Madelyn Maria: The story behind the name

Madelyn: derived from the French variant of Magdalen, as in Mary Magdalen, meaning ‘of Magdala’
Maria: Latin variant of Mary, meaning “bitter”

It took us 10 days to officially name our little girl. To be completely honest, we both thought we’d be having a boy, as did most other people who tried to guess. And if we weren’t having a boy, we were sure it would be a robust, boisterous girl. So when she was born, she surprised us by being a delicate little princess.

We had decided on a boy’s name before I got pregnant (and we will probably use it if we are blessed with a son), and stuck with it through out my entire pregnancy, but we could not find any girls names that we both loved, or any other boys names. When I was pregnant with her, a man with the gift of prophecy came to our church, and after the service he asked if he could pray for Angus and I. As he prayed for our unborn child, he started speaking of our daughter, who would have a life full of colour and song. He said that she would dance and be artistic. You would think this would inspire us to start searching for a girl’s name, and it did inspire me for a few days, but then I went back to assuming she was a boy, and forgot about it.

In the first few days after she was born, we would start to talk about what to name her, but then get distracted by the hugeness of having a newborn. The problem was that I wanted all of our children to have names that were different and had interesting stories behind them. I really wanted them all to be named after book characters. And my husband wanted our children to have names that were heard of in everyday life. There were a couple of names we both liked, but none seemed to suit her. A lot of the names that I suggested, he didn’t like, and he wasn’t really forthcoming with suggestions of his own.

She was very nearly named Matilda. The night we brought her home, our mums and Angus’s sister wrote a list of names that would suit her. The next morning, I was lying in bed with her, and thought, ‘What about Tilly, short for Matilda?’ When I got up and went into the lounge, I read the list, and the first name on it was ‘Matilda (Tilly)’.  Surely that wasn’t just a coincidence. Matilda wasn’t a name I’d ever considered, but now I loved how storybook-like it sounded, and how it sounded kind of stately if she wanted to be a lawyer and kind of creative if she wanted to be an artist. But her daddy wasn’t so keen. He thought about it for a day or two, but then thought that she might be embarrassed one day to have such an old-fashioned name, and so decided against it.

This gave us somewhere to start, though. I wanted her to have an old-fashioned sounding name, and thought ‘M’ was a good letter to start with. So I went through my baby name books and found ‘M’ names that I liked. I suggested several to Angus, before we got to Madelyn/Madeline/Madeleine/etc. This was a name we’d discussed before I got pregnant, but not one we’d really liked while I was pregnant with her. Now we both thought it might work. We spent a day discussing pronunciation, before deciding on pronouncing it ‘mad-uh-lin.’  Then we spent a couple more days discussing whether or not it really was what we would name her. She’d actually been named for about 3 days before we announced it, because we didn’t just make a final decision and wanted to continue trying it on her. Finally we decided on it.

Even when I was pregnant with her, Maria or Marie had been the middle name if it was a girl (unless it didn’t go with the first name). Our grandmothers are Marian, Margaret, Susan Mary and Barbara – three names started with ‘Mar,’ and a ‘ra’ sounding name – and Maria/Marie seemed like a nice was to honour all of them. I’d actually always wanted a daughter named Maria, because I envisioned singing “I’ve just met a girl named Maria, and suddenly that name will never be the same to me…” and “How do you solve a problem like Maria? How do you take a cloud and pin it down?” to her. Angus wanted her middle name to be Marie, and it does flow better, but the name Maria means more to me then Marie does to him.

Many people have asked me why I chose to spell her name M-a-d-e-l-y-n, and here I have a confession to make: I didn’t actually know that wasn’t the most obvious way to spell it. To me, there was no other way to spell it if that was to be how it was to be pronounced. I became widely read very young, and my reading vocabulary developed faster than my speaking vocabulary did, so there are many words I often mispronounce because I learnt to read them long before I ever heard them spoken. My daughter’s name is one such example – I read Madeline as pronounced ‘mad-uh-line,’ and this certainly isn’t helped by the children’s books of the same name, which I loved as a child. So if we were to pronounce her name ‘mad-uh-lin,’ then it seemed logical to me that we would spell it ending in ‘lyn.’ I genuinely did not know that Madeline was commonly pronounced the same way. I still can’t make myself read it that way. I kind of wish I could, and that I’d known to do so, because I prefer the look of ‘Madeline’ and I’m really not a fan of changing the original spellings of names, but my husband (who didn’t realise that was how we were spelling it until after I made the blog post, because it was just so obvious to me that I didn’t even discuss it with him), prefers ‘Madelyn,’ and to be honest, I like that I don’t have to specify how it’s pronounced. I hope it works out that as she grows older, the more modern spelling will suit her personality.

So that is how my daughter came to be named Madelyn Maria. It already fits her so well that I can’t imagine her being named any other name that we’d discussed.

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