Rebel Wilson seems to be in the papers ever time I open it. Just in the past few weeks, she’s hosted the MTV Awards (and won a couple of them too), attended an official function at the White House, a Vanity Fair party, and a Hollywood première, been chosen to appear in Kung Fu Panda 3, had a glamorous makeover, is tipped to have a sex scene in upcoming Pain & Gain, performed on Late Night, and been interviewed on The View and BET.
Browsing through the headlines, I read that she is funny and wonderful, wows on the red carpet, has captivated audiences everywhere, loves being a gay icon, is now a certified international star, a great dancer and the toast of Hollywood, and it’s a proven scientific fact that she is the greatest living thing on the planet and reviewers wish she could star in every film. I am also reliably informed by some pundit that if you don’t love Rebel Wilson, you’re stupid.
It seems that Rebel has “arrived” in Hollywood, and in the uncertain world of acting, comedy and entertainment, she has gained enough success to be counted as a famous person.
It’s all a long way from her beginnings on Australian television, playing the controlling wife Toula on the SBS comedy Pizza. I could appear very clever by claiming that I always knew that Rebel would make it in Hollywood, but I can’t, because I didn’t. It never crossed my mind, even as I noted that she was a scene-stealer on the show, and by far the funniest thing about the TV special Pizza World.
To be fair, I don’t think anyone else from her early days predicted it either. A maths whiz who went on to study law, she spent a year in South Africa as a Rotary Youth Ambassador. She claims that while suffering hallucinations during a bout of malaria, she saw herself winning an Oscar. After that, she pursued acting, and when she got laughs during a serious performance, realised she had a gift for comedy.
So far, there’s been no Oscar, but she has received an acting scholarship funded by Nicole Kidman, got her big break in Bridesmaids after she wrote and starred in her own TV show, Bogan Pride, and won the MTV Movie Award for Best Breakthrough Performance in Pitch Perfect – past alumni of this award include George Clooney, Jennifer Garner, Isla Fisher and Zac Efron.
Professional dog showers with a surprisingly conservative streak, the Wilsons gave all their children middle names from English royalty – Rebel’s is after the present queen, and at school she was known as Elizabeth. I recently saw a birth notice for a little Rebel Elizabeth, so maybe this is a name combination which works well.
A rebel is someone who resists or defies authority, often with connotations of doing so violently. The word comes from Old French, and is ultimately from the Latin for “I fight back”.
The name Rebel became much more common in the American southern states after the American Civil War. The soldiers in the Confederate army were known as the Rebels, and personified as Johnny Rebel or Johnny Reb. It could thus be seen as a patriotic name for some Americans, and was given to both sexes, but mostly boys.
In Australia, it appears rarely in the records, mostly in the middle, and is much more common as a girl’s name. There is a female Australian film producer named Rebel Russell-Penfold, and mum Rebel Wylie writes for Kidspot.
Tough baby names like Bandit, Rocket, Blade and Maverick are fashionable, and the classic teen movie Rebel Without a Cause, western TV show The Rebel, and pop song He’s a Rebel give this name a certain retro rockabilly vibe (rebels were clearly a real fad of the 1950s and early ’60s).
Although unisex, it tends to read female in Australia, and the current success of Rebel Wilson only strengthens that. I think it can still work as a boy’s name though – it certainly doesn’t have an ultra-feminine meaning, and The Rebels is a popular name for sports teams, and also a biker club.
If you fancy the idea of having your own little Rebel, it’s a name which is on trend, and a little different without being too strange. The recent success of Rebel Wilson means that most people have heard of it, although some parents may fear that the larger-than-life comedienne could overshadow the name.
Gallipoli is a peninsula in Turkey, where the Gallipoli campaign took place between April 25 1915 and January 9 1916 during the First World War. The Australian and New Zealand forces, the Anzacs, landed at dawn at what is now known as Anzac Cove on April 25. The Turkish forces, the Ottomans, defended their territory with a fierce determination, but by evening, the Anzacs had managed to hold a tiny triangle of land about 2 km long and 1 km wide, which they called Anzac.
In his memoir, A Fortunate Life, Albert Facey described his experience of landing at Anzac Cove:
Suddenly all hell broke loose … bullets were thumping into us in the rowing boat. Men were being hit and killed all around me … The boat touched bottom some thirty yards from the shore so we had to jump out and wade in to the beach … The Turks had machine guns sweeping the strip of beach where we landed – there were many dead already when we got there. Bodies of men who had reached the beach ahead of us were lying all along the beach and wounded men were screaming for help. We couldn’t stop for them – the Turkish fire was terrible and mowing into us … we all ran for our lives over the strip of beach.
