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Archive for September, 2011

I’m a great believer in seeking inspiration everywhere for names — not necessarily just for babies, but for anything else you might wish to name, from pets to garden gnomes.

I’m also a fan of cheese. Indeed, one of my cats is named after a cheese — my very fluffy Ragdoll, Stilton.

My favorite cheeses, however, are French, and I happened across a book of French cheeses the other day, full of redolent cheesy names.

Some really are quite alluring; and since Brie is already in use as a girl’s name, well… take a look at these:

Abondance, Aisy Cendré, Aligot, (Fromage) Allégé, (Chevrotin d’) Alpage, Ambert, Ami (du Chambertin), (Poivre d’) Âne, (Bûchette d’) Anjou, Anneau (de Vic-Bilh), Apérobic, (Chevrotin des) Aravis, (Picodon de l’) Ardèche, (Brique) Ardéchoise, Ardi-Gasna, (Fromage de Chèvre) Ariège, (Tomme d’) Arles, (Coeur d’) Arras, Aubisque (Pyrénées), (Pavé d’) Auge, Autun, (Bleu d’) Auvergne, (Tomme de l’) Aveyron, (Boulette d’) Avesnes, Bamalou, (Bûchette de) Banon, Bargkass, Barousse, (Chevrette des) Bauges, (Le Petit) Bayard, Beaufort, Beaujolais (Pur Chèvre), Beaumont, (Abbaye de) Belloc, (Trappe de) Belval, Bergues, (Coeur de) Berry, (Brebis du) Bersend, Besace (de Pur Chèvre), Bethmale, (Galet de) Bigorre, Bigoton, Bilou du Jura, (Fromage) Blanc, Bleu, Bondard, Bonde, Bondon, Bonjura, (Le) Bouca, Boudane, (Tomme du) Bougnat, Bougon, (La) Bouille, (Le) Bourricot, Boursault, Boursin, Brebis, Bressan, Bresse (Bleu), Breuil, Brie, Brillat-Savarin, Brin d’Amour, Broccio, Brocciu, Brousse du Rove, Cabécou, Cabrioulet, Cachaille, Cachat, (Le Pic de la) Calabasse, Calenzana, (Boulette de) Cambrai, Camembert, Cancoillote, Canelle, Cantal, (Tomme) Capra, Capri Lezéen, Caprice des Dieux, Capricorne de Jarjat, Carré (de l’Est), (Le) Cathalain, (Brebis Frais du) Caussedou, (Bleu des) Causses, (Brebis le) Cayolar, (Fromage) Cendré, Cervelle de Canut, (Pélardon de) Cevennes, Chabichou, Chabis, (Trappiste de) Chambaran,  Chaource, Charolais, Charolles, Chaumes, (Crottin de) Chavignol, Chèvre, (Abbaye de) Citeaux, Civray, Clacbitou, Claqueret Lyonnais, Clochette, (Rigotte de Sainte) Colombe, (Grand) Colombier des Aillons, Comté, (Rigotte de) Condrieu, (Pélardon de) Corbières, (Le) Cornilly, (Briquette de) Coubon, Couhé-Vérac, (Brie de) Coulommiers, (Bleu de) Costaros, (Abbaye de) Coudre, (Tomme de) Courchevel, (Picodon de) Crest, Crottin, Croupet, (Bouton de) Culotte, Curé Nantais, Dauphin, (Picodon du) Dauphiné, Délice de Saint-Cyr, (Picodon de) Dieulefit, Dreux (à la Feuille), (Picodon de la) Drôme, (Rigotte d’) Echalas, (Trappe) Echourgnac, Emmental, Epoisses, Esbareich, Explorateur, Faisselle (de Chèvre), (Tomme du) Faucigny, (Saint) Félicien, (Chèvre) Fermier, (Banon à la) Feuille, Figue, Filetta, Fin-de-Siècle, Fontainebleu, (Brique