Actress Isla Fisher, and her husband Sacha Baron Cohen, reportedly welcomed their third child on March 17, with their son’s name on the birth certificate given as Montgomery MosesBrian. Brian seems to be in honour of Isla’s father, Brian Fisher. Montgomery joins big sisters Olive, aged 7, and Eulula, aged 4.
Isla was born in Oman to Scottish parents, and after an early childhood in Scotland, moved to Australia at the age of six. Her acting career began in TV commercials at the age of nine, and continued with roles on children’s television programs such as ParadiseBeach. She was a regular on Home and Away for three years, before attending a drama school in Paris, and taking on roles in theatre. Early films roles included parts in a German horror movie The Pool, Scooby-Doo, and Australian film The Wannabees. Her breakthrough Hollywood role was in The Wedding Crashers, and she has appeared in Wedding Daze, Definitely, Maybe, Confessions of a Shopaholic, Bachelorette, and TheGreat Gatsby, as well as several episodes of Arrested Development. Isla published two YA novels as a teenager, and has also co-written film scripts. After converting to Judaism before her marriage, she took the Hebrew name Ayala, meaning “doe”.
Sacha is an English actor, comedian and writer. He is best known for creating and playing four comic characters – Ali G, Borat Sagdiyev, Brüno Gehard, Admiral General Aladeen – who have appeared in televison shows and films. He has also made film appearances in Talladega Nights,Sweeney Todd, Hugo, Les Misérables, and Anchorman 2, and been in episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm, and The Simpsons. Sacha and Isla met at a party in Sydney in 2002, and they were married in Paris in 2010.
The most popular boys names of the 1940s were John, Peter, Robert, and David, but what were the least popular names? Here are ten names which were only chosen once in any year between 1944 and 1949 in South Australia, making them unique names for their time and place. Still rare, some feel surprisingly contemporary, while one or two have perhaps had their day.
English surname of multiple origins. It can be from a common place name meaning “east settlement”, to indicate a village to the east of a larger town, although occasionally it seems to be a corruption or variant of Ashton, meaning “settlement near the ash trees”. It can also mean “at the stone”, to indicate someone who lived near a prominent stone. Finally, it can be a contraction of a personal name such as Aethelstan, meaning “noble stone”, and there are examples of men with Aston as a first name in the Middle Ages from this derivation. Sir Aston Cockayne, 1st Baronet, was a 17th century writer who was on the Royalist side during the English Civil War, and a close friend of the future Charles II. The name might remind you of Aston Villa Football Club, in the English Premier League, or Aston Martin luxury cars – both familiar in the 1940s as well. I see the name Aston name sometimes in birth notices, perhaps inspired by Aston Merrygold from English boy band JLS.
English surname from an unknown place name meaning “stream surrounded by broom” – broom is a hardy European shrub with yellow flowers. The name has a strong connection with the Salvation Army, because Bramwell Booth was the second General of the Salvation Army who served during World War I, the eldest son of its founder, William Booth. We know the name was used by Salvationists, because Bramwell Tillsley, a Canadian who was the son of British Salvationists, was the 14th General of the Salvation Army. The Salvation Army has a strong history in South Australia, with the first official Salvation Army corps formed in Adelaide in 1880. Booth was also used as a baby name during the 1940s, with the Salvation Army’s support of the troops being greatly appreciated. Bramwell is an attractive, little-used surname that has the appealing nickname Bram.
Form of the Greek name Kosmas, meaning “order”, and thus the opposite of “chaos”. The Greeks also used the word to mean “the world”, because they believed the world was perfectly put in order. We use the word cosmos to mean “the universe, all of creation”. According to tradition, Saint Cosmas was a skilled doctor; along with his twin brother Damian, he performed many miraculous cures before his martyrdom. The name Cosmo was introduced to Britain by the Scottish peer Alexander Gordon, 2nd Duke of Gordon, when he named his son Cosmo in 1720. Cosmo’s name was in honour of his father’s close friend Cosimo di Medici – Cosimo is the Italian form of Kosmas. The name has always had a rather exotic and aristocratic image, and Scottish associations. There were several famous Cosmos that could have inspired the name in the 1940s, including popular British playwright Cosmo Hamilton, and Archbishop of Canterbury Cosmo Lang. Cosmos is also a type of daisy, whose name comes from the same Greek origin, so with some imagination, the name Cosmo could honour someone named Daisy.
Variant of Denzel, a Cornish surname. The name was traditional in the aristocratic Holles family, with one of the earliest and most famous of their number to bear the name Denzil Holles, 1st Baron Holles, a 17th century statesman who is best known for being part of a group who attempted to arrest King Charles I, sparking the Civil War, but also took a leading role in bringing about the Restoration. The Denzel spelling came first, as Denzil Holles’ grandfather was Denzel Holles. These Denzils and Denzels were named in honour of their ancestor John Denzel, who had large estates in Cornwall in the 16th century and was Attorney-General to Elizabeth of York, queen of Henry VII. John Denzel took his surname from the Denzell manor house in St Mawgan, Cornwall, and the meaning of its name is not known for sure, although perhaps from the Celtic for “hill fortress in open view”. A 1940s Australian namesake is Sir Denzil Macarthur-Onslow, a World War II general regarded as a “cracker of a bloke”. Denzil still seems contemporary because of American actor Denzel Washington, and is very usable.
Derived from the ancient Germanic name Eberhard, often translated as “brave as a wild boar”. The name was introduced by the Normans to Britain, where there was already an Old English form of the name, Eoforheard. A famous namesake is Sir Everard Digby, who was executed for his part in the failed Gunpowder Plot, and another was Everard Calthrop, a railway engineer who helped develop the modern parachute. Although in use since the Middle Ages, modern usage has probably been influenced by the surname, as the Everards are an aristocratic family who have been created baronets in both Ireland and England. Everard Park is a suburb of Adelaide, named after the prominent pioneer Sir Charles Everard, said to have the best orchard in the colony, giving this a strong South Australian feel. Everard is an interesting twist on classic Evan, and the trend for girls’ names starting with Ev- may also be a help.
English surname referring to someone living near a triangular field; the word gar means spear in Old English, and a gar field is one that is shaped like the point of a spearhead. The surname is well known in the United States, as their 20th president was James A. Garfield, and his sons also went on to have illustrious public careers – there is a town in Victoria named Garfield in honour of the American president. A namesake from the 1940s was Hollywood actor John Garfield, while one with Garfield as his first name is Garfield “Gar” Wood, an American inventor, showman, and record-breaking motorboat racer – the first to travel over 100 miles an hour on water. An Australian namesake from this era is Sir Garfield Barwick, a barrister who came to prominence during a 1943 court case involving the Archibald Prize. He later became a Liberal MP, Attorney-General, and Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia. He was the legal advisor to Sir John Kerr during the controversial dismissal of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam (an old enemy of Barwick’s), so he well and truly made history. Garfield would be a charming and unusual vintage name, except for one thing – the obese cartoon cat!
In Greek mythology, Linus was a Thracian prince who was so musically talented that he was said to have been the son of Apollo, god of music, and Calliope, the muse of epic poetry. According to legend, Linus invented melody and rhythm, and taught music to his brothers Orpheus and Heracles. Unfortunately, Heracles didn’t appreciate the music lessons, and killed Linus with his own lyre after he tried to give Heracles some constructive criticism. Although the meaning of the name is not certain, there was a type of dirge in classical Greece called a linos, and it’s possible that the mythological character was a personification of this song of mourning. The name has a Christian association because Linus is said to have been a Bishop of Rome in the early church, and is listed as the second pope. The name Linus is especially popular in Scandinavia, although many people will connect it to Linus Pauling, the American scientist who won both the Nobel Chemistry Prize and the Nobel Peace Prize, and whose work was aleady known by the 1940s. The name might also remind you of security blanket-hugging philosopher Linus from the Peanuts comics. A sweet, smart name with a mythological musical connection.
