The curious name Tanaquil

Larth and Thanchvil (Etruscan sarcophagus lid)
Larth and Thanchvil

While doing research for last week’s post on Vera Zorina, I discovered another interesting name: Tanaquil (pronounced tan-a-keel).

It belonged to French-born American ballerina Tanaquil “Tanny” Le Clercq (1929-2000) who, like Zorina, had been married to famous choreographer George Balanchine.

Tanaquil Le Clercq was named after the legendary Etruscan prophet Tanaquil, whose omen-reading abilities helped her husband become the fifth king of Rome (616-578 B.C.).

The Etruscan rendering of the name Tanaquil is “Thanachvil” (or “Thancvil”).

The Etruscan language has long been extinct, so we don’t know the etymology of Thanchvil, but it could mean “gift of Thana” (a combination of the name of the Etruscan goddess Thana/Thalna with the Etruscan word cvil, thought to mean “gift, offering”).

The Etruscans had a relatively small pool of first names (praenomina) to draw from, so it’s possible that many Etruscan females were named Thanachvil. In fact, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston has in its collection a sarcophagus lid (dated 350–300 B.C.) depicting married couple Larth Tetnies (husband) and Thanchvil Tarnai (wife).

But, getting back to Tanny Le Clercq…

Tragically, her professional career was cut short when she was stricken with polio in 1956 at age 27. She was paralyzed from the waist down for the rest of her life.

The “stranger-than-fiction twist” is that, at age 15, she had actually danced the part of a polio victim at a March of Dimes benefit, and Balanchine had danced the part of polio itself:

In the final movement — a sunny allegro — she reappeared in a wheelchair, children tossed dimes, and she rose and danced again. What at the time was a simple exercise in entertaining a charity audience acquired in retrospect the weight of an omen or a hex. Balanchine, who was deeply mystical, was haunted by the notion that he had somehow brought on her fate.

Makes the fact that she was named after a noted omen-reader seem rather foreboding, doesn’t it?


Image: Adapted from Sarcophagus and lid with husband and wife (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

2 thoughts on “The curious name Tanaquil

  1. Nice to see a blog about the name I gave my daughter :)
    Also have a son named Laran (the etruscan god of war)
    He’s the only one in the Netherlands carrying that name haha

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