Archive for the ‘Pagan-friendly’ Category

I’ve been hunting through English surnames a while now, plucking out those which I think could make the cross-over to first name status pretty well.

So far, however, I’ve left out those surnames which are identical to existing words in the English vocabulary, to save for later.

Well, later is now upon us!

A fact often overlooked in the debate about the use of “word names” is the fact that a great many of these names are also surnames.

In many cases, they represent simply the adoption of the word as a surname (back in medieval times).

In others, the resemblance belies a different origin. Sometimes, it is pure coincidence that a surname has come to look the same as a word. On other occasions, the switch was deliberate.

All these “word name” surnames are responsible for the vast majority of the apparent adoption of “word names” as first names prior to the late nineteenth century.

They account for the more curious monikers sometimes encountered in that period, which would have been very strange choices if plucked from the dictionary.

There are literally thousands of them. Some are now already quite established as first names. Others also have great first-name potential.

Here’s my first batch for your perusal, the good, the bad and the ugly. Unlike in my English Surnames series, these include surnames of Welsh, Irish and Scottish origin too.

They can all be found in use as given names (though often as middle names) since at least the nineteenth century…

Abbess Banks Bellringer Bond Brine
Abbey Bar (Barr) Belt Bone Broad
Abbot Barbe Bench Bones Brock
Ace Barber Bencher Bonnet Broke
Acres Bard Bender Boon Brooch
Affray Bare Bent Boot Brook
Agate Bargain Berry Booth Brooker
Air (Ayre) Barge Best Born (Borne) Broom
Alabaster Bark Bethel Borrow Brothers
Alder Barker Betony Boss Brown
Alderman Barley Bets (Betts) Bottle Brownie
Ale Barleycorn Better Bottom Browse
Alley Barn Bevel Bough Bruiser
Almond Barnacle Bible Boulder Brush
Alpine Barns Bicker Bound Buck
Anchor Baron Bigger Bow Bucket
Angel Barrack Bill Bowl Buckle
Anguish Barrel Billet Bowler Bud (Budd)
April Barrow Billows Bowling Budding
Archdeacon Barter Binder Bowman Budge
Archer Base Birch Box Bug (Bugg)
Argent Bash Bird Boxer Buggy
Argentine Basil Bishop Boys Bugle
Aries Bask Black Brace Bulk
Arm Bass Blackbird Bracer Bull
Armor Bastard Blade Bracken Bullard
Arrow Baster Blain Bracket Buller
Artist Bat (Batt) Blanch Brag (Bragg) Bullet (Bullett)
Arum Batch Bland Braid (Brade) Bullfinch
Ash Bate Blane Braider Bullock
Ask (Aske) Bater Blank Brain Bully
Asp Bates Bleary Brake Bunch
Attack Bath Blessed Bramble Bunion (Bunyon)
Auburn Batman Blight Brand Bunker
Augur Baton Blind Brass Bunting
Axel Battle Blink Brassy Burden
Aze Baud Bliss Brawn Burgess
Babble Bay Blithe (Blythe) Bray Burgh
Bachelor Bayard Block Brazier Burgher
Back Beach Blood Breach Burn
Bacon Bead Bloom Bread Burner
Bade Beam Bloomer Bream Burnet
Badger Bean Blossom Breed Burns
Bail Bear Blow Breeder Burr
Bailey Beard Blower Breeze Burrow
Bailiff Beat Blunt Breton Burser
Bain (Baine) Beater Boar Brew Bury
Baker Beaver Boarder Brewer Bush
Balance Beck Boast Briar Bushel
Bald Bee Boater Brick Bustard
Balder Beech Boatman Bride Butcher
Bale Beer Boatswain Bridge Butler
Ball Beet Bode Bridger Butt
Ballad Beetle Body Bridle Butter
Ballaster Beggar Bog (Bogg) Brig (Brigg) Buttery
Balm Belch Bold Bright Buttress
Balsam Belcher Bolder Brighten Buy
Banister Bell Bole Brill Buzzard
Banker Bellow Bolt Brim Bye

Read Full Post »


Here are the last of the “p” English surnames of Old English, Old Norse and Anglo-French origin, which have great first name potential but have so far seen little use:

  • Plaistow — from one of the places of the name. Old English: pleg-stōw “place for play or sport.”
  • Planter — from Old French plant “a plant”; used of a gardener
  • Plash — from Plash, Somerset, or Plaish, Shropshire. Old English: plæsc “muddy pool.”
  • Plater — Middle English plate “armor,” used of someone who made armor.
  • Playden — from Playden, Sussex. Old English: pleg “play” + denn “woodland pasture.”
  • Pledger — Middle English plegere “some-one who stands bail in a law-suit.”
  • Plessis — from Pleshey, Essex and Plessey, Northumberland. Old French: plaisseis “enclosure made with interlaced fencing.”
  • Plumley — from one of the places of the name. Old English: plūme “plum-tree” + lēah “wood,” “woodland clearing,” “glade,” “pasture” and “meadow.”
  • Poe — Old Norse and Middle English po “peacock.”
  • Polden — from Polden Hill, Somerset. Celtic place-name Bouelt “cow-pasture” + Old English dūn “hill.”
  • Polder — from one of the places of the name. Old English *polra “marshy-land.”
  • Polton — from one of the places called Poulton. Old English: pōl “pool” + tūn “enclosure,” “farmstead,” “estate,” “manor,” “village.”
  • Pomeroy — from La Pommeraye, Calvados. Old French: pommeraie “apple-orchard.”
  • Ponter — Middle English pont, through French from Latin pons “bridge.” Used of someone who lived by a bridge.
  • Ponton — from one of the Pontons in Lincolnshire. Old English *pamp “hill” + tūn “enclosure,” “farmstead,” “estate,” “manor,” “village.”
  • Popham — from Popham, Hampshire. Possibly Old English *pop(p) “pebble” + hām ‘homestead,’ ‘village,’ ‘estate,’ ‘manor or hamm “enclosure.”
  • Popley — Old English popel “stony” + lēah “wood,” “woodland clearing,” “glade,” “pasture” and “meadow.”
  • Popple — from the lost village of Pophall, Sussex, or Pophills, Warwickshire. Old English *pop(p) “pebble” + hall or hill.
  • Porcher — Old French porcher “swine-herd.”
  • Porteous — Anglo-French: porte-hors, literally “carry-hours”, a porte-hors was a small, “portable” prayer book. The surname arose as a name for someone who wrote them.
  • Portno, Portnoy, Portner — Anglo-French: port-nuit, literally “carry-night.” Perhaps used of a night-watchman, or a night-owl.
  • Possell, Postle — Old French apostle “apostle.” As well as arising as a pageant name, there is some evidence Apostle was used as a first name in the Middle Ages.
  • Pothecary, Potticary — Middle English: apotecarie, ultimately from Latin apothecarius “store-keeper” (specifically of spices and drugs — only later came to mean some-one who prepared drugs, an apothecary).
  • Potter — Old English: potere “a potter.” Intriguingly has never been in the top 1000…
  • Potterell — Old French: poutrel “colt.”
  • Potton — from Potton, Bedfordshire. Old English pott “pot” + tūn “enclosure,” “farmstead,” “estate,” “manor,” “village.”
  • Pougher — Old English: pohha “bag”; used of someone who made bags.
  • Poulter — Old French: poultier “poultry-dealer.”
  • Powell — appeared once in the ranks in 1891. Sometimes from Paul, sometimes from Old English pōl “pool” — and sometimes from the Welsh ap Howel “son of Howel.”
  • Poyle — sometimes from Apulia, Italy; othertimes from Pulley, Shropshire. Old English pōl “pool”  + lēah “wood,” “woodland clearing,” “glade,” “pasture” and “meadow.”
  • Poyner — Old French: poigner “fighter.”
  • Poynter — Middle English: poynte “a tagged lace/cord,” used of someone who made them.
  • Poynton — from Pointon, Lincolnshire and Poynton, Cheshire.  Pointon is from the personal name *Pohha, Poynton from *Pofa + tūn “enclosure,” “farmstead,” “estate,” “manor,” “village.”
  • Poyntz — from the Old French personal name Ponz, from the Latin Pontius (ultimately from pons “bridge.”).
  • Prater — ultimately from Latin praetor, which was used in the Middle Ages to mean “reeve.”
  • Prentice — Old French: aprentis “apprentice.”
  • Prescott — Old English: prēost “priest” + cot “cottage.” Used of someone who worked at the priest’s cottage.
  • Pressney, Prestney — from Prestney’s Farm, Essex. Old English prēost “priest” + haga “enclosure.”
  • Prester — Old French: prestre “priest.”
  • Proust – Middle English: provost “a provost.”
  • Pryer — Old French: priour “a prior.”
  • Pryke — Middle English: prike “point (of a weapon)”, also a type of weapon; probably used of someone who made them.
  • Prynne — Old French: prin “first,” “superior.”
  • Pulham — from one of the places called Pulham. Old English: pōl “pool” + hām ‘homestead,’ ‘village,’ ‘estate,’ ‘manor or hamm “enclosure.”
  • Pullan — Old French: poulan “colt.”
  • Purcifer — a variant of Percival.
  • Purdey — Old French: pour Dieu “for God!” — an “oath” name.
  • Purden — Old French: prudhomme “honest man.”
  • Purefoy — Anglo-French: par fei  “by faith!” — another “oath” name.
  • Purley — From one of the places called Purley or Purleigh. Old English: pūr “snipe” or pirige “pear-tree” + lēah “wood,” “woodland clearing,” “glade,” “pasture” and “meadow.”
  • Pyrah — probably a variant of the surname Perry, from pirige “pear-tree.”

Read Full Post »

St. Agnes’ Eve — Ah, bitter chill it was!

The owl, for all his feathers, was a-cold;

The hare limp’d trembling through the frozen grass,

And silent was the flock in woolly fold…

Tomorrow is St. Agnes’s Day

Which makes today the Eve of St. Agnes…

It is one of those occasions of the year steeped in old traditions. In St Agnes’s case, it is one of a number which focuses on glimpsing the future, specifically, of young women glimpsing in a dream the face of the man they will marry:

They told her how, upon St. Agnes’ Eve,

Young virgins might have visions of delight,

And soft adorings from their loves receive

Upon the honey’d middle of the night,

If ceremonies due they did aright;

As, supperless to bed they must retire,

And couch supine their beauties, lily white;

Nor look behind, nor sideways, but require

Of Heaven with upwards eyes for all that they desire…

We know from the antiquarian John Aubrey that this tradition dates to at least the seventeenth century.

It proved an enticing one for Keats in the early nineteenth century, who immortalized it in his poem The Eve of St Agnes.

In it, the wonderfully-named Porphyro takes advantage of the tradition — and the over-romantic sensibilities of the object of his love (Madeline) — to ensure that his was the face she dreamed about.

He didn’t actually need to, because she was in love with him too… but the attempted ruse did result in their eloping together the following morning.

Whether it was to a happy-ever-after or not has been a matter of debate ever since.

Another distinctly un-biblical custom takes place on her feast day in Rome itself.

Two lambs from one of the abbeys in Rome are taken to the pope to be blessed. They are shorn on Maundy Thursday and their wool used to weave the pallia (ecclesiastical cloaks) of certain bishops.

This has all the hallmarks of more than one tradition in the Pagan classical world of the ritual annual weaving of new robes for a God or Goddess.

It is quite likely that the date of the St Agnes’s Day is due to this Catholic custom.


Well, very early on, the similarity of the name Agnes and the Latin agnus “lamb” was observed, which lead to her association with lambs, and she is invariably depicted with one.

And it is around this time that the first lambs are born.

Originally, she had another feast on the 28th too.

As for St Agnes herself, legend has it she was a virgin martyr, who died in 304 CE.

The earliest account of her life was written by St Ambrose in the late fourth century, though it contained none of the sensationalized stuff of later hagiographies.

And, as with so many of the saints, it’s quite likely that a deity really lies behind her.

St. Agnes is certainly well-known to have taken the place of Gabija, the Lithuanian Goddess of fire, when Lithuania was Christianized in the medieval period.

It has been suggested that the Celtic Goddess Anu to lie at her roots, who is also thought to lie behind the English folk-figure of  Black Annis.

It is certainly the case that Annis is a medieval variant of Agnes.

Agnes itself is usually derived from the Greek hagnos “pure,” although the form “Agnes” is curious.

If it was truly from hagnos, it ought to have been Hagne or Hagno in Greek (there was a nymph called Hagno in Greek mythology — she was one of Zeus’s wet-nurses)

This would be Latinized as Hagna.