Greek name meaning “new”. It wasn’t an unusual name in ancient Greece, and there are several prominent men named Neon from history. However, in modern times the name is strongly associated with neon lighting – bright electrified glass tubes often used for signs. They are named after neon gas, which is used to give off a bright orange light, but other gases provide different colours. Neon has has the same meaning as the name Neon. Neon lighting was invented in 1910, and was in its heyday between 1920 and 1940, the bright colours suddenly bringing dark streets to life. It’s probably not a coincidence that the name Neon peaked in the 1940s and ’50s, usually given to boys. Neon feel both space age and vintage, and has been used as a comic book hero name, for both a male and female character. As neon is often used in an artistic context today, you might think of this as an arty name, and it’s otherwise bright and energetic.
A revel is a festive celebration, while to revel is to make merry. The word comes from Old French, and is directly related to the Latin rebello, from which our word (and name) Rebel is derived. This is probably because we think of celebrations as tending to be rather unruly or disorderly, and sometimes they can even get out of hand! This fun-loving word has been used as a personal name since the Middle Ages in both England and France, and was also given as a nickname to people who were known for partying particularly hard. It is from this that the surname derives, and it is especially associated with Yorkshire. A famous Australian namesake is Western Australian Indigenous artist Revel Cooper, whose career began in the 1940s. Although he was just a child then, he was one of a number of children in state care who were given specialised art training, and their artwork exhibited in Perth, New Zealand, India, and Europe. Unlike many of the children, Revel continued his art career into adulthood. Revel is a boisterous medieval boys’ name that still sounds contemporary.
Rollo was a powerful 9th century Viking leader who was the founder and first ruler of the area of France now known as Normandy. He was the great-great-great grandfather of William the Conqueror, and through William, is the ancestor of the present day British royal family, as well as all current European monarchs. His name is a Latinised form of the Old Norse name Hrólfr, which in modern times is known as Rolf. It’s a shortened form of Hrodulf, now known as Rudolf, meaning “famous wolf”. Rollo is also a Scottish surname, the Clan Rollo being descended from the Normans, and in particular the nephew of William the Conqueror, Erik Rollo. Because the Lords Rollo is a title in the Scottish peerage, the name gains further aristocratic credentials. Rollo fitted in well with 1940s name trends, when Rolf and Roland were fashionable, and Australian artist Rollo Thompson flourished in this decade. Like Cosmo, it fits in with current trends for boys names ending in -o, and this is a fun yet blue-blooded choice.
(Picture shows Denzil Macarthur-Onslow, on the right, supervising a training exercise in Queensland in 1942; photo from the Australian War Memorial)
Names in the News
There are some celebrities whose baby names the media looks forward to learning with barely-disguised impatience. It might be a big star or a royal, in which case we all want to know what the baby is called, even if it’s quite boring. On the other hand, there are certain celebrities where we yearn to know the baby name they choose, because we can feel “a crazy celebrity baby name” coming up.
Recently it has been Lara Bingle and her husband Sam Worthington grabbing the baby name headlines, although the whole process began months ago, during what has been described as “the world’s longest pregnancy“. This was only increased by the Bingle-Worthingtons requesting privacy and not immediately announcing their baby name, which sent the rumour mill into overdrive.
I always think that if you’re going to be coy about announcing the baby’s name, it had better be something pretty epic, because I hate waiting for weeks, only to find out the baby is named Charlie. In this case, I was not disappointed because the baby’s name was reported as Rocket Zot.
Predictably, some sections of the media responded with outrage, denouncing the name. Was this a clever attempt to force Rocket’s cagey parents to confirm or deny the baby name? If so, it worked, because Lara Bingle immediately took to social media to defend their choice of name.
Public comments have generally been quite harsh, and on this blog, more than 84% of people have given it the thumbs down. But is Rocket Zot really such a bizarre name?
A rocket is any missile or vehicle propelled by a rocket engine. Although we may think of rockets as being quite space age, they have been existence since the Middle Ages, when they were used as weapons by the Chinese. Europeans found out about rocket technology when they were conquered by the Mongols, who themselves made the interesting discovery by conquering parts of China first.
It wasn’t until the twentieth century that anybody began serious research into using rockets for travelling through space. The Germans made the most progress in this area, and there was devastating proof of Germany’s proficiency in rocket use when they rained down V-2 rockets upon Allied countries in World War II, killing and wounding thousands in the process.
The United States was to benefit the most from Germany’s rocketry, because after the war they scooped up the majority of the German rocket scientists. The first American space rockets evolved directly from the V2, which just shows how important it is to conquer the right people during a war, and nick all their best technological innovations.
The word rocket comes from the Italian rochetta, meaning “little fuse”, a small firecracker developed by an Italian inventor in the 14th century. It is notable that for many years, the history of rockets and that of fireworks was virtually one and the same, as they both relied on gunpowder.
If all of this sounds a bit too violent, rocket is also a leafy green vegetable commonly added to salads, and a favourite since Roman times (maybe partly because it was believed to be an aphrodisiac). In this case, the name has nothing to do with rockets or fireworks, but is derived from Eruca, the Latin name for the plant, which means “caterpillar”.
London rocket is a wildflower whose common name was given because it grew in such profusion after the Great Fire of London in 1666. Another plant is called sweet rocket or dame’s rocket, abundantly blossomed with pretty fragrant mauve flowers. The attractive but toxic aconite, or wolfsbane, is sometimes called blue rocket, and the Chinese used its poison in warfare, just as they did explosive rockets.
Rocket has been used as a name since the 19th century, when it was much more common in North America. The United States national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner, with its mention of the “rockets’ red glare”, may have made the name seem particularly patriotic (the rockets in the song were from the British attacking Fort McHenry in Baltimore during the War of 1812). Independence Day fireworks also help to make rockets seem patriotically American. Rocket has been given to both sexes, but more commonly to boys.
In 2013, 16 boys were given the name Rocket in the US, while in the UK, less than 3 babies in any year have been named Rocket since 1996. In South Australia last year, there was just one baby boy named Rocket.
Although Rocket is rare, it has become quite prominent as a celebrity baby name. Douglas Adams named his daughter Polly Jane Rocket in 1994, a fitting tribute for the author of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy series. Director Robert Rodriguez has a son named Rocket Valentino born in 1995 (Rocket’s siblings include Rogue, Rebel, and Racer). Tom DeLonge from Blink-182 had a son named Jonas Rocket in 2006, and Pharrell Williams welcomed a son named Rocket Ayer in 2008, honouring the Rocket songs of Stevie Wonder, Elton John and Herbie Hancock, as well as Roy Ayers. Last year Beau Bokan from Blessthefall welcomed a baby girl named Rocket Wild. It’s not unknown as an Australian celebrity name, because fashion designer Yasmin Sewell had a son named Knox Rocket in 2011.
The name Rocket has been criticised for trying too hard to be a “cool” celebrity baby name, a name which no decent baby name book has listed. (I’m happy to be amongst the indecent baby name blogs to include Rocket). And yet is it really that outrageous? It’s very much like modern classic Rocco, and when Jett is a popular boy’s name, Rocket isn’t such a stretch. Weapon-related names such as Archer and Hunter are also on trend.
Depending on your point of view, Rocket might be too cool for the schoolyard, or fine for the famous but out for ordinary folk, or you might think this is an energetic, rocking firecracker of a name that fits in with current trends while still being a rare choice. Rock or Rocky are the obvious nicknames.
If Rocket got a good going-over, Zot went down even less well, with the headline, Lara Bingle Doesn’t Give a Zot For Baby Name Traditions (since changed). Urban dictionaries were consulted, to discover that zot meant “kill, destroy”, or “spitball”. Of course you can also consult dictionaries to find that Bob is a woman’s haircut, John refers to a prostitute’s client, and Amelia means to be born without a limb, but the dictionary meanings are not usually applied to these personal names.
Lara Bingle was angered and upset by the journalist’s comments on Zot, since it was given in honour of her father Graham, who passed away from cancer a few years ago. Zot was apparently the nickname he went by.
