Name of the Day: Ondine

On the heels of Victor Hugo’s Eponine, we turn our attention to another French-not-French choice.

Thanks to Sebastiane for suggesting Ondine as Name of the Day.

From Anna to Ida and Elizabeth to Amanda, plenty of names beginning with vowels have been big hits for girls. But until Olivia, O names were often overlooked. Today, Owen and Oliver have joined the mix. But parents seeking a distinctive name can easily look to the letter O.

Ondine – pronounced OHN deen or possibly AHN deen – sounds French. And you might hear her in France today, though she’s quite rare. Yet unlike the sinking Eponine, Ondine has been on the upswing in recent years.

She traces back to undine, a term coined by Paracelsus – a sixteenth century scientist whose work strayed into the occult. Paracelsus linked each of the four elements to a creature – gnomes for the earth, salamanders for fire, sylphs for airs and undines for water. His inspiration for the last is pretty clear – the Latin unda means wave.

Paracelsus didn’t intend to use the term as a personal name. Instead, in the early 1800s, Freidrich de la Motte Fouqué chose Undine for his heroine, a water sprite who falls for a mortal. Enter the singing crustacean – Undine shares roots with the Little Mermaid, as well as many a similar fairy tale.

Undine became a nineteenth century artistic staple, inspiring adaptations for opera and ballet, as well as countless paintings and sculptures. It happened fast, too – the story appeared in 1811, and by 1830, the ballet Ondine, ou La Naïade debuted in London.

But Ondine was no Ariel. As befits operatic drama, when she caught her beloved cheating, Ondine summoned up the remains of her mystical abilities and cursed him. Should he ever fall asleep again, he’d struggle to breathe. That’s why a type of sleep apnea is referred to as “Ondine’s Curse.”

Other uses of the name and references to her story include:

  • Antonin Dvořák wrapped together several European stories for his 1901 opera, but called his Rusalka – the Slavic equivalent;
  • Maurie Ravel used Ondine as the title for the first movement of his Gaspard de la nuit;
  • Audrey Hepburn once played the title role on stage in Jean Giraudoux’s Ondine;
  • Edith Wharton’s 1913 novel The Custom of the Country featured Undine Spragg, a small town girl with big ambitions – and pushy parents – who makes her way into New York City society.
  • In her 1982 novel Tar Baby, Toni Morrion named one of her characters Ondine;
  • Tchaikovsky composed the opera Undina in 1869. While you may not have heard Undina, some of the musical was recycled for later works, including Swan Lake;
  • In 2001, CBS miniseries Jack and the Beanstalk: The Real Story supposed that corporate exec Jack Robinson – a descendant of the original Jack – might have an opportunity to atone for his ancestor’s giant-killing activities. Ondine is a mysterious woman who gives the assist.

There are no shortages of fictional Ondines, but real life examples are few. A handful turn up in census records, surely inspired by one of the many literary, musical or artistic uses. The same is true of Undine and Undina.

While her sophisticated sound might be a bit much for a small child, Ondine isn’t so far from popular picks of recent decades – Colleen or Josephine, for example. So if you’re seeking some rare and like the links to myth, literature and music, Ondine could be one to consider.

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21 Comments

Probably late to the party (probably? It’s 2016 XD), but there’s a new spelling for this name as of last year: Undyne (UN-dine). It comes from a video game character (from the indie game Undertale), so some might be hesitant to use it. But the watery mythological origins you wrote about (the character is a fish-woman, so her name is really fitting :3), as well as the nod to the word “undying” (adding sort of an element of “immortal” to the meaning, I think :3) make it seem like another possible name choice. At least, I think it could make a nice name. I wonder if anyone’s used it yet…

According to the CBB announcement regarding Colin Farrell new son,
Colin stars in an upcoming film titled “Ondine”.

Like Bek I’ve been infatuated with Ondine since Top Design, but then I’ve always liked O names: Ottalie, Obadiah, Oberon, Octavia(n), Odelia, Odin, Olaf, Olena, Oona, Osanne, Oscar…

Julie, thank you for the Ondine info – you’re mention in the Sunday post! I had no idea – AND it turns out that his baby mama plays Ondine, a mermaid. He’s the fisherman who finds her tangled up in his nets. O names are great. I like Orion, too, but Arthur says no.

Yeah, I was thinking as sisters ^^ I wasn’t too clear about that…
I’m not sure what I’d name her brother though, Justus maybe?

I love Undine anyway, she’s a lovely girl!

I love Undine!
Ondine looks too masculiene to me, Undine is more elegant and ladylike ^^
She’s definitely a middle name candidate! She doesn’t fit in with my current first name favourites, but that’ll probably change in time, so you never know I might end up with an Undine ^^
I think she’d go wonderfully with Phaedra, another favourite of mine..

I first heard Ondine on Top Design a season or two back and have been infatuated with it since. I think it’s just beautiful… But I can really see how Undine is undies for sure! 🙂

Ooooh, I’m a big fan of this one! I actually prefer the sound of Undine, but Ondine is good too. I’ve been considering this name as a possible middle name for future kids. We’ll see what happens — I don’t think I’d ever use it in the first position since it doesn’t exactly match with Roseanna.

I well and truly have undies on the brain! “Ondine/Undine” was my intention in the first sentence. I’d have a hard time keeping my juvenile humour under control if an Ondine/Undine ever had the misfortune of running across me.

But it’s a nice, well-intentioned guttersnipe, Bewildertrix. Much as I love Undine, I do think she’d hear undies throughout her childhood years. Which will either build character (I’m looking at you, Joel Madden) or will prompt her to be known as U. Elizabeth by the time she hits college.

Too bad, because I love Undine’s sophisticated sound. Ondine seems like a lot on a kid, too, but with some parents opting for Opal and Olive, I can see her fitting in – at least in my ‘hood.

The name is not that unusual in France, if you type the name in Facebook, you will get quite a few hits, most of them in France. There is also an Italian form Ondina. I love this name 🙂

There were 44 born in 2006, at least according to meilleursprenoms.com – I should’ve linked above! That puts her in the French Top 1000, but still seems rare.

But this is also where I ought to defer to anyone who speaks French or has lived in France – I’d compare Ondine to Olive or Opal. Fashionable, but not common and not likely to rise into the Top Ten. Is that right, or am I off?

Ah, I wish I’d paid more attention in FR101 …

The band They Might Be Giants also put out a song in the mid-nineties called Ondine. The chorus goes “I had the strangest dream / I dreamed I killed you again / Don’t make me kill you again / ‘Cause I couldn’t bear to kill you… again…”