I was watching a Scientific American Frontiers episode in which a scientist named Syndonia Bret-Harte was quoted, and I was struck by her name—not so much the last name, allusive though it is, as her given name, which a Google search showed to occur every once in a while (mostly in 19th-century names) but which I could not find in any reference works (dictionaries of names, Greek, Latin, &c). I won’t bore you with the details of how I tracked it down, but I eventually discovered that it’s a variant of Sidonia, whose most common English variant is Sidony. I’ve found two online explanations. The first is here:

Sidony: this name was formerly used by Roman Catholics for girls born about the date of the Feast of the Winding Sheet (i.e. of Christ), more formally alluded to as ‘the Sacred Sendon’. ‘Sendon’ or ‘Sindon’ (from Latin ‘sindon,’ Greek sindon ‘fine cloth, linen’) was used in Middle English for a fine cloth, especially one used as a shroud. The Sacred Sendon is supposed to be preserved at Turin. That ‘Sidony’ or ‘Sidonia’ =’Sindonia’ is shown by an example from Shropshire, 1793, ‘Sidonia or Sindonia Wilden.’ ‘Sidonie’ is not uncommon in France, and the Irish ‘Sidney’ is probably really ‘Sidony.’ No early example of the name has been found, but it seems likely that the surname ‘Siddons’ has this origin.

But the Dictionary of First Names has a more scholarly version:

From Latin Sid{o_}nia, feminine of Sid{o_}nius, in origin an ethnic name meaning ‘man from Sidon’ (the city in Phoenicia). This came to be associated with the Greek word sindon ‘winding sheet’. Two saints called Sidonius are venerated in the Catholic Church: Sidonius Apollinaris, a 4th-century bishop of Clermont, and a 7th-century Irish monk who was the first abbot of the monastery of Saint-Saëns (which is named with a much altered form of his name). Sidonius was not used as a given name in the later Middle Ages, but the feminine form was comparatively popular and has continued in occasional use ever since.

It was all worth it to discover the origin of the name of Saint-Saëns!
For a little added fun, the Czech equivalent (originally a diminutive) is Zdenek (masc.)/Zdenka (fem.).


  1. Thanks for posting this. I saw the same program and the same scientist and was wondering where the name originated. Thanks for sharing your research!

  2. My pleasure!

  3. Very Interesting! My daughters middle name is Sidonie, I just fell in love with the name(and she has French ancestry on her Dads side so it fits).

  4. sidonia mary says:

    i was named sidonia after grand mother’ s sister they were born in ireland 1830′s i was born 1937
    of irish parentage i would like contact with others with name of sidonia.very pleased to find info on origin of name thank you

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