And it was Sue Townsend who first introduced me to Coventry as a name, in her 1988 novel Rebuilding Coventry.
The title is a nod to the post-war rebuilding of the city of Coventry, which was all-but razed to the ground during the Blitz; but in the case of the book, the Coventry being “rebuilt” is a woman called Coventry Dakin.
The name stuck in my head.
Later, I came across the real life Coventry Kelsey Dighton Patmore, a nineteenth century English male poet. In his case, the name represented an adoption of the surname.
Which also comes from Coventry.
As a given name, despite the poet and the book, Coventry remains extremely rare.
It was, in fact, more common in the nineteenth century than it is today.
But with the growing interest in “place names” as first names, perhaps Coventry’s time might be coming. After all, while Coventry has never registered in the SSA data, the name of its twin city, Dresden, was given to sixty-one little boys in America in 2010, and eight little girls.
True, modern Coventry is not the prettiest of places. The rebuilding after the war was unsympathetic — putting it kindly.
Since then it has become a modern, largely characterless sprawl.
But that doesn’t — cannot — take away the fact that Coventry is an ancient place, and one of the most important medieval towns in England.
It was the scene of Lady Godiva’s legendary naked ride through the streets to protest against the taxes of Leofric, Earl of Mercia — her husband.
The medieval Coventry Cycle Mystery Plays had their home in Coventry, as did the hauntingly beautiful fifteenth century Christmas Carol — The Coventry Carol, which may have first been sung as part of the plays.
And, although the town’s name actually has nothing to do with a witch’s coven, the similarity does still lend it a distinctly witchy, Wiccan edge.
Rather than a combination of “coven” and “tree,” which it appears to be on the surface, the first element is Old English cofa meaning “cave,” “shelter,” and “chamber” — possibly used as a given name — Cofa.
It occurs in the genitive form in Coventry — i.e. it means “of Cofa.”
But if it was a personal name, it may be that it actually arose as a short-form of some other Anglo-Saxon name, and its resemblance to cofa is superficially. A plausible candidate being the charming and neglected Cuthbert “bright-fame.”
But the second element is “tree.”
And thus Coventry means “Cofa’s tree.”
What, I wonder, was special about Cofa’s tree?
To be singled out as significant enough to define a place, it was presumable noteworthy in some way.
And, of course, it barely needs to be said, that all trees are are held in high regard by most Pagans.
Another reason why Coventry as a given name has a bit of a Pagan edge.
So, will Coventry join the growing ranks of “place-names”?