Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Name Profile: Baudelaire

While reading A Series of Unfortunate Events, I became increasingly intrigued by Violet, Klaus, and Sunny's surname. Most of the character names in this series are literary references and Lemony Snicket (aka Daniel Handler) kept to his theme with this one. The Baudelaire children are named after a poet whose work most children would not be allowed to read.

But first things first, where did Baudelaire come from first? Baudelaire (pronounced "BOH-deh-lair") is a French word that refers to a type of small sword, more like a dagger. It derives from the Medieval Latin badelarius, meaning "short sword." This weapon appears in heraldry, and when you see it it resembles a small Turkish scimitar. Despite this Romantic name, the Baudelaire siblings are apparently supposed to be Jewish. Snicket once said, "I think there is something naturally Jewish about unending misery."

Lemony Snicket named his heroes after the French macabre poet Charles Baudelaire. Baudelaire's work was revolutionary in its day. A little bit too revolutionary. His most (in)famous work is a book of poems called Les Fleurs de Mal ("The Flowers of Evil"). The book's primary themes are sex and death, corruption and innocence, the sacred and the profane. The book had a small but enthusiastic following when it was first published. However, the majority found it obscene. Baudelaire, along with his printer and publisher, were sent to court and found guilty for creating an offense against public morals (he had to pay a fine). In a letter to his mother he wrote, "The proof of it's positive worth is in all the ill that they speak of it. The book enrages people. ...I don't care a rap about all these imbeciles, and I know that this book, with its virtues and it's faults, will make it's way in the memory of the lettered public, besides the best poems of V. Hugo, Th. Gautier and even Byron." Today he is considered to be one of the innovators of French literature.

Unfortunately Baudelaire's personal life was a mess, which is probably why some people have reservations on this name. He was a slow writer, often sidetracked by his own procrastination and emotional distress. He was living in poverty and had an addiction to dangerous drugs and prostitutes. He was also known for being a "dandy" and died from syphilis. But all in all, these things were not unusual for an artistic person living in Paris during the 1800s.

It is possible that someone will become inspired by the children's book series and name a child Baudelaire. But Charles Baudelaire, while the most famous real life namesake, is not a household name in America. Although his life and work will appeal to those with gothic sensibilities, I believe most people will associate the name with Lemony Snicket's work.

I really like Baudelaire a lot. It has a beautiful sound. And if there's anything that I have an affinity towards, it's misunderstood revolutionary artists who wrote about dark subject matter. It's a good choice for someone who wants something subtly gothic.

Some name combos:

Baudelaire Grace

Baudelaire Peter

Baudelaire Reve

River Baudelaire

John Baudelaire

Hero Baudelaire

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