She’s a literary gem with Gothic overtones. And while she’s rare, her elements are undeniably popular.
Thanks to Kate and Katharine for suggesting today’s Name of the Day: Christabel.
If you don’t mind carrying your accommodations on your back, New Zealand’s Lake Christabel is a possible backpacking destination. The Maori lived in the area for generations; English explorer Thomas Brunner “discovered” it in the nineteenth century.
I’m intrigued by the use of Christabel for the lake’s name. After all, Samuel Taylor Coleridge was one of the most famous Lake Poets. And his poem, Christabel, was published just a few decades before Brunner headed off on his adventure. While the link seems likely, I can’t prove it – or even confirm if Brunner himself chose the lake’s name.
Christabel is not Coleridge’s best known work. It’s not even complete. Published in 1797 and 1800, the first two parts tell of Christabel, the well-born daughter of Sir Leoline. She meets Geraldine, apparently a victim of a botched kidnapping, in the woods by her home. Christabel takes her in; weirdness ensues.
The poem influenced Edgar Allan Poe, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu – his 1872 novel Carmilla appears to be an expansion of Coleridge’s poem – and, of course, Bram Stoker, who would pen Dracula nearly a century later, in 1897.
Modern readers probably first stumbled on the name in AS Byatt’s bestselling 1990 novel, Possession: A Romance. Roland Michell and Maud Bailey are struggling academics who find themselves investigating the secret romance of Victorian poets Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte. The book hit the big screen in 2002, starring Gwyneth Paltrow as Maud.
Byatt’s choice of Christabel for the Victorian poet was appropriate. Ever since Coleridge’s poem was published, the name appears to have been used sparingly in educated and aristocratic English circles:
- Born in 1880, Christabel Pankhurst was an early English suffragette and co-founder of the Women’s Social and Political Union.
- Christabel Burton Bielenberg was born in England in the early 20th century. While studying abroad, she fell in love with a German lawyer. They tied the knot in 1934 – and ended up living through World War II in Germany. Active in the anti-Nazi movement, husband Peter narrowly escaped imprisonment. Their story became a 1988 BBC drama starring Elizabeth Hurley.
- The Lady Alice Christabel Montagu-Douglas-Scott was born in 1901 and married Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, son of King George V.
- Another member of the British royal family was born Princess Alexandra Helen Elizabeth Olga Christabel in 1936.
Christabel has the antique feel so popular today. She also shares two familiar elements:
- The -bel of chart-topping Isabel and up-and-comers Annabel and Arabella;
- That popular feminine name, Christina. It’s been worn by saints aplenty. Today most forms of the name are a bit dated – Christine peaked at #14 from 1967 through 1970; Christina reached #12 in 1975 and again in 1985; Christa, Kristina, Kristin, Kristen and Krista have all ranked in the US Top 1000.
Christabel, however, has never ranked in the US Top 1000. With her appealing literary backstory and vaguely Gothic vibe, she could appeal to many. And with parents searching for new -bel names, this certainly sounds fresh.