Vivian vs. Vivienne

Kind of an odd question, but I was just curious what everyone else felt about the spelling of Vivian versus Vivienne. 

According to, Vivian is used in English, Swedish, Norwegian and Danish and can be for men or women. It's from the Latin name Vivianus, which was derived from the Latin word vivus meaning "alive". It has occasionally been used as an English (masculine) name since the Middle Ages. In modern times it is also used as a feminine name, in which case it is either an Anglicized form of Bébinn (an Irish Gaelic name meaning "fair lady") or a variant of Vivien. Vivienne is the French form. 

So, what does everyone think? Which spelling would you use and why?  


December 4, 2013 6:53 PM

Viviane, the name of the Arthurian Lady of the Lake.  Also spelled Vivien, Ninniane, Nimue, Nineve.  The variety of spellings is partly due to the fact that the medieval Arthurian texts predate the idea of standardized spellings, partly due to the fact that Arthurian literature is pan-European and written in numerous languages and partly due to the minim.  A minim is a vertical stroke in medieval handwriting.  The letters i, m, n, v, u, w are all constructed of one, two or three minims.  In fact, the word minim is made up entirely of minims.  It is thus very easy to confuse these letters when reading or copying.  Which is why some of the forms of the name have v, and others have n.

December 4, 2013 9:29 PM

I was hoping you'd pipe in, Miriam! You always have the most fascinating insight on origins and spellings of names. And it's the kind of information that you can't really find elsewhere. Thank you!

December 4, 2013 9:51 PM

You're welcome.  Sometimes I feel that I am being too pedantic, but so many of the folks who hang out here are just as interested in and knowledgeable about language as I am, so I am emboldened. 

By EVie
December 5, 2013 11:00 AM

Miriam, when the name of the Lady of the Lake is spelled Viviane, is it pronounced like the modern English Vivian, or does the stress shift to the last syllable? 

As a French speaker, I also pronounce Vivian and Vivienne differently—Vivienne is viv-ee-ENN or viv-YENN. I recently met a Vivianne (pronounced viv-ee-ANN—she was French-Canadian, though I believe Anglophone), and I think that is my favorite spelling and pronounciation combo. If the pronunciation is going to be Vivian, then I prefer that spelling. I find Vivienne with all the extra letters but pronounced the same as Vivian a little bit precious. (We don't pronounce Julienne the same as Julian, do we?) As far as I can tell, people only really started widely considering the spelling Vivienne after Angelina Jolie used it—Knox and Vivienne were born in July of 2008, and Vivienne jumped from 151 babies in 2007 to 227 in 2008, then 561 in 2009 (and from unranked in 2008 to #531 in 2009). I don't remember seeing anyone talking about that spelling around here prior to 2008, either, though I don't have time to search the archives right now.

December 5, 2013 11:28 AM

EVie, the name Viviane first appears in the Vulgate Merlin (Estoire de Merlin) which was written in Old French prose.  The alternate spelling Viviana would indicate the pronunciation--the e would be a schwa.  The Vulgate cycle was one of Malory's major sources.

For a nearly exhaustive compendium of Arthurian proper names (personal, place, objects, etc.), try Christopher Bruce's Arthurian Name Dictionary  Definitely worth a name enthusiast's browse.  All the Arthurian names you know will be there, but many many you don't lnow as well.

By EVie
December 5, 2013 12:08 PM

Thanks! That source looks fantastic, I will definitely be taking a closer look. I love the Arthurian place names and epithets as well as the personal names. 

By Coll
December 4, 2013 9:14 PM

I'd use Vyvyan, the name of one of Oscar Wilde's sons.

No, I'd probably use Vivienne. I'm a sucker for a nice French spelling.

December 4, 2013 9:52 PM

Well, I wouldn't *personally* use either, but that's neither here nor there. I also don't see the two as interchangeable. While I do recognize them as two versions of the same name, I say them slightly differently. If speaking English, I don't go for a full French pronunciation or stress pattern, but I do change the sound of vowels. I think my preference would depend on the context. I see Vivian as less girly, less pretty, more no-nonsense, and Vivienne as softer, pretty, feminine. If pressed, I'd say that I probably prefer the French version, since the English one is even less my style.

December 5, 2013 1:29 AM

I would use "Vivian", if I were to use a form of this name. I tend not to go for the ultra-feminine flourishes, and I pronounce the two names slightly differently -- and prefer the "Vivian" pronunciation. 

December 5, 2013 9:01 AM

Mrs. H, do you pronounce these two the same? I always thought Vivian was "VIV-ee-en" and Vivienne was "Viv-ee-ANN." Two different names, albeit from the same source (like Laura and Lauren). And since I'm all about girls' names being frilly-feminine, I prefer Vivienne.

