Julia Gillard, who became Australia’s first female prime minister in 2010, is our prime minister no longer. Just as she became prime minister by ousting Kevin Rudd, so she was deposed in her turn when Kevin staged his long-threatened comeback and was reinstated.
Her name deserves to be covered as a “famous name” because she made Australian history by dint of her sex. As well as being the first woman prime minister, she is the first Australian PM to never be married; she is in a domestic relationship with her partner, Tim Mathieson. She is the first prime minister since Billy Hughes (1915-23) to be born overseas, because she is originally from Wales; Welsh politician AneurinBevan is one of her political heroes.
Much has been made of the fact that Ms Gillard is childless by choice, and an atheist, but that isn’t too unusual for an Australian prime minister. Stanley Bruce, James Scullin, Ben Chifley and John McEwen didn’t have children either, and Gough Whitlam, John Curtin, John Gorton and Bob Hawke all identified as either atheists or agnostics. She isn’t even the first redheaded prime minister – James Scullin had red hair.
Kevin Rudd also made history by returning as prime minister, because he is the first to do so since Robert Menzies in 1949, and is only the second Labor prime minister to ever do so – Andrew Fisher was the last, in 1914.
Even for those who do not agree with Julia Gillard’s politics or policies, it is admirable how hard she has worked, and what she has managed to achieve. Operating from a minority government which was tipped to do very little, she managed to get almost 500 pieces of legislation through parliament during her time in office, requiring great diplomacy and bipartisan support. (Here’s another history factoid: the last hung parliament was in 1940).
Throughout her term in office, Julia Gillard was often pilloried and treated vilely by opposition supporters. She proved to be extremely courageous and tough in the face of it, and always remained graceful under fire. Unfortunately, her strength and dignity was probably misread by the electorate as coldness and formality, and her government failed to sell its many successes to the public.
Nevertheless, Julia Gillard has left an impressive legacy behind, including a model for other women to reach for high political office in Australia. A pity her opponents have made it unlikely any of them will want it.
The Iulia or Julia was one of the most ancient and noble families of ancient Rome, and their most famous member is Gaius Julius Caesar, the dictator who ruled the Roman Republic and helped bring about the Roman Empire. Julius Caesar gave his name to July, which makes Julia a suitable name to cover this month.
The Julii came from one of the leading houses of the Alban Hills near Rome, and gained their name from a mythical ancestor named Iulus. When it became fashionable in Rome to claim a divine origin for your noble family, the Julii decided that they were descended from Ascanius, the son of Aeneas, who according to legend founded the ancient city of Alba Longa. Aeneas was the son of a prince named Anchises, from a kingdon near Troy, and the goddess Venus. To make things easier, their ancestor Iulus was identified as being the same person as Ascanius.
The meaning of Iulus can’t be known for sure, due to its great antiquity, but it is possibly related to the name of the god Jupiter, identified as meaning “O father sky-god” in Old Latin. On the top of Monte Cavo, the dominant peak of the Alban Hills, was a very ancient shrine to Jupiter, suggesting that he had been their most important deity since time immemorial.
There are several famous women named Julia who were members of the Julia family. One was the mother of Mark Antony, another the aunt of Julius Caesar, while Julius Caesar had two older sisters named Julia, and also called his only daughter Julia, a lady renowned for great beauty and virtue.
The name Julia wasn’t uncommon in the Roman Empire, and there were many first century queens and princesses bearing the name. Saint Paul mentions an early Christian named Julia living in Rome, and there are at least two saints named Julia, who were martyrs. Julia is a character in William Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen of Verona, another of his cross-dressing girls, and this time with a very fickle lover.
Julia is a classic name in Australia, which has never left the charts. It was #119 in the 1900s, and got as low as #205 in the 1920s before rising. It reached the top 100 in 1995 at #99, and peaked in 2000 at #64 before suddenly dropping out of the Top 100 the following year.
Since then, it has been on the decline (with a small upward blip in 2010, when Julia Gillard became the first female Prime Minister), and is currently #211, the lowest point it has ever reached. It is #153 in Victoria, the state where Julia Gillard launched her political career, and in Queensland, Mr Rudd’s home state, there are fewer babies called Julia than Kevin.
Politics rarely seems to do baby names any favours, and the name Julia appears to be rapidly losing popularity. Yet it is a classic which has never been out of the 200s, so it doesn’t seem dated. Simple and elegant, Julia travels well internationally, and on the right person, this can be a jewel of a name.
Alfie is a nickname for Alfred. It is most famous from the award-winning (and still emotionally shocking) 1966 movie Alfie, starring Michael Caine as the predatory Alfred “Alfie” Elkins. The theme song was sung by Cilla Black, who objected that Alfie sounded like a “dog name”, and suggested Tarquin instead. As it was too late to remake the entire movie, her views were dismissed. Alfred Elkins was the grandfather of the British “Lad”, and until recently, Alfie was a name we thought of as one that could stay on grandfather. It has been Top 100 in the UK since the late 1990s, one of the old geezer names rehabilitated as cute and cool. The insipid 2004 remake of Alfie, starring handsome Jude Law as the charming Cockney, gave Alfie a new image, and Alfie Allen plays cocky Theon in Game of Thrones (big sis Lily Allen wrote a song about him). Alfie follows on the heels of popular Archie, and is #201 in Victoria.
Bastian is a German short form of Sebastian. The name became well known from Bastian Balthazar Bux, the main character in the fantasy novel, The Neverending Story, by Michael Ende. Translated into English in the 1980s, it has been adapted into several films. In the story, Bastian is a lonely, neglected little boy who loves reading; he steals a book called The Neverending Story, and is gradually drawn into a world where make-believe becomes reality. Along the way, he not only has many adventures, but learns valuable lessons about life and love, and manages to rewrite his own story. Although he is the protagonist, he isn’t exactly its hero, which might explain why this name hasn’t taken off. It’s not only handsome, but sounds like the English word bastion – part of a castle’s defence structure, and figuratively, a person who defends a particular position.
Gus can be used as a short form of Augustus, August, Angus, Fergus, and even the Greek name Kostas, although in practice it often seems to be a nickname based on a person’s surname. The name might remind you of film director Gus Van Sant (who was named after his dad), or astronaut Virgil “Gus” Grissom, the second American in space, or of NRL expert Phil “Gus” Gould. You might think of Gus as a cowboy name, due to Texas Ranger Augustus “Gus” McCrae from Lonesome Dove, or as slightly geeky, due to Burton “Gus” Guster in Psych. The name seems to be often used for fictional animals, such as Walt Disney’s Gus Goose, and the mouse Octavius “Gus” in Cinderella (both these Guses are fat). Gus the Theatre Cat is a character from T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats; he is frail and elderly, and his nickname is short for Asparagus. This vintage nickname is now very fashionable, and is #241 in Victoria.
Jonty is a nickname for Jonathan, which seems to have originated as a full name in the United States during the 19th century, but is now more common in Britain and some Commonwealth countries. You may know the name from retired South African Test cricketer Jonathan “Jonty” Rhodes. Oddly enough, Jonty does not appear in the US data at all now, so if any babies were named Jonty last year, there were less than five of them. Jonty is #315 for boys in Victoria. Although Jonathan is a boy’s name without a feminine form, girls are sometimes called Jonty too, but not enough to show up in the data.
Kai is Scandinavian name which may be a Frisian short form of Gerhard, Nikolaus or Cornelius. It could also be a short form of the Frisian name Kaimbe, meaning “warrior”. Another possibility is that it could be short for the Latin name Caius, a variant of Gaius, whose meaning is not known. If so, it would be the Scandinavian equivalent of the English male name Kay, as in Sir Kay, who was the foster-brother of King Arthur. Or it could be a variant of the Frisian male name Kaye, which is said to come from the Old Norse word for “hen, chicken”. Or perhaps it is short for Kajetan, which comes from the Latin name Caietanus, meaning “from the town of Gaeta” (Gaeta is in central Italy). Kai can also be a girl’s name in Scandinavia, and this case it is a variant of Kaj, which is a Swedish pet form of Karin (short for either Katrina or Karolina) – to complicate things, Kaj is also a Finnish form of male Kai. That’s a lot of names Kai can be short for! Kai can be a full name in its own right, because it is also a unisex Polynesian name meaning “ocean”, and Kai has the same meaning in Japanese. Kai is a Chinese boy’s name which means “victory” in Mandarin, and in Swahili, it is a girl’s name meaning “loveable”, but this is pronounced KY-yee, and not the more familiar KY. Kai first joined the charts in the 1970s, debuting at #498. It has climbed steeply and fairly steadily, and is currently #61 nationally, #60 in New South Wales, #78 in Victoria, #64 in Queensland, #35 in Western Australia and #62 in the Australian Capital Territory. This is a fantastic little cross-cultural name which can be used for either sex, although it has only ever charted for boys in Australia.
Liam is short for Uilliam, the Irish form of William. Famous people named Liam include Irish actor Liam Neeson, actor Liam Hemsworth, brother to Chris, musician Liam Finn, son of Neil, journalist Liam Bartlett, AFL footballer Liam Picken, and Liam Payne from One Direction, credited with much of the name’s international success last year. Liam first charted in the 1950s, and first ranks in the 1960s, when it debuted at #318. I don’t know if this was a factor, but it was in the 1950s that popular Irish folk band the Clancy Brothers began their career, with Liam Clancy their best singer. By the 1980s, Liam was in the Top 100, making #82 for that decade. Liam really took off in the 1990s, when Liam Gallagher kept grabbing headlines for controversial reasons, and was #26 for the decade. Stable for years, it is currently #11 nationally, #13 in New South Wales, #15 in Victoria, #9 in Queensland, #15 in South Australia, #8 in Western Australia, #24 in Tasmania, #14 in the Northern Territory and #8 in the Australian Capital Territory.