du) Forez, (Fromage) Fort, (Le) Fougerus, (Chèvre/Fromage) Frais, Frimault, Galet, Galette (de Monts du Lyonnais), Gaperon, Gardian, Gargantua (à la Feuille de Sauge), Gastanberra, (Bleu de) Gex, (Pavé de la) Ginestarié, Gournay Frais, (Cabécou de) Gramat, Grataron d’Arèches, Gratte-Paille, Greuilh, Gris (de Lille), Guerbigny, (Fromage d’) Hesdin, (Fromage du) Jas, (Abbaye de la) Joie, Lacandou, (Bleu de) Lacqueuille, Laguiole, (Bleu de) Langeac, Langres, Laruns, (Fromage de Chèvre) Larzac, (Fromage de Montagne de) Lège, Levroux, (Boule de) Lille, Livarot, (Brebis du) Lochois, (Chèvre de la) Loire, (Tomme de) Lomagne, Lou Magré, Lou Pennol, (Bleu de) Loudes, Lucullus, (Tomme de) Lullin, (Chevreton de) Mâcon, Mâconnais, (Chevrotin de) Mâcot, Mamirolle, (Tomme au) Marc de Raisin, (Saint) Marcellin, Maroilles, Matocq, (Sainte) Maure de Touraine, (Brie de) Meaux, (Brie de) Melun, (Tome de) Ménage, Metton, Mignon, Mimolette Française, (Boule des) Moines, (Fromage de) Montagne, (Fourme de) Montbrison,  (Chevrotin du) Mont Cenis, Mont d’Or, (Brie de) Montereau, (Chevrotin de) Montvalezan, Morbier, Mothais (à laFeuille), (Le) Mouflon, Moularen, (Le) Moulis, Munster, Murol, Murolait, (Brie de) Nangis, (Saint) Nectaire, Neufchâtel, (Le) Niolo, (Brie) Noir, (Bouton d’) Oc, Olivet, (Fromage d’) Ossau, Palouse (des Aravis), (Saint) Pancrace, Paprika, (Petit) Pardou, (Saint) Paulin, Pavé, (Chevrotin de) Peisy-Nancroix, Pélardon, Pérail, Persillé, Pèvre d’Aï, Picadou, Picodon, Pierre-Robert, (Le) Pitchou, Pithiviers (au Foin), (Le Pavé du) Plessis, Poivre, Pont-l’Evêque, Pouligny-Saint-Pierre, Pourly, Quatre-Vents, (Bleu du) Quercy, Rabelais, (Fromage à) Raclette, Reblochon, (Saint) Rémy, Rigotte, (Cabécou de) Rocamadour, (Le) Rogallais, Rogeret de Lamastre, Rollot, Roquefort, (Pavé de) Roubaix, Rustinu, Salers, (Port) Salut, Santranges, (Le) Saulxurois, (Reblochon de) Savoie, Ségalou, Selles-sur-Cher, (Persillé du) Semnoz, (Bleu de) Septmoncel, Sérac, (Tomme de) Séranon, (Tomme Grise de) Seyssel, (Galet) Solognot, Soumaintrain, Sourine Lozérien, Tamié, (Persillé de la) Tarentaise, (La) Taupinière, (Bleu de) Termignon, (Tomme de) Thônes, (Persillé de) Tigne, Tome, Tomme, Toucy, Tourmalet, (Fromage de) Vache, (Grand) Vatel, (Tomme de) Vendée, (Le) Vachard, Vacherin, Valençay, (Le) Venaco, Vendômois, (Le Saint) Winoc.

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I’m not one who generally goes in for “sibsets” much, but there is one large family which has fascinated me since a visit to Chatsworth as a child, and today I thought I’d break the mould a bit and head off down the sibset road for a change.

That family is the Mitfords.

There are, of course, probably hundreds of families around the world called Mitford — but the Mitfords refers to one very specific clan.

The children — principally the girls (there was one boy, Thomas, killed in World War II) — of David Freeman-Mitford, 2nd Baron Redesdale.