The Ottomans fought bravely, but there too few of them to drive the Anzacs back into the sea. The commander Mustafa Kemal issued this order to the 57th Infantry Regiment:
I do not order you to fight, I order you to die. In the time which passes until we die, other troops and commanders can come forward and take our places.
They followed their orders. The entire regiment was wiped out by the Anzacs, every man of it either killed, or so badly wounded he could not continue fighting. The modern Turkish army does not have a 57th Regiment, as a mark of respect.
By April 29, the first casualties from Gallipoli reached the Australian hospital near Cairo, in Egypt. Sister Constance Keys of the Australian Nursing Service wrote home:
The greatest number of men we came over with are either killed or wounded. The whole battalion was practically cut to pieces.
The Gallipoli campaign continued for eight more months, with nearly half a million casualties, and more than 100 000 deaths. This includes around 60 000 Turks and 53 000 British and French soldiers, including more than 8500 Australians and 2721 New Zealanders.
In the end, the campaign was a crushing defeat for the Allied forces, and one of the greatest victories for the Turks. It gave them a national identity and fostered their spirit of independence just as much as it did for Australians.
Today there are many cemeteries and war memorials on the Gallipoli Peninsula. Each year on Anzac Day, April 25, commemorative services are held at Gallipoli for the war dead, conducted by Turkey, Australia, New Zealand, Britain and France.
Gallipoli is considered sacred ground to many Australians, consecrated by the blood of those who fell there. Increasingly, it is seen as a place of pilgrimage, with many young people travelling to Gallipoli as a rite of passage.
The Macedonian city of Callipolis was founded in the 5th century BC on the Dardanelles Strait; its name comes from the Greek word kallipolis, meaning “beautiful city”. Also known as Gallipoli, it gives its name to the peninsula it sits on, and its Turkish name is Gelibolu. It is pronounced guh-LIP-uh-lee.
According to Australian historical records the name Gallipoli was given to just two girls during World War I, both of whom died in infancy. I wonder if this name was considered so sacred that it could only be bestowed on those destined for death.
As a middle name, it was given more often, and to equal numbers of males and females. People such as Mercia Gallipoli, Sydney Gallipoli, Brittania Gallipoli and Anzac Gallipoli flourished and increased, and some have only recently left us.
Although place names are becoming increasingly fashionable as baby names, I cannot recommend Gallipoli as a first name. Its extreme rarity, the problems with spelling and pronunciation, and difficulties shortening it to a usable nickname are some of the least problems it faces. In the middle, it seems easier to live with.
To me the main problem with Gallipoli as a first name is its heaviness. It was the scene of battles where many lives were lost, and much blood shed; a place of great suffering and enormous sacrifice. Gallipoli is a place of death – heroic deaths, brave deaths; corpse upon corpse of them. Many dead in the water before they even reached land; many lives given solely to buy others time.
There’s also the uncomfortable fact that we went to Gallipoli as invaders. We invaded someone else’s country, on the orders of another country, and we slaughtered their people. Another uncomfortable fact is that our side lost the campaign, and lost badly. Even more uncomfortably, this hideous loss was a waste of time, resources and life. The Allies achieved nothing from it, and the Turkish people who successfully defended their land were on the losing side of the war.
The name Gallipoli conjures up many emotions. National pride, gratitude for sacrifices made, deep sadness at loss of life, horror at what was endured, anger at the futility of war. And also forgiveness, respect, shared grief, and friendship between nations who were once enemies.
There’s been several quotes in this entry, and I will end with one more, from Turkey’s first president, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, which is now inscribed on a monument at Gallipoli:
Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives… You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours… You, the mothers who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.
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)
The Hollywood movie Thor came out a couple of years ago; last year it was followed by TheAvengers, and a sequel will be coming out at the end of this year. The movie character is based on the Marvel Comics superhero, created by the famous Stan Lee, and the films place ancient gods in the modern world, interacting with humans and having spectacular magic vs science showdowns.
The Australian connection to this story is that Thor is played by Chris Hemsworth, who appeared on the blog as a celebrity dad last year, after welcoming daughter India Rose with his lovely wife Elsa. Thor‘s world premiere was held in Sydney.
In Norse mythology, Thor is the god of thunder, lightning, storms, oak trees, strength, healing and fertility. He is a protector of humanity, and the god who makes things holy. He is generally depicted as a large, muscular, red-haired and red-bearded man with fierce eyes, wielding a hammer that can pretty much smash through, well, everything.
Medieval epics describe Thor’s exploits in battle, and his fearsome wrath with anyone who crosses him. He is no steroidal oaf though, and capable of outwitting others and being clever with words; he sits as a judge at the foot of the World Tree. It is foretold that at the world’s destruction, Thor will do battle with his arch-enemy The Great Serpent and slay it, but will succumb to its venom and meet his end.
