She sounds French, a fitting name for a mademoiselle. But there’s so much more to her story.
In honor of my sister-in-law’s birthday, our Baby Name of the Day is Solange.
In the ninth century, there lived a Frankish peasant girl who was, despite relatively humble origins, was said to be quite beautiful. She worked as a shepherdess, and committed to a life of chastity at a young age. Even when the local aristocrat came calling, she stuck to her vows, and refused him.
There’s rarely a happy ending to these stories, and this one ends in tragedy, too.
Her scorned suitor decided to kidnap his would-be-bride. Things went downhill, and the young girl was beheaded. But because this is a saint’s tale, the girl picks up her head and walks to the closest church. Once she reaches consecrated ground, she collapses and succumbs to death.
We know her as Saint Solange, and the church and village where she met her final death is still known as Sainte-Solange, smack in the middle of central France as we know it today. That’s the church in the photo to the right.
What has me puzzled is this: what was Solange’s name in the 800s?
Most sources say that the name comes from the Late Latin Sollemnia, the Latin word for religious. If it wasn’t her name at birth, it was a fitting description for a future saint. Could Sollemnia have been a given name in the era?
Most Frankish names seem to be solidly Germanic, not Latin. Then again, I did find Veneranda – venerated – mentioned a few centuries earlier in the history of the Merovingian rulers. So maybe.
The village was called Soulange, Solengia, and Sollangia over the centuries. The ou spelling is intriguing. In Berrichon, one of the dialects spoken in the area, la pomme – an apple – becomes la poumme.
As for the -ge ending, plenty of Latin words picked up a similar ending via Old French. Diluvium became deluve became our word deluge. Extraneus became etrange, the source of our word strange.
What we know for certain is that the saint’s name survives as Solène in modern French, and it has been quite popular in recent years.
Solange has had a good run in Latin America, and Solange Knowles has made the name familiar to an America audience, too.
Not too popular, though – she’s never cracked the US Top 1000, and just 70 girls received the name last year. That could be a perfect ranking for parents seeking the familiar, but rarely used. (Technically, Solange didn’t even make the Top 2000 names for girls born in 2012 – Guinevere, Martina, and Avalon are all more common.)
Some of her popularity may be due to a happy accident: take apart the name, and you have sol ange – sun angel, if you stretch a little bit. It’s not accurate to say that Solange means “angel of the sun” – though plenty of sites make that claim.
Overall, Solange is an intriguing rarity, a name that could wear well in 2013. She’s saintly, medieval, seldom heard, and yet surprisingly international and modern in spirit, too.