This post was originally published on January 14, 2009. It was substantially revised and re-posted on July 15, 2014.
Looking for a French name less popular than Madeleine, not as celebutante as Paris?
Thanks to Nessa for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day: Genevieve.
Not only is Genevieve authentically French, she occupies a special place in history.
Back in the fifth century, Attila the Hun prepared to march on Paris. Residents were packing up their worldly goods to flee when Genevieve suggested another course of action: pray, fast, and ask for God’s protection.
Believe it or not, Attila directed his troops elsewhere, and the city was spared. Little wonder she’s been the patron saint of Paris for centuries.
A later medieval legend gives us a second admirable Genevieve. This time she’s the wife of a nobleman, wrongly accused of infidelity. In the story, Genevieve flees with her son and, after many years in hiding, her husband discovers the truth and restores her good name. Historians suggest that her tale is based on a real life wife who was not so fortunate – her husband learned of her innocence after she’d met her maker. The legend inspired a nineteenth century operetta by Jacques Offenbach, but is not well known today.
The medieval Genevieve is also sometimes referred to as Genovefa, which is probably closer to the name’s original form. But her origins are murky, with some citing Celtic roots and others arguing a Germanic derivation.
- Ginevra, from the Harry Potter franchise and the lives of Leonardo Da Vinci and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
- Guinevere, a totally unrelated name straight out of Arthurian romance, but with a similar sound.
- A Swiss city, but also close in sound to Genevieve.
Speaking of sound, she’s very different in French: zhan vee EHV, instead of the English jenna VEEV.
Genevieve reached as high as #76 in 1916. She slowly fell out of favor, as other French feminine names took her place. In France, she peaked a few decades later.
In the 1950s, Genevieve was a successful movie musical about a road race. But Genevieve wasn’t the driver – she was the stylish 1904 Darracq race car.
The trend reverses in the 1960s. Why?
- She piggy-backed on the rise of fellow Jen name Jennifer.
- In the wildly popular musical Camelot, Guinevere appeals to Saint Genevieve in song. The musical debuted in 1960, was adapted for the big screen in 1967, and is frequently revived and produced by regional theaters.
As Jennifer stumbled and Camelot faded, Genevieve stumbled. But the twenty-first century has been kind to this name. Credit TLC’s Trading Spaces designer Genevieve Gorder, as well as a general interest in French names for girls.
As of 2013, Genevieve ranks #218 – not quite as popular as her previous high, but with the potential to continue her climb.
And why not? Genevieve is feminine and frilly, but she also has a definite strength to her. Nicknames range fro Genie to Vivi to Evie to Gigi to Gen – something to suit any child. It’s a name that manages to be neither too elaborate or too tailored – the middle road between Arabella and Esther. If you’re looking for a mainstream name that balances sophistication and wearability, Genevieve could be the one.
What do you think of Genevieve? Do you think she’ll return to the US Top 100 any time soon?
Genevieve is my very favorite, and has been for nearly a year. I find it feminine, but not frilly. I love names like those. I also find it known, but underused. I would love to meet a little Genevieve. We may have a daughter in the future, and am hopeful that my husband will warm to the name as I find it quite lovely.
I knew a Genevieve who went by Gigi.
Actually, the French consider this a Celtic name with their pronunciation/spelling as a ‘French version’. It is said to mean ‘white wave/of the women race’ in Celtic. Genevieve, in other words, is not an ‘English’ version of the French name. It’s a version of the original Celtic. Great name, whatever its origins/meaning.
I really like the name Genevieve, and though it is phonetically spelled I think people would still get the spelling wrong. It also seems long, and difficult for a young child to learn to write. If it didn’t have these drawbacks, it would be on my shortlist.
My name is Genesis. Both have their roots in the same meaning. Wonder what could be some nice nicknames, if not the usual Jen/ Gen/ Genie. Its very annoying being called the Genie from Childrens’ Fairytales, you know. How do you pronounce it — Ge — naa — sis I guess.
