Michael Ennis and his wife Simone recently welcomed their fourth child, and have named their daughter Evelyn Swan. Evelyn joins big brothers Jack and RandyWolfe, and big sister Koby Fox (or Koby-Fox, or Kobyfox – I have all seen all three reported as her name). The animal spirits continue! Evelyn’s birth was reported on Thursday night’s televised NRL game, and the commentators began bickering about whether Swan was a “person’s name” or “just a surname”. Michael’s family has been previously featured on the blog, and he is signed with the Cronulla Sharks for next year.
Heath L’Estrange and his wife Jess welcomed their first child in October last year, and named their daughter Grace. Heath has played professional rugby league since 2004, and spent four years with the Bradford Bulls in the UK. He signed with the Sydney Roosters this season.
(Photo of Michael and Simone with their three eldest children from the Herald Sun)
Ashby is a residential northern suburb, first developed in the late 1990s. It is named after the original landowner, Mr E.E. Ashby, who lived here before World War I. Ashby is a surname which means “farm among the ash trees” in a mixture of Old English and Old Norse; it is more common in Lincolnshire, Leicestershire and the East Midlands, which have a history of Scandinavian influence. Ashby has been used as a name for boys since the 17th century, and seems to have been especially popular amongst Puritan families. The town of Ashby-de-la-Zouch in Leicestershire was an important centre for Puritan preaching and education, which may be an inspiration for the name. Ashby isn’t rare in Australian records, although more common as a middle name, and has occasionally been given to girls. I saw this is a boy’s middle name in a birth notice, and thought this might make an appealing Ash- name for boys, which seems more obviously masculine than Ashley. Unfortunately, it could easily be confused with Ashley too.
Bentley is 8 km south of the city, and is the location of the main campus of Curtin University. The area has been settled since 1830, and was developed in the post-war period with government housing, including homes for returned servicemen. Today Bentley is very varied: it has a light industrial area, but part of it is still used for grazing. The suburb is named after John Bentley, a veteran of the Crimean War who arrived in the Swan River Colony as a pensioner guard, and supervised convicts building what is now the Albany Highway. Bentley is a surname after the common English place name, meaning “bent-grass meadow”; bent-grass refers to rushes or reeds. Bentley has been used as a boy’s name since the 17th century, and has recently leaped up the charts in the United States to become a Top 100 name. Its jump in popularity is attributed to a baby named Bentley on reality show 16 and Pregnant. In Australia, Bentley is around the high 100s, which is still a lot more popular than it is in the UK. People often connect the name to the luxury car company, founded in 1919 by W.O. Bentley.
Bertram is a new suburb of the City of Kwinana, in Perth’s south (for more information, see Leda in Perth Suburbs That Could Be Used As Girls Names). It is named after an assisted migrant from the 1920s, who came here under the group settlement scheme. Bertram is a Germanic name which means “bright raven”; it was introduced to Britain by the Normans. A famous Australian namesake is Sir Bertram Stevens, who was Premier of New South Wales in the years before the Second World War. Bertram has been quite a popular name in fiction, including the main character of Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well. Unfortunately, Bertram is not, on the face of it, a very sympathetic character, although he gets his regulation happy ending anyway. Another fictional Bertram is Bertie Wooster, from P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves books; a good-natured idler, this Bertram is not without charm, although perhaps not the most sturdy namesake. The short form Bertie would be very cute though.
Carlisle is south of the CBD, and close enough to offer views of the city. Originally farmland, it was developed in the late 19th century, and is a fairly typical older suburb. The name Carlisle was chosen by the suburb’s ratepayers, who called it after the northern English city of Carlisle in Cumbria. Their logic was that just as Cumbrian Carlisle is famously near the border between England and Scotland, so was Australian Carlisle right on the border between the city of Perth and its suburbs. However, it is interesting to note that one of the landowners at the time was named Carlisle; it is possible his surname put the idea in the ratepayers’ minds. Carlisle is an ancient city which was one of the most heavily fortified towns of pre-Roman Briton: its name means “stronghold of the god Lugus”. Lugus was one of the most prominent of the Celtic gods, and the Romans identified him with Mercury, as he was known as a god of trade and skill. Carlisle has been used as a boy’s name since the 18th century, and was originally used most often in Cumbria. It has recently received some interest since the name was chosen for one of the more sympathetic vampires in the Twilight series.
Falcon is one of the suburbs of Mandurah, a coastal city 45 km from Perth, within the metropolitan area. It is popular with tourists and retirees, making it the least affordable city in Australia. Falcon has a number of beaches, and is named after Falcon Bay, which is pronounced FAWL-kin, rather than FAL-kin – an earlier English pronunciation of the word. Falcon was a yacht whose crew won a silver medal at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, and many of Falcon’s streets are named for yachts. Falcon has been used as a boy’s name since medieval times – there is even an obscure St. Falcon, and Falcon was the middle name of Antarctic explorer Robert Scott. The name may be from the Latin Falco, meaning “falcon”, or derived from the Germanic name Fulco, meaning “people”. I did find a few Falcons born in Australia, and for some reason they were nearly all South Australian. In Australia, this name will remind people strongly of the car, the Ford Falcon, and perhaps also the slang term in rugby league for being accidentally hit in the head by the ball. I’m not sure whether the pronunciation will make any difference.
Murdoch is in the south, and the home of Murdoch University. The university is named in honour of Sir Walter Murdoch, a former chancellor of the University of Western Australia, and its founding Professor of English. Sir Walter was a essayist famous for his wit and intelligence, and an active proponent of international peace and justice, political freedom, women’s rights, and affordable childcare. His great-nephew is the media mogul Rupert Murdoch. The surname Murdoch is the Anglicised form of two Gaelic personal names that became conflated with one another, and were written as Muireadhach. One name was Muiredach, meaning “mariner”, and the other was Murchad, meaning “sea warrior”. Muireadhach was a traditional name amongst the Earls of Monteith, and Murdoch has seen particular use in their seat of Perthshire. Murdoch is commonly found in Australian records amongst Scottish families, but although we have enthusiastically embraced Lachlan, Murdoch has been less successful. Fun fact: Murdoch was an early name crush for a particular Australian blogger, which makes you wonder if this could have been a contender without the prominent Murdoch family.
Samson is a small suburb of Fremantle, a southern port city in the Perth metropolitan area. The suburb was only developed in the 1970s, as before this it had belonged to the army, and was a military camp during World War II. The suburb is named after the Samson family, who have been prominent in the Fremantle area for nearly two centuries. Sir Frederick Samson was mayor of Fremantle for twenty years, from the 1950s to the 1970s, and his home, Samson House, is one of Fremantle’s landmarks. The suburb of Samson contains Sir Frederick Samson Park, Fremantle’s only bush reserve. Sir Frederick was the grandson of Lionel Samson, a wealthy Jewish merchant who settled in the Swan River Colony in 1829 and became one of its most successful pioneers. Popular for his charm and wit, respected for his integrity, the business he founded is still run by the Samson family, making it Western Australia’s oldest family business. Samson is one of the most famous characters in the Old Testament, a judge of the Israelites known for his superhuman strength. His name is from the Hebrew for “man of the sun”, leading some scholars to suspect he was originally a sun god, or demi-god. Samson was in use as an English name during the Middle Ages, and there is a Welsh St Samson, one of the Apostles of Brittany. This is a very masculine name which provides another way to get the popular short form Sam.
Sawyers Valley is on the eastern fringe of Perth’s outer suburbs, and 40 km from the city. Its name came about because it was originally a saw mill and timber processing area. It’s now a semi-rural suburb in the bush-covered hills surrounding Perth. Sawyer is an occupational surname for someone who sawed wood for a living – and in the days when most things were made of wood, an important trade. Sawyer has been used as a personal name since the 17th century, mostly as a male name. In Australian records, I can only find it as a man’s first name, although not unusual as a female middle name. Sawyer doesn’t chart in Australia, but has been in the US Top since 1991; it had a huge jump up the charts after Steven Spielberg chose the name for his son in 1992. In America, it is a unisex name, but more common for boys. Although it is in rare use here, I have seen it a few times, on both sexes. Its most famous namesake is Tom Sawyer, the young scamp from the stories by Mark Twain, while it has also been alias for Josh Holloway’s character on Lost.
Stirling is a residential suburb 10 km north of the city. The area has a multicultural history, because in the 1920s it attracted retired Chinese miners from the goldfields, returned servicemen from the First World War, and many Italian migrant. It became a successful market gardening region producing almost every vegetable possible, some for export. Even after development in the 1960s and ’70s, the suburb remains one of Perth’s most ethnically diverse, with a third of the population having Italian heritage, and many from Macedonian, Greek and Asian backgrounds. The suburb is named after James Stirling, who was the first governor of Western Australia, and who lobbied for a colony to be founded on the Swan River. Stirling is a Scottish Clan name which comes from the city of that name in central Scotland; it is known as the “Gateway to the Highlands”. The meaning of its name is not known, although folk etymology says that it is from the Gaelic for “place of battle”. Another theory is that it is British, and means “dwelling place of Melyn”; the name Melyn is said to mean “yellow-skinned, sallow-skinned”. Stirling has been used as a boy’s name since the 18th century, and was first used this way in Stirlingshire. I have seen this name quite a few times in birth notices, and it’s one with a great deal of dignity.
Warwick is in the northern suburbs of Perth, and a large section of it is still native bushland. It originally belonged to a railway company, and is named after Warwick Road, the major road which goes through it, and pre-dates the suburb’s development. It may have been inspired by Warwick Road in London. The name Warwick comes from the English city of Warwick in the Midlands; its name means “dwellings by the weir” in Old English, as the River Avon flows through it. It’s pronounced WOR-ik. The Earl of Warwick is one of the most prestigious titles in the British peerage, and Guy of Warwick a legendary English hero, which may help explain why Warwick has been used as a boy’s name since at least the 16th century. However, it seems to have originated in Devon, in the seat of a family named Warwick who belonged to the minor nobility. Warwick first charted in the 1910s at #203, joining the Top 100 in the 1940s, where it peaked at #80. It left the Top 100 in the 1960s, and hasn’t charted since the 1990s. Famous Australians with this name include the racing driver Warwick Brown, and flamboyant former AFL star, Warwick Capper.
