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Here we are at the end of June, and our last chance to cover the name of this month. On Sunday, I covered the winter solstice, where I said how mild it was – June was all blue skies and sunshine then. Little did I know the very next day a blizzard would hit, with massive snowfalls in the mountains, and freezing, gale-force winds and heavy rain elsewhere. So winter has definitely started now.
June Wright was once Australia’s queen of crime fiction; her first novel, Murder in the Telephone Exchange, was the best-selling mystery novel of 1948 in Australia, outselling the latest Agatha Christie. It featured feisty telephonist-turned-amateur-detective Maggie Byrnes, and was set during a blazing hot February in post-war Melbourne. These were the days when young working ladies lived in boarding houses where gentleman callers were not permitted, and leaving your bedroom clad only in pyjamas and dressing gown was an absolute no-no.
June went on to write five more novels, including a second Maggie Byrne mystery where the post-war housing shortage leads her into another interesting case to solve. The Devil’s Caress, which has a female doctor as the detective, was described as making Murder in the Telephone Exchange look like a bedtime story, and her last three novels featured Mother Mary St. Paul, an unassuming yet strong-willed Catholic nun detective that June Wright based on the head of the maternity ward where she gave birth to twins.
While June’s wartime experience as a telephone operator was the inspiration for Murder in the Telephone Exchange, it was her career as housewife and mother to six children, one severely intellectually disabled, that was seized upon by the women’s magazines of the day, who brought out articles with titles like “Wrote Thriller With Baby on Her Knee” and “Books Between Babies”. The writer of dark, gory murder mysteries with strong female protagonists was careful to present herself as charming and and feminine, and pointed out that both housewives and writers had to be practical, disciplined, and used to monotony.
June’s last novel was published in 1966. Her husband had a nervous breakdown, and June went back to work as a telephonist to support the family, before she and her husband started a cleaning business together. Although there are no hints she regretted having to abandon her literary career, she lived a long life (she only passed away recently), and it’s hard not to think of the many years she could have kept writing under different circumstances.
June lapsed into literary obscurity, and her works have been out of print for many years. However, in February this year Murder in the Telephone Exchange was re-issued by Dark Passage, an imprint of US publisher Verse Chorus Press. They will be bringing out all her novels, including previously unpublished Duck Season Death.
I haven’t bought my own copy yet, but this is welcome news for lovers of vintage fiction, women’s fiction, and Australian crime fiction. I think the books would be especially interesting for Melburnians from a historical perspective.
The name June is after the sixth month of the year. The Romans called the month Junius, commonly believed to be named in honour of the goddess Juno, the wife of Jupiter and queen of the gods. Do you remember the Happy June group, who celebrated June Day on June 1 every day? Well, on the first day of June, the ancient Romans had a festival dedicated to Juno’s “birthday”, in her role as goddess of war and protector of the state. So in a way, there is a “June Day” just as much as a “May Day”.
Because Juno was the goddess of marriage, the month of June was thought an auspicious time for weddings. This makes a lot of sense in the northern hemisphere, where it is early summer: in the United States, June is the most popular month for weddings, and in Italy, June is still a popular month to be married. In Australia, November is the most popular month for weddings (just to confuse things, in the United Kingdom August is the traditional wedding month – in Italy this is considered incredibly bad luck and very unhealthy).
As June is the start of summer in the northern hemisphere, there the name June may seem ripe and womanly, full of vitality and promise – as the song says, June is Bustin’ Out All Over. Here June is the start of winter, and to me it seems cool and fresh as a mountain breeze, and pure as snow.
June has been commonly used as a girl’s name since the 19th century, and part of its appeal must have been that it sounded similar to popular names such as Joan and Jane. It would have also seemed like a “real name” because of Latin names such as Junia – Saint Junia is venerated in the Orthodox tradition, and is mentioned in the New Testament as having a leadership role in the early Christian church. In the US, June has also been used as a male name, derived from Junius.
In Australia, June began charting in the 1910s, debuting at #162, and climbing so steeply that it was #15 for the 1920s. It peaked in the 1930s at #10, fell until it left the Top 100 in the 1950s, and last charted in the 1970s.
June does not chart in either Australia or the UK, but in the US June is already in the 300s and is rising very briskly after only re-joining the Top 1000 in 2008. The United States is leading the way, and I think this is an American name trend well worth considering.
June is sweet and charming, and has the fashionable OO sound in it, like Ruby and Lulu. This is a hip vintage choice, and also a simple nature name, like Wren or Rain. Not only can it be used to honour a relative named June, or for cases where June is a special month for you, this would make a great name for someone who wanted something that was traditional and “old-fashioned”, while still seeming fresh and underused.
June could be used as a short form of names such as Juniper, Junia or Juno, and is getting some use as a middle name, but it would be lovely to see it up front as the full name. Junie is the usual pet form.