Max can be short for Maxmilian, Maximus, Maxwell, Malcolm, or any name starting with Max-. Although we think of Max as a male name, it could also be short for female names such as Maxine or Maximilienne, and just this year Perth businessman Zhenya Tsvetnenko welcomed a daughter named Max Alice. It is perhaps best known from the Mad Max films, where Mel Gibson originally played Max Rockatansky, a vigilante in a dystopian Australian future. One of Australia’s most successful movie franchises, it kick-started a national film industry and created an enduring Australian icon. Max is a classic name in Australia which has never left the charts. It was #188 in the 1900s, and arrived in the Top 100 in the 1930s, before promptly leaving it again the following decade. It reached its lowest point in the 1970s, at #411, and then skyrocketed during the 1980s – this was the period when the Mad Max films were released. Max made the Top 100 in the 1990s. By 2003 it was in the Top 50 at #24, and by 2008 it was in the Top 20, where it has stabilised. It is #16 nationally, #18 in New South Wales, #14 in Victoria, #22 in Queensland, #18 in South Australia, #15 in Western Australia, #4 in Tasmania, and #46 in the Australian Capital Territory.
Ted can either be short for Theodore, or for Edward and other Ed- names. Teds seem to be very popular in comedy, including Father Ted Crilly from Father Ted, Ted Mosby from How I Met Your Mother, Ted from the Bill and Ted movies, Ted Bullpit in Kingswood Country, and the eponymous bear from the movie Ted. Ted became a celebrity baby name last year, when Leila McKinnon welcomed her son Edmund “Ted” Gyngell, and this year Livinia Nixon called her son Ted as his full name. Ted is #282 in Victoria, so it’s unclear whether Leila started a name trend, or simply joined one. I do see a fair amount of Teds in birth notices though.
Toby is a medieval contracted form of Tobias; you can see it as either a nickname for Tobias, or the English form of it. The name Toby is one prominent in traditional British popular culture, because of the Toby jug, originally a Staffordshire pottery jug in the shape of a stout seated man, drinking and smoking, dating to the 18th century. There are at least two theories as why it has been given the name Toby. One is that it is after Sir Toby Belch, from William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, a suitably jovial and carousing namesake. Another is that after Henry Elwes, a famous drinker from the 18th century who was nicknamed Toby Philpot, after a character in the drinking song, The Brown Jug. Another British Toby is Mr Punch’s dog in Punch and Judy puppet shows, traditionally a bull terrier; often in the past, Toby would be a a real trained dog, not just a puppet. Interestingly, The Brown Jug mentions Toby Philpot as enjoying a drink in “the dog days (of high summer)” – maybe one reason why the puppeteer’s dog was named Toby. Toby has charted since the 1960s, when it debuted at #427, and has been in the Top 100 since 2001. It is #78 nationally, #71 in New South Wales, #94 in Victoria, #85 in Queensland, #50 in Tasmania, and #46 in the Australian Capital Territory.
Xander is short for Alexander. Xander seems to have become common as a full name in Germany, the Netherlands and Scandinavian before it caught on in the English-speaking world, and as a nickname was used more in Britain than other Anglophone countries. Xander became popularised by the character of Alexander “Xander” Harris in the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the alter ego of his creator, Joss Whedon. It may not be a coincidence that Whedon attended school in England for a couple of years. Xander is Buffy’s best male friend, and gradually matures from geeky, insecure sidekick into a smart, effective warrior, who makes a place for himself in the “real world” and is quite successful with the ladies. It was only after the show began in the late 1990s that Xander joined the US Top 1000, or charted at all in the UK. Xander is #159 in Victoria.
Yesterday was the birthday of Ruby Payne-Scott, who was born 101 years ago in 1912, and a pioneer in radio physics and radio astronomy, as well as an advocate for women’s rights. Her extraordinary scientific mind became obvious early in life, when she entered the University of Sydney aged just 16, where she graduated with double first-class honours in mathematics and physics, and won the mathematics prize, as well as gaining a scholarship in physics. She was the third female graduate in physics at the university.
The Depression wasn’t a good time to be job-searching, but Ruby found work at the Cancer Research Institute where she completed her masters thesis on radiation. After a brief stint of teaching, she applied to Australian Wireless Amalgamated, a huge company that ran all the wireless services, and was the first woman they hired in a research capacity. AWA weren’t keen on hiring women at all, even as cleaners or typists, but they took Ruby on as librarian; she was soon a full-time research physicist.
During World War II, she was one of a group of young engineers from AWA hired by the government to conduct research on a secret new defensive weapons system – radar. She came into close contact with group leader Joseph Pawsey, and both became fascinated with reports of extra-terrestrial radio signals; they conducted the first experiment in radio astronomy in the southern hemisphere in 1944. After the war, she was one of a team at the CSIR (later the CSIRO) formed to survey “cosmic static” from astronomical objects. As a result, Australia became a global leader in radio astronomy, with Ruby the first female radio astronomer in the world.
Ruby was feisty and self-confident, very outspoken about her political views, which were that women should be equal to men, and scientific research should be independent. This got her labelled a communist, and “loud and unstable”, but she continued to press for equal treatment.
One thing she kept quiet was that she had married a telephone mechanic named Bill Hall in 1944, because until 1966, married women were expected to resign from the public service, and could not be employed on a permanent basis. When news of her marriage got out in 1950, she was reduced to temporary status and lost her pension and other benefits. She was forced to resign in 1951 when she became pregnant with her first child, and with no maternity leave or childcare, her brilliant career ended at the age of 39.
By the standards of her day, Ruby had it all. A highly-paid and rewarding scientific career, outside interests which included bushwalking and home renovation, a happy marriage, two children (who grew up to be a renowned mathematician and a distinguished artist), and, when her children were older, a return to teaching, where she was greatly admired by students who had no idea of her earlier achievements.
In her honour, the CSIRO initiated the Payne-Scott Awards to support researchers who need to take time off after the birth of a child. She was a bright star in her field, and because of Ruby and women like her, it’s possible to want equal pay, and the choice to work and have a family without being called a loud, unstable communist.
Ruby is a precious gemstone which is a variety of the mineral corundum, and comes in a range of red colours (when corundum is blue, it is called Sapphire). Its name comes from ruber, the Latin for “red”, and the most valuable rubies have the deepest red colour with a hint of blue. For centuries the main source of rubies was Myanmar (Burma), and today most rubies are either from Burma or Thailand. Rubies have always been especially valued in Asia, where they are seen as bringing good fortune.
Ruby has been used as a girl’s name since at least the 17th century, but was used as a pet form of Reuben since the Middle Ages. When Ruby was established as a girl’s name, it was sometimes given to boys, perhaps after the surname, which can come from the town of Roubaix in Normandy; its name means “stream on the plain”. Another possibility for the surname is that it is from the town of Roby in Lancashire, meaning “settlement by the boundary marker” in Old Norse. Ruby became popular for girls in the 19th century, when other gemstone names were fashionable.
Ruby was #21 in the 1900s, and had left the Top 100 by the 1930s. It disappeared from the charts between the 1950s and the 1970s, but came back in the 1980s at #548. One of the 1980s-born Rubys is model and TV host Ruby Rose, born Ruby Rose Lagenheim.
Ruby zoomed up the charts at such a dizzying speed that by 1996 it was already in the Top 100, debuting at #75. By 1998 it was in the Top 50 at #44, and by 2003 it was #20. Ruby made her Top 10 début in 2010, at #2, and last year she was #1. According to this article, Ruby is particularly popular on the Central Coast and in Newcastle.
Currently Ruby is #1 in New South Wales, #3 in Victoria, #3 in Queensland, #2 in South Australia, #3 in Western Australia, #1 in Tasmania, #4 in the Northern Territory and #2 in the Australian Capital Territory. Nationally Ruby is #2.
When a new baby was added to the Rafter family on popular family drama, Packed to the Rafters, she was named Ruby, and one of the babies portraying the character is also named Ruby. In fiction and real life, Ruby is big news.
Last year, Ruby was the name most commonly searched for to reach my blog, and no wonder people love it, because it’s a warm, vibrant name that is womanly yet spunky. However, it’s certainly had some detractors along the road to massive popularity.
It’s been called an old lady name, a hooker name, a trashy name … but the one that irritates me the most is when people refer to Ruby as a “dumb girl” name. I even saw one online pundit prophesy that your daughter would not get a degree if she was named Ruby!
Ruby Scott-Payne is proof that you can be named Ruby, and get as many degrees as you want. A Ruby can be brainy, bright, brilliant, strong, smart, sassy … and she can reach for the stars.
More information on Ruby Payne-Scott can be gained by reading her in-depth biography – Under the Radar: The First Woman in Radio Astronomy, Ruby Payne-Scott by William Miller Goss and Richard X. McGee
(Picture is a detail from a poster featuring Ruby Payne-Scott designed by Amy Blue; by clicking on this link, you can “appreciate” the picture, or “like” it on Facebook etc)
Arthur‘s fame comes from the legendary King Arthur, a British hero of the Dark Ages who became much celebrated in medieval romances. The meaning of the name isn’t known; some popular theories derive it from the British for “bear king” or, less convincingly, the Welsh for “bear man”. Another theory is that it is from the Roman surname Artorius, which would make King Arthur a Romanised Briton; this does fit in with some of the earliest versions of the tales. Unfortunately, it isn’t known what Artorius means, so leaves us no wiser. It’s a name we often think of as Victorian, as the 19th century was so keen on reviving medieval names, and Lord Tennyson’s Idylls of the King made the Arthurian legends popular once more. Queen Victoria’s favourite son was named Arthur, and Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, and detective writer Arthur Conan Doyle were two other famous Victorian namesakes. Arthur was #6 in the 1900s, and peaked in the 1910s at #5. It didn’t leave the Top 100 until the 1960s, and reached its lowest point in the early 2000s at #334. Since then it has been rising gently, and is currently #216. Handsome and noble, this is a classic which isn’t overused and the nickname Artie is a good alternative to popular Archie.
