Dictionary.com

One would think that such a popular occasion as Valentine’s Day would have a clear history of the word that defines it. Since Valentine is a name, the question is not what it means, but to whom does it refer, and what did Mr. Valentine do to deserve for you to ask your beloved to be his namesake?

As this blog has learned in exploring the meaning behind everyday words, an amazing amount of the context behind names has evaporated over centuries like morning dew. Here’s what we know about what it means when you make someone your ValentineValentinus was a relatively common name in the late Roman Empire, meaning “strength.” Words with the same root include “valor” and “valiant.”

Historical records point to not one but several Christian martyrs named Valentine. The earliest reference is to a saint buried on February 14 outside of Via Flaminia, in Italy. Nothing is known about this saint besides his name. Ancient Rome was a difficult place to be a Christian. Under the rule of Claudius II, Valentinus the Presbyter was thrown in jail for officiating at Christian weddings. Presbyter is synonymous with “priest” and “elder,” a person in leadership in the underground Christian community. While he was in jail, Valentinus impressed Emperor Claudius, who kept him in his company. This arrangement worked until the emperor condemned Valentinus to death for trying to convert him to Christianity, at which time he became a martyr for the early church.

Choosing a sweetheart on this day dates to 14th-century English and French court circles. This fashion is credited to Geoffrey Chaucer, celebrated author of The Canterbury Tales and more:

“For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd cometh there to chese his make.”
[Chaucer, "Parlement of Foules," c.1381]

So what are the implications of these saints for “Will you be my Valentine?” That you are willing to risk all for love? We don’t have a definitive answer, and would love to know what you think. Share your thoughts with us, below.

53 Comments

  1. @@@ -  February 14, 2013 - 12:20 am

    Will you b my Valentine?? —-> Will you b my soul-mate, life partner, spouse??

    Reply
  2. Phlondar -  February 21, 2012 - 9:08 am

    @ Sam

    It is Besides
    if you talk to a person then it will be beside
    for instance; “There is no more information besides his name”
    and:
    “I will stand beside you”

    Reply
  3. Nshera -  November 12, 2011 - 11:57 am

    This is what i give this: O:-)

    Reply
  4. lanna -  February 22, 2011 - 9:08 am

    i don’t really get Valentine’s Day but this is a guess two lovers that love each other a lot. a girl + a boy = a valentine or a lady + a man = a valentine

    Reply
  5. randomperson -  February 15, 2011 - 11:24 pm

    I don’t get the point of valentine’s day and I don’t particularly like it very much, but after reading this I guess that since the word “Valentine” means strength, “Will you be my Valentine?” also means “Will you be my strength?”, as symbolic of supporting each other and stuff.

    Reply
  6. wordjunkie -  February 15, 2011 - 2:29 pm

    I’m sure that the holiday was probably created for very sentimental reasons, but it has really become too commercialized. I mean, I don’t want my husband to tell me he loves me on the one day that he feels like he has to. I would much rather he tell me every other day because he wants to.

    Reply
  7. AmateurCommenter-924 -  February 15, 2011 - 9:57 am

    Pshh. Valentine’s Day sucks. GOI.

    Reply
  8. Cindy -  February 14, 2011 - 7:57 pm

    No boyfriends for Valentine’s Day……

    Reply
  9. Person -  February 14, 2011 - 7:13 pm

    Yeah. “Singles Awareness Day”. That pretty much sums it up. :-)

    Reply
  10. Emma -  February 14, 2011 - 5:57 pm

    *lets not lates

    Reply
  11. Emma -  February 14, 2011 - 5:05 pm

    WELL i think Valentine’s Day is well how may I say this?…NOT COOL. i think that because there are ALOT of people who are single out there. Just seeing other people getting stuff like chocolate..flowers..or more will just make them sad. Think about it! I mean lates say that they do get something. then what happens?…NOTHING.Also all your doing is making yourself out of money!NOW WHO WANTS THAT RIGHT.Valentine’s Day is just….BLAHHHHH. D’;<

    Reply
  12. wierd dude :) -  February 14, 2011 - 4:09 pm

    i really don’t get celebrating dead people. i mean, their dead, there purpose of life is done. then comes their death. i mean i get why we are grateful for what they have done but why Valentines? You can just show love everywhere you walk, like hugging everyone who passes you, blowing kisses, or whatever, but why a day of love? we can have that everyday.

