Yesterday rather to my surprise I ran across a woman named Pulcheria. Pulcheria was quite an interesting woman, Byzantine Empress Regent from the age of fifteen and saint in both the Catholic and Orthodox traditions for her opposition to Nestorianism. Pulcher, beauty, is one of the first vocabulary words introduced in beginning Latin textbooks. I wouldn't expect Pulcheria to race to the top of the SSA charts any time soon--or ever, but for those looking for an under the radar name which nonetheless has a history of usage, invokes a strong woman, and has a positive derivation, there it is.


June 6, 2017 3:45 PM

Either there is some sound-alike word or its just its collection of phonemes, but "pulcher" does not feel like a positive word to me. Certainly not anything like "beautiful"! 


Hah! I looked it up and vocabulary.com has this to say:

Even though it looks (and sounds) like it would describe a disease or a bad attitude, pulchritudinous actually describes a person of breathtaking, heartbreaking...beauty.

-- So clearly it's not just me!

June 6, 2017 3:57 PM

Yes, pulchritude has always been a mystifying word to me. I know intellectually that it means 'beauty' but I can't help associating it with decrepitude and putrefaction.

Pulcheria is a bit better--it looks more like plumeria, which has very positive connotations for me.

June 9, 2017 12:49 PM

OK, I finally figured out what the other word is that I conflate with pulchritude--not putrefaction or putrefied, but putrid. Which, come to think of it, might also contribute a bit to my distaste for Gertrude.

Oh, and another word in this category for me is callipygian. I know it means "having a beautiful...ahem" but I can't help feeling it should mean "fat-assed". I'm kind of digging Pulcheria and Callipygia as (fictional) sisters, actually ;).

June 9, 2017 1:15 PM

Callipygian reminds me of a cross between Calypso and pigeon, with some calligraphy thrown in for good measure. To me, it feels like it should have something to do with someone's ability to dance -- so, I suppose, the ability to shake one's derrière more than the shape of it :)

Pulcheria has grown on me, somewhat, through mere exposure in this thread.

June 9, 2017 1:30 PM

"Fat-assed" is steatopygian....

Callipygia is one of Aphrodite's epithets.

June 9, 2017 1:43 PM

Is steatopygian an insult or a compliment? Is it "fat-assed" or "junk-in-the-trunked"?

Steatopygia also has pronunciation ambiguity, so I don't see it taking off as a baby name.

June 9, 2017 1:58 PM

I have seen steatopygian used to describe a general body type rather than as a personal descriptor of an individual.

June 9, 2017 2:12 PM

Oh, like a steatophygyian endomorph? That's less fun.

June 9, 2017 4:40 PM

I used steatopygia once while playing the dictionary game, knowing full well that no one would guess (or believe!) the correct answer. Once I revealed the definition, my friend immediately quipped "Baby got back!"

By EVie
June 9, 2017 7:57 PM

Hah! This delightful thread reminds me that Farsi for "fat-assed" is kundegondeh (koo-neh-gon-DEH... and I'm not exactly sure of my spelling, but I guess since it's a transliteration it's good enough). I don't speak Farsi myself, but this is a word that got a fair amount of use by my Farsi-speaking relatives, and it's where my mind immediately goes when I read the name Cunegonde (of Candide fame). I actually wondered whether that was an intentional joke before I learned that Cunegonde is an actual Germanic name (and I imagine it's unlikely that Voltaire knew any Farsi).

June 9, 2017 10:51 PM

Oh please tell me there's a relationship! That would make Candide even that much more hilarious.

June 9, 2017 8:12 PM

Yes, I think the only time I've ever heard callipygia(n) said out loud is in a Classics course, which is perhaps why I think it should be said with a hard-g (though the OED clearly disagrees with me).

June 6, 2017 6:35 PM

Pulcher is certainly mismatched between meaning and sound.  Although, to be fair, I feel like "beautiful" is a rather ugly word as well.  I wonder what the most beautiful word for beautiful is?

Pulcheria, somehow, appeals to me nonetheless.  I'm a big fan of Byzantine history, so that could be part of it.  But between the name and the story, it gives me an image of a young, tough, beautiful empress.  The type of person that is innocent in some respects, but not-to-be-messed-with.  I looked up Pulcheria, and found that her "full" name was Aelia Pulcheria.  Aelia I could see catching on much more than Pulcheria could. 

Somehow I don't think my wife would be okay with the name Pulcheria for a baby, however.

June 6, 2017 6:55 PM

Okay, now I must know the correct pronunciation of Pulcheria!

I read it as pull-KERR-ee-uh, but when I went to find out for sure, I found pull-CHAIR-ee-uh, and a whole bunch of people saying it so that it essentially sounded like Paul Kariya, one of my favourite hockey players when I was a kid, but not how I expected the name to sound. 