Also known as “the Mitford sisters”, the Mitfords were at the heart of the British upper class social scene in the first half of the twentieth century. Their names are quite an eclectic mix of the literary, mythological, puritan, biblical and informal, which might startle some.

I, for one, don’t think Lord and Lady Redesdale worried too much about how well the names all “went together.” It just isn’t the sort of thing the British aristocracy does. “Very non-U,” as Nancy would say.

Nancy was the eldest of the Mitfords, born in 1904. Just Nancy. Well, the Honourable Miss Nancy. She became a well-known novelist and biographer, best known for The Pursuit of Love (1945) and Love in a Cold Climate (1949). She died in France in 1973.

Nancy is a long established pet-form of Ann(e), found in independent use since at least the nineteenth century. Americans probably associate it most with Nancy Reagan (whose birth name is Anne). There’s also the tragic Nancy of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist (1838), while the eldest daughter of British Prime Minister David Cameron is called Nancy Gwen (b.2004).

Next is Pamela, born in 1907, probably the least controversial and well-known of the family. She died in Italy in 1994.

Pamela was created by Sir Philip Sidney in the late sixteenth century for a character in Arcadia, and is generally interpreted as a coinage from the Greek pan “all”+ meli “honey.” It was a favorite of the British aristocracy in the early twentieth century — another notable bearer was Churchill’s daughter-in-law, born in 1920.

The third daughter was the infamous Diana (1910-2003), a celebrated beauty, whose second husband was the British Fascist leader, Sir Oswald Mosley (1896-1980). Leaving no-one in doubt of where their sympathies lay, when they married in 1936, it was at the home of Nazi Joseph Goebbels in the presence of Hitler.

Diana, the name of the Roman Goddess of hunting and the moon, was another name embraced with gusto by the British upper class in the early twentieth century. Lady Diana Spencer, later Princess of Wales, being the example par excellence.

Fourth was Unity Valkyrie, born in 1914. Her name was particularly ominous, as she embraced Nazism even more than her sister, and was rumored to have been a lover of Hitler himself. Some even claim she had Hitler’s child. She died in 1948.

Unity “unity” was first used by Puritans in the sixteenth century, though was unusual until the twentieth, when it probably saw its most use.

Valkyrie — a “Valkyrie” of Germanic mythology — was first used as a given name in the late nineteenth century, probably inspired by the works of Wagner.

Fifth Mitford was Jessica “Decca” Lucy, born in 1917. She gravitated to the other end of the political spectrum, and became an ardent communist. The rest of the family nicknamed her the “red sheep.” Her first husband, Esmond, who fought against Fascism in the Spanish Civil War, was related by marriage to Winston Churchill, and the couple emigrated to the States before the Second World War. Esmond returned to fight at the outbreak of war, and went missing in action in 1941, but she remained in America for the rest of her life, working as a political activist and investigative journalist, until her death in 1996.

Jessica has become so ubiquitous it is difficult to contemplate a time when it was still a literary rarity, but when Jessica Mitford was born, it was firmly in that category. Coined by Shakespeare — probably from the biblical Iscah (“he beholds”) for a character in The Merchant of Venice  (c.1596-98).

Last is Deborah “Debo” Vivien, borin in 1920. She married Lord Andrew Cavendish, the younger son of the Duke of Devonshire. The older son, William, Marquis of Hartington married Kathleen Kennedy, sister of JFK. Both Kathleen and William died tragically young, and on his father’s death, Andrew inherited the Dukedom and the Cavendish estates — including Chatsworth, one of the most famous English stately homes. Aged 91, Deborah, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire still lives on the Chatsworth estate.

Like Jessica, since the Hon. Deborah Mitford was born, Deborah has gained a life of its own, but it was still quite a rarity in 1920, with a distinctly aristocratic edge. Another English toff, the Hon. Vita Sackville West, used it for the name of her elderly heroine in All Passion Spent (1931).

