Author Ceridwen Dovey was born in South Africa, raised both there and Australia, and was educated at Harvard University, doing postgraduate work at New York University. Living in Sydney, Ceridwen says Australia feels like home, but South Africa remains part of her, and she has ties to the United States as well.
Ceridwen’s book Only the Animals was published last year, has just come out in the UK, and will be released in the US later this month. It’s very unusual, with the souls of ten animals who have died in human conflicts telling their own stories. Each beast also pays tribute to a particular writer who has written about animals, from Henry Lawson to Virginia Woolf to Ted Hughes, and these can be playful as well as moving (imagine a mussell’s journey to Pearl Harbour in the style of Jack Kerouac, for example).
Only the Animals has been shortlisted for numerous awards, and won the Steele Rudd Award for a short story collection at the 2014 Queensland Literary Awards. It’s a beautiful, wise book which really gets under your skin and remains with you, long after you turn the last page. Hopefully it will be appreciated overseas as well.
In Welsh legend, Ceridwen was an enchantress. According to a medieval tale, Ceridwen had a son named Morfran who was hideously ugly, and she sought to make him wise since he was never going to coast along on his looks.
She mixed up a magical potion in her cauldron which would give the gift of wisdom and poetic inspiration, and a long drawn-out process it was. The potion had to be boiled for a year and a day, and she outsourced the workload, having the fire tended by a blind man while a young boy named Gwion kept stirring it. Only the first three drops of the potion would confer wisdom: all the rest was deadly poison.
Three drops of the hot potion spilled onto Gwion’s hand as he stirred, and instinctively he put his thumb in his mouth to cool the burning. As soon as he did, he gained all the wisdom and knowledge that had been meant for Morfran. The first piece of knowledge he gained was that he’d better scram as Ceridwen was going to be peeved beyond belief. Correct! She was furious.
Gwion turned himself into a hare so he could run fast, but Ceridwen became a greyhound and ran even faster. He jumped into a river to swim away as a fish, but she transformed into an otter. When he turned into a bird to fly away, as quick as thought she was an eagle chasing after him.
Finally he turned himself into a grain of wheat. I know what you’re thinking: all the wisdom in the world, and the best he can come up with is wheat? I mean, come on, at least turn invisible or something. For some reason, Ceridwen turned herself into a chicken and ate the wheat. Not sure why she had to be a chicken to eat wheat; probably showing off.
When Ceridwen became pregnant, she knew it was that crafty little Gwion growing inside her. (I know wheat doesn’t go into your uterus when you eat it; you have to throw all rational thought out the window, because magic). Ceridwen planned to kill the baby as soon it was born, but he was so beautiful that she just couldn’t do it. Due to her wonderful nurturing instincts, she chucked him into the ocean instead, wrapped in a bag.
The bag washed up on shore, and a prince who was fishing caught him instead of a salmon, and took him home. He knew the kid was something special, because he recited poetry all the way back to the castle. He named him Taliesin, and Taliesin became the greatest of the Welsh bards, and later the chief bard at King Arthur’s court.
Ceridwen never bothered making another potion for Morfran, but if you’ve been worried about him all this time, don’t be. He became one of King Arthur’s warriors, had a beautiful white horse, and survived Arthur’s final battle because he was so hideous that people thought he must be a demon, and ran away in panic.
The oldest known version of the name is Cyrridven, translated as “crooked woman”, because cyrrid means “crooked, bent, hooked”, and ben or ven means “woman, female”. A popular theory is that the name is a corruption of cerdd, meaning “poetry, music”, and gwyn, meaning “white, blessed”, to be understood as “sacred poetry”. I find this etymology too convenient to modern sensibilities to be convincing.
In many ancient traditions, travelling in a crooked or winding path is considered a powerfully magical thing to do (think of labyrinths, for example), so “crooked woman” might be understood as meaning “woman of magic power” – spot on for an enchantress.
Ceridwen is a very magical figure, and her story has several ties to mythology. The thumb sucking leading to great, yet unlooked for, wisdom, reminds us of the Irish hero Finn McCool, who sucked hot oil off his thumb while cooking the Salmon of Knowledge. Is it just coincidence that the prince caught Taliesin while fishing instead of a salmon?
Another is the magical duel, where two sorcerers turn themselves into a succession of creatures until one takes a form the other cannot defeat. There is a faint echo of shamanism here, and it might remind you of the Irish legend of Fintan the Wise, who was able to turn himself into a salmon in order to escape the Great Flood. Another connection to salmon and wisdom!
Ceridwen really appealed to people’s imaginations, and she became seen as not just an enchantress but a goddess of poetry and wisdom. The Victorians identified her as an early pagan goddess, and in modern Paganism she is a goddess of rebirth, knowledge, and inspiration. This is a meaningful modern mythology for Ceridwen, although Welsh scholars tend to get a bit sniffy about it as a 19th century invention.
While the character was known in medieval literature, the name was not used in everyday life, and the form Ceridwen dates to the 16th century. Ceridwen has only been in use since the 19th century revival of old British names, and originated in Wales.