I think it’s too tempting for us moderns to imagine Thor as some sort of beefcake with anger management problems, but to his worshippers he was a source of strength and protection for their homes and possessions, giving security to family and community, and warding off plague and famine.
As the product of a divine marriage between the sky god Odin, and the earth mother Fjörgyn, he was a potent fertility symbol, and like lightning, he was a conduit between the heavens and the earth. The storms he brought with him watered the fields and made life grow.
Thor was worshipped by Germanic peoples, including those in Anglo-Saxon England, and the Vikings of Scandinavia, but it is from Norse mythology that most of our information about him is gained. His name is derived from an Ancient Germanic word for “thunder”; the Old English form of Thor is Thunor (pronounced THOO-nor), which makes the connection even more obvious.
It is a testament to his vast popularity how many names used in Britain there were that derived from Thor. A few that have survived into modern times, although rare, are Thora, a feminised form of Thor; Thurstan, meaning “Thor’s stone”; and Torquil, meaning “Thor’s cauldron”. His name is also in Thursday, meaning “Thor’s day”.
In Scandinavia the name Thor isn’t uncommon, and is pronounced TOR. Some famous Thors you may have heard of are Norwegian ethnographer Thor Heyerdahl (who crossed the Pacific on a raft named Kon-Tiki), Norwegian cyclist Thor Hushovd, Danish poker player Thor Hansen, Venezuelan human rights activist Thor Halvorssen, and Belgian singer Thor Salden.
Although the name Thor continued to be occasionally used in Britain, it is much more common in the United States, which has had significant migration from Scandinavia. Quite a few people named Thor can be found in Australian records, and most of them have Scandinavian surnames, or emigrated here from Scandinavia.
I recently saw a birth announcement for a baby boy named Thor, born in Tasmania; remarkably there was a Loki announced that same week, and an Odyn the following week.
Not long ago, Nameberry announced Thor was shaping up as one of the hot names of 2013 (along with other mythological names), and at the end of last year, told us that Scandinavian would be the ethnic name group most likely to rise in popularity. Meanwhile Abby’s Nameberry Nine this week pointed out that boy’s names are getting cooler all the time – even her little girl has noticed.
If you are considering the name Thor for your son, it is not only strong and interesting, with an ancient history that plugs in to European culture, but also right on trend.
With the Chris Hemsworth movies in the public consciousness, Thor is a name we’re all more familiar with, and for dads who hanker after a tough cool baby name, they might find it easier to persuade their partners if they have been smitten by Hemsworth’s hunkiness.
These names became noticeably more popular in Australia last year. If you are considering using any of them, don’t panic. Most are making solid progress rather than madly storming upward. It would be foolish to reject them based on their current popularity, and silly to fret if you chose one of these names in 2012.
The list indicates the diversity of girls’ names at present, with a mix of classic and modern; places and nature; Hollywood and royalty. There’s something for nearly everyone amongst these popular names.
Ivy was the fastest-rising girl’s name both nationally and in Western Australia last year, and made the top 5 fastest-rising names in South Australia, Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory. It became more popular across the board in 2012, and nationally rose 18 places. This is its second time around in the Top 100 – Ivy was #17 in the 1900s, and didn’t leave the Top 100 until the 1940s. It vanished from the charts in the 1970s, but reappeared in the 1990s. Ivy soared during the 2000s, making the Top 100 by the end of that decade. It is currently #22 in Australia, #21 in NSW, #27 in Victoria, #25 in Queensland, #22 in SA, #28 in WA, #44 in Tasmania, and #30 in the ACT. Ivy is named for the plant, and like its namesake, is presently climbing; Beyonce‘s daughter Blue Ivy may have given the name publicity. Chances are we’ll be seeing more of this fresh, pretty retro name, which sounds similar to popular Ava, Eva and Evie.
Savannah was in the top 5 fastest-rising names in South Australia, went up 9 places nationally, and increased in popularity in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania. It is currently #35 in Australia, #38 in NSW, #74 in Victoria, #28 in Queensland, #43 in SA, #35 in WA and #94 in Tasmania. Savannah first charted in the 1990s, and climbed until it reached the Top 100 at the end of the 2000s. Savannah is an alternate spelling of the word savanna, referring to grasslands that have scattered trees, or where the trees are open to the sky; large tracts of northern Australia are savanna. The word comes from the Spanish sabana, derived from the Arawak (Native American) word zabana, which originally meant a treeless grassy plain. Savannah is a place name in the United States, most famously the city in Georgia. The city’s name comes from the Savannah River, which may be derived from the Shawnee people, or from Native American words for “southerner” or “salt”. The city featured in 1990s soap, Savannah, which probably accounts for its début in the charts that decade. While I imagine Savannah originally got its foot in the door because it sounds like Susannah, here it fit in with those other hip names of the ’90s, Ava and Sienna. Like Harper, this is another American South-inspired name, but also a royal one, because the queen’s first great-granddaughter is named Savannah.
