Baby Names Inspired by Les Miserables

Les Miserables - CosetteThe latest film version of Les Misérables comes out on December 25.

The movie(s) and the musical are based on Victor Hugo’s book Les Misérables, which is set in France in the early 1800s–not long after the French Revolution.

The story is full of characters with interesting (dare I say enticing?) French names. Will any of them become trendy baby names once the movie is out? Perhaps!

Here are six likely contenders:

Cosette

  • Character: Cosette [ko-ZET]
  • Etymology: Unknown. Hugo may have based Cosette on the French word chosette, a diminutive of chose, “thing,” hence, “little thing.” He calls attention to the similarity between Cosette and chosette in this passage, in which Jean Valjean talks to Gavroche:

    “The letter is for Mademoiselle Cosette, is it not?”

    “Cosette?” Gavroche grumbled; “yes, I think it is that absurd name.”

    “Well,” Jean Valjean continued, “you have to deliver the letter to me; so give it here.”

    […]

    “Here it is.”

    And he handed the paper to Jean Valjean.

    “And make haste, Monsieur Chose, since Mamselle Chosette is waiting.”

  • Usage: 75 baby girls were named Cosette and 16 were named Cozette in 2011.
  • Interesting fact: Cosette’s real name is Euphrasie, the French form of Euphrasia, meaning “good cheer” in Ancient Greek. Neither Euphrasie nor Euphrasia has ever appeared on the SSA’s baby name list.

Éponine

  • Character: Éponine Thénardier
  • Etymology: Unknown. Some think the name Éponine “makes reference to a well-known Gaelic legend in the nineteenth century,” the legend of Epona. Epona ultimately comes from a Gaulish word meaning “mare” (female horse). Hugo says Éponine’s mother found the name in a romance novel:

    [T]he female Thénardier was nothing but a coarse, vicious woman, who had dabbled in stupid romances. Now, one cannot read nonsense with impunity. The result was that her eldest daughter was named Eponine; as for the younger, the poor little thing came near being called Gulnare; I know not to what diversion, effected by a romance of Ducray-Dumenil, she owed the fact that she merely bore the name of Azelma.

  • Usage: Éponine has never appeared on the SSA’s baby name list.
  • UPDATE: Eponine debuted on the 2012 SSA list (which came out mid-2013) with 7 baby girls.

Fantine

  • Character: Fantine
  • Etymology: Unknown. Hugo says this about the origin of both Fantine and her name:

    Fantine was one of those beings who bloom, so to speak, out of the dregs of the people. Issuing from the lowest depths of the social darkness, she had on her forehead the stamp of the anonymous and the unknown. She was born at M—- on sur M—-. Of what parents? Who could say? She had never known either father or mother. She called herself Fantine. Why Fantine? She had never been known by any other name. At the period of her birth the Directory was still in existence. She had no family name, as she had no family; and no Christian name, as the church was abolished. She accepted the name given her by the first passer-by, who saw her running barefooted about the streets. She received a name as she received the water from the clouds on her head when it rained. She was called Little Fantine. No one knew any more.

  • Usage: Fantine has never appeared on the SSA’s baby name list.

Jean

  • Character: Jean Valjean
  • Etymology: Jean [ZHAWN] is the French form of John, which is ultimately derived from a Hebrew name meaning “God is gracious.”
  • Usage: 208 baby boys were named Jean in 2011.

Marius

  • Character: Marius Pontmercy
  • Etymology: Uncertain, though the name Marius “may be connected with Mars, the name of the god of war, or perhaps mas, maris ‘virile’.”
  • Usage: 59 baby boys were named Marius in 2011.

Valjean

  • Character: Jean Valjean
  • Etymology: Hugo says the surname is a contraction of voilà Jean:

    Jean Valjean came from a poor peasant family of Brie. He had not learned to read in his childhood. When he reached man’s estate, he became a tree-pruner at Faverolles. His mother was named Jeanne Mathieu; his father was called Jean Valjean or Vlajean, probably a sobriquet, and a contraction of voilà Jean, “here’s Jean.”

  • Usage: Valjean has not appeared on the SSA’s baby name list recently, though it was on the list from the 1910s to the 1960s, mainly as a girl name.

Which of these names is most likely to take off in 2013, do you think?

Sources:

  • Hanks, Patrick, Kate Hardcastle and Flavia Hodges. A Dictionary of First Names. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.
  • Roche, Isabel. Character and Meaning in the Novels of Victor Hugo. West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press, 2006.

One Response to Baby Names Inspired by Les Miserables

  1. Just noticed that Eponine is on the SSA’s baby name list for the first time in 2012 (the data was released yesterday).

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