Lalage’s quirky definition is what first caught my eye.
Horace, the Roman poet, created the name Lalage over two thousand years ago from the ancient Greek word lalagein, meaning “to chatter,” “to prattle,” “to babble,” or (in the case of a bird) “to chirp.” He invented it as a fitting alias for the “sweetly laughing, sweetly talking” woman described in Ode 1.22:
dulce ridentem Lalagen amabo,
The name Lalage has since appeared in other literary works, including the play Politian (1835) by Edgar Allan Poe, the poem “Rimini” (1906) by Rudyard Kipling, and the novel The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969) by John Fowles.
In The French Lieutenant’s Woman, the mother of the child named Lalage “pronounced it as a dactyl, the g hard.” So: LAL-a-ghee. But I checked other sources (such as this one) and found a variety of pronunciation suggestions.
There are two distinct camps regarding the G, for instance — the hard-G camp (lal-a-ghee) and the soft-G camp (lal-a-dgee). I think the soft-G makes the most sense for English-speakers, as the English forms of other Greek-origin names (like George and Eugene) also tend to have soft G’s, but that’s just personal opinion.
Lalage has since become the name of an asteroid (822 Lalage) and a genus of birds (the trillers), but my favorite association so far is the mid-20th-century circus performer.
Lalage — whose real name was Hedwig Roth — was an aerialist with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. According to one circus program, she was a “dusty blonde of French-Swiss origin” and she pronounced her name lä-lä-gay, but she had “given up trying to sell people that idea” because most people assumed it was lä-LÄZH. (See what I mean about the various pronunciations?)
Here’s the first stanza of the poem “Lalage!” (1946) by American poet Charles Olson:
The legs of Lalage toss, and toss, and toss
(l’esprit de femme)
against the canvas of the circus sky
What do you think of the name Lalage? Would it be a good alternative to popular girl names like Lillian or Lily?