Friday, May 17, 2013

Diverted by a Name: Melusine

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As I read through Philippa Gregory's historical fiction books about the Plantagenets, a name pops up here and there that I cannot ignore. It is the name of a European legend, a woman who is half human and half fish or serpent, like a mermaid. There are several different stores about her, but I am mostly diverted by the beauty of her name: Melusine.

Melusine, or Melusina, is not a name to be taken lightly. In the most common folk story, the fairy Pressyne and Elynas, the King of Albany have three girls, Melusine, Melior and Palatyne. Pressyne made Elynas promise not to walk in on her while she was bathing the girls, but when he broke that promise, Pressyne took the girls away from him. When Melusine later found out about her father's betrayal, she locked him away, which made her mother very angry. Melusine was then cursed to turn into a serpent from the waist down every Saturday. She married Raymond of Poitou, and told her husband never to come to her on a Saturday. He promised, but eventually his curiosity got the better of him and he broke that promise. During an argument he called her a serpent at court, and in her anger, Melusine turned into a huge serpent or dragon and left him forever. This being a fable, there are several other stories that can be found here along with more information on the story and name here.

In any case, such a grand and somewhat tragic story may keep people from using the name for their baby girl. In fact, it has no recorded use in the United States, and has not charted in any country that I know of. There are a few though, including Melusine von der Schulenburg, born in 1667 and German mistress of Great Britain's King George I. Melusine was actually her middle name; her first name was Ehrengard. Melusine and King George had three daughters together, and one of them was named Petronilla Melusina. More recently, there is a young French actress named Mélusine Mayance, who was born in 1999. In fiction, there is a Belgian comic book character Mélusine, who has relatives with other great names: Adrazelle, Mélisande, Pirouline, and Malicella.

Just like a lot of -ine names, Melusine can be pronounced several ways: mel-yoo-seenmel-yoo-sin or mel-yoo-sien. I tend to favor the first syllable. If it sounds familiar to you, maybe it's because Melusine may or may not be a variant or of similar root to Millicent.

As for nicknames, Mel, Ellie, Millie and Lucy would make great ones for this legendary moniker.

What do you think of Melusine? Could it be used favorably today?

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