Colette: Baby Name of the Day

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C by fotologic via Flickr

She’s saintly, literary, and on trend. Best of all, she’s been out of the US rankings for three decades.

Colette is a special Saturday Name of the Day for expectant mom Laura.

Cole has been in the US Top 100 for more than a decade, and -ette is the “it” ending for girls, seen on popular picks like Violet, Scarlet, Juliet, and Bridget. But Colette last appeared in the US Top 1000 in 1986. What gives?

The short answer is simple: Colette peaked in 1966. Recent generations of parents probably thought of the name as one from their era, not a choice for a child.

Except that Colette’s peak was a mere #373. In 1966, other names with a similar ranking included Sophia, Emma, Clara, Beatrice, Georgia, and Celeste. Those names have headed up and up and up while Colette plummeted.

Like Cole, Colette comes from the Nicholas and Nicole family. It gives them quite an appealing meaning – the first syllable means victory, from the Greek nike. The -las is dervied from laos – people.

Nicolette is a diminutive form in French, which has also seen some use in the US, thanks to actress Nicollette Sheridan, better known as Knots Landing’s Paige Matheson and Desperate Housewives’ Edie Britt.

From Nicole to Nicolette to Colette is a natural progression, but one that might not be obvious. Notable Colettes have worn the name independently for centuries.

First was Saint Colette, founder of a reformed order of the Poor Clares in the fifteenth century. Colette sought religious life, but not just any religious life. She lived as a hermit, eventually bringing her ascetic ideals to reform the Order of Saint Clare. She founded new monasteries, and Colettine orders are still active today.

There’s also Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, best known for her novel Gigi, and the musical adaptations that followed for stage and screen. In turn of the century France, her writing was scandalous; her real life, equally so.

Colette passed her surname on to her daughter as a given name. It became quite stylish in France, peaking in 1937. After the author’s death in 1954 – she was the first woman ever given a state funeral in France – the name enjoyed renewed popularity.

If you’ve been dutifully watching your way through the Pixar-Disney flicks, you’ll recognize Colette Tatou as Linguini’s love interest from 2007’s Ratatouille. Janeane Garofolo voiced the no-nonsense chef.

Colette has some modest use as a starbaby name. Actor Dylan McDermott has a daughter called Colette. So does gymnast-turned-actress Constance Zimmer.

McDermott’s Colette has another distinction. Her birth is captured in Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues. Ensler and McDermott are about the same age, but Ensler was married to McDermott’s dad. She was his stepmother, and the pair remain very close – she is considered Colette’s grandmother. You can see the dedication from the print edition here.

McDermott reminds me of something else: I was planning to suggest Colette as an alternative for parents disappointed that Charlotte has become so popular. But the actor and his ex-wife have two daughters. Guess what Colette’s little sister is named? Yup. Charlotte.

If you’re looking for a name that is perfectly familiar, but startlingly uncommon, Colette is a great choice, the kind of name that makes you wonder “Why don’t we hear Colette more?”

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29 Comments

Emmy, it was nice to read your perspective. I actually like that the name is not necessarily on trend and am hoping that is stays that way for awhile. I also like the strong ette ending vs. the softer lit but I had never even thought about the difference. I definitely favor the French pronunciation Coh let vs. the not so pleasing to my ear Cawl ette. My one big worry was that I would constantly feel the need to correct people’s pronunciation but I have decided to let it go knowing that our families are on board with the pronunciation we like. Who really cares how the bank teller says her name anyway. Thanks for your input.

Congratulations, Laura! All the first-middle combos you’re considering are lovely.

To echo Isadora Vega’s wording, for the sake of general name discussion, I don’t find Colette to be at all “on trend” as Abby has stated. (And, Laura, there’s nothing wrong with choosing a name that isn’t on trend. In fact, it’s quite refreshing.) But here’s why I don’t think Colette fits with today’s popular names:

Yes, the “et” enders are stylish right now, but have you noticed they’re not “ette” enders? It’s not just a matter of spelling. The “ette” enders tend to be stressed on the final syllable, whereas the “et” enders are stressed on the middle syllable. Consider:
Charlotte (SHAR-lit) vs. Colette (col-ET)
Violet (VIE-lit) vs. Yvette (ee-VET)
Scarlett (SKAR-lit) vs. Suzette (soo-ZET)

Do you notice that in each pair, the first sounds quite stylish but the second not so much? As an aside, you see this in the Irish names we’ve been using, too — not just the French names. Consider how the once-popular Kathleen (kath-LEEN) has been replaced with the ubiquitous Caitlin (KAIT-lin), and how Eileen (ie-LEEN) has been far outshone by the similar-sounding but differently-stressed Aisling (ASH-lin). See the shift in syllable rhythm?

I think the majority of two-syllable iambic names (names stressed on the second syllable), such as most French names, sound rather dated. This isn’t the case with three-syllable French names, which seem to be experiencing a resurgence in popularity. Consider:
Michelle vs. Marcheline
Marie vs. Madeline
Jeanette vs. Juliette
Joelle vs. Josephine
Yvonne vs. Vivienne
Nicole vs. Nicolette
Christine vs. Clementine
Lucille vs. Lucienne
Aimee vs. Amelie
Annette vs. Antoinette

You may argue with a few of these, but in general, I find the second name in each pair above (the three syllable name) to be more stylistically on-trend. This isn’t a hard-and-fast rule. There are plenty of two-syllable French girls’ names that still sound fashionable (like Elise or Mireille or Giselle). And those who are looking to be a couple steps ahead of the naming curve may be wise in calling their daughters Louise and Colette. But it will still probably be a good 20 to 30 years before the rest of the country is ready to follow suit.