    Reply
  13. ryan im a girl -  February 14, 2011 - 2:29 pm

    I dont get it I need a better explantion

    Reply
  14. Beverly -  February 14, 2011 - 2:14 pm

    well that was interesting. happy singles awareness day everyone! lolz.

    Reply
  15. Bete Gris -  February 14, 2011 - 2:03 pm

    When I was little, the story I heard was this:
    A long time ago somewhere in Europe, there was a priest called Valentine. Where he lived, there was a war. So the king ordered all the men to join the army. However, the men didn’t want to leave their wives, so the king declared marriage illegal. But Valentine kept marrying couples in secret. When the king found out, he threw Valentine in jail. The couples that Valentine had wed were grateful to him and wrote encouraging messages on pieces of paper that they tossed through the bars of his cell. Valentine was beheaded on the 14th of February. This explains our tradition of giving cards to one another, and possibly also all the red…
    One of about ten hundred stories floating around out there, but who knows?

    Reply
  16. Annabelle -  February 14, 2011 - 1:25 pm

    AmateurCommenter-924, actually that is completely normal my brother is 14 and has a girlfriend, he still hates Valentine’s Day. I noticed that for some holidays the holiday celebrated has little or nothing to do with the history of the holiday. St. Patrick’s day even was turned into something about four-leaf clovers(three leaf clovers were used to tell about the trinity) and leprechauns!!!!

    Reply
  17. lv is in the air -  February 14, 2011 - 12:55 pm

    I like valentines day. it’s a sweet way of telling someone you lv them. though technically u could do that everyday!

    Reply
  18. FooGriffy -  February 14, 2011 - 12:35 pm

    Valentine’s Day for me is just another day.
    Unless I have someone to celebrate it with ;)

    Reply
  19. arafat hossain -  February 14, 2011 - 11:23 am

    didnt get any answer

    Reply
  20. AmateurCommenter-924 -  February 14, 2011 - 10:48 am

    I don’t like Valentine’s Day. I guess that’s not normal for a 13-year-old boy? >:(

    Reply
  21. Mr. Raymond Kenneth Petry -  February 14, 2011 - 10:39 am

    1. Sounds like the typical aspersion that becomes a popular diatribe– asking a girl to sacrifice herself and preach Christianity to you….

    2. Did you know that this website does not recognize “W” as a vowel–? despite words like, “cwm,” (a word spontaneously thought-of even though it’s not in my vocabulary … must be many more).

    This website has a nasty way of deleting the first post….!

    Reply
  22. Ooga Booga -  February 14, 2011 - 10:22 am

    Darn Catholics have been getting in the way since the beginning of time!! I’m glad St. Valentine didn’t change his religion, but I am sorry to learn he was beheaded for not doing so. Religion is powerful, especially Catholicism. Cheers to St. Valentine! Happy V-Day to all.

    Reply
  23. Coolio -  February 14, 2011 - 9:58 am

    i agree with kailoli. :) i think that was the best comment out of all of them. :))

    Reply
  24. inviting a handlename -  February 14, 2011 - 9:47 am

    Giving chocolate to your secret admirer!!!

    Reply
  25. FrodoSam -  February 14, 2011 - 9:21 am

    The story that I read was that St. Valentine was a physician. This guy, who was a jail guard, came to St. Valentine asking him to cure his daughter, who had been blind since birth. St. Valentine put ointment on the jail keeper’s daughter visit after visit and still nothing happened. Then St. Valentine was found out to be a Christian (Catholic), and so he was thrown in jail. The jail guard could do nothing about it. But before St. Valentine was executed, he sent a paper with the words “From Your Valetine” and some flowers to the jail keeper’s daughter. Then the girl regained her sight!

    Praise God for this wonderful miracle!

    Reply
  26. wahyu ginting -  February 14, 2011 - 9:06 am

    Well, I guess, to understand what one means by uttering “Be my Valentine”, a comprehension to the discourse-meaning of the word is needed. The history of “Valentine” (the martyr and his life) indeed contributes semantic features to the word now used. What I know is that “Valentine’s Day” is said to be firstly made and celebrated as a tribute to the martyr, who was punished by Emperor Claudius because he ‘officiated’ a ‘wedding’.

