An ill-fated silver screen courtesan wore it first, but it didn’t take long for real life children to follow.
Thanks to Hanalise for suggesting Satine as Name of the Day.
In 2001, Moulin Rouge! took audiences by surprise. My thoughts went something like this:
Nicole Kidman and Ewan MacGregor can sing.
They can sing mash-ups of pop songs by Elton John and Nirvana and Madonna and it works.
It wasn’t just me. Moulin Rouge! became the first musical nominated for a Best Picture Oscar in more than two decades.
The genre-bending big screen extravaganza is based on Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata, but Verdi’s courtesan was Violetta. Verdi borrowed his inspiration from Alexandre Dumas, fils’ La Dame aux camélias. Dumas called his girl Marguerite, but she became Camille in English.
Luhrmann had plenty of precedent to rename his leading lady and her would-be savior. (Dumas’ Armand became Verdi’s Alfredo.) The thing is, Luhrmann landed on Christian. It’s a handsome name, to be sure, and one that fit the idealistic, artistic character well.
But when Christian falls for Satine? At the risk of conjuring Dana Carvey’s SNL Church Lady skit, the name has always seemed awfully close to Satan.
Kidman’s Satine wasn’t evil, but she did represent a glittering, tempting world that would ruin young Christian.
Beyond He of the Cloven Hoof, Satine also brings to mind fabric. Satine is simply the French for satin. It’s a slightly more innocent spin, but it’s not quite calico or cotton. No one makes crib sheets in satin.
There’s a widely circulated tale that satin is originally a place name, based on Zaitun, a medieval name for a city in China. Others link the word to the Latin seta – silk. Satine might mean satin, but in English, she sounds like sateen – another glossy fabric, and one that feels slightly downmarket.
Satin could have been in use as a given name. Enid Bagnold called her heroine Velvet in her 1935 novel. Elizabeth Taylor starred in the 1944 film version of National Velvet. The character was courageous and strong-willed and lovely, and Velvet did appear in the US Top 1000 between 1961 and 1964.
Neither Satin nor Satine has ever cracked the US Top 1000, but a handful of Satines appear in US Census records over the years. Some files could be misspellings of Sabina, Savina and Sabine. Given the numbers of Saints Sabinus and Sabina, a series of mistakes almost seems plausible. Still, there were women and men named Velvet before Bagnold’s novel, so a few parents doubtless were inspired by a bolt of cloth.
Satine attracted the attention of modern parents when Real World: London alum turned actress Jacinda Barrett bestowed the name on her daughter in 2007.
Calling a daughter Satine isn’t nearly as extreme as choosing Lucifer or Spandex for your kiddo’s handle. It’s an undeniably pretty name. But it is quite the daring choice, and one that might prove difficult to wear.