Although the loss of the “h” could be forgiven, the ending -es, is, quite frankly, a serious anomaly.

Such an anomaly, that it almost certainly isn’t really Greek at all.

It rather strengthens the case that Agnes’s true origins lie elsewhere. And if she does come from the same source as Anu, one option for the etymology is that it comes from the same Proto-Indo-European root which gives the Latin ignis  and Sanskrit agni — “fire.”

Unsurprisingly, Agnes does have more than one link with fire, and in the past was invoked for protection against fire.

Presumably, the similarity between Agnes and ignis was also at least noted by the Middle Ages too, accounting for the well-known blatant usurpation of  Gabija, Goddess of fire, by Agnes when Lithuania adopted Christianity in the fifteenth century.

St. Agnes was one of the most popular saints in medieval times, and her veneration made Agnes likewise one of the most popular girls’ names in medieval Britain. It was often use in vernacular forms such as the already mentioned Annis, Anis, Annise, Anise and Annot, with the traditional nick-names of Aggie, Taggy and, in Scotland, Nessie.

After the Reformation, it fell out of favor, but continued in steady use until the Victorians with their obsession for all things medieval fell in love with her again.

For some decades, she has been regarded as painfully old-fashioned and shunned accordingly, but the tide may be turning; Jennifer Connelly called her little girl Agnes last year. Will it, and the growing interest in “great-granny” names be enough to see Agnes finally return?

Time will tell!

Read Full Post »


Here are some more tempting delights from Latin, just waiting to be adopted as names…

And their dark side; those with lovely sounds but loathly meanings.

The Lovelies:

  • Ebenus — “ebony tree”
  • Ebur – “ivory”
  • Efferus, Effera — “very wild”
  • Effigia — “likeness”
  • Egregius, Egregia — “excellent,” “extraordinary”
  • Eia — an expression of joy and surprise
  • Elegantia — “refinement,” “grace”
  • Elegia — “elegy”
  • Eminentia – “prominence”
  • Eno – “I swim out,” “I fly away”
  • Ensifer – “sword-bearing”
  • Ensiger – “sword-bearing”
  • Ensis — “sword”
  • Enthymema — “thought,” “line of thought”
  • Ephemeris — “journal,” “diary”
  • Ephorus – a type of Spartan magistrate; used as a given name in Ancient Greece
  • Epicus, Epica – “epic”
  • Epitheca – “an addition”
  • Epulo – “feaster”
  • Equa — “mare”
  • Eques – “knight”
  • Equester – “equestrian”
  • Equinus, Equina – “relating to horses”
  • Era – “lady,” “mistress (of a house)”
  • Ericius – “hedghog”
  • Erilis – “of a master/mistress”
  • Erus – “master”
  • Euax – “good!” (exclamation)
  • Excelsus, Excelsa — “lofty,” “distinguished”
  • Exter — “foreign,” “from abroad,” “strange,” “different”

The Loathlies:

  • Ebriosa — “drink-loving”
  • Ebrius, Ebria — “drunk”
  • Edax — “greedy,” “glutonous”
  • Egenus, Egena — “needy,” “destitute”
  • Egestas — “poverty”
  • Elixus, Elixa — “boiled,” “sodden”
  • Emax — “shopoholic”
  • Eneco “I kill off,” “I torture”
  • Esca – “food,” “bait,” “titbits”
  • Exta – “entrails”

Read Full Post »

With the trend for adopting the names of our great-grandparents showing signs of gathering pace, last week I shared my pick of “Granny names.”

Today it’s Grandpa’s turn.

Just as with the girls, some, like Arthur, Frederick, George, Oscar and Stanley have already become mainstream in Britain again while still languishing in America (though I’d be surprised if Arthur doesn’t reveal a pick-up in the 2011 rankings when they come out).

It’s a curious phenomenon that in the last few centuries, fashions in girls’ names have always changed more quickly than boys’, and that there have always been more girls’ names in circulation.

True to form, the rehabilitation of the great-grandpa names isn’t showing quite so much energy. It does seem the case that, with the exception of those names which didn’t sink that far down the popularity charts, such as Henry, Edward and William, people are more ready to take up the granny names than the grandpas.

These then, are the Grandpas which I think really deserve to be dusted off and put back into short-trousers.

Albert – Albert is already rising fast in Britain, ranked 159th last year. With short forms Al, Albie, Bertie and Bert, Albert, with its great meaning “noble-bright,” is a great-grandpa name that is going places, and definitely one to keep an eye on.

Alfred — a true Old English name with character, combining ælf “elf ” with rǣd “counsel” (i.e. “advice”). In the medieval period, it also absorbed another marvellous Old English name, Ælfriþ — æl “all” + friþ “peace.” Its friendly, cheerful pet-form Alfie is currently in the British top 5, but the more formal Alfred lies well outside the top 100, though in America, it’s barely in the top 1000.

Arnold — Arnold was at its most popular in the UK in the first decade or so of the 20th Century, reaching 75th place; in America, it peaked in 89th place in 1916. On both sides of the Atlantic it now lies outside the top 1000, even though it has a short-form not that dissimilar to Alfie with the chirpy Arnie. Time to forget Schwarzenegger; with the meaning “eagle-power” (or “power of an eagle” if you prefer) in Old German, surely Arnold deserves reconsideration?

Cecil — Cecil is usually treated as the English form of the Roman family name Caecilius (deriving ultimately from a nick-name meaning “little blind one”), and thus the male form of Cecilia. However, its use in the English-speaking world is actually more down to the aristocratic English family of Cecil. This may in fact derive ultimatley through the Welsh Seisyllt, which probably derives from another Roman family name, Sextilius (“little sixth one”).

Edgar — Old English Edgar is actually healthier in America at the moment (216th in 2010), than in Britain (759th). However, it is rising in Britain, and falling in America. Time to arrest the fall! With the meaning “spear of wealth/riches” (or “rich/wealth-spear”), it carries connotations of prosperity and protection and, like all the Ed- names, has the simple and charming short-forms Ed and Ned.

Edmund — Edmund has been one of my personal favorites for twenty years. I’ve always had a bit of a thing for the anti-hero, and Edmund’s borne by two of the best — Edmund Pevensie of the Chronicles of Narnia and the immortal Edmund Blackadder. Another Old English name, it has the fabulous meaning of “rich-protection.” Only 42 baby boys were called Edmund in England and Wales, and 93 in America.

