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Names Fit for a Grande Dame

July 18, 2020 laurawattenberg 8 Comments

Names Fit for a Grande Dame

July 18, 2020 LauraWattenberg 8 Comments
Vintage photo of woman in jewels and fur
Photo: Leontine, Lady Hirst

To heck with restraint. Today, we’re looking for female names that demand 100% of the spotlight—and 100% of your respect. Names that leave you impressed, maybe even a little intimidated. Maximalist, not minimalist. Womanly, not girlish. Not delicate flowers, but grandes dames.

These names won’t necessarily be an easy sell today. Elegance is in style, but mostly in delicate, flowing forms like Olivia and Annabella. The grandes dames are heavier. That weight may not be strictly fashionable, but it’s put to good purpose. It’s part draped velvet, part steel backbone.

As a group, these names hit their heyday back in the 1890s. A few had later moments in the sun, like Ursula in the 1960s-’70s thanks to actress Ursula Andress. But by and large, they remain cast in the role of the severe Victorian great aunt, bringing the younger generations of her wealthy family to their knees with the raising of one eyebrow. Heck yeah, Aunt Lucretia. You show ’em.

31 Grande Dame Names
Agatha
Augusta
Celestine
Cornelia
Eugenia
Euphemia
Ginevra
Georgina
Henrietta
Hildegard
Leocadia
Leonore
Leontine
Lucretia
Magdalene
Marguerite
Minerva
Muriel
Olympia
Parthenia
Philomena
Philippa
Phyllida
Rosamond
Sophronia
Theodora
Theodosia
Ursula
Wilhelmina
Winifred
Zenobia

LauraWattenberg
LauraWattenberg

Namerology founder and "Baby Name Wizard" author Laura Wattenberg is a globally recognized name expert, known for her scientific approach to understanding name trends and culture.

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8 Comments

  • Nicwoo July 19, 2020 at 12:16 am

    I’ve never heard Leontine before. Wow!!

  • Ira Sass July 19, 2020 at 9:06 pm

    Celestine is the full name of Beyonce’s mom, Tina Knowles.
    I used to work with a Sophronia, who sometimes went by Sofro.
    Theodosia could maybe have a Hamilton-inspired comeback?

  • Nancy July 19, 2020 at 11:24 pm

    I’ve always thought that Eulalie (Mackecknie Shinn), the name of the mayor’s wife in “The Music Man,” was the epitome of grand-dame-ness.

  • Rebecca Harrington July 20, 2020 at 4:15 am

    I was going to say Georgina! I had an aunt Georgina, as well as another I would add, my great aunt Victorine.

  • Kater-ater
    Kater-ater July 22, 2020 at 3:05 pm

    I love this list so much! These names feel so much more substantial than the names given girls these days, and they have a great mouthfeel. I also can think of names that have the same level of stateliness, but have been too popular: Victoria, Patricia, Katharine, Isobel. I’ve met a few of these Grande Dame names in real life: Magdalyn (now mid-30s); and Theodora (nicknamed T3ddie, with siblings K1pling and Am@ryllis). I wish I could meet more women with such fabulous names (and their parents who chose them!).

  • SH July 28, 2020 at 8:26 pm

    Thanks! I must have a soft spot for these names, as several were on my list, and I am now the mom of a little Leonora.

    Despite lady so-and-so up there, my association for most of these Grande Dame names is of a dignified older black woman from the south. Two prominent African-American residents in the history of my town were named Cellestine and Levinia, for example. I’ve had more than one person slightly mishear my daughter’s name and say something like “oh, my grandmother was named Lenora.”

    I wonder if this is related to the contemporary trend you’ve noticed around names like Princess and Messiah. Were these weighty, formal, grown-up sounding names a way that an older generation of African Americans asserted the dignity and value of their daughters?

  • Coll August 1, 2020 at 1:25 pm

    These names are my bag! I’ve got a Henrietta and pushed hard for a Cornelia or Winifred to go with her. Most of these names have plentiful lovely, spunky, adorable nicknames so you can get the best of both cute and substantial. I love their history and charm. I also learned after naming my older daughter that there are tons of children’s books in which characters are named Henrietta. Possibly for similar reasons to why we like the names— they are fanciful, historical, and pretty rare today. We’ve managed to curate a nice collection of books about “her”.

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