(Photo shows the entrance to Sir Frederick Samson Park, in Samson)
It was very hard to choose just ten Irish boys’ names, as there are so many commonly used Irish names for boys in Australia, especially if you include Irish surnames. It’s not surprising when you consider our strong Irish heritage, and because the Irish were here from the beginning of European settlement, they were never marginalised as happened in other countries.
Famous Australians with Irish heritage include bushranger Ned Kelly, Peter Lalor who led the Eureka Rebellion, actor Erroll Flynn, artist Sidney Nolan, rock singer Doc Neeson, philanthropist Daisy Bates, and our greatest prime minister, Ben Chifley. Those alive today include Governor-General Peter Cosgrove, Nicole Kidman, Kylie Minogue, surfer Mick Fanning, Socceroo Lucas Neill, author Tom Keneally, and former prime ministers Paul Keating and Kevin Rudd.
A reminder I haven’t included any names with fadas (accent marks), as they aren’t permitted in all states and territories.
Anglicised form of Aodhán, a pet form of Aodh or Áed, meaning “fire” in Old Irish; there are many characters from Irish mythology named Aodh. St Aidan of Lindisfarne was an Irish-born monk known as the Apostle of Northumbria; he was famous for converting people by simply walking from village to village, politely chatting with people and introducing them to Christian beliefs by helping them in their daily lives. The name Aidan first ranked in the 1970s at #533, and by the 1980s was already #177. Aidan joined the Top 100 in 1993 at #92, and peaked in 2008 at #51. Currently Aidan is #99 in Victoria and #102 in the Australian Capital Territory. The Aiden spelling is more popular: this first charted in the 1980s at #368, joined the Top 100 in 1997 at #62 and peaked in 2009 at #35. Currently Aiden is #41 nationally, #45 in New South Wales, #45 in Victoria, #65 in Queensland, #47 in Western Australia, and #39 in the Australian Capital Territory. Even combining spellings, Aidan/Aiden is only #51 nationally. This doesn’t seem as if Aidan is very popular, yet it still has a reputation as an “overused” name because of the massive trend for sound-alike names, such as Hayden, Brayden, Caden, Jayden, Zayden etc. Aidan is #50 in Ireland and #43 in Northern Ireland.
In Irish mythology, Cian was a god and father of the hero Lugh of the Long Hand. According to folk tales, Cian possessed a magical cow which produced a superabundance of milk. During a quest to recover his cow after she had been stolen, he seduced a princess who had been locked up in a tower (it was the princess’ father who had stolen the cow). The tale sounds very much like the Greek myth of Danae, and the princess was imprisoned for the same reason – a prophecy said that the princess’ father would be killed by his grandson. Lugh the Longhand was born from this union, and eventually the prophecy was fulfilled when Lugh killed his grandfather in revenge for locking his mother in a tower. The name Cian means “long, enduring, far, distant” in Gaelic, and is pronounced KEE-in. It is often anglicised to Kian, which is in the 400s in Victoria. Cian is #15 in Ireland.
Variant of Conor, Anglicised form of the Gaelic name Conchobhar, meaning “lover of hounds”. There have been several real life Irish kings with this name, including a High King, and also the legendary Conchobhar mac Nessa, who was unsuccessfully married to both Queen Medb and Deirdre, but had many other wives. The name is the basis for the Irish surname O’Connor, meaning “grandson of Conchobhar”, and the Clan O’Conchubhair is a royal Irish dynasty whose lineage has provided one hundred kings of Connacht, and two High Kings of Ireland: some members of the noble O’Conor family of Ireland are the living descendants of the last High King of Ireland. Connor is a truly royal name, which must have an influence on its use. The name Connor has charted since the 1980s, debuting at #418. It joined the Top 100 in 1994 at #83, and peaked at #21 in 2003. Currently it is #43 nationally, #74 in New South Wales, #61 in Victoria, #33 in Queensland, #31 in Western Australia, #40 in Tasmania, and #69 in the Australian Capital Territory. Connor is #97 in Northern Ireland; Conor is #5 in Ireland and #17 in Northern Ireland.
Variant of Dara, derived from from the Gaelic for “oak grove”. The oak was sacred to the Celts, and the word druid is directly related to the word for oak. The city of Derry in Northern Ireland has the same meaning. Darragh can also be an Anglicisation of the Old Irish name Dáire, meaning “fertile, fruitful, virile, sexually aroused”, but also “agitated, raging, violent, tumultuous”. It’s a very explicit meaning in regard to masculine sexuality, suggesting a sort of bestial lust. The Darini were an ancient peoples from Northern Ireland, and it would seem that Dáire was their ancestor or ancestral god. Several Irish noble families and Scottish clans claim descent from the Darini, as do the current British royal family. There are many kings and heroes from Irish legend named Dáire, but folklorists believe they are ultimately versions of the same mythological figure, who may have been a god of the battlefield. Darragh can be pronounced DAH-ruh, or DA-ra, and may seem like an updated Darren to Australians. Darragh is #20 in Ireland and #30 in Northern Ireland; Dara is #86 in Ireland, and Dáire is #88 in Northern Ireland.
Both the older Irish and Anglicised form of Fionn, meaning “blond, fair, white, bright”. Its most famous namesake is the mythical warrior and giant Find mac Cumail, transcribed in English as Finn McCool. Finn was a nickname – his real name was Deimne, meaning “sureness, certainty”, and gained his nickname after his hair turned prematurely white. Finn was brought up by a warrior woman who trained him in war and hunting, then he studied under a poet and druid. One day Finn was cooking a mystical salmon for his master which would give him all the knowledge in the world: he burned his thumb in the process, and instinctively put his thumb in his mouth to cool it, swallowing a piece of salmon skin. This gave Finn the wisdom of the salmon, and whenever he needed to draw on its power, he needed only to suck his thumb. Finn’s followers were called the Fianna, and it is from them the Fenian Brotherhood gained their name. According to legend, Finn is sleeping in a cave beneath Ireland, and will one day awake to defend Ireland in her hour of greatest need. Finn first charted in the 1990s at #287, and by 1997 was already in the Top 100 at #88. Currently it is #62 nationally, #68 in New South Wales, #60 in Victoria, #76 in Queensland, #40 in Western Australia, and #30 in the Australian Capital Territory. This is a handsome popular name that has helped drive the popularity of names such as Flynn and Finlay. Finn in #38 in Ireland and #56 in Northern Ireland; Fionn is #27 in Ireland and #70 in Northern Ireland.
Anglicised form of Lorcán, derived from the Irish Gaelic word for “fierce”. There have two been ancient Irish kings named Lorcán, and a medieval saint Lorcán Ua Tuathail whose name is Anglicised to Lawrence O’Toole. St. Lorcán was of royal blood, and became Archbishop of Dublin. He played a prominent role in the religious reform of the 12th century, spearheading a movement of spiritual renewal while bringing the church in Ireland closer to Rome. He was admired by both members of the church and the secular community for his many acts of charity to the poor – much needed at the time due to a severe famine. This is a cool Irish name which could be an alternative to names as Lachlan, Liam, or Declan. Lorcán is #67 in Northern Ireland.
Anglicised form of Máel Sechlainn, meaning “follower of St. Seachnall”. St. Seachnall is an obscure 5th century Irish bishop who seems to have been of Italian origin; his name may be an Irish form of the Latin name Secundus, meaning “second (born)”, as he is also known as St. Secundius. The modern spelling of Malachy has been influenced by the Hebrew name Malachi, meaning “my messenger”, and therefore understood as “my angel”. However, Malachy is pronounced MAL-uh-kee, not MAL-uh-kie. There have two medieval High Kings of Ireland named Malachy, and also a St. Malachy, who was the first native-born Irish saint to be canonised. The saint’s name is an Anglicisation of Máel Máedóc, meaning “follower of St. Madoc”; Madoc was a 7th century Irish monk, and his name may come from the Welsh for “fortunate”. Malachy is an attractive name in occasional use, and AFL footballer Liam Picken has a young son named Malachy.
Believed to mean “deer friend”. In Irish mythology, Oscar was the son of the warrior Oisin (“young deer”) and the fairy queen Niamh; he was the grandson of Finn McCool, and one of his warriors. Oscar was killed by a member of the increasingly corrupt Fianna, and upon his death, Finn wept for the first time in his life. The name Oscar was popularised in the 18th century by the poems of James McPherson; Napoleon was a great admirer of McPherson and gave his godson Oscar as one of his middle names. Later Napoleon’s godson became Oscar I of Sweden, and the name Oscar became traditional in Scandinavia. The Irish writer Oscar Wilde may have received his name because his mother collected Irish folk tales, but perhaps also because his father had travelled in Sweden, where he received honours from King Carl XV – Carl had a son named Oscar, born two years before Oscar Wilde, and sadly the little prince died just months before Oscar Wilde’s birth. Oscar was #103 for the 1900s, and sank before leaving the charts in the 1940s. It returned in the 1970s at #478, joined the Top 100 in 1998 at #98, and the Top 50 in 2004 at #47. Currently Oscar is #24 nationally, #27 in New South Wales, #20 in Victoria, #39 in Queensland, #34 in Western Australia, #19 in Tasmania, and #20 in the Australian Capital Territory. This tough, masculine yet snuggly retro name is more popular than it has ever been. Oscar is #61 in Ireland and #64 in Northern Ireland.