The name Ceridwen features is the novel How Green Was My Valley; Ceridwen is the narrator’s sister. The book is set in the Victorian era, and it is barely possible that a Welsh girl of that time would be called Ceridwen, as it was just coming into use. The author Ceridwen Dovey is named after the literary character.
Ceridwen is in sporadic use as a baby name in the UK, and in 2013 less than three babies were given the name Ceridwen. In the US last year, less than five babies were named Ceridwen.
Ceridwen is a genuine but rare name, and something of a contradiction, as it has medieval origins but is essentially modern – something which causes no end of trouble for the Renaissance Fair crowd, or at least the bodies which approve their names.
To me it seems like a “cool mum” name, which sounds wild and artistic on someone of around my generation, but is hard for me to imagine on a new baby. Perhaps it’s because it fits in so well with the name trends of the 1960s and ’70s, as it sounds rather like a cross between Kerry and Bronwen.
However, this is a name from Welsh legend which will appeal to those wanting a strong, unusual girl’s name which is magical and imaginative. The pronunciation is ker-ID-wen, but English-speakers may prefer KER-id-wen, which gives the obvious nickname Ceri.
(Photo of Ceridwen Dovey from The Australian)
Mia and Lachlan were expecting a baby girl any day when Mia wrote in to the blog. It was her second time writing in, as she asked for help in 2013 with her second son. As Mia and Lachlan aren’t planning any more children, she really felt that this name had to be perfect.
Mia and Lachlan’s daughter was born on August 27, weighing 6lb 7oz (2.9 kg). As soon as they placed her on Mia’s chest, she knew what her name was – it was Lou. Lachlan agreed, but both of them felt that Lou was not quite enough for a full name, and they needed something more substantial and more feminine for their only girl.
Mia liked the name Louella, but it didn’t seem right for her Lou. Then Mia’s mum made a suggestion, and it fit perfectly. It wasn’t too frilly and fussy, it had an American vibe like their sons’ names, and it wasn’t a common way to get to Lou. And so they called her
TALLULAH DOROTHY “LOU“,
sister to Bugsy and Jem.
Lachlan pointed out that Tallulah is a character in the movie Bugsy Malone (played by Jodie Foster), which made Mia slightly worried. But when she asked for other people’s opinions, most said they wouldn’t even notice the connection. Dorothy was the middle name that meant the most to them, as it was an important name on both sides of the family.
Congratulations to Mia and Lachlan, and their happily-named complete little family – Bugsy, Jem, and Lou.
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Latinised form of the Greek form of Andrew, meaning “manly”. Saint Andreas of Alexandria was an early martyr. The name has been used in Germany since the Middle Ages; a famous medieval namesake is Andreas Osiander, a Lutheran mystic and theologian, while a contemporary one is the German opera singer Andreas Scholl. The name Andreas was used in Britain too, although probably the name was still pronounced the same way as Andrew in everyday life. There is an Old English poem called Andreas about Saint Andrew, which turns him into an Old English warrior, battling the forces of evil. Another English literary connection is the 12th century author Andreas Capellanus (Andrew the Chaplain), who wrote a satirical treatise on the courtly love. Just outside the Top 100 in Germany, Andreas is a popular name in Austria and Scandinavia. It’s not often seen here, perhaps because of fears it will be be confused with its feminine counterpart, Andrea. Pronounced something like ahn-DRAY-ahs in Germany, this German classic seems like a fresh update to flagging Andrew, and has recently had some publicity from the disaster movie San Andreas.
The equivalent of Antony, used throughout Europe since the Middle Ages, and a traditional name amongst European nobility and royalty. Famous namesakes include the Austrian composer Anton Bruckner, and Russian writer Anton Chekhov. A famous Australian namesake is SBS journalist and anchorman Anton Enus, who was born in South Africa. Antons in fiction tend to be baddies, which isn’t a help to the name’s image. One exception is the American children’s book Summer of My German Soldier, where Anton is an escaped German POW who befriends a little Jewish girl. Anton is a popular name in Germany, and around the 400s here. A suave multicultural choice – and even the many villainous Antons in fiction give it a bit of an edge.
From from the Roman name Florianus, derived from Florus, which is from the Latin for “flower”. Florianus, or Florian, was one of the Roman emperors, and the noble von Blumenthal family from Brandenburg claimed descent from him via an imaginative legend whereby his sons fled to northern Germany, and taught everyone how to make wine. Saint Florian was a Roman soldier whose duties included organising fire brigades; he was martyred by drowning in a river which is now in Austria, and he is a favourite saint in central Europe. Saint Florian is the patron of Poland, and the city of Linz in Austria, and in Austria and Germany, Florian is used as a call sign for fire engines and stations. With such imperial, noble, saintly, patriotic, and rather butch firefighting associations, it’s little wonder Florian is a common name in Germany, and still on the Top 100. It’s rare here, but the rise of Florence in some ways gives it more familiarity, and I have seen an Australian baby named Florian. It seems hip and elegant.