Eugene — Eugene was at its most popular in America in the early twentieth century, though it remained in the top 100 until the 1950s. In Britain, however, it has always been inexplicably rarer. Its longevity in the first half of the twentieth century may preclude its general revival just yet, but if you want your son to have the name everyone’s talking about for their babies when he’s in his twenties or thirties, give Eugene a thought. It has the great, auspicious meaning of “well-born” too.

Harold – Old English names dominate the Grandpa names, and like so many of the others, Harold drips with clunky old-fashioned charm.  If it’s strong meaning you want, Harold has it; it can be interpreted as “army-power,” or “power of an army” or “power of the army.” The name of the last Saxon king of England, Harold also shortens to trendy Harry and attractive Hal. In decline since its heyday during the First World War, it was up on the year before in 2010, though in 745th place, it still has a long way to go.

Herbert — Herbert has Old English and Old German roots, coming from cognate names meaning “bright army.” It has some great short-form options; Herbie and Bertie, which ooze nobbly-knee charm, Herb, which has quite a hippie vibe, and no-nonsense Bert.

Horace — I took rather a shine to Horace many moons ago when I contemplated what a great nick-name Azzo would make for it. These days, I probably lean more towards the more romantic Horatio, but I still have a soft-spot for Horace. As the name of one of Rome’s greatest poets, Horace has gravitas in abundance. Another great short-form is, of course, Ace.

Leonard — With the current American preference for giving babies “long-forms” of the names really intended for use, Leonard (as the “long-form” of Leo) did see a rise in 2010. The name actually has nothing really to do with lions at all, translating from the Old German as “people-hard.” In the past, it was more often shortened to Len and Lenny.

Lionel — a name of medieval romance, adopted for the name of a younger son of a medieval English king, Lionel was one of the names re-embraced by the Victorians, and is pretty much what it looks like — a diminutive of Lion, essentially meaning “little lion.” It remains a great rarity in the UK; only ten little boys were called Lionel in 2010, but it did re-enter the US top 1000. I think it’s got a lot of potential, and now’s the time to start re-considering it. Put it this way, I wouldn’t be all that surprised if William and Kate used it for a younger son in years to come…

Reginald — Unsurprisingly, in Britain, the cute Reggie, on the rise, is much more popular than its formal long-form Reginald, though it, too, is rising. Reginald was actually at its most popular in America in the 1960s, though it never made the top 100, though in Britain it was 20th in 1904. Reginald is the same name as the rarer Reynold, meaing “might-power.” Another traditional short-form is Rex

Roland — An Old German name meaning “fame-land,” its literary Italian form Orlando is currently more popular, but Roland, most popular in Britain in the 1890s, is worthy of reconsideration. Although Rolly is often the default short-form, there are other options, such as Ro, Rollo, and Lan — you could even use Lance, whose roots really do lie with Roland and other Germanic names containing the element landa “land.”

Sidney — the charms of Sidney, with its solid short-form Sid, has already started to recapture the hearts of British parents. Like Cecil, it was one of the surnames which Victorians fell in love with. It probably comes from a place name meaning “broad island,” but the aristocratic Sidney family traditionally derived it from Saint-Denis in France.

Wilfred — Yet another Old English name, this time meaning “will/determination-peace.” Wilfrid is a variant spelling and in the past it was invariably shortened to Wilf, but it also lends itself well to Will, Bill, Billy, Freddie and Fred. Another which is already rising steadily in Britain.

Read Full Post »

I’m just home after spending a little over a week  in Somerset.

The stay has inspired a couple of forthcoming posts, but today I have to share some of the luscious Pagan names I encountered on our travels.

This is a region rich in pre-Christian history and archaeology, a wonderful, evocative landscape, with Iron Age hill-forts, Neolithic and Bronze Age tumuli almost around every bend.

Dominating the landscape for many miles, unmistakable by its lonely tower, is Glastonbury Tor. I always get the wobbles when I first spy it, and on this trip we saw it twice in special circumstances; once floating ghostlike above the mists, and once purple against a glorious sunset.

And Glastonbury’s a good place to start with the names…

Although Glastonbury itself is probably a bit unwieldy as a name for a child (though it would make a great name for a cat), there are many others which has associations with the place.

Chief among them must be Avalon; assertions have been made that Glastonbury is the site of the legendary Avalon of Arthurian myth and legend since medieval times, and many today consider it fact, though there are other contenders.

What can be said with certainty, is that Avalon derives from the Celtic word for “apple orchard,” and makes a splendid, evocative name.

As coincidence had it, while staying within sight of Glastonbury at Wookey Hole, we happened to watch a 1978 episode of the cult BBC sci-fi Blake’s 7 last night, in which there was a female character called Avalon…

Arthur and Guinevere, are two other names which call out from Glastonbury; medieval monks at the Abbey claimed to have found the graves of King Arthur and his wife buried there, and these graves can still be visited at the Abbey.

A lesser known name connected with Glastonbury is Neot, supposedly a ninth century saint. He is most associated with St Neot’s in Cambridge, and was said to have been a monk in Glastonbury. However, it is perhaps more likely is that Neot represents a survival of the Celtic God Nodens (an important God of healing, hunting and the sea), especially given the fact his feast day is the Eve of Lughnasadh and he is regarded as the patron saint of fish.

Glastonbury still has healing connections, now mostly associated with the lovely Chalice Well; Chalice making an unusual and meaningful name option…

Which leads nicely to another healing deity and place of healing — the Goddess Sulis Minerva of Aquae Sulis, i.e. Bath.

The misty, mystical waters of Bath

The Roman Baths are one of my favorite sites; the museum is excellent — and has got even better since our last visit five years ago.

Best of all though, is the fact that the magic and the mystery of the original Celtic shrine remains, especially at the Sacred Spring itself (usually called the King’s Bath today), where the pale green hot mineral waters bubble and the steam rises as an otherworldy mist.

Sulis is the Celtic Goddess of the place, a name which I’ve always thought is just crying out for attention. It may be from the Celtic *sƒwol- “sun,” though another interesting option is from the Celtic *su- “good” + *liy-o- “flow,” an apt, if rather more prosaic, description of the spring.

And then, of course, there’s lovely Minerva, the Roman Goddess of wisdom and war with whom the Romans identified Sulis.

