Friday, February 14, 2014

Valentines in Your Roots

undated three dimensional Valentine card sent from a daughter to a mother in Chicago Illinois
You would think no American—well, at least among those comprising the “female of the species,” as my grandmother would put it—could forget what day today is: Valentine’s Day.

Or, as my college-aged daughter prefers to dub it, “Singles Awareness Day.”

Of course, those significant-date-challenged American males can console themselves with the fact that, around the world, Valentine’s Day may be celebrated on July 6 and July 30—depending on which Saint Valentine one is celebrating in the Eastern Orthodox Church—or, in Brazil, on June 12. So, if you find yourself in this unfortunate date-challenged category, you have a legitimate excuse of up to one hundred sixty six days to be late with the appropriate card and gift.

In my family, though, Valentine’s Day takes on an additional meaning. I can’t approach this day on the calendar without giving this other meaning some reflection. No, it isn’t exactly owing to the feast day for Saint Valentine—although, given a bygone era and an “Old Country” location, this would be the date for celebrating instead of the actual day of any mid-February birthdays.

Perhaps that was the tradition that my grandmother, a Polish immigrant, had in mind when she named her firstborn son Valentine. Born in the first half of the month of February over one hundred years ago now, my father very likely was raised to celebrate his saint’s day rather than acknowledge his own date of birth.

three dimensional Valentine card standing uprightGranted, a name like Valentine is a rarity now, especially as a given name for a boy. Even though it is a name derived from the Latin which carries the meaning, “strong and healthy,” it doesn’t seem to fit our culture’s image for the successful adult male. Yet, according to the Social Security list of popular baby names through the years, Valentine managed to squeeze into the top one thousand names given to newborns up through the year 1955. In the year of my father’s birth, Valentine ranked 547 in popularity, as names went for baby boys in 1905. Since the time Social Security began collecting data on name ranks—beginning with the oldest applicants to the program from November, 1935, onward—the best ranking the name received was for those born in 1894, when the name Valentine ranked 366.

Valentine as a surname may have had a better go at the name popularity game. While I don’t have any Valentine surnames in my own roots, I did take a look at data for prevalence of the name. Surprisingly, the surname Valentine showed the strongest in the British Isles and its former colonies—particularly Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. Speaking of the British Isles, another website maps the surname’s frequency by county in both the UK and Ireland—you can test that out for yourself here.

Musing over all that brings me to a question: do you have any Valentines in your roots?

Photographs of Valentine cards: above, a scan of an undated three-dimensional card sent from Patricia Stevens Kelly Murnane to her mother, Agnes Tully Stevens. The front of the card reads,
To a Wonderful Mother
A warm and loving Valentine
That's meant for you alone
To thank you for the kindness
And the thoughtfulness you've shown
It was signed in red ink, "Lovingly, Pat." Below, a photograph of the card, unfolded to display three separate layers, standing, with the page containing the verse becoming the base of the card.


  1. As a matter of fact, I have 3 Valentines - a 3G granduncle, a 1st cousin 7 times removed, and 1 who simply married into the family. And now I'm mad at myself for not thinking of this as a subject for my blog this week. Happy Valentine's Day to you!

    1. Hoping you had a grand Valentine's Day, Wendy, despite having to admit I beat you to the draw on holiday post topics! Never despair, though: there's always next year ;)

  2. What a wonderful old Valentine card! Nope no Valentines in our fanily history..possibly not a strong Finn, German or Norweigan name:)

  3. Agnes Tully Stevens kept some really pretty cards!!

    I don't think I've a Valentine in the tree - but who knows? :) Just gotta go back far enough... might be one 10th cousin 500 removes.... :)


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