Harper was the fastest-rising name in Tasmania and Victoria, made the top 5 fastest-rising names in South Australia and Western Australia, and became more popular in every state. Currently it is #39 in Australia, #37 in NSW, #29 in Victoria, #36 in Queensland, #44 in SA, #29 in WA, and #31 in Tasmania. Harper began as a surname from the English word for a professional harp player. The surname originates from the west coast of Scotland, and is especially associated with the Clan Buchanan. The name also has Christian overtones, for heaven is said to be filled with the sound of harp music. Harper has been used as a first name since the 17th century, and was originally given to boys. The fame of (Nelle) Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, gave it a feminine slant. Harper only began charting in 2011, after David and Victoria Beckham welcomed their first daughter. Harper Beckham was named by her brothers after a character in Wizards of WaverleyPlace (although Victoria Beckham also happened to be working for Harper’s Bazaar at the time). The Beckhams said they wanted a name to honour their time in the United States, and chose this American-style name. Many Australians have followed in their footsteps.
Alice was the #1 fastest-rising name in South Australia, and has just joined the Top 20 in the Northern Territory, so it has gained popularity in central Australia. Intriguingly, the town of Alice Springs is in the middle of the Australia, offering food for thought. Alice also went up in popularity nationally, in Victoria, and in Tasmania. It is currently #43 in Australia, #49 in NSW, #34 in Victoria, #53 in Queensland, #34 in SA, #49 in WA, #41 in Tasmania, #20 in the NT and #43 in the ACT. Alice is a classic name which has never left the charts. It was #4 in the 1900s, and just missed out on the Top 100 in the 1940s, at #105. It reached its lowest point in the 1960s at #265, then began climbing, reaching the Top 100 for the second time in the 1990s. Since the beginning of the 2000s it has made staid but steady progress up the charts, and become middle name de jour. Alice is from the Old French name Aalis, short for Adelais, which is a short form of the Germanic name Adelheidis, meaning “noble kind” (which Adelaide is based on). Alice became popular in the Middle Ages, and got a boost during the 19th century after Queen Victoria had a Princess Alice. It’s been a favourite in fiction ever since Lewis Carroll penned Alice in Wonderland, and is the name of a main character in the Twilight series. Sensible, yet with a touch of magic, sweet Alice is one to keep your eye on.
Willow was in the top 5 fastest-rising names in Western Australia, went up nationally, and increased in popularity in New South Wales, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory. It is currently #44 in Australia, #43 in NSW, #33 in Victoria, #39 in Queensland, #32 in WA, #73 in Tasmania and #68 in the ACT. Willow first charted in the 1990s, and rose precipitously to make the Top 100 by the late 2000s. Willow is named for the genus of small trees and shrubs which symbolise both wisdom and deep loss. It has been used as a personal name since the 18th century, and was originally given equally to boys and girls. It has only ever charted for girls in Australia, but is still occasionally used for boys. The 1988 fantasy film Willow, which possibly played a role in Willow joining the charts in the ’90s, has a hero named Willow. In 2011, pop singer Pink welcomed a daughter named Willow, and that doesn’t seem to have done this name any harm. Flower names mostly didn’t do well in 2012; Ivy and Willow show that greenery is more appreciated than petals at present.
Mackenzie made the top 5 fastest-rising lists in New South Wales and Victoria, and increased its popularity in other states and the Australian Capital Territory. Currently it is #46 in Australia, #57 in NSW, #44 in Victoria, #45 in Queensland, #33 in SA, #37 in WA, #45 in Tasmania, and #48 in the ACT. Mackenzie has charted since the 1990s, and zoomed up the charts to make the Top 100 by the early 2000s. It dipped out of the Top 100 in 2009, but was back the next year. Mackenzie is a Scottish surname, an Anglicised form of of the Gaelic Mac Coinnich, meaning “son of Coinneach” (Coinneach is the original form of Kenneth). The Clan Mackenzie is from the Highlands, and of Celtic origin; they trace their clan name back to the pagan god Cernunnos. Mackenzie has been used as a first name since the 18th century in Scotland; it was nearly always given to boys in the beginning, but not exclusively so. Mackenzie first charted in the US as a female name, popularised by actress (Laura) Mackenzie Phillips, who was in American Graffiti. Since then there have been other Mackenzies on our screens;most recently, Mackenzie Foy played Renesmee in Breaking Dawn – Part 2.