Latin form of Ioannes, the Greek form of the Hebrew name Yochanan, which in English is John. Famous German namesakes are seriously heavy duty achievers. Johannes Gutenberg, who introduced the printing press to 15th century Europe – it began a cultural revolution which changed the world and is largely responsible for most of us being able to read. Astronomer Johannes Kepler, a key figure in the 17th century scientific revolution whose works provided the foundations for the theory of gravitational force. Johannes Brahms, one of the great composers of the 19th century, honoured in the German hall of fame. A famous Australian namesakes is former Queensland premier Sir Johannes “Joh” Bjelke-Petersen, husband to Florence, and a force in conservative politics; he was of Danish descent. Popular in central Europe and Scandinavia, Johannes is #56 in Germany. It doesn’t chart here, but I do see it sometimes in birth notices. In Germany it’s pronounced yo-HAHN-nes, while here it may be pronounced in order to give the nickname Joe. A strong, handsome, intelligent classic.
Latin name meaning “just”. A Christian named Jesus Justus is mentioned by St Paul in the New Testament, while Joseph Justus is a disciple of Christ considered as a possibility to become an Apostle to replace Judas – he is venerated as St Justus of Eleutheropolis. There are quite a number of saints named Justus, including a Pope and an Archbishop of Canterbury. One of the most influential is a legendary one named Justus of Beauvais, who was beheaded as a child and went for a stroll holding his head: one of those fashionable saintly miracles which sent you straight to the top of the medieval pops for some reason. A famous German namesake is Justus Perthes, an 18th century publisher who founded the Almanach de Gotha, a directory of European royalty and nobility. An Australian namesake is Justus Jorgensen, who founded an artist’s colony in Melbourne called Montsalvat which is still open. Justus is #99 in Germany, and is on the US Top 1000. It seems like a solid alternative to the English virtue name Justice, although pronounced quite differently in Germany.
German form of Christian. It is more common as a surname than a first name in Germany, and is rare here as well, but I do see it occasionally in birth notices, and one of the athletes we sent to the 2012 Olympics was named Karsten. That makes it seem unusual but normal, and it’s very much like familiar names such as Carson and Carter.
Short form of Nikolaus, a German form of Nicholas. The patron saint of Switzerland is Saint Nicholas of Flüe, affectionately known as Brother Klaus. There are many famous German people with this name, including Klaus Neumann, Luftwaffe flying ace, artist and musician Klaus Voormann, who designed album covers for bands like The Beatles, Klaus Badelt, who composed the film score to the 2003 version of Ned Kelly, singer Klaus Meine from The Scorpions, and actor Klaus Kinski, father to Natassja Kinski. There are famous fictional characters with this name too, such as teen bookworm Klaus Bauldelaire from A Series of Unfortunate Events, vampire-werewolf hybrid Klaus Mikaelson from The Vampire Diaries, and Olympian athlete-cum-goldfish Klaus Heissler from American Dad. Slightly dated in Germany, this charming name is very rare in English-speaking countries, probably because it reminds people of Santa Claus. Klaus is said to rhyme with house though.
Modern form of the ancient Germanic name Audo or Odo, originally short forms of names beginning with aud-, meaning “wealth, riches, fortune”. A name in common use by German royalty and nobility, there have been four Holy Roman Emperors named Otto. Otto I, or Otto the Great, was the son of Saint Matilda, and married an English princess. Otto IV was the son of Matilda of England, the daughter of Henry II. Two famous writers had dads named Otto: Anne Frank and Sylvia Plath. The name might also remind you of statesman Otto von Bismarck or film director Otto Preminger. In fiction, Otto has often been used as a comedic or joke name, but “Big Otto” Delaney from Sons of Anarchy is an example of it being both serious and powerful. Currently #320 in Germany, Otto is popular in Scandinavia and gaining popularity in both the US and UK. It’s around the 200s here, and seems hip and rather quirky.
Modern form of the ancient Germanic name Hrodulf, translated as “famous wolf”. It was commonly used by German royalty and nobility, and Rudolf II was a Holy Roman Emperor. Although not generally considered a successful ruler, his patronage of the arts made him a key player in the Renaissance, while his interest in the occult and alchemy helped bring about the scientific revolution – there would be no chemists without alchemists! A famous namesake of modern times is the great ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev, who partnered Margot Fonteyn. Another is the Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, who sought to find a system of thought which would be both scientific and spiritual in nature. Anthony Hope’s novel, The Prisoner of Zenda, is about two men named Rudolf – one a European king, the other his distant cousin visiting from England who must impersonate him. Despite all these interesting Rudolfs, the name is rarely used here as it reminds people of the Christmas song, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Rather a shame, as this name is strong and rather charismatic. I do know someone named Rudolf who has never been bothered by the song though.
Short form of names such as Wolfgang (“wolf path) and Wolfram (“wolf raven”), sometimes used as an independent name. A famous Australian namesake is Wolf Blass, a German immigrant who founded the famous winery in South Australia; his name was short for Wolfgang. The word wolf is the same in English and German (although pronounced differently), and you can also see this as a vocabulary name referring to the animal. Humans have always been fascinated by wolves, and in various mythologies they can be symbols of both danger (such as in the fairy tale Red Riding Hood) and nurturing (like the wolf mother who suckled the twins Romulus and Remus). A common thread in many legends from around the world is that of humans descended from wolves, or humans in wolf form, including werewolves. The power of the wolf makes this an attractive name, and it’s right on trend along with other animal names.
