Thanks to Basia K. for suggesting Esperance as our Baby Name of the Day.
I hadn’t heard of Esperance when Basia wrote in, but I was familiar with Esperanza. Does the -za ending sound familiar to you, too? It’s the Spanish word for hope, and there are plenty of places you might have heard Esperanza:
- She’s the teenaged heroine of Sandra Cisnero’s 1984 semi-autobiographical novel The House on Mango Street.
- There’s another fictional Esperanza at the center of 2000’s Esperanza Rising, a young adult novel by Pam Muñoz Ryan.
- In The Mask of Zorro, it is explained that the hero originally set out to avenge the death of his wife, Esperanza.
- John Wayne’s second wife was a Mexican actress named Esperanza.
- Enrique Iglesias scored a hit on the Latin charts with his single “Esperanza” in 1998.
- The lovely photo is also of an Esperanza, though she’s none of the above.
Dig a little deeper, and Esperanza is in use as early as the sixteenth century.
But she’s not just an early word name. Instead, there was a fourth century saint named Exuperantia. She lived in diocese of Troyes, and we don’t know much about her, except that she’s considered a virgin saint and she lived in Troyes – or maybe near Troyes, which would have been called something else back then, as it was established as a Roman settlement.
There are bunches of saints associated with Troyes, and Exuperantia isn’t even the first – that honor belongs to Patroclus of Troyes, a third century martyr.
Exuperantia is sometimes recorded as Esperance.
But I’m not completely certain that the saint is responsible for this name’s continued use. We know almost nothing about Exuperantia – not how she lived or died, or why she might be considered a saint. She’s certainly not widely known.
It’s also possible that Esperanza came into use as a Marian name – Maria Esperanza – in Spanish, and was imported to France as Esperance or Marie Esperance. In English, we sometimes see references to Mary, Mother of Hope.
She’s never been especially popular in France, but she’s seen steady use throughout the twentieth century. In the US, our affection for French feminine names is obvious, with names like Genevieve and Vivienne considered quite stylish, and others.
Uses of Esperance are varied and quirky. There’s a small airport on St. Martin, and a Tunisian sports club. Other athletic clubs have used the name, as does a rock on the planet Mars. It’s a place name used in the English-speaking world, and the name of several ships.
My favorite reference is probably the Espérance Club, established in the 1890s by reformers Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence and Mary Neal. They started out teaching working class London girls the skills they needed to form a dress-making cooperative. But they also became enthusiastic performers of morris dancing, and a group called the New Esperance Morris continues to this day.
Overall, Esperance is lovely. She’s somewhere between Eleanor and Ballerina. She’s fanciful and completely unexpected, but she retains a certain strength and elegance, too. She’s a gorgeous, unexpected middle – or a truly daring, but wearable, given name.