About Names: Dr. Evans on “Valerie”

Valerie Jarrett, former Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama (Photo: Public Domain)

Valerie Jarrett, former Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama (Photo: Public Domain)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his April 23rd column, he discusses the name “Valerie”.

Remember Barbara, younger daughter on “One Day at a Time” (1975-1984)? Or Melanie, the middle-aged divorcee in “Hot in Cleveland” (2010-2015)?

Valerie Bertinelli, who played both of those sitcom characters, turns 63 today.

Valérie is the French form of Valeria, itself the feminine of Valerius, an ancient Roman family name from Latin “valere” (to be strong). The Valerius family had many famous members, including first century historian Valerius Maximus and second century Parthian War hero Valerius Maximianus.

St. Valeria of Milan was a first-century Italian martyr. More famous in France was completely legendary St. Valérie of Limoges, who was beheaded for being a Christian. She then miraculously carried her severed head to her bishop, St. Martial. Depictions of Valérie giving her head to Martial were frequent in medieval French art.

Valerie wasn’t a popular saint in medieval England. The name barely existed there until 19th century novelists used it for romantic characters. One of the first examples was “Valerie” (1848), the last book by bestselling English writer Frederick Marryat (1792-1848). French heroine Valerie escapes an abusive mother by becoming servant to a rich English lady, eventually marrying the Count de Chavannes.

American author Christian Reid (pen name of Frances Tiernan) published “Valerie Aylmer” in 1870. Valerie, a Louisiana-born belle of French descent, endures heartbreak when her beloved Maurice goes to Mexico to fight for Emperor Maximilian.

Like Reid’s heroine, many 19th century American Valeries had French connections. A third of the 210 Valeries in the 1880 census were born in either Louisiana or Canada.