The Meaning of Valentine by Millie Slavidou

A word that today is associated with love and romance, you might think that it is obvious where the word comes from: surely it is simply from the name of the saint whose feast day is celebrated in February? Saint Valentine.

However, there is more to it than that. The name is where it all starts. What does this name really mean?

People often have names that are no reflections at all of their character. There can be unhappy people called Joy, or atheists bearing the name Timothy, which means “honouring god”. So it should be surprising that the name Valentine derives from a word that has nothing to do with romance.

Instead, it comes from the Latin word valentia, which meant “strength”, or even “capacity. Those of you who know the word from chemistry may be nodding your heads at this point, as valentia, via the German derivative Valenz, gave us valence, used in relation to power in chemistry.

Going back to the Latin word, valentia, we can trace it to its verb form valere, which meant “to be strong”. This is considered to have developed from the Proto-Indo-European root *wal- of the same meaning. Proto-Indo-European is the theorised language from prehistory that was the ancestor to the vast majority of languages in Europe. We can trace it through words that have similar meanings, or related meanings and similar sound associations in disparate languages.

Let’s take another look at our root: *wal-.This is where our story takes a little twist. This root developed in English along different paths from its counterpart in Latin, and it is the source of the word wield in modern English, as well as having given us cognates via Latin, such as valid, value and valour. This makes all of these words cognates, or distant cousins, of valentine.


Millie Slavidou, author of the Lucy Evans Instaexplorer adventure series for preteens, featuring little snippets of language, and Sparky, a first chapter book for early readers.
You can discover more about Millie on the Mom’s Favorite Reads website here:

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