Zot is actually a “real” name – it’s a short form of Izot, the Russian form of Greek Zotikos, meaning “full of life” (a masculine spin on Zoe). I think that makes it an exciting addition to Rocket, which is already quite a lively-sounding name.
Zot is also a comic book hero name, in this case, a contraction of the character’s real name of Zachary T. Paleozogt. A cheery blond teenager from a utopian world, Zot zips around on rocket boots with a laser gun to sort out the problems of our own rather more flawed planet.
It has been conjectured that the name Rocket is a nod to Sam Worthington’s father, Ronald Worthington, so that Rocket Zot may actually honour both fathers. The HeraldSun suggests that Ronny Graham, nicknamed “Rocket”, would have been a better honouring name. Given the choice, I think I prefer the more distinctive, affectionate, and personalised Rocket Zot.
The most popular girls names of the 1940s were Margaret, Patricia, Judith, and Helen, but what were the least popular names? Here are ten names which were only chosen once in any year between 1944 and 1949 in South Australia, making them unique names for their time and place. They continue to be rare, and some parents will still find them appealing.
Thought to be a Latinised form of the Germanic name Aveza, most likely a long form or elaboration of the familiar Ava. Introduced to England by the Normans, it was reasonably common in the Middle Ages, and quickly became associated with the Latin word avis, meaning “bird”. Avis Rent a Car was founded in the 1940s by Warren Avis, but did not become big in Australia for some time – it’s now quite difficult to disassociate the name Avis from the rental company, although it’s very much on trend and still seems contemporary and pretty. It was also a good fit in the 1940s, when names such as Avril and Averil were fashionable.
An old British term of endearment, dating back to perhaps the 17th century. In Scotland, buntin means “short and plump”, while in Wales, bontin means “the bottom, the rump” (a part of the body usually seen as quite plump). It’s interesting that in both Scottish and English dialect, bunt and bun refer to a rabbit’s tail, which recalls the bottom meaning. You probably remember the nursery rhyme, Bye Baby Bunting, where bunting meant “a plump little child”, and it’s amusing that they have “a rabbit skin to wrap the Baby Bunting in”, given the etymological connection between chubby babies and bunnies’ bottoms. By the 19th century, bunty was a country word for a lamb, because they bunt (or butt) with their heads, giving bunty another adorable baby-related association. The name Bunty was popularised by the Scottish comedy Bunty Pulls the Strings, which was a hit in 1911 in the West End and on Broadway (Bunty was a canny Highland lass). However, even before this, Bunty was used as a nickname, especially by the aristocracy. It was occasionally given to boys, and in Seven Little Australians, young John is called Bunty, because he is prone to be greedy and a bit overweight. In his case, the nickname literally meant “little fatty”, but Bunty can be understood as “cute wee bairn, bonny babe”. This could be a charming vintage-style nickname, and if you’re worried it’s too infantile, Babe and Baby were both used as names in the 1940s!
Cosette is one of the main characters in Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, considered one of the greatest novels of the 19th century. In the novel, Cosette is the daughter of Fantine, a poor girl who must leave her child in the care of some innkeepers, while she works to provide for her. Cosette is badly treated by her guardians, and becomes a Cinderella-like figure, but is rescued by the ex-convict Jean Valjean. They take refuge in a convent, where Cosette develops into a beautiful young girl, and eventually finds her happy ending. Cosette’s real name is Euphrasie (meaning “good cheer”), but her mother’s pet name for her is the one which sticks – Cosette is from the French word chosette, meaning “little thing”. Les Misérables was made into a successful film in 1935, with child star Marilyn Knowlden in the role of the young Cosette; this would have increased interest in the name. Les Misérables was made into an award-winning musical film in 2012, this time with British actress Isabelle Allen playing young Cosette. Her face was used for the publicity posters, and with her arresting blue eyes, this may bring Cosette into the baby name spotlight again.
Anglicised form of the Irish name Damhnait, meaning “fawn”. Saint Dymphna is a 7th century Irish saint with a truly disturbing story, because legend has it that when she was fourteen, her father went mad and developed an unnatural desire for her. She ran away and devoted herself to helping the sick and the poor, but her father discovered her whereabouts, and killed her in a rage. Called the Lily of Eire, Saint Dymphna is the patron of the mentally ill, as well as vctims of incest, and many miraculous cures have been claimed on her behalf. A famous namesake is the author Dymphna Cusack, and another is Dymphna Clark, married to the historian Manning Clark, so the name has strong Australian credentials. Despite this, and the pretty meaning, Saint Dymphna’s tragic life has probably not been a help. Said DIMF-na, Dymphna has a lovely sound though, like a quirkier Daphne.
According to superstition, a jinx is something, or someone, who brings bad luck, often without meaning to. The word is American English, first used in the context of baseball, and its origins are obscure. One suggestion is that it comes from the 1887 musical comedy Little Puck, which had a character named Jinks Hoodoo, who is a curse to everyone he meets, as well as to himself. Although Hoodoo is fairly obviously a “bad luck” word, Jinks is just a surname based on the name John, and not too unusual as a first name. Perhaps it was given with the phrase high jinks in mind, meaning “boisterous fun”. After the popular musical comedy, jinks and jinx seem to have rapidly come into use as slang terms to describe an unlucky person or object. Jinx was known as a girl’s name in the 1940s because of Jinx Falkenburg, one of the highest-paid cover-girls of the 1930s and ’40s – an early example of a supermodel. Considered one of the most beautiful and glamorous women of her time, she was also a talented sportswoman and Hollywood actress, and went on to have successful chat shows on radio and TV. Born Eugenia, her mother nicknamed her Jinx in the belief that it would bring her good luck – I’m not sure how that was meant to work, but Jinx did indeed have a fortunate life. Jinx has quite often been used as a name for (mostly female) fictional characters, from L’il Jinx from the Archie comics to Jinx Johnson in the James Bond film, played by Halle Berry. This is a playful modern nickname for the non-superstitious.
The flower name marigold is attached to several plants with yellow blooms, but usually refers to the Calendula or pot marigold – although sometimes called English marigold, the plant probably originated in southern Europe, but became widely naturalised elsewhere from an early date. The name seems to have been first used for the wildflower Caltha palustris, also known as marsh marigold and kingcup. Marigold literally means “Mary gold”, and the name came about because the spring wildflower was a favourite in medieval churches at Easter, a tribute to the Virgin Mary. Shakespeare refers to the “golden eyes” of “Marybuds” in his play Cymbeline, and the marsh marigold is one of the UK’s most ancient plants, being an Ice Age survivor. Marigold has been used as a name since the 19th century, when flower names were fashionable, and is a hip underused floral choice which could honour a Mary.
Rilla Blythe is the main character in L.M. Montgomery’s Rilla of Ingleside; the daughter of the famous Anne Shirley (later Anne Blythe), she is a carefree teenager who must grow up fast when World War I is declared. Rilla’s full name is Bertha Marilla, with her middle name in honour of Anne’s strict but loving adoptive mother, Marilla Cuthbert. Marilla may be a short form of Amaryllis or an elaboration of Mary, and it’s notable that the name Marilla was used more than once during the 1940s. Perhaps the wartime courage of Rilla Blythe struck a chord during World War II, or maybe the 1939 publication of Anne of Ingleside played a role, where Rilla is said to be sweetest baby of all, and shown as an adorably pretty and plump lisping toddler. Rilla is a trendy name from the wartime era that still seems cute, especially knowing Rilla Blythe was affectionately known as “Rilla, my Rilla”. One for Montgomery fans!
