Today’s choice sounds like a fanciful invention, but boasts centuries of backstory.
Thanks to Christina for suggesting Zelie as our Baby Name of the Day.
Zelie: Secret Botanical Name
Azélie-Marie Guerin was born in 1831 in a tiny French village. She considered religious life, but ultimately married.
She and Louis Martin raised a family, including the future Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. Therese is one of the most well-known and widely admired saints of the modern era. Her writings were published posthumously as Story of a Soul.
Both Monsieur and Madame Martin have been beatified, and will be canonized in October 2015, meaning that the Catholic Church will soon have a Saint Zelie.
Azelie is the French word for Azalea, making Zelie a subtle nature name.
Or is it?
There’s at least one Zelie who predates Madame Martin: the daughter of Baron Dettmar Basse, a German immigrant to the US who purchased land in western Pennsylvania. He named a tiny town Zelienople in honor of his daughter, Zelie, around 1802.
What was Zelie short for?
Apparently she took her nickname from a favorite doll.
- A 1728 French opera, Tarsis et Zelie. It was based on an earlier story, set in ancient Thessaly. The story line is a little fuzzy here, but I think it goes like this: Tarsis was a priest who fell in love with Zelie. Zelie became a priestess since she couldn’t be with Tarsis. Tarsis didn’t know that his beloved had taken vows, and so decided to end his life by offering himself as a sacrifice. The priestess charged with carrying out his ritual death? Zelie.
- There’s an 1806 portrait by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres of “La Belle Zelie,” said to be named after a popular song of the era.
- Balzac’s 1834 Ursula included a character by the name.
- Charlotte Bronte’s 1853 novel Villette includes a character named Zelie St. Pierre.
- Opera singer Zelie de Lussan was born in the US of French descent in 1861.
- French astronomers Paul and Prosper Henry discovered an asteroid in 1876 and named it Zelie, though it’s often called Zelia.
- In the 1885 opera comique La fauvette du temple, Zelie was a role for a soprano.
- 1925 British silent film The Rat was set in the Parisian underworld, with a character by the name. Zelie also appeared in two sequels.
The name is reasonably well known in France today, where Zelie is more popular than ever before.
Zelie: More Theories
So were all of these women named for the plant? Maybe. There are other possibilities:
- Could it be a form of the ancient name Zelus? In Greek myth, Zelus, Nike, Kratos, and Bia were all winged deities who formed part of Zeus’ retinue, standing guard near his throne. Zelus is the source of our word zeal.
- Zelia could be a form of Celia.
- The ninth century saint Solange or Solene is also called Zelie in fifteenth century writings. Solene is generally considered a form of the Latin Sollemnia – religious. The original saint was a shepherdess killed by her master. I can’t figure out how Sollemnia became Zelie, but the usage is there.
All of this means that the name has been in use since the 1400s, give or take.
Zoe and Zoey, Zara, Zariah, and Zuri. There are plenty of Z names for girls is use today. Zelie fits right in, but so do Zella and Zadie and Zora.
Just 17 girls were given the name in 2013. The canonization of Madame Martin is sure to up that number, but Zelie remains a daring rarity with far more history than you’d ever guess.
What do you think of Zelie? Does this name stand on its own?