I think Genelia is a terrible nickname, one a little too reminiscent of some certain body parts…I am sure you know the names she will be called…
My name is Genevieve and it gets my vote too! Its sad when people try to copy and mint words like Genelia…I’ve to be very adamant not being called by any nicknames.
I love the name Genevieve! However I love Guinevere too. 🙂
I have a Genevieve Olivia and receive so many compliments on her name. I have always loved the name and it was a way to use my grandfather’s name (Gene). Genevieve’s brother is Alexander Maxwell. Now we are expecting our third (don’t kow sex) and having a very hard time finding a name for either a boy or girl that we love as much and fits with Genevieve and Alexander. Penelope, Calliope and Caroline are frontrunners for girls. Boys we have no idea – Gabriel, Theodore (and my husband likes Hamilton) are the best we have so far but I’m not over the moon about any of them. Suggestions?
Genevieve Olivia is gorgeous! No wonder you get compliments! Well done!
Genevieve Olivia is beautiful!
I like Penelope too, but I LOVE Theodore and Hamilton. Mostly because of the nickname Hammie. 🙂
My daughter is Genevieve Marie. As a child she went by Genna, but when she graduated from high school she became Genevieve again and only introduces herself by that name. She loves her name and always gets compliments on it. My son’s children call her “Aunt Vieve” and she thinks that is perfect as well! She was named for my godmother and the name wasn’t very common back in the mid-eighties, but seems to be gaining a little popularity today.
I only knew one Genevieve growing up, and she went by the nickname “Viva”. Loved it!
Aw~ I feel special ^^ My name is Genevieve Rose [1 name , not 2 seperate~] Thats what my mom told me , all I knew is that my name is French , my orchestra teacher said so as well .. The only time I’m feminine is when I’m wearing a dress xD But teachers keep calling me Geneevuh or Gweneveev . =.=;
Stef with an F says
In my high school French class (circa 1996), this was my chosen name . The french pronounce it so prettily, I think: Zheh-neh-vee-EHV. Unfortunately (for my preference) most people I know would pronounce it as JEN-uh-VEEV.
yea, my husband would def. call her ‘G’…but we agree that we like Vieve as a nickname [veeve or viv pronunciation]…love vivian but it’s so popular…i’m sure genevieve is heading that way, but for now, as you all said, classic, familiar, but not too common. i’ve only met one, and that was in kenya. and it was simply her english name, that she went by in public, not her african given name. so, not so common.
I came across your website. Our daughter’s name is Genevieve Ella. We just love as it is not common but is familar. Usually we don’t shorten our daughter’s name and usally only in gest, referring to her as simply “G”.
I love Genevieve. So much she’s on my short-list if I have a daughter. I’d use it in the first name, and would call her Eve.
Genevieve is one of our frontrunners – it’s a family name and I like that it has history but it is not (at least not yet!) as common as other names we liked Sofia or Isabella, etc. Will likely use the nn Eva…
Genevieve is on the short-list if we have a daughter. My son’s name is Titus and I have a feeling a little sister will need to keep up with such a strong brother. My nickname of choice would be Vivi.
We just named our 3rd daughter, Genevieve Celina (born August 23, 2009)! After naming our son after his father, I wanted to name our daughter after my Polish grandmother (Celina/Celinka) and me, without using Jennifer or the common nicknames. We also needed a name to go along with Gracie and Katie (Katherine)…religious, feminine, and strong. Genevieve is perfect, so diverse!!! Now the family is trying to determine her nickname….so a big THANKS for stating thoughts regarding nicknames.
Congratulations! What a lovely name, and what a graceful way of handing down some family favorites.
Laney McDonald says
I love Genevieve. It is more middle name material for me, but still a great name. I would hate for her to be called Genny or Jen/Gen. Jenna/Genna, Eve or even Evie would be my nickname choices if I decided to use it as a first name.
