About A Name: Maple

February 17, 2012 § 2 Comments

If there was a celebrity baby name that was going to pull this proud Canadian name blogger out of a self-imposed, quasi-hiatus while the demands of my real life job owned my life for the past six weeks, it’s no surprise that name is Maple Sylvie.

I love it. I hate it. I know exactly why and how I’m so conflicted about a name that most people have balked, “Pfft, sounds like maple syrup!”

Yes folks, Sylvie and syrup both start with Sy, but that would be beside the point if ‘maple’ wasn’t the first name. And unfortunately for Jason Bateman and his wife Amanda Anka – whose father, “My Way” songwriter Paul Anka, was born in Ottawa in 1941 – Americans don’t generally think of the symbolic importance of the maple leaf to someone who is Canadian. I’m not sure why Bateman and his wife picked Sylvie, but my money’s on the fact that Sylvie is the name of one of their grandmothers. As Anka and his first wife Anne (Amanda’s mother) are from the Ottawa area, which borders Quebec, I wouldn’t doubt that French Sylvie is a family name.

Just five days after little Maple Sylvie Bateman was born on February 10th in Los Angeles, Canada’s flag – red and white, with a maple leaf (not a pot leaf, but thank you American comedies!) in the centre, turned 47. The maple leaf is not just our flag, it’s symbolic of our national identity. Though the British and the French first colonized this country almost 500 years ago, Canada did not become a country until 1867 when Queen Victoria granted our wish to form a Canadian confederation.

But it wasn’t until February 15, 1965 that we adopted the maple leaf flag as our national symbol – until that point, our official flag was similar to Australia or New Zealands’ designs. Though red, there was a Union Jack in the top left corner, and an official coat of arms, or shield, with symbolic national emblems like the fleur-de-lis, a three-stemmed maple leaf, Irish harp, three golden lions (a symbol of England), and the Scottish lion. For nearly 100 years, Canadians had honoured their European heritage, but the “Great Flag Debate” erupted in the 1960s, with republicans demanding further separation from the British crown and our Prime Minister at the time, Lester B. Pearson, smart enough to know better than to listen. But changing our flag was symbolic, it set us on our own and it would make us look and feel like our own country.

And the one Canadian symbol that all sides could agree on as representative of our country and it’s people? The maple leaf. “The Maple Leaf Forever” has long been our unofficial national anthem. With the exception of our territories in the far north where the ground is too cold most of the year to support growth of deciduous trees, maples are plentiful in provinces coast to coast. But maples are everywhere – they populate areas of the United States, Europe, and North Africa, and are most plentiful in Asia – especially Korea and Japan.

Don’t get me wrong – Canadians’ pride in the maple leaf has not translated into heavy (or minor) use of Maple as a baby name, and we, too, were a little bit shocked by the Batemans’ choice. But for Canadians, it’s not because the name is ‘weird’ that we don’t use it, or that it makes us think of maple syrup – in many ways, it would be like naming your daughter Princess. The word is too heavy and symbolic to use as a name. But that Americans, or people of other nationalities, immediately think of maple syrup doesn’t offend me, either. Canadians like whatever imprints our nation on the subconscious of others, and if Americans think we should be held responsible for maple syrup, when the majority of the stuff that gets ingested by the US comes from Vermont, that’s cool with us too.

When I first heard the name, I immediately I thought of the seemingly awkward sibset of Francesca Nora and Maple Sylvie – their oldest daughter’s name honours the Ankas’ Italian heritage – but their oldest daughter is most often called Frannie. If Maple, too, is given a nickname like May/Mae or is even called Maemae, it’s not only a sweet sibset with Frannie, it’s a nod to Jason Bateman’s star-making turn on Arrested Development. (Alia Shawkat portrayed George Bluth’s neice Maeby during the show’s three year run from 2003-06, and is expected back for the planned film.) Bateman’s career was tanking before Arrested Development became a hit, and his success on the show has led to a solid career in films.

Maple is also distinctly on-trend with tree names that have been deemed “fetching” over at Appellation Mountain, and on-notice by name bloggers all over the world. One of my last posts in January was on the name Koa, after Hawaii’s most plentiful arbor. But Maple still threw many for a loop – Nancy even asked, “What’s wrong with Mabel?”, especially now that such old-fashioned, once-clunky names that dropped considerably down the charts through the 20th Century have been making a serious comeback. Nothing’s wrong with Mabel, but Maple means more to this family. And maybe, Mabel is too close to Maeby and Arrested Development. (Without confirmation from the couple themselves, we have no way of knowing if Canada had anything to do with their choice, to be perfectly honest – so consider this a defense of the name in general, not just for the Batemans.)

I have just two more observations to make in defense of Maple as a baby name. One is that I don’t necessarily recommend it – but will defend it and if you would really like to know why, check the video below to get a sense of how Canadians view their heritage and international identity – and the second is that this year is already shaping up to be a year of solid, perhaps stunning, celebrity baby names. Last year’s names were fairly vanilla with a few minor exceptions like Bear Blu, but in 2012 we’ve already had two superstar celebrity babies with names that get us talking (shine on, Miss Blue Ivy Carter). As bloggers, what more could we ask for?


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§ 2 Responses to About A Name: Maple

  • Yay you’re back! I was hoping Maple Sylvie would fetch you!

    It’s funny, I never even thought of syrup – I thought Sylvie means woods or forests, so I immediately thought of forests of maple trees. I can’t say Sylvie and syrup are soundalikes to me.

    I think it’s a fantastic name – I saw an Australian-Canadian baby called Matilda Maple, but it’s so cool to put the “daring plant name” up front instead of tucked away in the middle. And Sylvie is so pretty and fairylike.

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