Names of the Week: Malo and Lille

The Aquarium in St. Malo, from

I had a friend ask me the other day what I thought of the name Malo, and the above picture came to mind. We used to holiday as a family in the North-West of France most years, and always seemed to end up at the St. Malo Aquarium at some point during the excursion. Thinking about it, until last year I’d never been to an aquarium outside of France. On a particularly exciting French exchange trip I ended up going to an aquarium which stocked fish from the Loire. Perhaps exciting isn’t the right word to describe it.

Most young children may perhaps associate the city of St.Malo with Le Mont St. Michel; I certainly know my sister does. We’ve been there at least 5 times and she declared on the second time that if we ever were to go again, she’d just sit on the bottom step and not go up.

For the uninitiated, it is a ‘tidal island’ off the coast of Normandy, with St. Malo being one of the nearest towns. It is also the home of the St. Michel Monestary which sits right up at the top, so you need to climb a couple of steps to get to it. It’s quite well known and one of the more popular tourist destinations of the region.

So the question now remains, who was St. Malo? First off, he was the man who founded the town of St. Malo, being one of the seven founders of Brittany, with the other six being:

  • St. Pol Aurelian
  • St. Tudwal
  • St. Brioc
  • St. Samson
  • St. Patern
  • St. Corentin

They all came to the Brittany region from lovely Wales bringing with them the word of God. As for the meaning of the name, it could derive from Old Breton, and therefore mean warrant light, coming from mac’h, meaning warrant and luh, meaning light.

What makes this name not a particularly far-fetched idea, aside from being the name of a big city in France is that it isn’t that far removed from Milo, or indeed Malcolm which means that you coudl use the name Malo to honour someone whom bears one of those names.

I’ve also noted a few sources saying that the name has polynesian roots, and therefore means winner. Perhaps a slightly conceited meaning which makes me think of the tale of Winner and Loser Lane, but better than many others out there.

He’s not a particularly popular name right now in England&Wales as Malo was used for just 3 boys in 2010, with the breakdown of the last 8 years being as follows:

  2003 2004 2005 2006
Rank 2857 3651 n/a n/a
Births 5 3 n/a n/a
  2007 2008 2009 2010
Rank 4333 n/a n/a 4678
Births 3 n/a n/a 3

As you can see, Malo is consistently used for less than half a dozen babies each year, and will likely continue to do so unless someone like Prince William gives it to one of their children. On the other hand, we have Milo which is getting more and more use:

  2003 2004 2005 2006
Rank 313 352 238 238
Births 90 84 147 158
  2007 2008 2009 2010
Rank 222 181 175 164
Births 197 269 307 338

I really wouldn’t be surprised to see Milo hit the Top 100 in the coming years. He’s been steadily climbing, so the omens look good for him, less so for Malcolm who has been going the opposite way:

  2003 2004 2005 2006
Rank 976 999 891 1168
Births 19 20 25 18
  2007 2008 2009 2010
Rank 1666 1294 1067 1483
Births 12 18 24 16

Phew! Lots of data there to look through. But now let us plow on to our female name. When I was first drafting this post I thought of using Nancy, since it’s another French city name, but it’s had relatively use in the past so I’ve instead opted to go for Lille – the name of another French city which is not very well used as it stands, but the name Lily has gone pretty much supernova in the last few years.

The city of Lille is in the North of France, so if you get of the ferry at Calais with the intention of driving to Paris, chances are you’ll at least pass many signs telling you which roads to use to get to it.

The French say the name as lil, not as lil-lee which I’ve seen the occasional person mistakenly call it. The city itself had it’s foundations in the 7th century as L’Isle according to the legend of Lydéric and Phinaert, but it’s name does not actually appear in archives until 1066, the year William the Conqueror won the Battle of Hastings on the other side of the Channel. There have been archeological digs that have come to the conclusion the area has been inhabited since around 2000BC.

The word L’Isle still very much exists in modern day French and means the isle with the word for island now being l’île. Interestingly, the circumflex in French originated as a medieval sign for the letter s, so indicates that an s has been taken out of the word at some point.

The name could be because the area was once a marshland, and the Castle of the Counts of Flanders was built on the dry land in the middle. Kind of like the Mont St. Michel which is an island when the sea comes in, but not so when the sea goes out, hence it being a tidal island. So there is another strenuous link between the two names.

As you may have guessed from the phrase Counts of Flanders, the area has been occupied by the Dutch. Indeed, if there were a group of people going around Europe conquering at any time in history it’s likely they took Lille at some point. Originally inhabited by the Gauls, it was then taken over by the Germanics, then the Saxons, then the Frisians and lastly the Franks. The Vikings, Normans and Magyar have all invaded at some point as well. Modern day Lille actually sits just below the France-Belgium border, so it was an important city in terms of marking out territory.

So the name Lille has different origins to Lily, since the latter comes from the Latin word lilium. But Lille is one of the few variants of Lily which doesn’t rank in England&Wales, but these ones do:

Lily – #4 with 4257 births

Lilly – #37 with 1512 births

Lillie – #120 with 475 births

Lili – #538 with 74 births

Lilli – #655 with 57 births

Lilie – #1472 with 20 births

Lilley – #2392 with 10 births

Lilee – #2589 with 9 births

Lillee – #3533 with 6 births

Lilleigh – #4688 with 4 births

Lileigh – #5707 with 4 births

That’s quite a few different spellings, and indeed according to lovely Elea over at British Baby Names, if different spellings were to count as the same name then Lily would be #1 in England&Wales.

Personally I wouldn’t mind meeting a little Lille, or indeed a little Malo. I think they make for quite unexpected choices, but without being totally out there.

Categories: Names of the Week | 7 Comments

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7 thoughts on “Names of the Week: Malo and Lille

  1. Awkward Turtle

    Lileigh? *cries a little bit*

    Also, is Malo pronounced to rhyme with halo or hallow?


  2. Another possible origin of Malo is that it is cognate with the Welsh Mael ‘prince’ and ‘chieftan’, from the Common Celtc *maglo-.

    Makes a great alternative to Milo, as you say.


  3. Can totally see Malo being used again, especially because Marlo and Marlow are in use, as well as Milo.

    I’m a huge fan of Corentin btw, which means “hurricane”.

    Lille seems like yet another Lily-type name to add the ever-growing pile …. I have another on the blog tomorrow.


  4. Pingback: The Tide is High at Mer de Noms | Waltzing More Than Matilda

  5. Pingback: Family Name For Sale: Mal « Mer de Noms

  6. Isn’t Lille pronounced like Lil (thats how it was pronounced on Top Gear)


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