June 6, 2017 7:51 PM

The pronunciation with k is Classical Latin and with ch as in chair is Church Latin. Cf. with Cicero: Kikero when he was alive and well, Chichero in Church Latin/Neo-Latin/Italian, Sisero in English.


June 6, 2017 8:10 PM

Aha, and what about the stress pattern? Is it (using the K example) pull-KERR-ee-uh or PULL-kuh-REE-uh?

June 6, 2017 11:18 PM

Same stress pattern as Octavia and Antonia

June 7, 2017 12:03 AM

Thanks! I knew that Paul Kariya sounded totally off :)

By EVie
June 6, 2017 7:05 PM

I've always felt the same way about pulcher! (Similarly: fulgent. Doesn't it just sound like something foul, and not something shining? I guess that's mainly me getting my Germanic and Latin roots crossed).

For a word for "beautiful" that is actually beautiful, I'm happy with French bel/belle, Italian bello/bella and classical Greek kalos. There is bellus/bella for beautiful in Latin, too, but my understanding is that it wasn't as commonly used as pulcher. I'd love to know why that evolved into the dominant form in the Romance languages. (And interestingly, bellum, which means "war" in Latin, faded out in favor of the Old French form war/guerre... possibly to avoid confusion?) And German schön doesn't look particularly beautiful, but it can sound very lovely when spoken, especially in the phrase "sehr schön." 

There was a major Roman patrician family that used Pulcher as their cognomen, several of them consuls. Most of them are Appius Claudius Pulcher, with a couple Publius Claudius Pulcher and one Gaius Claudius Pulcher. 

June 6, 2017 7:24 PM

I've always been fond of the Yiddish word for beautiful, shayn (masculine)/shayneh (feminine; SHAY-neh), and by association, the unrelated yet homophonic name Shane. But that could have a lot to do with the love evident in my relatives' voices when they talked about someone's sheyneh ponim :)

Unother unattractive "attractive" word is gorgeous. It's worse than beautiful, I think.

June 6, 2017 7:33 PM

My sister's name is Sheine Liebe. What could be more positive!

June 6, 2017 7:37 PM

Wow, translate that into English and you have a perfect flower child name!

June 6, 2017 7:41 PM

Yes, and my name is Miriam which is so not a flower child name. As a child I felt the discrepancy keenly.

June 7, 2017 11:55 AM

Agree on both pulcher and fulgent: they just do not look or sound like they could possibly have even remotely positive meanings. Pulchritude is like a cross between "puce" (the ugliest color-name in existence) and "decrepitude".

I think the Hungarian for "beautiful" is actually a pretty word, although it's very difficult for English speakers: gyönyörű [ɟøɲøryː] (https://forvo.com/word/hu/gy%C3%B6ny%C3%B6r%C5%B1/#hu).

June 7, 2017 12:23 PM

It reminds me of the French word for generous, généreux



Not "beautiful", but I've always been partial to the sound of mellifluous. It feels like it matches its meaning. 

June 7, 2017 7:57 PM

Awww, I love puce! (Says the woman with the chartreuse house, so de gustibus et coloribus non est disputandum and all that!)

June 7, 2017 8:54 PM

So, apparently puce is a reddish purple, not green, despite the very common misconception that it's green. I 100% thought that puce was like a greenish/yellowish/brownish colour, but no, it's not. It's actually a rather nice colour with a very unfortunate name. Unless your puce comment was unrelated to your chartreuse comment, in which case, as you were.

Chartreuse is a great colour!

June 7, 2017 9:00 PM

I've never heard anyone describe puce in the greenish range. Puce is akin to mauve. OTOH chartreuse is the color of a respiratory infection!

June 7, 2017 9:42 PM

It's apparently common! There are entire articles written about the confusion. 

June 7, 2017 10:03 PM

I just checked out those articles. Apparently categorizing puce as greenish is perhaps some sort of folk etymology. 

OTOH chartreuse is derived from the French term for the order of Carthusian monks, referring to the yellow-green color of the monks' famous liqueur.

By EVie
June 8, 2017 3:04 PM

I'm not sure I knew that about puce, either. I had always imagined it as kind of booger-colored--maybe my brain is subconsciously changing it to "puke."

The other one I struggle with is vermilion. It's an orangey-red, but my Romance-language trained brain sees that "ver" and automatically goes to "green." (Actually, it is Latin-derived, but from vermis, "worm"--very different!). 

June 8, 2017 3:11 PM

But the 'green' root is verd-/vert-, not ver-. For green, try viridian.

