She feels like a modern mash-up of Scarlett and Elizabeth.
Thanks to Shelby for suggesting Escarleth as our Baby Name of the Day.
I’m fascinated by Escarleth. According to most reputable baby name websites, she simply doesn’t exist. But she and Escarlet are both there, at the bottom of the US statistics. She’s in use, no doubt, especially in the Spanish-speaking world.
Could she be a foreign spin on Scarlett, from an obscure language? There seemed to be a cluster of young Escarleths in Honduras, so I went looking for evidence that the name was tied to Nahuatl.
Turns out I was way over thinking it.
As Sebastiane and L pointed out, words that start with the letter S in English often taken an E in Spanish. Think of Stephen and Esteban, or Stephanie and Estefanía. Scarlet, the color, becomes escarlata in Spanish.
Scarlett, the name, has a different history. Her big boost came from Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind. The bestseller became a celebrated movie, and Scarlett O’Hara inspired parents to consider the name. Hollywood gave Scarlett her most recent boost, thanks to actress Scarlett Johansson. Originally an occupational surname for a cloth dealer, scarlet wasn’t necessarily a shade of red at first. (In the novel, we learn that Miss O’Hara grandmother was Katie Scarlett – first and last names.)
Red was the most common shade of scarlet, and eventually the fabric and the color became interchangeable. But Spanish speakers aren’t naming their daughters Escarlata. Instead of a literal translation, they’re adapting the popular English name to suit their native tongue. It’s an interesting phenomenon. It is a time-tested process, the kind of assimilation that gives us Elizabeth and Isabella.
The E is simple. The -th is trickier to explain. I’d expect Escarlet and Escarleth to be pronounced differently. But then I though of the more widely-used Yamilet, Yamilete and Yamileth – Spanish forms of the Arabic Jamila. I’ve heard them pronounced yah MEEL eht, but also yah me ley with a faint hint of a t sound at the end. L noted that the addition of the -h didn’t indicate that the sound was a “th” – it was to emphasize that the end “is supposed to sound like a t.”
The best example I could find of the latter is this YouTube video – apparently, Yasuri Yamileth is a persona of a Panamanian radio host called Katherine Severino. This piqued my curiosity – was Yamileth the equivalent of, say, Jordynn? Did that make Escarleth the rough equivalent of Jezelle? Lizeth seemed to be free of any negative associations, but was she closer to Eliza or Betsy?
After watching oodles of YouTube videos, I’ve concluded that Escarleth is almost certainly what L and Sebastiane suggested: a Spanish version of the popular color name, with a spelling meant to emphasize the desired pronunciation, not unlike some parents adoption of Alivia instead of Olivia in a bid to get the correct vowel sound.
If you’re living in an English-speaking country, Escarleth would likely fare better as Escarlet, or even Escarlette. But I’ll admit that I still love the look of Escarleth, even if I can’t see it without pronouncing the final th.