Anglicised form of Rónán. Irish and Scottish legend tells of selkies, who swim in the sea as seals, but can shed their sealskin and become human on land. Male selkies were handsome and seductive; female selkies were said to make excellent wives, but could never forget their true home, and would gaze longingly out to sea – selkie tales are nearly always romantic tragedies. The children born of selkie women were called ronans, or “little seals”. The lovely film The Secret of RoanInish, set in Ireland, is about the selkie legend, and an Irish animated movie is due to come out this year on the same topic. St. Ronan was an educated Irish bishop who sought exile in Brittany and a peaceful life as a hermit. A magical fairytale name that sounds smooth and handsome, Ronan could replace popular Ryan; it will remind many of Irish singer Ronan Keating from The X-Factor. Ronan is #52 in Ireland and #40 in Northern Ireland.
Anglicised form of the Irish Gaelic name Ruaidhrí or Ruairí. The name means “red king”, referring to fox-coloured hair. There have been many Irish kings named Ruaidhrí, including Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair, the last High King of Ireland before the Norman invasion. Rory has charted since the 1950s, debuting at #289; after a bumpy start (when it sank to #420 in the 1960s) it began climbing steadily, and peaked in the late 2000s at #125. Currently it’s in the mid 100s, and this is a rare example of a modern classic which has never become popular. Not only underused, Rory is cute but with a “tough boy” vibe, and could be an alternative to popular Riley, or fashionable Remy. Rory is #42 in Ireland and #44 in Northern Ireland; Ruairí is #81 in Ireland and #74 in Northern Ireland.
The data on popular names are all in, but maybe none of the current Top 100 names interest you. Or perhaps you are dismayed at how much your favourite names went up in popularity last year. If so, why not look at the popular names of ninety years ago, to see if there are some gems from times gone by that are ready to shine again?
Agnes of Rome was a 3rd century child martyr. According to tradition, she was a member of the Roman nobility, raised in a Christian family, and a very beautiful young girl. She is said to have been only twelve or thirteen when she died, and like Saint Catherine, is one of the patrons of young girls; the eve of her feast day was a time for girls to perform rituals to discover their future husbands. The name Agnes was very popular in the Middle Ages; one of its attractions was probably that in medieval English it was softened into Annis, so that it sounded as it was related to Anne. The name Agnes is from the Greek for “pure”, but because it sounds similar to the Latin for “lamb”, agnus, Saint Agnes is often depicted holding a lamb. Agnes was #28 for the 1900s, and by the 1920s had fallen to #77. It left the Top 100 in the 1930s, and hasn’t ranked since the 1940s, but is now getting some use again. This soft, elegant name has been chosen for their daughter by several celebrities, including Jennifer Connolly. It is the name of a little girl in the movie Despicable Me, and currently popular in Scandinavia. It feels as if Agnes is already making a comeback.
Gemstone name; beryls are stones which in pure form are colourless, but usually tinted by impurities in a variety of shades. Green beryls are called emeralds, and light blue ones are aquamarines, but all colours of beryl have their own name. The word beryl is ultimately from Sanskrit, probably derived from the town of Belur in southern India. Beryl has been used as a first name since the 17th century, but only became popular during the 19th, along with other gemstone names. Historically, it has been used as a male name too, mostly in the United States, perhaps as a variant of the surname Berrill (an occupational name from the wool trade), and the Yiddish name Berel (pet form of Ber, “bear”). Beryl was #61 in the 1900s, and peaked in the 1920s at #8. It left the Top 100 in the 1950s and hasn’t ranked since the 1960s. Beryl is the bossy cook in Downton Abbey, and the evil queen in the Sailor Moon cartoons. This would make a daring gemstone revival, and offers the nickname Berry.
Variant of the Scandinavian girl’s name Alva, or an Anglicised form of the Irish unisex name Ailbhe, pronounced like Alva, and one of the influences on the name Elvis. You could see Elva as a specifically feminine form of Elvis, and the Irish origin seems most likely in Australia. Elva was #160 for the 1900s, and peaked in the 1920s at #97, before falling steeply; it last ranked in the 1950s. Elva was a “trendy” name in its day, but its relative obscurity has saved it from seeming dated. I have seen several babies named Elva recently, and it doesn’t seem out of place amongst the Evas and Avas.
Variant of the Welsh name Gwendolen, first used for a legendary queen of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his History of the Kings of Britain. According to this legend, Gwendolen was the daughter of King Corineus of Cornwall. She defeated her husband after he repudiated her in favour of his mistress; he was killed in battle, and Gwendolen had the mistress drowned. She then took the throne as the first independent queen of the Britons, and ruled for fifteen peaceful years. Gwendolen appears in Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, and in the poems of William Blake, as a symbol of British sovereignty. Gwendolen has been translated as “white ring, white bow”, although it may have been an attempt to Latinise another Welsh name. Geoffrey re-used the name Gwendolen for the name of Merlin’s wife in his Life of Merlin. Gwendolen and Gwendoline were revived in the Victoria era as part of the fascination with Arthurian names, and names from British legend. Gwendoline was #68 in the 1900s, and peaked in the 1920s at #35. It left the Top 100 in the 1940s, and hasn’t ranked since the 1950s. It still receives occasional use, and has an upper-class British feel to it, while giving Gwen and Winnie as nicknames.
Originated as a short form of Germanic names with hild in them, meaning “battle”. Hilda of Whitby was a 7th century saint from Northumberland, and her name in Old English is Hild. Born into royalty, she was baptised as part of the mission by Pope Gregory the Great to convert the English to Christianity. Hilda became a nun, then founded a monastery at Whitby (it was in the Celtic style, where men and women lived separately, but worshipped together). Hilda is described as a woman of great intelligence and energy, a fine abbess and teacher, so wise that rulers came to her for advice, yet caring towards ordinary people. Hilda was #27 in the 1900s, and #71 by the 1920s; it left the Top 100 by the 1930s, and hasn’t ranked since the 1940s. Hilda is a popular name in Sweden, giving this name a sexy Scandinavian feel as well as a sturdy English one; it doesn’t seem radically different from Heidi, and is even slightly like Matilda. It would be an unusual choice, but by no means a strange one.
Anglicised form of Cáitlin, the Irish form of Catelin, the Old French form of Catherine. The Irish Cáitlin can be said kat-LEEN, so it’s just a step to Kathleen. This name has a very Irish association, for Kathleen Ni Houlihan is an emblem of Irish nationalism representing the country of Ireland. She is usually depicted as an old woman who has lost her home and her lands, needing young men willing to fight and die for her. Once she has been rejuvenated by their martyrdom, she appears young and beautiful, and proud as a queen. It combines myths of both paganism and Christianity, and Kathleen Ni Houlihan has appeared in folk songs and poems, and the literary works of William Butler Yeats, Lady Augusta Gregory, Sean O’Casey, and James Joyce, amongst others. The name Kathleen was #10 in the 1900s, peaked in the 1910s at #5, and was #11 by the 1920s. A long time favourite, it didn’t leave the Top 100 until the 1990s, but hasn’t ranked since the late 2000s. Despite being out of fashion, this name was popular for more than eighty years, and still seems fresh and wholesome, with a hint of Irish charm.
Short form of Amabel, from the Latin name Amibilis, meaning “lovable”. There were both male and female saints named Amabilis, and the female one is often known as Saint Mable to prevent confusion. Mabel was a popular name in the Middle Ages, and is found in a range of variant spellings; it is thought that it was originally said MAB-ell rather than the current MAY-bel. Mabel became rare in England, but remained in use in Ireland, where it was used to Anglicise the name Maeve. It was revived in the 19th century when Charlotte M. Yonge used it in her best-selling romance, The Heir of Reclyffe, for a character with an Irish background. Mabel was #30 in the 1900s, and had fallen to #90 by the 1920s, leaving the Top 100 the following decade. Mabel left the charts in the 1950s, but returned in the late 2000s. This retro name has plenty of spunk, and although it isn’t popular yet, don’t be surprised if it is again some day.
Saint Monica was the mother of Augustine of Hippo. A devout Christian, it was her dearest wish for her pagan son to become one as well, and after seventeen years her prayers were answered when he was converted by Saint Ambrose. Of course Augustine went the whole hog and ended up a saint, and a doctor of the church as well. Saint Monica was rather neglected after her death, but her cult became popular during the Middle Ages. Monica was from Libya and her name a Berber one that was common at the time; it is derived from the Libyan god Mon, a form of Amon, one of the most important of the Egyptian gods. In the Middle Ages, the origins of her name being unknown, it was decided that it must come from monere, Latin for “to advise, to warn”. Although this neatly tied in with Saint Monica’s story, it was etymologically incorrect. Monica was #141 in the 1900s, and peaked in the 1920s at #91; it had a minor peak in the 1990s at #127, coinciding with the sitcom Friends, which had the character of Monica Geller. Monica has never left the charts, but never been higher than the bottom of the Top 100, making it a genuine underused classic. It still sounds slightly exotic, and makes a pretty, sophisticated choice that’s never been common.
Short form of Margaret, meaning “pearl”. It’s a variant of Meggy which has been in use since medieval times. Peggy first ranked in the 1910s at #189, and peaked in the 1920s at #63. It fell sharply, leaving the Top 100 by the following decade, and hasn’t ranked since the 1980s. Peggy is now staging a comeback, as it fits in perfectly with the trend for vintage and retro short forms. The ambitious career woman Peggy Olsen from Mad Men is a feminist icon, and this name has been chosen as a celebrity baby name by both MP Jacinta Allan, and media personality Chrissie Swan.
Anglicised form of Úna, a medieval Irish name believed to come from the Old Irish for “lamb”. In Irish mythology, Úna was a fairy queen, wife of Finnbheara, the high king of the fairies. It is pronounced OO-na, and was sometimes Anglicised to Agnes, because of the lamb connection, as well as Winnie or Juno, based on similar sounds. Una is also a name created by Edmund Spenser for his epic poem, The Faerie Queene. In the allegory, Una represents the “True Church” (Protestantism), and defeats the representation of the “False Church” (Catholicism). Spenser seems to have based her name on the Latin for “one” (to reference unity and a single choice of faith); the name is said YOO-na. However, Spenser wrote his poem while living in Ireland, and it is hard not to wonder if he had been influenced by the Irish name. Una was #94 in the 1900s, and peaked in the 1920s at #69, leaving the Top 100 the following decade. It hasn’t ranked since the 1940s, but this name is really quite beautiful, and with its clear simplicity, doesn’t seem odd next to Ava and Mia.