Thaïs of Athens was a famous Greek hetaera who accompanied Alexander the Great on his campaigns. Hetaera were high status courtesans; educated, influential, and sophisticated women who were paid companions to men – not just in the bedroom, but as stimulating conversationalists and talented musicians and dancers. Thaïs was the lover of Ptolemy I Soter, one of Alexander’s generals, and she is said to have been witty and entertaining company. After Alexander’s death, Ptolemy became the king of Egypt, and Thaïs was his wife, or at least a high ranking concubine, and mother of his children (he had other wives to provide him with heirs to the throne). Saint Thaïs was from 4th century Egypt, a beautiful and wealthy courtesan who repented of her life and converted to Christianity. It is hard not to wonder if her story was influenced by Thaïs of Athens, who also lived in Egypt during the 4th century. The saint inspired a novel by Anataloe France, and an opera by Massenet; as a result, Thaïs is a popular name in France. The Greek name Thaïs means “head band”, referring to the plain cloth bands that women in ancient Greece commonly wore to keep their hair in place. Like the hair covering, this name is both simple and sophisticated, with a fascinating historical namesake, and fits in with Australian name trends. The French pronunciation is rather like tah-EES, while English speakers may prefer TAY-is or ty-EES.
The word unity means “oneness”, familiar in both religious and political contexts, and used as a virtue name since at least the 17th century. It seems a rather strange choice for the 1940s, because Unity Mitford was an aristocratic English girl who was a rabid supporter of the Nazis and fervent devotee of Adolf Hitler, her close personal friend. When Britain declared war on Germany, Unity tried to commit suicide by shooting herself in the head, but survived, although permanently affected by her brain injuries. She died from an infection caused by the bullet in 1948, a controversial figure to the end. Unity Mitford was the inspiration behind evil Bellatrix Lestrange in the Harry Potter series, and it’s interesting that J.K. Rowling named her eldest daughter after Jessica Mitford, a staunch Communist and Unity’s sister. If you can get over the connection to Unity Mitford, Unity is a rather attractive name, and similar in sound to Una, which still charted in the 1940s.
A large port city in Spain, famous for its vibrant culture and delicious cuisine. Founded as a Roman colony in the 2nd century, its name was originally Valentia, meaning “strength, valour”, in recognition of the bravery of former Roman soldiers who settled there. The name is closely related to the familiar Valentine. During the period of Muslim rule, Valencia was nicknamed Medina bu-Tarab, “City of Joy”. The name might remind you of Valencia oranges, grown in California but named after the Spanish city, which had a reputation for very sweet oranges. Valencia has long been used as a personal name in Spanish-speaking countries, but is not common in English-speaking ones. It may have got a boost from the 1926 romantic film Valencia, where the title character is an exotic Spanish dancer, played by Mae Murray. A box office success, its title song was one of the biggest hits of that year. Valencia fitted in with popular names of the 1940s such as Valerie, and still seems rather glamorous.
(Photo shows Australian author Dymphna Cusack in 1945: her play Red Sky At Morning was one of few produced during the war years, and was made into film in 1944)
Just a few months after saying farewell to Gough Whitlam, the 21st Prime Minister of Australia, we sadly lost our 22nd Prime Minister, when John Malcolm Fraser, always known by his middle name, unexpectedly passed away after a brief illness in the early hours of March 20. He was 84.
You will remember he came to power in a controversial way, instructing Coalition Senators to delay government budget bills in hopes of forcing an early election. His plan worked when, after several months of political deadlock, governor-general Sir John Kerr suddenly sacked Prime Minister Gough Whitlam on November 11 1975, on the day that became known as The Dismissal.
Malcolm was sworn in as caretaker Prime Minister, and later led the Liberal-Country Party Coalition to a landslide victory, his 55 seat majority the largest yet in Australian history. He had a second victory in 1977, and the Liberal Party won a majority in their own right, not needing the support of the (National) Country Party, which is almost unheard of.
As Prime Minister, Malcolm was active in foreign policy, showing a commitment to racial equality that was to be a keynote of his character. He supported the campaign to abolish apartheid in South Africa, and strongly opposed white rule in Rhodesia, being one of the architects of the new Zimbabwe.
His policy was for humanitarian resettlement, allowing more refugees to enter Australia, and greatly expanding immigration from Asia. A strong believer in a multicultural Australia, he established government-funded multilingual radio and television, the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS). He also gave Indigenous Australians control of their traditional lands in the Northern Territory, was a supporter of environmental concerns, and banned whaling around the Australian coast.
Although he managed to win another election in 1980 with a greatly reduced majority, he lost the 1983 election to Bob Hawke in a heavy defeat. He was the last non-caretaker Prime Minister to come from a rural seat, and is remembered not just as a Prime Minister, but an excellent farmer from a distinguished pastoral family who understood the needs of regional Australia.
After leaving office, Malcolm served in key roles at the United Nations, with a focus on South Africa and other African nations. He helped to establish humanitarian agency CARE International in Australia, demonstrating again his commitment to helping vulnerable people around the world. He reconciled with his old enemy, Gough Whitlam, and the two men were able to be good friends, finding common ground on many issues.
At the same time, Malcolm gradually became estranged from the Liberal Party, with many of even his own party unable to forget the role he had played in The Dismissal. A man of conviction, Malcolm did not hesitate to speak out on important issues of the day, such as the human rights of asylum seekers in detention, civil liberties, and treatment of Aborigines, even when his opinions were at odds with those of the Liberals.
After years of criticising Liberal Party policy, bemoaning the lack of integrity in Australian politics, and supporting the campaign for a change of policy on Iraq, Malcolm finally handed in his Liberal Party membership in 2009, when Tony Abbot became the party’s leader, saying that it was no longer a liberal party, but a conservative party. In 2013, he endorsed a Green Party Senator and urged his Twitter followers to vote Green in the upcoming election.
Just before he died, Malcolm was working to set up a new political party called Renew Australia. It was to stand for an Australian republic, to reconcile with Indigenous Australians through a treaty, to support a larger population with an independent foreign policy and a post-carbon economy, recognising climate change and the urgent need to avoid its most catastrophic effects, as well as a central commitment to human rights obligations.
Malcolm’s memorial service was on March 27, and his son Hugh spoke of his father as someone who never ceased to care about current affairs, his strong sense of responsibility enduring to the end. According to Hugh Fraser, his father loved Australia, and was not merely one of its sons, but one of its most fervent custodians.
With the passing of Gough Whitlam and Malcolm, political giants who defined the 1970s (and physical giants, as they were our tallest prime ministers at 1.94 and 1.93 metres tall respectively), it does feel like the end of an era. Gough was the most progressive Labor prime minister, followed by Malcolm, the most progressive Liberal prime minister, and with them gone, the political future feels rather bleak.
Malcolm was famous for his quote from George Bernard Shaw: Life wasn’t meant to be easy. Most people forget that the quote continues … but take courage child, for it can be delightful. We must remember our courage now.
Name Information Malcolm is the Anglicised form of the Scottish name Máel Coluim, meaning “follower of Saint Columba”. You will remember that Columba means “dove”. It was a traditional name amongst Scottish royalty and nobility, and there have been four medieval kings of Scotland with the name Malcolm.
Malcolm III is the basis for the King Malcolm who is the son of Duncan in William Shakespeare’s play Macbeth, although in real life he did not immediately avenge his father by killing Macbeth, as he was only a little boy at the time. Only after he had grown up did he kill Macbeth, and then Macbeth’s heir, so that he could take the throne at last. Malcolm III was the husband of the English princess who became Saint Margaret of Scotland. Despite Malcolm not being particularly religious, they had a strong and loving marriage, and Margaret is said to have died of sorrow after hearing of Malcolm’s death in battle.
The name Malcolm was #81 in the 1900s, and peaked in the 1950s at #52, when Malcolm Fraser entered parliament as the youngest MP, aged 25 (this was also the decade that Malcolm Young from AC/DC was born). It left the Top 100 by the 1980s, the time when Malcolm Fraser suffered the worst defeat of a non-Labor government since Federation, and lost the prime ministership. After that it fell steadily, and despite a small boost in the late 2000s, when the sit-com Malcolm in the Middle was aired, it has not charted since 2009, the year Malcolm Fraser left the Liberal Party.
There has been another prominent Malcolm in the Liberal Party, Minister for Communications Malcolm Turnbull, and celebrity grandfather on the blog. This may not have been a help to the name, as politicians generally don’t assist a name’s fortunes. The name can now be said to be in rare use.
In the UK, there were 14 baby boys named Malcolm in 2013, so it is uncommon there as well. Malcolm is most popular in the US, where it has never gone off the charts and is in the mid-400s; it is associated there with civil rights hero Malcolm X.