Audrey made the national Top 50 last year, and according to my estimate, rose almost as many places as Ivy. However, it’s harder to see where the gains were made than it is with Ivy, although Audrey made significant increases in New South Wales and Victoria, and modest ones in Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory. Currently it is #50 in Australia, #36 in NSW, #32 in Victoria, #55 in Queensland, #96 in Tasmania and #35 in the ACT. Like Ivy and Alice, Audrey has been Top 100 before. Although it was #156 in the 1900s, it made the Top 100 the following decade, and shot up to peak at #32 in the 1920s. It sank faster than it had risen, and was #197 in the 1940s, reaching its lowest point in the 1980s with a ranking of #0. Since then it has climbed, and reached the Top 100 again at the end of the 2000s. It looks likely to overtake its earlier peak, but Audrey seems to be under the radar at present. This is one of those names which is probably more popular than you think, and has an Australian connection, for the famous Skipping Girl Vinegar neon sign in Melbourne is affectionately known as Little Audrey.
Mila was the #1 fastest-rising name in the Australian Capital Territory, and grew more popular in New South Wales, Western Australia and Tasmania. It is currently #59 in NSW, #46 in Victoria, #65 in Queensland, #44 in WA, #70 in Tasmania, and #48 in the ACT. Mila only began charting in 2011, so has been extremely successful in a brief space of time. The fame of Hollywood actress Mila Kunis must have had an impact; Mila entered the charts the year after Ms Kunis appeared in Black Swan. Mila is a short form of Slavic names containing the element mil, meaning “gracious, dear”. Mila Kunis’ full name is Milena, which is the feminine form of the Slavic name Milan, meaning something like “dear one”, and often translated as “sweetheart”. Mila sounds similar to other popular names such as Mia and Milla, and at the moment is doing very well.
Freya is a name just beginning to make an impression, for it joined the Top 100 in Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory last year, and was in the top 5 fastest-rising names in Tasmania. Both these regions have small population sizes, so you can be forgiven for being a little sceptical; Freya is currently #174 in NSW and #129 in Victoria. Freya is the English spelling of the Old Norse goddess Freyja – her name means “lady”, and was originally an epithet. In Norse mythology, Freyja is a goddess of love, sex, beauty, fertility, sorcery, gold, war and death. Immensely beautiful and clever, she rules over a field in the afterlife. The name Freya has been popular in the UK for several years now, and is well known here due to Tasmanian actress Freya Stafford; it doesn’t seem too far-fetched that we should follow Britain’s lead, but we shall have to wait and see.
Josephine just managed to squeeze onto the Top 100 in New South Wales last year. That may not sound impressive, but the amount Josephine climbed was phenomenal – it went up 99 places, far outstripping Ivy’s mere 18. For that reason alone, it deserves a place on this list. Josephine is a solid classic which has never been off the charts, or left the Top 200; on the other hand it has never enjoyed high popularity either. It was #86 for the 1900s, and peaked the following decade at #76. It just failed to reach the Top 100 of the 1940s at #103, and dipped in the 1980s to make #172. Its progress has been up and down, but never too high or low, and it reached its lowest point in the charts in 2011, at #199. It has more than made up for this by getting back to the Top 100 in 2012, where it hasn’t been since the 1930s. Currently it is #100 in NSW and #105 in Tasmania. Josephine has recently made its mark as a royal and celebrity baby name, with Josephine chosen for the daughter of Prince Frederik and Princess Mary of Denmark, and also the grand-daughter of former prime minister Kevin Rudd. Will Josephine continue its ascent? Historically it’s unlikely, for Josephine seems most comfortable in the low to mid 100s, and may very well drop back this year. Stay tuned!
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.
Today is Palm Sunday, which commemorates the triumphal ride into Jerusalem by Jesus about a week before the Resurrection. The people hailed him as if he were a victorious king, laying palm branches in his path. We already know that James Cook named the Whitsunday Islands and Trinity Beach after important days in Easter-tide, and on Palm Sunday 1770, he named the Palm Islands in northern Queensland after the day. After World War I Palm Island became an Aboriginal settlement, where the government maintained a repressive control over the Indigenous population.
On March 28 it will be 91 years since Aboriginal activist and Jagera elder Neville Bonner was born, and another tie-in with this time of year is that Neville once lived on Palm Island. Born on a small Aboriginal island settlement in northern New South Wales, he never knew his father and received almost no formal education. After working as a farm labourer, he moved to Palm Island with his family in 1946, and became assistant overseer of the settlement.
His time on Palm Island gave him both an interest and experience in politics, and after moving to Ipswich in 1960, he became the president of moderate indigenous rights organisation One People of Australia League, and an office holder in the Liberal Party. He was the first indigenous Australian politician, and elected senator in his own right four times.