(Picture shows women holidaying at Palm Beach in Sydney in the 1920s; photo from the State Library of New South Wales)
Aquila is the scientific name for eagles; large, powerful raptors found all over the world which are often used as symbols of kingship and empire. The eagle was the bird sacred to Zeus, and it is recognised as a Christian symbol of strong, enduring spirituality. Australia’s best known eagle is the Wedge-tailed Eagle, one of the largest birds of prey in the world. Easily recognised by its size and diamond-shaped tail, Wedge-tails can weigh up to almost 13 kg (28 lb), and wingspans have measured more than 250 cm (over 9 feet). Fierce defenders of their territory, Wedge-tails have been known to attack small aircraft. The Wedge-tail Eagle is an emblem of the Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife Service, the New South Wales Police Force, the Northern Territory Correctional Services, La Trobe University, and the Royal Australian Air Force. Aquila is a Latin name meaning “eagle”; it was fairly common amongst the Romans, and was also the name of the Roman military standard. Aquila is mentioned as one of the early Christians in the New Testament, and he is regarded as a saint. I have seen Aquil a few times as a boy’s name, perhaps because Aquila might be misunderstood as feminine, and it can be said uh-KWIL or uh-KEEL. It’s a strong, masculine name after a noble bird.
Columba is the scientific name for pigeons and doves; the word comes from the Greek for “dive, swim”, because pigeons make a swimming motion in the air as they fly. Australia has many native pigeons, but only one of them belongs to the Columba genus, and that is the White-Headed Pigeon. There are several saints named Columba, most notably the Irish missionary credited with spreading Christianity in Scotland. Columba is a Latinisation of his Irish name Colm Cille, meaning “dove of the church”. In Scotland, his name became Calum, and the variant Callum is a common name. Callum first charted in Australia in the 1960s, and first ranked in the 1970s at #467. It soared to make the Top 100 in the 1990s and peaked in the early 2000s at #56; it has just left the Top 100. However, it is a handsome modern classic with a lovely meaning, and is one of the softer boy’s names.
Cygnus is the scientific name for swans; large, graceful water birds which often feature in myth and legend. Helen of Troy was born from a swan’s egg after her mother was seduced by Zeus in the disguise of a swan, while the sun god Apollo drove a chariot drawn by swans. Irish and Australian Aboriginal legends both tell of people transformed into swans, and Hans Christian Anderson wrote about an “ugly duckling” who discovered he was really a beautiful swan. Swans are seen as holy in Norse mythology, and in Hinduism are revered as sacred. It was a belief in classical literature that the swan would sing beautifully upon death (hence the phrase “swan song” to mean a final performance), and the poet Juvenal sarcastically said that a good woman was as rare as a black swan. Of course, in Australia, black swans are not rare at all, although that doesn’t mean good women are more common here. The black swan is the state emblem of Western Australia, and Perth’s river is named the Swan in its honour. There are several characters from Greek mythology named Cygnus, many of which were turned into swans: one was a musician who was placed among the stars as the constellation Cygnus. This is an unusual bird name that sounds a little like Sidney and Silas, and as swans are symbols of love and fidelity, has attractive associations.
There are many small Australian birds named finches, although they are unrelated to the finches of the northern hemisphere. One of the most common is the Zebra Finch, found across the continent in drier areas; they live in large flocks, mostly in grasslands. Zebra Finches are grey with black and white stripes, hence their name, and males can be distinguished by a chestnut patch on their cheek. Male Zebra Finches are loud, boisterous singers, with each male having a unique song, which he learns from his father, and then gives it his own variation, so that there are recognisable similarities between the songs of bloodlines. Their singing is used as part of courtship, and the uniqueness of their songs has made them a popular subject for scientific research. Their singing also makes Zebra Finches popular as pets. Finch has been used as a boy’s name since the 16th century, and the surname has probably been of significant help. Current use may be inspired by Atticus Finch from ToKill a Mockingbird, a worthy namesake.
The Skuas are a group of sea birds resembling large, dark gulls. They are strong, agile fliers, and aggressive in defending their nests. The American term for the three smaller species of Skua is Jaeger, which is a German word meaning “hunter”. In Australia, we seem to use the American term rather than the British Skua. Jaegers hail from the Arctic and tundra, but come to the southern hemisphere during the northern winter, when their homelands are covered in snow and ice. It’s quite exciting to see one, if only because they have travelled such a vast distance to be here. The Jaeger is pronounced YAY-ger in English, although the German word is said more like YEH-ger. However, Jaeger is a common surname too, and many people pronounce it JAY-ger (quite a few people say the bird the same way). Not only is the English form of Jaeger, Hunter, a popular name for boys, but when said JAY-ger, it doesn’t sound too different from Jagger. Although deciding on pronunciation could be an issue, this is an interesting choice that isn’t as unusual as it might first appear.
The Kestrel is a small, slender bird of prey which is found in many parts of the world. The Australian Kestrel, also called the Nankeen Kestrel, is amongst the smallest of the falcons, and one of the rare raptors which can hover over its prey. Kestrels are found all over Australia, and are in the top ten of the most common Australian birds; its adaptability to a wide variety of environments is the key to its continued success. Kestrel has been used as a personal name since the 19th century, and the earliest record I can find for it is from Australia, used as a man’s middle name. It has been used fairly equally for both sexes, and because kestrels are quite dainty falcons, seems just as good for a girl as for a boy.
The Peregrine Falcon is a bird of prey found all over the world; it is the most widespread raptor, and one of the most widely found bird species. It is faster than any other creature on the planet when it is diving towards its prey, reaching speeds of over 320 km (200 miles) per hour. Peregrines have been used as hunting birds for thousands of years, and during the Middle Ages, was considered the bird most appropriate for a prince to hunt with. The Peregrine Falcon can be found all over Australia, although it isn’t common, and it often nests on cliffs – it will even nest on high buildings in cities. The name Peregrine comes from the Latin for “to wander, to travel”, perhaps because Peregrines can travel widely, or because their nests are difficult to find. Peregrine is also the English form of the Latin name Peregrinus, meaning “wanderer, traveller”. There have been several saints named Peregrine, who no doubt chose the name because it can be understood as “pilgrim”. This is an aristocratic boy’s name that has the charming Perry as its short form.
Philemon is the scientific name for the Friarbirds, which are native to Australasia. The most conspicuous of them is the Noisy Friarbird, which as its name suggests, can kick up a heck of a racket. Noisy Friarbirds are not considered beautiful, being dull brownish-grey with a bald black head, a little horn on its bill, and bright red eyes. They are often considered to be pests because of their constant cackling, and voracious love of fruit. Yet I love their comical ugliness and gregarious chatter. I even enjoy sharing our fruit with them, because they prefer the old fruit rotting on the ground, on which they become hilariously tipsy: it’s always a party with the Friarbirds. Philemon is a Greek name which means “loving, affectionate”, and in a fable by the Roman poet Ovid, Philemon was a old man of Ancient Greece. He and his wife Baucis showed great hospitality to the gods, despite their poverty, and as reward, were granted their dearest wish, which was to die together. When they did, they were transformed into two trees, which intertwined in a show of affection. There are two saints named Philemon, one of whom was a church leader in the New Testament. With Philomena and Phillipa hip names for girls, why not Philemon for a boy?
Australasian Robins look slightly similar to, but are not closely related to the European Robin, or to the American Robin (which is a thrush). Some Robins have a red or pink breast, like their northern hemisphere namesakes, while others are yellow, grey, or white-breasted. They are fairly common in suburbia, and charming because of their small size and bright colouring. Many are inquisitive and confident around humans, and will become quite tame. Robin was originally used as a pet form of Robert, and given to boys: it is well known because of the English folk hero Robin Hood, Batman’s sidekick, Robin the Boy Wonder, and Winnie-the-Pooh’s friend, Christopher Robin. It can be given to both sexes after the bird. Robin charted as a unisex name in Australia from the 1920s to the 1970s without reaching the Top 100 for either sex, but was markedly more popular for boys. It peaked for both sexes in the 1950s. Although it stopped charting for girls in the 1980s, it only left the charts for boys in the late 2000s. I have seen a few baby boys named Robin in recent birth notices, and this is a traditional, yet somewhat whimsical, name.
Teal are ducks found in several different areas in the world. There are two species of Teal native to Australia, and they can be found in wetlands, freshwater lakes, and marshes. Teal is also a blue-green colour, named after the Eurasian Teal which has this greenish colour around its eyes. Teal has been used as a personal name since the 18th century, and has been used for males and females in almost equal numbers. It was originally much more common for boys (I noted an Australian named Teal Wang on the blog, but don’t know whether it was a man or a woman). Ducks are charming and lovable birds, and teal is a beautiful colour – I think this is a nice, simple name for either sex.
I seem to have covered several bird names on the blog recently, and that might be because our family was watching light-hearted bird documentary series, Hello Birdy, on the ABC, or maybe just because I love birds. Australia is lucky enough to have a staggering array of birds, many of them colourful, beautiful, intelligent, or unusual, and sadly, often under-appreciated. Here are some names that bring to mind a few of our feathered friends. Click on a likely link, and you will be taken to a YouTube video of each bird – there’s at least one for every entry.
The Brahminy Kite is a bird of prey and scavenger native to Australasia and Asia; in Australia they are found in coastal regions in the north. They are chestnut brown with a white head, breast, and tail tip, and typically nest in trees in mangrove swamps. The name Brahminy is due to their being found in India; it alludes to the Hindu Brahmin priestly caste, and is said BRAH-min-ee. The Brahminy Kite is the official mascot of Jakarta, in Indonesia, and in India is regarded as a representation of Garuda, the sacred bird of the supreme god Vishnu. I would not have considered this as a person’s name if I hadn’t seen a baby girl named Brahminy. It’s a bold choice, and its connection with a sacred bird is fascinating.