Vivien is a rarer form of Vivian, ultimately from Latin vivus “alive.” In some British circles in the first half of the twentieth century, Vivien was considered the “correct” form for girls, and Vivian for boys, but it is clear from the records that in practice, Vivian was considerably more popular generally for both.

Nancy, Pamela, Thomas, Diana, Unity, Jessica and Deborah — a most interesting early twentieth sibset, as I’m sure you’ll agree.

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Dennis?

Yes, Dennis!

Pause for a moment or two, roll it round the tongue a few times…

It may have been at its most popular in the 1940s and 50s — it reached 16th place in the US in 1949 — but Dennis still starts with that very contemporary syllable d-n, found in so many current favorites:

Aiden (Adan, Aden, Aidan, Ayden), Brandon, Brayden (Braden, Braeden, Braiden, Braydon), Brendan (Brenden), Caden (Caiden, Cayden), Camden, Dane, Daniel, Dante, Danny, Donovan, Hayden, Holden, Jayden (Jaden, Jaiden, Jaydon), Jordan, Kaden (KaidenKayden), Landon (Landen) and Zayden.

They are all in the top 500 boys’ names in the US.

So is Dennis, ranked 391st — but it’s falling fast.

Time, perhaps, to arrest the fall, and resurrect this retro classic?

Dennis has such a lot going for it, it would be a shame for it to be rejected in favor of far more light-weight names — fair-weather friend names, which are going to date far, far more, and far more rapidly, than a name like Dennis. A name with such strong foundations.

Oh, and have I mentioned that Dennis merits the epithet ‘Pagan name’ as much as the best of them?

Dennis arose in the Middle Ages as an Anglo-French form of Dionysius, along with Denis and Denys.

Dionysius was an immensely popular name in the ancient Pagan world, honoring — as it does — one of the ancient world’s favorite Gods:  Dionysus. Dionysius simply means ‘of (the God) Dionysus’ — i.e. “belonging” or “dedicated to” Dionysus.

Indeed, a strong case could be made that the most popular of the 20 saints of the name — the 3rd Century St Denis of Paris — really represents a Christianized version of the God. Tellingly, Denis is invoked against frenzy and possession – both things strongly associated with Dionysus.

Dionysus is one of the most interesting and intriguing of the Olympian Gods  — and unquestionably one of the most important Gods of Greece and Rome (where he was usually known as Bacchus).

Most people know he is God of wine and the vine, son of Zeus by the mortal Semele, but in a way these are secondary to his true significance.

Wine, is still considered a “social lubricant,” well-known for releasing inhibitions and stripping away “civilized” behavior, and this is what Dionysus truly represents – what lies beneath the skin, when that man-made veneer is removed: the wild, the untamed, the raw vitality of nature.

It is no coincidence that his close companion is Pan.

Dionysus joined the Olympian Gods quite late — usurping the place of Hestia. Memory of his arrival in the Greek pantheon was preserved in the myths about him.

Exactly where he truly originated is not known for certain, but there is a strong case to be made for Thrace.

As for the meaning of his name, it is something that has puzzled etymologists for centuries, and numerous theories abound.

Generally, the prefix Dio- means “of Zeus,” which, superficially, would seem to make sense, as Dionysus was regarded as Zeus’ son by the Greeks.

However, it is more likely that it derives directly from the Proto-Indo-European *deyw-o-, from which Zeus and Diana also derive, as well as the Latin deus “a God” — and numerous other cognates across the Indo-European languages. So, in Dionysus’ case, Dio- most likely means simply “God.”

The -nysus is even more controversial. The Greeks believed it derived from Nysa — a legendary mountain, said to have been the God’s birthplace. One ancient writer said it meant “tree,” but there is no evidence for this, and the etymology of ancient Greeks has to be taken with a very big pinch of salt.

The clue to follow may be the Thracian connections. Sadly, not enough is known about Thracian to state anything with any certainty, but from what we do know, a very tempting possibility lies in the Thracian: *nest “roaring” and “rumbling.”

