Unisex Names: Benevolence


The unisex name that’s been featured this month is a virtue name that’s not being used a lot for a long time, now brought to my attention by a Behind the Name forum thread. It’s Benevolence.


The name was originally a word with the meaning of “disposition to do good.”¹² In a more literal sense, it means “good will,”¹ which came from Old French benivolence, ultimately from Latin benevolentia¹². The Latin word is a compound of bene meaning “good, well” and volentia, a nominative neuter plural form of volēns, a nominative neuter singular form of volō meaning “I wish.”¹


This sub-title belongs to a YA (young adult) fantasy book written by Catherine Gilbert Murdock. From reading what it’s about on various sites, I understand that it is about a princess called Ben (shortened from Benevolence) who hasn’t really grown up properly. After her mother’s murder and her father’s disappearance, she became the next heir, however she’s underage, that role was temporarily passed down to her aunt Sophia, who has to teach Ben the skills to become a true royal princess, skills Ben despises and, to that effect, she gets locked up. With the discovery of a secret room, she taught herself skills in the magical arts. With her kingdom’s threat to survival becoming reality, she has to save the kingdom and herself from this.

The reviews on GoodReads are mixed with one saying the book is her “favorite YA fantasy of 2008” and the other saying it is “probably the worst book” she ever read. So, if you ever get the chance to buy the book, read it, judge it for yourself and decide if you love or hate Benevolence as a name because of the fictional princess.


Benevolence, through researching records made available on FamilySearch³, may have first been used in the late 18th century. The number of records on the search results on FamilySearch is 66, which does includes multiple records of the same people and records of people whose genders are unknown. Even so, this does classify Benevolence as a rare-very rare virtue name (it doesn’t appear in the SSA/United States or ONS/England & Wales data).
Regarding which side of the gender Benevolence is on, from what I’ve been searching in these records, I can estimate that this name leans towards the feminine side at around 75%.


There is a mix of responses in the thread that I linked at the top, a few think this name is cool and ridiculous in a good way while another few think it is ridiculous in an obviously bad way and it is a bit of a mouthful.

Based on a poll that I’ve put up on Behind the Name, as of the time of this writing, the majority of respondents:

  • gave Benevolence as a name a rating of 1 or 2.
  • either prefer Benevolence as a name for a girl or don’t mind for both genders.
  • feel it’s inevitable that someone named Benevolence would be called Ben or Bennie as a nickname.

So, by the looks of it, it isn’t really getting much love in the BtN-sphere.

That’s the unisex name of the month. If you have any thoughts on this name, leave them in the comments section below the sources.

Wiktionary on ‘benevolence’ – https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/benevolence¹
Online Etymology Dictionary on ‘benevolence’ (noun) – http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=benevolence&allowed_in_frame=0²
FamilySearch records for Benevolence – https://familysearch.org/search/record/results?count=75&query=%2Bgivenname%3ABenevolence³


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