The Corella is a small, white cockatoo with a pink blush to its plumage. They are found from the central deserts to the eastern coastal plains, and are a familiar sight on farms and in cities. In some areas, Corellas have become so numerous they are considered a pest, being particularly destructive to trees and cereal crops. They congregate in large flocks, even up to several thousand, and make a high-pitched screeching noise which is ear-piercing when a flock all calls together, and can be heard for miles. Although they are noisy birds, they are very playful and have the joie de vivre that all parrots are blessed with. They are popular as pets, because they are good talkers, and excellent mimics. The word corella comes from the Wiradjuri language of central New South Wales. Corella has been used as a girl’s name since the 18th century, and is probably part of the Cor- group which is based on the Greek Kore, meaning “maiden”. The bird gives it a uniquely Australian flavour.
Here’s the dirty little secret about Doves: they’re just pigeons! Not only that, it’s unclear what makes some species of pigeons “doves”, because while we generally call smaller pigeons doves, that isn’t always the case. The confusion arises because the word pigeon is from Latin, and dove from Ancient Germanic, so they are two different words for the same thing (like autumn and fall). Nonetheless, their images are completely different: doves are symbols of peace, while pigeons are seen as disease-ridden pests (in fact, pigeons are no more disease-ridden than any other animal and pose no general health risk). Australia has a number of species identified as doves, and although we often think of doves as modest and grey, the Emerald Dove has striking green colouring, and the many varieties of Fruit Dove are likewise very colourful. There are also introduced species of dove, including those kept as pets. Dove has been used as a first name since the 17th century, and has been far more common for girls; a contemporary example is Disney actress Dove Cameron. Dove not only rhymes with love, but doves are used as symbols of love, since pigeons mate for life; the word dove can mean “sweetheart”. Perhaps because of this, doves were considered sacred to goddesses such as Venus. Another religious connection is that in Christian iconography, the Holy Spirit is often depicted as a dove.
Halcyon is the Latin name for the Tree Kingfishers, a large genus of birds found in Africa, Asia and Australasia, with Australasia having the most species. They are recognisable by their large heads and long pointed bills, and many are brightly coloured, often in iridescent blues and greens. The Laughing Kookaburra is a type of tree kingfisher, an iconic Australian bird with a raucous cackle that seems to epitomise the spirit of the bush. Halcyon is from the Greek for “kingfisher”, and is connected to a character from Greek mythology named Alcyone; the daughter of the winds, she married Ceyx, the son of the morning star. The pair were very much in love, and after Ceyx was lost at sea in a terrible storm, the unhappy Alcyone threw herself into the waves to end her life. The gods took pity on them, and changed both into kingfishers. According to legend, the “halcyon days” of midwinter, when storms cease, was when Alcyone laid her eggs, and her father restrained the winds so that she could do so safely. Because of this, the word halcyon (pronounced HAL-see-uhn) has come to mean “calm, serene, peaceful”, with our halcyondays those happy times we look back on with nostalgia. Halcyon has been used as a girl’s name since the 19th century: pretty and unusual, it gives Hallie as the nickname.
Lalage is the scientific name for the Trillers, native to Asia and Australasia; they are small birds, usually coloured black, white and grey. They are called Trillers because during the breeding season, the males make a cheerful, almost continuous, trilling call. Lalage is derived from Greek, and means “to babble, to prattle”, or, in the case of birds, “to chirp”. The name became known from an ode by Roman poet Horace, where he speaks of his love for a young girl, his “sweetly laughing, sweet talking Lalage”. It has been used a few times since as a literary name, most notably in Kipling’s Rimini. Lalage has had occasional use, and in Britain seems to have a fairly upper-class image: contemporary examples are photjournalist Lalage Snow, and fashion designer Lalage Beaumont. In English, this name is usually pronounced LAL-a-gee or LA-la-ghee – just remember it’s three syllables, emphasis on the first, hard g like girl, not soft like germ. This fascinating name fits in with L-L names like Lillian, and as Lalage was a very young courtesan, almost seems like a posh version of Lolita! Lallie, Lollie, and Lala could be nicknames.
Larks are plain brown birds to look at, but their great beauty is in their voices, for they are famous for their melodious singing. This has made them a favourite subject for poets, such as Percy Bysshe Shelley’s, To a Skylark, and to say someone sings “like a lark” is a great compliment to the range and joyousness of their notes. Traditionally, larks are a symbol for dawn and daybreak, as in “getting up with the lark”, and this has given them religious overtones, for just as dawn is the passage between night and day, it can also be seen as that between heaven and earth. In Renaissance paintings, larks were sometimes used as a symbol of Christ. Although Australia has many birds with lark as part of their name, our only true lark is Horsfield’s Bushlark, widely found in grasslands and open woodlands. It is much smaller than larks in the northern hemisphere, and doesn’t have quite such an impressive voice, although its songs are still rich and varied, and it is a good mimic as well. The Eurasian Skylark which features in Shelley’s verse has been introduced here. Lark has been used as a name since the 18th century, and is historically more common for boys, but is often now thought of as more feminine than masculine. It’s a simple, non-frilly nature name laden with symbolism, and is more often found in the middle.
Maggie is the affectionate name for the Australian Magpie. Although they look similar, it isn’t closely related to the European Magpie. Easily recognisable from their black and white plumage, magpies are very familiar in suburban life. Magpies are one of Australia’s favourite songbirds, because they have a complex, melodious warble, and will carol in chorus at dusk and dawn. They can also mimic other birds and animals, including human speech. Bold and sturdy, they are not typically wary of humans, and will happily accept (demand!) free food from us. They become unpopular in spring, as males can be so aggressive during breeding season that they swoop or even attack humans to warn them away. This is when feeding them pays off, as they can tell individual people apart, and won’t scare their buddies. The Magpie was a totem animal for the Indigenous people of the Illawarra, and is an official emblem of South Australia, appearing on the state flag. Magpies is a common name for sporting teams, and the cocky attitude of the Magpie is seen as indicative of the national character. Maggie is also a short form of Margaret. It was #174 in the 1900s, and was off the charts by the 1940s, returning in the 1970s. It has climbed steadily, and is currently in the 100s.
Orioles are a large family of birds found throughout the world, which come in a variety of colours. Australian Orioles are green, perfect for blending in with the trees. They are fruit-eating birds, and the Figbird is one of the Orioles, although it doesn’t only eat figs. Orioles and Figbirds are attracted to backyards with small fruit trees and bushes, and which have native trees such as eucalypti and wattle; they are a fairly common sight in suburbia. The word oriole is derived from the Latin for “gold”, because the Eurasian Golden Oriole is a bright yellow. Oriole is related to names like Aurelia and Auriol, which are from the same derivation, and looks a lot like Oriel, which may be seen as a variant of Auriol, but also has Irish and Germanic origins. Oriole seems like a way to retain the golden meaning, while also referencing the bird.
The Rainbird is the colloquial name for the Pacific Koel, a species of migratory cuckoo which arrives here in spring from Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, and is found in north and eastern Australia. It’s called a Rainbird because of the belief that its rather mournful “whooping” call is a harbinger of wet weather. Males call for a mate during their breeding season, which coincides with the spring rains and the summer “wet season”, and are so loud they can be considered a nuisance. Like all cuckoos, Rainbirds lay their eggs in the nests of other species so that they can be raised by the unsuspecting hosts; however, unlike most other cuckoos, the baby Rainbird doesn’t kill the host chicks. Rainbirds are rather goofy-looking birds; the males have glossy black plumage and bright red eyes. I have seen Rainbird used as a girl’s middle name, and think it makes a wonderful name for a spring or summer baby. It would work equally well for boys.
Rosella Rosellas are colourful parrots which are very familiar in suburbia. I think we might take them for granted, because they really are pretty, with a more pleasing range of calls than most parrots. Rosellas will be attracted to any garden that provides them with water, seeds and fruit, and can become so tame that they will eat out of your hand. This has led them to become common as pets, but in captivity they can become bored and aggressive, so I think it’s nicer to have them as backyard visitors. European settlers first saw Eastern Rosellas at Rose Hill (now called Parramatta), and called them Rosehill Parakeets; this evolved into Rosehillers, and eventually became Rosella. The Sydney suburb of Rozelle is named after them. Rosella is also a popular brand of tomato sauce, which sports an Eastern Rosella as its logo. By coincidence, Rosella is also an Italian name, an elaboration of Rosa, and looks like a combination of popular Rose and Ella.
There always seems to be lots of crows and ravens around at the end of summer, finishing off the remains of those creatures who have not survived the blazing heat and drought – a very important job that we don’t appreciate as much as we should. This put me in mind to write about a name connected to these highly intelligent birds, who feature in many mythologies, for as carrion birds, they are often seen as harbingers of death, with mysterious knowledge of the afterlife.
Brân the Blessed is a heroic figure from Welsh mythology; a giant, probable god, and High King of Britain. Legends tell of how he travelled to Ireland with a host of warriors in order to rescue his sister Branwen, who was being mistreated by her husband, an Irish king. The battle was brutal, and only seven men from the rescue party survived: Branwen herself died of a broken heart.
Brân was mortally wounded in the foot, and told his men to cut off his head, so that it could be returned to Britain. They took the head to “White Hill”, thought to be where the Tower of London now stands. The head was buried there, facing France, because as long as it remained, Britain would be protected from invasion. King Arthur later dug the head up, declaring that only his strength was needed to protect the land. This was seen as a disastrous decision, because when Arthur had gone, the land was invaded by the Saxons.
Brân is connected to many figures from British legend. He is seen as a forerunner to King Arthur as High King of Britain, and many have noted his similarity to the mysterious Fisher King of Arthurian legend, who is sometimes identified as a man named Bron. The Fisher King had a wounded leg, and in some tales, the Grail he possessed had the power to restore the fallen – a parallel with Brân, who had a cauldron that could bring warriors back to life. Some stories report that Percivalfound a severed head in the Fisher King’s castle instead of the Grail.