One of Dionysus’ main epithets in Greek was Bromius from Gr: bremô “to roar.”

Might he be truly the “roaring God” through and through?

Dennis itself shortens comfortably to Den and Denny, and although there are plenty of historic and fictional bearers, including two medieval Portuguese kings, the classic British cartoon character Dennis the Menace, Dennis the Peasant in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and the nefarious “Dirty Den” of BBC’s Eastenders, it is such a strong name on its own that it has — and can — weather the lot.

There’s also no technical reason why it couldn’t be given a completely fresh lease of life as a girl’s name; in the Middle Ages, the feminine Dionysia and its many vernacular forms was also very popular, and they included Dennis and Denis, as well as Denise, the favored feminine form in the twentieth century.

So, whether you’re looking for a girl’s or boy’s name, why not give Dennis a thought?

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Time to return to the Runes, and the second letter of the Runic alphabet — U.

It has the following names:

It is unclear what the inspiration for the Eldar Futhark U was — it was either *ūruz ‘aurochs’ or *ûram ‘water’.

Aurochs isn’t a word heard much in general conversation these days; it is the name used for a long extinct species of wild ox. Aurochs is actually a German word, which came into English in the 18th Century.

Its Old English and Norse name — úr fell out of use at a very early date — probably around the time the animal disappeared. This may be the reason why in the Norse runic poems it seems to be derived from ūr ‘fine rain’ — a word ultimately cognate with urine.

In the poems, Ur gets a distinctly mixed reception, with reference to the animal’s pride, ferocity and stamina, and the negative effects of water in the form of rain.

Modern rune diviners focus on Ur’s wild ox past, and neglect the watery undertones. It is generally viewed as a rune that signifies physical strength, stamina and durability. It stands for raw, untamed power — a great asset, but something which someone who possess it might need to learn to control in order to get the best out it.

Its negative qualities are pretty clear: savagery and recklessness.

Ur itself makes an unlikely name choice, although there are other noble namesakes, such as the ancient Sumerian city of Ur, and the identical sounding Er, hero of Plato’s Myth of Er, in which Er, a former warrior, witnesses what happens to the Dead — how after a period in the Underworld, they take it in turns to choose their fate in their next life, according to how virtuous their former life had been.

Uram, however, has some potential. It’s not a million miles away from names like Aaron and Erin, after all, and plenty names end in -am.

But there are also plenty names out there (and not “out there”) with meanings such as “strength,” “power” and “endurance.” Many are sadly  probably still too heavily buried beneath a pile of Victorian corsets — names such as Elfreda, Ermyntrude, Etheldreda, Frideswide, Maynard and Millicent.

These are some suggestions:

  • Alcestis ♀ — name of a Greek heroine, from alkê “defensive strength.”
  • Alcis ♀ — epithet of Athene, also from alkê “defensive strength.”
  • Arnold ♂ — Old German Arenvaldarin “eagle” + vald “power.”
  • Bala ♂ — Indian name from Sanskrit bala “force,” “power” and “strength.”
  • Brian ♂ — Irish and Breton in origin, from Proto-Celtic *brig-/brigant- “high,” or *briga- “might” and “power.”
  • Bridget ♀ — Anglicized form of Brigid, which comes ultimately from the Proto-Celtic *brig-/brigant- “high,” or *briga- “might” and “power.” Well known as an important Irish Goddess — and saint.
  • Emin ♂ — Turkish name – emin “safe,” “secure,” “strong,” “firm” and “trustworthy.”
  • Firmin ♂ — from Latin firmus “strong,” “steadfast” and “enduring.”
  • Gertrude ♀ — Old German gêr “spear” + drudi “strength.”
  • Gorwst ♂ — Old Welsh name from gor- “super” + gwst “power,” “force” and “excellence.” Latinized in the Middle Ages as Gurgustius.
  • Griffith ♂ — Anglicized form of the Welsh Gruffudd, probably cryf “strong” and “powerful” + iud(d) “lord.”
  • Imelda ♀ — Spanish and Italian name, from the German Irmhildeermen “strong” and “whole” + hilta “battle.”
  • Iphigenia ♀ — Greek: is “strong” + gignomai “to be born” i.e. “strong-born.”
  • Jarek ♂ — Czech and Polish name, originally a pet-form of names beginning with jar “spring” or jary “fierce” and “strong.”
  • Metin ♂ — Turkish name – metin “strong” and “durable.”
  • Millie, Milly ♀ — Shorter, more approachable form of Millicent (among other names!) < Old German amal “work” + swinde “strong.”
  • Nero ♂ — Sabine: nero “strong” – cognate with San: nara and W: nêr (and banned in New Zealand!).
  • Ruslo ♂ — Romani < ruslo “strong.”
  • Swithun ♂ — Old English name < swīþ “strong.”
  • Valentina ♀ — Latin: valens “strong,” “vigorous” and “healthy” < valeo “to be strong.”
  • Valentine ♂ ♀ — as above.