Checking the list of names Abby has profiled, I found more about Isabeau, as well as Genevieve, Valentina and Valencia. I like each of them with Colette. I’m sure it’s both fun and a challenge to choose just one from among these names and other suggestions. Best wishes!

Laura, I’m wondering if you’re considering middle names mostly by sound or if Valentina and Valencia also have some special meaning for you and your husband. Both *sound* fabulous with Colette. Meaning occurred to me when I suggested Genevieve, the patron saint of Paris. How much more French could a name be?

As for Abby’s suggestion of Isabeau, I love it! Ever since I first saw the name on a baby name website a few years ago, I’ve been intrigued by the medieval Isabeau.: lovely name but why the masculine ‘beau’ ending rather than the feminine ‘belle”? Just now I looked for Isabeau on aufeminin and found an answer in the comments from the mother of an Isabeau born in 1988. This maman shared that she found the name while reading “The Passengers of the Wind” by Fran

EEEEEEE!!! I love Colette. (My Francophile is showing again). I am glad that it isn’t getting too popular, as I like my favorites to stay that way! Congrats on the upcoming wee one, Laura-I adore here name! Kudos to you for using something familiar yet unusual.

What fun to come home to all these great posts. There are some really unique suggestions that I never would have thought of on my own. I love it. Genevieve, Isabeau and Paloma are a few of my favorites so far.
I am also happy to hear that others like Valentina (my current favorite), Valencia (my husband’s favorite) and Clementine (our 3 year old’s favorite).
And Isadora, I hear you on the power of name association. We have had to let go of a few lovely names due to bad associations from our past.
Thanks everyone!

PS there’s a Josette in first grade at our elem. school. That name seems simultaneously unusual and au courant as well.

To Laura, I’m sure your little Colette will be lovely. But just for the sake of general name discussion, it’s not a favorite of mine, and here’s why: I went to high school with a Colette and…well, kids used to sing this song to her:

“I’ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts
There they are a-standing in a row
Big ones, small ones, some as big as Colette’s!”

They weren’t doing it to be mean to her, she was proud of it. But to this day when I hear her name all I can think of are…well, BOOBS.

Isn’t it weird how the first person you meet with an unusual name colors your whole impression of that name?

I like Colette and think it works very well for an American girl — easy for others to pronounce, somewhat familiar, yet rarely used. Colette was the name of my French pen pal when we were 10 years old, many years ago. I noticed on a French baby name website (aufeminin.com) that Colette is a rare name for babies born in France today and that it can also be a masculine name in France.

I like Colette with another French name as the mn. Colette Madeleine or Colette Genevieve come to mind as pretty combinations for an American girl, but probably not the vibe your husband is seeking.

Thank you so much for posting about our chosen baby name! We are so excited to be welcoming little Colette into the world in a few weeks. We are still working on the middle name so if you have any fabulous suggestions feel free to send them our way. So far we are considering the following:
Valentina
Clementine
Catalina
Valencia
The fact that they are all C and V names is just a coincidence. We are looking for something feminine, romantic and for my husband “full of adventure”. French or Spanish name are always a plus.
Thanks again,
Laura

Ooh Fun! Feminine, romantic, and full of adventure? What about:

Colette Apolline
Colette Artemisia
Colette Evlalia
Colette Paloma
Colette Veronica

There are so many!

You’re welcome! And I love the rhythm of Colette plus ANY of these middles.

A few more for the mix:

Colette Isabeau
Colette Leocadia
Colette Amandine

Though I must say, my favorite is Colette Valencia, followed by Colette Valentina. Love the initials C.V., and both names sound full of adventure!

Congratulations, Laura, on the soon-to-be-birth of little Colette! You’ve picked a fabulous and definitely underused name. Good luck with the middle name selections!

Hi Laura 🙂
Well my name is Colette(no joke) and I want to say thanks for choosing my name for your baby! We need more Colette’s in the world!
Here is some advice and info about the name from a real Colette:
I read your comment earlier about misproununciation and it is DEFINITELY true! It is going to happen a lot, you are going to hear Cawl-ette and maybe even a Cole-eat every now and then, I know, weird right? But don’t get me wrong, I really like my name and it is interesting without being too in-your-face. The most common spelling is Collette (which people spell it that way ALL THE TIME!) and some people think I’m saying Clette, so you should pronounce it slowly and clearly and make it known that there is only one “L”.
For middle names I think that the name Annabelle (or a different spelling) would go very well because it is a sweet, romantic name. I also think Michele would go well, but I guess it depends on if it goes with the baby’s last name. What ever you decide I hope that your baby is happy and healthy!

I am usually not a fan of ‘ette’ names because they feel really clunky to my ear but this one sounds sweet. I know a lot of cultures ad the ‘ette’ at the end of names to make it a pet name and Colette has that sweet and cuddly pet name vibe.
I also know a little girl named Colleen which I think would fit with this name.

And then there’s Colette in the musical “Les Miserables,” the adopted daughter of Jean Valjean and love interest to Marius… another great reference for the name.

My daughter is named Colette and people are constantly telling me, “just like from Les Miz!” Always elicits an eye roll from me 😉

Colette is fabulous! I’ve always liked the Nic- names, even Nicole. Nicolas has a special spot in my heart. But Colette just about sings!
Sprightly, sweet and almost ethreal in sound. She floats off my tongue.
I am surprised she’s not charted, Colette feels very “now”. But I think she’ll age just fine!

A huge :thumbsup: from me for Colette!