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?
Looking for a rare girl name with a retro feel? Here are dozens of ideas. All came straight from very old films that were released from the 1910s to the 1940s.
This post is part of a series of posts featuring female names from early cinema. I’m going backwards, so the other lists so far are U, V, W, X, Y, and Z. The names below are the second half of the T-list (Ti- to Ty-). The first half has the Ta- to Th- names. Enjoy!
Tiare was a character name in multiple films, including The Leopardess (1923) and The Moon and Sixpence (1942).
Trixie Trixie Friganza was an actress who appeared in films from the 1920s to the 1940s. She was born in Kansas in 1871. Her birth name was Delia O’Callahan. Trixie was also a character name in multiple films, including Falling Leaves (short, 1912) and The Good Bad Girl (1931).
Tsakran was a character played by actress May Robson in the film Turkish Delight (1927).
Tsuru Tsuru Aoki was an actress who appeared in films from the 1910s to the 1960s. She was born in Japan in 1892.
Tui Bow was an actress who appeared in films from the 1920s to the 1980s. She was born in New Zealand in 1906. Her birth name was Mary Lorraine Tui.
Tuila was a character played by actress Conchita Montenegro in the film La Melodia Prohibida (1933).
Tula Belle was a child actress who appeared in films from the 1910s to the 1920s. She was born in Norway in 1906. Her birth name was Borgny Erna Bull Høegh. Tula was also a character name in multiple films, including The Vengeance of Najerra (short, 1914) and Kongo (1932).
The names Dorcasina, Malaeska, and Trilby were inspired by characters from 19th-century novels. Altruria also comes from a 19th-century novel, but not from a character.
A Traveler from Altruria (1894) by William Dean Howells was first published in installments in Cosmopolitan in 1892-1893. The protagonist is Aristides Homos, a visitor to America from the fictional island of Altruria, “a Utopian world that combined the foundations of Christianity and the U.S. Constitution to produce an “ethical socialism” by which society was guided.”
The fictional place-name Altruria is a play on the word “altruism,” which was coined relatively recently (circa 1830) by French philosopher Auguste Comte.
Though A Traveler from Altruria isn’t well-remembered today, it was influential during the 1890s. Altrurian Clubs started sprouting up across the country. A short-lived commune called Altruria was established in Sonoma County, California, in the mid-1890s. And at least two babies were given the (middle) name Altruria:
Carrie Altruria Evans, born in 1900 in Van Wert, Ohio
Lester Altruria Eby, born in 1895 in Des Moines, Iowa
The official history book of the Van Wert Altrurian Club even mentions Carrie by name:
What do you think of Altruria as a baby name? Do you think it could be an alternative to the fast-rising Aurora (which broke into the top 100 last year)?
Actress Dolores del Rio was the star of not one but two silent films with theme songs that influenced the baby name charts.
In 1926 she played Charmaine in What Price Glory?, and two years later she played the titular character in Ramona, which was based on the book Ramona (1884) by Helen Hunt Jackson.
The book is a tragic romance set in mid-19th century Southern California, and the protagonists are Ramona, a mixed-race Scottish–Native American orphan, and her lover Alessandro.
Like Trilby a decade later, Ramona was a bestseller that inspired many namesakes: schools, streets, freeways, even towns (such as Ramona, California). The number of human namesakes is harder to gauge, though the U.S. Census of 1900 indicates that there was a moderate increase in the number Ramonas in 1884.
Still, the book’s impact on baby names can’t compare to the impact of its most successful film adaptation, Ramona (1928)…thanks in large part to the music.
The song “Ramona” was commissioned for the film in 1927, and released later that year — long before the film came out in May of 1928, interestingly. It was a big hit with more than two million copies sold and two different versions reaching #1 on the Billboard charts in 1928: first the Paul Whiteman version for 3 weeks, then the Gene Austin version for 8 more weeks.
This song, the first to borrow a film’s title, became the most successful movie theme song of the decade, and greatly enhanced the success of the film. Its popularity gave Hollywood producers much food for thought about how to publicize movies.
Usage of the baby name Ramona, already on the rise in the late 1920s, increased so much in 1928 that the name nearly reached the top 100:
1931: 1,130 baby girls named Ramona [rank: 164th]
1930: 1,410 baby girls named Ramona [rank: 149th]
1929: 2,036 baby girls named Ramona [rank: 120th]
1928: 2,237 baby girls named Ramona [rank: 117th]
1927: 567 baby girls named Ramona [rank: 277th]
1926: 467 baby girls named Ramona [rank: 307th]
1925: 450 baby girls named Ramona [rank: 313th]
So where does the name Ramona come from?