Clarence seems to have started out as a girl’s name, presumably an elaboration of Clare or variant of Clarice. In the 19th century, although given to both sexes, it was much more common as a boy’s name, due to Queen Victoria’s son Leopold, the Earl of Clarence. The title is said to originate from the town of Clare in Suffolk, owned by the first Duke of Clarence, Lionel of Antwerp, in the 14th century. The town’s name was originally Clara, from Roman times – this was either from the Latin for “clear” because of the Chilton Stream which flows through the town, or a Latinisation of a Celtic word, but scholars seem to currently lean towards the first explanation. Clarence was #30 in the 1900s, #42 in the 1910s , and left the Top 100 in the 1940s. It hasn’t charted since the 1960s. Famous as the angel in It’s a Wonderful Life, this might seem like an “old person name”, but actor Clarence Ryan, who has starred in kid’s TV shows Lockie Leonard and Dead Gorgeous, gives us a chance to see the name on a young man. The classic nickname is Clarry, but Ren would be neat.
Ernest is a Germanic name meaning “vigour, strife”, only very distantly related to the English word earnest. It was a name used by German royalty and nobility, and introduced to England in the 18th century when the Hanoverians inherited the British throne. Famous men named Ernest include New Zealand-born physicist Ernest Rutherford, British explorer Ernest Shackleton, American author Ernest Hemingway and Australian TV host Ernest “Ernie” Sigley. The name also reminds us of Ernest Worthing, from the Oscar Wilde play, The Importance of Being Earnest. Ernest was #16 in the 1900s, #17 in the 1910s, and left the Top 100 in the 1950s. It hasn’t charted since the 1970s. Ernest seems like one of those granddad names that could easily be used again; it’s strong and appealing, almost sounds like a virtue name, and Ernie makes a cute nickname. In a recent poll on the blog, Ernest was voted the male name from the 1900s that people most wanted to be revived.
Horace is the name by which the Roman poet Quintus Horatius Flaccus is known in English. He was a member of the Horatii, an ancient noble family of Rome. The family name Horatius is said to go back to a legendary hero named Horatus; the meaning of his name is unknown. The poet Horace used to make puns on his own name and its similarity to the Latin hora, meaning “hour”, and from this exhorting to “seize the day” and make the most of time. The elegant and witty poetry of Horace was a great influence on English literature from the Middle Ages onwards, but to modern eyes his love poetry appears brutally unromantic (he seized the day with an awful lot of people). The name Horace was #45 in the 1900s, #57 in the 1910s, and had left the Top 100 by the 1930s. It hasn’t charted since the 1940s. Unfortunately for the name, Horace always seems to be used for comic characters in fiction, often overweight ones, such as barrister Horace Rumpole of the Bailey and Horace Slughorn from Harry Potter. Indeed, the Roman poet himself was short and rotund, giving this name a portly sound. However, it also seems sturdy and reliable – and you could use Ace as a contemporary nickname.
Joseph is a form of the Hebrew name Yosef. In the Old Testament, Joseph was the son of Jacob and his favourite wife Rachel. The meaning of the name appears to be “Yahweh shall add (a son)”, but the Bible makes a pun about Joseph also “taking away” his mother’s shame of being barren – a little mathematical joke. Jacob spoiled Joseph terribly, gave him some fancy duds, and his jealous brothers sold him into slavery after he unwisely shared a dream he had about being way better than them. Through a series of adventures where his dream skills were more appreciated, he became the most powerful man in Egypt after the Pharaoh, and was reunited with his family, who he received with love and forgiveness. In the New Testament, Joseph was the husband of Mary, and the earthly father of Jesus; he is regarded as a saint. Joseph was #17 in the 1900s, and #23 in the 1910s. A sturdy classic which has never left the Top 100, the lowest it’s ever been is #68 during the 1940s. Currently it is #52 in New South Wales. Although last year it fell somewhat, Joseph is an extremely safe choice with Joe as the standard and popular nickname.
Laurence is the English form of the Roman surname Laurentius, meaning “from Laurentum”. Laurentum was an ancient city near Rome whose name may mean “laurel tree”. The Romans wore laurel wreaths to symbolise victory, so it’s a very positive meaning. (In France, Laurence is the feminine form of Laurentius). Laurence became well known because of Saint Lawrence, a 3rd century martyr put to death for not handing over the church’s money to the Emperor. According to legend, he was roasted on a gridiron, cheekily saying, “I’m done – turn me over!”. He is one of the most popular saints, and widely venerated. Laurence was #87 in the 1900s and #72 in the 1910s; it peaked in the 1920s at #62, and didn’t leave the Top 100 until the 1960s. Laurence hasn’t charted in New South Wales since 2009, but in Victoria it is #494. This name is sleek and handsome, but presently much more popular in the middle than up front.
Maxwell is a Scottish surname which comes from a place named Maccus Well or Maxwell on the Scottish Borders. The name came about when a Norman lord named Maccus obtained land on the River Tweed, with a salmon pool soon known as Maccus’ Wiel – Maccus’ pool. Maccus is from the Old Norse name Makkr, a form of Magnus, meaning “great”. A grandson of Maccus became chamberlain of Scotland, and through him many branches of the family grew through south-west Scotland. Clan Maxwell was a very powerful Lowland clan who operated as one of the great noble houses of Scotland, holding titles of high esteem. Maxwell has been used as a first name since the 17th century, and in Scotland was sometimes given to girls. Entertainer Jessica Simpson raised eyebrows when she named her daughter Maxwell last year. Maxwell was #118 in the 1900s and #79 in the 1910s. It peaked at #29 in the 1930s, and left the Top 100 in the 1960s. Maxwell hit its lowest point in the 1970s and ’80s, when it plateaued at #318. After that it climbed, and was just outside the Top 100 when it fell to #139 in 2011. The retro nickname Max makes this a very attractive choice.
Percy is an aristocratic surname used as a first name. William de Percy was a Norman who arrived in England in 1067; he may have lived in England before the Conquest, but been expelled and returned when it was safe. He was granted large tracts of land, and it is from him that the House of Percy descends. The Percys were the most powerful noble family in the north of England during the Middle Ages, and rivals to the Nevilles. Various Percys did all the usual noble things – signed the Magna Carta, took leading roles in wars and battles, governed Virginia. George Percy, Earl Percy, the current heir to the Dukedom of Northumbria, was Pippa Middleton’s housemate, and is close friends with her. The name Percy comes from the manor of Perci-en-Auge in Normandy; it’s derived from the Roman personal name Persius, of unknown meaning, and may be a Latinisation of a Gaulish name. Percy was #41 in the 1900s, #48 in the 1910s and had left the Top 100 by the 1930s. It hasn’t charted since the 1940s. Because Percy can be used as a nickname for Percival or Perseus, it fits in well with the trend for old-fashioned nicknames like Ned or Ollie.
Ronald is a Scottish form of Ragnvaldr or Rognvaldr, an Old Norse name meaning something like “well-advised ruler, decisive ruler”. The Gaelic form of the name is Ragnall, and this was Anglicised as either Ranald or Ronald (the Latinised form is Reginald). The Norse name was introduced to Scotland by settlers from Scandinavia, and there were several powerful Norse rulers of northern England and Scotland named Ragnall. Ronald was #34 in the 1900s, #10 in the 1910s, and peaked in the 1920s at #3. It didn’t leave the Top 100 until the 1970s, and only stopped charting in the late 2000s. There are two likeable fictional sidekicks which remind me of this this name – Ron Weasley, red-headed best mate of wizard Harry Potter, and Ron Stoppable, bestie of crime fighter Kim Possible. Both are played for laughs, yet are brave, loyal, and manage to get the girl. I have seen a few babies in birth notices called Ron or Ronnie, but so far I haven’t seen a full-blown Ronald. I suspect the familiar hamburger clown Ronald McDonald might hamper it – the name Ronald took a definite dive after McDonalds became established in Australia.
Victor is a Roman name meaning “victor” in Latin, which is easy enough to understand. It was a very popular name amongst early Christians, symbolising victory over sin and death. There are several saints named Victor, and three popes with the name – Saint Pope Victor I was the first African pope. Victor was commonly used as a name amongst Continental European nobility and royalty, and in the 19th century received a boost in England due to Queen Victoria. There are quite a few Victors in fiction, but the most widely-known often has his first name forgotten – Victor Frankenstein, the young Swiss scientist who brings a nameless creature to life. Writer Mary Shelley based Frankenstein on her husband Percy Shelley, who used Victor as a pen name and had been a keen science student while at university. Victor was #31 in the 1900s and #38 in the 1910s. It left the Top 100 in the 1960s, and reached its lowest point in the charts in 2009, when it dipped to #478. Currently it is #333. This is a strong, honest-sounding classic which seems rather hip.
