Sunday, January 17, 2016

Name Profile: Rapunzel

Here's a very unique fairy tale name that's also an unexpected botanical name.

Rapunzel (pronounced "rah-PUN-zel") is a German fairy tale that was collected by the Brothers Grimm, and was first published in 1812. It's one of the Brothers Grimm's more popular tales, and the story has been retold and adapted by different storytellers ever since. The fairy tale has a striking similarity to an earlier folktale from Persia, in which Rudaba offers her hair as a rope so her lover Zal can climb up to her tower.

I assume that most people have heard this story, but I'll try to tell the original version at warp speed. A childless couple lives next door to a witch/enchantress. When the wife finally gets pregnant, she has an insatiable craving for the vegetables in the next-door-neighbor's garden. The Witch (sometimes named "Dame Gothel") catches the husband stealing food from her. He begs for mercy, and he and the Witch make a deal that in exchange for the vegetables, she gets their unborn child. Both parents stupidly agree. When the child is born, the Witch takes her as her own and names her Rapunzel.

They lived happily until Rapunzel hits puberty, at which time the Witch moves her into a tall tower in the woods with no doors or stairs. The only method of entering and exiting is by using the child's extremely long hair as a rope out the window. One day, a Prince is riding through the woods and hears Rapunzel singing. He instantly falls in love, as princes in fairy tales are wont to do. After spying a few times on the tower, he figures out the method of entrance. The two meet face to face and the Price asks Rapunzel to marry him. Rapunzel, being a sheltered girl who knows nothing about real life, agrees.

Time passes, and the two devise a plan for Rapunzel to escape. While they're working, Rapunzel wonders out loud to her adoptive mother why all her clothes are getting tight around her middle (think about it). In a fit of rage, the Witch chops her hair off and throws her into the wilderness. She then waits for the Prince and confronts him. When she tells him that he'll never see Rapunzel again, he jumps from the tower in despair and lands in a patch of thorns that blind him. The two wonder in the wilderness for months, until the Prince hears Rapunzel singing and they're reunited. Her tears instantly restore his eyesight. While she was in the woods, Rapunzel gave birth to twins.

The witch in this story is a metaphor for over-protective parenting, and there's a lot of debate over whether or not she should be considered evil. Indeed, some mothers read the Witch as the protagonist. Rapunzel's birth parents practically abandon her for a few vegetables. It's kind of a relief when the Witch adopts her, she is clearly more worthy of doing the hard work of mothering. And that horny boy was sneaking into her house and taking advantage of her innocent daughter. She's not a perfect mother, but she does her best. And by the end of the story, she's unappreciated. Rapunzel means different things to different people. It's a more complicated story than some realize.

So what's the origin of the name Rapunzel? You might recall that at the beginning of the story, the Witch owns a garden. This is a detail in a lot of fairy tales that involve witches, and is one of the few that is pretty accurate. And rapunzel is a very old botanical term. That's right, Rapunzel is named after the plant that her birth-father was stealing. How sweet! But precisely what plant is a bit of a mystery. Some believe the name refers to rampion, which is named rapunzel-glockenblume in German. This plant has tasty roots, edible leaves, and blue bell-flowers. Others think it's a name for a plant now known as field salad, which has succulent leaves that are plucked and eaten with oil.

If you're considering this for a daughter, you're a bold parent indeed. But, in this instance, your child might not appreciate your boldness. This might just be a personal opinion, but it's kind of like naming a daughter Cinderella or Tinkerbelle. It's just a little too cute and precious. And no, while this is technically now a Disney princess name, I don't think that's going to help its chances. It's a cute name for a baby, but will be hard to grow into. If you absolutely have to name your daughter this, you could always use it as a middle name.

Some name combos:

Margaret Rapunzel

Lola Rapunzel

Noa Rapunzel

Ottilie Rapunzel

Related names:

Persinette (The French name for the Rapunzel character)

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