Also associated with Bath is Bladud “wolf-lord,” a mythical king of Britain, credited in later mythology with creating the thermal spring at Bath, and the king of “the King’s Bath.” Bleiddudd and Blaithyd are two other variants, the last representing probably the best phonetic spelling for an English-speaker.

Another magical, watery place, though of a different kind, is the characterfully named Wookey Hole, our home last night. Wookey (the “wook” rhymes with “book”) is definitely up there in the eccentric-names-best-suited-to-cats league; the jury remains out on whether it derives from an Old English word meaning “trap” and “snare” (for animals understood), or a Celtic word meaning “cave.”

Both suit it.

Today, the village (mentioned in the Domesday Book) is most famous for its caves and for the legendary witch associated with them; the legend refers specifically to one of the stalagmite formations, though is often now linked to the skeleton of a woman found in the early twentieth century, along with an intriguing alabaster ball. It is thought the skeleton is from the Saxon period, but it could be Romano-British, or even earlier.

The caves are also the source of the River Axe — well, one of them, anyway. This could derive from a Celtic word meaning “water,” another meaning “high” or from the Saxon word for “ash-tree”; it is virtually impossible to say for certain which. Whichever, Axe would certainly make another interesting name choice, offering a distinctive twist to Max.

Wookey Hole has often been used as a film-set, including one of my favorite TV series of all time — Robin of Sherwood — and the episode Project Avalon of Blakes 7.

It was pure coincidence (truly, it was) that we happened to watch that episode at Wookey Hole.

Don’t you just love a good coincidence?


Read Full Post »

Did you know that there are actually not one but two words for fear of Friday the Thirteenth? Friggatriskaidekaphobia combines Frigga — a Greekified form of Frigg, used to represent Friday (the day named after her) — with triskaideka “thirteen” and phobia, while paraskevidekatriaphobia combines paraskevi “Friday” with dekatria “thirteen” and phobia.

Useful nuggets which might come in handy if you happen to have a pub quiz lined up for tonight…

If you dare…

Superstitions surrounding Friday the Thirteenth only seem to date back to the nineteenth century.

The Friday bit is easily understood; Fridays have been considered ill-omened  in general since the Middle Ages because of the Christian belief that Jesus was cruxified on a Friday.

As for the number 13, that’s also had a bad press for centuries. In many cultures and periods, the number 12 represented completion. Countless things come in groups of twelve, from Christian apostles to Olympian Gods, old pennies in a shilling to the twelve days of Jól/Christmas, Labors of Heracles to the signs of the Zodiac. The list goes on and on.

Thirteen, therefore, early acquired a reputation for being aberrant, imperfect (even though it’s a prime number), corruption, rebellion — bad luck.

The old Norse belief that if thirteen sat down to dinner, the first to rise will die lingers to this day so much so that at the Savoy in London, they have a wooden cat called Kaspar who joins the table to make the number up to fourteen and thus ward off the bad luck.

So, what to do about it, if you subscribe to the belief that Thirteens that fall on Fridays are unlucky? Especially, if your baby is due or arrives on one?

Well, there are many ways to ward off bad luck generally, without resorting to the Pagan Roman method of dealing with inauspicious days, which basically involved bolting all the doors and windows and staying in bed!

Chief among them is simply stay positive. Like attracts like. If you’re positive, you’ll attract good things and good fortune, if you’re negative, the negative will come. Simples.

When it comes to names for a Friday the Thirteenth baby, balance out the potential “bad luck” by chosing a name with as positive meanings and associations as you can.

Lots of happy, cheerful names to “cancel out” the day’s negativity can be found in my post, Io, Saturnalia.

Other names with strong associations with good luck include:

  • Avedis ♂ — Armenian: “good news.”
  • Ayman ♂ — Arabic: “right-handed,” “lucky.”
  • Behrooz ♂ — Persian: “fortunate.”
  • Bonaventura ♂ — Italian: “good luck.”
  • Bonaventure ♂ — English and French form of BONAVENTURE.
  • Boniface ♂ — from Latin bonum “good”+ fatum “fate.”
  • Chance ♂ ♀
  • Dalia ♀ — Lithuanian: “luck.” The name of the Lithuanian Goddess of fate, childbirth and weaving.
  • Daria ♀ — feminine of DARIUS.
  • Darius ♂ — Latin form of Greek Dareios, the Hellenized version of the actual Old Persian name: Dārayavahush < dāraya “to hold” and “to possess” + vahu “good.”
  • Euclid ♀ — Greek: “good-glory.”
  • Eudoxia ♀ — Greek: “good-fame.”
  • Eulalia ♀ — Greek: “good-talking”
  • Eunice ♀ — Greek: “good-victory.”
  • Euphemia ♀ — Greek: “good-speaking” (in the ancient world, the link between saying the right thing in a ritual and its ultimate success was considered very important).
  • Euphrasia ♀ — Greek: “good-cheer.”
  • Eydís ♀ — Icelandic: “fortune-goddess.”
  • Eysteinn ♂ — Icelandic: “fortune-stone.”
  • Fatmir ♂ — Albanian: “lucky.”
  • Faustina ♀ — feminine form of FAUSTUS.
  • Faustus ♂ — Latin: “lucky.”
  • Felicia ♀ — a medieval feminine form of Felix.
  • Fortuna ♀ — Latin: “good fortune;” the Roman Goddess of good luck.
  • Fortunata ♀ — feminine form of FORTUNATUS.
  • Fortunatus ♂ — Latin: “happy,” “lucky.”
  • Fortune ♀ ♂
  • Gad — Hebrew: “fortune.”
  • Ganesh — the Hindu God of good fortune.
  • Gluke — Yiddish: “good luck.”
  • Kalden ♂ ♀ — Tibetan: “auspicious.”
  • Kichiro — Japanese: “good luck son.”
  • Kreszenz — German form of Crescentia, from crescens “growing.” Considered an auspicious name in Germany, bestowing good health on the bearer.
  • Laima — Lithuanian: “luck.” Lithuanian Goddess of good luck and childbirth.
  • Lakshman — Sanskrit: “bearing auspicious marks.” Rama’s brother.
  • Lakshmi — Sanskrit: “sign.” Hindu Goddess of good fortune.
  • Luck ♂ ♀
  • Lucky ♂ ♀
  • Lykke ♀ — Danish: “good luck,” “happiness.”
  • Masood ♂ — Arabic: “lucky.”
  • Monifa ♀ — Yoruba: “I am lucky.”
  • Nashira ♀ — Arabic: “good news.” Considered a lucky name in Arab lands.
  • Navid ♂ — Persian: “good news.”
  • Onni ♂ — Finnish: “good luck.”
  • Prosper ♂ — Latin: “fortunate,” “lucky,” and “prosperous.”
  • Prospera ♀ — feminine form of PROSPER.
  • Prospero ♂ — Italian form of PROSPER.
  • Sa’adat ♀ — feminine of SA’D.
  • Sa’d, Sa’id ♂ — Arabic: “luck.”
  • Sa’di ♂ — Arabic: “lucky.”
  • Sa’dia ♀ — feminine of SA’DI.
  • Sa’ida ♀ — feminine of SA’ID.
  • Samnang ♂ ♀ — Khmer: “lucky.”
  • Shreya ♀ — Sanskrit: “lucky.”
  • Sina ♀ — Portuguese: “destiny,” “fortune,” “fate.”
  • Srečko ♂ — Slavic: “luck.”
  • Szczęsny ♂ — Polish “luck,” “fortune.”
  • Tawfiq ♂  — Arabic: “good fortune.”
  • Tomiko ♀ — Japanese: “fortune child.”
  • Tyche ♀ — Greek: “fortune.”
  • Tycho ♂ — Greek: “fortune.”
  • Uğur ♂ — Turkish: “good omen.”
  • Veasna ♂ — Khmer: “good fortune.”
  • Xiang ♂ ♀ — Chinese: “lucky.”
  • Yoshi ♂ ♀ — Japanese: “good luck.”
  • Yoshiko ♀ — Japanese: “good luck child.”
  • Zenzi ♀ — short form of KRESZENZ.
  • Zorion ♂ — Basque: “fortune,” “good luck.”

