On June 6 it was the 70th anniversary of D-Day – the beginning of the invasion of Normandy by the Allied forces during World War II. D-Day was a turning point in the war, as the Normandy invasion provided a decisive victory for the Allied forces. More than 3000 Australians fought in the campaign, mostly in the air force.
D-Day veterans from all over the world gathered at the beaches of Normandy for the D-Day commemorations, and Australian former pilots Robert Cowper, Stuart Davis, Phillip Elger, Francis Evans, Ronald Houghton, Billy Purdy, and Frederick Riley joined the Australian Prime Minister on his visit to France for the official international ceremony. Six of these men were awarded France’s highest decoration, the Legion of Honour, for their part in D-Day’s aerial assault (Robert Cowper had already received the Legion of Honour in 2012).
The day after the commemorations, the Prime Minister continued his tour of France by visiting a town near Amiens, the scene of a 1918 battle on the Western Front which was a crucial turning point in World War I. Two Australian brigades took part in the counter-attack, with many losing their lives in the successful attempt to secure the town of Villers-Bretonneux, ending the German offensive in the Somme, and keeping the town out of enemy hands for the rest of the war.
After World War I, money donated by school children in Victoria was used to build a new school in Villers-Bretonneux, called the Victoria School. A plaque at the school pledges Australian friendship with France, and in the playground, and above every blackboard, is written Do not forget Australia. The townspeople never have forgotten: kangaroos decorate the town hall where the Australian flag flies, a service is held every Anzac Day, and the town maintains a war memorial to commemorate all Australians who died on the Western Front with no known grave.
To thank the people of Villers-Bretonneux for their kindness and warm welcome given to all Australian visitors to their town, and in recognition of the D-Day veterans given the Legion of Honour, today I am covering a name from northern France associated with honour.
Honoré is a French form of the Latin name Honoratus, meaning “esteemed, distinguished, honoured”. There are two French saints named Honoratus, and I will look at the one who was a 6th century bishop of Amiens – not only because of where he was born, but because he is most often called St. Honoré (the other one tends to be known as St. Honorat).
St Honoratus of Amiens was born in the Somme to a noble family, and is said to have been virtuous from birth. Because he was so humble, he didn’t want to become a bishop, considering himself unworthy of the role, but once he had been elected, a beam of light descended on his forehead and he found himself anointed with a mysterious sacred oil. That pretty much sealed the deal.
Legend says that when his hometown heard he been proclaimed bishop, his childhood nursemaid, who was baking bread at the time, refused to believe it. She said that she would believe the news only if the wooden shovel she was using to put the loaves of bread in the oven put down roots and turned into a tree.
Sure enough, when she planted the shovel in the ground, it turned into a mulberry tree which produced both flowers and fruit. The tree was still being shown to visitors in the 16th century, which is an extradordinarily long lifespan (some might say, suspiciously long) for a mulberry tree.
The cult of St Honoratus really took off after 1060 when the saint’s body was exhumed, and many miracles were said to have occurred. Reputedly, processions of his relics managed to prevent both droughts and floods, ensuring good wheat harvests, and therefore happy bakers.
In 1202, a baker donated land to the city of Paris to build a chapel in honour of St Honoratus. It became one of the richest chapels in the city, and gave its name to the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, now one of the most fashionable streets in the world, as it is filled with high-end boutiques.
In 1400 the bakers of Paris established their guild in the church of St Honoratus, and in 1659 Louis XIV ordered that every baker celebrate the feast day of St Honoratus on May 16, and give donations in the saint’s name to benefit the community. Even in modern France, bakers hold bread and pastry festivals on May 16, and during that week, bakers hold their annual meeting.
You may know the name of St. Honoré from the Gateau St. Honoré, a classic French dessert which has a puff pastry base with a ring of choux pastry around the edge. On top are small cream puffs dipped in caramelised sugar, and traditionally it is filled with crème pâtissière and whipped cream. It’s a popular birthday cake in France, and is also traditionally served at first communion parties.
The cake is said to have been created in the 19th century by the famous pastry chef Monsieur Chiboust, who named it both in honour of the saint, and because his own shop was on Rue St. Honoré in Paris – the street gaining its name from the church dedicated to St. Honoratus.
Honoré was a traditional name in the royal family of Monaco, and one its most famous namesakes is 19th century French novelist Honoré de Balzac. This is also an Australian celebrity baby name, because radio host Kate Langbroek has a son named Art Honore.
Honoré is an elegant, sophisticated boy’s name which could honour your French heritage, a connection to France, or even a family tradition of baking. The name is pronounced on-eh-RAY or o-no-RAY, making Onni or Ray fairly natural nicknames for an English-speaker. Although it might seem too challenging as a baby name in Australia, we have grown accustomed to Remy as a name here, so why not another French saint? Something to think about it is that, like Remy, Honoré has historically been used as a unisex name in Australia.
Honoré received an approval rating of 56%. 22% of people thought it was too feminine to be used as a boy’s name, but 17% saw it as a great French heritage choice. Only one person believed the name Honoré was too closely associated with the Gateau St. Honoré dessert.
(Photo shows the plaque at the Victoria School in Villers-Bretonneux)