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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.

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Hope everyone has enjoyed the festive season so far.

We’re in that strange limbo-lull now between the celebrations of the twenty-fifth and the New Year, and thoughts are naturally turning to ends and beginnings, looking back, and looking forward…

As we count-down to 2012, I’ll be doing my own share of looking back and forward here at the Nook, and, to set us off on the right foot, what better name to profile for this transitory time than the name of the God who epitomizes it like no other?

The Roman God, Janus.

Pronounced “JAY-nǝs” by some, “JAH-nǝs” by others, Janus is familiar to many as the God with two heads, one facing back over the Old Year, and the other looking ahead to the new.

Although many Pagans, particularly Wiccans and those who embrace Celtc Paganism consider Samhain to mark the transition point between years, the New Year has been celebrated at this time since the days of Pagan Rome — long before Christianity.

So significant was Janus that when the Roman year was extended to twelve months, the first of the newly created months, January, was named after Janus.

But his worship was not limited just to this time. As a God of the end and beginning of ventures, he was invoked not just at the start of a new year, or even the start of  every month, but at the start of every single day, and every and any new venture.

He also presided over points of transition, including doorways.

Although there is some question marks over the ultimate source of his name, it is connected with the Roman word for a door — ianua — and identical with ianus “covered passage”; and the most likely source, in my opinion, is a derivation with the same root which gives the verb eo, ire “to go.”

Also related to Janus is the name as well as the month of January, the Anglicized form of Januarius, a name used in the later Roman Empire and borne by more than one saint — most famously the patron saint of Naples.

January’s use as a girl’s name (such as the actress January Jones) represents a simple adoption of the name of the month.

There is also Jana, which, while in most modern usage represents an elaboration of plain Jane, was actually the name of a Roman Goddess, who was essentially the female counterpart of Janus. She particularly protected doors and passageways.

Pagan Romans celebrated January 1st by exchanging simple gifts called strenae “omens,” such as nuts, honey, figs and coins.  There was even another deity, the Goddess Strenia, who presided simply over these New Year gifts!

The thought behind them was that it was held important that a new begininng had an auspicious start, and giving gifts of this kind was a good omen. In the same spirit, it was customary — just as it is today — to wish people well for the coming year.

A rather nice Pagan Roman custom associated with the New Year involved the hammering in of a nail into the door of the temple of Nortia at Volsinii. Nortia was an Etruscan Goddess, who was absorbed into the Roman pantheon, and the nail symbolized that the events of the past year were now fixed and immutable.

As a given name, Janus is found from the eighteenth century, though in many cases, it probably represents an adoption of the identical-looking English surname, which actually derives from John, with Janus representing a medieval Latin form of the name; King John II of Cyprus (1375-1432) is also known as King Janus.

But most people will always identify the name Janus with the Roman God, and it’s a true rarity these days. Less than three boys in Britain, and five in America — if any in either nation at all — received the name in 2010.

What more perfect a name could there be for a baby boy born around the New Year?

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Speculation is mounting in Britain that the Duchess of Cambridge is expecting.

And a recent change to the rules of royal succession means that their first child will be first in line to the throne, regardless of whether it is a girl or a boy.

Which means the choice of name takes on extra special importance.

It’s not  true to say that since Queen Victoria, all heirs presumptive to the throne have borne the names of former kings or queens – but it’s almost true.

The exceptions are King Edward VII, whose full name was Albert Edward, his oldest son Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence, and King George VI, whose actual name was Albert Frederick Arthur George,

And Victoria herself, of course, who was Alexandrina Victoria.

And so, it is probably safe to say that, even if the child has a first name which has not been borne by a ruling monarch, its second name will be, and that will be its eventual throne name.

However, Kate is clearly a traditionalist through and through, so even if the throne name is a middle name instead of a first, it is very unlikely indeed any and all names the child will bear won’t feature somewhere in the royal family tree.

Which will be?

Well, it’s certainly noticeable that none of the Queen’s granddaughters have been called Victoria, which, given the fact a baby girl would one day be queen, has to be top of the list of names for Kate and Wills’ baby if it’s a girl.

Another likely contender is Mary. There has been a royal princess of the name virtually continually since the time of the fourteenth-century Mary of Woodstock, daughter of King Edward I – until the death of Queen Mary in 1953. It is another name notable for being ‘reserved’ since, prevented from use by more minor royals. It’s not remotely fashionable at present (nor is Victoria in Britain) – but that’s never bothered the royals before, and is unlikely to trouble them now. It might even be considered in the name’s favour.

Elizabeth must also a pretty major contender. That it might to be on the ‘reserved’ list was in evidence in 2003, when Prince Edward picked Louise for his daughter. Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother had died not long before and if Elizabeth wasn’t on the list of names ‘put aside’ for royals higher up the pecking order, it would have, perhaps, been a rather more likely choice.

Then there are the names of the three ‘almost queens’, which might, possibly, be judged acceptable for a future Queen of the Realm, namely Jane, Charlotte and Matilda. Lady Jane Grey was ‘Queen for Nine Days’ in 1553; she was never crowned, and ended up with her head on the block, but, nevertheless, she was declared Queen of England after the death of her cousin, King Edward VI.