Malcolm is a strong, handsome underused Scottish classic with a slightly quirky feel. It honours one of our greatest statesman, a gentleman who had the courage to speak out and work towards constructive change, who was uncompromising yet compassionate, and who placed his duty higher than his popularity.
Name in the News
On March 17, a rare aurora australis was seen over New Zealand and Australia, swirling across the late night skies in patterns of red, green, blue, and purple. Aurora australis is also known as the Southern Lights, the southern hemisphere equivalent of the aurora borealis, or Northern Lights.
An aurora event occurs when rapidly moving particles that originated from the sun come in and strike the upper atmosphere, more than 100 kilometres above the earth. The energy from the particles striking molecules in the atmosphere are released as light, and the colours that you see depend on which molecules are struck – green and red come from oxygen, while blue and purple are from nitrogen.
Aurora events sometimes happen when large solar flares and explosions of material come off the sun, which is what occurred this week, setting off a geomagnetic storm. An aurora australis is usually best viewed from Antarctica, but moderate ones can be seen from Tasmania. However, this week’s aurora was so bright that it was visible as far north as Canberra, and Goulburn and Kiama in New South Wales, while even in Brisbane there was a red tinge to the sky.
In Aboriginal mythology, the aurora australis was often seen as fire in the sky, and conjectured to be bushfires in the spirit world, campfires glowing in the land of the dead, or fires lit by evil spirits. It seems to have been generally seen as an ill omen, or a sign of a god’s displeasure. In south-west Queensland, where aurorae are uncommon and less spectacular, it was thought that the spirits were able to transmit messages through an aurora, allowing communication with the ancestors.
Rare, awe-inspiring, and staggeringly beautiful, an aurora is a celestial phenomenon not to be missed. Little wonder that in the past it was seen as something mysterious and otherworldly.
Name Information Aurora was the Roman goddess of the dawn, and her name literally means “dawn, sunrise, daybreak”. She is the equivalent of the Greek goddess Eos, and the Hindu goddess Ushas. The name comes from an ancient root meaning “shining one”, and is related to the English word east, as well as the Latin aurum, meaning “gold”. It has connotations of springtime, and the new year – all symbols of rebirth and new beginnings.
In Roman mythology, Aurora renews herself each morning and flies across the sky to announce the arrival of the sun, her brother. She often appears in poetry (Virgil describes her as having a “saffron bed”), and her beauty and desirability are such an important part of her image that it is thought she must originally have been a goddess of love, with the different aspects of dawn and eroticism becoming separated into Aurora and Venus.
One of her key myths involves her love affair with a Trojan prince named Tithonus. Wanting to be with Tithonus for all eternity, she asked Jupiter to make him immortal. He granted her request, but because Aurora did not ask for him to remain eternally youthful, he was doomed to be old forever. Aurora saved him from this fate by turning him into a grasshopper.
Although you may read of the goddess Aurora in Tennyson and Shakespeare, see paintings of her, and even hear of her from Bjork, the name is probably best known from the 1959 Disney film Sleeping Beauty, where the comatose princess is called Aurora. In the movie, the king and queen choose the name because their daughter has “filled their lives with sunshine”.
In Charles Perrault’s version of the fairy tale, the Sleeping Beauty was not given a name, but she bears the Prince two children named L’Aurore (“the dawn”) and Le Jour (“the day”). Tchaikovsky’s ballet gives the daughter’s name to the mother, so the Sleeping Beauty is called Princess Aurora, and Disney followed this, as well as the TV series Once Upon a Time. (In the German version of the tale, she is called Briar Rose, which Disney used as Aurora’s code name, and in the earliest Italian one, Talia, who had children named Sun and Moon).
Aurora has been used as a name since the 17th century, and from the beginning was an international choice, showing up in records in England, Italy, and Scandinavia, and by the following century was used in countries all over the world, but especially in Europe.
Currently, Aurora is popular in Norway and most popular in Italy, where it is #3. In the United States, Aurora has been almost constantly on the Top 1000, and is now #145. It has been rising steadily since 1995 – the same year that Disney’s Sleeping Beauty was re-released in cinemas. In England/Wales, Aurora has been on the charts since 2011, and is rising steeply at #257. Amongst English-speaking countries, Aurora is most popular in New Zealand, where it has been Top 100 since 2013 and was #77 last year.
In Australia, Aurora is around the mid-100s, so has a similar popularity to that in the US. As it is rising in other countries, it is most likely rising here too. Around the world, Aurora is often given as a name in scientific contexts, and in Australia it is well known as an energy company. Aurora Point on Macquarie Island is named after the SY Aurora used on Douglas Mawson’s Antarctic expedition, with the yacht itself named after the aurora australis.
Aurora is an internationally recognised name with a poetic meaning and many attractive associations – an alluring dawn goddess, a sunshiney fairy tale princess, an iridiscent light in the heavens. It’s elegant and enchanting, rich and frothy, a name that seems to shimmer with colour, shot through with the rosy pink and gold of daybreak. One drawback is that it not particularly easy to say, which is why Auroras nearly always seem to have a nickname, such as Aura, Auri, Rora, Rory, Ro, or Roo, adding a cute or tomboyish option to a flouncingly feminine name.
(Picture is of Aurora australis seen over the Forth River in Tasmania; photo taken by Julie Head and published in The Advocate).
Name in the News
March 12 marked the start of the Leukaemia Foundation’s World’s Greatest Shave. One of the participants this year was librarian Nicolette Suttor, from the National Library in Canberra, whose hair hadn’t been cut for a decade, and which hung to her knees.
Nicolette’s cousin Ben died from leukaemia six years ago, and two years ago, her twin sister Camille shaved off her hair to support the Leukaemia Foundation. This year, Nicolette was amongst the thousands of people who signed up to raise money for the World’s Greatest Shave, and she was supported by colleagues, who performed a modern version of the fairy tale Rapunzel ahead of the charity event, with Nicolette taking the lead role.
Since having her 1.4 metre locks of hair removed and her head shorn, real life fairy tale princess Nicolette has raised more than $5500, and her hair will be used to make wigs for leukaemia patients who have lost their hair.
Name Story and Information
The German fairy tale Rapunzel tells of a poor couple who longed for a child. At last the wife became pregnant, and began to develop cravings for a leafy green vegetable, which in Germany is called rapunzel. She told her husband that if she could not eat the delicious looking rapunzel which grew in their neighbour’s walled garden, she would die.
Her husband was very frightened, because their neighbour was an enchantress from the Black Forest, but he was even more frightened of losing his wife. So he climbed the wall into the garden, and stole the rapunzel. The Enchantress caught him, and after he explained he was only taking it for his pregnant wife, she told him he could have as much as he wanted, but on one condition – when the baby was born, he must give it to her.
The man agreed to this, and when the baby was born, it was a girl which they reluctantly handed over to the Enchantress, who took the baby far away, to her own country. She named the girl Rapunzel, after the vegetable which had delivered the child into her hands, and taught the child to call her Gothel (“godmother”).
Rapunzel grew into the loveliest child under the sun, with long hair like spun gold. When Rapunzel turned twelve, the Enchantress locked her in a tower with no stairs or doors, but a tiny window at the top. When the Enchantress wanted to visit Rapunzel, she would call out, Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair! The girl would throw her long, golden, braided hair out the window, so the Enchantress could climb up.
A couple of years later, a prince rode through the forest, and became enraptured by Rapunzel’s sweet singing. Coupled with the sight of her beautiful, wistful face at the tower window, his heart was touched, and each day he rode out to hear her. The day came when he heard the Enchantress give the signal and climb up, and when the coast was clear, he tried his luck by calling out Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair!
Rapunzel at first was frightened when a man climbed into her tower. However, the prince was young and handsome, and Rapunzel soon loved him in return, agreeing to become his wife. They decided that the prince would bring Rapunzel silk so she could make herself a ladder – the simpler escape plan of bringing an actual ladder apparently not occurring to them.