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In Pagan Name of the Month, I feature a name currently in the top 100 in the US or UK, which has a particularly rich Pagan flavor.

This month, it is the turn of the wonderful Welsh Owen.

In 2010, Owen was 47th in the US, and 59th in the UK (although in Wales, it was 49th).

Owen is actually an Anglicized form of the correct Welsh form, Owain — pronounced “ō-wīn” (i.e. like “oh wine”) — and is also used in Ireland to render the cognate Irish Eoghan, which is pronounced pretty much exactly the same as Owen.

Traditionally, both are derived from Eugene (Greek: Eugenios “well-born”); it is certainly true that Eugene was used to “translate” Owen and Eoghan in medieval times, but few contest today that they are actually native Celtic names in origin.

They may still, however, be cognate with the Greek, as a likely source is the Common Celtic *wesu- “excellent”  and “noble” + *geno- “born,” cognate with the Greek eu “well” and gignomai “to be born.”

Both Celtic elements were in use in names in the Romano-British period.

Another very tempting option for the first element is *yewo- “yew,” which was also used in names in ancient times. This is currently the most favored option.

The yew was an extremely important tree to the ancient Celts. Yews are exceptionally long-lived trees, symbolic of rebirth, immortality, and the Otherworld.

In the British Isles, many ancient yews — predating Christianity — are found in old churchyards, a sign that Christian priests built their churches on sites already regarded as sacred.

But there is yet another possibility for the first element of this ancient name —  the theonym Esus, which also featured in Brythonic personal names.

Esus is a Celtic God mentioned by Lucan by Roman writer, and linked with two other well-known Celtic deities — Teutates and Taranis.

One of Owen’s other British cognates is Ewan — commonly spelled Euan. This is now largely considered the Scottish form of Owen and Eoghan, but it is found across “the Old North,” particularly in Lancashire, from time to time until the name’s modern resurgence across the British Isles, and its use in those areas probably goes back to Celtic times too.

Owen itself has also been in use since the Middle Ages, not just in Wales but also in the English Marches — the counties which border Wales. It is one of the few Welsh names which remained in constant, common use from medieval times to the present day, and is as well-known now for the surname derived from it as the personal name.

There are many notable bearers, from history and legend.

Probably the earliest is the semi-legendary Owain Ddantgwyn “White-tooth”, a fifth-century king of the small early medieval kingdom of Rhos in North Wales (roughly the region of the modern county of Conwy). He is often cited as a likely candidate for the historic King Arthur.

Another very early Owain was Owain mab Urien, king of Rheged, often known as Ywain or Ywein in Arthurian Romance, who probably lived in the sixth century. In the Arthurian cycles, he features as the hero in the tales of the Lady of the Fountain, such as Chrétien de Troyes’ Yvain, the Knight of the Lion (1170s).

