Naming the Fishes

A Blog For Name Lovers Everywhere


Dortchen Wild

Dorothea might be seeing a resurgence of interest in the near future due to its vintage cred, but how about its diminutive Dortchen?

In Northern Germany, diminutives typically end in -chen for example Gretchen. Although most of the time these days it is replaced with -lein. It does not necessarily mean it is a masculine or feminine name, instead unisex. Although a lot of diminutive names ending with -chen tend to be feminine anyway, which Dortchen definitely is.

Dortchen originated from Dorothea, the late Greek feminine form of Dorotheos meaning “Gift of God.” Several saints have worn the name Dorothea, notably the 4th century martyr Dorothea of Caesarea. And the 14th century Saint Dorothea of Montau who was the patron saint of Prussia.

But are there any notable Dortchens? Yes, there is.

Although mostly overlooked, Wilhelm Grimm had a wife called Dortchen who was the source of many of the Grimms Brothers fairy tales. We might not have heard of Hansel and Gretel, Six Swans, Rumpleskilton and many more if it hadn’t been for her.

(Henriette) Dortchen Wild first met the Grimm brothers in 1805, when she was twelve. One of six sisters, Dortchen lived in the medieval quarter of Cassel. She was the same age as Lotte Grimm, the only girl in the Grimm family, and the two became best friends.

In 1806, Hesse-Cassel was invaded by the French. Napoleon created a new Kingdom of Westphalia, under the rule of his dissolute young brother Jérôme. The Grimm brothers began collecting fairy tales that year, wanting to save the old stories told in spinning-circles and by the fire from the domination of French culture. Dortchen was the source of many of the tales in the Grimm brother’s first collection of fairy tales, which was published in 1812, the year of Napoleon’s disastrous march on Russia.

Dortchen’s own father was cruel and autocratic. He frowned on the friendship between his daughters and the poverty-stricken Grimm Brothers. Dortchen had to meet Wilhelm in secret to tell him her stories. Even when both her parents died she could not marry Wilhelm because he was too poor to care for them both and his family.

After the overthrow of Napoleon and the eventual success of the fairy tale collection, Dortchen and Wilhelm were at last able to marry. They lived happily ever after with Wilhelm’s elder brother Jakob for the rest of their lives.

Her story is profound, and her legacy (although overlooked) is an important part of literature history.

Unfortunately I cannot seem to find any data telling me if anyone in recent years has been called this name, perhaps with the new novel about Dortchen Wild by Kate Forsyth and this blog post could inspire a few namers.

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This entry was posted on October 4, 2013 by in Ladies, Ultimate Blog Challenge and tagged , , , , .
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