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Archive for August, 2011

Many Pagans like to practise some form of divination. There are numerous methods, but a popular one is to use the ancient runes.

The association of the runes and divination is almost certainly as old as the runes themselves. The word rune comes from an ancient root meaning ‘mystery’ and ‘secret’.

It is easy to understand how such an association arose, when you remember that at the time the runes developed, the skill or reading and writing was known only to a few.

An ability to read and write meant access to texts — and texts contained knowledge which was entirely hidden from those who did not possess the skill to read them.

There are many parallels throughout history and around the globe, which demonstrate this connection of literacy with knowledge, magic and power.

Even today, in countries which have highly literate and well-educated populations, this deep-seated — and passionate — belief in the power and sanctity of the written word, especially in the sphere of religion and magic, is still very commonly encountered.

But let us return to the Runes…

There is actually more than Runic system:

  • the evocatively named Eldar Futhark — of the 2nd to 8th Centuries. This is so old that the actual names of the letters have had to be reconstructed. It takes its name from the first seven letters of the Eldar and Younger Futhark alphabet — namely f, u, þ, a, r, k
  • the Anglo-Frisian (essentially Anglo-Saxon), used beteween the 5th and 11th Centuries
  • the 8th-9th Century ‘Marcomannic Runes’
  • the Younger Futhark. 8th-12th Centuries.

I prefer the Anglo-Frisian:

  • Feoh (F) ‘wealth’
  • Ur (U) — ‘cattle’
  • Þorn (Þ) — ‘thorn’ (Thorn)
  • Os (O) — ‘mouth’ (or Ós — ‘God’)
  • Rad (R) — ‘ride’
  • Cen (C) — ‘torch’
  • Ʒiefu (Ʒ) — ‘gift’ (Giefu)
  • Ƿynn (Ƿ)– ‘joy’ (Wynn)
  • Hæʒl (H) — ‘hail’
  • Nyd (N) — ‘need’
  • Is (I) —  ‘ice’
  • Jear/Ior (J) — ‘year’
  • Ēoh (Eo) — ‘yew’
  • Peorð (P) — uncertain — possibly a type of woodwind instrument (Peorth)
  • Eolh/Eolxecʒ (X) — ‘elk’, ‘elksedge’
  • Siʒel (S) —  ‘sun’ (Sigel)
  • Tir (T) — ‘(the God) Tyr’
  • Beorc (B) — ‘birch’
  • Eoh (E) — ‘horse’
  • Man (M) — ‘man’
  • Lagu (L) — ‘ocean’
  • Ing (Ng) — ‘(the God) Ing’
  • Œðel (Œ) — ‘estate’ (Oethel)
  • Dæʒ (D) — ‘day’ (Daeg)
  • Ac (A) — ‘oak’
  • Æsc (Æ) —  ‘ash’
  • Yr (Y) — ‘bow’ (but see Eolh)
  • Ear (Ea) — ‘earth’
  • Iar (Ia) — ‘serpent’
  • Kalc (K/KK) — ‘chalice’
  • Gar (G) — ‘spear’
  • Cƿeorð (Cƿ) — ‘fire’ (Cweorth)
  • Stan (St) — ‘stone’

The Runes offer an interesting source of names, not just the names of the Runes themselves — some of which have potential from one system or other — but for the inspiration. Those who first used the Runes also wrote poems about them, capturing their essence, and each rune possess certain qualities and meanings, just like the cards of a tarot.

All this make the Runes a great starting place for someone on the search for a perfect name!

Indeed, a number of names may have arisen from the word rune itself and its cognates.

The Vikings had Rúni ♂ and Rúna ♀, which were either from the Old Norse rúnar ‘secret’, ‘hidden lore’ and ‘wisdom’, or runi/rúna ‘intimate friend’.

These have become the modern Scandinavian Rune and Runa.

There is also the traditional Welsh name Rhun, from the Proto-Celtic *r³nƒ ‘secret’ and ‘magic’, as well as the modern Welsh girl’s name Rhinedd, from Welsh rhin ‘secret’.

Over the coming weeks, I shall be taking a closer look at each Rune, and some of the naming potential they present.

And then I shall move onto the Ogham :D!