There was also more than one king of the Brythonic kingdom of Strathclyde called Owen between the seventh and eleventh centuries.

Owain was very common in the Middle Ages, giving rise to the surnames Owen and Owens.

There are numerous Owens (or rather Owains) of note, such as Owain ap Gruffydd, King of Gwynedd (c.1100-70), and Owain Glyndŵr (c.1354-c.1416) — known as Owen Glendower in English — who almost succeeded in wresting Wales from English control. He was the last native Welshman to bear the title “Prince of Wales.”

Meanwhile, Sir Owen Tudor (c.1400-61), founder of the Tudor dynasty, was the grandfather of King Henry VII.

Bearers of the surname include the Welsh novelist Daniel Owen (1836-95), the English First World War poet Wilfred Owen (1893-1918), British actor Clive Owen (b. 1964), and footballer Michael Owen (b.1979).

So if you’re looking for a boy’s name which is “mainstream” but with plenty of Pagan kudos, and a name with a long rich history of use as a first name, Owen might be the perfect one for you.

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Imber

We’ve reached the letters I and J in the series of little used surnames of English, Anglo-French and Old Norse origin.

  • Iden — from Iden, Sussex. Old English *ig “yew” + denn “woodland pasture.”
  • Imber — from Imber, Wiltshire, a village famously taken over by the British Army during the 2nd World War. In Latin imber means “heavy rain.”
  • Ingall, Ingle, Ingles — from the Old Norse personal name Ingialdr “Ing’s tribute”, or its Anglo-Norse cognate Ingald.
  • Ingham — from places called Ingham. Old English personal name Inga or the ancient Germanic tribal name Inguione  + hām “homestead,” “village,” “estate,” “manor.”
  • Ingleby — from one of the places called Ingleby. Old Norse Englar “English” + “farmstead,” “village” and “settlement.”
  • Innes — from one of the places called Ince. From Old Welsh *inis “island.”
  • Ireton, Irton — from Ireton, Derbyshire or Irton, Cumbria. ON: Írar “Irishmen” + tūn “enclosure,” “farmstead,” “estate,” “manor,” “village.”
  • Isard — from the medieval name Isolda.
  • Isham — from Isham, Northamptonshire. Celtic River name Ise (meaning “water”) + OE hām “homestead,” “village,” “estate,” “manor,” or hamm “land hemmed in by water/marsh,” “river-meadow.” Did manage to creep into the top 1000 a little in the late nineteenth century.
  • Jackman — servant of Jack.
  • Jagger — a Yorkshire surname from the dialectic word jagger “pedlar.” Only just qualifies, as has started to see use in the last few years, being ranked 762nd in the US in 2010.
  • Janson — son of Jan, a form of John.
  • Jardine — Old French jardin “garden”; used originally of someone who lived near — or worked in — a garden.
  • Jebb — from Jepp — a medieval pet form of Geoffrey.
  • Jebordy — from Middle English jupardi “risk,” “danger,” “jeopardy.”
  • Jekyll — from the Breton Judicael “lord of the grove” or “generous lord.” Traditionally pronounced “JEE-kil” it is now mostly pronounced “JEH-kil.” Is it too tarnished by Doctor Jekyll? And Gertrude?
  • Jenner — Old French engigneor “engineer,” “maker of military machines.”
  • Jerdan, Jerden, Jerdon — essentially Scottish variants of JARDINE.
  • Jernegan — from the Breton name Gernagon “iron-famous.”
  • Jessop — from Joseph, reflecting medieval pronounciation (comparable to the Italian Guiseppe).
  • Jex — a form of Jacks — “of Jack,” as well as from the Middle English geke “fool” (this is probably the same origin of modern geek!).
  • Jinks — from Jenkin, itself a medieval pet-form of John.
  • Jobar — from Middle English jube “woollen garment” or jobbe “large vessel,” referring to someone who made them.
  • Jolivet — pet-form of Old French jolif “jolly,” “lively.”
  • Jory — pet form of Jore, a medieval northern French form of George.
  • Judd — a medieval pet-form of Jordan. Almost didn’t make it, as it saw a bit of use in the 70s — just not very much.
  • Junifer — from Guinevere.
  • Juster — from Old French justeor “jouster.”
  • Justham — a form of Judson “son of JUDD.”