(The photo shows Australian soldiers in the trenches at Bois-Grenier near Armentières on the Western Front, 1916. Image held by the Australian War Memorial)
Amy is the English form of the Old French name Amée, meaning “beloved”; it’s a form of the Latin name Amata. It was in use in the Middle Ages, and revived in the 19th century. Amy was #32 in the 1900s, and by the following decade had sunk to #58, leaving the Top 100 in the 1920s. Amy disappeared from the charts between 1940 and 1960, but soared in popularity to make the Top 100 in the 1970s, and peaked in the 1980s at #8; by the 1990s it had only dropped one place. Amy had a very gentle decline, and left the Top 100 in 2011, but last year rallied and made #89, showing that there is life in this name yet. No wonder Amy has remained such a favourite – it’s a simple, unpretentious name with a nice meaning, and possesses appealing fictional namesakes from Little Women‘s Amy March to Doctor Who‘s Amelia “Amy” Pond.
Enid is a Welsh name meaning “soul”. In medieval Welsh legend, Enid is the wife of Geraint, a warrior king who is one of King Arthur’s men. Due to a silly misunderstanding, Geraint believes Enid has been unfaithful, and drags her off on a dangerous journey where she is not allowed to speak to him. Sensible Enid ignores this request, as she often has to warn him of approaching danger. Somehow this road trip from hell doesn’t put Enid off her husband, and in the end the two lovebirds are reconciled. Lord Tennyson turned the legend into two poems for his Idylls of the King, which brought the name to the attention of literature-loving Victorians. Enid was #64 in the 1900s, #49 for the 1910s, and peaked in the 1920s at #40. It left the Top 100 in the 1940s, and hasn’t charted since the 1950s. The most famous Australian Enid is Dame Enid Lyons, the first woman elected to the House of Representatives. Strong yet sweet, and sounding like an anagram of Eden, this is a clunky old-style name which deserves revival.
Gertrude is a Germanic name meaning “spear of strength”. It was used amongst medieval German nobility and royalty, and Saint Gertrude was one of the great mystics of the 13th century. The name probably didn’t become well known in Britain until the 15th century, due to immigration from the Netherlands. Shakespeare used it for the Danish queen in Hamlet, giving it a stamp of approval as an English name. The name seems to have been more common in Australia amongst Catholics, due to its saintly namesake. Gertrude was #54 in the 1900s, #87 in the 1910s, and had left the Top 100 by the 1920s. It hasn’t charted since the 1930s – a very steep decline. However, I feel that this dignified name could have a slight revival, and would make a very hip and cutting-edge choice. The nicknames Gertie and Trudy seem cute and usable.
Helen is a name of Greek derivation whose meaning has been much debated. Often translated as “light”, “torch” or “the shining one”, the name may be related to a Sanskrit name meaning “swift”. The name is forever connected to its original namesake, Helen of Troy, a woman of staggering beauty. In Greek mythology, Helen was the daughter of Zeus, who came to her mother Leda in the guise of a swan, so that Helen was born from an egg. Married to King Menelaus of Sparta, she was carried off by Prince Paris of Troy, sparking the Trojan War to avenge her abduction, causing no end of trouble for all involved. Famous Helens include singer Helen Reddy, novelist Helen Garner, and opera star Dame Helen “Nellie” Melba. Helen has never left the charts; #77 in the 1900s, it was #71 in the 1910s and peaked in the 1940s at #4. A long-time favourite, it didn’t leave the Top 100 until the 1980s. It reached its lowest point in 2009 at #554, and since then has taken a slight upward turn, making #355 in 2011. With names such as Eleanor and Elena gaining rapidly in popularity, and retro nicknames Nell and Nellie becoming fashionable, classic Helen looks like it has plenty of room for growth.
Joan is the English form of the Old French name Johanne, a feminine form of Johannes, which is the Latin form of the Greek name Ioannes, from the Hebrew name Yehochanan, meaning “Yahweh is gracious”. The English form of Johannes is John, and Joan is also a Spanish form of John. Joan was introduced to Britain by the Normans, and it was used amongst royalty and the nobility during the Middle Ages. Later it became less common, and had a revival in the 19th century. It is well known from Saint Joan of Arc, the visionary military leader, whose French name is Jeanne d’Arc. Famous Joans include Joan Lindsay, who wrote Picnic at Hanging Rock and opera star Dame Joan Sutherland. Joan was #152 for the 1900s, shot up to make #28 for the 1910s, and peaked in the 1920s at #2. It didn’t leave the Top 100 until the 1960s, and hasn’t been on the charts since the 1970s. For many years, Joan’s image was stout and sensible, but since Mad Men came to our TV screens, Joan Holloway has given it a stylish and sassy edge.
Mavis is an English dialect word meaning “song thrush”; it is related to the French word mauvis and appears in literature as a poetic word for the bird. The word was in rare use as a girl’s name, but massively popularised by its use in Marie Corelli’s 1895 novel, The Sorrows of Satan. Although panned by the critics, it is considered the world’s first best-seller. Mavis was #85 in the 1900s, #16 by the 1910s, and peaked in the 1920s at #14. It left the Top 100 in the 1940s, and hasn’t charted since the 1950s. Mavis seems to have been a real Australian favourite, because it was more popular here than in Britain, and much more popular than in the US. In the 1960s, pioneering TV series, The Mavis Bramston Show, set the tone for Australian sketch comedy (a “Mavis Bramston” was theatre slang for an actress who was a pain in the backside). Australian band The Mavis’s were named after a cat. Mavis was a fresh, pretty name in the 1910s, and I think it can be again. It sounds very much like Maeve, and its associations with spring time and bird song are lovely.
Minnie can be used as a short form of many different names – Mary, Amelia, Wilhelmina, Minerva, Hermione, or anything similar – and has long been used as an independent name. Famous fictional Minnies include Disney sweetheart Minnie Mouse, the Beano‘s tomboyish Minnie the Minx, and Cab Calloway’s jazzy Minnie the Moocher. These lively vintage creations make Minnie seem appealing, mischievous and off-beat; you can’t imagine a Minnie being tame or dull. Minnie was #56 in the 1900s, and by the 1910s was #100; it hasn’t ranked since the 1940s. With other vintage nicknames like Millie in vogue, piquant Minnie seems more than ready for a comeback.
Olga is the Russian form of the Scandinavian name Helga, meaning “holy, blessed”. Saint Olga was a 10th century Russian saint and princess, and the first Russian ruler to convert to Christianity. She didn’t convert until she was quite elderly, and before that she was a fierce ruler and brutal military leader. The name Olga was used by the Russian imperial family, and Mount Olga in the Northern Territory is named after Queen Olga of Württemberg, a daughter of Nicholas I of Russia. Olga was #88 in the 1900s, and peaked in the 1910s at #60. It left the Top 100 in the 1930s, and last charted in the 1980s. I am not sure why Olga became such a trend in this decade; I can only think it had something to do with the Russian Imperial Family, who would have often been in the news during World War I, and who were overthrown in 1917. Today we might connect the name to actress Olga Kurylenko, who played Bond girl Camille in Quantum of Solace and recently appeared in Oblivion. On Nancy’s Baby Names, people debated whether Olga was a “horrid” name; although some find it ugly, others could find it clunky and hip. This would be a bold choice which still seems exotic.
Stella is the Latin for “star”, and it was created as a name by 16th century poet Sir Philip Sydney in his sonnet sequence Astrophel and Stella. It is believed that Stella was inspired by real-life noblewoman Lady Penelope Rich, so endowed with dark-eyed, golden-haired beauty that it was practically mandatory for the poets of the day to fall in love with her (or pretend to), and dash off poems in her honour. Apparently unmoved by their literary efforts, she instead chose as her lover a handsome, wealthy and ruthless baron. Perhaps Sydney saw Lady Rich like a distant star – beautiful, glittering, cold, and unattainable. Stella wouldn’t have seemed too crazy as a name, because the Old French name Estelle is based on the Latin stella, and had been in use since the Middle Ages, and the Virgin Mary had for centuries been known as Stella Maris (“Star of the Sea”). Stella is a classic name in Australia. It was #48 in the 1900s, and #70 in the 1910s; by the 1920s it had left the Top 100. It reached its lowest point in the 1980s at #563, and since then has mostly climbed, reaching the Top 100 in the late 2000s. It is currently #52 in New South Wales, and still rising. You can understand why parents continue to use this pretty, star-like name, which fits in with the trend for -ella names.
Veronica is a Latin form of the Greek name Berenice, which means “bringing victory”; the spelling was altered to make it seem as if it was based on the Latin phrase vera icon, meaning “true icon”. Saint Veronica is a legendary saint who is said to have been so moved to pity when she saw Jesus on his way to Calvary that she wiped his face with her veil. By a miracle, the image of his face was impressed upon it, and this cloth could then be used to heal the sick, or even bring the dead back to life. This legend, which comes from the Eastern church, was very popular in the Middle Ages, and several of these veils were venerated as holy relics until their cult was suppressed. Veronica was first used as a girl’s name in Italy, and spread from there. In Australia, Veronica was #63 for the 1900s and #69 for the 1910s; it didn’t leave the Top 100 until the 1950s. It has never stopped charting, and is currently at its lowest point yet – #356. Veronica has something of a glamorous image. Hollywood femme fatale Veronica Lake lent her name to Veronica Lodge from the Archie comics, with the comics themselves suggesting that “a Veronica” was a stunning high-maintenance girl. This was picked up by 1980s mean girls cult flick Heathers, with Winona Ryder as Veronica, and Australian girl band The Veronicas called themselves after Ryder’s character. This is an underused classic which seems sophisticated, with dark undertones.
(Photo is of Australian World War I nurses; standing at the back on the right is Sister Constance Keys, who was mentioned in the post on Gallipoli. These nurses received military decorations for their heroism, and all made it back to Australia at the end of the war)
These are the boys’ names which became markedly more popular last year. I think the list lacks the depth of the one for girls, with far less diversity. There is only one classic name for boys, and eight of the names are surnames – six of these ending in N. While the girls’ list shows names which are currently trending, I think a couple of these could be legitimately identified as trendy.
