The Hunchback of Notre Dame is one of the most famous characters in French literature. But how did he get the unusual name of Quasimodo?
For centuries, French law strictly limited the names that families could give their babies. They had to come from an approved list made up mostly of Catholic saints. The laws started to loosen up in the 1960s and now you can name your baby just about anything, although the courts have occasionally rejected names like Nutella.
Why was the Hunchback of Notre Dame Named Quasimodo?
For many years, one of the main sources of baby names was the Postal Almanac, a calendar that showed the saints associated with each day. If a name was on the Almanac, you were good to go. Here’s one from 1952.
Let’s take a closer look at February 14—yes, there’s our old friend Saint Valentine, along with less well-known saints like Ignace and Romuald.
Now let’s look at April. In addition to the saints, we see Rameaux** (Palm Sunday) on the 6th, Pâques (Easter) on the 13th, and then on the 20th we see…Quasimodo?
Yes, the first Sunday after Easter is called Quasimodo Sunday because there is a special ceremony for the newly baptized on that day. They are greeted in Latin with a prayer that begins Quasi modo gentiti infants… (“As newborn babes…”)
As an infant, the child who grew up to become The Hunchback of Notre Dame was so deformed that he was abandoned by his mother and left at that famous cathedral. He was then adopted by the archdeacon, who decided to name him for the day he was found. This being the first Sunday after Easter, he was known forever after as the one and only Quasimodo.
**Fun fact: The French expression “Faire Pâques avant les Rameaux” (to celebrate Easter before Palm Sunday) means to be pregnant before getting married.
Keith Van Sickle splits his time between Silicon Valley and Provence. He is the author of One Sip at a Time: Learning to Live in Provence and Are We French Yet? Keith & Val’s Adventures in Provence. Read more at Life in Provence.