There, lots of positive energy. Who’s afraid of Friday the Thirteenth? ;)

Read Full Post »

There’s a tale behind today’s post.

I began writing it just after finishing last week’s Pick of the Week Snowdrop. As I mulled over a suitable choice for the middle of January, Winter sprang immediately to mind.

Then I asked Small Child for a suggestion.

Without any prompting, she said Winter.

Too much of a coincidence, I thought, to ignore!

And so today’s seasonal Pick of the Week is the evocative Winter.

I love Winter — the season and the name, and January is undoubtedly its heart. Although the days are starting to lengthen, the cold has built up, and it is usually the coldest month of the year. The hours of daylight are brief; it is often snowy, or plagued by chill winds, rain, and hail. Still, windless days invariably bring fog and mist.

The word “winter” has a long history. First recorded in English in the ninth century, its roots can be traced all the way back to the same Proto-Indo-European root from which words like “wet,” “water” and “otter” also evolved.

Father Winter or Old Man Winter are often seen as winter’s personification, but are sometimes identified with both Father Christmas and Odin.

In medieval times wall paintings were common and allegorical themes, such as those showing the seasons, were popular. Winter, it seems, was always depicted with a miserable looking face and thus it became a nickname for someone with a gloomy expression — the  source, indeed, of the surname. Wynter and de Winter are variants of it.

It is found as a given name as early as the seventeenth century — with some examples possibly dating from the sixteenth, but these represent an adoption of the surname rather than the noun.

This was still the principal source of it as a given name in the nineteenth century, when it mostly featured as a middle name for both boys and girls.

However, particularly among children born in Winter, it is possible some were given the name by this period to commemmorate the season of their birth, although one Winter Day, born in 1845, was registered in the summer months! Winter Flower, however, was a baby of the last quarter, a year earlier in 1844.

At the present time, Winter seems to be seeing most of its limited use as a girl’s name, with 217 little girls receiving the name in America in 2010, in constrast with just 12 little boys. It actually managed to make the US top 1000 in 1978 and 1979, when it reached the dizzying heights of 705th place.

The same story is true in Britain; in 2010, ten girls were called Winter. It only registered as a boy’s name in 2006, when it was given to just three boys. But I would say it is still unusual enough to work well for either sex, and I’d certainly consider it for a boy as well as a girl.

And, nota bene, it ends in that very contemporary ending, for boys and girls, -er!

Winter in other languages offers some interesting name options too:

  • Aeneva — Cheyenne (Native American)
  • Chimon — Greek
  • Cole — Chinook (Native American)
  • Entena — Sumerian
  • Evel, Ovol — Mongolian
  • Fuyu — Japanese; occurs in girls’ names such as Fuyumi “beautiful winter,” and Fuyuko “winter child”
  • Gaeaf — Welsh
  • Geurey — Manx
  • Gwav — Cornish
  • Hiems — Latin
  • Hima — Sanskrit
  • Hiver — French
  • Hivern — Catalan
  • Hustola — Chickasaw (Native American)
  • Iarna, Ierna — Moldavian, Romanian
  • Iema — Lithuanian
  • Inverno — Italian, Galician
  • Ivern — Languedoc, Occitan
  • Jara — Hindi
  • Keremte — Amharic (Ethiopia)
  • Kesik — Micmac (Native American)
  • Lowan — Lenape (Native American)
  • Mariga  – Tswana (Botswana, Namibia, South Africa)
  • Negu — Basque
  • Peben – Abenaki (Native American)
  • Raudra — Sanskrit
  • Saradi — Hindi
  • Takurua — Winter (and Sirius)
  • Talvi —  Finnish
  • Tél — Hungarian
  • Vandi – Kashmiri
  • Vetur — Faroese, Icelandic
  • Zaya  – Avestan (Old Persian)
  • Ziema — Latvian
  • Zima — Bulgarian, Croatian, Russian, etc
  • Zimni — Czech.

Read Full Post »

Rune Names — Hægl

Hægl is the ninth letter of the Runic Alphabet. As with others, its name varies depending on which Runic Alphabet is being used:

In all cases, it means “hail,” and the poems focus on its cold, hard nature, though the Old English one does offer a kind of hope when it points out that it melts away to water.

Every cloud has a silver lining, and all that.

Even today, hail can be devastatingly destructive; I can remember a storm in Lincolnshire about ten years ago when hailstones as big as golf-balls fell, smashing greenhouses and damaging cars.