Others scholars see Brân as connected to the Irish hero Bran mac Febail, who embarked on a journey to the Otherworld, and when he returned, so many years had passed that the Irish people know him only as a legend. After telling his story, he sailed away across the sea, never to return. The tale was an apparent inspiration for the Voyage of Saint Brendan, a legendary quest the saint undertook to the Isle of the Blessed, or Saint Brendan’s Isle. Although this may not immediately remind you of Brân the Blessed, in British legends, a voyage to Ireland (in the west) is often an allegory for a journey to the Otherworld – and Brân did die there.
The severed head of Brân the Blessed is important, because some believe the human head played a significant role in Celtic religion. Greek historians tell how Celtic warriors could cut off the heads of their enemies in battle, and that these heads would be embalmed and placed on display. Archeologists theorise that ownership of a head gave one power over the dead person, or that the head was venerated as the seat of the soul and a symbol of the Otherworld.
The head of Brân the Blessed possessed powers of mystical protection, and some connect this to the ravens in the Tower of London, because the name Brân means “crow, raven” in Welsh. There are seven ravens at the Tower, and according to tradition, they protect the Crown and the Tower. Superstition warns that should the ravens of the Tower be lost or fly away, the Crown will fall and Britain with it.
Supposedly the ravens have been kept at the tower since the 17th century, but historical evidence points to them being a Victorian innovation, possibly a gift from an earl with links to Druidic scholarship who consciously chose them as representations of Brân the Blessed. Another theory is that they were simply pets of the 19th century Tower staff. And alas for the superstition, the Tower records show that just after World War II, there were no ravens left (an apparent crow-napping), yet the monarchy and Britain have managed to soldier on.
The Welsh name Bran, from Brân, is said BRAHN, while the Irish Bran, of the same derivation and meaning, is said BRAN. The name Brendan, the saint whose legend was influenced by that of Bran mac Febail, comes from the Welsh word for “prince”. This is rather interesting, because another theory about Brân the Blessed was that his name was actually a title: to be understood as meaning The Raven in the sense of The Prince, The Chieftain (as King Arthur’s father was known as The Pendragon, head dragon or war leader).
A character named Bran from contemporary fiction is Bran Stark, from George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice; in the television drama series A Game of Thrones, he is played by Isaac Hempstead-Wright. Despite his mythologically rich name, Bran is just short for Brandon, an English surname which comes from several places named Brandon in the United Kingdom.
Most of these come from the Old English for “gorse hill”, although Brandon in Lincolnshire means “steep hill”. However, there are places in Ireland with Brandon in their name, and these are said to be connected to Saint Brendan, although they don’t seem to have contributed to the surname. The surname Brandon also exists in continental Europe, and in these cases, it may be derived from the Germanic name Brando, meaning “sword”. The English surname does seem to be older than these though, and predates the Norman Conquest.
Bran is a strong, simple name from legend and literature with layers upon layers of evocative meaning and association. It has limited use in the UK, and is elsewhere almost unknown. If you are worried that it is too much like the cereal husks, you can use the Welsh pronunciation, or even the Arthurian Bron. Another possibility is the Irish surname name Brannan or Brannon, which in some cases means “son of Bran”. The girls name Branwen (sister of Bran) means “fair raven”.
(Photo is of an Australian raven, one of several Corvid species native to Australia)
These are names chosen from my e-book, International Baby Names for Australian Parents – names which are familiar in other countries, but rarely used here. I chose ten that I particularly like, or find interesting, or think very usable. If you haven’t read the book, it gives you an idea as to what’s inside, and if you have read it, it’s a chance for me to provide more information than is possible in a book.
Indian boys name meaning “he who cannot be defeated” in Sanskrit; also commonly used as a short form of longer Indian names beginning with Ajay-. It is pronounced uh-JAY. Ajay is also an English modern name (presumably) based on the initials AJ, and said ay-jay. It can be used for either sex, and a female example is media personality Ajay Rochester (born Leigh Towler). Initial names are growing in popularity, and this is also an Indian heritage choice which fits in with current trends (although it may present some minor pronunciation issues). The name Ajay charts in the UK for boys.
Medieval English form of Barnabas, which is derived from Aramaic. Saint Barnabas was one of the earliest Christian followers in Jerusalem, and the New Testament tells us he was one of the Seventy Apostles of Christ, and a companion of Saint Paul. According to tradition, Barnabas was martyred in Cyprus, and is claimed as the founder of the Cypriot Orthodox Church. The Bible explains that his birth name was Joseph (or Joses, the Greek form), but the Apostles gave him the name Barnabas, which may mean “son of the prophet”. However, in the New Testament, it says his name means “son of encouragement” – early Christians saw a link between prophecy and encouragement. The name is pronounced BAHR-nuh-bee. There are several Barnabys in fiction, most notably Barnaby Rudge, in Charles Dickens novel of the same name. Fictional characters named Barnaby tend to be cute, simple, absent-minded, or comical (Barnaby Rudge is a village idiot). Two famous Australians with this name are former AFL footballer Barnaby French, and National Party politician Barnaby Joyce. This name manages to be both hip and cuddly, and it charts in the UK, where it is rising.
Germanic name meaning “bold counsel”. The 10th century Conrad I is recognised as the first ruler who can be called a King of Germany, although he never claimed that title. Related to every other subsequent monarch of Germany, it is little wonder his name became traditional amongst medieval German royalty and nobility. There are several saints named Conrad, with the first one Conrad of Constance, a bishop from the same powerful family as Conrad I. A story is told that he once drank some communion wine at mass after a spider had fallen in it; at that time, spiders were believed to be fatally poisonous, but Conrad drank the wine as a sign of faith. With our current knowledge, his survival no longer seems particularly miraculous. Conrad is the protagonist of The Corsair by Lord Byron, probably the most Byronic of all Byron’s heroes. An outlaw pirate fighting a chivalrous battle against mankind, he is a man of mystery, leading a life of adventure and passion. Because of the cult of Saint Conrad of Constance, the name was used in England during medieval times, and has been revived since the 19th century. Strong and intelligent, it charts in both the UK and the US.
From the Greek form of the Persian name Dārayavahush, meaning “holding firmly onto goodness”. It was traditional amongst kings of the Persian Achaemenid Empire, and Darius I was also known as Darius the Great, ruling the empire at the height of its power, and often remembered for his defeat by the Greeks at the Battle of Marathon. He is mentioned several times in the Old Testament, so you can see this as a Biblical name as well. Darius III was the last king of the Achaemenid Empire, being defeated by Alexander the Great. Musical Dariuses include French composer Darius Milhaud, British singer Darius Campbell, and Darius Rucker from American band Hootie & the Blowfish. A famous Australian with this name NRL footballer Darius Boyd, who plays for the Newcastle Knights. There are attractive fictional Dariuses in the The Hunger Games trilogy, and the House of Night vampire series. You can pronounce this elegant name DAR-ree-us, DAH-ree-uhs, or duh-RY-us, and it charts in both the US and the UK.
Hebrew name meaning “hewer (of wood”) or “feller (of trees)”; often translated as “woodsman”, but other times more freely as “warrior, destroyer”, with the thought that the hewing and felling could be against enemies. In the Old Testament, Gideon was a hero who is listed amongst the Judges of the Hebrews. Born into humble circumstances, Gideon doesn’t seem to have had much confidence in himself, and when God chose him to free his people from oppression, Gideon asked for proof of God’s will through three miracles. Once convinced that God had really chosen him, Gideon led an army of Israelites against the oppressing Midianites. Contrary to standard military tactics, God commanded Gideon to send away most of his army, because it was so large that victory was virtually assured. Instead, he went in to battle with just three hundred men, so that when they won, they were certain it was accomplished through God’s power. Gideon is considered a saint in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox faiths, and the name came into use in Britain through the Puritans. Gideons International is the evangelical organisation which distributes free Bibles; you’ve probably found one in your hotel room at some point. Gideon is a stylish Biblical name; usually pronounced GID-ee-uhn, it charts in the US, where it is rising, and in the UK.
Welsh form of Justin, from the Latin name Justinus, derived from Justus, meaning “just”. All of these names were borne by numerous saints. Iestyn ap Gwrgant was the last ruler of the Welsh kingdom of Morgannwg, in South Wales, before it was taken over by the Normans. His coat of arms forms the modern flag of Glamorgan, and part of the flag of Cardiff. Saint Iestyn was a Welsh hermit who flourished in either the 6th or 7th century, and is said to have been of royal blood. He founded two churches in north Wales. Pronounced YEST-in, this is a positive-sounding name which could honour someone named Justin, or be an appealing Welsh heritage choice. Iestyn charts in the UK.
English surname which was originally a nickname, from the Norman French for “bear cub”. In the medieval romance Valentine and Orson, Orson is a wild man raised by bears, and twin brother to the knight Valentine, brought up in a royal French court. Originally, the “wild brother” didn’t have a name, and it seems to be an English innovation to give him a name to reflect his ursine upbringing. Orson has been used as a boy’s name since at least the 17th century, and has historically been more common in the United States. There are several famous men named Orson, including the American actor and director Orson Welles, who directed Citizen Kane and the notorious War of the Worlds radio broadcast – his first name was George, and he went by his middle name. Others include American television actor Orson Bean (real name Dallas Burrows), who lived in Australia during the 1970s, and American sci-fi author Orson Scott Card, who wrote Ender’s Game. You may also have heard of Internet sensation Orson Mackie, an Australian baby who stars in familiar movie scenes created by his parents from cardboard boxes. This masculine name is warm, snuggly, yet strong. It charts in the UK, where it is rising.
