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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 To Kill 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.
(Photo shows a Wedge-tail Eagle in flight)