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In a walk in the woods today, we came across our first spotted toadstools of the season — those wonderful bright red and white fungi so deeply associated with fairies and elves that one of its common names is “pixie’s seat mushroom.”

Its proper common name is, of course, the fly agaric — and its botanical moniker Amanita muscaria.

And although using the name of a fungus might not leap out immediately as a great name, the fly agaric is no ordinary fungus.

Even without its long-standing fairy associations, the fly agaric is a fascinating — and beautiful — thing.

It acquired its common name — fly agaric — because of its old use as a fly catcher. A head of fly agaric placed in a saucer of milk is irresistible to flies. They feast on the agaric, become thoroughly narcotized, and tumble into the milk and drown.

Quite a good way to go, all things considered.

It aquired the second part of its botanical name — muscaria — for the same reason; muscaria means “fly-hunting” in Latin, from musca “a fly.”

Agaric comes ultimately from its ancient Greek name agarikon — which the Greeks thought meant “of Agaria” — the name of a town in Sarmatia.

The melodious Amanita, meanwhile, derives from the ancient Greek amanitai — a (masculine plural) name of a fungus, though what, exactly is unknown. It may or may not have been the fly agaric. Its ultimate meaning is likewise unknown.

What is known — well-known — is the fact that fly agaric is a potent hallucinogenic. Its use among the Sami people of Scandinavia to achieve vivid visions is well attested. It is thought that the Sami learnt of its affects by observing what happens to animals that eat the fungus — reindeer in particular, are said to be thoroughly addicted!

Many think that fly agaric was also used by Viking berserkers, and, although it cannot be conclusively proved, it is also thought it have been one of the ingredient in Soma — a ritual drink mentioned in the Rig-Veda.

Perhaps most famously of all, it may also have been one of the ingredients of the “flying ointment” said to have been used by European Witches in the Middle Ages to promote visions and out-of-body experiences.

But no two people — or fly agaric — are the same; the compounds within it are notoriously unpredicable in their concentration and stability, and it is known to kill.

Most, sensibly, regard it as deadly poisonous, and appreciate its beauty and folklore from a safe distance.

Other Amanitas are more lethal still — Amanita virosa has the common name “destroying angel” because it is pure white, but absolutely lethal.

Amanita phalloides goes by the common name “deathcap,” and there is no known antidote; it leads to death from kidney and liver failure within days.

It was the deathcap which did for the Emperor Claudius; it was added to his favorite mushroom dish which, ironically, was another member of the Amanita family —

Not all Amanitas are bad!

As names, Agaric and Amanita are rare — many won’t be able to see past their mushroomy and (sometimes) deadly poisonous persona. And yet there’s all its witchy, fairy, magic-woodland associations too, which, I think compensate and forgive.

If you’re after something really different, really magical, Amanita or Agaric might be the name for you!

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Spam!

When I began Nook of Names, my notion of spam was limited to those irritating emails that choke up your inbox trying to sell you various funny pills from Canada.

But aware that spammers like to comment on articles and blogs — usually advertising dating agencies — I ensured I had Akismet up, along with comment moderation, and off I went in blissful ignorance.

All was well for a while, then, all of a sudden, with little warning, the spam started pouring in!

It quickly became apparent that flattery is the favorite tool of these spammers. Presumably they like to deceive the unwitting, getting a foot in the door by massaging your ego — and then slapping up the links to the dating sites and dodgy pharmaceuticals.

Fortunately, they’re clearly all so busy working their way around forums and blogs that they don’t actually stop to read what they’re commenting on. And so, while at first, I debated long and hard over whether a comment might be genuine when attached to an article I’d spent a lot of time and effort writing, alarm bells rang loudly indeed when as yet empty pages in the index were getting Olympian praise!

