The rise of a name often lifts similar-but-different choices. Could Theo’s popularity help boost this French obscurity?
Thanks to Kara for suggesting Theodule as our Baby Name of the Day.
Head to a Paris playground today and you won’t hear Theodule. He peaked back in 1906, and even then, he was pretty unusual. In recent decades, he’s virtually unknown.
The near-disappearance of Theodule is, in part, an accident of translation and homogenization. Kara found him in early nineteenth century Missouri, and it does appear that Theodule had a good run in the early 1800s in French-speaking communities.
But at one point, he must have been in fairly steady use. Several saints answered to the name, though many of them have since been recorded as Theodore – hastening Theodule’s decline.
The most famous St. Theodule was Bishop of Sion, in Switzerland. Sion’s history dates to the late Mesolithic period, and there’s archeological evidence that the area has been populated ever since – that’s thousands and thousands of years BC. It was Sedunum to the Romans when they conquered and chronicled the area. Christianity reached Sion by the fourth century, and a bishop was appointed. That bishop was none other than Theodule. Unlike some early saints, there’s clear historical evidence supporting his life, including the founding of the Abbey of Saint Maurice, though some of the legends attached to the saint are fantastic. The Abbey is the oldest north of the Alps, and the diocese is the oldest in Switzerland.
Theodule left his mark on the region in many ways. Sion is located in the Swiss canton of Valais. While trade routes had long crossed the region, an important pass was named in the saint’s honor, connecting the Matterhorn and the Breithorn.
Other nineteenth century Theodules include:
- The painter Theodule-Augustin Ribot
- Egyptologist Theodule Deveria
- Printer Theodule Tellier
While Theodore means gift of God, Theodule’s meaning is usually given as servant of God. He reminds me of Ferapont, a name Chekov used in Three Sisters, with the same meaning.
From the 300s into the 1800s, Theodule persists. He’s recorded as Theodulus in Latin and as Teodolo in Spanish. But he fades in English. Some of the blame goes to the tendency to record him as Theodore, but I’m also intrigued by Yoder. The surname was derived from a vernacular form of Theodore and Theodule – Joder. Could it be that the shared short form blurred the lines, too?
Today, Theodule would be a surprise on your son’s birth certificate, but your son would almost certainly answer to Theo – or maybe Ted or Teddy – in everyday life. Should you be looking for a Swiss heritage name with ties to France, this makes Theodule an easy one to consider. Or if, let’s say, your surname is Moore but your heart is set on Theo, well … Theodule makes for a formal name that would work.
Charlotte Vera says
How is he pronounced? Is the name phonetic (in English), or does it require some explanation?
We met a little Theo whose full name is Thelonius.
That is brilliant!
Ha, I feel bad because this was my husband’s pick for our Theo, but I vetoed it for being too obscure…hope he doesn’t stumble on this! I’m amazed that someone else went that route too, though–there are only a handful of them out there (and usually too few with the Thelonius spelling, which we would have used to avoid having it look too similar to “felonious,” to even be reported on the SSA list!) I’ve always wondered who they were. 🙂
I really like Theo, but with a Simon already, even with an Uncle Theodore, Theodore is *not* an option for me. But…
I like Theodule!
He’s be perfect middle name material for me to honor that Uncle without going too ‘Munky. 😀
I think it’s super cute! Theodulus is so dashing, too.
Abby, have you considered doing a “Getting to Theo” post? There are so many nice options other than Theodore.
Thank you for featuring this one Abby! I’m really impressed by all the info you were able to dig up on Theodule. I like your translation- “servant of God”- better than the meaning I found when I first looked him up- “slave of God.” Yikes, I find that latter meaning a little much for anyone to bear!
He’s definitely clunky, but Theodule-Augustin does sound so perfectly French Empire.
Christina Fonseca says
My first reaction was THEODULE???? Then I thought of Teodulo, a father and son I knew many years ago. Can’t remember if the son went by Theo or Ted. Definitely obscure, but its clunkiness makes it great for a middle name.