About A Name: Natalie
November 19, 2011 § 6 Comments
With news Friday that the mysterious case of Natalie Wood‘s drowning death on November 29, 1981 is being reopened by the LA County Sheriff’s Department, I thought it fitting to feature a name whose modern popularity is inspired almost entirely by this tragic Hollywood starlet. The name’s popularity became SO huge as a direct result of Natalie Wood, that the true nature of its inspiration seemed to disappear and it’s been used anyway, much like Ava.
My best friend was named for Natalie Wood, born three years after Wood’s death. My cousin was named Natalie in 1997, her name no longer in honour of Natalie Wood, but selected as a top choice for girls – a name that lacks many “bully” nicknames (apart from the word ‘fat’), sounds beautiful, is on the fringe of Biblical, and by now its use, though still strong, has dropped from being given to almost 11,000 baby girls a year in the US to under 9,000. So today, a baby girl named Natalie today has less likelihood of being one of three in her class (it happened to my friend) – she might just be one of two!
Natalie Wood’s name was chosen for her – born Natalia Nikolaevna Zakharenko in San Francisco to an ambitious Russian stagemother named Maria and her father, Nikolai, studio bosses named her Natalie Wood long before she became a child star in the original Miracle on 34th Street. Though her father had changed the family name to Gurdin from Zakharenko, she spoke fluent Russian and often went by Natasha at home – she never liked her Hollywood name. But that name became synonymous with beauty and style throughout her high profile Hollywood career. She received Oscar nominations for Rebel Without A Cause, which she starred in with James Dean, and Splendor in the Grass, in which she starred with her then real-life beau, Warren Beatty. She had a like-named daughter, Natasha, in 1970 with her second husband, producer Robert Gregson, though Natasha was raised by actor Robert Wagner, Wood’s first and third husband. Wood and Wagner had their own daughter together, Courtney, in 1974.
The circumstances of Woods’ death – she’s presumed to have drowned on board she and Wagner’s yacht, the Splendour, off the coast of California – have long been discussed. Wood couldn’t swim, Wagner swears she wasn’t depressed, but an autopsy revealed she was intoxicated at the time of her death. Though rumours have always swirled regarding Wagner’s role in her death, the Sheriff’s Dept. has already said he’s not a suspect, which adds mystery to why the case is being reopened almost 30 years later.
And now, a look at the name behind the woman who inspired one of the most popular girls’ names of the last 30 years.
Natalie is derived from natalis, which is Latin for “birthday.” More specifically, Christ’s birthday – Christmas. The meaning of the name further inspired my best friend’s parents because, well, most people love Christmas. I’m also aware that American Thanksgiving is in full swing, which means that Christmas commercials everywhere will kick into high gear right about now. Another perfect reason to feature this name today.
Other famous Natalies – singer Natalie Cole, Dixie Chick Natalie Maines, actress Natalie Portman – might all conceivably have earned their names thanks to Natalie Wood’s influence. All were born after Wood was a star.
Even if this name feels overused, it’s still wildly popular in many places around the world, still a Top 100 choice almost everywhere in the English speaking world. Natalia and Natasha, too, have a strong place in eastern Europe. The name Natalie was always around, spiked into the US Top 300 in 1920, but has by now climbed into the US Top 20, with 8,715 babies born in 2010 named Natalie.
Natalie (or more specifically, Nathalie with a silent ‘h’) is considered the French (or western) form of the name, with Natalia or Natalya being Russian (eastern), from which derived popular and storied Natasha (a pet form). Selecting Natalie is also much less tinsel-decorated than selecting Noel, which shares the same meaning but is far more obviously Christmas-related. Numerous spelling variations exist to cater to various tastes and ethnicities, including Natassja (pronounced Na-TAS-ya), like German-born model/actress Natassja Kinski. American teenager Natalee Holloway made international headlines when she disappeared on a school trip to Aruba in 2005.
Saint Natalia was the wife of Adrian of Nicomedia, a Herculean Guard, who died in 306 AD. It’s said that while presiding over the torture of a band of Christians, Adrian asked them what reward they expected to receive from God. They replied, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9) Adrian was so amazed at their courage that he publicly confessed his faith, though he had not yet been baptised. He was immediately imprisoned and was forbidden visitors, but accounts state that his wife Natalia came to visit him dressed as a boy to ask for his prayers when he entered Heaven. Later, Christians took Adrian’s body and buried him on the outskirts of Byzantium, at Argyropolis. Natalia went to live there herself, taking one of Adrian’s hands, which she had recovered. When she died, she was buried with the martyrs.
Potentially modern takes on the name Natalie could include the nickname Nettie. Decidedly old fashioned, it’s right on trend with names like Hattie and Eloise. Tash or Tashie exist as variations on Natasha.
But it’s Natalie that is practically nickname free (except for Fatalie), at least in regards to schoolyard bullies. There are no negative name connotations in the form of ‘bad Natalies.’ Like Cassandra, Amanda, or other still common names of the 1980s on the drop-off, using such names now will give your child more originality in the classroom.