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.