Neville was appointed to the board of the ABC, and the council of Griffith University, which also awarded him an honorary doctorate. In 1979 he was named Australian of the Year, and in 1984 appointed as Officer of the Order of Australia. After his death, the Neville Bonner Memorial Scholarship was created for Indigenous students to take honours in political science. There is a Queensland electorate and a Canberra suburb of Bonner, named after him.
Neville is an English surname which was introduced to Britain by the Normans, and refers to a French place name in Normandy, either Neuville or Neville. Both places mean “new settlement” in Old French, and are common names of towns in France.
The House of Neville is an aristocratic English family which can trace its lineage back to Anglo-Saxon times. Although they married into the Norman nobility and assumed a Norman surname, the male line of the family had been ruling landowners in Northumbria since before the Conquest, with their ancestral seat near Durham, and were already wealthy and powerful in their own region.
The Nevilles continued to gain power, often appointed to prestigious royal offices and administrative roles. Ralph Neville was one of the founding members of the Peerage of England, being one of those summoned to sit in the House of Lords when it was established in 1294, and by the 14th century the family owned large tracts of the north of England.
They married into the royal family, but lost a great deal of power by getting involved in the War of the Roses, and also backing the wrong horse by supporting Mary, Queen of Scots instead of Elizabeth I (the Nevilles also claimed descent from one of the royal families of Scotland). Although their glory days were over, the Nevilles continued gaining earldoms and baronies through a junior line of the family, and they are still members of the peerage.
Neville can be found used as a first name from the 16th century, but remained extremely rare until the 18th century. Given that the Nevilles were so powerful in the north, you might expect to find the name greatly more common there than in the southern counties, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. It did appear to originate in Lincolnshire though, which is one of the many areas where the Nevilles owned estates and had loyal political supporters.
In Australia, Neville just squeezed onto the Top 100 of the 1900s at #99. It continued rising and peaked in the 1920s (when Neville Bonner was born) at #30; it didn’t leave the Top 100 until the 1960s, missing out by only a few places at #104. Neville hasn’t charted at all here since the 2000s.
It is sometimes suggested that the character of Neville Longbottom from the Harry Potter books could help raise the popularity of this name; however, it seems that almost as soon as the first book was published, Neville disappeared from the charts altogether.
The trouble was that Neville Longbottom, although a good person and loyal Gryffindor, was not necessarily an attractive character to parents. Chubby, unpopular and low on self-esteem, he seemed to be dogged by the chronic bad luck suffered by the self-conscious and unconfident. He lost and forgot things, had minor accidents, was bullied by both students and teachers, and was a mediocre student except in Herbology.
In the fifth book, The Order of the Phoenix, it was revealed that Neville’s parents, brave and gifted warriors in the fight against Voldemort, had been tortured to madness and permanently institutionalised. Although this evoked enormous sympathy for Neville, it didn’t help to make his name seem more usable. Nobody was saying, “Yes, I’d love to name my child after a character with insane parents, I can really relate to that”.
With Harry’s encouragement, Neville’s skills as a wizard improve and his courage grows. Once out of Harry’s shadow, he becomes the leader of the resistance group at Hogwarts, the protector of those younger and weaker, and a vital part of Voldemort’s downfall. He is the story’s alternate hero – brave, noble, kind, selfless, and pure-hearted.
Is this late blooming enough to rehabilitate Neville as a name? Or will parents continue to think of the awkward klutz that Neville is for most of the book series?
Neville is a dated name, but we have seen other old-fashioned names come back into use and even become popular. It’s a little clunky, and a tad geeky, but also solid and dignified. I often see Neville used as a middle name to honour a great-grandparent, and I wonder when someone might feel brave enough to use it up front again. Older people will find it almost irresistible to use the long-popular nickname “Nifty” Neville, but the standard Nev still sounds surprisingly dashing.
On Monday March 25, it will be the Feast of the Annunciation, which celebrates the angel Gabriel announcing to the Virgin Mary that she will conceive a son; Gabriel also tells her that the child is to be called Jesus. This was staggering enough news, but the big shock for her was that this would happen through the Holy Spirit and not via the usual route to conception.
This is the story told in Luke, while Matthew tells the story from a different angle. According to this gospel, Mary found herself pregnant and her betrothed, Joseph, was considering breaking things off. But then an angel came to him in a dream, and explained the situation to him.
Although the Bible doesn’t say so, it’s generally assumed that this angel was also Gabriel. Further assumptions are that he was the angel who appeared to the shepherds at the Nativity, and the one who came to Jesus to give him strength as he prayed in the garden before the Crucifixion.
