Goauche of Dorigen of Bretagne longing for the...

Looking for a tailored, literary choice for a daughter?  Today’s feature fits the bill.

Thanks to Ashley for suggesting Dorigen as our Baby Name of the Day.

Dorigen: A Canterbury Tale

Dorigen is a rarity, unlisted in most baby name books.

And yet Dorigen can be found in any library.  She’s the loyal and loving wife in “The Franklin’s Tale,” part of Geoffrey Chacuer’s The Canterbury Tales.

Let’s talk about her Tale.

Dorigen and Arveragus are in love, and decide that their marriage should be based on equality and mutual respect – an extraordinary idea in the late 1300s.

Arveragus is a knight, and he leaves his bride in France while he sets off for England.

In his absence, another suitor named Aurelius pursues Dorigen.  She fends him off by promising that she’ll return his affections if – and only if – he can make all of the rocks on the coast of Brittany disappear.

This is impossible, but the determined Aurelius finds a sorcerer.  And poof – wouldn’t you know it?  The rocks disappear.

And then Arveragus arrives home safely.

Instead of a jealous rage – think of Odysseus slaughtering Penelope’s suitors – Arveragus and Dorigen debate whether or not she must keep her promise.

It’s a fascinating look at fourteenth century ideals of honor.  Is Dorigen’s marriage vow more important than her promise to Aurelius?

In the end, Dorigen goes to Aurelius.  Aurelius is moved by her commitment, and her love for Arveragus, that he releases her from the promise.  All ends well.

Dorigen: The Origins

Where did Chaucer find Dorigen’s extraordinary name?

In the tenth century, Alain I of Brittany married a woman named Oreguen.  At first glance, they’re not connected, but Oreguen’s name is spelled Dorguen in later records.

The historical Oreguen was from a noble family in Brittany, in a region known as Cornouaille.  Cornouaille was founded in the 800s by settlers from Cornwall, and the language spoken in both areas would have been similar, and would have been cousins to Welsh, too.

Which lends me to my best guess for Dorigen’s meaning – the original guen ending might have meant fair, from gwyn, that oh-so-familiar element in women’s names.

A few centuries before Chaucer wrote, Geoffrey of Monmouth told of Genuissa, the daughter of a Roman Emperor.  Genuissa was married to the British king Arviragus.  The pair had quite an extraordinary marriage, with Genuissa acting a mediator for her husband.  (This story is almost certainly fiction.)  Her name is also recorded as Genvissa and Venissa.

Genuissa is close enough to gwen that I suspect my guess is right.  Then there’s the Cornish Saint Wenna, known in Welsh as Gwen, in French as Blanche – and in Latin as Genuissa.

There are other stories from the Middle Ages that likely influenced Chaucer, chiefly Boccaccio’s Il Filocolo – but Boccaccio simply refers to her as “the lady.”

Dorigen: Wearable in 2014?

Where does this leave Dorigen as a baby name in 2014?

In terms of sound, she’s one-part Dora, one-part Genevieve, and shares the same rhythm as Madison and Allison.  Dorigen shortens to Dori or Gen, and it’s pretty easy to explain to anyone who asks.

And yet, make no mistake, Dorigen is unknown.  A handful of women appear in US Census records with the name, but a very few.  Your Dorigen will have to repeat the tale of her name again and again – but given the fascinating backstory, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

What do you think of Dorigen?  Is this name wearable in 2014?

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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What do you think?


  1. I read about this name first from another site link below: https://www.onceuponatimebabynames.com/2013/12/dorigen.html

    My thoughts on its pronunciation is that ‘gen’ in France is “Jehn’ from the French suffix -gene, meaning “born/birth.” Considering that he- Arveragus left his wife in France, and Chaucer’s spelling reflects the French suffix, it does seem possible that is would be pronounced the same way we would pronounce Genevieve, with a soft g and not with a hard g. According to the site listed above, it states that in the White Pages, there could be as many as 15 people named Dorigen in the U.S. On facebook, if you do a people search with the first name Dorigen, it is littered with them. So it certainly feels rare, but might not actually be rare, especially outside the the U.S.

  2. My daughter’s name has been Dorigen (hard g as it would have been in Breton) since 1974; often shortened to Dori

  3. Perhaps I need to brush up on my Chaucer because I had forgotten about Dorigen. I’m a sucker for a good literary reference, and I think the diminutive Dori makes her quite wearable.