Dulcie: Baby Name of the Day

Mary Miles Minter

She’s one-part Elsie, two parts spun sugar.

Thanks to Sabrina for suggesting Dulcie as our Baby Name of the Day.

With Sadie and Hattie and Winnie so stylish, it is easy to imagine parents looking for more of the same.

While many names in this category are diminutives, short for Elizabeth, Sarah, Harriet, Wilhelmina and such, Dulcie comes directly from the Latin dulcis – sweet.

Elaborations include:

  • Don Quixote’s  Dulcinea wears an especially lovely formal name for Dulcie – later the title of a Toad the Wet Sprocket album.
  • Dulcibella saw some use in medieval England, though in everyday use, she would have been Dousabel, Dousable, or even Dowsabel.  See Elea’s excellent post at British Baby Names for more.

She fits with a cluster of names borrowed from Latin that saw some use in medieval England.  Think of Constance, Clemence, Amabel, Viviana –  all names with meanings that would appeal to a parent in any time.

There’s more to the story, though.  Old English was fairly standard, used for record-keeping and everyday conversation alike.

Middle English was a language in transition, differing by region.  Chalk some of it up to the influence of Anglo-Norman, with borrowings from French, Latin, and Latin-via-French happening.  Latin was preferred for official uses.  It wasn’t until the late 1300s – the age of Chaucer – that English re-asserted itself as a literary language.  (For more on that very complex process, visit the OED online.)

The Dulcie-names lingered.  In Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors, Dromio of Syracuse refers to Dowsabel. Another play, The London Prodigal, mentions “as pretty a Dowsabell as we should hope to see on a summer’s day.”  And an poem from the same era, written by Michael Drayton, calls his Dowsabel “a maiden fayre and free.”  It’s part-name, part-endearment.

Dulcie had
Dulcie Deamer in leopardskin costume

her moment in the US more recently.  Between the 1880s and 1905, she charted in the US Top 1000.  Uses abound:

  • 1916 silent rom-com Dulcie’s Adventure featured the lovely Mary Miles Minter – that’s her in the photo above – as Dulcie.
  • In 1919 Gladys Leslie played the lead in Dulcie from Dixie.
  • Dulcie Deamer was an Australian actor and writer – that’s her in the leopardskin.
  • Dulcie Gray had a long career on stage, television and film – and also wrote murder mysteries.
  • Agatha Christie’s novel Murder on the Links included twins named Dulcie and Bella.
  • 1953 musical The Boy Friend featured the students of Miss Dubonnet’s School for Young Ladies: Maisie, Nancy, Fay, Pollyand Dulcie.
  • It was the name of a Coronation Street character in the 1980s.
  • Dulcie September was a South African anti-apartheid activist, assassinated in Paris, and for whom a Parisian city square is named.
  • The Disney Fairies family includes a Dulcie, Pixie Hollow’s best baker.

Toss in many more mentions over the years, with quite a few in South Africa and Australia, and Dulcie is just waiting to be rediscovered.

In our age of word names, dulcis also gives us dulcet, as well as the Italian dolce.  And yes, the Dolce and in fashion house Dolce & Gabbana comes from the medieval Italian personal name Dolcealso from dulcis.  Surnames like Dowson share similar roots.

And yet Dulcie remains rare.  Fewer than five girls received the name in 2012, though there were 10 born in 1980, and 23 in 1970.

Call her an undiscovered vintage choice that could be ready for a comeback – restored from medieval England and the turn of the twentieth century alike.

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12 Comments

I like the idea of Dulcie, but I can’t stand the name. Probably because I read a book where Dulcie was a wretched child – it was one of the Ballet Shoes series by Noel Streatfeild.

The ‘dul-” suffix puts me off a little, though I do quite like this name. It has historical roots and has a sweet dainty vibe.
I know a 70-ish English Dulcie: her father heard the name when he was working in Australia and liked it.
It does seem to have had a good innings in Australia, since I’ve heard of three famous Dulcies here (two from the first half of last century) and know another.
One Aussie D name that might surprise you is Desley – it was used in the state of Queensland during the 1940s. It reminds me of a mishmash of Dulcie and Lesley. I don’t think it will be revived any time soon!

In the late 90s movie Drive Me Crazy, starring a dreamy young Adrian Grenier, his girlfriend played by Ali Larter is named Dulcie.

How do you pronounce Dulcie?

Cute name I would have never considered. Fits so well with other nickname-names like Minnie, Winnie, Annie, and the like.

I’m a Dulcie! Personally I love it as a name – it’s unique and girly enough but not too much 🙂 I’m called Dulce by all my friends which I really like too