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Last month the Australian film Jedda returned to the Cannes film festival, sixty years after it was first shown there in 1955. Jedda was the work of distinguished film-makers Charles and Elsa Chauvel; the first Australian feature film to be shot in colour, and the first to have Aboriginal actors in lead roles.
In the film, Jedda is an Aboriginal girl who is brought up by a white couple on a cattle station after her mother dies. She is raised in European ways, and forbidden to learn about her own culture, kept separated from the other Aborigines on the station.
When she gets older, Jedda finds herself strangely drawn to an Aboriginal man living in the bush, and following the traditional ways of his people. He abducts her, but when they come to his tribal lands, Jedda finds that their relationship is forbidden by Aboriginal law. It’s a Romeo and Juliet scenario, and as with Shakespeare’s tale, it ends in tragedy for the star-crossed lovers.
The role of Jedda was given to Rosalie Kunoth, an Aboriginal teenager from the Northern Territory, who was studying in Alice Springs. The Chauvels gave her the screen name Ngarla for the film, which they thought looked more “authentic”. Ngarla was the name of Rosalie’s mother’s people – the Ngarla are from the Pilbara region of Western Australia. This was distressing to Rosalie, as it was culturally inappropriate.
The filming was challenging for Rosalie in many ways, and when she attended the premiere (sitting in the white section of a segregated cinema), was horrified by the film’s eroticism. Rosalie was an Anglican nun for ten years; she then left the order, married, and eventually returned to the Northern Territory. Now a respected Aboriginal elder, Rosalie Kunoth-Monks has spent her life working as an Indigenous activist, taking on leadership roles in her community. She has a daughter named Ngarla.
Jedda was a groundbreaking film in Australian cinema history, especially significant as it gained international attention and respect at a time when Australian cinema was practically nonexistent. As well as its other “firsts”, it was the first Australian film to be shown at Cannes, and nominated for the Palme d’Or.
Although it has dated in some ways, it remains a powerful and heartbreaking story. Jedda was created in opposition to the assimilationist policies of the 1950s, and the film is still relevant in light of the Stolen Generations. It helped inspire Indigenous film-maker Tracey Moffatt, whose Night Cries is a re-imagined “what might have been” sequel to Jedda.
In the movie Jedda, Aboriginal servants name the baby Jedda when she arrives, because she “flies in” like a “jedda bird”. Jedda appears to be from the Noongar word djida or jida, meaning “bird” (more specifically a wren), even though Noongar people are from south-west Western Australia, and the film is set in the Northern Territory. In the film, the identification with Jedda as a bird connects her to flight, to freedom and capture, and also to the spirit world.
Australian records show the name Jedda in sporadic use as far back as the 19th century, including by Indigenous Australians. I can only speculate as to where their names might have come from; in the case of Europeans, maybe as a variant of the name Jetta. It is possible that Indigenous women born before the film was made took (or were given) the name Jedda after its release. In addition, I have seen Indigenous women named Djida and Jida.
Jedda is also a plant name, as the jedda bush is native to the Cape York Peninsula region of far north Queensland. It is named after Jedda Creek, which is where it was first found, but I have not been able to discover the origin of the creek’s name – it may even have been named after the film.
Jedda is in use as a personal name for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, and is a popular name for homes, businesses, and streets. It is often used as a name for animals too, and in particular I have encountered quite a few horses named Jedda. This may be why in the children’s novel, Hating Alison Ashley by Robin Klein, the heroine’s sister Jedda pretends she is a horse. I’ve seen the name given to a boy, and it does have a bit of a unisex vibe, as it shortens to Jed.
Jedda is an Australian name made famous by a classic film, and appealing to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous parents. Although traditionally female, it could even be used for both sexes. It tends to be seen as slightly dated, yet it has never been common and is similar to Gemma, Jenna, Jed, and Jett.
French form of the Latin name Rosalia, derived from rosa, meaning “rose”. Saint Rosalia was a medieval hermit who tradition says was a Norman noblewoman led by angels to live in a cave in Sicily. The saint became known in 1624, when she is supposed to have miraculously cured a plague. The saint’s name Rosalie was given to a young nun named Jeanne-Marie Rendu, and she became Blessed Sister Rosalie, who performed a lifetime of charity in the slums of 19th century Paris, and was mourned by the city when she died.
The name Rosalie came into common use in the 18th century, and was especially used in France, Germany, and Central Europe. It only became common in the English-speaking world in the 19th century, possibly because of the French courtesan Rosalie Duthé, who became the mistress of French kings and aristocrats. As a young woman she moved to London to escape the French Revolution, and gained the immensely rich George Wyndham, 3rd Earl of Egremont, as a lover. Beautiful and golden-tressed, Rosalie was apparently not overburdened with brains, and it is theorised that she is the originator of the “dumb blonde” stereotype.
The name Rosalie first joined the charts in the 1910s, debuting at #268. The name peaked in the 1940s at #141, probably because of the 1937 movie Rosalie, starring Eleanor Powell as a princess in disguise: Cole Porter’s song Rosalie is from the movie. Rosalie dropped off the charts in the early 2000s, but returned in 2009 at #519, the year after the first Twilight film was released, with Nikki Reed in the role of Rosalie Hale. Rosalie is described as being “the most beautiful person in the world”, which must have been a drawcard. The name Rosalie is apparently now in rare use again.
In the US, Rosalie returned to the Top 1000 in 2009, under the influence of Twilight. It is now #310 and rising. In the UK, the name Rosalie suddenly began rising steeply in 2009, and is now #394. Rosalie is also in the 300s in France, and is a popular name in The Netherlands, at #79.
Rosalie is a pretty, charming, European-style name with that touch of fairy-tale magic which has seen it chosen in films for a student princess and a vampire beauty. As Rose- names are becoming increasingly fashionable, it is a bit surprising that Australia seems to to be lagging behind the international trends – although it might just be that our data-collection is lagging.
I have seen quite a few birth notices for baby girls named Rosalee, Rosaleigh, Rosa-Lee and so on, and wonder if the spelling is an issue for some parents. Perhaps they worry that Rosalie will be said with the end rhyming with Lorelei, or just don’t like the idea of a name that ends in -lie. This makes me wonder if there are more Rosalies out there than meets the eye. A fantastic underused traditional choice, in any case.