Editor’s note: This post was originally published on October 11, 2008. It was substantially revised and re-posted on June 10, 2013.
How many names can be historic and regal, but spunky and creative, too?
Thanks to Lola for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day: Josephine.
While Joseph has been in use since Biblical times, a feminine form of the name was seldom heard.
Josepha can be found in English. In France, Josephe was in use.
That might have something to do with Joseph of Arimathea, the man who gave his burial place for Jesus after the crucifixion. Legend has it that he traveled far and wide, reaching France and Britain, possibly as the caretaker of the Holy Grail. Stories of the Grail were wildly popular in the Middle Ages, which might have boosted the popularity of the name in all its forms.
History’s most famous Josephine was actually born Marie Josèphe Rose. She was from an aristocratic family – her first husband met his death on the guillotine during The Reign of Terror. Josephine was an affectionate nickname given to her by Napoleon, one that stuck.
It isn’t clear if Napoleon coined the name, or if it was just uncommon before then.
The duo’s love story is one of history’s favorites. It didn’t end happily – Napoleon and Josephine divorced. But the former Empress would triumph over time. Her daughter from a prior marriage, Hortense, married her stepfather’s brother. Their son – Josephine’s grandson – would eventually reign as Napoleon III. Her granddaughter Josephine was Queen of Sweden in the 19th century. In the 1950s, another descendant sharing her name would become Grand Duchess of Luxembourg.
Then there’s the legendary Josephine Baker. American by birth, racism sent her abroad to stardom in France. She was also a fearless member of the French Resistance, using her unique position to aid the underground. She later became involved in the American Civil Rights movement. Years before the world even imagined Brangelina’s starbaby brood, Baker adopted a dozen orphans from all over the world. Rumor has it that a new Baker biopic is in the works, possibly starring Rihanna as the chanteuse.
History gives us plenty of notable Josephines:
- Nineteenth century reformer Josephine Shaw Lowell.
- Suffragette and civil rights activist Josephine Ruffin.
- Mystery writers Josephine Bell and Josephine Tey.
- Poet Josephine Preston Peabody.
The list goes on and on.
Josephine has also been a favorite pick for beloved fictional characters, from headstrong tomboy Jo March in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women to Elinor Brent-Dyer’s Joey Bettany in the Chalet School series.
Bo Diddley recorded “Ride on Josephine” in 1960. The song has been much-covered since then.
Nicknames abound: Jo, Joey, Josie, Fifi, Fina, Posy, and nearly any name starting with Jo.
Josie has had a great run as an independent name, too. Boosted by the high-profile birth of Josie Duggar on 19 Kids and Counting, she shares the same style as Sadie and Hattie. She ranked #254 in 2012, and seems poised to climb higher.
After spending the 80s and 90s in relative obscurity, Josephine ranked #160 in 2012 and has been on a steady rise up over the last few years.
St. Josephine was born in the Sudan, endured slavery and torture, and eventually joined a religious order in Italy. She was canonized in 2000.
With her classic style, bountiful nickname options, and French appeal, Josephine is a winning choice. She’s elegant and spunky at once – an appealing combination.