While Rapunzel worked on the ladder, she and the prince got to know each better each evening, and it became obvious how well their relationship had progressed when Rapunzel innocently mentioned to her “Gothel” how tight her clothes were growing. No doubt food cravings would have soon developed.
Furious and betrayed, the Enchantress did the “godmother scorned” routine by cutting off Rapunzel’s braid of hair, and taking her into the desert to wander in misery. (There’s no German deserts, so it’s meant in the sense of a dreary, uninhabited wilderness).
The cruel Enchantress then fixed Rapunzel’s braid of hair to an iron spike, and waited in the tower for the prince. When he called out Rapunzel Rapunzel etc etc, the Enchantress let down the braid, and confronted the prince when he climbed into the tower. Heartbroken at the news that Rapunzel was gone, he threw himself from the tower, where he blinded himself on the thorns which grew below.
For some years, the blind prince wandered through the forest living on roots and berries, crying for his lost love. At last he came across Rapunzel, who had in the meantime given birth to their twins, a boy and a girl. Hearing Rapunzel’s beautiful voice, the prince proved love was blind by knowing at once it was his lost love, and hurled himself into her arms.
The two held each other tenderly, and Rapunzel wept. Luckily she had magical tears, because as they fell into the prince’s eyes, his blindness was cured. Hooray! The family hiked back to the prince’s kingdom, where they all lived happily ever after.
The Brothers Grimm adapted Rapunzel from a German fairy tale, which was based on a French one called Persinette – Persinette is derived from the French word for “parsley”, as this was the vegetable craved by the mother in this story. In turn, this was based on the 17th century Italian tale Petrosinella by Giambattista Basile, which is the earliest known version of the story (Petrosinella is Italian for “parsley”).
Rapunzel is similar to the medieval Persian tale of Rūdāba, where the beautiful Rūdāba, meaning “shining child”, lets down her raven-black tresses so her lover Zal can climb into her tower. However, there are a number of folk tales where girls get locked in towers by their parents, such as Danae in Greek mythology, the princess rescued by Cian in Irish legend, and even Saint Barbara.
The vegetable which Rapunzel is named after is Valerianella locusta, otherwise known as lamb’s lettuce or corn salad. The plant will grow in even the most barren of environments, making it a favourite with peasants, and foreshadowing Rapunzel’s own surprising ability to survive in a wilderness. Its German name of rapunzel is derived from the Latin, meaning “valerian root”.
Later versions of the story insist that the rapunzel was actually rampion, a purple bell-like wildflower whose leaves are edible. Perhaps it seemed more palatable for a fairytale heroine to be given a floral name.
The name Rapunzel has been in rare use since the 19th century. I have only been able to find Rapunzels born in the United States, and the name showed up in the data there once – in 1959, when 9 girls were given the name Rapunzel. This was the year after Shirley Temple’s Storybook television series featured the story of Rapunzel, with Carol Lynley in the title role, and Agnes Moorehead as the wicked enchantress.
Despite Rapunzel being the lovely princess in Disney’s charming film Tangled, it hasn’t shown up since, and this would be a very bold choice as a name. Besides the vegetable meaning, the fairy tale shows parents in a poor light, with Rapunzel’s biological parents swapping her for salad in a very short-sighted way, and her adoptive mother being insanely possessive and brutally punishing.
And then there’s the famous tagline, which means that someone named Rapunzel would probably have to hear “let down your hair” on a regular basis, even if they had a bob or a pixie cut.
However, Rapunzel would make an awesome middle name, and even as a first name, nicknames such as Zella and Zellie seem feasible for your little fairy tale princess.
Tomorrow it will be the 241st birthday of the English explorer Matthew Flinders, who was the first to circumnavigate Australia.
He’s a historical figure that Australia has taken to its heart, and it’s very difficult not to find him almost immediately endearing. As a schoolboy, he read Robinsoe Crusoe and became enamoured of a desire to go to sea; apparently against all advice, he joined the navy at the age of fifteen. He never lost his love for Defoe’s novel – one of the last letters he ever wrote was to order a copy of the new edition.
Matthew first came to New South Wales in 1795, as midshipman on the Reliance, where he made a good impression as navigator and cartographer, became excellent friends with the ship’s surgeon, George Bass, and gained a black and white cat. Born on the ship, the kitten fell overboard, but was able to swim back and climb a rope to safety. Matthew saw it was intelligent with a strong survival instinct, and named it Trim after the butler in Lawrence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, because of the cat’s faithful and affectionate nature.
Flinders and Bass made expeditions to Botany Bay and up the Georges River, from Port Jackson to Lake Illawarra, and to Moreton Bay, where their arrival on Coochiemudlo Island is still celebrated each year on Flinders Day.
The daring duo were sent to find a passage from the mainland to Tasmania (then Van Diemen’s Land). The passage they found is named Bass Strait, and its largest island is Flinders Island. Matthew charted all the islands, and he and George Bass were the first to circumnavigate Tasmania.
Matthew’s work gained the attention of the great scientists of the day, especially Sir Joseph Banks, who convinced the Admiralty to send Flinders to chart the entire coastline of New Holland. Matthew was promoted to commander, and given a slightly dilapidated ship called the Investigator (England was at war with France, and the navy was saving the really good ships for fighting).
Flinders wed his childhood friend Ann Chappell while in England (he named Mount Chappell Island in Bass Strait after her). Newly married, but with an expedition to command where women were strictly forbidden, he tried to smuggle Ann onto the Investigator. Sir Joseph Banks found out, and put an immediate stop to it. Ann was left at home: however, Matthew was allowed take Trim on the voyage.
The circumnavigation of Australia started on Cape Leeuwin in Western Australia, and continued eastward across the Great Australian Bight. Flinders ran into French explorer Nicolas Baudin in South Australia; although hostilities had temporarily ceased between England and France, both men thought their countries were still at war, but peacefully exchanged discoveries with each other. Matthew named the place where they met Encounter Bay.
Although circumnavigation was completed, it was not possible for Matthew to chart the entire coast, due to problems with the ship. Once back in Sydney in 1803, the Investigator was judged unseaworthy, and as he was unable to continue his work, Matthew set sail again on a ship called the Porpoise, which only made it as far as the Great Barrier Reef: the place was named Wreck Reef as a result. Flinders made it across open seas back to Sydney in the ship’s cutter, and (still accompanied by Trim), took command of the Cumberland to get home.
The Cumberland was also in poor condition, and Flinders was forced to put in at the Isle de France (now called Mauritius), just three months after Nicolas Baudin had died there. War had broken out with France again a few months previously, but Matthew Flinders thought that being on an important scientific mission, having a French passport, and knowing Nicolas Baudin would afford him diplomatic immunity.
The French governor disagreed, and detained Matthew there for years, even after Napoleon told him to release Flinders. Trim, who proved such a comfort to him, disappeared in mysterious circumstances, and the heartbroken Matthew believed he had been killed and eaten by the island’s slaves (not the first brave explorer to have met this fate, if true).
Finally, Matthew returned to England in 1810, his wife having waited more than nine years to see him again. Now in very poor health after his harsh imprisonment on Mauritius, he worked on completing his atlas.
It was during his voyages that Matthew Flinders began to use the name Australia to refer to the continent he was exploring. He wasn’t the first to use the name, but previously geographers used it for the whole South Pacific region.
Sir Joseph Banks, who had been such an interfering nuisance by not letting Ann accompany her husband Matthew on the Investigator, now turned out to disapprove of the name Australia. Despite Matthew’s objections, his book came out under the title A Voyage to Terra Australis. The final proofs came to him on his death bed, but by then he was unconscious; he died the day after his book was published, having never regained consciousness.
A Voyage to Terra Australis was the first book to use the name Australia for our continent, as Matthew Flinders was sure that there was no other great landmass in the area it could apply to. With his gift for nomenclature, he noted that the name Australia was “more agreeable to the ear” than any other. His chosen name stuck, and it was Governor Lachlan Macquarie who recommended that it be officially adopted, which took place in 1824.
