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Baby Names from Books: Ballet Shoes and Skating Shoes

June 5, 2016 Clare Green

By Clare Bristow

Noel Streatfeild has enchanted generations of young readers. She’s best known as the author of Ballet Shoes, a tale of three sisters finding their talents on and off stage.

Many of her stories follow a similar theme. The heroines and heroes discover their vocation for dancing, acting, ice skating, or some other art or sport. They fight the obstacles – life changes, lack of money, sibling squabbles, adults who just don’t understand – to pursue it.

Foundling children feature a lot in Streatfeild’s books, and she uses their names to tell their personal stories. For instance, the Fossil sisters in Ballet Shoes choose their own surname in honour of the fossil hunter who took them in.Noel Streatfeild’s own name tells the start of her story: she was born on Christmas Eve. In her acting career she chose the more clearly feminine spelling Noelle for her stage name. Noel is rare as a girls’ name today, but it’s risen steadily for boys in the US in recent years, as has Noelle for girls.

Her books are from a bygone era, when London was shrouded in smog and no seaside resort was complete without a troupe of dancing girls. But they also have a timeless appeal. Family values, the pursuit of dreams, the magic of the stage: these things never go out of style.

Here are eight girls’ names from her books that deserve to be in style (or already are).

Dulcie (Dancing Shoes)

This character isn’t exactly sweet (the name’s original meaning). In fact, she’s rather spoilt and contrary, but you’ve got to admire her dancing skills and her moxie. Dulcie was fairly popular in the early twentieth century, especially in Australia. It’s now making a comeback there and in the UK, along with variants like Dolcie. In the US, the Spanish form Dulce is much more common.

Gemma (Gemma and sequels)

The first book in this series was published in 1968, when the name Gemma was growing in popularity in the UK. It was a perfect up-and-coming name choice for the character, a film star’s daughter (in contrast to her less glamorous cousin Ann). Nowadays Gemma is more of a mum name in Britain, but in the States it’s risen rapidly in the last few years – no doubt following on the heels of the top girls’ name, Emma.

Lalla (Skating Shoes)

As with Gemma, this young skating star’s name helps make her seem exotic and glamorous (unlike her plain friend Harriet). Lalla has lots of possible origins, so take your pick. It could be from Persian, meaning “tulip”, or from Sanskrit, meaning “to play”, or from the Lowlands of Scotland (“Lallans” in the Scots dialect). Or it could be short for Lalage, or a childish nickname for something like Alice. In any case, it fits in with the current trend for musical “L” names for girls, like Layla, Lila, and Lola, but it’s rarer than any of these.

Pauline (Ballet Shoes)

This young actress is named – after some debate – after St Paul, who like her was rescued from a shipwreck. Her adoptive great-uncle, a keen fossil hunter, wants to name her after a fossil, but her nurse won’t allow anything so outlandish. Pauline has great vintage comeback potential. Actor Vin Diesel gave the name to his daughter last year (also in honour of a Paul), and it rose slightly in the US charts. Meanwhile, related names Paula and Paulina both climbed within the top 1000.

Petrova (Ballet Shoes)

Pauline’s sister was named Petrova by her guardian, because “she had to have a Russian name [as her late parents were Russian], and it sounded a bit like Peter, and…if one child were called after an apostle the other should be.” In fact, Petrova is a Russian family name, not a first name. It’s used occasionally in the English-speaking world, probably inspired by this book, or by a namesake like tennis player Nadia Petrova. It’s also a family name in the Vampire Diaries TV show, but that hasn’t made much impact on its use.

Posy (Ballet Shoes)

The youngest sister arrives on the doorstep with a note: “Her name is Posy. Unfortunate but true.” Ouch! Posy may not have biblical credentials, but the word has ancient roots. Nowadays it’s a little bouquet of flowers, but it comes from Poesy, an archaic word for poetry. It’s also a rhyming nickname for Josephine and Rose– names. In recent pop culture, there are characters called Posy in the Hunger Games series and the British comedy film About Time. The spelling Posey is more common in the US, probably inspired by the surname.

Sorrel (Theatre Shoes and The House in Cornwall)

A name so nice, she used it twice! Sorrel refers to a number of leafy plants used in cooking and herbal medicine around the world. It’s also a surname, as in the US Civil War soldier Moxley Sorrel. It makes a pretty botanical name that’s much rarer than soundalike Laurel.

Theo (Ballet Shoes)

I’ve always been intrigued by dance teacher Theo Dane. What (if anything) was it short for? We’ll never know, but it would make a bold – and on-trend – choice for a girl. Thea is racing up the ranks, as are Theo and Theodore for boys. If “just Theo” doesn’t feel enough, it could be a short for anything with a “the” sound, like Theodora or Dorothea. It could even work for a name with a few shared letters, like Elizabeth or Theresa.

About the author

Clare Green

Clare Green writes Nameberry's weekly round-up of the latest baby name news, including celebrity announcements, unusual naming stories, and new statistics from around the world . Clare, who has been writing for Nameberry since 2015, lives in England, where she has worked in libraries and studies linguistics. You can follow her personally on Instagram and Twitter.

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