Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Agnes’

Tomorrow is the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens, probably the greatest of all nineteenth century novelists — and a contender for the greatest novelist of all time.

His works also provide a mine of wonderful names. To celebrate his birthday, today and tomorrow I’ll be featuring a selection of those which have fabulous potential for a baby born two hundred years on…

And others which make fine names for cats!

  • Abel — a name which features in more than one Dickens novel; there’s Abel Garland in The Old Curiosity Shop, and Abel Magwitch in Great Expectations. Abel is a biblical name still waiting in the wings somewhat,  though he has been rising steadily for years and years and broke the US top 1000 for the first time since records began in 2010. If you like him, use him now!
  • Affery — Affery Flintwinch is a maid in Little Dorrit. Dickens was an avid collector of names, and Affery was one of his finds. A form of Aphra.
  • Agnes — Agnes Wickfield is David’s childhood friend and second wife in David Copperfield.
  • Arabella — buzzing round the baby name boards as a successor to Isabella, Dickens used Arabella in Pickwick Papers for Miss Arabella Allen. In the UK, a name which until recently was regarded as rather archetypical of the Upper Class.
  • Avenger — “The Avenger” is the name by which Pip’s serving boy is known in Great Expectations.
  • Bamber — In Pickwick Papers, we meet with a Jack Bamber. The name  was made familiar to most in the UK by the TV presenter Bamber Gascoigne (b.1935), but not many know there were two eighteenth century politicians also called Bamber Gascoyne, the first born in 1725 — his father was called Crisp.
  • Barnaby — eponymous hero of Barnaby Rudge. Barnaby is another name mostly heard in British public (i.e. very expensive fee-paying) schools. It has never reached the US top 1000, but 224th in England and Wales in 2010.
  • Belle — yes, there is another Belle besides the one in Beauty and the Beast.  Belle was Scrooge’s fiancée in A Christmas Carol.
  • Betsy — with unpretentious and old fashioned charm, Dickens used Betsy more than once. The best known is Betsy Trotwood is David’s crunchy but kind old great-aunt in David Copperfield.
  • Brownlow — Mr Brownlow is the kind old gentleman who adopts Oliver in Oliver Twist.
  • Bumble — the famous beadle of Oliver Twist. Would suit a very fat cat.
  • Buzfuz — what a fabulous name for a cat! Serjeant Buzfuz (Serjeant is his name) is a not-very-nice barrister in Pickwick Papers.
  • Caddy — pet-name of Caroline Jellyby in Bleak House.
  • Charles — how can I leave out Charles? Dickens used his own name a few times, including Charles Darnay in A Tale of Two Cities, and Charles Cheeryble in Nicholas Nickleby. Use of Charles is surprisingly consistent on both sides of the Pond; in 2010 it was ranked 63 in America, and 62 in England and Wales.
  • Cherry — traditional pet-form of Charity, and used as such in Martin Chuzzlewit  for Charity Pecksniff.
  • Chuzzlewitsurname of the eponymous hero of Martin Chuzzlewit, I’d say Chuzzlewit falls firmly in cat-name territory, although there is a Chuzzlewit Mcclintock on the 1880 American Census!
  • Clara — a favorite of Dickens’s, borne by both David’s mother and nurse in David Copperfield and Clara Barley in Great Expectations.
  • Darnay — Charles Darnay, the son of a French marquis, is one of the heroes of A Tale of Two Cities.
  • Dodger — once I would have said Oliver Twist’s “The Artful Dodger” fell firmly in cat name territory, but actually, in today’s climate, maybe the world might be ready for Dodger as a bona fide name? The Artful Dodger’s real name was Jack Dawkins.
  • Dorrit — the surname of Amy Dorrit, invariably known as “Little Dorrit” in Little Dorrit. Could make an interesting variation on Dorothy — but is it too similar to Doritos?
  • Ebenezer — Ebenezer Scrooge is one of Dickens’s best-known characters, and although at the end of the tale he becomes a kind, happy and philanthropic old gentleman, his miserly former self has blighted Ebenezer ever since. But is that changing? With a number of great nickname options, such as Eben, Ben, Eb and Zer, and the meaning “stone of help,” it’s a great name.
  • Estella — the rather tragic Estella Havisham is Pip’s great love in Great Expectations. 
  • Fan — a short form of Fanny, the well-known pet-form of Frances, Fan was Scrooge’s sister in A Christmas Carol.
  • Fern — Will Fern, a character in The Chimes.
  • Fezziwig — another for the cats rather than the children. “Old Fezziwig” was Scrooge’s generous and happy employer in A Christmas Carol.
  • Fizkin — cat name! A candidate for parliament in Pickwick Papers.
  • Granger — Edith Granger is one of the characters in Dombey and Son.
  • Grewgious — what a name for Puss! Grewgious can be found in The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
  • Herbert — the genial Herbert Pocket is Pip’s best friend in Great Expectations.
  • Hexam — the surname of more than one character in Our Mutual Friend, including the beautiful and good Lizzie.
  • Hominy — Mrs Hominy is a rather stereotyped “brash American” in Martin Chuzzlewit, her name no doubt a direct pluck of hominy, the dried kernels of corn (maize) used a lot in Southern, Latin American and Caribbean cooking.
  • Jarvis — Jarvis Lorry appears in A Tale of Two Cities, bearing a name which originated both as a medieval form of Gervais and a surname derived from it.
  • Jemima — a name which gets a number of minor mentions in the works of Dickens, such as Lady Jemima Bilberry in Little Dorrit.
  • Job — borne by Job Trotter in Pickwick Papers, Job is a suprisingly neglected biblical name (although it was 88th in Holland in 2010), presumably hindered so much by the fact it looks like the word “job,” even though the pronuncation is different (rhyming with “robe”). Roll it around a few times — I think it makes for a distinctly contemporary choice if you want a simple, one-syllable name with heritage. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have the greatest of meanings (“persecuted”), but that’s not stopped many another name…
  • Jupe — the wonderful Cecilia “Sissy” Jupe is a daughter of a circus clown in Hard Times.
  • Kit — Kit Nubbles (Nubbles makes a great name for a cat) is a character in The Old Curiosity Shop.  A classic, old short form of Christopher, Kit has been in quiet independent use in the UK for some time.
  • Lillian — Will Fern’s little niece in The Chimes.
  • Lowten — a clerk in Pickwick Papers.
  • Lucretia — Lucretia Tox is found in Dombey and Son.