Amongst all the places in Australia which Matthew charted, he never named one after himself, but that has been well and truly remedied, with more than a hundred places bearing the name Flinders – from the Flinders Ranges to Flinders Bay to the suburb of Flinders in Canberra, not to mention Melbourne’s Flinder’s Street, the Flinders Highway, and Adelaide’s Flinders University. There are more statues of Matthew Flinders in Australia than of any other man, and the only person to outdo him is Queen Victoria.
Even Trim the cat has not been forgotten, as he has a bronze statue at the Mitchell Library in Sydney, while the library has a cafe named after him, and sells a wide variety of Trim-related merchandise at their gift shop. Author Bryce Courtenay wrote a novel called Matthew Flinders’ Cat, in memory of the pet that Matthew Flinders called “the best and most illustrious of his race … and best of creatures … ever the delight and pleasure of his fellow voyagers”.
Name Information Matthew is the English form of Matthaios, the Greek form of the Hebrew name Matityahu, meaning “gift of Yahweh”, and almost always translated as “gift of God”.
The name became common because of the Apostle Matthew. Matthew was one of the first to join Jesus’ ministry, and is described in the New Testament as a publican. In Roman times, this meant a public contractor, who was responsible for collecting duties and taxes. It’s possible that Matthew collected the taxes of the Hebrews on King Herod’s behalf.
Publicans were very unpopular – not only because nobody likes paying taxes, but because they were seen as traitors collaborating with the Roman Empire. It’s significant that Jesus chose a publican as one of his followers, because it suggests he was actively seeking out people on the fringes of Hebrew society, and those despised by others.
The New Testament mentions a tax collector named Levi who was called to join Jesus, and it is tempting to think that Levi and Matthew were the same person, but this is never made explicit. If so, he may have been born Levi, and taken (or been given) the name Matthew to symbolise his new life.
According to Christian tradition, Matthew was the author of The Gospel of Matthew; as a publican, he would probably have been literate enough to have written it. However, most modern scholars believe that the Gospel was written later, by someone who strove to emphasise that Jesus was part of Jewish tradition. This makes it seem as if it may have been written for a Jewish Christian community, to ensure that their Jewish laws were not lost in a church that was gradually losing touch with its Hebrew roots. It’s possible such a community would have venerated Matthew as a leader of a former generation, and kept records of his teachings and stories.
Tradition says that Matthew preached to Jewish communities in Judea, before travelling through other countries of the Middle East and eastern Europe: so many conflicting countries are mentioned that one wonders if he ever left Judea at all. He is regarded as a martyr, although no specific martyrdom is given for him, and many doubt this belief. Saint Matthew is the patron of accountants, bankers, tax collectors, and public servants (all important jobs which still don’t make you very popular).
Matthew has been in use as a name since the Middle Ages, and in Ireland has been used to Anglicise the Irish name Mathúin, meaning “bear”.
Never out of common use in the post-medieval era, Matthew is a classic which has remained on the charts since Federation, and never been out of the Top 200. It was #89 in the 1900s, and left the Top 100 in the 1910s, reaching its lowest point in the 1940s at #161. It climbed steeply to re-join the Top 100 by the 1960s, and peaked in the 1980s as the #1 name of the decade. It has fallen very gradually since then, and is still in the Top 50. Currently it is #48 nationally, #41 in New South Wales, #56 in Victoria, #55 in Queensland, #35 in Western Australia, #83 in Tasmania, and #55 in the Australian Capital Territory.
Matthew is a popular name in all English-speaking countries, but most popular in Northern Ireland, where it is in the Top 10. Its popularity in Australia is very similar to that in New Zealand and England/Wales.
Matthew is not only a strong, handsome, timeless classic, it honours a man who was daring enough to follow a childhood dream, and courageous enough to sail through seas unknown. He had the determination and tenacity to see through painstaking, detailed scientific work, and endured shipwreck, starvation and attack on his voyage, as well as cruel imprisonment which shortened his life.
Most importantly, he was the man who named us – we could not be Australia without him, making Matthew one of the most Australian names possible for a boy.
Breton name, common amongst aristocracy, introduced to England by the Normans, where it became one of the most popular names. The meaning is uncertain – the word alan was used in Brittany to mean “fox”, but evidence suggests it originally meant “deer”. The two meanings may both refer to someone with red hair, or to indicate speed. There is also an Irish name Ailin, meaning “little rock”, very similar to the Irish/Scots Gaelic word alainn, meaning “handsome”, while the Welsh Alun may mean either “nurturing” or “wandering”. When the Normans brought Alan with them, the name spread to Scotland as Breton lords gained lands there – perhaps partly because the Scots already had similar names. Another theory is that the name comes from the Alans, Indo-Iranian peoples who settled in parts of France and Brittany in the Middle Ages; their name has the same origin as Aryan, meaning “noble”. There are several saints named Alan. Alan is a classic name which has never left the charts. It was #55 in the 1900s, and peaked in the 1940s at #20, leaving the Top 100 in the 1980s. It has recently had a small rise in popularity, and is around the 300s. Surname variants Allan and Allen have also been popular; Allen is back on the charts, while Allan has disappeared. I have seen a few babies named Alan and Allen lately.
English form of the Roman family Caecilius. The Caecilii traced their ancestry back to the mythical figure Caeculus, a son of the smith god Vulcan. According to legend, Caeculus had mastery over fire, and was unharmed by it, although the smoke damaged his eyes, which were smaller than usual – his name means “little blind boy” in Latin. Another story is that the Caecilii were descended from Caecas, a follower of the legendary Roman hero Aeneas: his name means “blind” as well, although it also can be translated as “dark, secret”. Of course both these tales are just folklore. The name Cecil has been used since the Middle Ages, and it was also given in honour of the noble Cecil family, whose surname comes from the name Seisyll, Welsh form of the Roman name Sextilius, from Sextus, meaning “sixth”. Cecil was #18 in the 1900s, and was #89 in the 1940s. It left the Top 100 the following decade, and dropped off the charts in the 1970s. I recently saw a baby Cecil, and I think this name seems pretty hip.
English surname, from a village in Herefordshire meaning “ford at the cliff”. The Cliffords are a noble family who originally came over with the Normans, and were prominent in medieval England. One of their members was Rosamund Clifford, “The Fair Rosamund”, who was the mistress of Henry II. Clifford has been used as a first name since at least the 16th century. Clifford was #61 in the 1900s, peaking in the 1910s and 1920s at #59. It was #92 in the 1940s, left the Top 100 the following decade, and was off the charts by the 1990s. This name will remind many parents of the classic children’s book series, Clifford the Big Red Dog. It seems strong and solid.
Anglicised form of the Irish surname O’Deasmhumhnaigh, meaning “son of the man from Desmond”. Desmond is the original name for South-West Munster, and means “south Munster”. Munster means “land of Muma”; Muma was a goddess associated with writing. Desmond became prominent as an aristocratic title, as the Earls of Desmond were lords of Ireland, related to royal houses in England and France. Their family name was FitzGerald, and US President J.F. Kennedy is believed to have been descended from them. Desmond has been used as a personal name since the 18th century, and originated outside Ireland. Desmond was #127 in the 1900s, joined the Top 100 in the 1920s, and peaked in the 1940s at #66. It left the Top 100 in the 1960s, and dropped off the charts in the early 2000s. This name is rising in popularity in the US, and I wonder if that could happen here too? Desmond Miles from the Assassin’sCreed video game series, and Desmond from Lost are contemporary namesakes.
From the Greek name Gregorios, meaning “watchful”. Because the Latin for “flock” is grex, it became understood as “shepherd”, the idea being that the shepherd would keep watch over his flock. Because of this, it became a popular name for monks and bishops to adopt, and there have been dozens of saints and 16 popes with the name Gregory. Pope Gregory I was known as Gregory the Great, and he is famous for sending Christian missionaries to England to covert the Anglo-Saxons, and for the Gregorian chant, which is attributed to and named after him. Because of him, Gregory has been a common English name since the Middle Ages. Gregory is a classic name which has never left the charts. It was #143 in the 1900s, and joined the Top 100 in the 1930s. It was #34 in the 1940s, and peaked in the 1950s at #7 (when Gregory Peck was big in Hollywood). It didn’t leave the Top 100 until the 1990s, and is currently around the 600s and fairly stable. It may not be stylish, but this is a solid choice.