Braxton is without doubt 2012′s Name of the Year, joining the national Top 50 from nowhere. It was the #1 fastest-rising name nationally, in New South Wales and South Australia; made the top 5 fastest-rising names in Victoria, Queensland, and Western Australia; and went up in Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory. Currently it is #31 in Australia, #51 in NSW, #81 in Victoria, #25 in Queensland, #44 in SA, #34 in WA, #65 in Tasmania and #70 in the ACT. Braxton is an English surname of disputed origin. It is a corruption of an English place name; perhaps Branxton in Northumberland, meaning “Branoc’s settlement” (Branoc is a Celtic personal name derived from the word for “raven”). Braxton has been used as a personal name since the late 18th century, and originated in the United States – Carter Braxton was one of the signatories to the American Declaration of Independence. Here it is known from the Braxton brothers on soapie Home and Away; three members of a thuggish surfer gang, and sexually desirable “bad boys” (based on the real-life Bra Boys). The characters were introduced in 2011, and last year Steve Peacocke won a Logie for his role of Darryl “Brax” Braxton. Braxton is new to the charts, although short form Brax had been in the Top 100 before. I wonder if it will keep going, or will parents hit the panic button after its massive surge in popularity?
Jaxon was the #1 fastest-rising name in Victoria and Tasmania, made the top 5 fastest-rising names in New South Wales and South Australia, and increased in popularity in Western Australia and the Australian Capital Territory. Currently it is #37 in Australia, #54 in NSW, #52 in Victoria, #42 in Queensland, #31 in SA, #17 in WA, #33 in Tasmania and #92 in the ACT. Jaxon is a variant of the surname Jackson; although sometimes derided as a “mis-spelled Jackson”, it is a legitimate surname particularly associated with East Anglia, and possibly with the Puritans. Jaxon has been used as a first name since the 17th century, and originated in Norfolk – then an area with a high Puritan population. Jaxon has charted in Australia since the 1990s, and rose steeply to make the Top 100 in 2011. It continues to capitalise on its trendy X, and may even overtake big brother Jackson. It’s interesting that it is most popular in Western Australia, for there is a large construction company in that booming state named Jaxon.
Mason was the #1 fastest-rising name in Queensland; it increased in popularity nationally, and in every state and territory. Currently it is #15 in Australia, #24 in NSW, #18 in Victoria, #15 in Queensland, #10 in SA, #12 in WA, #8 in Tasmania, #15 in the NT and #28 in the ACT. Mason first charted in the 1980s, and rose steadily to make the Top 100 by the mid-2000s. Mason is an occupational surname for someone who worked as a stonemason. The Mason family settled in Kent, on lands granted to them by William the Conqueror for their part in the Battle of Hastings. Mason has been used as a first name for boys since at least the 16th century, and originated in East Anglia; it possibly had Puritan significance. It’s much more common in the United States, where the distinguished Mason family played a prominent role in American politics. George Mason IV was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, and an author of the Bill of Rights. Recently it has been often used as a celebrity baby name, boosting and cementing its popularity.
Hunter was the #1 fastest-rising name in Western Australia, amongst the top 5 fastest-rising names nationally and in Queensland, and increased in popularity in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory. It is currently #24 in Australia, #35 in NSW, #39 in Victoria, #19 in Queensland, #27 in SA, #22 in WA, #7 in Tasmania and #50 in the ACT. Hunter is a surname based on the English word for a man who hunts professionally, and originated in Scotland. The Clan Hunter were from Normandy and settled in Ayrshire in the 11th century; experts in hunting and fieldcraft, they were invited there by King David I, who had been brought up in a Norman court. Hunter has been used as a personal name since the early 18th century, and seems to have been most popular in the northern counties of England. The Hunter Valley is the area around the city of Newcastle; the Hunter River is named after Governor John Hunter, and as his surname suggests, he was a Scotsman. Hunter has charted in Australia since the 1990s, and made the Top 100 by the late 2000s. It shows no signs of losing steam.
Hudson was in the top 5 fastest-rising names nationally, in New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia, and increased in popularity in South Australia and Tasmania. Currently it is #43 in Australia, #74 in NSW, #50 in Victoria, #45 in Queensland, #36 in SA, #31 in WA, and #67 in Tasmania. Hudson is an English surname which means “son of Hudde”. Hudde can be an old nickname for Hugh or Richard, or it can be derived from the common Old English name Huda; the surname is traditionally associated with Yorkshire. Hudson has been used as a first name since the early 17th century; although these births coincide with English explorer Henry Hudson’s first voyages, it can’t be known whether he inspired them. Hudson was new to the charts last year, having gained massive popularity after pop singer Guy Sebastian welcomed his son in 2012. The inspiration for Hudson Sebastian’s name came from the Hudson River in New York, (named after Henry Hudson), as Guy and his wife Jules love New York City. However, it has an Australian connection as well, because Sir Hudson Fysh, a World War I hero, founded Qantas, so Hudson could be used to honour a family tradition in the aviation industry.
Flynn was in the top 5 fastest-rising names in Victoria and South Australia, and increased in popularity nationally, in New South Wales, Western Australia, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory. It is currently #41 in Australia, #46 in NSW, #36 in Victoria, #34 in Queensland, #43 in SA, #35 in WA, #22 in Tasmania and #28 in the ACT. Flynn has been in the charts since the 1990s, and after hitting a plateau for a few years, it suddenly shot up into the middle of the Top 100 in 2011, after Miranda Kerr and Orlando Bloom welcomed their son Flynn. Flynn is a common Irish surname which is an Anglicised form of the Old Gaelic Ó Floinn, meaning “son of Flann”. Flann means “red, ruddy” in Irish Gaelic, and is the name of one of the High Kings of Tara. The name is strongly associated with swashbuckling Tasmanian actor Erroll Flynn, known for his success with the ladies. He helped inspire the character of Flynn Rider from the Disney film Tangled. Interestingly, Flynn is most popular in Tasmania.
Archer was in the top 5 fastest-rising names in South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory; it also increased in popularity in New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania. Currently it is #92 in NSW, #47 in Victoria, #61 in Queensland, #47 in SA, #47 in Tasmania and #46 in the ACT. The name was new to the Top 100 this year. Archer is an occupational surname denoting a professional bowman, and was brought to England at the time of the Norman Conquest; the Archer family settled in Wiltshire. Archer has been used as a first name since the 17th century, and seemed to be much more common in the southern counties surrounding London. Archer may remind you of legendary bowmen such as Robin Hood and William Tell, or it could remind you of the zodiac sign Sagittarius, called The Archer. In Australia, the Archer River is on the Cape York Peninsula in far north Queensland, and the first horse to win the Melbourne Cup was named Archer. Archer’s popularity is growing partly because it’s a great way to get the popular nickname Archie.
Eli was in the top 5 fastest-rising names in Australia, and increased in popularity in Western Australia, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory. Currently it is #34 in Australia, #53 in NSW, #83 in Victoria, #27 in Queensland, #48 in SA, #38 in WA, #32 in Tasmania and #27 in the ACT. Eli has been in the charts since the 1970s, and reached the Top 100 in the late 2000s; since then it has gliding smoothly upward. Eli is a Hebrew name meaning “ascent”, and in the Old Testament, Eli was a high priest who is regarded as a judge and prophet in Judaism, and the teacher of the prophet Samuel. In Scandinavia, Eli is a girl’s name, used as a short form like Ellie, and pronounced EE-lee. Some Australian namesakes include rally driver Eli Evans, Olympian hockey player Eli Matheson, soccer player Eli Babalj, and kickboxer Eli “Mad Dog” Madigan. At a time when Old Testament boys’ names are slumping, Eli stands out as a Biblical success story, and tended to rise when Elijah did too.
Patrick was in the top 5 fastest-rising names in South Australia, and increased in popularity nationally, in New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia, Tasmania, and the Australian Capital Territory. Currently it is #42 in Australia, #47 in NSW, #34 in Victoria, #53 in Queensland, #35 in SA, #47 in WA, #53 in Tasmania, and #25 in the ACT. In Australia, Patrick is a sturdy classic which has never left the Top 100. It was #36 in the 1900s, and peaked in the 1990s at #34; the lowest it has ever been is #68, in 2009. Patrick is from the Latin name Patricius, meaning “nobleman”, and its fame today is entirely down to one man – Saint Patrick. Saint Patrick was a 5th century Romanised Briton brought up in a Christian family. As a teenager, he was captured and carried off as a slave to Ireland, where he remained for six years. He managed to escape back to Britain, but returned to Ireland as an ordained bishop to undertake missionary work. Called the Apostle of Ireland, he is the major patron saint of Ireland, and such a vital part of Irish identity that his feast day on March 17 is seen as a celebration of Irish culture.
Harrison was in the top 5 fastest-rising names in Queensland, and increased in popularity nationally and in South Australia. Currently it is #22 in Australia, #25 in NSW, #26 in Victoria, #16 in Queensland, #13 in SA, #27 in WA, #34 in Tasmania and #40 in the ACT. Harrison has charted since the 1980s, and skyrocketed into the middle of the Top 100 during the 1990s. It peaked at #23 in the early 2000s, then fell before starting to climb again, so it’s now on its second wind. Harrison is a surname meaning “son of Harry”, with Harry itself being a short form of Henry. Harrison has been used as a first name since the 16th century, and over time became greatly more popular in the United States than in Britain. This may be because of the Harrison family of Virginia, who were related to King Edward I. They managed to produce numerous state governors, as well as two presidents – Benjamin Harrison and William Henry Harrison. The popularity of Harrison as a first name is probably due to actor Harrison Ford – the name began charting just after he starred in the first Star Wars movie, and boomed during the Indiana Jones series.