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Picken Out Baby Names
A couple of years ago the blog featured celebrity parents Liam Picken, an AFL footballer, and his partner Annie Nolan, who had just had twin girls, Delphi and Cheska, sisters to Malachy. Annie has her own blog called Uncanny Annie, and recently posted an interesting article on how she and Liam named their children. Just for starters, I discovered that Delphi’s name is actually Delphine, but she is only ever called Delphi. You can also read how the surname Picken helped shorten their name list: Banjo Picken was never going to happen, nor was Cherry Picken!
Claire’s Controversial Name List
Journalist Claire Harvey, who has also been featured on the blog as a celebrity mum with her son Reg, has written a piece about names that she thinks are now too closely associated with a particular person. Intriguingly, they’re all female names. (Is Claire musing over her future girl’s list?).
She does note the recent fuss over Atticus Finch, who’s gone from first-rate father to flawed figure with the publication of Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee. However, Claire likes the name Atticus, and can’t see any reason to get in a flap over a fictional character who lived in a time and place where holding segregationist views and being racially bigoted was normal.
I have been waiting to see if there have been any stories in the Australian press about parents anguished over the name Atticus, but so far I haven’t found any – all the angsty Atticus stories I’ve read have been from the US. I do note that so far this year I have seen four new babies named Atticus, but none since Go Set a Watchman came out last month. It will be interesting to see how many I see in the rest of the year.
She’s Not a Rebel … No, No, No
And more celebrity names: the name Rebel was featured on the blog in 2013 because of the fame of Australian comic actress Rebel Wilson. However, a few months ago there was a big expose of Wilson when it was discovered that her name wasn’t Rebel Wilson at all, but Melanie Bownds. There’s nothing unusual about having a screen name, but apparently it’s an issue if you pretend that it’s your real name.
Plus there was a kerfuffle about her age (she shaved about seven years off it), and her background, which was much more boring and upper middle class than she claimed. For some reason, one magazine took issue with the fact that she wasn’t a class clown at school, but instead rather a high achiever who was deputy head girl, basketball captain, and on the debating team. They almost seemed to imply her comedic gifts must be spurious as well.
Oddly enough, Rebel’s siblings really are named Ryot, Liberty (Libby), and Annachi (Anna), which makes me wonder if there is some information missing here – especially as several of the key points of Rebel’s life story have been confirmed.
After Cyclone Pam hit Vanuatu in March, the names Pam and Pamela became more common, especially for baby girls born during the cyclone itself. This story looks at babies named Pamela and Pam, while another baby was named Charlotte Pamela after Australian volunteer paramedic Charlotte Gillon, who helped deliver her during the cyclone. A great honour for Charlotte, and what a pretty name. Meanwhile, another story reports that nine months after Cyclone Rusty hit Port Hedland, the Pilbara town had many babies with the name Rusty.
Unregistered Baby Name Heads to Court
Sometimes it’s hard for partners to compromise on choosing a child’s name together. Two years ago Ms Reynolds and Mr Sherman had a son after a brief relationship, and ever since they’ve been arguing over what his surname should be. Ms Reynolds says it should be Reynolds, while Mr Sherman prefers Reynolds-Sherman. In the meantime, the baby’s name has not been registered.
In cases where parents can’t agree on a child’s name, the law will step in, and a judge has sided with Mr Sherman, insisting that the boy be registered as Reynolds-Sherman, and referred to as such at all times. The judge says that it would be beneficial for the child’s welfare to have an identity reflecting both sides of his family.
However, Ms Reynolds is not satisfied with this decision. Apart from worries about how she’s going to fit his surname on his lunchbox, she’s concerned that if Mr Sherman ever abandons his son, the boy will be stuck with the surname of the man who deserted him. She appealed the decision, and the appeal was upheld by the Family Court of Australia. The case will now go back to court for a re-hearing.
The relevant justices wrote in their submission: a dispute about the name by which a child will be known perhaps for his entire life is a matter of real importance. Ever thought choosing baby names was a frivolous pursuit? The law disagrees! It’s a matter of real importance.
Like a Baby Name? Swipe It!
Hopefully you and your partner won’t argue about baby names to the extent that Ms Reynolds and Mr Sherman have. But to help you reach consensus, there’s a free baby name app that works like Tinder. You and your partner both download it, and connect with each other’s profile. After that, you are sent scads of baby names, which you can each swipe to like or dislike. If you both like the same name – it’s a match, and sent to your shared favourites list. It sounds like a fun way to get a baby name list together.
Holy Names in the News
It’s rare that a person’s name becomes a major part of a news story. But last month in Sydney, Steven Jesus was accused of stabbing fellow boarding house resident Christopher Angel; luckily Mr Angel was out of the intensive care unit in less than a week. The newspaper headline read: Jesus charged with stabbing Angel in a Sydney boarding house after a brawl of biblical proportions before victim’s Lazarus-like recovery.
It seems that even Mr Angel has had a bit of a giggle about the conjunction of names. The lawyer for Mr Jesus supposedly kept trying to say his surname the Spanish way, but Mr Jesus is adamant his name is pronounced JEE-suz.
