Oenone (Œnone) is a female name pronounced ee-NOH-nee.
Oeneus (Œneus) is a male name pronounced EE-nee-us.
Both names come from Greek mythology:
Oenone was a mountain nymph who was the first wife of Paris of Troy. (Paris later left her and took up with Helen — a move that eventually led to the Trojan War.)
Oeneus was a mortal king who, after learning how to make wine from the god Dionysus, introduced it to the region of Aetolia.
And both names are based on the same word: the ancient Greek oinos, meaning “wine.” (The modern words oenology and oenophile are also based on oinos.)
Since it’s St. Valentine’s Day, and I bet many of us will end up having a glass of wine at some point, I thought today would be the perfect day to talk about wine-based names.
I first spotted Oenone while reading about English author Daphne du Maurier, who had a research assistant named Oenone Rashleigh around the time she was writing her bestselling book The King’s General (1946). Interestingly, Daphne’s grandfather was George du Maurier, writer of Trilby (1894).
In terms of real-life usage, I’ve found very few people named Oeneus, but dozens named Oenone, mainly in England and America. I would have assumed that the usage of Oenone was kicked off by the poem “The Death of Oenone” (1829) by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, but records suggest that usage didn’t pick up until the last decades of the 19th century.
So now for the question of the day. Oenone (ee-noh-nee) and Oeneus (ee-nee-us) are clearly unique, and they have a meaning that would appeal to many…but they’re also very difficult to pronounce and spell. Do you think either one is a usable first name for a modern baby?
A reader got in touch recently to ask about several unusual names. One of them was “Vouletti,” which belonged to a daughter of Isaac Merritt Singer (1811-1875).
Isaac Singer is best remembered for his successful sewing machine manufacturing company, founded in 1851 and still going strong today. Also notable, though, is the fact that he had a total of 24 children with five different wives and mistresses.
With Maria Haley, he had two children:
William Adam (b. 1834)
Lillian C. (b. 1837)
With Mary Ann Sponsler, he had ten children:
Isaac Augustus (b. 1837)
Vouletti Theresa (b. 1840)
Fanny Elizabeth (b. 1841)
John Albert (b. circa 1843)
Jasper Hamet (b. 1846)
Julia Ann (b. circa 1847)
Mary Olivia (b. 1848)
Charles Alexander (1850-1852)
Caroline Virginia (b. 1857)
…plus one more
With Mary McGonigal, he had five children:
Charles Alexander (b. 1859)
With Mary E. Walters, he had one child:
Alice Eastwood (b. 1852)
With Isabella Eugenie Boyer (of France), he had six children:
Adam Mortimer (b. 1863)
Winnaretta Eugenie (b. 1865)
Washington Merritt Grant (b. 1866)
Paris Eugene (b. 1867) – Palm Beach developer, namesake of Singer Island
Isabelle Blanche (b. 1869)
Franklin Morse (b. 1870)
These are traditional names for the most part, which makes “Vouletti” all the more intriguing.
Vouletti Singer was born in 1840, married William Proctor in 1862, had three children, and died in 1913. Though her name was definitely spelled Vouletti — that’s the spelling passed down to various descendants, and the one used by her friend Mercedes de Acosta in the poem “To Vouletti” — I found it misspelled a lot: “Voulitti” on the 1855 New York State Census, “Voulettie” on the 1900 U.S. Census, “Voulettie” again in a Saturday Evening Post article from 1951.
So…where does it come from?
I have no clue. I can’t find a single person with the given name Vouletti who predates Vouletti Singer. I also can’t find anyone with the surname Vouletti. (There was a vaudevillian with the stage name “Eva Vouletti,” but she doesn’t pop up until the early 1900s.)
Theater could be a possibility, as Isaac Singer was an actor in his younger days. Perhaps Vouletti was a character name he was familiar with?
My only other idea is the Italian word violetti, which means “violet.” Her parents might have coined the name with this word in mind.
Do you have any thoughts/theories about the unusual name Vouletti?