Thanks to Kelly for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.
More than 300 years BC, Egyptian royals answered to Berenike or Pherenike, derived from pherein – to bring – and nike – which meant victory millennia before it meant sneaker.
At least five queens reigned under some variation of the name, and other notables were found in the early Christian era.
It survives today as Bernice. A Top 100 choice from the 1890s into the 1930s, today it feels quite out of favor.
But there’s another form of the name that seems quite current.
That brings us to the saint. As Jesus struggled under the weight of his cross, a pious woman lent him her scarf. He wiped the sweat from his brow and returned the fabric – miraculously imprinting his image in the process.
Or so goes the legend of Veronica’s veil.
It’s not recorded in the Bible, but the woman may have been real. And her name may have been Berenice. We do know that vera icon means true image in Latin. So time altered Berenice to more closely resemble the phrase, and the regal, powerful name took on a deeply spiritual meaning.
Over the centuries, a wide range of women have answered to the name, including:
- Veronica Franco, a prominent sixteenth century courtesan and poet from Venice.
- A second saint and mystic, born Ursula, who lived in Italy in the early 1700s.
- Veronica Lake, she of the peek-a-bo ‘do and film noir fame, born Constance Ockelman.
The end of the 80s brought a pop culture flood.
Elvis Costello recorded a memorable single about an aging “Veronica,” inspired by Costello’s grandmother.
And then Winona Ryder starred in Heathers, a dark comedy about high school mean girls. Ryder played the only non-Heather in the clique of super popular girls.
LODGE and MARS
Archie comics gave us Veronica Lodge in 1942. She’s something of a poor little rich girl, sometimes arrogant and snobbish. Now that the long-running series is succeeding as The CW series Riverdale, the character name is back in the spotlight. Camila Mendes plays the part. The series debuted in 2017; a fourth series is expected in early 2021.
Then there’s Veronica Mars.
Back in 2004, the world met Kristen Bell’s character, a high school student and private investigator. Mars is the daughter of a local PI in Neptune, California. She follows in dad’s footsteps, and stumbles into crimes and mysteries on her own, too.
The show became a fan favorite over three seasons, and now, a dozen years after the final season of the television series and five years after the feature-length film, a fourth season arrived on Hulu.
BY THE NUMBERS
Bernice served as a go-to name for girls, ranking in the Top 100 into the 1930s. But it’s faded since, leaving the US Top 1000 in the 1980s. It’s yet to return.
The baby name Veronica has long ranked in the US Top 1000, reaching the Top 100 in the 1980s and 90s. And yet, somehow, the name feels less connected to the era than chart-toppers like Jessica or Brittany – even though they could be sisters.
The name has risen modestly in recent years, from #410 in 2016 to #359 in 2019. That’s probably down to the television characters. And yet, the name stood at #295 in 2010, so it’s too soon to call it a comeback.
Given our love for V names, versatile Veronica could make a timeless choice for a daughter. It falls halfway between an enduring classic like Katherine and current favorites like Olivia.
What do you think of the baby name Veronica? Does it strike you as fresh, timeless, dated?
First published November 4, 2009, this post was revised substantially on August 7, 2019 and again on November 13, 2020.