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It’s the Equinox today — one of the two days in the year when the hours of day and night are equal. Up in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s the Autumnal Equinox, and we have to face the less than cheery fact that from now on, the nights will be drawing in as winter approaches.

Those fortunate enough to be in the Southern Hemisphere, on the other hand, are celebrating spring and the fact that from now on, their days will be growing longer and warmer. Lucky blighters.

But fate has made me an Earthling of the Northern Hemisphere, so the Autumnal Equinox is the focus of today’s post.

What makes the Autumnal Equinox special? Well, because of their equal length of day and night, both Equinoxes are a time of balance — and among many Pagans and folk of alternative spiritualities, they are regarded as good times to focus on achieving balance in our lives.

It is an interesting co-incidence (or possibly not) that Libra — the astrological sign of the balance scales — begins on September 23.

The Autumnal Equinox also sits at the heart of the harvest-season — many a church and school are celebrating their harvest festivals around this time. It is therefore a good time to focus on the bounty of Nature and the Earth.

Autumn — from the Latin autumnus “autumn,”  “fall” and “autumnal” — is already seeing a lot of use as a girl’s name. In the US, it peaked (for the time being) in 2001 in 72nd place, but remains in the top 100. In the UK, where “autumn” is the usual name for the fall, it is still gradually climbing; it was ranked 238 in 2010.

Equinox itself — from the Latin aequus “equal” + nox “night” has seen only a very little use as a given name since the late twentieth century — not enough to register on the radar at all in the US or UK. But with the rise in Knox as a given name, however, perhaps it is time to consider Equinox?

Many Pagans, especially North American Wiccans, call the Autumnal Equinox Mabon, while to Druids across the Norther Hemisphere, it is Alban Elfed.

The festival of Mabon is named in honor of the Welsh deity Mabon ap Modron, and has been in use since the 1970s, its use promoted by Wiccan writer Aidan Kelly.

Mabon ap Modron is often dubbed “the Divine Son of the Divine Mother”; he features in (and gives his name to) the Mabinogion, an important source of early Welsh mythology. He is considered by many to be one and the same with another important figure of Welsh myth — Pryderi ap Pwyll, the son of Rhiannon.

Mabon is almost certainly a survival of the Celtic deity Maponus, whose name derives from the Common Celtic *makwos “son” + the suffix -on- commonly found in theonyms. From the same source derives the Old Irish macc (source of the Mac– which features in so many Scottish and Irish surnames), Old Welsh map and Modern Welsh mab — all meaning “son.”

Five little boys were called Mabon in the UK in 2010.

Meanwhile, the Druid Alban Elfed combines two Old Welsh words — alban meaning “solstice” and “equinox” and elfed “the fall” and “autumn.”

As the Welsh name for the Brythonic Kingdom of Elmet, which had a short-lived existence in the region roughly inhabited now by West Yorkshire following the departure of the Roman legions, until it was absorbed by the neighboring Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of Northumbria and Mercia.

This derives from the same source as the Old Welsh elfydd “world,” “country” and “region.” This also happens to be related to both Albion and the Scottish Alba.

Elfed — pronounced “el-ved” — has been used as a boy’s name in Wales since the late nineteenth century. It is rare now, however, largely because it is used as the name of the patchwork elephant in the Welsh versions of David McKee’s Elmer the Patchwork Elephant series of children’s books.

While Equinox might be a bit bold for some tastes, Autumn, Mabon, Alban and Elfed certainly provide subtle but interesting options for an Autumnal Equinox baby.

Whatever your spiritual path in life, a bright, blessed and fruitful Equinox, one and all.

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