A quick note on the name Heloise

Just got a very rude comment that I deleted from my moderation feed. Intended to appear below the post immediately below on teacher-student sexual relationships, it was mostly profane and nastily ad hominem. But in between the unpleasantness, the commenter did include a question asking why my wife and I had named our daughter Heloise, given my views on sexual relationships between profs and students.

The most famous Heloise, of course, was the French nun and scholar whose affair with her own teacher, Peter Abelard, became one of the most celebrated love stories of the Middle Ages.

I’ve long loved the name Heloise because of that great abbess and philosopher. When I think of Heloise, I don’t think of a woman made famous for an affair with her tutor; I think of one of the great medieval female intellectuals. As someone trained as a medievalist, and coming from a family where first-born children are often given a name that begins with “H” (Huberts and Heinrichs and other Hugos lie in my genealogical chart), Heloise made lovely sense as a first name for our darling girl. Naturally, we did think about the implications of someone with my reputation having a daughter named after the student in the most famous teacher-student love affair in European history, but we reminded ourselves that the original Heloise was far more than Abelard’s lover.

Hers was a fierce mind, and it was that legacy we bequeathed to our child.

The name, by the way, means “famous warrior.”

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0 thoughts on “A quick note on the name Heloise

  1. “The name, by the way, means “famous warrior.”

    Most of those names are pretty martial. “Matilda” derives from “Mechthilde” < mecht ‘might’ + hilda ‘warrioress’.

    For that matter “Hugo” has to do with hewing and hacking.

    By the way, the Gospel of Matthew makes a special point of pointing out that Jesus was descended from David out of Bathsheba. There is no such thing as too much clarity.

  2. Well, we’ve got one better on JC’s lineage; from David, he’s a descendant of Ruth, who comes from a line conceived in the incest between Lot and one of his daughters.

  3. To me, “Heloise” connotes “provider of helpful hints for the home, most of which I have forgotten.”
    But I am just glad you gave it some thought. There is a slight chance though that Heloise might want to re-name herself when she grows up, like I did, and I feel that names given to the young should be considered provisional, as in some traditional societies.
    I am jsut glad that you are teaching her the right stuff about self-respect and so on, whatever her final name turns out to be.

  4. “I did, and I feel that names given to the young should be considered provisional, as in some traditional societies.”

    The Chinese have some nice customs around names and pretty much still observe them.

    First you have your real personal name. Your paternal grandfather pretty much decides that. It consists usual;y of one character that all you same-sex siblings and cousins share, and then you have your own personal name character. Thats’ your official real name and it’s not really polite for most people to use it.

    Then your mom usually gives you a “milk name”. It’s usuaully at least a little derogatory to keep heaven freom getting kealous and taking you. It’s really secret because it’s easy to tease a kid on that.

    Then when you start school , start a job or join a club you usually get a name specific to that context. It’s nicer not to be yelled at by your boss in your own real name.

    No one who defers to you is supposed to use either of your real names, or any word that sounds like them. It reflects very poorly on them, makes them look crude and coarse. Given the high level of homphony in Chinese this avoidance, name taboo, can get pretty silly and it is common enough that people work it into stories as a plot device.

    Hugo, that’s intersting about Ruth. I had not known that.

  5. Of course we now can be darn selective about what to copy from traditional cultures. Overcomplicated, unfair, etc. stuff doesn’t need to come along.

  6. Interesting…angiportus I can’t imagine why Heloise would want to change her name! Emily, in my name the H is silent but lots of people pronounce it.