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Posts Tagged ‘Millie’

My witch of the week series seems to be turning into more of a witch of the month.

There’s just so much I want to say about names, I guess!

This week/month’s choice is a fictional rather than mythological or historic one.

But she was — is — one of my first literary loves.

Mildred Hubble, heroine of Jill Murphy’s Worst Witch series.

I was about seven when I first read the original Worst Witch.

My primary school had a sort of book club; once each term or half-term, we got to take a catalogue home and choose a book.

There were few things to compare with the excitement I felt when the books arrived; you’d go into the class in the morning and see the books we’d ordered sitting on the teacher’s desk, each with a little slip of paper sticking out. Each absolutely spanking new, with that wonderful new-book smell.

The Worst Witch was one of my first purchases, and I still have the copy — though it’s rather more ragged now.

It tells the story of the hapless Mildred Hubble, a young witch just starting to learn magic at a boarding school for witches.

Sound familiar? For the record, The Worst Witch was first published in 1974, more than twenty years before the first Harry Potter.

Although very earnest, Mildred has the gift of making pretty much anything that can go wrong go very wrong indeed.

She inadvertantly manages to save the day by turning the baddies who are planning to take over the school into snails (she was trying for frogs, but still, it did the trick).

Jill Murphy has since written another five books, the last in 2005. It has been a joy sharing them with my own Small Child.

She loves Mildred as much as I do.

There are also the TV shows — the first based on the Worst Witch series itself, the later ones going off in other directions, such as Weirdsister College and The New Worst Witch. I haven’t watched them though — I have a feeling they could never live up to the original books.

Jill Murphy deliberately chose names that were very old-fashioned for her young witches — in 1974.

As well as Mildred, other characters have names such as Maud, Enid and Ethel — all “great-granny names” names hovering on the edge of revival. Will they, or won’t they?

Mildred itself is Old English, and has been around since at least the seventh century.

Originally Mildthryth, it is composed of the elements milde “mild” + þrȳð “power” and “strength.”

Unlike so many Old English names, Mildred survived the Norman Conquest, thanks to a saint popular in the Middle Ages, and managed to cling on in use until the nineteenth century when she was revived along with many other medieval and Old English classics.

She hasn’t fared so well since, which is a shame, as it is a name with charm, character and history.

It also shortens beautifully to Millie, Milly and Milda.

Yet it was given to only 68 little girls in the USA in 2010, and if any received the name in the UK, it was less than three.

But as witchy names go, they don’t get much better than Mildred!

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Nyd, like it’s antecedant Hægl, Nyd represents a shift in the Runes to darker waters.

Its forms are as follows:

In all, it means “need,” and the runic poems emphasize the dire effects of being in need, coupled with the necessity of hard work — and hope — to overcome it.

In modern interpretation, it can stand as a warning of impending both of hardship and challenges, both physical and psychological needs, and obstacles that must be overcome.

But it also highlights the dichotomy between our desires and expectations and our actual situation. It forces us to assess what we really need, rather than simply desire.

Thus it warns us to focus on what really needs doing, and stop wasting time on the trivialities.

And, above all, it tells us that perseverance is always the key. With perseverance, we can overcome and achieve anything.

What names can reflect all this?

Nyd itself, when you think about it, isn’t a million miles away from Ned, while Naudiz and Nauthr have a certain exotic allure. Not — well, why not?

It’s not as though, as a runic name, it actually means “not,” now, is it?

There’s also the unrelated but very similar-looking Nydia, invented by Edward Bulwar-Lytton for his 1834 novel, Last Days of Pompeii.

As the concept of need and poverty isn’t one which many would feel inclined to choose to dedicate in a name, there aren’t many names which carry that meaning. But names which carry overtones of perseverence, hard work, and dedication, are worth consideration.

