By Linda Rosenkrantz
Come to Mardi Gras! If not for the party, then definitely for the colorful array of baby names.
Mardi Gras–aka Shrove Tuesday, aka Fat Tuesday—is just around the corner. The day before Ash Wednesday, it precedes the beginning of Lent, and nowhere is it celebrated more wildly than in and around the city of New Orleans where its carnival features street processions with fantastic floats, elaborate costumes and masks and brilliantly colored beads, fabulous food and jubilant jazzy music.
Which provides the raison d’etre for this look at the distinctive names from two endemic ethnic groups of the area: the French-speaking Cajuns, and the Creoles, descended from early French, Spanish, Haitians and others.
Abella—A pretty name meaning ‘breath’, it would fit right in with the other, more familiar, bella names
Brielle-Though this sound so modern, Brielle is a traditional Cajun contraction of Gabrielle –the Acadians often abbreviated common names in this way–but it has now spread far beyond the Cajun confines. Brielle is currently Number 128 in the US and 97 in Canada.
Eulalie—A euphonious French name with a distinct Southern drawl, Eulalie has made appearances in a Poe poem, Gone With the Wind, and The Music Man. It was on the French popularity list for most of the 2000s.
Evangeline—Now enjoying sudden widespread popularity (261 in the US, 286 in England and Wales), Evangeline has long been popular among the Acadians of Louisiana; in fact Longfellow’s epic eponymous poem tells the tragic story of an Acadian girl who was forced out of Canada when the British took over and so she settled in Louisiana. It is the full name of Little Eva in Uncle Tom’s Cabin; Evangeline Lilly is a current bearer.
Jehane—Pronounced ZJH-HAAN, Jehane is derived from the English-Scottish Jean—and sounds a lot more interesting.
Orleanna-This spelling has deep roots in the South, as opposed to the Orleana version, which has been on the Social Security list. Other related Cajon/Creole names are Orlena, Orlina and Orlane. Orleanna is the name of a major character in Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Diary.
Sidonie –A chic and sophisticated French alternative to Sydney. The birth name of Colette, and the middle name of actress Brie Larson, it’s a Top 400 pick in France. A more unusual Cajun cousin is Didonie.
Brazil—This jazzy place name is a rarity in just about everywhere but the Creole community.
Landry—One of the most popular boy names among Cajun-Americans, Landry is among the oldest surnames in France, dating back to the medieval period, when it was the name of an important saint. On the SS list since 2010, the appealing Landry is attached to two sports figures, Landry Fields and Landry Jones—as well as legendary Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry.
Lazare—This is the French form of Lazarus, Latin for the biblical Eleazar. Lazarus has been rising from the dead—it’s Number 297 on Nameberry—and was used for his son by musician Trent Reznor. Lazare might be familiar to some via the Gare Saint–Lazare train station in Paris.
Prosper—Both a well-used Cajun name and one with an aspirational message.
Remy—This is a quintessential New Orleans boy name, the charming appellation of one of the patron saints of all of France. Ancient as it is, Remy’s a modern hit in the US, entering the popularity lists in 2009 and now at Number 520. Some people heard it for the first time via the ambitious rat chef in Pixar’s 2007 Ratatouille. It is now being used for girls as well.