She’s a dainty French name with ties to nature and exploration. If you’re looking for something familiar but rare, you just may want to look her direction.
You’ve probably heard the name Adélie, but chances are it wasn’t on a person. The name is most familiar to us as an Antarctic penguin species. You see, Adélie Pepin was the daughter of a French clockmaker. In 1816, she married a French explorer named Jules Sébastien César Dumont d’Urville. She appears to have had a rather difficult life. Her mother-in-law did not approve of the marriage and refused to meet her, her husband was frequently away on long voyages, and at least four of her children died young. In 1837, her husband was sent away on his last voyage, to try to find the South Magnetic Pole and claim it for France. The expedition suffered many hardships, and when the ship finally landed in Antarctica over two years later, he named the stretch of coast Terra Adélie, or Adélie Land, after his wife. Dumont described her as a “devoted partner who agreed three times to long and painful separations.” He also discovered one of the southernmost penguin species in the world and named them after his wife. Today, any schoolchildren who have read the Newbury Honor Book Mr. Popper’s Penguins are familiar with Adélies.
As a given name, Adélie traces its roots back to the Germanic element adal, which means “noble.” Saint Adela was an Austrasian princess, who, after being widowed, decided to found a convent outside of Trier. Her date of birth is unknown, but she died in 735. Her name became used in English, Spanish, Polish, and Romanian. It was elaborated into Adelia and adopted into French as both Adele and Adélie (where it was again elaborated into the sweet Adeline).
The name also has ties to Alice and her many variants, so if you’re looking for an interesting way to honor a great-aunt Alice (or a sister named Allison or Alyssa), Adélie might be a good option. Adela originated as a short form of longer Germanic names, one of which was Adalheidis, meaning “noble sort.” In Old French, Adalheidis became Adelais and Alis. In English, Adelais became the lovely Adelaide and Alis became Alice, which further morphed into the medieval Alisoun (now most commonly spelled Allison) and the modern Alicia and Alyssa.
So why have I chosen to focus on Adélie? Of all the modern-era Alice and Adela variants listed above, she’s the only one who has never appeared in the U.S. top 1000. If you are looking for something highly uncommon but still very current-sounding, she’s one to consider. Alice is a classic, and after spending decades falling from her top-10 slot, she’s on the rise again, currently ranked #346. While I heartily endorse her use, her retro vibe might not appeal to some. Adele, which was reasonably common around the turn of last century, hasn’t ranked in the top 1000 since 1969, so she might sound dated to some. If you’re one who is frightened by the possibility of your chosen name becoming more popular, avoid quick-rising Adeline and Adelaide. Adeline has jumped from #925 to #388 in just eight years. Adelaide, after spending over half a century unranked, has been back on the charts for the last three years. Adélie, though, is comfortably obscure, unless of course you hang around with penguins.
Her pronunciation is up for debate. Accoring to several dictionaries, the Adélie penguins are pronounced as uh-DAY-lee. It’s pretty, though some might notice it sounds remarkably similar to the phrase “a daily,” as in “a daily multivitamin.” Still, it doesn’t seem that many people are put off by the phrasey-ness of more common names. Isabelle and Isabella sound like the first half of a question (“Is a bell…?”). Noah sounds like the objection of a whiny toddler (“No-wuh”). Justin sounds like “just in”, Isaac sounds like “Eyes? Ick!”, and Ryder… well, let’s just say it’s not G-rated. If you’ve never noticed anything odd about those names, you really shouldn’t be put off by the phrasey-ness of Adélie.
A search for alternate pronunciations was difficult, as Adélie does not appear on the more reliable baby name websites. The less reliable ones list her pronunciation as either ah-deh-LEE in French (perhaps assuming all French names have stress on the final syllable) or ADD-uh-lee in English. ADD-uh-lee, while not technically correct, seems like a reasonable Anglicization and one that might appeal to many modern-day baby namers. The similar Emily (EM-uh-lee) is ranked #1; the almost-identical Natalie (NAT-uh-lee) is ranked #17. In my opinion, if you drop the French accent mark, you should feel free to use the ADD-uh-lee pronunciation. The name has already gone through multiple cross-linguistic adaptations, so there’s no reason to think that one more will make it less legitimate or less beautiful.
Adélie has a lot going for her. French names are in, nature names are in, and considering the movies released in the past few years, even penguins are in! Overall, the “Alice-and-friends” group seems to be on the rise, as do three-syllable “ie”-enders for girls. With her ties to history and even children’s literature, isn’t it time for this explorer’s wife’s name to be discovered?