But to people in the past, a bad hailstorm could destroy crops — and that might mean the difference between life and death. In one — sometimes brief — storm, people’s lives could be overturned.

Unsurprisingly, therefore, Hægl is a rune which symbolizes destruction, but the vicissitudes of fate, and of sudden, unavoidable change, and the raw power of nature. Coming after jolly old Wynn, it feels a bit like a bolt from the blue — and that’s deliberate.

Just when everything’s going well, life’s good — all it takes is something unexpected to happen, your world is turned upside down, and you’re left running for whatever cover you can find.

Hægl reminds us who is really boss — Mother Nature.

As a name, I think all the variants could work, as well as Hagel, the Modern German, Dutch and Swedish form, or Hagl, the Norwegian and Dutch. There’s also, of course, the plain English Hail, and its Middle English variants Hayl and Hayle.

There are also many other weather phenomena which share same wild, untamed, raw spirit of Nature:

  • Blast
  • Blizzard
  • Blow
  • Bluster
  • Blustery
  • Bolt
  • Cyclone
  • Deluge
  • Flash
  • Flurry
  • Gale
  • Gust
  • Hurricane
  • Lightning
  • Monsoon
  • Rain
  • Rainstorm
  • Sleet
  • Snow
  • Snowstorm
  • Squall
  • Storm
  • Stormy
  • Surge
  • Tempest
  • Thunder
  • Tornado
  • Torrent
  • Twister
  • Typhoon
  • Whirlwind
  • Wind

Many of these present interesting options in other languages:

  • Aëlla — Greek: “stormy wind,” “whirlwind” (source of Aëllo, the name of a harpy)
  • Aëma — Greek: “blast,” “wind”
  • Aëtes — Greek: “blast,” “gale”
  • Anemos — Greek: “wind” (source of Anemone, the “wind-flower”)
  • Angin — Indonesian, Malay: “wind”
  • Aquilo — Latin: “North Wind”
  • Asterope, Sterope – Greek: “lightning”
  • Astrape — Greek: “lightning”
  • Audra – Lithuanian: “storm”
  • Aura — Latin: “wind,” “blast,” “breeze”
  • Awel — Welsh: “wind,” “breeze”
  • Blesk — Czech: “lightning”
  • — German: “squall”
  • Boreas — Greek: “North Wind”
  • Breshër, Breshëri — Albanian: “hail”
  • Broche – Greek: “rain”
  • Bronte — Greek: “thunder”
  • Chimon — Greek: “wintry weather,” “storm”
  • Chion — Greek: “snow” (source of Chione, the name of a number of characters in Greek mythology)
  • Chioni — Modern Greek: “snow”
  • Corwynt —  Welsh: “hurricane”
  • Dilyw — Welsh: “deluge”
  • Eira — Welsh: “snow”
  • Elur, Edur — Basque: “snow”
  • Erë — Albanian: “wind”
  • Eriole – Greek: “hurricane,” “whirlwind”
  • Eső — Hungarian: “rain”
  • Euri — Basque: “rain”
  • Flamen — Latin: “wind,” “gale,” “blast”
  • Fulger — Romanian: “lightning”
  • Fulgor, Fulgur – Latin: “lightning”
  • Fulgora — Roman Goddess of lightning
  • Fulmen – Latin: “lightning”
  • Fulmine — Italian: “lightning”
  • Furacán — Galician: “hurricane”
  • Grad — Croatian, Polish, Russian: “hail”
  • Grêle – French: “hail”
  • Grando — Latin: “hail,” “hailstorm”
  • Granizo — Portuguese, Spanish: “hail”
  • Grom — Russian: “thunder”
  • Guntur — Indonesian: “thunder”
  • Gwynt — Welsh: “wind”
  • Haize — Basque: “wind”
  • Helicias — Greek: “forked lightning”
  • Hóvihar — Hungarian: “blizzard”
  • Hyeteria — Greek: “rainy weather”
  • Hyetia — Greek: “rain”
  • Hyetos — Greek: “rain”
  • Hysma — Greek: “rain”
  • Imber — Latin: “heavy rain”
  • Lailaps — Greek: “hurricane,” “furious storm”
  • Lauso — Basque: “sleet storm”
  • Lietus — Latvian, Lithuanian: “rain”
  • Lluvia — Spanish: “rain”
  • Löök — Estonian: “blow”
  • Lumi — Estonian, Finnish: “snow”
  • Lyn — Danish, Norwegian: “lightning”
  • Molinya — Russian: “lightning”
  • Mvua — Swahili: “rain”
  • Neige — French: “snow”
  • Nevasca — Portuguese: “blizzard”
  • Neve — Portuguese: “snow”
  • Nieve — Spanish: “snow”
  • Nimbus — Latin: “pouring rain”
  • Ningor — Latin: “fall of snow”
  • Nipha — Greek: “snow”
  • Nivalis — Latin: “snowy”
  • Nix — Latin: “snow”
  • Ombria — Greek: “rain,” “rainy”
  • Ombros — Greek: “heavy rain”
  • Ondée — French: “heavy shower”O
  • Orkan –Danish: “hurricane”
  • Ouragan — French: “hurricane”
  • Pagi — Estonian: “squall”
  • Petir — Indonesia: “lightning”
  • Pluie — French: “rain”
  • Pluvia — Latin: “rain”
  • Prahara — Indonesian: “tempest”
  • Prester – Greek: “hurricane”
  • Procella — Latin: “violent storm”
  • Radi — Swahili: “thunder”
  • Rafală — Romanian: “gust”
  • Rafale — French: “flurry,” “squall,” “blast”
  • Raffica — Italian: “gust,” “flurry”
  • Rahe — Estonian: “hail”
  • Rhagden – Greek: “in torrents”
  • Rhyax – Greek: “torrent”
  • Sade — Finnish: “rain”
  • Salama — Finnish: “lightning”
  • Snežana — Croation: “snowy”
  • Szél — Hungarian: “wind”
  • Taran — Welsh: “(peal) of thunder”
  • Tempesta — Italian: “gale,” “tempest”
  • Thunor – Old English: “thunder”
  • Thyella — Greek: “gale,” “tempest”
  • Topan — Indonesian: “typhoon”
  • Tourbillon — French: “whirlwind”
  • Trono — Galician: “thunder”
  • Trovão — Portuguese: “thunder”
  • Trumoi — Basque: “thunder”
  • Tuono — Italian: “thunder”
  • Tuule — Estonian: “wind”
  • Tuuli — Finnish: “wind”
  • Tximista — Basque: “lightning”
  • Tymestl — Welsh: “storm,” “tempest”
  • Umeme — Swahili: “lighning”
  • Uragan — Albanian, Romanian: “hurricane”
  • Vánice — Czech: “blizzard”
  • Vėjas — Lithuanian: “wind”
  • Vējš — Latvian: “wind”
  • Vētra — Latvian: “storm”
  • Vihar — Hungarian: “storm”
  • Villám — Hungarian: “lightning”
  • Viscol — Romanian: “blizzard”
  • Xita — Maltese: “rain”
  • Zale — Gree: “squall,” “storm,” “driving rain”

Read Full Post »

P is particularly rich hunting ground for surnames of Old English, Old Norse  and Anglo-French origin which haven’t seen much use as first names.

