Category: baby name catherine
When I was naming each of my three children, I was overwhelmed (my family would say obsessed) with the near impossible task of encoding more of life into one word than seemed possible. My third child, a girl, proved an unprecedented challenge. My husband, mystified, would tell me to choose a name I just liked.
But my process was different, I insisted. There had to be an origami of symbolism! “You’re like Borges,” one friend told me, confronted with an ornate justification for the name May. I don’t think he meant it as a compliment. Assorted friends and family looked questioningly at similar extrapolations on favorites like Roxana, Inka, Frieda, Silvia, Maren, Louisa, and Judith (nickname Jude, what’s not to like?). Just keep thinking, my mother advised. And think I did, though with increasing guilty anxiety. Why was it so hard?
Greek for “pure” – it’s related to the word catharis – the name’s fame spread via the early saint and martyr, Catherine of Alexandria, who was tortured on a spiked wheel. Crusaders brought her name back to England, where it’s been common since the Middle Ages in many different spellings. Other noted early bearers include Saint Catherine of Siena, Catherine de Medici, and three of the wives of King Henry VIII. (Interestingly, some reputable sources list the spelling of the name of all three to be Catherine, while other sources list them as Catherine of Aragon, Kathryn Howard, and Katherine Parr. According to her Wikipedia entry, Catherine of Aragon signed her own name variously as “Katherine“, “Katherina“, “Katharine” and sometimes “Katharina“. Her first husband called her Katerine and her daughter Kateryn.)
Catherine is often noted as the French spelling of the name with Katherine the English form, but in modern times in the UK and the US, the two spellings are equally proper though not equally in style. These days, Catherine seems like the more gently old-fashioned, even quaint, form of the name, with Katherine the more modern. A hundred years ago, Catherine was twice as popular as the K form of the name. The Katharine spelling is pegged to Ms. Hepburn, and many parents choose the double-a form as an homage to the great actress.