Still, as I always say, name inspiration lies everywhere, and, being a name geek, I couldn’t help pause to reflect on my spammers’ names (chosen names, anyway, as I’d be surprised if any real names ever get used in Spamland). So, in tribute to all the spammers out there, spending their free hours thoroughly cheesing off bloggers and readers of every kind, here’s a look at the stand-out spam.licio.us names I’ve had so far:

  • Azia — very Arabian nights. A respelling of Asia. In Portuguese azia means ‘heart-burn’ — quite appropriate for a spammer.
  • Bubbie — Bubbie? Or Boobie?
  • Chamomile — pretty, and quite pertinent choice for a spammy comment at Nook of Names. 9 out of 10 for trying. Still overall ‘fail’ though.
  • Chynnavariant spelling of China. The  ‘yn’ names are popular among the spamalots. Others I’ve had include Geralynn and Geralyn, Jayne, Jolyn, Kalyn and Suzyn.
  • Darrence — born from a demonic coupling of Darren and Clarence; guaranteed to start a migraine… here come those flashing lights!
  • Dayanara — Quirky Latin American respelling of the Greek Deïaneira meaning ‘destroying men’. Name of a Puerto Rican actress.
  • Dreama — shouldn’t you be doing your homework, not spamming a blog about names?
  • Essence — great name, up their with Chamomile. Still spam.
  • Gwenelda — kewl! Has actually since very limited genuine use in real life since the 19th Century. Essentially, an elaboration of Gwen with the -elda of Griselda, etc. Very witchy! :) for effort.
  • Honney –- can’t make up my mind whether this is a deliberate respelling of Honey or not. Normally, I give people the benefit of the doubt,  but since dreadful spelling seems to be one of a spammer’s most essential life skills, I fear the double ‘n’ in this instance is purely accidental.
  • Namari — straight from Japanese manga. Namari does, however, remind me of the beautiful elven Namárië — ‘farewell’ in Quenya (one of Tolkien’s invented languages). But I suspect that Namari Spam plucked his/her name from the manga.
  • Stone — ooo, what’s this? Might this spammer have delved deeply enough into the Nook to think a nature name might convince me he/she was genuine? Doubt it.
  • Tessica — inventive cross between Tess/Tessa and Jessica, elaboration of Tess or Tessa + the suffix -ica, or variant of Jessica, under the influence of Tess/Tessa. Quite liked this one. There are a handful of genuine Tessica’s out there; the first appearing in the early 30s.
  • Tyanne — Knot? No doubt conceived as a variant of Tiana.
  • Valinda — great vampire name, Valinda — which rather suits a spammer, since spammers are a kind of an online equivalent of vampires. Valinda’s actually been around since the 19th Century, and is an elaboration of the Val- of Valentine, etc with the popular literary suffix -inda. I suspect it may feature in some piece of Victorian fiction, but nothing obvious leaps out.
  • Zavrina — exotic! Zavrina is the feminine form of Zavrin, a Slavic surname. Some baby-name sites like to call it a form of Sabrina — but fail to indicate in which Earth language.
  • Zubris — it’s life, Jim, but not as we know it. Beam me up, Scotty! Now! Please!

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Odin leading the Wild Hunt

Following on from yesterday’s article about using the names of Gods and Goddesses, I thought I’d look at one such name which is starting to see some use, especially in the US — although it did make the top 1000 for the first time in 1884…

Odin.

Odin is the chief God of the Nordic Pantheon, and as such is revered by modern practitioners of Heathenism (also called Odinism and Asatrú) — a branch of ‘Neo’-Paganism which has revived the beliefs and practices of the Nordic people of Scandinavia, Iceland and the British Isles.

His name in Old Norse was Óðinn, cognate with the Anglo-Saxon Woden (who gives his name to Wednesday) and Old High German Wotan. The reconstructed proto-Germanic form is *Wōđanaz or *Wōđinaz from the Proto-Germanic *wōþuz ‘poetic fury’ – very appropriate for a God identified with poets and seers.

Interestingly enough, the word is also cognate with the Proto-Celtic *wƒtu- ‘poetic inspiration’ and *wƒti- ‘sooth-sayer’ and ‘prophet’.

Although not stated explicitly, it is believed that Odin was identified by the Romans not with Jupiter but Mercury. Tacitus stated that Mercury was the chief God of the Germanic people.

This is generally ascribed to the fact that both Gods are regarded as deities who led the souls of the dead to the afterlife. But there are other reasons.

Like Mercury, Odin is a God of magic.

And, like Mercury, Odin was identified with the Celtic Lugus, with whom Lugus also shares many attributes.