Here is Part 2 (Part 1 can be found here) — and there’s still more to come!

  • Peckham — Beckham is on the rise, why not Peckham… alright, in the UK, it is probably terminally associated with Only Fools And Horses, but there must be other Peckhams around the world! The surname Peckham comes from the Peckham in London. Old English: *pēac “peak” + hām “homestead,” “village,” “estate,” “manor.”
  • Pedley, Pedlow — Anglo-French pie de leu “wolf-foot.”
  • Pedmer — from Pedmore, West Midlands. Old English personal name Pybba + mōr “moorland,” “marsh,” “barren upland.”
  • Pelerin — a form of the surname Pilgrim, deriving ultimately from the same source as Peregrine.
  • Pelham — from Pelham in Hertfordshire. Old English personal name *Peola + hām “homestead,” “village,” “estate,” “manor.”An aristocratic surname, borne by two prime ministers and associated with the Dukes of Newcastle.
  • Pell — A medieval pet-form of Peter.
  • Peller — Old English pæll, the name of a type of expensive purple cloth; Middle English pallere referred to a maker or seller of it.
  • Pellew — Anglo-French: pel de leu “wolf-skin.”
  • Penderel, Pendrell — French pendre “to hang” + oreille “ear.”
  • Penley — from Penleigh, Wiltshire. Old English: penn “fold,” “enclosure” + lēah “wood,” “woodland clearing,” “glade,” “pasture” and “meadow.”
  • Penn — from Old English penn “fold,” “enclosure” + lēah “wood,” or penn “hill” (from the Celtic pen “head”).
  • Pennell — partly a variant of Parnell, partly from Penhill, Devon.
  • Penner — from Middle English pennen “to impound,” the name of a manorial official who rounded up stray animals.
  • Pentlow — from Pentlow, Essex. English personal name *Penta + hlāw.
  • Penton — from Penton Mewsey, Hampshire. Old English pening “penny” + tūn “enclosure,” “farmstead,” “estate,” “manor,” “village.”
  • Pepys — a form of the Old French personal name Pepin, popular in medieval times in honor of the Frankish king. It derived from the root bib- meaning “to tremble.” Samuel Pepys was a well-known seventeenth century English diarist.
  • Perrers — from Perriers, near Rouen, which derives from Old French perrier “quarryman.”
  • Perrin — A medieval pet-form of Peter, from the medieval variant Perre. There was also a feminine form, Perina.
  • Pesson — Old French: poisson “fish.”
  • Pessoner — Old French: poissonier “fisherman.”
  • Petcher — Old French: pescheor “fisherman.”
  • Pethard — Old French: peter “to break wind” + derogatory suffix -hard (well, I certainly know a number of men whom this name would suit to a tee!).
  • Petley — from Petley Wood, Sussex. Old English personal name *Peota (a short form of names beginning with peoht “Pict”) + lēah “wood,” “woodland clearing,” “glade,” “pasture” and “meadow.”
  • Peto, Peyto — from the region of Poitou, France. It takes its name from the city of Poitiers. This dates to Roman times, when the city was called Pictavium, after the local Pictones tribe. The name derives from the same source as the Picts, namely the Latin pictus  “painted.”
  • Petrie — A medieval pet-form of Peter or Patrick.
  • Petten, Petton — from one of the places called Petton. Old English personal name *Peatta + tūn “enclosure,” “farmstead,” “estate,” “manor,” “village.”
  • Pettifer — Old French pied de fer “iron-foot.”
  • Peverell, Peveril —  from Peverel an Old French personal name deriving ultimately from Latin Piperellus “little peppercorn” (a rather usable feminine form of this would be Piperella). Peveril of the Peak is a novel by Walter Scott, with Peveril referring to the Peveril family (namely, Geoffrey and Julian).
  • Phare — a variant of Fare, from Old English fær “road,” and “track.”
  • Pharo — a variant of Farrar.
  • Philby — from Filby, Norfolk. Old English personal name *Fili + ‘farmstead’, ‘village’ and ‘settlement’. In the UK probably too tainted by the Soviet spy “Kim” Philby (1912-88), but probably inocuous enough elsewhere.
  • Phythian — from a medieval form of Vivian.
  • Picton — from Picton, Yorkshire. Old English personal name *Pica (see Pixton) + tūn “enclosure,” “farmstead,” “estate,” “manor,” “village.”
  • Pilton —  from one of the places of the name. Old English pyll “stream” or personal name *Pileca + tūn “enclosure,” “farmstead,” “estate,” “manor,” “village.”
  • Pim, Pimm, Pym, Pymm — from the Old English male name Pymma or medieval woman’s name Pimme, a pet-form of Euphemia.
  • Pimley — from Pimley, Shropshire. Probably Celtic pimp “five” + lēah “wood,” “woodland clearing,” “glade,” “pasture” and “meadow.”
  • Pinder — a variant of PENNER.
  • Pinkney — from Picquigny, France. Did actually make the top 1000 a few times as a boy’s name in the late nineteenth century, but sank into obscurity in 1900… the town’s name was recorded in 942 as Pinquigniacum, and probably has Gaulish roots.
  • Pinner — from Pinner, London. Old English pinn “point/peg(-shaped)” + ōra “river-bank.”
  • Pipperell — variant of PEVERELL.
  • Pitney — from Pitney, Somerset. Old English personal name *Peota (see Petley) + ēg “river.”
  • Pixton — from the Old English personal name *Picstan, from pīc “point” + stān “stone.”

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 123 other followers