Jesus is now in gaol awaiting trial, and has had an AVO taken out against him. And that’s a sentence you don’t read every day.
We have already covered the classic children’s writer and illustrator, May Gibbs, and her adorable floral creation, Little Ragged Blossom. This is another of her characters in the Snugglepot and Cuddlepie series, who can be found in the 1921 picture book Little Obelia.
Instead of being set in the Australian bush amongst the gum trees, Little Obelia continues the undersea adventures first encountered in the previous book of the series, Little Ragged Blossom.
May Gibbs wrote: I always had an absolute love for the underwater things …. I used to look into the clear water from the boats … we used to do a lot of boating in Perth … And one day I thought how lovely it would be to have a little town under the water.
So just as the gumnut babies were born from her childhood experiences in the Western Australian bush, Little Obelia was inspired by boating in Perth. It’s probably not a coincidence that she saw the undersea world as a “town”, and thought of it while in the city.
In the stories, the undersea world is in stark contrast to the bush. While the bush folk, like our gum-nut trio, are generally simple and egalitarian, the world of the sea is one of class difference. It is not long before we encounter a “grand affair” where one may meet Lord Giant Boarfish, the aristocratic Long Tom, the Honourable Mrs Rock Whiting, and Lady Garfish.
In other words, the bush stands in for the country or suburbia, while the sea is the city … glittering, exotic, a carefully structured society in an environment which is ever-shifting and sometimes hard to navigate.
There are many mysteries regarding the sea (one of them is how the gum-nuts manage to easily breathe underwater), and Little Obelia a rather mysterious figure.
Obelia is apparently a type of gum-nut baby too, but instead of growing up in the bush she lay sleeping in a pearl at the bottom of the sea for “years and years”. As she slept, her mind became imbued with great wisdom, although she physically did not age a day, remaining a tiny baby.
One day the pearl burst open into a beautiful white flower, which was found by Ragged Blossom and Snugglepot. After that, Obelia grew very quickly until she was the same size as Ragged Blossom, but so wise that even the cleverest of the Fish Folk would travel many miles to seek her advice.
As you can see, there are a lot of unanswered questions here! How does a baby get inside a pearl? How does sleeping for years and years make you wise? How long is years and years – ten years or ten thousand? How does a pearl blossom into a flower? And so forth.
Like all great oracles, there is much about Obelia which is veiled in mystery and secrets, until she almost takes on the mantle of a nymph or marine goddess.
Obelia’s name comes from the “beautiful Obelia seaweeds” which grew all around her pearl as she lay sleeping. Obelia are not really seaweeds or even plants: they are a genus of simple animals, related to jellyfish and coral, and extremely ancient. They do however grow in colonies which resemble seaweed, with fragile stems and branches.
Obelia are common around the world, and only live in shallow coastal water such as in rockpools, often forming a delicate growth upon rocks and jetties. May Gibbs must have often seen them at the beach – part of that clear underwater world she viewed from boats. Obelia don’t live in the deep sea, so we know that Little Obelia’s pearl must have been in quite shallow water, close to shore.
The name Obelia is from the ancient Greek obelas, meaning “a round loaf or cake”, I guess because colonies of Obelia can form a big mound. The cake’s name is from obelos, meaning “a spit, a spike, a nail”, because they were toasted on spits.
This is also the origin of the word obelisk, those tall tapered pillars ending in a pyramid made by the ancient Egyptians, who called them tekhenu. The Greeks must have seen them and thought they looked like sharp spits.
Obelisks symbolised the sun god Ra, and were so impressive that several countries had Egyptian obelisks shipped over for public display (Rome went slightly obelisk crazy, and you can see the world’s largest obelisk in the Piazza di San Giovanni). Possibly the most famous is Cleopatra’s Needle on London’s Victoria’s Embankment, although of course it is far older than Queen Cleopatra. The obelisk shape is still a favourite design for war memorials.
I’m not sure whether Obelia was used as a woman’s name in ancient Greece, but it’s been in uncommon use as a girl’s name in the English speaking world since the 18th century, and overwhelmingly more common in the United States. It appears likely that the obelisk was the inspiration behind the name, with connotations of both strength and slenderness. The name remains rare, with no sightings of Obelia in either UK or US name data for 2014.
I found only a very few women named Obelia in Australian records, but the Australian writer Drusilla Modjeska has a stepdaughter named Obelia, and there is an architect named Obelia Tait, and a designer called Obelia McCormack. I have also come across several women and girls in Australia with the name, and I’m guessing most, if not all, were named with Little Obelia in mind. I also found Obelia on this lady’s name list, to give you an idea of what other names might be in Obelia’s style.
This is an intelligent, elegant and even hip literary name which is very unusual, but not unfamiliar, and doesn’t seem bizarre in Australia. It doesn’t seem too markedly different from popular names like Olivia, Amelia, and Isabella, and I think would make a good choice for someone who loved the sound of Ophelia, but worried about Ophelia’s unhappy fate. Even the literal meaning of Little Obelia’s name is not a problem, as it doesn’t seem much different from the name Coral. A great way to celebrate both Australian literature and Australia’s love of the sea.