Part II tomorrow!

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.

How?

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 »

On our holiday last week we stayed at historic Gurney Manor — sometimes called Gurney Street Manor — in Cannington, Somerset.

It is a very special place.

Rescued by the Landmark Trust in the 1980s, much of the fabric dates to before 1400, with substantial additions in the mid-to-late fifteenth century.

Because it largely came down in the world after the seventeenth century, many of its ancient features, including the fifteenth century covered passage across the inner courtyard linking the old kitchen to the hall, have survived.

Unsurprisingly, it proved quite a good hunting ground for names, which are almost text-book examples of the typical names through the centuries, demonstrating fluctuations in fashion both generally, and across the social spectrum.

The original owners — and the family who gave their name to the manor — were a branch of the baronial family of Gurney, the founder of which came to England with William the Conqueror. Only a few names are known from this earliest period, emerging from the fog of remote history; a RICHARD de Gurney, flourished in 1243, when he put in a claim on the mill, then in possession of his “kinsman” WILLIAM, son of PHILIP.

Richard had a son called ROBERT.

By the end of the thirteenth century, the property appears to have been owned by JOHN de Gurney, who was alive in 1327.

The last of the line at Gurney Manor, and probably the one responsible for much of the parts of the hall dating to the late fourteenth and early fifteenth century, was HUGH, who succeeded to the estate in 1358. Either he, or a son of the same name, was there in 1401, with a wife called BEATRICE.

He had no son, and so the manor passed to his daughter JANE — an unusual name at the time, when the usually feminine form of John was Joan. She married ROGER Dodesham.

Responsible for most of the fifteenth century additions was their son, another WILLIAM, who was a lawyer as well as a landowner.

William had sisters called JOAN and ELEANOR, and on his death in 1480, the Gurney Street Manor passed in trust to Joan’s daughter, AGNES, wife of WALTER Michell, who died in 1487. Agnes and Walter had three sons, who each succeeded in turn, WILLIAM, JOHN, and THOMAS.

Thomas, whose wife was called MARGARET, died in 1503, when the manor passed to his son, another THOMAS. He also had a daughter called ISABEL.

Thomas made a number of improvements and refinements to the house, adding fine windows and new chimneys — but it all came to an abrupt end on December 13, 1539, when he murdered his wife JOAN and sister-in-law ELEANOR, seemingly at Gurney Manor, before killing himself.