Not least — as I discussed in Lughnasadh! in August — the fact that it is a distinct possibility that Lugus and the Norse Loki are linked at a deep level — and the same goes for Loki and Odin. There are many who believe that Loki is an aspect of Odin.

Odin has two other very fascinating attributes.

The first is as Lord of the Wild Hunt. The Wild Hunt is the usual name given in English to the legendary spectral hunt, usually riding in the late autumn and winter. Witnessing it is said to be a terrible omen of impending doom, but more often than not, mortals who happen to see it pass by are caught up and spirited away, rarely to be seen again.

Unsurprisingly, in the Christian period, the Wild Hunt was associated with the Devil, and those who chanced upon it were believed to be whisked straight off to hell.

But as well as these later diabolic associations, Odin and his Wild Hunt also lie behind much of the legend and beliefs surrounding ‘Father Christmas’. Riding on his eight-legged horse Sleipnir, he leaves gifts for those who put out food for Sleipnir.

One of his bynames is even Jólnir ‘Yule-man’.

And he (or rather, his Saxon counterpart Woden) is also probably the figure behind the Anglo-Saxon ‘King Winter’ or ‘King Frost’, a fur-hat wearing Winter spirit who, if welcomed at the hearth, would ensure that family made it safely through the dark winter months.

Echoes of the Wild Hunt survive across Europe, and various names are attributed to the leader — but all hark back to Odin or his Celtic counterparts.

This famous image of Odin the Wanderer by Georg von Rosen shows Odin with one eye. As well as sacrificing himself on the World Tree, Odin also gave an eye in order to drink from Mímir's well and thereby gain knowledge of past, present and future.

The second very intriguing thing about Odin is the fact he is a God of sacrifice and resurrection. He sacrificed himself, in the quest for wisdom, upon the World Tree, pierced by his own spear — rising again nine days later.

As a result, Odin is also a God of Wisdom.

Another thing that sets Odin apart is his interest in human affairs. He is ‘the Wanderer’, envisaged as an old man with a grey beard who wanders the land. His ravens of wisdom — Huginn (‘thought’) and Muninn (‘memory’) — keep their beady eyes on all goings-on.

He was also the inspiration for the character of Gandalf in Tolkien’s Hobbit, Lord of the Rings and other works — and when you see 19th Century depictions of Odin, it is easy to see why.

There is no doubt that Odin is about as powerful and rich a name as they get.

It is up to you to decide, based on your beliefs, whether it is right or not to give his name to your child!

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This 6th Century BCE dinos (wine-mixing bowl) by Sophilos shows a procession of Greek Gods attending the wedding of Peleus and Thetis

There seems to be a bit of a controversy in Pagan circles about the use of the names of Gods and Goddesses, either for children, or as a new name for oneself.

There are those who argue that it is inappropriate. Even hubristic.

But as with most aspects of Paganism, much of the answer to this question comes down to your own personal beliefs, and how you view the Divine.

And this, of course, will play a big part in whether you think it is acceptable or not to use a God or Goddess’s name.

If you are a polytheist — if you consider the Gods to be distinct, individual entities, completely separate from mortal life — perhaps you might agree that using their names is inappropriate.

In which case, you should, of course, avoid, or choose names which contain a deity’s name, or carry the meaning ‘belonging to such-and-such’, rather than the deity’s name itself.

But if you are a pantheist — if you believe that the Divine is in all things, making us all essentially ‘divine beings’ — then choosing the name of a God or Goddess might be seen as not just acceptable, but suitable and respectful.

Using the actual names of Gods and Goddesses is not a new phenomenon.

Several names from ancient Paganism have long become established as given names in the English-speaking world. These include  Aurora, Branwen, Bridget, Diana, Felicity, Flora, Freya, Irene, Iris, Lilith, Luna, Maia, Phoebe, Rhiannon, Sophia and Victoria.

The names of male divinities used for boys is less common, but there are still some, which have seen varying amounts of use, such as Adonis, Augustus, Dylan, Hercules, Julius, Odin — and Jesus. This last may be principally found in the Spanish community, pronounced ‘he-SOOS’  and used in reference to a Catholic festival, but nevertheless, it’s still the name of a figure considered divine by many, and currently ranking 92nd in the US.

