Magdalena, Madeleine, Madeline

Gender: Feminine
Origin: Latin
Meaning: “of Magdala.”

We have the exotic and sophisticated Magdalena, the French classic Madeleine and the English trend setter Madeline.  The origins of these names go all the way back to the Bible, the New Testament to be exact. It is derived from a title given to the famous Catholic saint, Mary Magdalen, also known as Mary of Magdala. Magdala, being the town that the former prostitute turned follower of Christ, hailed from, a town on the sea, near Galilee, its meaning being “tower.”

In the Middle Ages, St. Mary Magdalen was a beloved saint, making the name popular in virtually every European country, evolving into myriad different forms. The cult of St. Mary Magdalen was especially popular in France, where she was known as La Madeleine (lah mah-deh-LEN). In fact, tradition holds that, after the death of Christ, Mary Magdalen travelled to France, where she converted many of the early inhabitants to the new faith. She is considered one of France’s patron saints and it is believed that her bones were buried in France. La Madeleine gave her name to several communes in France as well as a river. It is even the name of a famous French pastry.

While you are out rushing to work, standing in line, getting your daily fix of Starbucks, you may notice that at the front counter there are packages of a soft little sponge-like cookie. These are madeleines or petit madeleines. They are a popular snack in France, made from lemon and butter, and are known for their distinctive shell shape. Legend has it that they acquired their name from the lady who invented them, Madeleine Paulmier. They are a delightful little treat, and I recommend that the next time you are at Starbucks, you should try them yourself.

Likewise, Madeleine has been a very popular choice in Great Britain and currently ranks in as the 80th most popular feminine name in Britain and Wales for 2007, while in its home country of France, it comes in rather low. It was the 454th most popular feminine name in France for 2006.

Let us not forget the fun and sweet version of Madeline (MAD-eh-LINE), Madeline seems to be specifically a North American version of the French form. Originally pronounced (MAD-eh-LIN), its preferred pronunciation has switched over to the former in the last decade, no doubt due to the popular children’s series of books of the same name.

Madeline has been quite popular the last few years, she ranked in at a whopping 61 in the 2007 most popular feminine names in the United States. She has also made her mark in other non-British English speaking countries, such as Canada and Australia. In Canada she came in at 85, while in Australia 93.

There is also the trendified corrupted form of Madelyn, which currently comes in at # 104, however, it is advisable to use the French spelling if you prefer the (Mad-eh-lin) pronunciation, which seems to be the goal of the parents of the Madelyns.

Nicknames include Maddie, Leine and Lynn. The name is borne by Princess Madeleine of Sweden, Madeleine Albright, and author Madeleine L’Engle.

Let us now move on to its Eastern European alternative of Magdalena (MAHG-dah-LAY-nah). This form is used in Spain, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Poland. It is especially popular in both Poland and the Czech Republic where it is often shortened to Magda, and occasionally Lenka. There are the Czech spin offs of Alenka and Madlenka, used as an independent name.

Magdalena might be appealing to English speaking parents who love the nickname Maggie but really dislike Margaret. On top of that, it can be shortened to appealing and trendy Laney or even Lena.

Other forms of the trio include:
  • Magdalawit (Amharic/Eritrean)
  • Maialen (Basque: MY-ah-LEN)
  • Madenn (Breton)
  • Miglena (Bulgarian)
  • Alena (Czech-Slovak and occasionally used in Germany. Diminutive form is Alenka)
  • Magdaléna (Czech)
  • Mahulena (Czech: a form created by Czech author, Julius Zeyer, for his his Ráduz and Mahulena-1898)
  • Magdalene (Danish)
  • Magdalone/Malene/Lone (Danish)
  • Malle/Madli (Estonian pronounced MAHL-leh and MAHD-lee) other forms include Mall, Leen (LANE), Leena and Made (MAH-deh)
  • Matleena (Finnish pronounced maht-LAY-nah) diminutive forms now commonly used as independent names include: Leen, Leena and Lenita)
  • Magdeleine (French: archaic form)
  • Leni (German: originally a diminutive form, it has recently become trendy in German speaking countries as an independent name)
  • Madelene (German: mah-deh-LEH-neh: other forms include, Madlene and Madlen)
  • Magdalini (Greek Modern-pronounced mahg-dah-LEE-nee)
  • Magdolna (Hungarian, pronounced mog-DOH-noh) diminutive forms now popularly used as independent name in Hungary are Lenke (LEHN-keh) and Duci (DOOT-see).
  • Madalein (Irish-Gaelic)
  • Mailin (Irish-Gaelic)
  • Maddalena (Italian pronounced mahd-dah-LAY-nah. Other forms include Maida, Madina and Magdala)
  • Madala (Latvian) another form is Magone
  • Talena (Latvian/Scottish)
  • Maguelone (Occitanian)
  • Madalena (Portuguese pronounced mah-dah-LAY-nah)
  • Maclaina (Romansch pronounced mugg-LIE-nah) other Romansch forms include Madina, Madlaina (mudd-LIE-nah) and Madlena (mudd-LEH-nah).
  • Madalina (Romanian pronounced mah-dah-LEE-nah)
  • Magdalina Магдалина (Russian)
  • Manda (Serbo-Croatian/Macedonian/Slovene)
  • Madlena (Sorbian)
  • Malin/Målin (Swedish/Norwegian pronounced MAW-lin, other forms include Malena and Madicken (MAH-dee-KEN)
  • Mädi (Swiss-German: dialectical form from Bern MAD-dee)
  • Magdalyna (Ukrainian)
  • Madałena (Venetian)

Other popular offshoots include the English corrupted form of Madelaine (MAD-eh-LANE): given to the daughter of David Duchovny and Téa Leoni. The dated German forms of Marlene (Eng mar-LEEN; Germ mahr-LEH-neh) & Marla and the Polish Marlena.The designated name day for all of these names is July 22.

French diminutives are Mado and Madelon. Polish diminutive forms are: Madzia, Magda, Magdunia, Magdusia and Magdeczka. Hungarian diminutives are, Duci

There are a few Italian masculine forms and that includes, Maddaleno, Magdalo and Maido.

4 thoughts on “Magdalena, Madeleine, Madeline

  1. Some other variants that might also be interesting for English-speaking parents could be Breton Madenn and Romansh Maclaina (Mugg-lie-nah), Madina (Mah-dee-nah), Madlaina (Mudd-lie-nah) and Madlena (Mudd-leh-nah).

  2. I’m so glad to see that Madlenka is used as an independent name. I’ve loved it forever but was worried that it wasn’t a “legit” first name. Do you happen to know what the proper pronunciation is?

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