Thank you to Siobhan for requesting the name Obelia be featured on Waltzing More Than Matilda
(Picture shows an illustration from Little Obelia by May Gibbs)
Samantha and Conall were expecting their first baby a couple of years ago. Samantha wrote in to the blog because her favourite name for a girl was Sadie, but every time she mentioned the name to someone, they brought up the old song Sadie the Cleaning Lady. It seriously made her question whether she should choose a different name.
In the end, Samantha and Conall had a boy instead, and he was named
which was a family name they had selected right from the start.
A little while ago, Samantha and Conall welcomed their second child. This time Samantha wondered if Sadie was now too popular, since it just joined the Top 100 last year. However, she still adored the name Sadie, and felt that she should go with her heart. So once their daughter arrived, there was no hesitation in naming her
with Patricia a family name they had always planned to use.
Samantha and Conall have only ever had positive comments about Sadie’s name, and not one person has mentioned the song to them. They are very happy with the choice they made.
Congratulations to Samantha and Conall on not one, but two beautiful children given the names they had always longed to use! Blog readers were keen for Samantha to stick with her favourite name, with almost 30% of them urging her to use Sadie.
If there’s any lesson to take away from Samantha’s story, please don’t listen to silly comments people might make about names while you are expecting. Not only were the remarks about the song obviously outdated, as the name Sadie was already zipping up the charts, but since Sadie was born they haven’t been heard again!
And isn’t it interesting (and a bit scary) what a small window you sometimes have between choosing a name that’s “too controversial” and a name that’s “too popular”?
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Germans have lived in Australia since the beginning of European settlement in 1788, and at least 73 of the convicts were German. Many more came to Australia as free settlers during the 19th century, often fleeing revolution or increased militarism in their homeland. By 1900, Germans were the fourth largest ethnic group in Australia, behind English, Irish, and Scots. Today almost a million Australians classify themselves as having German ancestry, about 4.5% of the population. That’s only a little less than the number of Australians with Italian ancestry, yet it is far more common to see Italian names in birth notices than German ones. Two world wars didn’t help, and neither does the clunkiness of some traditional German names, which are out of date in their country of origin. Yet here clunky is beginning to be cool again, and there are many cute and spunky German short forms that are right on trend.
Latinised form of the name Amala, a short form of names beginning with the German element amal, meaning “vigour, courage”, with connotations of hard work and fertility. It is thus an older or more obviously German variant of Amelia. The name was traditional among German aristocracy and royalty, and is still used by modern European royals: Prince Felix of Luxembourg had a daughter named Princess Amalia last year. Although a popular name in Continental Europe since the Middle Ages, Amalia only became commonly used in Britain in the 18th century once Amelia had been introduced by the Hanoverian rulers. Amalia is around the 300s and seems to be gaining more use; it’s not only an alternative to popular Amelia, but is boosted by the trend for names such as Mahli and Mahlia. Rising in the US, Amalia is only just outside the Top 100 in Germany, and feels as if it is going places. It’s said the same way in Germany as here: ah-MAH-lee-uh.
Combination of the names Anna and Liese, a short form of Elisabeth. It’s been in use since the 18th century in Germany, and came into common use in the English-speaking world in the 20th century. A famous Australian namesake is the model Anneliese Seubert, who was born in Germany and moved here as a child; Anneliese has been a celebrity mum on the blog. Anneliese doesn’t chart in Australia, with parents preferring Annalise, which is around the 300s – the same spelling as the Australian model Annalise Braakensiek. The name has numerous spelling variants, including the name of the famous wartime diarist Annelies “Anne” Frank. This name is very pretty, and would be a good alternative to popular names like Anna and Annabelle, while also suitable for honouring an Anne and an Elizabeth at the same time. Germans say this name ah-na-LEE-zuh, but Australians may prefer AN-uh-lees or AN-uh-leez.
Pet form of Grete, short for Margarete, a German form of Margaret. It’s probably best known from the Grimm’s fairy tale Hansel and Gretel. In the story, Hansel and Gretel are brother and sister whose impoverished father and stepmother abandon them in the woods. The hungry children are caught by a witch once they start nibbling her yummy-looking gingerbread house, and Gretel rescues her brother from being eaten with cleverness and courage. There’s been a recent reboot in the horror movie Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, with Gemma Arteron as Gretel. A famous Australian namesake is heiress Gretel Packer, the sister of James Packer; Gretel is named after her grandmother, wife of media mogul Sir Frank Packer (Sir Frank entered yachts named Gretel in the America’s Cup in his wife’s honour). Another namesake is television presenter Gretel Killeen, who writes children’s books. Gretel seems like a cute yet sophisticated choice.
Short form of Helene or Magdalena. A famous namesake is the pioneering German film director Helene “Leni” Riefenstahl who made propaganda films for the Nazis during the 1930s. German supermodel Heidi Klum has a young daughter named Helene, who is called Leni. Leni is a popular name in Germany, and around the 300s here. It’s very much on trend, fitting in with cute short names like Evie, and L names like Layla. English-speakers tend to pronounce the name LAY-nee, which isn’t too different to how Germans say it: Laney and Lainey are variant spellings. It can be used as a nickname for names such as Eleni and Elena. Some parents pronounce it LEN-ee, and treat it as a feminine form of the male name Lenny.