In some religions, such as Hinduism, it has long been considered not just acceptable to use the name of a God or Goddess, but desirable, because it is believed that the child will grow to be like the deity, as well as be protected by them.

And incorporating the name of a divinity within a given name is a tradition as old as writing — take a look at my articles on Sumerian names Part 1 and Part 2 to see some of the earliest.

There’s also the power of the positive. Call it ‘good’, ‘light’, ‘love’, ‘karma’ whatever. It seems common sense to choose names with as much positivity as you can.

And, let’s face it, you can’t get much more positive than the names of the Divine itself!

There are literally tens of thousands of named Gods and Goddesses across the world, and my only caveat when choosing a God or Goddess’ name would be to select one that you not only like the sound of, but also feel an affinity with.

Here is just a small selection from some of the world’s principal mythologies:

Greek: Aphaia, Aphrodite, Apollo, Ares, Artemis, Athene, Atlas, Bia, Chaos, Coeus, Cratus, Cronos, Demeter, Dionysus, Eos, Epimetheus, Erebus, Gaia, Geras, Hades, Harmonia, Hebe, Hecate, Helius, Hephaestus, Hera, Hermes, Hestia, Hyperion, Iapetus, Iris, Leto, Mnemosyne, Morpheus, Nice, Nyx, Oceanus, Pan, Persephone, Phoebe, Phoebus, Poseidon, Prometheus, Proteus, Rhea, Selene, Tethys, Themis, Tyche, Zephyrus, Zeus

Roman: Abundantia, Aesculapius, Anna Perenna, Apollo, Aurora, Bacchus, Bellona, Bona Dea, Caelus, Carmenta, Ceres, Cloacina, Consus, Cupid, Deverra, Diana, Egeria, Fauna, Felicitas, Flora, Fortuna, Fulgora, Hilaritas, Hora, Janus, Juno, Jupiter, Justitia, Larentina, Liber, Libera, Libertas, Lucina, Luna, Lupercus, Mars, Mater Matuta, Mercury, Minerva, Neptune, Ops, Pax, Pietas, Pluto, Pomona, Priapus, Proserpina, Quirinus, Robigus, Saturn, Silvanus, Sol, Tellus, Terminus, Trivia, Vacuna, Venus, Vertumnus, Vesta, Virbius, Volumna, Voluptas, Vulcan

Egyptian: Aken, Aker, Ammit, Amun, Amunet, Anhur, Anubis, Anuket, Apis, Ash, Aten, Bast, Geb, Ha, Hapi, Hathor, Hedetet, Heka, Heqet, Horus, Huh, Iabet, Iah, Imentet, Isis, Kebechet, Khepri, Khnum, Khonsu, Ma’at, Mafdet, Mehen, Menhit, Meret, Min, Mnevis, Monthu, Neith, Nekhbet, Neper, Nephthys, Nut, Osiris, Pakhet, Ptah, Qebui, Rem, Renenutet, Satet, Seker, Sekhmet, Serket, Seth, Tatenen, Taweret, Tefnut, Tenenet, Thoth, Wadjet, Wosret

Hindu: Aditi, Agni, Arjuna, Aruna, Asura, Bhadra, Bharani, Bhavani, Bhudevi, Brahma, Chamundi, Chandra, Daksha, Danu, Dhumavati, Durga, Ganesha, Garuda, Gayatri, Hanuman, Hari, Indra, Kali, Krishna, Lakshman, Lakshmi, Lalitha, Mahavidya, Matangi, Mitra, Mohini, Nandi, Narada, Narayana, Nataraja, Navadurga, Padmavati, Parasiva, Parvati, Prajapati, Rama, Rati, Rudra, Rukmini, Saraswati, Sati, Shakti, Shatarupa, Shiva, Shree, Sita, Soma, Surya, Tara, Uma, Ushas, Varuna, Vasu, Vayu, Vishnu

Celtic: Abellio, Adsullata, Agrona, Alaunus, Alisanos, Andarta, Andraste, Arausio, Arduinna, Artio, Belatucadros, Belenus, Belisama, Bormana, Bormo, Brigantia, Camulos, Cernunnos, Cissionius, Cocidius, Coventina, Damara, Damona, Epona, Esus, Fagus, Grannus, Icovellauna, Lenus, Leucetios, Lugus, Maponus, Moritasgus, Nantosuelta, Nemausus, Nemetona, Nodens, Ogmios, Robor, Rosmerta, Sabrina, Sirona, Smertrios, Sucellos, Sulis, Tamesis, Taranis, Toutatis, Verbeia, Veteris, Vindonnus.

