This was the only name the made it from the original planned list to actually be including as part of the week. That’s impressive, despite a last minute panic about whether Christabel and Chesten were too similar to both warrant their own post.
The name Christabel is an interesting one because she sounds as if she’s a modern smoosh name, but she first appeared in Sir Eglamour d’Artois, a Medieval romance dating from the 1350s. However, Christabel became more commonplace on birth certificates by those wonderful people we know today as the Victorians, inspired by Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem Christabel (first part published 1797).
The poem was published in two parts, and the story it tells is that of Christabel and her encounter with a stranger named Geraldine after she goes into the woods to pray by the large oak. Geraldine claims to have been abducted from her home by a group of men. Christabel pities the woman and things go on from there. The interesting thing to note is that the poem was never finished: Coleridge published two parts, and had plans for at least an additional three more.
Whilst not a modern smoosh, speculation is that she originally came about as a combination of Christ and Belle. It is also worth noting the Spanish name Cristóbal, which is the Spanish form of Christopher. The name Christopher comes from the Greek word chrio, meaning to anoint, whereas Belle is the French word for beautiful. I guess that means you could construe Christabel’s meaning as beautiful anointment.
Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu would publish a novel entitled Carmilla almost a century later in 1872, which is said to be inspired by Christabel – complete with a fascinating C- name. In this case, Carmilla looks to be either an elaboration of Carmel or Camilla (or maybe even a smoosh of the two ! ). In the case of this novel, Carmilla is the vampire character and inspired by Geraldine – and the novel would likely prove inspiration for one of the defining works of the vampire genre, Dracula by Bram Stoker.
Perhaps one of the more noted bearers of times gone by is Dame Christabel Pankhurst (1880-1958), a suffragette. This lends the name a strong forebearer and may be reason enough to use Christabel. Ms Pankhurst has previously been mentioned in this blog before in a Sibset post.
The name also has had sporadic use by the Royals – with Princess Alexandra bearing Christabel as one of her 4 middle names. Princess Alexandra is a cousin of Queen Elizabeth II (their fathers are brothers) and when she was born, Princess Alexandra was sixth in line to the throne, but now lies all the way down at #46. I’ve read somewhere that her middle name Christabel was chosen because she was born on Christmas Day.
Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester almost ruled as Queen Elizabeth II’s regent had her father King George VI (his brother) died before she came of age. He married Lady Alice Christabel Montagu Douglas Scott in 1935. By happy coincidence, Princess Alice, as she came to be known, was also born on Christmas Day.
When it comes to usage, again, it’s a sporadic story, although in recent years there’s an emerging pattern of roughly 15-20 girls born in England&Wales each year given the name; her 2013 ranking was #1639.
It seems surprising maybe that Christabel not be rising in popularity, given the surge in popularity of likes of Arabella and Annabel. And I think that is the greatest shame of all, although that makes her all the more alluring for those looking for a fabulous literary name with next to no usage and almost guaranteed ‘recognisability’.