    ‘Wedding’ here becomes prominent, because it gives a lot to the meaning of ‘Valentine’ in ‘Valentine’s Day’. The word ‘wedding’ will generally link to the word ‘love’ or ‘affection’. Thus, people would understand ‘Valentine’s Day’ as ‘The Day of Love’ (at least, that’s what happens in Indonesia; we translate ‘Valentine’s Day’ into ‘Hari Kasih Sayang’ [Eng. 'The Day of Love'], in addition to ‘Hari Valentin’ [Eng. ‘Valentine’s Day’).

    Therefore, I think when someone says ‘Be my Valentine’, s/he would mean ‘Be my love’. :)

    Reply
  27. mike -  February 14, 2011 - 8:11 am

    I thought Valentine’s Day was named after Richie Valens. He wrote “La Bamba” on August 22 which in Mexico is February 14th.

    Reply
  28. SweetPretzel -  February 14, 2011 - 8:03 am

    I didn’t really understand to text….
    @holly: you made it easy to understand! Thanks!

    Reply
  29. Jon -  February 14, 2011 - 7:08 am

    Happy Valentine’s Day – For my life long love Kathy.

    Reply
  30. A Pair O' Docks -  February 14, 2011 - 5:43 am

    @ Holly: Exactly what I was thinking. Valentine=Strength; so strength of one’s love, perhaps?

    Reply
  31. Sam -  February 14, 2011 - 4:49 am

    Excuse me, I use your blog quite often to know English expressions and to enhance my language; is this correct:
    “Nothing is known about this saint besides his name”? (i.e. is it besides or beside?)

    Just need to check.

    Many thanks for your astounding effort.

    Reply
  32. ScarletValentine -  February 14, 2011 - 3:16 am

    I love the Valentine concept and amongst all the commercialism which surrounds this festival we must keep it a live in this world which is so often passionless. I have been known to send the occasional Valentine myself, although I have never received such a declaration, what must it be like? My life is perhaps a little sad :(.

    Reply
  33. Sex Trafficking Must End -  February 13, 2011 - 11:52 pm

    I think that we need to carry on the legacy of people like St. Valentine. Defending justice is huge. For me, being a voice for victims of sex trafficking is so important, as they do not have a St. Valentine to defend their rights. Thinking about this inspired this post: http://bit.ly/BmyValentine

    Good question!
    -Michelle

    Reply
  34. Sansue -  February 13, 2011 - 9:16 pm

    During 360AD Claudius II, the emperor of Rome had been outlawed Christianity and marriages coz he wished to be worshiped as the supreme God and he believed that married men made bad soldiers coz they were hesitant to leave their families if there was a war ….so he issued a decrees that these Christianity and marriages were forbidden and if you were against the law you’ll gonna be executed…..but Valentine, a priest was against the law coz he believed that the people should be free to love God and to marry so he invited the young couples to come to him and if they come, he’s going to perform the services of matrimony to unite the couples….then eventually he was caught and he brought before the emperor. The emperor persuaded him to leave christianity and in exchange of that he would be pardon him but Valentine didn’t pronounce God, he still held his faith on Christ so in that case the emperor gave him a 3 part of execution….1st he would be bitten, 2nd he would be stoned and 3rd he would be decapitated so on Feb. 14 he had been beheaded. While he was in the prison waiting for his sentence to be carried out, he fell in love with a blind girl, daughter of one of the prisoners. One day a miracle occurred to the girl. She regained her vision so Valentine wrote a farewell note to the girl and on his last note saying From your Valentine….so from that on until today we always say this words…..To someone special…….From your Valentine.

    Reply
  35. holly -  February 13, 2011 - 8:58 pm

    i did a project on this once!!!

    we had to write about a saint. i chose saint valentine :) and i know the story

    he was a christian and in the roman times any christian had to be thrown into jail. he tried to keep his religion a secret but eventually the romans found out and threw him into jail. all the kids loved him since he was caring and so they threw cards into the jail to him symbolising love. isnt that sweet??!!

