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Name in the News
March 12 marked the start of the Leukaemia Foundation’s World’s Greatest Shave. One of the participants this year was librarian Nicolette Suttor, from the National Library in Canberra, whose hair hadn’t been cut for a decade, and which hung to her knees.
Nicolette’s cousin Ben died from leukaemia six years ago, and two years ago, her twin sister Camille shaved off her hair to support the Leukaemia Foundation. This year, Nicolette was amongst the thousands of people who signed up to raise money for the World’s Greatest Shave, and she was supported by colleagues, who performed a modern version of the fairy tale Rapunzel ahead of the charity event, with Nicolette taking the lead role.
Since having her 1.4 metre locks of hair removed and her head shorn, real life fairy tale princess Nicolette has raised more than $5500, and her hair will be used to make wigs for leukaemia patients who have lost their hair.
Name Story and Information
The German fairy tale Rapunzel tells of a poor couple who longed for a child. At last the wife became pregnant, and began to develop cravings for a leafy green vegetable, which in Germany is called rapunzel. She told her husband that if she could not eat the delicious looking rapunzel which grew in their neighbour’s walled garden, she would die.
Her husband was very frightened, because their neighbour was an enchantress from the Black Forest, but he was even more frightened of losing his wife. So he climbed the wall into the garden, and stole the rapunzel. The Enchantress caught him, and after he explained he was only taking it for his pregnant wife, she told him he could have as much as he wanted, but on one condition – when the baby was born, he must give it to her.
The man agreed to this, and when the baby was born, it was a girl which they reluctantly handed over to the Enchantress, who took the baby far away, to her own country. She named the girl Rapunzel, after the vegetable which had delivered the child into her hands, and taught the child to call her Gothel (“godmother”).
Rapunzel grew into the loveliest child under the sun, with long hair like spun gold. When Rapunzel turned twelve, the Enchantress locked her in a tower with no stairs or doors, but a tiny window at the top. When the Enchantress wanted to visit Rapunzel, she would call out, Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair! The girl would throw her long, golden, braided hair out the window, so the Enchantress could climb up.
A couple of years later, a prince rode through the forest, and became enraptured by Rapunzel’s sweet singing. Coupled with the sight of her beautiful, wistful face at the tower window, his heart was touched, and each day he rode out to hear her. The day came when he heard the Enchantress give the signal and climb up, and when the coast was clear, he tried his luck by calling out Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair!
Rapunzel at first was frightened when a man climbed into her tower. However, the prince was young and handsome, and Rapunzel soon loved him in return, agreeing to become his wife. They decided that the prince would bring Rapunzel silk so she could make herself a ladder – the simpler escape plan of bringing an actual ladder apparently not occurring to them.
While Rapunzel worked on the ladder, she and the prince got to know each better each evening, and it became obvious how well their relationship had progressed when Rapunzel innocently mentioned to her “Gothel” how tight her clothes were growing. No doubt food cravings would have soon developed.
Furious and betrayed, the Enchantress did the “godmother scorned” routine by cutting off Rapunzel’s braid of hair, and taking her into the desert to wander in misery. (There’s no German deserts, so it’s meant in the sense of a dreary, uninhabited wilderness).
The cruel Enchantress then fixed Rapunzel’s braid of hair to an iron spike, and waited in the tower for the prince. When he called out Rapunzel Rapunzel etc etc, the Enchantress let down the braid, and confronted the prince when he climbed into the tower. Heartbroken at the news that Rapunzel was gone, he threw himself from the tower, where he blinded himself on the thorns which grew below.
For some years, the blind prince wandered through the forest living on roots and berries, crying for his lost love. At last he came across Rapunzel, who had in the meantime given birth to their twins, a boy and a girl. Hearing Rapunzel’s beautiful voice, the prince proved love was blind by knowing at once it was his lost love, and hurled himself into her arms.
The two held each other tenderly, and Rapunzel wept. Luckily she had magical tears, because as they fell into the prince’s eyes, his blindness was cured. Hooray! The family hiked back to the prince’s kingdom, where they all lived happily ever after.
The Brothers Grimm adapted Rapunzel from a German fairy tale, which was based on a French one called Persinette – Persinette is derived from the French word for “parsley”, as this was the vegetable craved by the mother in this story. In turn, this was based on the 17th century Italian tale Petrosinella by Giambattista Basile, which is the earliest known version of the story (Petrosinella is Italian for “parsley”).
Rapunzel is similar to the medieval Persian tale of Rūdāba, where the beautiful Rūdāba, meaning “shining child”, lets down her raven-black tresses so her lover Zal can climb into her tower. However, there are a number of folk tales where girls get locked in towers by their parents, such as Danae in Greek mythology, the princess rescued by Cian in Irish legend, and even Saint Barbara.
The vegetable which Rapunzel is named after is Valerianella locusta, otherwise known as lamb’s lettuce or corn salad. The plant will grow in even the most barren of environments, making it a favourite with peasants, and foreshadowing Rapunzel’s own surprising ability to survive in a wilderness. Its German name of rapunzel is derived from the Latin, meaning “valerian root”.
Later versions of the story insist that the rapunzel was actually rampion, a purple bell-like wildflower whose leaves are edible. Perhaps it seemed more palatable for a fairytale heroine to be given a floral name.
The name Rapunzel has been in rare use since the 19th century. I have only been able to find Rapunzels born in the United States, and the name showed up in the data there once – in 1959, when 9 girls were given the name Rapunzel. This was the year after Shirley Temple’s Storybook television series featured the story of Rapunzel, with Carol Lynley in the title role, and Agnes Moorehead as the wicked enchantress.
Despite Rapunzel being the lovely princess in Disney’s charming film Tangled, it hasn’t shown up since, and this would be a very bold choice as a name. Besides the vegetable meaning, the fairy tale shows parents in a poor light, with Rapunzel’s biological parents swapping her for salad in a very short-sighted way, and her adoptive mother being insanely possessive and brutally punishing.
And then there’s the famous tagline, which means that someone named Rapunzel would probably have to hear “let down your hair” on a regular basis, even if they had a bob or a pixie cut.
However, Rapunzel would make an awesome middle name, and even as a first name, nicknames such as Zella and Zellie seem feasible for your little fairy tale princess.
Rapunzel received an approval rating of 33%. 34% of people thought the name Rapunzel would lead to teasing and jokes, but 9% saw it as charming and fantastical.
(Photo shows Nicolette Suttor dressed as Rapunzel)