Friday, February 17, 2012

Paul, Paula

In the innocent early '60s there was a sentimental pop song, a duet between "Paul" and "Paula." I think all wholly or partially Latin-derived languages have some given names with masculine-feminine variants. But why only some names and not others?

There actually aren't that many male/female analogs in English-speaking countries: Robert/Roberta, Martin/Martina, Frederic(k)/Frederica ... but the feminine forms seem to be in increasingly rare usage. Edwina is virtually obsolete. (So is Edwin, come to think.) 

French and Italian have many more unisex names, usually created by an "e" ending in French (Daniel/Danielle, François/Françoise, René/Renée), an "a" ending in Italian (Carlo/Carla, Francesco/Francesca). I'm not sure what the story is with Spanish but my impression is that there are lots of paired names.

Yet, as far as I am aware, neither English nor French nor Italian has a female form of Jerome, Ronald, Thomas, Peter (although the Germans have Petra!), William, Samuel ...

Speaking of Francesco/Francesca: Francis has fallen out of favor as an English name, but the French and Italian versions are still serviceable. The French name some of their offspring François/Françoise, the Italians Italo/Itala, but no Americans however patriotic name their kids Americo/America.

Sandro is an Italian man's name (as in Botticelli), but Sandrine is a French woman's name.

That's the game of the name, I suppose.



zazie said...

Pierrette, Guillemette....(I love the latter!) for Pierre and Guillaume

Rick Darby said...


Well then, I was mistaken about Peter and William -- I had never encountered the names Pierrette or Guillemette. Why Guillemette and not Guillaumette?

zazie said...

In medieval and renaescence French, I think Guillaume was "Guilhem", very near German, in fact.
There are many girl's names ending with "ette" ; for instance, Mauricette, Lucette ; others ending in "ette" are familiar and friendly forms, such as Mariette, or Marinette
(remember Brassens?) for Marie and Marine (different from Marina). I do like MLP, yet I can't imagine calling her "Marinette"!

Rick Darby said...

What about Zazie? Is that an actual name or a nickname? I can't recall any other example except Louis Malle's Zazie dans le Metro.

zazie said...

when I was about twenty, I appeared so disrespectful of anything like "l'ordre établi" (the establishment, I suppose), so insolent sometimes, in the real meaning of "insolent", that my university friends -mostly boys- nicknamed me Zazie, because the book "zazie dans le métro" was a best seller....Honestly, I have never liked the film as much as the book. I have retained some of my youthful insolence, that is why I have chosen this nickname.