He had two known children, another JANE, and another RICHARD.

Richard, who married an ELIZABETH, died in 1563, leaving the manor to his son, TRISTRAM.

Tristram, meanwhile, died in 1574, when the manor passed to his brother, Sir BARTHOLOMEW.

On Bartholomew’s death in 1616, his lands were split between his daughters, JANE and FRANCES. Gurney passed to Jane, wife of WILLIAM Hockmore.

William had considerable property elsewhere, and Gurney’s owners no longer lived there; the house and its acres was let to tenants, so that by the late nineteenth century, it was regarded as just a (large) farmhouse.

The names of most of these tenants is lost, but we still know the names of the house’s owners, and their families.

Jane and William Hockmore, for instance, had six children, SUSANNAH, GREGORY, CHARLES, WILLIAM, FRANCES and RICHARD, not all of whom lived to adulthood.

Gregory, married to MARY, inherited in 1626, dying in 1653, when the estate passed to his son, also called GREGORY (he also had a daughter called JANE).

Gregory II, married to HONOR, also had two children, a son WILLIAM, and, quelle surprise, yet another JANE.

William, who inherted sometime between 1676 and 1680, married another MARY, and had three daughters, MARY, JANE and HONORA; only Honora survived to adulthood, becoming William’s heiress on his death in 1707-08.

She married DAVIDGE Gould (his mother’s maiden name was Davidge) around 1713, and had five children who survived to adulthood: Sir HENRY (d.1794), RICHARD (d.1793), HONORA (d.1802), WILLIAM (d.1799) and THOMAS (d.1808).

Henry, married ELIZABETH, and had two daughters, another ELIZABETH, and HONORA MARGARETTA. Elizabeth married TEMPLE Luttrell; Honora Margaretta, who died in 1813, married General RICHARD Lambart, 7th Earl of Cavan.

And Gurney passed through her to the Earls of Cavan.

(Temple Luttrell was an interesting character; an MP, he was reputedly also a smuggler, and built a folly, called Luttrell’s Tower, at Eaglehurst near Southampton. On his death in Paris in 1803, Luttrell’s Tower passed to the Earl of Cavan too. By pure coincidence, Luttrell’s Tower is also now owned by the Landmark Trust.)

Richard and Honora Margaretta had five children:

  • RICHARD HENRY ROBERT GILBERT (1783-85)
  • HONORA ELIZABETH HESTER (1784-1856)
  • ALICIA MARGARETTA HOCKMORE (1785-1818)
  • SOPHIA AUGUSTA (1787-98)
  • RICHARD HENRY (b. and d. 1788)
  • GEORGE FREDERICK AUGUSTUS (1789-1828)
  • EDWARD HENRY WENTWORTH VILLIERS (1791-1812)

George, who died before his father, married the simply named SARAH, and had five children:

  • HENRIETTA AUGUSTA (d. 1874)
  • ALICIA (d.1913)
  • JULIA (d.1897)
  • FREDERICK JOHN WILLIAM (1815-87)
  • OLIVER GEORGE (1822-98)

Frederick John William’s wife was CAROLINE AUGUSTA, and they also had five children:

  • MARY HYACINTHE (d.1933)
  • SARAH SOPHIA (d.1914)
  • FREDERICK EDWARD GOULD (1839-1900)
  • OCTAVIUS HENRY (1855-1919)
  • ARTHUR (1858-1937)

Frederick Edward Gould’s wife was MARY SNEADE (Sneade was her middle name — her surname was Olive), and their children:

  • FREDERICK RUDOLPH (1865-1946)
  • ELLEN OLIVE (1867-1945)
  • MAUD EDITH GUNDREDA (1869-1940)
  • LIONEL JOHN OLIVE (1873-1940)
  • HORACE EDWARD SAMUEL SNEADE (1878-1950).

Frederick Rudolph had no children by his first wife CAROLINE INEZ; by his second wife, HESTER JOAN, he had two daughters; the first, ELIZABETH MARY was born in 1924.

The following year, Gurney was sold to its tenants of more than thirty years, the Bucknells, and with it an unbroken line of descent, if not of inhabitation, of at least eight hundred years, was finally severed.

The Bucknells were a thoroughly English Victorian middle class family; the father, a classic “gentleman farmer” was a solid and respectable JAMES, his wife an equally establishment MARY ANN. One daughter was ELIZA HARRIS, the other, OLIVE MARY (possibly named in honor of the Countess of Cavan), and they also had a son, BENJAMIN JOHN.