((And I also love all the knowledge you share, Miriam! Thank you))

December 5, 2013 10:00 PM

I DO pronounce them the same. But I'm also a merry-marry-Mary merged speaker. So they both sound like "viv-ee-in" when I say them.

January 15, 2014 8:10 PM

I find this funny -because I also say Mary, merry, and marry the same way (and honestly have no idea how else you would pronounce them, lol!) but strongly dislike Vivienne pronounced like Vivian. Viviana is probably my favorite though.

January 15, 2014 9:01 PM

The Mary-merry-marry merger actually has nothing to do with this pronunciation difference, since it deals with how A before R is pronounced in different linguistic contexts. When you're not merged, Harry doesn't sound like hairy; it's like you start saying "hat" then say ree. But it's a very difficult distinction to make when you don't naturally do so.

Listen to how NinjaRobot from Australia says "Harry" here and how irham83 says "marry" here. When people are merged, this is the most distinct difference from the unmerged. Merged people will say "Harry" as "hairy" and "marry" as, well, merry.

Completely unmerged, Mary has a stronger vowel than merry. Listen to petaluma say "Mary" here and Wasch say "merry" here.

If you watch Sex and the City, you'll hear that different characters say Carrie's name differently. Some say it like they're saying the vowel in "cat" and others like they're saying "care".

Anyway, that's more or less how you would pronounce them if you were unmerged.

January 17, 2014 10:40 AM

I just realized that I say the name Harry differently from the verb harry. The name I pronounce the same way as hairy, but the verb I pronounce the way you describe a non-merged person saying the name Harry. I test as partially merged, i.e. Mary and marry are the same, but merry is slightly different. I tend to be a natural mimic though, so it somewhat depends on whether I am in New England or New York.

Vivian and Vivienne sound different to me, but just based on looks, Vivienne seems more feminine. Whenever one uses a form from a Romance language rather than from Anglo-Saxon, it has a feminizing and softening effect.  That's the beauty of  English though-- the fluid, subtle play of Latin and French against the blunt, strong stress of Anglo-Saxon. 

By EVie
January 17, 2014 1:08 PM

I agree that the French form Vivienne is softer and more feminine than Vivian, but I wouldn't call Vivian an Anglo-Saxon form.  They're both Romance language forms. As far as I can tell, Vivian didn't come into use in England until the 11th or 12th century, after the Norman conquest—so, brought over by the Norman French, after the Anglo-Saxon period was already over. (But Miriam can correct me if I'm wrong—I don't know what sources to look at to find out the exact dates). Of course, the separate origin from the Arthurian literature confuses things, but that would be Celtic via Old French, and even later after the Anglo-Saxon period (the Vulgate Cycle that Miriam mention above as the first appearance of the name Viviane was 13th century). 

January 17, 2014 3:44 PM

I think that the perception thar Vivienne is "softer and more feminine" than Vivian may stem from the fact that Vivian follows the Germanic stress rule and Vivienne the Romance stress rule.  Vivian is, of course, not Anglo-Saxon.  Both names derive from the same Latin root.   As is usual with Latin names there were masculine and feminine forms (Vivianus and Viviana), with saints of the Late Roman period bearing both forms.  Historically in England Vivian was a masculine name until the 19th century when it became unisex.  It was used as a masculine name until the early twentieth century (similar trajectory to Evelyn, Lynn, Beverly, Joyce), but now of course it is entirely "gone to the girls."

Just realized this repeats some of the same information in the original post, but maybe I am not the only one who lost track of that.

January 18, 2014 12:31 AM

I didn't put that very clearly. I know they're both derived from the same Latin root, but the way Vivian is pronounced as opposed to Vivienne indicates an Anglo-Saxon influence. Did it come into English as a male name originally or was it both male and female? I'm curious as to whether more names derived ultimately from Latin have shifted from male to female over the years or if it's more random.

By EVie
January 18, 2014 1:32 AM

I'm actually not sure whether Vivian is attested as a feminine name in the Middle Ages—I know that it was primarily masculine, but it could have been used as a vernacular form of Viviana as well as Vivianus. The problem with medieval vernacular forms is that names were usually written down in their Latin form, so the vernacular may have often gone unrecorded. We do know that Julian was used as a vernacular form of both Julianus and Juliana (Julian of Norwich is a famous example of a female Julian), and Vivian follows the same pattern. 