The Feast of the Annunciation is held nine months before Christmas, to symbolise the length of a pregnancy. It is also called Lady Day, and until 1752, it was New Year’s Day in Britain. It’s obviously a hard habit to break, because in the UK they still start the financial year on April 6, which is Lady Day on the old (Julian) calendar.
The Annunciation isn’t Gabriel’s first appearance in the Bible, or even in the New Testament. In the Book of Daniel he interprets Daniel’s visions for him, and earlier in the Gospel of Luke he appears to Zachariah, a priest, and the husband of the Virgin Mary’s kinswoman. He tells Zachariah that his wife Elizabeth, for many years barren, would bear a son named John; this would be John the Baptist, who was to prepare the way for Jesus.
According to Islamic teachings, the angel Gabriel dictated the Koran to Muhammad, and led him on his “Night Journey”, or great spiritual vision of the heavens. So the angel is important to all three Abrahamic religions.
There is a tradition that Gabriel will blow his trumpet to announce Judgement Day, which comes from John Milton’s Paradise Lost. In Jewish legend, Gabriel is said to pluck new souls from the Tree of Life so that they may be conceived as new babies. So you can see Gabriel as both the beginning and end of Life – although the end is only to make way for a new beginning.
Gabriel is the English form of the Hebrew name Gavri’el, which is variously interpreted as “man of God”, “strong man of God”, “hero of God”, “champion of God”, “warrior of God”, or “strength of God”. The image you get from it is of a mighty being, using their immense strength to serve God. In the Old Testament, words such as great, might, power and strength are used to describe Gabriel, and in Jewish tradition he is an angel of judgement and punishment.
However, Christian tradition sees Gabriel differently. As he appears in the New Testament to bring people news of great joy, and to bring comfort to those burdened by great worry, he is viewed as an angel of mercy and consolation.
Angels are spiritual beings, not physical, so they cannot be said to have a sex, although in the Bible they always take on the appearance of human males when communicating with people. However, you might say that in Jewish tradition, Gabriel gives off a very masculine “energy”, while Christians get more of a feminine “vibe” from the angel. (If you doubt this, consider how many Nativity plays you’ve seen where a female plays the role of the announcing angel).
Because of this certain level of gender ambiguity, Gabriel has, for centuries, sometimes been used as a female name in the English-speaking world, and in fact Tom Waterhouse’s mother, the horse trainer Gai Waterhouse, is named Gabriel (in case you were wondering what Gai was short for). There are also specifically feminine forms of the name we have imported from other languages, such as French Gabrielle and Italian Gabriella.
The name Gabriel has charted in Australia since the 1960s, and joined the Top 100 in 2001 at #97. I’m not sure if this was an influence, but it joined the Top 100 a year after the movie The Patriot came out, starring Australian actor Heath Ledger as Gabriel Martin. It peaked in 2009 at #60, and since then has been on a decline. Last year it made #88.
Two feminine forms of the name have been more successful. Gabrielle has charted since the 1920s, and joined the Top 100 in the 1990s, when it peaked at #49. It left the Top 100 in 2010, and in 2011 was at #111, still only just outside the Top 100.
Gabriella has charted since the 1940s, but didn’t begin really climbing until the 1980s. It joined the Top 100 in 2006 at #89 (there were just as many baby girls named Gabriella as Gabrielle that year). It peaked the same year as Gabriel, in 2009, and only one place higher, at #59. However, its decline has been more gentle, and last year it made #71.
I do think the greater success of Gabrielle and Gabriella has not been helpful to the popularity of the male name Gabriel. I have noticed that many people hear the name Gabriel as Gabrielle, or think that the two names are so alike as to make Gabriel sound “feminine”. I have to admit this annoys me, because I much prefer Gabriel to either of his sister-names.
Gabriel seems to be more appealing to mothers as a baby name than it is to fathers, with many women complaining that their partner strongly vetoed the name Gabriel for their sons, even as a middle name.
I think it might suffer a little from what we might call The Valentino Factor – women are more likely to find the name Gabriel handsome, charming and even sexy, while men are more likely to find it foofy and irritatingly ornate.
Another issue is the nickname, because the standard shortening is Gabe, and many parents dislike it. Some worry it sounds too much like the word gay or the word babe, others think that it sounds dim-witted or redneck, and others just find it ugly.
It would be easy to suggest some other nickname, but chances are he’s going to get called Gabe once he leaves the house anyway, if he gets a nickname at all. Personally I don’t think Gabriel needs any nickname.
Gabriel is a beautiful, indeed, a heavenly name. It’s a name of great masculinity and strength, yet at the same time has a wonderful sweet tenderness as well. One thing that occurs to me is that there is a theme of the angel Gabriel bringing joyful news of unexpected pregnancies, and a miraculous childbirth. I think it would make a great name for someone expecting a baby they never thought they would ever have, a baby which defied all logic to make his way into the world.