(Photo shows the Braxton brothers from Home and Away)
American chat show host, Ellen DeGeneres, was in Australia this week. She follows in the footsteps of Oprah Winfrey, another American chat show host who brought her show to Australia, in 2010. However, while Oprah managed to get around quite a bit, Ellen (who was recovering from ‘flu), just popped in to Sydney and Melbourne.
She did seem to take a bit of a shine to Melbourne, saying it reminded her of Boston and New Orleans, and even said that it was possible she and Portia would live there one day. Ellen is practically an Australian-in-law, because her wife, model and actress Portia de Rossi, is from Australia.
Portia was born Amanda Lee Rogers in Geelong. She changed her name as a teenager to sound more exotic and interesting – Portia is after the heroine of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, and de Rossi is an Italian surname, which probably means “red” (like Russell).
Portia de Rossi is the name of the mother of famous Italian poet Torquato Tasso, but I’m not sure whether the young Amanda Rogers was aware of that. Since her marriage, Portia has legally changed her name to Portia Lee James DeGeneres. I don’t know where the James comes from.
The name Ellen is a medieval form of Helen, making it the English equivalent of Elaine. Ellen was a fairly common name in the Middle Ages, and features in the English fairy tale Childe Rowland, where Burd Ellen is Rowland’s sister, who must be rescued from Elfland. Childe and Burd don’t mean how they sound – childe was a title given to the eldest son in a noble family, while burd means “lady, maiden”. In some versions of the tale, they are the children of Queen Guinevere, and Merlin also plays a significant role in the story.
Ellen is a classic name in Australia, which was at its most popular in the 1900s, when it was #20. It remained on the Top 100 until the 1950s, and made its way back there in the 1990s, when it reached #92. It’s been fairly stable for a few years now, and in 2011 rose slightly from #517 to #470. Although this looks like quite a jump, it represents just two more babies named Ellen.
With Ella and Ellie in the Top 100, and Elle,Eleanor and Elena rapidly gaining in popularity, and retro Nelly, Nellie, Nella and Nelle becoming increasingly hip name choices, Ellen seems extremely usable, with a host of cute and fashionable nicknames. Simple, pretty and unpretentious, I feel that we will see more of this name in years to come.
Portia is a variant of Porcia, the feminine form of the Roman family name Porcius, from the Latin for “pig”. A lot of people have problems with this name meaning, but the Fabii were named after the broad bean, and perhaps the Porcii gained their name from pig farming.
Another possibility is that in many parts of the ancient world, pigs were sacred animals of the Underworld, fertility and the moon, and there may have been some religious connotations to the name (and in fact pig farming itself had a distinctly religious side, as the Romans were very fond of sacrificing pigs to the gods). Many ancient gods and goddesses were connected with swine, such as Osiris, Adonis, Attis, Demeter, Persephone, Freya and Ceridwen. They were beasts of a mysterious and ancient power, and held in awe.
The most illustrious branch of the Porcius family were the Catones, which included Cato the Elder and his great-grandson, Cato the Younger. Cato the Younger had a beautiful, intelligent daughter named Porcia, and she married her cousin, Marcus Junius Brutus – famous for being one of the key people in the assassination plot against Julius Caesar. Porcia was the only woman who knew of the conspiracy, and as such she plays a role in William Shakespeare’s play, Julius Caesar.
However, when we think of Portia, we automatically think of Portia from Shakespeare’s Merchantof Venice, a beautiful and brilliantly intelligent lady who manages to get her own way while still showing obedience. She steals the show and saves the day in a gripping cross-dressing courtroom drama as her fine legal mind swoops in on a loophole in the law. Even now we sometimes call a gifted female lawyer a Portia. The role of Portia was once famously played by actress Ellen Terry.
Portia is an elegant literary name, with historical and fictional namesakes who have both beauty and brains. People seem to either love it, or find it pretentious. Another issue is that it sounds like the name of the car company, Porsche. (Porsche is a German surname derived from the name Boris). Because some people do use Porsche as a girl’s name, a certain type of parent does worry that a daughter named Portia will have her name confused with little girls named Porsche.
So Portia is not without her issues as a baby name, but still a very lovely one nonetheless.
The first baby born in Wollongong for 2013 was Rumi Vassilakoglou; he is named after the medieval mystical Persian poet, whose moniker means “from Rome” (this name for him is not used in Muslim countries, by the way). Rumi’s mum is named Leila, and his younger sibling is Mahli.
Your baby disappearing is every parent’s worst nightmare, but little Minowa Worthington’s story ended happily. Minowa is the name of a Japanese town, and a Japanese surname, but baby name books tell me it also Native American for “one with a moving voice”. They don’t say which language it is from, but I have seen Native Americans online with Minowa as their surname.
A Gold Coast baby born in the Queensland floods was named Sabre Smith. Although his name can be after the sword, putting it in the same genre as Blade or Steel, a sabre is also a class of racing boats – which seems apt for a baby born surrounded by water.
Another water baby is Dwight Anderson, who was born in the bath. I was a tiny bit surprised to see such an old-fashioned name in use … much more surprised to see that Dwight is a girl. Dwight’s sister is named Billie-Jo.
Allegra Bluebelle from Canberra, born in the city’s centenary year, has a middle name after its floral emblem, the royal bluebell. A little girl born on the city’s birthday seven years ago has the same initials as the Australian Capital Territory – Aisha Caitlyn Truselsen. A fisherman has a daughter named Makaira Indica, which is the scientific name for the black marlin (this isn’t connected to Canberra, so not sure why they mentioned it, but there you go).
The Hallett family changed their name by deed poll to Holden, in honour of the make of car. Not content with that, they have given their children Holden-related names too. Their son is named Toree, after the Torana, and his little sister is named Elcee – after the LC generation of Toranas.
An article about “unique” names quoted brothers named Mac and Fonzii. I have no idea why Mac is supposed to be unique, but Fonzii does seem slightly out of the ordinary. He’s not named about Fonzie from Happy Days, which reminds me of the baby namedTinkabellnot named after the fairy. Other unusual names of real babies mentioned were Dragon, Justus, Porch, Ever, Notorious, Cash, Lychee and Bandit.
Another article on the same subject, with much the same information, featured a baby boy named Ace Bear Johnson, which strikes me as both cute and sporty (Ace’s sister is named Esmee). There was also a baby girl named Annecy Belle Easton [pictured], named after a French town that her parents fell in love with after they stayed there. She is called Annie for short, and Annecy’s mum also has the name of a French town – Nancy. Article also mentions real babies named Batman, Blaze and Charisma.
Darwin schoolteacher Wendy Green named her racehorseRogan Josh, after the Indian spice mix, which she saw at the supermarket. She claims that in Tennant Creek, she was asked to baptise a baby, which she did using champagne, and named the baby Rogan Josh as well. You may take this story with as many grains of salt as you wish – but Rogan Josh really isn’t too bad a name. It literally means “boiling oil” in Persian.
Friday’s birth notices included a new baby named Passion Brinessa Ajayla Quinatee Martin, who is the 12th child in her family. The rest of the family are Samantha Jayne (18), twins Shantelle Victoria and Stephanie Catherine (15), Jenaya Lee (11), Shania Kay (10), Brandon Bradley (7), Brandi Shyla Molly Robyn (6), Cruz Richard (5), Clayton Adam Logan (4) and Diammond SparckleZedekeyah Lilly Ann (3). Mum is named Brinessa, which is a variety of rose, and quite an unusual name too. She admits she did find it difficult to come up with original names, and turned to an iPhone application for inspiration.
Names of Adults
Lyra Benbow is a primary schoolteacher in the Melbourne suburb of Digger’s Rest who is just about to spend her Easter break doing volunteer work in Uganda. Is anyone else just loving her name? It sounds like something out of a fantasy novel.
Another awesome name from the papers: Eugenie Pepper, who runs a children’s fashion business named Plum. I feel like ringing her number to hear if she answers, “Hello, this is Pepper of Plum”.
Last year, Cressida Moneypenny attended the Anzac Day commemorations in Turkey. Originally from the Gold Coast, Ms Moneypenny was drawn to her name’s spiritual home, and moved to London. Ian Fleming never gave his Miss Moneypenny a name, but I feel sure it should have been Cressida …
The Melbourne Comedy Festival will feature eight comedians named Dave. Why so many funny guys named Dave? Dave O’Neil was a David until he started in comedy – then he became Dave, which seemed more man of the people. Dave Hughes also began as a David, but said he couldn’t make it stick – people just expect a comedian of a certain age to be a Dave, apparently. All the Daves agreed they had been stuck with an uncool name – while a David can be hip or sexy, a Dave is always daggy.
Names From Real Life
A pair of sisters named Ilse and Matine, which I thought went together really well without being in the least matchy. Ilse is a German nickname for Elizabeth, while Matine is based on the French word for “morning”.
Another cute sibset, this time a little hippyish – Lotus, Jewel and Sunny (two girls and a boy). They are names which just make you smile.
Someone I know told me they have a new niece named Berrilee, which is the name of a suburb of Sydney (and one I missed!). It is derived from an Aboriginal word meaning perhaps “mouth” or “food”, and far from being a modern innovation, baby Berrilee is named after an ancestor.
A name I saw on a class list at the start of the school year – Phonique. It’s French for “phonic”, as pertaining to sound, and is used by a (male) DJ in Europe. To me it almost seems like a portmanteau of phony and unique …. and quite technological.
In spring it wasAryan … here’s another name I saw some people find controversial – Gypsy. This is a name more common in Australia than it is in the UK and other European countries, which have significant populations of Romanis or Travellers (who sometimes refer to themselves as gypsies). Romanis are not in fact from Egypt, which is what Gypsy literally means – their origins are from the Indian subcontinent.