Here are some great options:

  • Almeric — medieval form of AMALRIC.
  • Amal — Old German: “work.”
  • Amalia –Old German girl’s name derived from AMAL.
  • Amalric — Old German boy’s name. AMAL + ricja “rule,” “ruler.”
  • Amalaswintha — Old German girl’s name. AMAL + swinde “strong.”
  • Amelia — usual modern form of AMALIA.
  • Amélie — French form of Amelia.
  • Amery — medieval form of AMALRIC.
  • Amory — medieval form of AMALRIC.
  • Angen — Welsh: “need,” “necessity.”
  • Athelstan — Old English name meaning “noble stone.”
  • Behar — Basque: “work.”
  • Beharra — Basque: “need,” “necessity”
  • Bill — well-known nickname of WILLIAM.
  • Billie, Billy — well-known nicknames of WILLIAM and WILHELMINA.
  • Constance — traditional girl’s name derived from CONSTANTIA.
  • Constancy
  • Constant
  • Constantia — feminine form of the Roman cognoman Constantius, from consto “to stand firm”
  • Diligence
  • Drive
  • Driver — English surname meaning “a driver”; used first of someone who drove cattle, but no reason in a name context not to interpret with the sense of “one who has drive.”
  • Dunstan — Old English name meaning “hill-stone.”
  • Emmeline — medieval name arising as a pet-form of AMALIA.
  • Emerick — medieval form of AMALRIC.
  • Emerson — “son of EMERY.”
  • Emery — medieval form of AMALRIC.
  • Emory — medieval form of AMALRIC.
  • Endeavor
  • Eysteinn — Norse name: “forever stone.”
  • Focus
  • Garnet — the stone promotes perseverance.
  • George — Greek: “famer”; perhaps the ultimate job  across the millennia requiring dediction and discipline to bring plans to fruition.
  • Gerek — Turkish: “need,” “necessity.”
  • Grit
  • Gwaith — Welsh: “work”
  • Ida — medieval name from Old Norse “work,” or Old German id “work.”
  • Idhunna — Norse Goddess. Old Norse: “work” + unna “love.”
  • Idonea — medieval name, probably derived from IDHUNNA.
  • Idony — medieval form of IDONY.
  • Lan — Basque: “work.”
  • Liam — Irish short-form of WILLIAM.
  • Lutte — French: “struggle.”
  • Mason — a job requiring perseverance and skill to produce creative work.
  • Mélisande — French variant of MILLICENT.
  • Millicent — usual form of AMALASWINTHA since the Middle Ages.
  • Millie — popular short-form of MILLICENT.
  • Milo — probably arose as short-form of a name beginning with AMAL.
  • Mina — short-form of WILHELMINA.
  • Moxie
  • Naphtali — biblical name. Hebrew: “my struggle.”
  • Oluchi — Igbo name: “work of (a) God”
  • Perseverance
  • Pluck
  • Práce — Czech: “work.”
  • Resolution
  • Savaş — Turkish name: “struggle,” “striving.”
  • Sisu — Finnish name: “determination”
  • Smith — another job which demands dedication to achieve items of both practicality and beauty.
  • Stamina
  • Stanley — English surname: “stone clearing.”
  • Stone — stone encapsulates Nyd possibly best of all; as a symbol of cold and hardness it represents well Nyd’s hardship, but its durability represents perseverance, with which hardship can be overcome.
  • Strive
  • Tenacity
  • Thurstan — Old English name: “Thor’s stone.”
  • Töö — Estonian: “work”
  • Työ — Finnish: “work”
  • Wilbert — Old English name: will “will” + beohrt “bright.”
  • Wilhelmina — feminine form of WILLIAM.
  • Will — as well as being a major short-form of WILLIAM, Will can be interpreted for exactly what it actually is, the word “will,” i.e. “determination”, the English cognate with the Old German vilja “will” of the name.
  • Wilfred — Old English name: will “will” + frið “peace.”
  • William — Old German name: will “will” + helm “helmet.”
  • Willis — surname derived from WILLIAM.
  • Wilma — short-form of WILHELMINA.
  • Wilmer — Old English name: will “will” + mær “famous.”
  • Wilmot — medieval pet-form of WILLIAM; used in medieval times for boys and girls.
  • Wilson — surname: “son of WILL.”
  • Winston — surname, deriving in part from the Old English name Wynnstan “joy stone.”
  • Zeal

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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…

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Time to return to the Runes, and the second letter of the Runic alphabet — U.