For those who never thought their miracle baby would ever arrive, Gabriel says, Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy!
(Picture shows The Annunciation on a window at St Mary’s Church, Denville, New Jersey)
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.
On March 19 this year, it will be the 81st anniversary of the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It’s an iconic symbol of Sydney, and of Australia itself; Sydneysiders refer to it with affection as “The Coathanger”, and more respectfully as “The Grand Old Lady”. The place where the bridge stands today is where Europeans first set foot on Australian soil, back in 1788.
There are many famous names connected with the bridge that I could cover, but when I think of its history, I see its true heroes as the workers who toiled long hours to build it, without any modern safety equipment, often risking their own lives in the process. So I dedicate this blog entry to the stonemasons who worked on the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
The bridge’s pylons are 89 metres high, made of concrete and faced with granite. While much of the steel for the bridge was imported from Britain, the materials for the pylons are all Australian, with most of the granite quarried from the seaside town of Moruya, 300 km south of Sydney. The pylons were designed by Thomas Tait of Scotland, and many of the stonemasons who worked in the quarry were from Scotland and Italy, as well as Australia.
There were perhaps 300 masons in all, who cut and dressed 40 000 stones for the pylons, with just two stonemasons facing them with granite. The stonemasons also built the Cenotaph in Martin Place, which commemorates all those who died during the Anzac campaign. You can read more about the building of the bridge and those who worked on it in this little booklet from The Pylon Lookout.
When the bridge was opened in 1932, the foreman stonemason, Jock McKay, proudly led 100 workers at the start of the Bridge Parade. We’ve already learned that it was the Stonemasons Association which first campaigned for an eight-hour working day, so this was another landmark day for them.
Mason is an English surname which is easy to understand, as it refers to the occupation of being a stonemason. It comes from the Old French word masson, introduced by the Normans; the word is derived from an ancient Germanic word meaning “cut, hew”. Mason is one of the oldest English surnames, being found from the early 12th century.
The trade of masonry is likewise one of the the most ancient, dating back to the Stone Age and the dim beginnings of civilisation. Indeed, when we think of the great works of civilisations, we tend to focus on their building projects, such as Egyptian pyramids, Greek temples or Roman aqueducts. During the Middle Ages, when the surname Mason first began to be used, masons were in demand for building castles and cathedrals, and they had a high status as skilled craftsmen.
I think from its earliest beginnings, stonemasonry had a spiritual or religious side, for the first large structures seem to nearly always be temples or other places of worship. It seems probable that the building of such temples would involve knowledge of spiritual symbols and motifs to be worked into their designs, and even the mathematics necessary to design such a temple may have seemed almost a magical art – it certainly required high intelligence, and greater knowledge than the average person.
The organisation of Freemasonry, or the Masons, seems to draw on myths that stonemasons were given secret knowledge that was handed down through the generations. These always seem to go back to the architect of King Solomon’s Temple of ancient Jerusalem, but includes Euclid, Pythagoras, Moses, the Essenes, and the Culdees, with Noah, the ancient Egyptians, the Knights Templar and the Druids thrown in for good measure. Even Jesus Christ is claimed as a Freemason, with his assertion of being the prophesied “cornerstone” a supposed indication.
These myths seem very far-fetched to me, but I can see how they might have an extremely tiny grain of truth to them, and they do add a bit of intrigue to stonemasonry and the name Mason.
Mason has been used as a first name for boys since at least the 16th century, and seems to have originated in East Anglia. It’s much more common in the United States than elsewhere, and that may partly be because of the distinguished Mason family of Virginia, which has played a prominent role in American history and politics. George Mason IV is considered one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, and an author of the Bill of Rights.
Mason first charted here in the 1980s, debuting at #429 for the decade, and rose steadily to make the Top 100 by 2005. The year after Kourtney Kardashian welcomed her son Mason in 2009, Mason jumped 36 places in the charts, and rapidly ascended to #24 in New South Wales for 2012. (Although often connected with the Kardashians, Mason is quite the favourite amongst celebrity baby namers).
Name data for 2012 in so far shows Mason as one of the fastest rising names in Queensland, Western Australia and the Australian Capital Territory, and Top 20 in Queensland, Western Australia and Victoria.
Mason is a name which denotes physical strength applied skilfully, and even has quite a spiritual side to it. It would be a great name to honour a tradition of stonemasonry in your family history, or a tradition of skilled craftsmen. Although we think of it as quite a modern name, it has a very long history, and is far older than most surname names. It is rising in popularity, but mostly not soaring like a trendy name; more the solid progress of a name set to be a modern classic.
There is plenty to appreciate about the name Mason, but one thing you can’t hope to do is keep it to yourself.