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Famous Fictional Namesake
I’ve been away on holiday, hence the lack of posts. Whenever we go somewhere, I always take tons of books with me, in the fond belief that I will have lots of free time. I rarely get much reading done, as holidays take up more of your time and energy than you think they will, but in the spirit of my good intentions I’m covering a name from a modern Australian classic.
Peter Carey’s Oscar and Lucinda won the 1989 Miles Franklin Award and the 1988 Booker Prize. Set in the nineteenth century, Lucinda is a young orphaned heiress who forms an unlikely and intense relationship with an Anglican priest named Oscar.
These eccentric redheaded soulmates are bound together by their mutual passion for gambling. Lucinda is the owner of a glass factory on Sydney’s Darling Harbour, and she and Oscar make a crazy wager that he will transport a glass church by river to the town of Bellingen in New South Wales; Lucinda stakes her entire fortune on the bet.
Peter Carey’s first idea for his heroine’s name was Hermione; however he went off the idea as he realised how difficult Hermione was for him to say. Not fancying the idea of constantly talking about Hermione at book festivals and so on, and thinking how awkward Oscar and Hermione sounded as a title, he cast about for something else. His wife at the time suggested Lucinda, and he immediately liked it, as it felt both modern and Victorian.
Only later did he realise that Lucinda had a connection with light, which fit the themes of the novel. Lucinda is obsessed with glass, while Oscar has a deadly fear of water, which makes his transporting of the glass church upriver a nightmare on many levels. The novel brings together the imagery of glass and water very beautifully: as Lucinda knows, both are liquids. There is a great shimmer of light on this novel which constantly plays with the idea of chance.
Oscar and Lucinda was made into a film in 1997, with Cate Blanchett and Ralph Fiennes in the title roles. The film is beautiful, and Blanchett suitably luminous as Lucinda, but readers (especially ones trying to cheat their way through book club) should be aware that the novel’s ending has been altered for the film.
Lucinda is an elaboration of the Roman name Lucia, the feminine form of Lucius, meaning “light”. The name appears to have been the invention of Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes, in his masterwork Don Quixote. In a farcical subplot, Lucinda is in love with one man, but forced to marry another; she manages to escape her husband and be with her true love.
Cervantes may have gotten the name from another 17th Spanish writer, the poet Lope de Vega. Lope de Vega used the name Camila Lucinda as a pseudonym for some of his most romantic and passionate poems – a near anagram of Micaela de Luján, an actress who was de Vega’s mistress. Their relationship began in 1599, and his first poems written to “Luzinda” were published in 1602.
Although Cervantes had been an admirer of de Vega, they became rivals enough that Don Quixote contains verses which satirise de Vega. It is even possible that the foolishly romantic Don Quixote himself is a sly allusion to ardent ladies man Lope de Vega. Could it be that Cervantes “stole” the name Lucinda for his novel as a sarcastic in-joke?
Don Quixote was published in two volumes, in 1605 and 1615, and these were translated into English in 1612 and 1620. The name Lucinda begins to appear in 17th century records after the publication of Don Quixote, both in Spain and English-speaking countries.
Lucinda became something of a literary favourite. English poet Henry Glapthorne wrote a series of romantic poems addressed to “Lucinda” in 1639. French playwright Moliere included a character named Lucinde in his 1666 farce, The Doctor in Spite of Himself, and English playwright Samuel Foote’s 1782 farce The Englishman in Paris had a Lucinda. German poet Karl von Schegel published an autobiographical romance named Lucinde in 1799 – considered scandalously erotic in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but tame by today’s standards.
In all these works Lucinda is attractive, and involved in romantic situations that generally work out to her advantage. In von Schegel’s work, Lucinda stands for the ideal woman who is passionate and intellectual in equal measure. Even in Glapthorne’s poems, where the relationship between he and Lucinda doesn’t last, it seems to be by her own choice that she leaves.
Martin Boyd’s classic Australian novel Lucinda Brayford is rather less upbeat. Set mainly in the first half of the 20th century, Lucinda is a beautiful woman of the Melbourne upper class who marries a dashing English aristocrat and moves to Britain. Disillusionment swiftly follows. (Peter Carey has been quick to correct reviewers who imagine he had in mind any connection with Lucinda Brayford when writing Oscar and Lucinda).
In contemporary fiction, Lucinda is often used in fairy tale and fantasy works: she is the well-meaning fairy godmother in Ella Enchanted, the good little witch in Sofia the First, a stepsister of Cinderella in Into the Woods, an elderly lady who finds her own personal fairyland in The Spiderwick Chronicles, and the heroine of the young adult fantasy romance series Fallen by Lauren Kate. Princess Lucinda is both a Groovy Girls doll and a powerfully magical comic book character.
Lucinda first charted in the 1960s, debuting at #342, and peaked in the late 2000s at #126. It is currently around the middle of the 100s, making it an attractive choice for someone wanting a name that has never been popular, but isn’t too far off popularity either.
Lucinda is more popular in Australia than anywhere else. In the United States, Lucinda was in the Top 1000 until the late 1980s, and peaked at #153 in 1881. Last year, 143 baby girls were named Lucinda in the US, and numbers seem to be still falling. In the UK in 2014, 29 baby girls were named Lucinda, with numbers in decline after a peak in the 200s during the late 1990s.
Famous Australian namesakes include ballerina Lucinda Dunn, principal dancer at the Australian Ballet for 23 years; sailor Lucinda “Lu” Whitty, who won silver at the 2012 Olympics; equestrian eventer Lucinda Fredericks, who also competed at the 2012 Olympics; actress Lucinda Cowden, who was on Neighbours; Lucinda “Cindy” McLeish, Liberal politician in the Victorian parliament; and Lucinda “Lucy” Turnbull, former Lord Mayor of Sydney, and wife of the current Prime Minister.
There is also a small coastal town in Queensland called Lucinda, named after a paddle steamer. The Lucinda was named after Lady (Jeannie) Lucinda Musgrave, daughter of prominent American lawyer and law reformer David Dudley Field II, and the wife of Sir Anthony Musgrave, a governor of Queensland. The little town of Lucindale in South Australia is also named after her, as Sir Anthony was previously a governor of that state.
Lucinda is a pretty and elegant literary name linked to love and romance, and with a fairy tale feel to it. In Australia it is an underused modern classic, often thought of here as having a rather upper class image. Among its attractions are nickname options, such as Lucy, Lucie, Lu, and Lulu, with Lux and Lucky as fun possibilities. While Cindy might recently have been thought of as too dated, I’m seeing an increasing number of babies named or nicknamed Cindy, so this cute retro name may be coming back into style.