By EVie
June 9, 2017 8:11 PM

I think part of the problem is that I grew up speaking (but not reading or writing) French until age 10, and in French the t in vert is silent, so I still subconsciously associate just "ver" with green. I also mixed it up with "verre," meaning glass (which I know now derives from Latin vitrum and is more closely related to English "water"), and my child-brain invented some association for why glass/green would be the same (something to do with green glass bottles I think). 

(This also reminds me that "glas" in Celtic languages means a color in the blue/gray/green/icy range... looks like it's probably related to English glass through a posited Proto-Indo-European root meaning "to shine.")

June 9, 2017 11:25 PM

A cliche describing heroines in Middle English romances is that they have eyen grey as glas. This would be in contrast to the nut-brown peasant girls who always have dark eyes.

As a side note, medieval and early modern glass, for example, window panes, has sort of a blue-green cast especially when viewed on edge.

BTW speaking of green glass bottles, in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the stanza in which the Green Kight is first described after he rides into the middle of Arthur's hall ends with the phrase that he is "oueral enker-grene." Up until that point there is nothing particularly unusual about him except that he rides into the dining hall on a horse, but all of a sudden, surprise, he is green and so is the horse he rode in on. Enker-grene means something on the order of entirely green, but one translator rendered enker-grene as bottle green--I have no idea why since enker has nothing to do with bottles. Perhaps the translator was over much fond of Coke.

November 15, 2017 1:52 PM

I just re-read this whole fun thread (while supposed to be doing something else entirely) and this reminds me of my favorite French tongue-twister (OK, it's the only French tongue-twister I know), "le ver vert va vers le verre vert"—the green worm goes towards the green glass. All the V words sound exactly the same in my bad French accent.

June 9, 2017 5:53 AM

Red is "vermell" in Catalan and "vermelho" in Portuguese, if that helps connect the vermillion dots...

June 8, 2017 4:19 PM

I meant by including the chartreuse house bit that I have unconventional taste in colors (puce is a commonly-disliked color and chartreuse is a highly unusual house color, at least).

I've always thought of puce as a brownish purple, and it's definitely in my Color Me Beautiful palette.

June 8, 2017 8:13 PM

I once had an avocado house back in the 70s when everything was avocado and gold. Not exactly chartreuse, but close....



By EVie
June 9, 2017 8:22 PM

Now knowing what color puce really is, I actually like it very much! 

I've actually seen a surprising number of houses painted chartreuse on HGTV lately, particularly by the ladies on Good Bones (my deal with myself is I'm only allowed to watch junk TV while I'm working out... gives me a little extra incentive to go to the gym). They just don't use that word for it ;) Instead, it's "an unexpected pop of color."

November 25, 2017 8:10 PM

I must have grown up in that sweet spot where random culture put the color of puce in my impressionable mind--I remember it from the prom movie "Dance til Dawn" *and* the flight inducing lollipops in the John Lithgow Santa Claus movie! "What's puce? It's like fushia but a shade less lavender and a bit more pink" ...to me puce is the shade of my old Califorina Raisin plush :'D

June 8, 2017 10:45 AM

It occured to me at some point after I wrote that that I don't actually know what color "puce" is. I guess it belongs in the same category as the name under discussion: words that sound/look nothing like their actual meanings.

I have edited my comment to more closely reflect facts: puce is the ugliest color-_name_ in existence. This is probably because it both looks and sounds like a cross between 'puke' and 'pus'.

June 8, 2017 11:10 AM

The fact that puce is derived from the French for flea doesn't help.

June 8, 2017 4:20 PM

oooh, Wikipedia actually has a section on "puce green":

Puce green dates back to at least 1810, when green tea was described as "puce green" in color. This phrase is still found today in the UK and the US, where it means a "pea soup" color. Hypotheses that this usage comes from misappropriation or derivation from "puke green" or "pus green" are purely speculative.


June 9, 2017 4:43 PM

I too suffered from this misunderstanding and am so glad this came up! Puce is a beautiful color, but I had been maligning it my whole life. Oops!

June 7, 2017 5:22 AM

This may be a niche problem, but under any pronunciation it sounds much to much like "pulqueria" to me, as in, the Mexican pulque taverns were I acquired a few ferocious hangovers some years ago. :)

June 7, 2017 7:58 PM

Maybe a little Pulcheria is named after an Empress, maybe it's a virtue name, or maybe she's named after her conception story... 


I like the name!

June 8, 2017 9:15 PM

I think this whole thread is a decent summation of why I love this site!

And I quite like Pulcheria with the Classical Latin pronunciation.

June 17, 2017 8:55 PM

I was just thinking the same thing!  I also quite like Pulcheria.  It makes me think of plumeria, which is another word that doesn't match for me.  I always want the flowers to be a dark purple-plum color instead of white/yellow or kind of pinkish-purple.