Angelo is the Italian form of the Latin name Angelus, meaning “angel”. The Angelus is a Christian devotion, which traditionally involves praying three times a day, accompanied by the the ringing of church bells. It was common during the Middle Ages, so the name can be seen as after the prayer as much as after the heavenly creature. Angels are mentioned in the Old Testament as spiritual beings who bring communications from God; the word angel is derived from the Greek for “messenger”. Angels play a much bigger role in the New Testament, where they make several important announcements, including the birth and resurrection of Christ. A famous Italian named Angelo was Father Angelo Secchi, a 19th century astronomer and one of the first scientists to state that the sun is a star. Cricket fans know the name well from Angelo Matthews, the Sri Lankan captain. The name is rarely used in Australia, where angel-type names for boys aren’t common – even though angels are traditionally masculine. However, singer Adele welcomed a baby boy last year, rumoured to be named Angelo, and this may be a help. The Italian and English pronunciation are very similar – AHN-jel-oh and AN-jel-oh.
Dante is a short form of Durante, the Italian form of the Latin name Durans, meaning “enduring”. Its most famous namesake is undoubtedly medieval Italian poet, Dante degli Alighieri, nearly always known by his first name only. His Divine Comedy is considered the greatest work of Italian literature, and in Italy he is known as il Poeto (“the Poet”), just as Shakespeare is called The Bard in England. He is famous for his adoration of Beatrice, a girl he knew only slightly and who died in her twenties; he plays an important role in the literature of “courtly love”. Dante is a name which seems to be gaining more use in recent years, perhaps because of the number of fictional characters named Dante on TV and in video games. I see this handsome name quite a bit in birth notices, and have met a number of small boys named Dante, from a variety of backgrounds. The Italian pronunciation is DAHN-tay, and this is commonly used in Australia, but I have heard it said DAN-tay as well.
Eduardo is the Italian form of the English name Edward. The name is used in Spanish and Portuguese-speaking countries as well, where it is much more popular than in Italy – it is a Top 100 name in Spain and Chile. Famous Italians include actor, playwright and screenwriter Eduardo De Filippo; songwriter Eduardo di Capua, who composed the famous song O Sole Mio; and quantum physicist and cyberneticist Eduardo Caianiello(all these Eduardos were from Naples). The name is pronounced ed-WARD-oh, with the ward part rhyming with hard rather than horde. Last year, Australian soccer player Vince Grella welcomed a son named Eduardo, and so far it’s the only celebrity baby boy’s name which has been rated as “perfect” by blog readers.
Lorenzo is the Italian form of the Roman name Laurentius, which means “from Laurentum”; Laurentum was an ancient city in Italy, south of Rome, and its name probably comes from the laurel, or bay tree. Laurel wreaths were used by the Romans as a symbol of victory. The English form of the name is Laurence. One of the most famous Italian namesakes is Lorenzo de Medici, known as Lorenzo the Magnificent. A Florentine ruler during the Renaissance, he was famed for presiding over Florence’s Golden Age, and for being a great patron of the arts. Lorenzo’s grandson also bore his name; he is best known for being the ruler to whom Machiavelli dedicated his practical political handbook, The Prince. Lorenzo has been in the Top 5 in Italy for several years, and is currently #4; it’s also Top 100 in France. The Italian pronunciation is loh-REN-tso, and in English it’s pretty much the same except we say the final syllable -zo. Reality TV star Snooki, from Jersey Shore, welcomed a baby boy named Lorenzo last year. Possible nicknames include Enzo, Ren, Renzo and Zo.
Luca is the Italian equivalent of the name Luke, derived from the Greek name Loukas, meaning “from Lucania”. Lucania was an ancient district of southern Italy, and the name comes from the tribe of the Lucani who inhabited the area. One theory is that the tribe’s name comes from the Greek word for “wolf”; another that it means “sacred wood” in Latin. A famous Italian with this name is medieval sculptor Luca della Robbia; another is Fra Luca de Pacioli, a mathematician and Franciscan friar who worked with Leonardo da Vinci. You may also know the name from Luca Cordero di Montezemolo who is chairman of Ferrari. Luca is incredibly popular internationally: it is #12 in Italy, and also makes the Top 100 in the UK, Scotland, Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands and France. It has charted in Australia since the 1980s, and joined the Top 100 in the late 2000s; currently it is #79. You will sometimes see Luca described as a unisex name, and that’s because it is also the Hungarian form of Lucia, and is #10 for girls in Hungary. However, the two names are pronounced differently – the Italian boy’s name is said LOO-kah, while the Hungarian girl’s name is said LOO-tsah.
Massimo is the Italian form of Maximus, a Roman family name derived from the Latin for “greatest”. There is a very old and noble Roman family named Massimo, and they claim to be descended from the Maximi family of ancient Rome, including the famous general Fabius Maximus. This cannot be proven, as the family history only goes back about a thousand years, but what’s on the record is impressive enough. Extremely rich and influential, great patrons of the arts, they have produced numerous cardinals, ambassadors, politicians and military leaders, and have married into some of the most important royal houses of Europe, so that the family now bears a princely title. Massimo is one of the most common Italian boy’s names I see in birth notices, with Massi the usual nickname. It is pronounced mahs-SEE-mo.
Orlando is the Italian form of Roland, a Germanic name meaning “famous land” or perhaps “fame of his country”. According to history, Roland was a Frankish military commander in Charlemagne’s army, responsible for defending France against the Bretons; he died in a skirmish against the Basques after Charlemagne was defeated in a battle against Islamic forces. His death must have captured people’s imaginations, because while history says very little about Roland, legend says much. His life became an epic drama about a great nobleman of royal blood who dies in battle, defending his land and faith from Muslims. Just in case this seemed a bit tame, legend gave him a magic sword and threw in a giant, and the story was a massive medieval minstrel-sung hit all across western Europe. In Italy, he not only appears in Dante’s Divine Comedy, but starred in a whole line of epics as Orlando. The most famous of these is Orlando Furioso (it basically means Crazy Orlando) by Ludovico Ariosto. As the title suggests, Orlando goes doolally from unrequited love of a pagan princess and gallops around the world in a frenzy. There’s wizards and hippogriffs and sea monsters and a trip to the moon involved, and the story was hugely influential in European literature. We know this name well from actor Orlando Bloom, married to Miranda Kerr, and since their wedding I see this attractive name regularly in birth notices. The Italian pronunciation is or-LAHN-do, and the English or-LAND-oh.
Saint Rocco is an Italian saint who was born a nobleman but came to Rome on a pilgrimage. Turning up while the city was suffering from a plague, he spent his time tending the sick. When he succumbed himself, he was banished from populated areas, but miraculously provided with water, and a dog who brought him food and licked his wounds, which cured him. Returning home, he was thrown into prison as a spy and died, refusing to reveal his noble identity. However, he was recognised by a cross-shaped birthmark, and canonised as a saint by popular acclaim. When the Black Death swept through Europe, it was said that this plague could be averted by praying to Saint Rocco, and when a town was apparently spared in this manner, his popularity went through the roof. Although his cult had begun in northern Italy, it soon spread across Europe; in France his name became Roch, in Spain Roque, and in England, Rock. You’d be forgiven for thinking Rocco had something to do with rocks, but it’s an ancient Germanic name meaning “rest”, and pronounced ROK-ko. Even though the Black Death isn’t such a worry any more, Saint Rocco is still popular as a healer of the sick and patron of dogs. Rocco has charted in Australia since the 1940s, hitting a peak in the 1960s at #193. Since the early 2000s, when Madonna welcomed her son Rocco, it has been climbing steeply and is currently #228. Expect to hear more of this cute yet macho name in the future.
Romeo is the Italian form of the Latin name Romaeus, meaning “pilgrim to Rome”. When we hear the name Romeo, we think of the young and ardent lover from William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, whose pubescent romance goes so tragically wrong. Shakespeare’s plot wasn’t original – he based it on retellings of 16th century Italian romances, and in turn, these used the story of Pyramus and Thisbe from Roman mythology as inspiration. However, one of the Italian authors, Luigi Da Porto, fell for an enchanting young woman at a ball and she returned his feelings; things never got off the ground because their families were feuding. By the time he had the chance to write about Romeus and Giulietta in Verona, the object of his desire had been married off to someone else. His version of the story, including the principals’ names, proved enduring – perhaps because it had the personal touches of someone who has loved and lost. Romeo is such an ultra-romantic name that it’s used as an epithet for any male lover. David and Victoria Beckham welcomed their son Romeo in 2002, giving this name some star appeal as well. We say it RO-mee-oh, but we know the Italian pronunciation of ro-MAY-oh from the car manufacture, Alfa Romeo.
Valentino is the Italian form of the Latin name name Valentinus, the saint of lovers, also called Valentine. It got an extra helping of Latin Loverboyishess from Italian actor Rudolph Valentino, a seductive sex symbol and star of the silent screen. He made women swoon, and men snipe at his annoying amount of attractiveness. The gals screamed with desire during his movies; the guys stormed out in disgust and threw hissy fits. We know the name well from Italian motorcycle racer and MotoGP World Champion, Valentino Rossi, giving this name quite a sporty image as well. I don’t know if it’s because of Rossi, but I do see the name Valentino quite often in birth notices, where it seems to be especially popular in the middle position.
This follows on from last week’s Underused Names for Girls; to briefly recap, they are names which aren’t common here (used less than six times in the 2012 Victorian data, have never charted in Australia), but still have a history of use in Australia (can be found in historical records).