January 18, 2014 2:02 AM

To expand on Julian of Norwich, no one knows what her baptismal name was or indeed anything about her family background or personal life.  At one point  she became gravely ill (possibly with plague), and during her illness she received mystical visions.  When she recovered, she took holy orders and became an anchoress, immured in the church of St. Julian which was attached to the priory of St. Julian.  Julian was this mystic's name in religion taken from the priory.  Thus the name of Julian of Norwich on its own cannot be taken as evidence that Julian was used as a feminine vernacular name in medieval England.

Oddly there is a possibility that both Julian (whoever she was) and her spiritual advisor Cardinal Adam Easton were members of a crypto-Jewish community in Norwich, descended from a small remnant of Jews who converted to Christianity and remained in England after the expulsion of 1290.  Easton taught Hebrew at Oxford, and Julian demonstrates a knowledge of Hebrew in her writings.  Easton also owned at least one rabbinical manuscript.  It would be very interesting indeed to learn what Julian's baptismal name was and whether it had any association with Jewish naming practices of the time.  But that we shall never know.

By EVie
January 18, 2014 1:36 PM

I didn't know that about Julian of Norwich, that's really interesting. So then, is the name Julian not attested as a female name in any other sources? Was it common for female monastics to take masculine names when they took religious orders? And what about Gillian, which I've always read developed from the female use of Julian—is that to be considered a separate vernacular form, or an alternate spelling that can be counted as evidence that Julian was used by women?

January 18, 2014 3:47 PM

The place to check what is/isn't specifically attested in terms of medieval names is the St. Gabriel Society, the heralds of the Society for Creative Anachronism.  They have pretty well combed all manner of medieval texts looking for names.  I don't have the energy to see what they came up with in terms of female usage of Julian, because their site is not user friendly.  AFAIK they don't post a master list of attested names.  You have to click around to separate postings on specific times and places.  All I can say is that Julian of Norwich cannot be used as an example of a female child being given the name Julian.

I would rephrase the question about Gillian:  is there evidence that Gillian was used as a male name in that form?  I do not know the answer to that, but my offhand sense is no, because Gill (like Alison) was used as a stereotypical female name (like the Jane of Jane Doe).  See the tricky Gill, wife of the even trickier Mak, in the Second Shepherds' Play.  That usage survives today in the Jack and Jill nursery rhyme.

January 19, 2014 1:05 AM

It's the Academy of Saint Gabriel, and it's not an "official" part of the SCA College of Arms. (The website for the latter is .) But the two are pretty closely related -- I can't think of a contributor to the Academy who isn't (or wasn't) at least peripherally involved in the Society.

There are various projects underway to make the Academy's and the Society's name materials more easily accessible. One that's already usable, if incomplete, is the combined search (using Google) on the Morsulus site:

Using that search, it becomes clear that Julian was used as both a feminine and a masculine name in 15th-16th century England. Here's a list of feminine names from a Gloucestershire church register:
And here's a compilation of names from 16th century London, where Julyan occurs once each as a masculine and feminine name:

It seems to be considerably more common as a feminine name, in which use it's often (generally?) a variant of Gillian (see the church register list above, for example).

Vivian, on the other hand, I can only find in masculine lists.

January 19, 2014 3:00 AM

Thanks for the info that efforts are being made to make the name lists more user friendly. The need to click around to many different sites can be pretty frustrating. Of course, all of the work on names has been done on a volunteer basis, and as such the extensive information of names, however organized, is a massive contribution.

Sorry about the errors in the details concerning the SCA, the Academy and the heralds. Frankly, like a good many professional medievalists, I am not a big fan of the SCA, although the work of the Academy of St. Gabriel is certainly a worthwhile contribution to medieval onomastics.

My personal expertise pretty much ends at 1400 with a little overlap into the Scottish Chaucerians. I am really an Anglo-Saxonist by training and inclination. What went on in Early Modern England is not really at my fingertips.

December 5, 2013 1:55 PM

I think Vivienne is quite pretty, but I'd use Vivian myself, except for the fact that we already have two Vivianas in the family. There's also Vivien, which is the spelling Ms. Leigh used (she was born Vivian but changed the spelling of her name).

January 1, 2014 4:15 PM

They're pronounced differently, so if I wanted the name VIV-ee-uhn, I would use Vivian, and if I wanted the name Viv-ee-IN, I would use Vivienne. Because of the pronunciation differences, Vivian tends to make a better first name with traditional English names, while Vivienne tends to make a better middle name. Examples:

Vivian Scarlett vs. Scarlett Vivienne

Vivian Beatrice vs. Beatrice Vivienne

Vivian Georgia vs. Georgia Vivienne

Vivian Alice vs. Alice Vivienne

I tend to prefer the variations where Vivienne is the middle name. They have a very lovely flow. Vivian can be a little clumsy.

January 12, 2014 3:58 PM

Viviana is easly my favourite.