About A Name: Clemency

November 23, 2011 § 3 Comments

The dove of peace is a symbol of the virtue of clemency.

I like when a blogger spots a name trend before it happens, which was exactly the case with Lou at Mer de Noms. In late October she offered up some alternatives to Clementine, wildly popular right now in her native Britain (perhaps thanks in large part to a one Mrs. Clementine Churchill). Among them was Clemency, which falls in line with other noun or adjective (virtue) names that are a hot trend right now, like Noble, Sunny, or Trendy. (Footballer Gabriel Zakuani went with Trendy for his new baby boy – his wife works in fashion; he loves Twitter – I wish I could, but I can’t, even if this blog focuses on name trends, and there’s nothing more trendy than Trendy.) In general, the trend has a lot to say about revered character traits, the sorts of positive virtues you wish upon your baby – which is perhaps another reason why Trendy is just…trendy…and nothing more.

At the time Lou suggested Clemency, she couldn’t have known we were only weeks away from welcoming a celerity baby with that very unique noun name, a Latin word meaning “mercy, merciful.” (Which is a noun name on it’s own!) In London in early November, British TV newsreader Kate Silverton welcomed a daughter named Clemency Florence Rose. Clemency’s two middle names mirror the first and second names of British PM David Cameron’s daughter Florence Rose Endellion, born last year, which makes for a name that feels very “British,” especially with Florence’s popularity there versus here. Florence is currently 54th in England & Wales, but hasn’t been in the US Top 1000 since 1970; it also sits outside the Top 100 in Canada.

I liked Clemency when Lou suggested it, and like it just as much in practice, too. Clem exists as a nickname just as it does for Clementine. Or, you could use Mercy as a so-close, yet-so-far nickname for Clemency. In French-speaking countries, the female name Clemence has thrived, and Clemency is almost an anglicized form. More fanciful alternatives like Clementia or Clemencia also exist, if you want an ultra-feminine name for your girl.

The name is also an interesting choice that in many ways seems a perfect fit for a journalist and her soldier husband, with all sorts of political and judicial undertones to it. Clemency means the forgiveness of a crime or the cancellation (in whole or in part) of the penalty associated with it. It is a general concept that encompasses several related procedures: pardoning, commutation, remission and reprieves. But from a slightly more spiritual standpoint, ‘clemency’ is rooted in love and faith.

There is a town in Luxembourg called Clemency that is very close to the Belgian border, a town which has been inhabited for about 2000 years. Recently, the largest-ever Gallic tomb, of a Celtic nobleman who was a member of the Treveri clan, was uncovered in Clemency.

But British author Julia Llewellyn Smith wrote an article for the Daily Mail last year, in which she voiced serious regret over calling her now three-year-old daughter Clemency. An excerpt:

“We wanted to call her Clemmie but I have a horror of nicknames on birth certificates and so we wavered between two long forms: Clementine (we were unsure how to pronounce the last syllable – tine or teen) or Clemency, a name I’d rarely heard. The discussion started in the post-natal ward. One of the midwives visibly blanched when I told her the screaming item beside me was ‘Clemency’, then, pulling herself together, said hopefully: ‘Well, it’s certainly different.’

My mother said it was ‘far too Notting Hill’, which I took to mean ludicrously trendy in the Starlight Lalala category but which, naturally, made me like it more. When the deadline came to register her six weeks later, we’d come to no conclusion. In my befuddled state, I asked the kind registrar to choose. ‘Clemency,’ she said. ‘Clementine’s becoming far too common: You need to stay ahead of the crowd.”

She regretted the choice as soon as she told friends post-birth, and they disapproved. Which begs the question of whether ‘virtue’ names are truly worth it. You go out of your way to select a name that means something powerful, something good, and people have nothing nice to say about it. But that’s a blog post for another time. Then again, this woman also regretted Sasha for her eldest daughter once she emailed the birth announcement and someone replied, “What a beautiful boy!” Odds are, she is exceptionally wrapped up in the societal mindset – it’s probably why she’s a writer.

Overall, I don’t mind this name, and I think it is pleasing enough phonetically to both continue to catch on, and to become less polarizing as a first name. It’s certainly not a word that the average person uses every day, anyway (even clemency, from a legal standpoint, is commonly referred to as a ‘pardon’), so there’s room for it.


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