Catalan form of Rocco. Roc Brazilianos was a notorious 17th century Dutch pirate who operated from Jamaica. A cruel and debauched buccaneer, he raised terror on the high seas for many years before mysteriously disappearing with his ship and crew. His real name is not known for sure, but historians think he may have been Gerrit Gerritszoon, who moved to Dutch-controlled Brazil with his parents. Rather less spectacularly, a famous Australian with the name is visionary entrepreneur Roc Kirby, who founded Village Roadshow cinemas, and supported the Australian film renaissance. In his case, Roc is short for Roscoe. A roc is also a gigantic mythological bird which appears in Arabian fairy tales, and is well known to anyone who has read the One Thousand and One Nights. Pronounced like the word rock, this is a cool bad-boy choice which can also be seen as a nature name. It is popular in Catalonia, where it is rising.
Swedish name which comes from the Old Norse Sigsteinn, meaning “victory stone”. Sixten Ehrling was one of Sweden’s most famous conductors, known for his difficult, yet witty, personality, and Sixten Sason was a super stylish Swedish designer who created the smooth lines of the Saab in the 1960s. Another famous namesake is the Swedish street artist Sixten, who at one time lived and worked in Melbourne. This is a smart-sounding Swedish heritage choice which provides few problems with pronunciation, as it’s said much as it looks. It is popular in Sweden, where it is rising.
Roman name of unknown meaning. According to tradition, the name was introduced to Rome by Titus Tatius, the Sabine king who attacked Rome, but later made peace with the legendary Roman king Romulus, the city’s founder. There were three Roman Emperors named Titus, and the Roman historian Livy’s full name was Titus Livius. Saint Titus is mentioned in the New Testament as a companion of Saint Paul. As you can probably tell from all these name bearers, Titus was an extremely common name in ancient times, and used by all social classes. The name gained an unpleasant reputation from Titus Oates, the perjurer who falsely claimed that Catholics were plotting to assassinate King Charles II; more honourable associations are Sir Titus Salt, the manufacturer and philanthropist, and Titus Brandsma, the Catholic priest (now a saint) who spoke out against Nazi ideology and died in a concentration camp. A contemporary namesake is American television actor Titus Welliver, from Sons of Anarchy and The Good Wife. Titus Andronicus is Shakespeare’s first tragedy, one of his most violent and gory plays. Titus charts in the US, where it is rising.
(Photo shows Orson Mackie depicting a scene from the movie Cast Away, on the blog Cardboard Box Office).
Happy Australia Day! Here are ten names for boys which are associated with the colour blue, in honour of the saying, a true blue Aussie.
A bay is a scoop in the shoreline, much prized for providing safe anchorage and opportunities for fishing. Having a long coastline, Australia has many bays, including the Great Australian Bight which forms the southern edge of the continent, and Botany Bay in Sydney – there is even a Blue Bay on the Central Coast of New South Wales. Although bay also describes the colour of a horse’s coat (coppery brown with black markings), and bay tree is another word for a laurel bush, I tend to think of the name Bay as being influenced more by the geographic term, at least in Australia. Bay can also be from the surname – the first English people with the surname Bay took their name from baille, an enclosed courtyard as part of a Norman castle’s fortifications. Although Bay can be used for both sexes, I have only ever seen it on boys, perhaps because it sounds as if could be short for Bailey.
Blue is a colour of the spectrum, and a primary colour. Because it is the colour of the sky, it has often been seen as representing heaven and divinity. It has been connected to the “blue collar” working class, but also with the wealthy, and “blue blooded” nobility. Blue is a popular colour for uniforms, and the navy, air force, and police traditionally wear blue. Blue can also mean “sad, melancholy”; hence bluesmusic, which arose out of suffering. The Australian flag and Eureka flag are both blue, blue heelers are tough, loyal Australian cattle dogs, and it is an Australian irony that a red-headed man is called Blue or Bluey – some say because of the redhead’s reputation for temper, as a blue is Australian slang for a fight. Since World War II, blue has been seen as the colour for boys (with pink for girls), giving the name Blue a boyish feel – although celebrity baby Blue Carter shows it works well for girls too.
The Blue Mountains are to the west of Sydney, part of the Great Dividing Range down the eastern side of Australia. Their name comes from the blue-grey haze which can be seen when the mountains are viewed from a distance, believed to be caused by the diffusion of eucalyptus oils from the trees. One of the most prominent is the Mountain Blue Gum (Eucalptus deanei), a tall forest tree. Its scientific name comes from Henry Deane, an Australian engineer who first collected specimens in the late 19th century. The English surname Dean or Deane comes from dene, meaning “valley” – the Mountain Blue Gum grows in sheltered valleys. Dean has been used as a boys name since the 17th century, and seems to have been initially most popular amongst non-Anglican Protestants. Dean first ranked in Australia in the 1950s, probably because of Hollywood star James Dean; it debuted at #134. By the following decade it had reached the Top 50, and peaked in the 1970s at #34. It didn’t leave the Top 100 until the early 2000s, and since then has gently declined into the mid-100s. It has recently got some exposure via Dean Winchester from the television show Supernatural, played by Jensen Ackles; the character is named after Dean Moriarty, from Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. A simple, clean modern classic, this still has a touch of Hollywood.
Drake has been used as a boys name since the late 16th history in honour of the heroic sea captain, Sir Francis Drake – the first babies with this name were born around the time of Sir Francis’ death. His surname is from the Old English nickname Draca, meaning “dragon, serpent, sea serpent”, coming from the Latin draco. The word goes back to an ancient root meaning “to see” – perhaps suggesting that dragons had a mesmerising gaze. In European mythology, dragons are serpentine rather than lizard-like, so the word drake covers a range of creatures. The name would have been given to someone who was very bold and fierce, for dragons were generally viewed as evil. They were often shown guarding a hoard of treasure with avaricious ferocity. In the post-Christian era, they became associated with Satan, but in modern fantasy stories, dragons nearly always seem to be noble and friendly. Although dragons are cool, this name reminds me of the watery Rainbow Serpent of Indigenous cultures, depicted as a blue serpent on Sydney’s coat of arms.
Levi Strauss was the German-American businessman who founded the first company to manufacture blue denim jeans, which gain their colour from indigo dye. Originally sturdy workwear for labourers, jeans became iconic fashion items, and are now essential clothing for almost everyone. In the Old Testament, Levi was the son of Jacob and Leah, and the founder of the Tribe of Levi. The Levites became the priestly caste of the Hebrews – perhaps the most famous members of the Tribe of Levi are Moses, and his siblings Aaron and Miriam. The name Levi is traditionally understood as “he will join”, because Jacob joined with Leah to produce Levi, but Biblical scholars believe it simply means “priest”, and comes from Arabic. Levi has charted in Australia since the 1970s – this was the decade that Levi jeans were first manufactured in Australia, and the brand name probably had more impact than the Biblical figure. Levi was #243 for the 1980s, and climbed steeply to make the Top 100 by the early 2000s, where it remains stable. It is #26 nationally, #31 in New South Wales, #30 in Victoria, #24 in Queensland, #40 in South Australia, #22 in Western Australia, #23 in Tasmania, #13 in the Northern Territory, and #53 in the Australian Capital Territory.
Blue marlin are one of the world’s largest fish, blue-black with a silvery white underside, and an elongated upper jaw. They can reach more than 500 kg in weight, and have few predators, apart from humans. Because of their size, power, and elusiveness, they are considered to be one of the most highly prized targets for sports fishing. Found in many oceans of the world, blue marlin have been captured as far south as Tasmania. However, the greatest numbers have been caught off the Gold Coast in Queensland, and the largest ones in Bateman’s Bay, on the south coast of New South Wales. Blue marlin are considered be a threatened species, due to overfishing, and most anglers in Australia use the tag and release method. If you would like to use Marlin as a boy’s name, it doesn’t seem too different from Marlon in sound. The word marlin is short for marlinspike fish, as a marlinspike is a pointed tool used by sailors to separate strands of rope; it comes from the Dutch for “fasten, secure”. Like to use this as a girl’s name? What about Makaira, the Latin name for marlin?
Australia is entirely surrounded by ocean, and more than 80% of our population live near the sea. 71% of the planet is covered by ocean, which holds most of Earth’s water. Integral to life on the planet, it is believed that life first arose in its waters. It is not known where all the water on our planet came from, but it must have played a major role in cooling it and making it possible for anything to live here. It still continues to moderate our climate and weather patterns, so we can keep living here. From space, Earth appears to be a marbled blue colour, earning it the moniker The Blue Planet. The word ocean comes from Oceanus, which the ancient Greeks and Romans believed was an enormous river encircling the world. In Greek mythology, this world-ocean was personified as a Titan, depicted as a large, muscular man with a long beard and horns, having a serpent for his lower body. He is the father of the ocean nymphs, and all the rivers, fountains and lakes of the world. Despite these masculine origins, the name Ocean is given to both boys and girls.
Although it has around a hundred of them, Australia cannot be said to be a land of great rivers – river beds are often dry, and even our largest rivers tend to be on the thin side. Of course, this means that every single one of them is especially precious. It seems slightly cheating to include them on a list of Blue Names, as every river I have seen here was brown or green in colour. However, rivers are marked in blue on maps, and if you saw one from a distance with a quantity of blue sky reflected in it, from the right angle it would probably look blue-ish. The word river is Anglo-Norman, from the Latin for “riverbank, shore”; it is ultimately from an ancient root meaning “scratch, tear, cut”. River has been used as a first name since the 17th century, and from the beginning seems to have been used with the geographic term in mind, since people named River Banks and River Jordan turn up quite early in the records. The name is unisex, but historically much more common for boys – in Australia, it seems to be more than twice as common for boys as for girls.
Steel is an alloy of iron and carbon. Steel production began on an experimental basis in Australia in the 19th century, but didn’t really get going until World War I, when BHP opened the first steelworks in Newcastle. Its boom years were after World War II, but since the 1980s our steel production has decreased significantly due to global competition. During its heyday, steelworks provided mass employment and were a source of great pride for workers; it was from the steelworkers that the modern working class emerged. Blue steel is steel that has been given a dark finish, in order to increase toughness. Although we often connect blue steel with guns and other weapons, it is used in many useful capacities, such as on the steel-capped toes of work boots. It gives its name to a colour – steel blue, a shade of blue-grey. Last year I saw several boys named Steel or Steele in birth notices, after the release of the Superman movie, Man of Steel.