Pet form of Luise, the German form of Louise. It’s also an Arabic name meaning “pearls”, which may be written Lu’lu and is sometimes given as a nickname. Lulu is the main character in two plays by German playwright Frank Wedekind often combined into one called Lulu; they inspired the silent film Pandora’s Box with Louise Brooks as Lulu, the opera Lulu by Alban Berg, and was made into a film again in Germany in the 1960s. In the stories, Lulu is a prostitute and femme fatale. Lulu is often chosen as a stage name, such as the Scottish singer Lulu (born Marie Lawrie), or a nickname, such as Australian china painter Lucie “Lulu” Shorter. However, singer-songwriter Lulu Simon, daughter of Paul Simon, has Lulu as her full name. Lulu is around the 200s here – a cute, sexy, hip little name that gives Lola a run for its money. Can be used as a nickname for any name with a LU sound in it, from Lucinda to Eloise.
Pet form of Maria. Famous namesakes include Hollywood star Mitzi Gaynor (born Francesca Gerber), and child star Mitzi Green (born Elizabeth Keno), who was in the 1932 version of Little Orphan Annie. A famous Australian namesake is teenage actress Mitzi Ruhlmann from Home and Away and Dance Academy. Although in Germany Mitzi is more popular for cats and dogs than humans, itsy-bitsy Mitzi is a bright vintage charmer that will appeal to those wanting something a little different while still fitting in with current trends.
Modern form of the ancient Germanic name Odilia. This is often said to be a feminine form of Otto, but may actually be from the Germanic odal, meaning “fatherland”. There is a medieval Saint Odilia (one of those long-suffering young girl saints who are given a disturbingly hard time by their horrible fathers), and Ottilie was a traditional name among the German aristocracy during the Middle Ages. The name has been something of a favourite in fiction, being chosen by the authors Goethe, Truman Capote, John Wyndham, and Robert Louis Stevenson – in all these works, the woman named Ottilie is an object of desire in some way. You can say Ottilie in various ways, but OT-uh-lee and o-TILL-ee are probably the most common in Australia, and Tilly is a favoured nickname here. The German pronunciation is more like o-TEE-lee-uh.
Short form of Dorothea or Theodora. Famous German namesakes include Thea von Harbou, who wrote the screenplay for the silent film classic Metropolis, and Thea Rasche, Germany’s first female aerobatics pilot. Famous Australian namesakes include author Thea Astley, and artist Althea “Thea” Proctor, both distinguished in their respective fields. You might also know of Thea Slatyer, a retired footballer who played for the Matildas, and Dame Thea Muldoon, wife of New Zealand prime minister Sir Robert Muldoon. Simple yet substantial, Thea is gaining in popularity around the world. Just outside the Top 100 in Germany, Thea is popular in Scandinavia and New Zealand, and rising sharply elsewhere in the English-speaking world. It has been boosted here by a celebrity baby, daughter of model Kelly Landry. Usually said THEE-uh in Australia, but the German pronunciation is TEE-uh.
Feminine form of Wilhelm, the German equivalent of William. In the form Wilhelmine this was a traditional name amongst German royalty. A famous Australian namesake is Wilhelmina “Mina” Wylie, one of Australia’s first two female swimmers in the Olympics; she won silver in 1912, and received 115 swimming champion titles in all. Another is Wilhelmina “Mina” Rawson, who wrote books on cooking and household management, and was also the first swimming teacher in central Queensland. A great name for swimmers! For many years this name has been seen as too clunky, but popular Willow helps make it seem a lot more usable. Dignified yet quirky, Wilhelmina has a host of adorable nicknames, including Billie, Willa, Mina, Minnie, and Minka. This is a favourite name of Ebony from Babynameobsessed, and as she is a teenage name enthusiast, it bodes well for Wilhelmina’s future.
Short form of Marcella, a feminine form of the name Marcus. There are several famous musical namesakes from America: singer-songwriter Zella Day, country singer Zella Lehr, and gospel singer Zella Jackson Price. In the late 19th century, Zella fitted in with other names from that era, such as Zelda and Zelie; today it sounds like Zoe + Ella, or perhaps Zahli + Stella. A vintage name which now blends in seamlessly with current trends.
(Picture shows an illustration from Hansel and Gretel by Felicitas Kuhn-Klapschy)
Mia first wrote in to the blog a couple of years ago, looking for a sibling name to match their son Bugsy. Mia and Lachlan’s second son arrived in May 2013, and after some discussion, they decided to name him Jem.
Now Mia and Lachlan are expecting a baby girl any minute (she was due yesterday),and still haven’t decided upon a name for her. I thought they would be all ready if they ever had a girl, because Mia had her heart set on the name Margot if Jem had been a girl, but since then one of Mia’s best friends has had a baby girl named Margot, upsetting Mia’s plans.
These are the names on her baby name list:
Lou (possibly short for Louella)
Astoria (nicknamed Story)
Besides Margot, other names that have been crossed off are:
Tessa (Lachlan thinks it’s a bit ho-hum)
Matilda (loves it, but it’s so popular ….)
