You know what day it is? It's Tony Awards day! Hooray! That means that I get to profile this name with Broadway, literary, and witchy street cred!
If you've been a Broadway musical fanatic all you're life, it's pretty much a given that you're familiar with Les Miserables. The songs are iconic, the story is iconic, and you can't really call yourself a musical geek unless you know it by heart. I remember listening to the soundtrack on a continuous loop when I was a child (think three years old). This was where I first heard the name Eponine (pronounced "eh-poh-NEEN," I think).
The play was adapted from the Victor Hugo novel of the same name. Many sources will state that the name has no meaning. That Victor Hugo fabricated it because it needed to look like it was "found in a horribly written, cheap romance novel." In other words, Eponine's mother picked her daughter's name out of a porn book. I don't get that impression from this name, but I suppose name fashion was different back then.
Other sources, while they don't deny that Victor Hugo invented this particular variation, state that Eponine is a form of Epona. Looking over the evidence, I'm inclined to agree. Epona was originally a Gaulish (pre-Celtic) goddess, and she's one of the few deities from that pantheon to be adopted by the Romans. It is believed that her name is derived from ekwos, the pre-Celtic word for "horse." So it should be no surprise that Epona is the goddess of horses, ponies, mules, and donkeys.
Research indicates that the Cult of Epona had greater influence than one might think. Her role eventually evolved into a protector of the army, which is how her influence spread so far throughout the Roman Empire. Icons of Epona have been found in ruins of stables and barns. In some inscriptions she's called Eponina, in Spain she was known as Epane. Her feast day is on December 18th.
Today, remnants of her worship can be seen in places you wouldn't expect. In Mackinac Island, Michigan, where the primary mode of transportation is on horseback, Epona is celebrated every June. They bless the animals, hold stable tours, and hold a parade. In the video game Legend of Zelda, Link rides a horse named Epona.
But back to Eponine. Anyone with a familiarity with play is going to associate the name with it's character, so let's talk about her. Eponine's story is a tragic one. She falls in love with an upper class boy named Marius, who in turn has his eyes on Cosette. Jealous, Eponine concocts a plan to make Marius hers. She sets up a way for both Marius and her to be killed at the barricades so that they would be together in heaven. Ultimately, she decides not to go through with it, takes the brunt of the gunfire and saves Marius' life. So Cosette gets her happy ending, but Eponine never does.
I'm pretty gung-ho about using Eponine for one of my children. The tragic nature of the story doesn't bother me. I have an emotional attachment to that character. There is something hopelessly romantic about the name. It has a barrage of adorable nicknames: Eppie, Nina, Nine, and Pony. What's not to like? On second thought, don't like it. I want it to keep being the unique gem that it is.