Ramona and its masculine form, Ramón, are the Spanish versions of Raymond, which is ultimately based on the Germanic words ragin, meaning “advice, decision, counsel,” and mund, meaning “protection.”
Do you like the name Ramona? Would you use it?
Source: MacDonald, Laurence E. The Invisible Art of Film Music: A Comprehensive History. Lanham, MD: Ardsley House, 1998.
The gothic melodrama Trilby by British author George du Maurier was first published serially in Harper’s Monthly from January to August, 1894. It was released as a book in September.
The story is set in Paris in the early 1850s. The titular character, Trilby O’Ferrall, is a naïve, tone-deaf artist’s model who goes on to become a world-famous singer, thanks to the hypnotic powers of the sinister Svengali. When Svengali suddenly dies, Trilby loses her ability to sing and ends up wasting away.
Trilby wasn’t just a bestseller — the entire country was gripped by Trilby-mania for several years straight. (Not unlike the Twilight-mania that emerged more than 100 years later.)
Many things, from fashion to food, were influenced/inspired by Trilby during this time. Here’s a partial list:
Trilbies became slang for “(women’s) feet,” as Trilby had particularly beautiful feet
Svengali became slang for “a person who exercises a controlling or mesmeric influence on another, especially for a sinister purpose”
Trilby ice cream (it was molded into the shape of a foot)
Trilby board game
Trilby high-heeled shoes
Trilby bathing suits
Trilby hearth brush
Trilby, stage play
Trilby (1915), movie
Trilby (1923), movie
Svengali (1931), movie
Influence on other literary works:
Dracula (1897) by Bram Stoker
Le Fantôme de l’Opéra (1909) by Gaston Leroux
Trilby and its glamorization of the bohemian lifestyle even “excited a vogue for nude modeling among the many young women who wished to follow the Trilby life.” (And this, of course, “alarmed the clergy and other guardians of morality.”)
So where does the name Trilby come from?
For a long time I’d assumed that George du Maurier had based it on the musical term trill, which refers to rapid alternation between two adjacent musical notes. Turns out this isn’t the case.
He borrowed the name from an earlier work of literature, the story “Trilby, ou le Lutin d’Argail” (“Trilby, or the Fairy of Argyle”) (1822) by French writer Charles Nodier. In Nodier’s story, which is set in Scotland, Trilby is a male sprite who seduces a mortal woman.
In 1895 a New York Times writer guessed that the name of Nodier’s Trilby might be “an endearing diminutive of “trall,” a member of the brownie clan,” but I can’t find any outside confirmation that the word “trall” even exists. (Perhaps it’s a Scottish variant of the word “troll”…?)
How many people in the U.S. have been named Trilby?
According to the SSA data, Trilby was the 978th most popular girl name in the U.S. in 1895, the year after the book was published. This was the only time Trilby managed to rank within the U.S. top 1,000.
1896: 6 baby girls named Trilby
1895: 12 baby girls named Trilby [debut] (rank: 978th)
But the SSA data from that period is incomplete, so here are the SSDI numbers for the same years:
1897: 10 people named Trilby
1896: 22 people named Trilby
1895: 34 people named Trilby
1894: 5 people named Trilby
These days, Trilby rarely appears on the SSA’s list:
2010: 6 baby girls named Trilby
2008: 7 baby girls named Trilby
Trilby may be an unfashionable name right now, but for the parents-to-be who want something a bit retro-sounding, this could be a good thing.
The name is also an intriguing option for lovers of trivia and/or quirky history, as it’s tied to a fascinating pop culture craze from over a century ago. (We might be saying the same thing about Renesmee 100 years from now!)
Plus, Trilby is one of a small number of names with that distinctive “-by” ending, such as Ruby, Shelby, Darby, Colby, Kirby and Rigby.
One possible drawback to the name is the not-so-subtle anti-Semitism in the book itself. Svengali is not merely the “greasily, mattedly unkempt” antagonist of the story, but he’s also Jewish — with “bold, black, beady Jew’s eyes” no less. Then again…similar things could be said about other historical pieces of literature that have inspired baby names.
If you’re considering the naming your baby girl Trilby, I highly encourage you to head over to Project Gutenberg and read (or at least skim) the text of Trilby.