It has the following names:

It is unclear what the inspiration for the Eldar Futhark U was — it was either *ūruz ‘aurochs’ or *ûram ‘water’.

Aurochs isn’t a word heard much in general conversation these days; it is the name used for a long extinct species of wild ox. Aurochs is actually a German word, which came into English in the 18th Century.

Its Old English and Norse name — úr fell out of use at a very early date — probably around the time the animal disappeared. This may be the reason why in the Norse runic poems it seems to be derived from ūr ‘fine rain’ — a word ultimately cognate with urine.

In the poems, Ur gets a distinctly mixed reception, with reference to the animal’s pride, ferocity and stamina, and the negative effects of water in the form of rain.

Modern rune diviners focus on Ur’s wild ox past, and neglect the watery undertones. It is generally viewed as a rune that signifies physical strength, stamina and durability. It stands for raw, untamed power — a great asset, but something which someone who possess it might need to learn to control in order to get the best out it.

Its negative qualities are pretty clear: savagery and recklessness.

Ur itself makes an unlikely name choice, although there are other noble namesakes, such as the ancient Sumerian city of Ur, and the identical sounding Er, hero of Plato’s Myth of Er, in which Er, a former warrior, witnesses what happens to the Dead — how after a period in the Underworld, they take it in turns to choose their fate in their next life, according to how virtuous their former life had been.

Uram, however, has some potential. It’s not a million miles away from names like Aaron and Erin, after all, and plenty names end in -am.

But there are also plenty names out there (and not “out there”) with meanings such as “strength,” “power” and “endurance.” Many are sadly  probably still too heavily buried beneath a pile of Victorian corsets — names such as Elfreda, Ermyntrude, Etheldreda, Frideswide, Maynard and Millicent.

These are some suggestions:

  • Alcestis ♀ — name of a Greek heroine, from alkê “defensive strength.”
  • Alcis ♀ — epithet of Athene, also from alkê “defensive strength.”
  • Arnold ♂ — Old German Arenvaldarin “eagle” + vald “power.”
  • Bala ♂ — Indian name from Sanskrit bala “force,” “power” and “strength.”
  • Brian ♂ — Irish and Breton in origin, from Proto-Celtic *brig-/brigant- “high,” or *briga- “might” and “power.”
  • Bridget ♀ — Anglicized form of Brigid, which comes ultimately from the Proto-Celtic *brig-/brigant- “high,” or *briga- “might” and “power.” Well known as an important Irish Goddess — and saint.
  • Emin ♂ — Turkish name – emin “safe,” “secure,” “strong,” “firm” and “trustworthy.”
  • Firmin ♂ — from Latin firmus “strong,” “steadfast” and “enduring.”
  • Gertrude ♀ — Old German gêr “spear” + drudi “strength.”
  • Gorwst ♂ — Old Welsh name from gor- “super” + gwst “power,” “force” and “excellence.” Latinized in the Middle Ages as Gurgustius.
  • Griffith ♂ — Anglicized form of the Welsh Gruffudd, probably cryf “strong” and “powerful” + iud(d) “lord.”
  • Imelda ♀ — Spanish and Italian name, from the German Irmhildeermen “strong” and “whole” + hilta “battle.”
  • Iphigenia ♀ — Greek: is “strong” + gignomai “to be born” i.e. “strong-born.”
  • Jarek ♂ — Czech and Polish name, originally a pet-form of names beginning with jar “spring” or jary “fierce” and “strong.”
  • Metin ♂ — Turkish name – metin “strong” and “durable.”
  • Millie, Milly ♀ — Shorter, more approachable form of Millicent (among other names!) < Old German amal “work” + swinde “strong.”
  • Nero ♂ — Sabine: nero “strong” – cognate with San: nara and W: nêr (and banned in New Zealand!).
  • Ruslo ♂ — Romani < ruslo “strong.”
  • Swithun ♂ — Old English name < swīþ “strong.”
  • Valentina ♀ — Latin: valens “strong,” “vigorous” and “healthy” < valeo “to be strong.”
  • Valentine ♂ ♀ — as above.

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