Meanwhile, we would have had a Queen Charlotte, had Princess Charlotte of Wales not died in childbirth in 1817. Her death sparked a national crisis, as King George III had prevented all his other children from marrying. That all changed; the princes all set about marrying and reproducing – and Queen Victoria was one of the results.

Lastly, Matilda, daughter of King Henry I and mother of King Henry II was de facto queen in 1141; and she and her cousin Stephen, the man formally considered king during the period, were embroiled for many years in a messy civil war. Peace finally came when Stephen promised to make Matilda’s son his heir.

And while it would be unlikely as a first name, I’ll eat my crane bag if Diana doesn’t feature amongst her likely four given names.

As for boys, there is one name which is screaming out as top contender for Wills and Kate’s first son – George. Like Victoria and Mary, it has had a distinctly ‘reserved’ sign on it for the last fifty years. George is also one of the most popular names amongst the British Upper Class – half of Wills’ Old Etonian friends will be Georges.

Are there others? Well, most of the names of other kings are currently ‘occupied’, which is likely to rule them out: Charles, by Will’s dad, Henry by his brother, Edward by his uncle, James by his cousin, Richard by a second cousin, William by Wills himself. Those which are not are limited to John and Stephen.

John is a no-no; it is regarded as the royal family’s unlucky name, and is unlikely to see use again for centuries.

Stephen is an interesting one; since King Stephen’s time, it has never been used again. The fact that it is ‘unfashionable’ at the moment, however, is perhaps more likely to count in its favour; the royals have never particularly concerned themselves about such things. I would be surprised, though; after all, look what happened when John got resurrected from the medieval scrolls…

There are also the names of the ‘almost-rans’, which widen the choice a bit. Probably the most likely of this bunch for Kate and Wills is Arthur. King Henry VII’s eldest son was called Arthur, and would have been king had he not died before his father, while, a few centuries earlier, Arthur, Duke of Brittany had been the intended heir of King Richard I. It is also one of both Prince Charles’ given names and Wills’. It’s also another name which has seen most use in the last thirty years in the British upper class.

Other sometime heirs presumptive of British Kings, who never made the throne because they died before their fathers were Eustace, Count of Bologne (son of King Stephen), Alphonso, Earl of Chester (son of King Edward I), Frederick, Prince of Wales (son of King George II), and the already mentioned Albert, Duke of Clarence (son of King Edward VII). Frederick might have been a distinct possibility – but it is already borne by another of Will’s second cousins, Lord Frederick Windsor.

Really, of the others, only Albert is a serious contender, although it is telling that neither King Edward VII, nor King George VI ruled as King Albert I. And it is also worth bearing in mind that when King George was born, he was not expected to inherit the throne – he had an older brother, Edward (later King Edward VIII).

But Albert Victor, the Duke of Clarence, would have been King Albert I.

Still, it would be seen as a break in convention for a baby born to be king or queen to bear a name other than one of the names of its predecessors on the throne – and I think Kate (if not Wills) is rather too conventional for that…

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Today’s sneak peek is Jack — which was the most popular boy’s name in the UK for over fifteen years, until yesterday’s Oliver knocked it off the top spot in 2009.

Jack

Pet-form of JOHN, used since the Middle Ages. It developed from the earlier medieval pet-form Jankin (which gave rise to the surnames Jenkin, Jenkins, Jenkinson, Jenks and Jinks, etc). It was very common in the late medieval period, and came into use as a generic name for a man or male creature, such as Jack Tar. Some uses have become so engrained the fact that the name Jack is involved almost goes unnoticed, such as steeplejack, jackass and JACKDAW. The name features particularly highly in folklore. Jack Frost is frost personified; a spirit of Winter who draws fern-patterns on icy glass-panes. Jack-in-the-green is a name of the Green Man, and jack-olantern is another name for the will-o’-the-wisp. Several surnames derive from it, including Jack, Jacks, Jaggs, Jakes, Jeeks, Jacket, Jacklin, Jackman and JACKSON. Before the 20th Century, most Jacks were baptized John, even if they only ever used Jack all of their lives. Dim: Jackie, Jacky. Bearers: Jack Parsons (1914-52) – whose birth name was Marvel – was a notable American Thelemite, who is also known for the work he did at Caltech in rocket propulsion.

