by Linda Rosenkrantz
Did you know that September happens to be Classical Music Month? Well neither did I, until just recently. This new knowledge inspired me to do a Nameberry Picks list of some of the most interesting classical composers’ first names. And no, turns out they’re not all Franz or Hans or Johann—there are a variety of unusual choices –unfortunately, most of them male.
Alban Maria Berg was an Austrian composer associated with Arnold Schoenberg’s 12-tone technique and the composer of the opera Lulu. Rarely heard in the US, the saint’s name Alban –one of the more unusual paths to Al–is currently Number 132 in France. With a variant spelling, Alben Barkley (born Willie Alben) was US Veep under Harry Truman.
Yes, middle names count—especially this one of Mozart’s that became the title of a movie that won a best picture Academy Award in 1985. In 2010, tennis champ showed that this classical Latin appellation was still wearable when he named his son Amadeus Benedict.
Artemy Vedel was one of the most eminent Ukrainian composers of the eighteenth century. Unknown in this country, the name Artemy is related to Artemis,and is that of several Russian Orthodox saints. With its artsy feel, this could make a unique unisex choice.
Corona Elisabeth Wilhelmine Schröter was a seventeenth century German singer and composer who set texts by Schiller and Goethe to music. But you’re right—though Corona has a nice regal sound, it’s probably too connected at this time with the beer brand—might be better to stick with Elisabeth or Wilhelmine.
Florian Gassman was an early Bohemian (geographically that is) musician who composed an opera every year for the carnival season in Venice. A venerated saint’s name and a Harry Potter one as well,though popular in Germany and Austria, Florian has never caught on here—perhaps a bit too floral for a boy. But it could conceivably profit from the growing popularity of Flora, Florence and Caspian.
Leo? Janacek, baptized Leo, was a Czech composer of operas, oratorios and chamber works. With the current interest in Latinate names ending in “s”, could Leos possibly join the pride of popular leonine names?
Modest Mussorgsky was an innovative Russian composer of the Romantic Period whose most familiar works are the opera Boris Godunov, the tone poem Night on Bald Mountain and the piano suite Pictures at an Exhibition. Could Modest be a new Virtue name—or is it too just self-effacing?
Muzio Clementi was a multi-tasking composer, pianist, conductor—and manufacturer of pianos—who had a decided influence on Beethoven. Could the name Muzio possibly be more musical?
Ned Rorem is a contemporary composer of operas, symphonies, chamber and choral works. But what, you may ask, is a name like Ned doing among all these more exotic choices? It’s just because Ned is so simple and unpretentious and—in my opinion—the best nickname for Edward.
Olivier Messiaen was one of the major composers of the twentieth century, whose music absorbed influences from many exotic cultures. The French Olivier is a more distinctive variation on the popular Oliver, while at the same time saluting one of the greatest actors of our era.
Ottorini Respighi was the Italian composer most famous for his lush tone poems The Pines of Rome and The Fountains of Rome. Otto is a palindrome name that is edging its way back into style; here’s a path towards elongating and romanticizing it.
Yes, Herr Mozart ranks two spots on the list. When Valerie Bertinelli and Eddie Van Halen bestowed this name on their son in 1991, the media name police had a field day. But time is a great healer, and now with animal names commonly accepted, and Wolf Blitzer seen as a benign bearer of its nickname, Wolfgang is sounding as cool as–well– Ludwig.
Sadly, two of the most attractive men’s names in this category would be perceived as too feminine here—that of the French romantic composer Camille (The Carnival of the Animals) Saint-Saëns, and the name of the eighteenth century musician Hyacinthe Jadin.