Madeleine has made its way into consideration, but debate over pronunciation and spelling is cloudy the decision. I understand Madeleine is the classic, French spelling, and Madeline the English spelling?

My question is: are these all the same name, or are they different? I would have pronounced all of the above Mad-uh-lin but perhaps that was incorrect. We don't like Mad-uh-LINE, and prefer the "lyn" sound. However, I am worried spelling Madelyn to avoid pronunciation confusion looks trendy with the "y" and takes away the classic appeal of the name.


You know, your letters tell me a lot about you. This letter? This letter is boss. It arrived just like this, no greeting, no sign-off, and it is specific and it is to the point.
This is a great practical application of some of the theoretical conundrums that come through this column. Are they different, does it matter, and then what?

So. The bare facts are that yes, Madeleine is the French and Madeline the English, compounded and confused by the fact that the smallest of the ‘two little girls in two straight lines,’ Madeline, is from Paris.  It is one of only a few names where there are two distinctly correct pronunciations, and it’s tricky.  Andrea comes to mind here, or Helena, or Alicia. You are predisposed to look at the name and think it’s one of the accepted pronunciations, and you just…do. You can train your brain the other way, of course, but it’s difficult to sway other people.

This is compounded because of the multiple spellings of Madeleine. You might be inclined to think that, like Caroline and Carolyn, Madelyn is the way to get the pronunciation you want—and indeed, nobody’s likely to call “Madelyn” MadeLIGHN – but you’re right that you lose the classic appeal and that the “y” looks trendy.

I would always default to MadelINE I think, because I prefer it, or actually because I once originally heard the name as MadeLAINE, and it has stuck with me—but just as many people would say Madeleine, or cite that it’s actually an adaptation of ‘Magdalen’, or misspell it Madelyn because that’s how their teenage babysitter spells it, or just jump to ‘Maddie’, whether or not you like that name.

Also, the former popularity of the name cannot be denied. You don’t hear it for babies today in North America as much (still top 100 in Aus/N.Z) but it was VERY popular in the early-to-mid 2000s, which means there are Madeleines who are 10-20 years old now, the vast majority of them called ‘Maddie’ (and compounded by the people who thought Madeleine was too popular and chose Madison instead, to get to the same nickname), so certain people—teachers, aunts whose sons are now in college, dentists—are going to default to whatever pronunciation was drilled into them by their students/clients. 

And so this becomes one of those exercises in not choosing a name unless you can deal with all its variations. 

You may protest. “This isn’t the same as a Stephen being called Steve” you say, “this is a totally different name!” You are right, in a sense, but you don’t have a way to tell everyone you meet that. Your daughter will, of course, the same way Alicia Silverstone distinguishes herself from Alicia Keys and Ralph Fiennes eventually got everyone to look at his name and think “Rafe”. You’re not damning her forever if she has to correct people.

But if the mispronunciation would bother you, if you will bristle each and every time someone references the little French girls in two straight lines, or you want the name to honour a Lynn in your life or you have a lifelong affection for Proust, think carefully before you choose this one—it is beautiful and charming and beloved, but don’t presume everyone will love it in precisely the way you do.

Let me know!