    ~holly
    <3 <3 <3
    happy valentines day!!!!!!!

    Reply
  36. ✿D.C✿ -  February 13, 2011 - 6:12 pm

    I read about Valentines on Wikipedia…and It was complicated. Reading here was simpler and much more direct, but then again Wikipedia is Wikipedia.. I love this website a lot.

    And Oh gosh, it’s valentines day … And for the first time in my 20 years of life, I have a real boyfriend… Hmmm wonders how to pass this day….. … .. .

    Reply
  37. Aaryn Jordyn -  February 13, 2011 - 4:55 pm

    Honestly the name “valentinus” gave a full definiation since it references to the word “strength” then if substituted the someone is actually asking, “Will you be my ‘strength’”. Which is a passionate proposal and a high honor for the whom ever is asked. To be considered someone’s strenght to be aked means that you either motivate or give sercurity to this person. Love is about finding a haven within someone if not making the foundation for that haven. Yet, just like people “love” is relative to every individuals personal testimonies about life and its ordeals. Finding strength is someone is a good thing but to find it within self is better. People are not designed to live forever and maybe that is what love is the gift of eternal life is some odd sense. For love, war, and religion are the only subjects that have out lived all beings….but thats just a rant/idea

    The information was a good thought<3

    Reply
  38. Koe -  February 13, 2011 - 4:38 pm

    I agree with that opinion. The weird thing is, is that you see all those little Valentine’s Day cards that say ‘Will You Be My Valentine?’ on the front… Do the people who manufacture these cards realizing what may be implied? Rather amusing.

    Reply
  39. Ezekiel Rage -  February 13, 2011 - 4:04 pm

    Wow, sometimes you’ve really got to wonder when it comes to Hotword articles; they give you such a lengthy discourse abounding with definitions and etymologies just for them to finally wrap it up in the last paragraph with slightly less than amusing anticlimax:

    “We don’t have a definitive answer, and would love to know what you think.”

    You really could have told me that in one sentence guys.

    Reply
  40. Holly -  February 13, 2011 - 3:46 pm

    Maybe since Valentine means “strength” we are asking them to be just that… our strength, our all.

    Reply
  41. Kailoli -  February 13, 2011 - 2:40 pm

    I like that the word “valentine” comes from the word for strength. It takes courage to open your heart and love someone.

    Reply
  42. Dany -  February 13, 2011 - 2:23 pm

    We risk all for for love; love of our children, our mate, our visions and love of our aspirations for those around us. We do it all for Love. why not celebrate it on the day that Twix lost his hand for bravery? We have to be brave for Love.

    Reply
  43. King Tutt -  February 13, 2011 - 2:04 pm

    If you do not have an answer, then me too !

    Reply
  44. rubert -  February 13, 2011 - 1:24 pm

    first post?

    Reply
  45. Deb Burton -  February 13, 2011 - 1:06 pm

    From my book “Activities for Homes and Schools” notes – Ever since St. Valentine died on February 14, 269 AD, people have been giving their loved ones Valentines and roses and other things to show their feelings toward them. They do that because of what Valentine did. There is a belief that when Valentine died, he left a note to his jail keeper’s daughter which was signed, “Your Valentine.” People have been sending similar messages to their loved ones since then.
    WHO WAS SAINT VALENTINE?
    St. Valentine was a great Christian who worked as a priest and a noble man. When St. Valentine was alive, the Roman Emperor, Claudius II, would arrest the Christians. If the Christians didn’t change their religion, they would either be crucified, thrown to the lions, or beheaded. One legend says that St. Valentine would visit the jail every day to talk and to pray with the prisoners to help them to get out safely. After a period of time, the jail keepers got suspicious and asked him a few questions. That is when they found out that St. Valentine was a Christian so they threw him in prison where he stayed without changing his religion. Finally he was beheaded on February 14, 269 A.D. After St Valentine’s death, a church was named after him, which was a hiding place under his grave for Christians, and a public city gate, Porta Valetini (now called Porta del Popolo), was also named after him.

    Reply
  46. clivebeesley -  February 13, 2011 - 12:12 pm

    Rita be my Valentinexxx

    Reply

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