Suede is a soft napped leather, popular for making accessories such as shoes and handbags. It was originally used for women’s gloves, and the word comes from the French gants de Suède, meaning “gloves from Sweden”, since this is where the gloves were imported from. Suede features in the Carl Perkins song, Blue Suede Shoes, considered one of the first rockabilly records, and the first million-selling country song to hit the R&B charts. Perkins wrote the song based on a suggestion from Johnny Cash, and a real life encounter with a man who didn’t want anyone stepping on his blue suede shoes. It was soon afterwards recorded by Elvis Presley, who made it a hit all over again, and the song has gone on to become a rock and roll classic. I have met a little boy named Suede, and once I got used to it, found it rather cool and rockabilly. Suede was named in honour of the song, as his parents are Elvis fans. They probably attended the recent Elvis Presley Festival in Parkes.
It will be Australia Day in a week’s time, and rather than cover just one name, I am suggesting names with a “blue” theme, in honour of Australia, where the phrase “true blue” has taken on its own patriotic meaning.
The name Azura is an elaboration of the colour name Azure. Azure is an intense light blue, the colour of a clear sky on a hot summer’s day. In the patriotic Songof Australia, the lyrics describe how all about is azure bright, and the bird called the azure kingfisher is native to Australia. The English word azure comes from French azur, and is taken from the blue mineral lapis lazuli – lapis means “stone” in Latin, while lazuli is from lāžaward: the Persian name for the mineral, derived from Lazhward, a place where it was mined. According to Jewish tradition, Azura was one of the daughters of Adam and Eve, and the wife of her brother Seth. Azura is a popular name in science fiction and fantasy, most notably in Skyrim, where Azura is the Lady of Twilight who rules over the realm of Moonshadow. Last year, NRL star Anthony Minichiello, and designer Terry Biviano, welcomed their daughter Azura. This is pretty and exotic while still similar to names like Arya and Zara.
The bluebell is a type of hyacinth; a spring bulb which grows wild in the woodlands of Europe and is also a popular garden plant. Its name comes from its violet-blue colour, and mass of bell-like petals. Several other unrelated flowers around the world are named bluebell, and in Australia we have the Royal Bluebell (Wahlenbergia gloriosa). This deep violet wildflower grows abundantly in the Australian Alps, and is the floral emblem of the Australian Capital Territory. Summer flowering, it is hardy and easily grown in the garden; however, it is protected in the wild, and cannot be picked or collected. Bluebell came into use as a girls name during the 19th century, along with other flower names, but doesn’t have a Victorian vintage vibe – it seems hip and funky. I have seen this a few times as a middle name, but would love to see it boldly upfront.
Delphine is the French form of Delphina, which can be understood as meaning “from Delphi”. However, the name reminds me of dolphins, whose scientific family name is Delphinidae, from the Greek delphus, meaning “womb”, to indicate that although they look fish-like, as mammals, they bear live young. The Greek town of Delphi, the home of the famous Delphic Oracle in ancient times, is also said to mean “womb”, as it was meant to be the navel of the earth goddess Gaia. The grey-blue colouring of the dolphin suggested this name to me, and there are several species of dolphin which live in, or migrate to, the waters surrounding Australia. Since ancient times, people have been fascinated by dolphins, and there are many stories of wild dolphins rescuing people, helping surfers and swimmers in trouble, or even protecting humans from shark attacks. Their high intelligence and playful behaviour make them appealing companions, and there are several places in Australia where you can swim with and interact with wild dolphins. Delphine is a pretty dolphin-related name for anyone who loves these free-spirited sea creatures, and has Dell and Fifi as potential nicknames.
Indigo is one of the seven colours of the rainbow, a dark shade of blue. It was Sir Isaac Newton who introduced indigo as one of the colours of the spectrum, because in the mid-17th century, when he began his work with prisms, the East India Company had begun importing indigo dye to Britain, where it was used to colour clothing a deep blue. Indigo dye comes from the plant Indigofera tinctoria, native to tropical Asia, and the word indigo comes from the Greek, meaning “Indian dye”. Indigo is a rather controversial colour, because Sir Isaac Newton decided there had to be seven colours to match the seven notes of a scale and seven days of the week, and scientists question whether indigo is really a colour of the spectrum, or just the point where blue deepens. Even more confusingly, Sir Isaac Newton seems to have used the word indigo to mean the colour we call blue. Indigo has strong New Age associations, because it is seen as a particularly spiritual colour connected to psychic power. Indigo is a rather trendy girls name in Australia, a favourite choice of celebrities; rising with other Ind- names, it is #137 in Victoria.
I would not have considered this for a list of Blue Names, except that while writing it, Australian actress Cate Blanchett won a Golden Globe for her role in the film Blue Jasmine. There are about twelve species of jasmine native to Australia; these climbing vines come from tropical and subtropical areas of Queensland and northern New South Wales. The flowers are delicate and white, and have a sweet, intoxicating scent; they are both fragile and strong. The word jasmine comes from the Latinised Persian yasamen, meaning “gift from God” – there really is something quite heavenly about jasmine. The name Jasmine is a modern classic which has charted here since the 1960s, and soared during the 1970s to make the Top 100 for the 1980s. It peaked in the early 2000s at #14, and is still stable in the Top 100. It is #36 nationally, #33 in New South Wales, #28 in Victoria, #41 in Queensland, #31 in South Australia, #24 in Western Australia, #59 in Tasmania, #15 in the Northern Territory and #20 in the Australian Capital Territory.
This name occurred to me because the Royal Australian Navy winter uniform is dark blue (and the summer uniform has dark blue trim); Sailor could be used as a name to honour a family naval tradition. Sailor has been used as a first name since at least the 19th century, and was used for both sexes, although more common for boys. It received greater recognition in the 1990s, when American model Christie Brinkley gave the name to her daughter, and since then has been overwhelmingly seen as a girls name – perhaps partly because it fits in so well with the trend for names such as Kayla, Layla and Tayla. Weatherman Grant Denyer named his daughter Sailor in 2011, his wife Cheryl a fan of the name ever since Christie Brinkley’s choice. The name Sailor probably came originally from the occupational surname, in which case it can be from the German seiler, and mean “ropemaker”, or English, where it means “dancer, acrobat”, from the Norman French sailleor, meaning “dancer, leaper”. The German origin seems to be more common, and as sailors once worked with ropes, still seems to fit as a sailing name.
A Greek name meaning “sapphire”, which simply means “blue stone”. However, it is likely that the ancient Greeks were referring to lapis lazuli when they used the word – it comes from the Hebrew sappir, meaning “lapis lazuli”. In the New Testament, Sapphira was an early Christian who, along with her husband, was struck dead for concealing money from the church and lying about it. It’s hard not to think that they were executed, although the Biblical account is vague on the details. It’s one of the creepier and more troubling parts of the Bible, and doesn’t really show the early church in a good light. A more pleasant connection is the intelligent and loyal blue dragon named Saphira in Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance series of fantasy novels. Crime novelist Tara Moss chose the name Sapphira for her baby daughter in 2011, apparently because she had blue eyes. Sapphira is an exceptionally beautiful and elegant name which can also reference the sapphire mining trade in Australia.
The atmosphere as it appears from Earth; the word comes from the Norse word for “cloud” (you can see our ancestors came from a place where skies tended to be cloudy!). On a clear day the sky appears blue because air scatters blue sunlight more than it scatters red. Because of this, we give as a truism that the sky is blue, even though it appears in a range of colours depending on the conditions, and there is a colour named sky blue because of that. Blue skies are symbolic of happiness and good times ahead, and blue skying is to think creatively – to think that the sky is the limit, to reach for the sky. Although there are blue skies all over the world, in Australia the strong sunlight and lack of cloudiness mean we see a lot of blue sky, and intensely blue skies – the patriotic song Awake! Awake, Australia! mentions our “bright blue skies”. Sky is a unisex name which has never charted in Australia, but its similarity to Skye and Skyla will make it seem feminine here.
An English word which can be understood as meaning “genuine, trusty, faithful”, ultimately from an ancient root meaning “steady, firm”. A common saying in Australia is to describe someone as a true blue Aussie, as featured in the John Williamson song, True Blue. The phrase true blue goes back to medieval times, when the colour blue symbolised faith and constancy. Although theories abound as why this was so, the most likely explanation is that it’s from the blue-dyed cloth produced in the town of Coventry, famous for not fading with washing, and thus remaining “true”. Later on, the phrase became associated with the Presybterian Church, and later still, the Tory Party, and their “true blue supporters”. In Australia, far from “true blue” having these conservative associations, in the 19th century it was used to describe those working class men who remained true to their labour principles, and was thus a left-wing term. Gradually, true blue came to mean anyone loyal to Australia and its values. True can be used as a name for either sex; on a girl, it seems as if it could be short for Trudy and similar names.
Australian wrens are similar in appearance, but unrelated to the wrens of Europe and the Americas. In some species, such as the Superb Fairywren and Splendid Fairywren, the breeding male has a very distinctive and beautiful blue plumage in contrast to the grey-brown tones of the females and juniors. In other species and subspecies, both males and females are bright blue, or have blue patches. Because they are tiny, pretty, and have an attractive range of birdsongs, we love it when fairywrens visit our gardens. Seeing a group of colourful wrens flutter through the bushes is the closest thing to having fairies in the garden that most people will experience. Another charming fairywren fact is that the male will present brightly coloured flower petals when courting a female, which to human eyes looks like bringing a bouquet of flowers. Wren has been used as a first name since the 17th century, and from the beginning was unisex, given roughly equally to both sexes, and possibly influenced by the surname, which comes directly from the bird. Today it is usually thought of a girls name, and although I can see it on a boy, the fairywren seems to render it more feminine than masculine. Elsewhere Wren might seem a humble choice as a name, while here I think it’s much brighter and more cheerful.