo are sometimes heard masculine forms.
Now, to the opera.
Georges Bizet’s enduring opera was based on an 1845 novella by Prosper Mérimée. Mérimée, in turn, was inspired by a story about a scorned lover told to him by the Spanish Countess of Montijo. (Her younger daughter would become Empress Eugenie when she married Napoleon III.)
Mérimée’s tale became Bizet’s first successful opera. Only he never knew. It debuted in Paris in 1875, to a lukewarm response. Bizet died at the end of the opera’s initial run.
It’s a timeless story. There’s nice boy José, his hometown sweetheart Micaela, and the gypsy temptress Carmen. Carmen quickly tires of José when she meets the glamorous toreador, Escamillo – but José won’t let her go.
Reinventions are plentiful:
- Carmen Jones moves the story to 1940s Chicago. The 1954 movie version earned Dorothy Dandridge her first Oscar nomination.
- At the 1988 Calgary Olympics, Katarina Witt of East Germany skated to music from the opera, as did her rival, the American Debi Thomas. Witt took home gold.
- In 2001, MTV gave the story a new score and cast a young Beyoncé in the title role of Carmen: A Hip-Hopera.
Carmen is a temptress, but her unconventional boldness has become more an asset than a problem.
Throughout the twentieth century, Carmen has ping-ponged between the mid-100s and the high 300s – familiar, but never common. You might think of:
- Brazil’s Maria do Carmo found fame as fruit-wearing bombshell Carmen Miranda in 1940s Hollywood.
- Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego? was PBS’s geography-themed kid game show in the 1990s.
- Tara Patrick reinvented herself as Carmen Electra, starring on Baywatch and generally making headlines.
- The Spy Kids franchise includes computer-hacking big sis Carmen Cortez.
The name is big in Spain, but nicely low-key in the US. In August 2013, Alec Baldwin and his Spanish-born new wife, Hilaria, gave the name Carmen Gabriela to their daughter.
Overall, Carmen is far less trendy than Madison or Harper. She’s as timeless as Kate, but much less common. If you’re after something timeless, artistic and not-quite-mainstream, Carmen could be one to consider.
What do you think of Carmen? Does this name strike you as timeless or dated?
My mom always told me if I had been a twin, my twin would have been named Carmen. I find it interesting my mom was planning on the name for a twin especially when I realize we’re not hispanic nor Italian. It is certainly a beautiful name.
I know two men named Carmen.
Zena Eve says
I have a huge soft spot for Carmen because growing up I listened to Carmen Licciardello albums. Yet, at the same time it feels strange because I grew up associated the name with a man but I know historically it’s used on girls.
My grandmother was named Carmen, as is one of my best friends. I have met one man named Carmen as well! All from very different ethnic backgrounds (Jamaica, Hong Kong, and Western Europe)
Christina Fonseca says
I have a special fondness for Carmen. If I’d had a second daughter I likely would have used it as her middle name.
I have known a few women who went by the variations Carmela and Carmelita.
C in DC says
Thanks. The mere mention of Carmen Miranda has my Brazilian MIL seeing red: No, not all Brazilians wear fruit on their head!