Frankie (just not excited by it)
Middle name would most likely be Dorothy, Clementine, Jean, or Evangeline, depending on which one sounds best with the chosen first name.
Mia and Lachlan aren’t planning on having any more children, so Mia feels as if this name just has to be perfect.
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Mia, I’m almost as devastated as you that Margot got crossed off your list! I feel like suggesting that you still go with Margot – except that it does seem a bit different because Margot is a currently uncommon but rising name. I expect your friend might feel a bit miffed about it, as opposed to you both having daughters named something popular like Ella or Charlotte.
You did have Maisie on your list for a girl before – is it no longer on the table, as it seems like rather a good alternative to Margot? Or Marigold – that was on your original list too, and it’s gorgeous. Actually I liked Tilda from your original list too …
Thinking about sisters for Bugsy and Jem, it seems to me that both your sons have got quite original names, and it would be nice if their sister had one equally distinctive.
This is a beautiful name, and Adeline Dorothy sounds really lovely. However, I should probably warn you that Adeline is much more common than the data suggests due to spelling variants. What with Adelynne, Addalyn, Addelyne, Addilyn, Ada-Lynne and so on, it really isn’t a very rare name. If you use Addie as a nickname, it sounds like all the Maddies, and the name fits in so neatly with Addison, Adelaide, Madison, and Madeline that it almost seems too on trend. Could I interest you in Ada? It’s two syllables like Bugsy, three letters like Jem, and begins and ends in a different sound to both those names, so it seems like a good match without being “matchy”. However, I must confess Ada is very like Ava, so you might think this is too much on trend as well.
Very cute, and Bugsy, Jem and Lou is quite delightful. I think I do prefer it as a nickname for something like Louella (which is very hip), because it seems a bit insubstantial on its own. Louella Clementine is nice, although Louella Jean is charming. I only hesitate because you already have a name in your family with a strong L-l sound in it, which makes we wonder if you are comfortable with that.
Great name, which goes well with almost your middles (except Elka Evangeline, which sounds too much). The only thing which makes me hesitate is that when I see it matched with Bugsy, it really makes me notice the BUG and the ELK in their names a lot more.
Very pretty and underused in Australia, although it does seem quite modern matched with Bugsy and Jem. I don’t think that’s a problem though. Autumn Dorothy is an attractive combination. This was a hugely popular name when it was covered on the blog, getting one of the highest approval ratings ever – not one person hated the name, while almost 40% loved it. It seems like a name that’s easy to wear.
Adorable, with that vintage vibe Bugsy and Jem have. Lottie Jean is nice – both hip and homely. Again, it’s an L name, so think about that carefully.
Like Bugsy and Jem, this seems like an American-inspired name that also has a vintage feel, since the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York flourished during the 1930s. There’s something about it which makes me inwardly gasp a little, just like Bugsy and Jem, so it does seem like a natural sister to them. It’s a bit daring! I love the nickname Story, which seems like a good match with Bugsy and Jem, and this goes well with most of your middle name options.
Bright, shiny, glittering, lovely. I like Lux Clementine and Lux Evangeline, which both sound very glamorous to me, and I think it’s a natural match with Bugsy and Jem. Another L name, so do think about it.
Other names you might like:
Magnolia nn Maggie
Mia, I remember when Jem was born you originally chose a different name for him, but after he was born, you realised that Jem was the name that belonged to him. I wouldn’t be surprised if the same thing happened with your daughter – it’s hard to decide on a name now, but once you get to meet your baby, the right name may become obvious.
NAME UPDATE: The baby’s name was Tallulah, nicknamed Lou!
The most popular choice for Bugsy and Jem”s sister was Astoria, nicknamed Story, which had 26% of the vote. Lou was the third-most popular choice with 22%, but I think would have got higher with a full name behind it.
(Photo from Lincoln Park Nannies)
Joanna and Jennifer
Aidan May “Ady” (Keeley)
Amelie Thelma Shirley (Scarlett)
Annabelle Lucy Rose
Emma Victoria Cora
Felicity Clare (Francesca)
Gemma Mackenzie (Jackson)
Gracie Alice (Isabella, Amelia)
Isabella Honor (Lachlan, Lucas, Beau)
Mae Audrey (Ava, Leila)
Olive Pearl (Lachlan, Annabel)
Poppy Lou (Evie, Banjo)
Sienna Ruthie (Mason)
Arki Edmund (Maya)
Bodhi Liam (Amelia Cate)
Charlie Thomas (Gidget, Jack)
Dempsey Ellis (Sullivan, Winter)
Flynn Archie (Oliver)
Francis William (Ivy, Ada)
Hemi Robert Aroha
Jackson Ashley (Lachlan)
James Bingham “Jimmy” (Charlie)
Jobe Michael (Jed, Brooke, Molly)
Korban Jack (Cooper)
Lawrence Nicholas (Charlotte Lucy)
Lucas Victor George (Connor)
Lyndon John (Teah)
Quinn Alexander (Ava, Addison)
Wade Ronald (Caleb)
(Picture is of Mount Feathertop in the Australian Alps, Victoria; photo from Parks Victoria)