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As tomorrow is St. Valentine’s Day, I thought I would focus on the name connected with this day for lovers.
The history of how the name became associated with a day for sweethearts is rather murky. The feast of Saint Valentine was first established in 496 by Pope Gelasius I, and he freely admitted that nobody had a clue who Valentine was or what he had done apart from give up his life for his faith and been buried on February 14; traditionally in 269.
There were so many martyrs called Valentine that the compilers of hagiographies didn’t know which Valentine Gelasius meant – hardly surprising as he didn’t either – but managed to whittle it down to two candidates: a bishop and a priest. Saint Valentine seemed doomed to be relegated to the ranks of the obscure minor saints.
Then the Italian archbishop and chronicler Jacobus de Voragine compiled The Golden Legend around 1260. This bestseller of the Middle Ages gave the reader a little story about each saint on the liturgical calendar. It included a brief biography of Saint Valentine which portrayed him as a priest who refused to deny Christ before the Emperor Claudius in the year 280.
Before he was decapitated for his obstinacy, he restored the sight of his gaoler’s blind daughter as a show of Christ’s power. (The daughter was also deaf, but The Golden Legend remains mute as to whether that was similarly healed). This legend became more and more romantically embroidered until Saint Valentine was a priest imprisoned for marrying Christian couples, was in love with the blind daughter he healed, and sent her a card signed, “From your Valentine.”
A popular notion is that the church introduced Valentine’s Day as a Christian substitute for the pagan festival of Lupercalia. You will read this all over the place as if it is an established fact. Actually it has pretty much zero evidence to support it, and was first suggested by two 18th century antiquarians (one a priest).
The idea that Saint Valentine’s Day was a day set aside for lovers dates back to a poem written by Geoffrey Chaucer in 1382, in which he pretended it was an ancient tradition. Fake ancient traditions being all the rage in medieval Europe, it quickly became fashionable to write poems and perform other romantic acts for your beloved on February 14.
Older Australians sometimes grumble about the Americanisation of Valentine’s Day, but if that means you get a card, flowers, and a box of chokkies instead of nothing, then hurray for Americanisation say I! The big event that happened here on Valentine’s Day was the decimalisation of our currency in 1966 – mm, romantic.
I wish you all a happy Saint Valentine’s Day, for although the whole thing turns out to be as fake as a decimalised three dollar bill, it’s as real as really real to everyone who gets a flutter in their heart when they receive a poem, card or SMS signed, From your Valentine.
Valentine is from the Roman name Valentinus, derived from the Latin valens, meaning “strong, vigorous, healthy, powerful.” The name was popular in ancient Rome; you can tell how common it was from the fact that there are eleven saints called Valentine, and three called Valens. There has also been a Pope Valentine, a member of the Roman nobility who died just five weeks after being consecrated.
The medieval romance Valentine and Orson tells of twin brothers who are abandoned in the woods as babies. While Valentine is brought up as a knight at a royal court, Orson is raised by bears and becomes a wild man of the woods, until he is tamed by Valentine, and becomes his servant. There are two Valentines in the plays of William Shakespare: one a main character in Two Gentlemen of Verona, the other a bit part in Twelfth Night. Valentine is the sort of romantic, fairy-tale name which has seen it chosen for sci-fi, fantasy, and video games.
In use as an English name since the Middle Ages, Valentine is more often given to boys, although girls named Valentine are relatively common (relative to the number of overall Valentines, I mean). In France, Valentine is a girl’s name, the feminine form of Valentinus, said with the accent on the last syllable instead of the first. It is a Top 100 girl’s name in France, and may have been given a boost from the character named Valentine, a student and model, in the film Three Colours: Red.
Valentine was on the US Top 1000 for boys from 1880, and didn’t leave it permanently until the mid-1950s. It’s only charted twice for girls – once in 1885, and once in 1917. In 2013, there were 32 baby girls given the name Valentine, and 35 boys, making the name almost evenly unisex in the United States. The same situation exists in the UK, where there were 9 girls and 8 boys named Valentine in 2013.
Valentine has never charted in Australia, and is in rare use (the Italian form Valentino is far more common), but I do see it as a middle name for both sexes in birth notices, especially around Valentine’s Day. There are thousands of Valentines in Australian historical records, mostly male, although as a middle name more evenly given to both sexes. The name seems fairly multicultral, given to men with British, Italian, German, and Jewish surnames.
Some romantic name combinations from Australia which took my eye were Valentine Orson, Valentine Giovanni, Cecil Endymion Valentine, Percival Valentine, Capel Arthur Valentine, Lemuel Reginald Valentine Fitzgerald, Ethelbert Valentine, Valentine Aubrey Hamilton, and Saint Valentine, and for girls Evangeline Valentine, Delice Frances Valentine, Lila Valentine, Fairy Valentine, Queenie Valentine, and Valentine Lovely.
Famous Australians named Valentine include war hero Valentine Stacy, scientist Valentine Anderson, and radio and TV pioneer Valentine McDowall (born on Valentine’s Day). Convict Valentine Marshall was transported to Tasmania as a teenager for taking part in political riots, but sadly for romance, he later got in trouble for spouse abuse.
More recently, Valentine Trainor invented the sport of Ironman, and Valentine Jones was the guitarist for Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs. Of course, you will see the name of a famous Valentine every time you go the movies at a Hoyts cinema – Val Morgan, the head of Val Morgan Advertising. He handed his name down to his son, William Valentine Morgan.
The suburb of Valentine in Lake Macquare is named after Henry Valentine Joseph Geary, a property developer and mine owner in the area. Meanwhile Valentine Creek in the Snowy Mountains may have been discovered on a Valentine’s Day – the Valentine Hut nearby was originally painted red with white hearts, a motif which even went as far as the toilet seat.
A famous female Valentine was Valentine Leeper, an eccentric teacher born in Melbourne on February 14 in 1900. She became known for writing influential letters on subjects such as education, the ordination of women, international politics and indigenous affairs. She had her own radio show for many years, where she shared little-known facts and her own opinions in equal measure, and if alive today, would surely be a busy blogger and tireless tweeter.
Ms Leeper’s birth date is important in Australian cultural history, because Valentine’s Day in 1900 is the date on which the main events occur in Joan Lindsay’s 1967 novel, Picnic at Hanging Rock. An unsolved mystery about the disappearance of three schoolgirls and their eccentric teacher at Hanging Rock in Victoria, it was made into a successful and much-loved film by Peter Weir. Much later, Lindsay published the final chapter which was to explain everything, although it is still an ambiguous ending, open to interpretation.
Valentine is a name that has a strong meaning, but an elegant and slightly fanciful image. It is a name that will always be associated with love and romance, and would be a perfect choice for a baby born on or near Valentine’s Day. It can be given to both boys and girls, and many parents would probably prefer it tucked away in the middle. Nicknames include Val, Valley or Valli, Nina, and Tina, although the fashionable Lenny also seems possible.
Valentine received an excellent approval rating of 84%, making it one of the highest-rated names of the year. 31% of people thought it was a great name, and only 6% of people hated it.
(Photo shows Heart Reef in the Whitsunday Islands)