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Continuing my series on little used surnames of English, Anglo-French and Norse origins, here are my picks from G:

Gardner

  • Gache — Old French gache ‘lock’; originally used for a locksmith.
  • Gardner — from Norman-French gardinier ‘gardener’. Gerald Gardner introduced Wicca to the world, and is often called ‘the Father of Wicca.’ Saw a bit of on and off use in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.
  • Garle — from Middle English girle ‘child of either sex.’
  • Garman — from the Old English name Garmundgār ‘spear’ + mund ‘protection.’
  • Garner — a name with a number of sources. 1, from the Old German personal name Warinhari, a combination of the ethnonym Warin + hari ‘army’ and ‘folk.’ 2, from Old French gerner ‘granary.’ 3, variant of Gardner. Popped up now and again in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.
  • Garrick — a Huguenot surname from French carrigue ‘place covered with oaks’. Floated around between the 1960s and 90s, but never really gained a foothold.
  • Garson — from Old French garcon ‘valet’.
  • Garvin, Garfin — from the Old English personal name Garwinegār ‘spear’ + wine ‘friend’. Made an appearance in the top 1000 a grand total of 3 times in the early 20th Century.
  • Gaydon — from Gaydon, Warwickshire. Old English personal name Gæda + dūn ‘hill.’
  • Gayne — from the Old French engaigne ‘ingenuity’ and ‘trickery.’
  • Gazeley — from Gazeley, Suffolk. Old English personal name Gægi + lēah ‘wood,’ ‘woodland clearing.’ ‘glade.’ ‘pasture’ and ‘meadow’.
  • Geare, Geer — from Middle English gere ‘wild,’ ‘sudden fit of passion.’
  • Gellan — originated as a pet-form of Julian/Juliana.
  • Gellion — from Gillian.
  • Gellner — from Old French gelinier ‘poulterer.’
  • Gidney — from Gedney, Leicestershire.  Old English personal name Gæda or Gydda (gæd ‘fellowship’) + ēg ‘island,’ ‘dry land surrounded by water/marsh.’ ‘well-watered land.’
  • Gildon — from Old English gylden ‘golden.’
  • Gillam — from Guillaume, the French form of William.
  • Gilliver — from Old French gilofre ‘clove.’
  • Glaston — from Glaston, Rutland. Old Norse personal name Glathr  (glaðr ‘glad’) + tūn ‘enclosure,’ ‘village,’ ‘manor’, ‘estate.’
  • Gleave — from Old French gleive ‘lance.’
  • Godby — from Goadby, Leicestershire. Old Norse personal name Gautí (gauta ‘to brag) + ‘farmstead,’ ‘village,’ ‘settlement.’
  • Godin — originated as a pet-form of Old English names beginning with God- such as Godric.
  • Gorley — from Gorley, Hampshire. Old English: gāra ‘triangular shaped piece of land’ + lēah ‘wood,’ ‘woodland clearing,’ ‘glade,’ ‘pasture’ and ‘meadow.’
  • Graley, Grayley — from Old French greslet ‘marked as though by hail’ — i.e. pock-marked.
  • Granger — from Old French grangier ‘farm-bailiff.’
  • Graylan, Grayland — from the Norman-French personal name Graelent. Probably originally Norse — grár ‘grey’ + land ‘land’ — though it could also be from a Germanic cognate.
  • Gresham — from Gresham, Norfolk. Old English gærs ‘grass’ + hām ‘homestead,’ ‘village,’ ‘estate,’ ‘manor.’
  • Gretham — from one of the places called Greetham. Old English grēot ‘gravel’ + hām ‘homestead,’ ‘village,’ ‘estate,’ ‘manor.’
  • Grissom — from Old French grison ‘grey.’
  • Grosvenor — from Old French gros veneur ‘chief huntsman.’
  • Grove, Groves — from Old English grāf ‘grove.’
  • Gulliver — from Old French goulafre ‘glutton.’
  • Guthrum — from the Old Norse name Guðormr ‘battle-snake.’
  • Guyen — from Guienne, an archaic name for Aquitaine in France.
  • Guyer — from Old French guyour ‘guide.’
  • Guymer — from the Old German name Wigmar ‘battle-famous.’