Genevieve has made our short list, mostly because my mother-in-law’s name doesn’t translate. (It’s Grazyna. And she hates when Americans try to call her Grace, so we figured another G name was about the best we could do.)
I think everyone’s reactions sum up why Genevieve is likely to rise. I’ll be curious to see the US stats in a few weeks.
I think she’s just beautiful. The only drawback is the Gen- nicknames, but I think that could be avoided. I’ve met one Genevieve and she is very adamant about not being called by any nicknames. Eve is lovely though, if the full name is too long for you. It’s one of my favorites, I’d use it in a heartbeat.
Baby Name Brainstorm says
Genevieve gets my vote. To me, she is a medieval maiden, with an air of romance and enchantment. This is perhaps in part due to the similarity with Guinevere from the Arthur legend. Some people consider them different forms of the same name. The Welsh variant, Gwenhwyfar, is also very lovely. She sounds like an Elven princess. These names speak of innocence, beauty and nobility.
I do like Genevieve; as Kate & Shannon expressed, she’s feminine but not ‘fluffy’ and I think she’d age well. I don’t really like the English pronunciation of the name – I mean, I don’t hate it, but I prefer the French, so when she features in my combos, Genevieve is usually the first mn. She’s actually an old family name for me too, being my great-great grandmoter, grand-mother and cousins’ name!
I like the fact that Genevieve is feminine ‘but not fluffy’ as Shannon put it and I also like the fact that I’ve never met one, but at the same time she doesn’t raise an eyebrow. But something about Genevieve just isn’t for me, she leaves me blank. I neither like nor dislike her one thing that does put me off and that Paige has touched upon already is the nickname Gen/Genna/Genny – I couldn’t deal with that I’m afraid!
I really like Genevieve and it’s non-variant, Ginevra. They just seem so exotic and even a little romantic. However, I’m not the biggest fan of the Gen nns… the only Genevieve I’ve ever heard of goes by Genna, which is not a fave. name.
However, it would definitely be a viable candidate for the middle, where I often stick names which don’t have any nns I like!
Genevieve is very pretty and nice, but seems to be the darling of name boards anymore. I’m feeling a bit sick of it, but that doesn’t reflect the actual amount of Genevieves at all.
I would like to see more baby Genevieves, though!
I really like Genevieve but she’s not for me. The family Genevive ended in sad manner and it brings back bad memories for the extended family. I broached the subject when I was pregnant with Josephine. I think she’s got loads of style, a lot of sass and energy and is such an all around winner in style, I wish I could use her myself, but have to hope others will be as enchanted with Genevieve as I am, and use her!
It’s one of my favorites and I like the way it’s said in both English and French. It’s feminine but not fluffy, not common (at least not yet) and it’s got a long history. And even sounds well with my last name. I’d just use it with no nn. Ever see the French movie (all sung) Umbrellas of Cherbourg? There is a Genevieve in that. I know of one young Genevieve who was in my son’s school but she spelled it Jenavieve.
Would you pronounce it the French way, Jean-vee-ev, or is that too affected? Found a fun name website the other day that I’ve never seen before: http://www.pokemyname.com/
Would you pronounce it Gen-ah-veeve or Jean-vee-ev? I think it’s prettier the French way, but might be more trouble than it’s worth. I ran across a fun name website I’d never seen before the other day, have a look: http://www.pokemyname.com/
I like Genevieve and it’s great for others to use. It’s a little long and the soft g with the vs make it feel almost voluptuous, making it a little much for me, personally, to use. (I also quite like Ginevra, which you mentioned, and that maintains some of the sumptuousness, without being overly so for me.) I’ve never met a Genevieve and that is appealing – it’s familiar and unique at the same time. (I do know a Ginevra, but it’s still uncommon.) I would just hope that if I got to meet a little Genevieve, that the parents don’t go for the Jen/Gen type nns – I’d hope for Eve or Neve or some other such nn that the name allows.