Far fewer of us actually go through with it.
I think that’s a shame. If you feel your name doesn’t reflect who you are, if you feel you would be happier called something else, for whatever reason, do it. Take the plunge, and change your name.
Recently, I was contacted by a woman intending to do just that.
She has one of most popular names of her generation, and wants something “less ubiquitous” than her birth name.
These are her criteria:
- 3 syllables
- No ‘-a’ ending
- Some connection to history and/or mythology
- Meanings: “poetic and somewhat unexpected”
- Style: “eccentric aristocrat”
- Not too similar to well-known names to avoid confusion
- Not too associated with a popular work of fiction, such as Harry Potter
The names she currently has under consideration:
The only name I have left on my list, after ruling out Seraphine for possibly blending in with the Sarahs, Clementine because I can only picture it on a young girl, Genevieve because I am not that into the meaning, is Gwendolen. However; I keep coming back to Guinevere! I like the sound more than Gwendolen, but I’m worried that the name Guinevere is hard to carry because in the myths. To an audience that doesn’t know any better, she is an adulterer.
I have to say, I really wouldn’t fret so much about the adultery issue. It certainly isn’t the first thing that springs to mind when I think Guinevere, and I don’t think it’s the first thing people think of generally when they hear the name. It’s not as though in the myths she is a serial adulteress!
It’s also worth remembering that the legends owe a lot to the culture of late medieval society, in which marriages were arranged, not love-matches, and the theme of romantic liaisons between women and handsome knights other than their husbands acted as a kind of fantasy escapism.
On a deeper level too, the Arthur-Lancelot-Guinevere love triangle can be viewed as a version of the conflict of the Oak and Holly Kings (also sometimes called the Summer and Winter Kings) and their union with the Goddess – the May Queen. This love triangle is a recurring theme in Celtic mythology.
But if it remains a stumbling block, Gwendolen is certainly a good alternative. The etymology isn’t a hundred percent certain; while the first element is almost certainly the same Welsh gwyn of Guinevere, meaning “white,” “pure,” and “blessed,” the second is a little less uncertain. The earliest known form is Gwenddoleu, but this may have been was a mis-reading of “u” for “n.” The options are the Welsh dolen “loop,” “link,” and “ring,” or dolau “meadows.” According to Geoffrey of Monmouth writing in the twelfth century, it was the name of Merlin’s wife.
I think both Gwendolen and Guinevere are stunning choices, but I do have some other suggestions:
- Adelaide – “noble-sort”; if it’s a bit too mainstream, there’s also the medieval variant Adeliz
- Anchoret – a curious medieval name, probably from the Welsh Angharad “my love,” a name borne by numerous medieval Welsh princesses.
- Averil – a vernacular form of EVERILD; it survived for centuries in Yorkshire
- Celestine – English form of Latin Celestinus, from caelestis “heavenly”
- Corisande — A name principally of medieval romance. The etymology is uncertain; the first element is likely intended to be the Latin cor “heart.” The second may very possibly be a contracted form of Latin sanandus “healing, ” from sano “to heal.”
- Everild — one of my life-long favorites. The meaning — “boar-battle” — might be a bit off-putting at first, but it’s worth remembering what boars meant to the ancient peoples who first used the name. They are associated with more than one deity, and to the Celts symbolized royalty and strength
- Ingaret – a variant of ANCHORET
- Kilmeny – Made famous by James Hogg’s poem about the “uncanny maid” who spent seven years in Elfland. It also featured in Lucy Maud
Montgomery’s Kilmeny of the Orchard (1910). The name was taken from a small village on Islay in Scotland, meaning “monastery church,” “owl church,” or “my Eithne’s church”
- Leceline – a medieval form of Letitia “happiness”
- Lorelei — the name of a siren-like nymph or Goddess who is said to lure sailors to their deaths from a rock overlooking the River Rhine. I have a feeling the associations here will cause it to be rejected, but I think it’s still worth a consideration. No doubting Lorelei’s girl-power! The meaning isn’t entirely certain; the second element is from a Celtic root meaning “rock” while the first might be from Old German words meaning “to whisper,” “to lure” or “to watch out”
- Marjolaine — the French form of marjoram, though it was also used in England in the Middle Ages. Used as a name from the nineteenth century, it still carries all marjoram’s pleasing associations with protection and love
- Mirabel — medieval name, from mirabilis “wonderful,” “marvelous,” “amazing,” “strange,” and “extraordinary”
- Muriel — an ancient Celtic name, going back to the Common Celtic *mori- “sea” + *gelwo- “yellow” and “white.” In Ireland, this
became gel which carried the additional meanings of “fair” and “shining.” Another nice variant is Meriel
- Nephele — meaning “cloud” in Greek, Nephele was the name of a semidivine woman in Greek mythology, fashioned out of the clouds by Zeus.
- Nimue – a variant of NINIANE. Used in some versions of the Arthurian cycles as the name of Merlin’s lover
- Niniane — the Lady of the Lake, probably deriving ultimately from the Common Celtic *nino- “ash.”
- Opaline – both an English adjective meaning “like an opal,” and a medieval variant of Apollonia “belonging to Apollo”
- Ottilie – probably the most familiar form today of the medieval Odilia/Odile, from the Old German: uod “wealth” and “riches.” St. Odilia of Cologne was reputed to have been the daughter of a king of Britain and one of the virgins who accompanied St. Ursula, while the late seventh-/early eighth-century St. Odile of Alsace was allegedly a blind daughter of the Duke of Alsace, whose sight was miraculously restored by St. Erhard of Regensburg
- Ottoline — a diminutive form of OTTILIE. A famous bearer was Lady Ottoline Morrell (1873–1938)
- Perenelle — a medieval form of Petronilla, the name of a popular medieval saint. It derives ultimately from the Latin petra “rock” and “crag”
- Sabeline — a medieval diminutive of Sibylla “sibyl,” and “prophetess”
- Thermuthis — the name given in the first century by the Roman writer Josephus to the daughter of the pharaoh who allegedly adopted Moses. Its origins are not clear, but if genuinely Egyptian, it may be a corruption of the Egyptian name Thutmose “born of Thoth”
- Verity — one of the abstract nouns first used as a given name by the Puritans in the seventeenth century
- Zephyrine – the French form of Zephyrina, ultimately from Zephyr, the name of the Greek God of the West Wind.
Some of the names I suggested as names for the twin siblings of a little boy called Peregrine also fit the bill: Amabel, Christabel, Clemency, Emmeline, Ianthe, Imogen, Jessamy, Oenone and Rosamund.
Over to you!