A few weeks back, Emmy Jo got us thinking about girls’ names that are both pretty and ugly. To borrow a term from the French, they’re jolie-laid – beautiful because of their flaws. It’s easy to love the lyrical Olivia, the mellifluous Melisande. But there are scores of names for girls that rather harsh and yet terribly attractive at the same time.
In the midst of a scorching early summer heatwave, we’re looking north, to Scandinavia for today’s Name of the Day: Signe.
The letters of the name bring to mind the French word for sign, from the Latin signum. But the name is completely unrelated. In Old Norse, Signý meant “new victory” and was worn by several mythological figures. Sigr means victory and was the root of many a legendary name – one Signý had a twin called Sigmund and married a fellow called Siggeir. Another Signý was the daughter of Sigar – Siggeir’s nephew.
That’s one heck of a family tree to keep straight.
Signý’s adventures are several, but despite her bravery and faithfulness, she usually meets a gruesome end but remains celebrated in the arts. A popular folk song from the Middle Ages celebrated the love of Hagbard and Signhild. Composer Richard Wagner picked up elements of the tale for The Valkyrie, part of his Ring cycle, and called her Sieglinde. She pops up in the odd painting, too.
Pronounced SIG nee and now most commonly written as Signe, the name has been in steady use in Scandinavia for centuries. In fact, it popped up in the US regularly in the late 1800s and early 1900s during the peak of immigration from Norway, Sweden and Denmark. For baby girls born in the US, Signe reached #502 in 1892; the related Sigrid peaked at #682 in 1895. Neither name has been in the Top 1000 since 1917.
In Scandinavia, however, both names remain quite popular. In 2006, it was the 13th most popular name in Denmark, and remains a Top 100 choice in Norway, too.
It takes a bit of a rebel to send a pint-sized Signe off to school with Isabella, Sophia and Samantha. But after years of aggressively pretty girls’ names, there is something to be said for an appellation with a bit of Viking warrior spirit.
We should also consider the increasing popularity of Ingrid. Rarely used in the US prior to Ingrid Bergman’s arrival in Hollywood in the 1940s, today it has risen to #626. Some of that may be parents of Scandinavian descent searching for an appropriate heritage name. And others might be attempting to channel old Hollywood glamour without resorting to the hyper-popular Ava, Lauren and Audrey.
Those influences aside, we are hearing more girls’ names these days that are frills-free and unapologetically strong. Freya, Niamh, Harriet, Imogen and Martha are all in the Top 100 in the UK. While not every trend crosses the pond, we suspect that at least some popular girls’ names will start to sound less like ballerinas and more like battle maidens.
It’s one possible antidote to the last-names-first surname craze.
And so, if you are adventurous enough to set off for worlds unknown in a longship with a dragon figurehead leading your way, perhaps Signe is the right name for your daughter.