In 1901, there were also three servants living with them at the manor: FRANK, EMILY and MABEL.

Gurney’s time once more owned by its inhabitants was short-lived; the Bucknells sold in 1934, and by the 1940s it had been subdivided into flats. By the 1980s, it was in a sorry, neglected state, with most of the flats empty, but then the Landmark Trust bought it, and the rest is (more!) history…

No-one lives there for more than three weeks at a time anymore, but it has been fully restored to its medieval glory and I think the place rather likes the variety of ever changing faces coming and going, and basks in their rapt admiration.

Read Full Post »

There are distint signs now that the pace is gathering in the rehabilitation of names long consigned to granny (or rather great-granny status, as most grannies nowadays are called things like Carol and Susan, and true “granny names” are at least a generation further back).

The trend’s roots actually go back to the seventies and eighties, when the first batch of “Victorian” names started to come back into use. Principal among them have been Emily, Emma, Isabella and Olivia, on both sides of the Atlantic.

In Britain, too, this was the era when names which are only now really capturing the hearts of Americans, such as Alice, Amelia, Beatrice/Beatrix, Charlotte, Matilda and Eleanor (with its pet-form Ellie actually more popular than Eleanor herself), also returned to bask in the sun of popularity.

These could be classed the great-great-granny names; the names borne by the women who went on to name their daughters Lily and Grace, Florence and Evelyn.

This generation began to make a come-back in the nineties.

Some like Lily and Grace are already now thoroughly acclimatized. Some, like Florence, Daisy, Poppy and Ruby, are already considered mainstream in the UK, and are so talked about in the US, it can only be a matter of not very much time before they’re top 100 there too. Others, like Edith, Olive and Maud, are regaining attention.

But there’s a whole Devon cream tea shop’s worth of other delicious and tempting options, and these are the ones I think deserve to be brought back down from the attic.

AgathaI deliberated quite some time about whether to include Agatha, as she’s never actually been very common at all. However, perhaps largely down to Aunt Agatha in the Jeeves stories, she has acquired a distinctly granny edge, and there certainly were more Agathas around in 1910 than 2010! She’s a name I’ll feature on her own some time, as, personally, I love her, and there’s so much to say about her, but I just couldn’t neglect her here, because of my life-long love of all things Agatha Christie…

Agnes — a staple not just of the Victorians and the early twentieth century, Agnes was one of the most popular girls’ names of the medieval and early modern period too. She was under a cloud in the eighteenth century, and again in the twentieth. She is so rich in history, mythology and allusions that she has a post of her own, scheduled for St Agnes’ Eve. But it would be a travesty to not give her a mention here, especially as celeb baby Agnes Lark might well have been the catalyst she needed to spark interest again.

Annie — actually truly belongs  to the great-great granny era, being most in decline since 1881 (when she was ranked 8th). The musical and film arrested her decline in the late seventies and early eighties, but unlike her siblings, she then went back into decline. Her fate may have changed, but at present she still seems to be dithering in the low 300s. Although treated as a pet-form of Ann/Anne, there’s no reason not to consider her a name in her own right, as she’s been used as such so long, and is actually a bit closer to the original Hebrew Hannah, sharing two syllables, rather than just the one.

Blanche — never all that common; like Annie, it hovered in the fifties in the late nineteenth century. Short, elegant, with a long and distinguished history back to medieval times, Blanche makes a worthy alternative to those one-syllable names which are now growing tired, like Claire, Brooke, and Paige.

Doris — in America, one of the darlings of the twenties. This pretty Greek name is definitely ready for revival.

Elsie — already back on the radar and rising, sweet Elsie — usually considered a Scottish short-form of Elizabeth — is also an English surname and essentially the modern form of the Old English Ælfsige “elf-victory.” It’s a must for revival in the UK, slipping comfortably into that established group of friends, Sophie, Evie, Maisie, Ellie, Millie, Katie, Gracie, and Rosie, etc…

Ethel — Ethel’s take up in Victorian times was as a short-form of the numerous girls’ names which featured it as a first element, particularly Etheldred/Etheldreda and Ethelinda. But it is essentially the modern English form of the Old English æthel “noble,” and its German cognate Athalia was used as a name in its own right in medieval times, becoming the English Adela and French Adele. As the name of Lily Allen’s new baby, there are indications are that people are starting to see Ethel — for so long almost the quintessential great-granny name — in a new light. After all, it does combine those softest and most romantic sounds: eth and el…

Freda — Use in the last couple of centuries originated, like Ethel, as a short form of longer names, particularly Winifred and Alfreda. However, also like Ethel, it stands up as a name in its own right, with frithu  meaning “peace” in Old English. Its Norse cognate is found as a name in medieval times: Friða. It survived in Scandinavia as Frida. The Germanic Frieda has also long been used as a variant. Freda is also found in the name of a lwa (divinity) of Haitian Voodoo —   Erzulie Fréda — though in her case, Fréda is probably West African in origin.

