Saturday, March 22, 2014


Jane Fonda as Barbarella in the movie of the same name has become an iconic image. The character is a young woman who travels among various planets having adventures - often daring, usually sexual. The movie was based on a French science fiction comic book created by Jean-Claude Forest and first published as a serialisation in a French magazine in 1962 before being given its' own comic book in 1964.

'Barbarella' became known as the first adult comic book due to its' sometimes erotic content. It is also lauded as anticipating the sexual revolution by depicting Barbarella as the embodiment of "the modern emancipated woman in the era of sexual liberation". The 1968 movie established Barbarella as the ultimate "space kitten", and actress Jane Fonda as a sex symbol.

The movie inspired 17 parents to name their daughter Barbarella in 1968, and another 8 in 1969, although it hasn't charted in the U.S since. As a name, it may seem a little outlandish, but is extremely close to Barbara, which it is reportedly based on, or possibly an international variant of. Barbara is a Latin name meaning 'foreign woman' which has never been out of the top 1000. She spent three decades in the top 10 in the 30's, 40's and 50's, peaking at number two and kept from reaching number one by the classic Mary. Ella is also thought to mean 'foreign' in Old German, as well as 'entire' or 'goddess'. These meanings seem well suited to a revolutionary heroine from a planet unknown.

Other possibilities for Barbarella's origin is that her name was inspired by the prominent B's and R's also found in French sex symbol Brigitte Bardot's name. Recently there was also character named Barbarella portrayed by Michelle Chong on Singapore TV comedy series 'The Noose', whose back-story is that she is named after a combination of two of her favourite role models - Conan the Barbarian and Cinderella. As both characters were well established before Forest created Barbarella, there is a slight possibility they also influenced him. Although it's more likely that these are connections that could just serve to make this name more appealing to parents who love fantasy, science fiction and fairy tales.

Barbarella is such an iconic character that she has become almost a caricature. For many she treads a fine line between bimbo sex kitten and empowered, feminist role model, making Barbarella in some ways quite a controversial name. There is no doubt that while this is a very feminine and fancifully pretty name, she would be extremely hard to wear.

1 comment:

  1. It just reminds me of the sex shops (more sexual liberation!), although there is a pop act called Barbarellas too.

    The name seems almost a nod to Barbie dolls as well ....