Alaric is from the Gothic name Alareiks, meaning “ruler over all”. Alaric I was the king of the Visigoths who sacked Rome in 410, and his great-grandson, Alaric II, was ruler of the Visigothic kingdom, covering most of Spain and the south of France. Another Alaric was a legendary king of Sweden, skilled in battle and sport, and a masterful horseman. He had a brother Eric, and for some unknown reason, the pair of them killed each other with their horses’ bridles, which seems an awfully strange choice of weapon. The name Alaric is far commoner in fiction than in real life, where it tends to be either chosen for comedies, in the belief that the name Alaric sounds amusingly high-faluting, or science-fiction/fantasy, in the belief that it sounds geekily exotic. In the TV series, The Vampire Diaries, there is a character named Alaric; he says his name uh-LAHR-ik, although most sources say the name is pronounced AL-uh-rik. Powerful and commanding, this is unusual, but sounds similar to familiar names like Alan and Eric.
In Arthurian legend, Blaise was the priest who baptised the wizard Merlin, became his tutor and friend, then took the trouble to write down all Merlin’s deeds for posterity. There is a Saint Blaise, who is a saint of healing, as he cures sore throats (the saint was a doctor as well as a bishop). He seems to have been quite popular in England, perhaps because his feast day of February 3 is right after the Celtic festival of Imbolc and the Christian feast of Candlemas, and often marked by bonfires. Blaise sounds like the word blaze, so a pleasing coincidence for fire-lovers. The most famous namesake is Blaise Pascal, the French theologian and philosopher. The meaning could be from either Latin or Greek. If Latin, it means “stuttering, lisping”; if Greek it means “bow-legged”, so either way it’s not flattering. Saint Blaise was Greek, but the Blaise of Arthurian legend is probably meant to be Roman or Romanised, so you can take your pick. It’s a name loved for its sound, namesakes and associations rather than its meaning.
Corin is a French surname derived from Quirinus; Saint Quirinus was part of a Roman missionary group sent to convert Gaul, and legend has attached to this popular saint all the standard saintly stories, such as killing a dragon and going for a stroll after getting his head chopped off. The original Quirinus was an early Roman god, probably a Sabine war deity. The Sabines had an altar to Quirinus on the Quirinal Hill, one of the Seven Hills of Rome. The Romans considered him to be a deified Romulus, and in the early days he was a major god, although they gradually lost interest in worshipping him. However, even after the fall of Rome, the Quirinal Hill remained a place of power, so that it was chosen as the seat of royalty, and later the residence of the Presidents of the Italian Republic. The name is linked to the name of the Sabine town Cures, and may come from the Sabine word for “spear”. There is a shepherd named Corin in Shakespeare’s As You Like It, and a Prince Corin in C.S. Lewis’ The Horse and His Boy. You can also see this name from another perspective, for in British legend, Corineus was a great warrior and giant-killer who founded Cornwall; his name may be an echo of Cernunnos, the Celtic god, whose name is usually translated as “horn”, or “horned one”. There are several place names in Cornwall apparently derived from Cernunnos (including Cornwall itself), and the name Corin enjoyed early popularity in Cornwall and Devon – so you can see this as a British name just as much as a French one. This packs a double mythological punch, and doesn’t seem much different than names such as Corey or Colin.
Edgar is an Old English name meaning “rich spear”. Saint Edgar the Peaceful was a king of England; a Scottish King Edgar was a son of Saint Margaret. The name became rare after the Norman Conquest, but had a revival in the 19th century, after Sir Walter Scott’s historical novel, TheBride of Lammermoor, told the story of tragic lovers Lucy and Edgar – a tale which ends in madness, murder and quicksand. Edgar is also a character in William Shakespeare’s King Lear; disinherited by his father, he wanders the heath disguised as a babbling madman. Noble and clever, he is also enigmatic with a touch of darkness; he enjoys playing the crazy beggar just a little too much. The most famous person named Edgar is probably the American writer, Edgar Allen Poe, said to have been named after Shakespeare’s character. Poe’s works are also quite dark and enigmatic, dealing with topics such as grief, guilt, mystery, murder, madness, doom, death, drugs, and being buried alive. Edgar is related to the other Ed- names, such as Edward and Edwin, but seems more vintage, a bit edgier, and a touch more Gothic. This name might be uncommon, but it’s also traditional and comes with all the usual Ed and Eddie nicknames.
This is based on the Latin name Aegidius, derived from the Greek for “young goat”. Aegidius was a 7th century hermit from Athens who lived in the south of France with a tame deer; in Old French his name became Gidie, then Gide, and finally Gilles; when the Normans took his name to Britain, it became Giles. A noted miracle worker, Saint Giles was very popular in the Middle Ages, and his name became common; it was also given quietly but steadily to girls (even into the 20th century). Although we often think of Giles as a terribly “English” name, Saint Giles is the patron saint of Edinburgh, and the name Giles is traditional in Scotland; many Gileses in Australian records have Scottish surnames. The English haven’t done this name many favours, as it’s a favourite in English books and TV shows for good-natured upper class twits. However, this doesn’t reflect the reality of the name, or the Australian experience of it, and I think it’s possible to see Giles in quite a different light. I can see Giles as a solid country-style name, a brother to Archie and Will, or slightly hipster, a brother to Hugo and Barnaby. If you crossed Gus with Miles, you might end up with something that looks a little like Giles …
Huxley is an English surname. The Huxley family were Normans who came to Britain after the Conquest and settled in Cheshire, taking their name from a village near Chester, which was originally named Holdesieia, and corrupted into Huxley. The original name may be from the Anglo-Saxon for “sloping land”, and Huxley is believed to mean’s “Hucc’s wood”, with Hucc being an Anglo-Saxon nickname meaning “insult, taunt”. Huxley has been used as a personal name since the 18th century, and early examples are from the Cheshire area, suggesting they may have been named directly after the village. The Huxley family have produced an astonishing number of brilliant thinkers, from the biologist T.H. Huxley, supporter of Charles Darwin, to the author Aldous Huxley, who wrote Brave New World. T.H. Huxley came to Australia as a young man, and did such excellent work in natural history that he was made an immediate Fellow of the Royal Society on his return (Mount Huxley in Tasmania is named in his honour). T.H. Huxley’s distant cousin, Sir Leonard Huxley, migrated to Australia in childhood, and became one of our most distinguished physicists. With its fashionable X and intellectual pedigree, this name seems very hip, and comes with the nicknames Huck or Hux.
Jethro is translated as “excellence, abundance” in Hebrew, and in the Old Testament, Jethro is the father-in-law of Moses, and a priest (it is never made clear in what religion he was a priest, but by the end he accepted Yahweh as his God). Jethro is revered as a prophet in Islam, and is held in the highest regard by the Druzes. The most famous person with this name is Jethro Tull, an English agricultural pioneer who helped bring about the British Agricultural Revolution which formed the basis of modern farming practices. The rock band Jethro Tull is named after him. You may also remember the dull-witted Jethro Bodine from The BeverlyHillbillies. Jethro is a little bit hick and a whole lot hip – it’s hickster.
Rufus started life as a Roman nickname, but afterwards became a family name; it’s from the Latin for “red haired”. There are many famous men with the surname Rufus, including the Stoic philosopher Gaius Musonius Rufus. His views on philosophy were moderate and practical, encouraging all men and women to follow a philosophical life, and giving advice on all manner of topics, including diet (vegetarian, raw) and hairstyles (long, beardy). He was so highly-regarded that when all other philosophers were expelled from Rome by the Emperor Vespasian, Rufus was allowed to stay. There are at least ten saints named Rufus, one of whom is mentioned in the New Testament as a disciple of St. Paul; his father was the man who carried the cross for Jesus on the way to Calvary. There is also the Gaelic saint Mael Ruba, whose name is Anglicised as either Maree or Rufus. King William II of England was nicknamed “Rufus” for his ruddy complexion. Famous people named Rufus include the Canadian-American singer Rufus Wainwright, and the British actor Rufus Sewell; Roger Taylor from Queen has a son named Rufus Tiger. With names ending in -us becoming fashionable, Rufus looks set to become the new Atticus.
Wolfgang is a German name meaning “wolf path, wolf journey”, and interpreted by folklorist Jakob Grimm as being the name of a hero who follows in the wake of the “wolf of victory”. It has two heavy-duty namesakes: composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe; there is also a Saint Wolfgang, one of the patrons of Germany. Eddie Van Halen chose this name for his son. Nearly all Wolfgangs in Australian records have German surnames, and although this would make a striking heritage choice, it could work even if you don’t have a scrap of German ancestry. Wolfgang is one of those names that people seem to either love or loathe, so it attracts some extreme reactions. The usual nicknames are Wolf or Wolfie.
In the New Testament, Zebedee was a fisherman, and the father of the Apostles John and James. He is mentioned as being left behind in the boat when Jesus called the brothers to “become fishers of men”; we never learn whether he was supportive of his sons’ career change, or thought they should have remained fishers of fish. Zebedee’s wife was one of the women present at the crucifixion. The name Zebedee is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Zebadiah, meaning “Yahweh has bestowed”, and nearly always interpreted as “gift of God”. There is an English painter named Zebedee Jones and an English newsreader named Zebedee Soanes; both these Zebedees were born in the 1970s, when the cult children’s show, The Magic Roundabout, was first on television. In the show, Zebedee was a jack-in-the-box who is popularly recalled as ended the show by bouncing down out of nowhere and intoning, “Time for bed, children” (although I’m not sure how often this occurred). With Old Testament names for boys becoming a bit old hat, it could be time to consider some of the more unusual New Testament names. This one is full of zest, and the nickname Zeb is as cowboy cool as Zeke and Jed.