GertrudeMy grandmother had the unusual name of Gayther — but was almost universally known as Gertie, the usual nick-name of Gertrude. For a time it was also treated as the archetypal name of a student of my alma mater, Girton College, Cambridge (the shared initial “ger” sound, no doubt). It was also borne by another of my historic heroines, the archaeologist Gertrude Bell. With the strong meaning of “spear-strength,” Gertrude was hugely popular for a time in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and has a distinctly “no-nonsense” air about her. But she does shorten to the gentle Trudy, tom-boyish Gerry and contemporary Tru, as well as the as well that ever-cheerful Gertie…

Gladys — up there with Ethel, Gladys (Gwladys in the original Welsh) is another name that I think only needs a nudge for people to start to think, “why not?” Either the Welsh form of Claudia, or an elaboration of gwlad “country.” After all, there are a number of names ending in, or prominently featuring the “is” sound, such as Alexis, Alice, Allison, Genesis, Melissa, Marissa, Iris, Isis, Paris, Carys, and Cerys, etc. Nor is Gladys actually all that far away from Madison and Addison when you think about it…

Ida — Ida is another that was at her most popular in the late nineteenth century and is long overdue reconsideration; she’s already making steady progress in the UK, and since the very similar Ada is clearly on the up in the US, why not Ida too? Ida was found in Britain in medieval times, though in the Victorian period it was most associated with the nymph of the mountain which shared her name, who was said to have raised the infant Zeus. There’s a whole lot more to Ida, and I intend to feature her as a pick of the week, but she certainly deserves a mention here.

Irene — As the usual English form of the Greek Eirene “peace”, Irene is mostly pronounced with two-syllables, but three is not unknown. With two fresh dramatisations of the Sherlock Holmes takes around at the moment — the big screen Robert Downey, Jr version and the sparkling and clever British television one staring Benedict Cumberbatch — the character of Irene Adler will no doubt be working her magic on how people perceive Irene.

Mabel — The bells should be ringing loudly for Mabel. Roll it around the tongue — “May bell”. How pretty is that? Already rediscovered in certain British circles (ranking 386 in 2010), she vanished in America from the top 1000 in 1960 and has yet to resurface. Mabel originated in the Middle Ages as a shorter form of Amabel.

Mildred — I’ve always had a soft spot of the charming Mildred, an Old English gem meaning “mild/gentle counsel.” Featured as a Witch of the Week here.

Nellie — traditional pet-form of Eleanor, but also used of Helen and Ellen. For a long time Nellie fell under the cloud about the popular song, but it is breaking away now and with that popular “-ie” ending, and those letter “l”s, Nellie has a lot of personality.

Olga — one of my first ever name loves. One of the Russian names that came into fashion in the late nineteenth century, Olga is not actually Russian in origin at all; it is the Russian form of Scandinavian Helga “holy.” Olga was never particularly common, peaking in the US in 1916 in 130th spot.

Opal — a nineteenth century adoption of the name of the precious stone, which derives ultimately from the Sanskrit upala “stone.”  It peaked in the US in 81st place in 1911, and dwindled into obscurity by 1900. Believed by the ancients to be the tears of joy wept by Zeus following his victory over the Titans, in more recent centuries black opals in particular have gained an association with witches.

Pearl — at first used as a nickname — like Daisy — for girls called Margaret, Pearl was in independent use by the mid nineteenth century. It actually peaked by 1890, but remained in the top 100 until 1927. It is just starting to show signs of renewed interest, but there’s still a long way to go.

Phyllis — another pretty “-is” name which has been too long neglected now. It derives from Greek phullon “leaf” (with phullis itself meaning “salad.”).

Vera — Vera is another name of Russian origin, meaning “faith,” though it is identical to the Latin vera, the feminine form of verus “true,” which is the source of the vera of the wonderful Aloe vera. Another of my personal heroines is the British writer and pacificst Vera Brittain. Vera was never particularly common in the US, but has recently started to show signs that its fortunes are changing.

