The Repentant Magdalen, Philippe de Champaigne, 1648
Some people express surprise the name Magdalena, so popular for so long in Europe and parts of Latin America, isn’t particularly common in the Anglophone world. It is, but the onomastic connection may not be so immediately obvious. English-speakers know this name as Madeline.
Magdalena, used in German, Dutch, Romanian, Spanish, Catalan, the Scandinavian languages, Occitan, the Southern Slavic languages, Polish, and English; Czech, Slovak, Hungarian (as Magdaléna); Latvian (as Magdalēna); and Icelandic (as Magðalena), comes from the Latin Magdalene. That in turn derives from a title meaning “of Magdala.” Magdala is a village on the Sea of Galilee (Lake Kineret), meaning “tower” in Hebrew.
Though nothing in the Bible calls Mary Magdalene a prostitute, she’s historically been conflated with Mary of Bethany and an unnamed “sinful woman” who anoints Jesus’s feet in Luke 7:36–50. Since the Middle Ages, this apocryphal story has snowballed, and many people still think she was a prostitute, decades after this misinformation was officially corrected.
Painted ca. 1520–40, by a group of Flemish artists retroactively named Master with the Parrot
Magdalena is #20 in Austria; #31 in Poland; and #65 in the Czech Republic (#33 as Magdaléna). The English form, Madeline, was in the U.S. Top 100 from 1994–2016. Its highest rank to date was #50 in 1998.
It’s rather depressing to see the kreatyv spylyng Madelyn is much more popular, Top 100 since 2008. In 2017, it was #63. If you’ve been paying attention to name popularity charts over the last 20 years, it’s obvious this name has become so trendy because it sounds similar to the massively overused Madison, and still produces the overused nickname Maddie. It’s like how Jessica replaced Jennifer, and Emma, Amelia, and Amalia have successively replaced Emily.
Danish artist Magdalene Bärens, 1737–1808
Other forms of the name include:
1. Madeleine is French, and used to be extraordinarily popular. It was Top 10 from 1900–27, with the highest rank of #3 from 1914–24. It remained in the Top 20 till 1938, was in the Top 50 till 1947, and in the Top 100 till 1955. This name is also #78 in Australia.
2. Magdalina is Russian and Bulgarian.
3. Magdolna is Hungarian. It’s unreal how many times this name pops up in the interviews from the USC Shoah Foundation’s Visual History Archive! If the witness isn’t named Magda herself, her testimony includes at least one friend or relative named Magda. Lili is also a hugely oversaturated name in these interviews. The name is still Top 20 in modern Hungary.
4. Maddalena is Italian.
5. Mădălina is Romanian.
6. Matleena is Finnish.
7. Madailéin is Irish.
8. Maialen is Basque.
9. Magdalini is modern Greek.
10. Magali is Occitan.
Titanic survivor Madeleine Astor, 1893–1940
11. Madalena is Portuguese.
12. Magdaleena is Finnish.
13. Madli is Estonian.
14. Maguelone is Provençal and a rare French variant.
15. Malane is Manx.
16. Matxalen is Basque.
17. Maclaina is Romansh.
18. Madalen is Breton and Basque.
19. Madlena is Sorbian, as well as a Georgian, Bulgarian, German, and Croatian variant.
20. Madlaina is Swiss–German and Romansh.
Madeleine Brès (1842–1921), first Frenchwoman to earn a medical degree
21. Madelena is Medieval Spanish and Portuguese.
22. Magdalin is Medieval German.
23. Magdaline is Creole. Another Creole form is Magdaleine.
24. Matale is Basque.
25. Mátalîna is Greenlandic.