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Last month I did my first ‘Pagan Name of the Month’ feature, starting the ball rolling with Blake. The premise for Pagan Names of the Month is to feature a name from the top 100 names in the UK or US, and show just how good a ‘Pagan name’ it is.

This month, I have opted for the seasonal Summer.

In 2009, Summer was the 24th most popular girl’s name in the UK, and it’s popular Down Under too, ranking 39th in New South Wales,and 34th in New Zealand.

On the other side of the pond, though, it was only 164th in 2010.

In former times, when life wasn’t made so easy and comfortable by electricity, double glazing, central heating, fresh produce shipped across the globe, etc, etc, the blessings of summer were valued far more highly than today.

Summer in the past was synonymous with the prime of life and plenty. It was the season when fields were full of ripening grain, orchards and hedgrows with ripening fruit. The season of long, warm days, genial, short nights, forgiving winds, soft rain, rustic scenes of shepherds and their lasses out making hay…

But, as the Greeks were fond of pointing out, in Arcadia ego — death and decay lurk even in the heart of paradise, and the wheel of the year is ever-turning.

It is the sting in the tail, which makes each summer’s day so poignant.

The word summer derives directly from its Old English counterpart — sumor. This is exactly cognate with the Welsh haf and Old Irish sam. The name of the Celtic feast of Samhain derives from the latter — the feast of ‘summer’s end’ (and winter’s beginning).

The use of summer as a name, or a part of a name, is not new.

The Scottish Sorley is the Anglicized form of Gaelic Somhairle, itself from the Old Norse Somerled from sumar ‘summer’ + líðr ‘to pass by’, hence ‘summer passer-by’ or ‘summer wayfarer’.

Another summery name of Old Norse origin is Somerilda ‘summer-battle’.

Somerset is also not unheard of as a given name (a well-known bearer was the writer Somerset Maughan). This comes from the Old English cognate sumor ‘summer’ + sǣte ‘dwellers’ and ‘settlers’. It became the surname of a powerful aristocratic family, who are still Dukes of Beaufort today.

Names meaning ‘summer’ can be found in other languages too.

The Welsh Haf (pronounced ‘harv’) is not uncommon as a girl’s name in Wales, especially as a middle name. It also features in the girls’ names Hafwen and Wenhaf ‘blessed summer’, Hafren, and Hafgan — ‘summer song’ — the name of a King of the Otherworld in Welsh mythology. There’s also Hefin ‘of summer’ — specifically, ‘of midsummer’.

Meanwhile, Samhradán is an Irish boy’s name meaning ‘little summer’.

Belisama is a Gaulish Goddess of light, whose name means ‘powerful summer’.

Therina is rare name first encountered in the late 18th Century from the Greek therinos ‘of summer’. Another is Therea, first used in the 19th Century. Rarer still is Euthera — ‘pleasant in summer’. All are from theros ‘summer’. Some argue this is the ultimate source of the better known Theresa.

Others include the Chinese Xia (夏), the Indian girl’s names Grishma and Ushma,  the Finnish girl’s name Suvi, and boy’s name Kesä, the Kurdish girl’s name Hawin, and the Albanian boy’s name Behar.  Also in Albania, the girl’s name Vera can be interpreted as deriving from verë, another Albanian word for summer.

Meanwhile, the Basque girl’s name Udane derives from uda ‘summer’, and the rare French boy’s name Veran may be an adoption of the Galician verán.

A number of Japanese girls’ names  include Japanese word for summer. Natsuko and Natsumi are just two which feature natsu, while Shizuka can be interpreted as meaning ‘quiet summer’.

Hebrew Kayitz and Swahili Majira (strictly, ‘season’) are also attested, and Latvian/Lithuanain Vasara is not unknown.

Summer stands out as an ideal Pagan choice, free of all and any association with any other religion, but not too ‘way out there’, if ‘way out there’ isn’t your thing.

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