Next week, I’ll take a look at the Grandpas…

Read Full Post »

‘Number names’ seem to be a bit of an in thing at the moment, what with the recent celebrity arrivals, Harper Seven Beckham and Aleph Portman-Millepied. So this weeks Nook of Names Pick of the Week is a variation on the theme… or is it?

There is no denying that una is the feminine form of the Latin unus ‘one’ — both unus and one derive from the same Proto-Indo-European source, along with the German ein(e), Greek enas, Old Irish óen and Welsh un.

Unus also means ‘a single’ and ‘alone’.

As a name, this Una (traditionally pronounced ‘YOO-nuh’) first appears in Edmund Spenser’s epic allegorical masterpiece The Faerie Queene — written in the late 16th Century in praise of Queen Elizabeth I.

Una — essentially ‘the One and Only’ — stands for the Protestant Church of Queen Elizabeth I.  This is, of course — as far as Spenser is concerned — Good and True (in stark contrast with Elizabeth’s predecessor Queen Mary, and her Catholic Church, represented by the character of Duessa).

The Faerie Queene, even though it was never finished, was extremely influential, and bona fide examples of Una as a genuine given name in England date from the early 17th Century.

But this Latin Una is not the only Una of the British Isles. There is another, with an even older pedigree, over the Celtic Sea — Irish Úna.

This Una — pronounced ‘OO-nuh’, and sometimes Anglicized as Oona or Oonagh — is a name from Irish mythology. One Una was, ironically enough, a fairy queen — the wife of Finnbarr.

The best known, however, was a wife of Finn McCool. It was she who saved the day with her cunning when the Scottish giant Bennandonner crossed the Giant’s Causeway (which Finn had built) to fight Finn.

Una concocted a plan to trick Bennandonner into thinking Finn was far bigger, stronger and ‘more giant’ than Bennandonner. She dressed Finn up to look like a baby — and told Bennandonner that this enormous baby was Finn’s child.

This spooked Bennandonner enough, but while he waited for Finn to come home, Una gave him and the ‘baby’ an enormous steak to eat. The scary baby managed fine — but Bennandonner couldn’t eat a mouthful — the reason? The ‘baby’ had a real steak, but Una gave Bennandonner a rock painted to look like one.

This was all too much for Bennandonner, and he hot-footed it back to Scotland, tearing up the Causeway as he went.

In Modern Irish, úna actually means ‘famine’, but Úna is generally thought to have derived from the Old Irish uan ‘lamb’, and as well as appearing in myth, Úna was used as a genuine given name in medieval Ireland.

After the 17th Century, Irish names were usually ‘translated’ into English names — chosen sometimes by meaning, and sometimes by resemblance.

Thus Úna was turned into the English Agnes, due to the shared ‘lamb’ theme — for although Agnes does not derive from the Latin agnus ‘lamb’, its similarity meant that it was strongly associated with the fluffy creatures.

Others used were Winnie and Juno, because of their similarity in appearance and sound.

Although it is difficult to tell whether the Latin or Irish Una is being used, Una, Oona and Oonagh are all found in the 19th Century — and not just in Ireland.

None is seeing much use at the moment. In the UK, Una was nowhere near the top 1000 in 2010, while Oona and Oonagh languished below the 2000s.

Una is similarly scarce in the US, where in 2010, the Latin Una was found more frequently spelled phonetically as Yuna. There were also a few examples of Yoona.

Oona is extremely rare, and Oonagh doesn’t feature at all.

Una also has some interesting meanings in other languages. In Italian and Spanish, una is the feminine indefinite pronoun – i.e. ‘a’ – as well as ‘one’, just like in Latin.

In the South American language Tupi, una means ‘black’, and features in the name of the mythical South American snake the boyuna ‘black snake’, while in Old Norse, una means ‘to dwell contentedly’, ‘to enjoy’, ‘to rejoice’ and ‘to be content with (one’s lot)’.

There are various rivers and towns around the world called Una too, such as the Una River in Croatia, and Una in Gujurat, India. There’s even a genus of butterfly called Una.

So if you’re thinking Luna, but worried it’s too Harry Potter, why not consider the lovely, lonely Una instead?

Read Full Post »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 171 other followers

- shop7 - shop7 - price5 - shop7 - price5 - shop7 - price5 - price5