John

The English form of Hebrew Johanan ‘Yahweh has favored’; John developed from the Latin form Iohannes, later Johannes, from the Greek Iôannês. Johanan was an extremely common name amongst Jews in the 1st Century CE, and, as the name of the John the Baptist and the Evangelist responsible for one of the Gospels and the Book of Revelation, it was always going to become a popular name among the Christians. St John the Baptist was regarded as second only to Jesus — so it should come as no surprise that when Jesus got the festival of the Winter Solstice for his feast day, John was apportioned the summer one. The name wasn’t used much in Western Europe until the 1st Crusade (1095-99), after which hundreds of churches were dedicated to St John, and the name was bestowed upon countless baby boys. Variants: Jon (modern). Diminutives: JACK, JAKE, JOCK, Johnny, Johnnie, Jonny, HANK; Hankin, Hancock, Jankin, Jenkin (historical). Manx: Ean, Irish Gaelic: EOIN, SEÁN, Italian: Giovanni, Gianni, Gino (diminutive), Albanian: Gjon, German: Hans, Johann, Johannes, Finnish: Hannu, Jani, Joni, Jukka, Maori: Hoani, Armenian: Hovhannes, Scots Gaelic: IAIN, Seon; Seonaidh (diminutive), Bulgarian, Welsh: IOAN, Greek: Ioannis, Giannis, Yannis, YANIS, Welsh: IEUAN, IFAN,  Iwan, SÎON, Basque, Romanian: Ion Russian, Czech, Serbian, Croatian: Ivan, Dutch, Polish: JAN, Estonian: Jaan, Slovenian: Janez, Latvian: JANIS, Hungarian: János, French: JEAN, Danish: Jens, Portuguese: João, Catalan: Joan, Dutch, Danish, German, Swedish: JOHAN, Macedonian: JOVAN, Cornish: Jowan, Icelandic: Jón, Dutch: Joop (diminutive), Spanish: Juan, Hawaian: Keoni, Galician: Xoán, Arabic, Turkish: Yahya, Breton: Yann; YANNICK (diminutive). Bearers: King John of England (1167-1216); John Dee (1527-1608), the astrologer and ceremonial magician – among many other things; John Aubrey (1629-97), the English antiquarian, was one of the first people to study Stonehenge; John Toland (1670-1722), the Irish philosopher, founded the Ancient Druid Order in 1717; John Keats (1795-1821), the English poet; John Galsworthy (1867-1933), the English novelist; John Adams (1735-1826) and John F. Kennedy (1917-63), US Presidents Numerous men tried and executed for Witchcraft have borne the name John, including John Proctor (c.1632-92) and John Willard (bef. 1672-92) at Salem, Massachusetts in 1692, and John Lindsay (c.1688-97), who was one of those convicted and executed at Paisley, Scotland, in 1697, aged just 11 years old.

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Would you believe that today marks the 60th anniversary of the publication of J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye? To commemorate — a year after Salinger himself passed away at the age of 91 — here’s a look at the names of some of the protagonists:

Holden. Holden Caulfield is one of the 20th Centuries iconic anti-heroes. A surname in origin, Holden derives from a little place in Lancashire, England, meaning ‘hollow valley’. Which kind of suits Holden Caulfied..

For the record, it has been gradually rising in use in the US over the past twenty-five years.

Jane. Jane never actually appears in the book, but was still influential. A feminine form of the ubiquitous John (‘Yahweh has favoured’),  Jane evolved from the medieval Jehane. Most people don’t realize that Jenny — because it is now strongy associated with Jennifer — actually started out as a pet form of Jane. Between the 16th and mid 20th Century, Jane was consistently one of the most popular names for girls, but it is now an unusual choice.  Jane Southworth (fl. 1612), was one of the so-called ‘Samlesbury Witches’ acquitted in 1612, while Jane Rebecca Yorke (1872-aft.1944), was — in 1944 — the last person in Britain to be convicted under the Witchcraft Act of 1735.

Phoebe. Holden’s little sister. From the Greek phoibos ‘bright’ and ‘radiant’, Phoebe is the name of a Titaness – one of the daughters of Gods Uranus and Ge. It was not uncommon in the Ancient World, and stumbled into The New Testament. Its adoption in the English speaking world since the 16th Century was probably down to both its classical and biblical heritage. In past centuries, Phebe was often the preferred  form. The best know Phoebe is recent years is Phoebe Buffay, in Friends (1994-2004), closely followed by Phoebe Halliwell in Charmed (1998-2006). Ironically, it was the UK that felt Phoebe Buffay’s influece greatest, with the name mushrooming in use virtually overnight. In 2009, it was in 23rd place in the UK — but falling. In the US, while Friends and Charmed must have played their part in its use, Phoebe has seen a gradual increase in use over the last twenty years or so.

Sally. Holden’s girlfriend. Sally has long been used as the pet form of Sarah, and examples of it in use in its own right date all the way back to the 18th C. It is often found in combinations – especially Sally Ann — and a popular spelling variation is Sallie. There are many other fictional, historic and legendary bearers of the name, but my favorite has to be Sally Rainbow, of Sally Rainbow’s Dell in Hertfordshire, England, a legendary Witch who was said to inhabit the chalk caves at a disused chalk-pit there prior to the 18th Century. Her reputation lived on long after her death, making the dell a place much feared in later years and allowing outlaws such as the famous highwayman Dick Turpin to use it as a hide-out.

Sunny. The name of the young prostitute. English sunny as a given name dates to the 19th Century. Sunny is the heroine of the musical Sunny (1925), adapted twice as a film in 1930 and 1941, and Sunny Baudelaire is one of the principal characters in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (1999-2006).

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