French form of Roman name Mauritius, derived from Maurus, meaning “man from Mauretania”. Mauretania was a region of the Roman Empire where north Africa is today, so the name is often understood as “dark-skinned”, and sometimes translated as “a Moor” (the old name for someone from northern Africa). The name became commonly used because of St Maurice, a 3rd century Egyptian who served in the Roman army. According to legend, he was part of a Christian legion who refused to kill other Christians, and were martyred together. As a Roman soldier, St Maurice was patron of the Holy Roman Emperors and many of the royal houses of Europe, so his name became used by royalty and nobility. Prince Maurice of Battenberg was Queen Victoria’s youngest grand-child; he was killed in action during World War I. Maurice was #71 in the 1900s and peaked in the 1920s at #52. It was #82 in the 1940s, and left the Top 100 the following decade; it dropped off the charts in the 1990s. Maurice has a rather nerdy image, although AFL fans may be reminded of footballing great Maurice Rioli. It can be said muh-REES or MOR-is, with Reese or Morrie as the nicknames.
Germanic nickname or surname meaning “north man”, referring to Vikings. The Normans were descendants of Vikings who had taken over and settled the region of northern France now known as Normandy. Later a Norman duke named William conquered England, so that the Normans became an important part of British history and culture. The name Norman or Normant was used in England even before the Conquest, and became more common after 1066, although dropped off again in the late Middle Ages. It never went out of use, but became much more popular in the 19th century, due to the Victorian love of anything antique-sounding. In Scotland, it was used to Anglicise the Norse/Gaelic name Tormod, meaning “courage of Thor”. Norman was #19 in the 1900s, and peaked in the 1920s at #14. It was #46 in the 1940s, left the Top 100 in the 1960s, and disappeared from the charts in the 1990s. There are many Australian namesakes, from artist Norman Lindsay to comedian Norman Gunston to pop star Normie Rowe. Many people still remember Norm, from the Life. Be in it fitness campaign, representing a pot-bellied man as “the norm”.
The Germanic name Raginmund is composed of ragin, meaning “advice, counsel” and mund, “protection”; it is sometimes translated as “protected by good counsel”. The Normans introduced it to England in the form Reimund, where it became very common in the Middle Ages. It was a traditional name amongst medieval nobility, and there are several medieval saints called Raymond. Never out of use, Raymond is a classic name which has always remained on the charts. It was #33 in the 1900s, and peaked in the 1940s at #9. It left the Top 100 in the 1990s, and hit its lowest point in 2009 at #326. Since then it has improved its popularity ranking, and is currently in the 200s. With Roy- names so fashionable, Ray- names cannot help getting a boost as well, and Raymond is not only a solid classic choice, but one which has recently gained some cachet. Plenty of parents love Raymond!
From a Germanic name meaning “famous spear”. The Normans introduced the name to England in the form Rogier, where it replaced the Anglo-Saxon form, Hroðgar or Hrothgar, which is found in the poem Beowulf as the name of a Danish king. The name was common in medieval England, heavily used by the aristocracy, and there are a couple of saints named Roger. It has never gone out of common use, even though roger was a slang term for “penis” – possibly because of the spear connection. More recently, roger has become understood as “to have sexual intercourse”. It has often been chosen for comic characters, such as the Beano‘s Roger the Dodger, Roger Ramjet, Roger Rabbit, Roger the alien from American Dad, and Roger the Shrubber from Monty Python’s Holy Grail (not to mention “Welease Woger” in The Life of Brian). Roger was #155 in the 1900s, joined the Top 100 in the 1930s and peaked in the 1940s at #57. It left the Top 100 in the 1970s, and dropped off the charts in the late 2000s, albeit with a sudden burst of use in 2009, when it got up to #384. Although perhaps too many jokes have been made at its expense, the pirate flag of the Jolly Roger, and radio procedure call of Roger give it a rollicking feel.
English form of the Greek name Stephanos, meaning “wreath, crown”, to denote the laurel wreath worn by those who achieved victory in contests. In the New Testament, St Stephen was a deacon of the early church who was martyred by stoning. As the first martyr, St Stephen’s name seems apt, and he is often said to have won his martyr’s crown. There are several other saints with the name, and nine popes. The name Stephen became more popular in England after the Norman Conquest, and although it is a common name for royalty in eastern Europe, there has only ever been one English king with the name. Stephen of Blois was a grandson of William the Conqueror who took the throne in controversial circumstances; his rule marked a period of anarchy as he fought the Empress Matilda for the right to rule. In the end he failed, and his name has never been used again for a British king. Never out of common use, Stephen is a classic name which has remained on the charts. It was #72 in the 1900s, was #36 in the 1940s, and peaked in the 1950s at #5. It didn’t leave the Top 100 until the early 2000s, and is currently fairly stable around the 300s. The variant Steven, in use since the Middle Ages, is more popular than Stephen, around the 200s.
(Picture shows the famous “dancing man” from the joyous celebrations in the streets of Sydney which marked the end of World War II in August 1945)
These are names of babies born during World War II, and the first baby boomers, born in the years just after the war. If you are an older parent, your own mother might have been born in this decade, while young parents may see 1940s names as “grandma” names. For those wanting a name that’s ahead of the curve, there are rich pickings from this time period.
Coral Coral is a gemstone made from the polished shells or exoskeletons of coral polyps – originally, and typically, Corallium rubrum, from the Mediterranean. Because this species has a pink or red colouring, the word coral also refers to a pinkish colour. The ancient Romans believed coral would protect children, and it was common for baby toys and teething rings to be made from coral, even in the 19th century. Coral jewellery has been worn since prehistoric times, although it was the Victorian era which made coral fashionable. Today, with greater awareness of the environmental impact of harvesting coral, many jewellers will no longer sell coral items, and consumers are urged to boycott jewellery made from coral. The name Coral was #194 in the 1900s, and joined the Top 100 in the 1930s. It peaked in the 1940s at #79, left the Top 100 the following decade, and was off the charts by the 1980s, perhaps partly due to growing environmental concerns. Leaving aside the gemstone, you could see this name as a way to celebrate our beautiful coral reefs, and marine environment.
In Greek mythology, Daphne was a naiad; a nymph of fresh water, and daughter of a river god. Acording to legend, she was so beautiful that the god Apollo pursued her. Just as he was about to catch her, she pleaded with her father to help her, and he turned her into a laurel tree – Daphne literally means “laurel”, and it’s also the scientific name for the plant. The laurel became sacred to Apollo, and wreaths of laurel were traditionally given to those who had achieved victory. The name Daphne has been use since the 18th century, when classical names became fashionable, but only became common in the 19th, because of the interest in botanical names. Daphne was #82 in the 1900s, and peaked in the 1920s at #22. It was #76 in the 1940s, left the Top 100 the following decade, and was off the charts by the 1970s. Recently it been in the charts again, and is around the 300s. Charming retro Daphne makes a distinguished choice, not a daffy one.
Feminine form of Francis, often given in tribute to St Francis of Assisi, although St Frances of Rome provides a medieval female saintly namesake. The name was commonly used by the British aristocracy, with examples such as Frances Cobham, a close friend of Elizabeth I, and Frances Grey, the mother of queen-for-nine-days Lady Jane Grey. The great Restoration beauty Frances Stewart, Duchess of Richmond and Lennox, drove King Charles II batty with desire, but she refused to become his mistress. Her lovely face was used as the model for Brittania on coins, medals, and statues, and can still be seen today. In common use since the 16th century at least, Frances is a classic name which has never disappeared from the charts. It was #52 in the 1900s, and peaked in the 1940s at #47, leaving the Top 100 in the 1970s. It sank into obscurity in the late 2000s, but had a boost at the start of this decade which saw it move into the 500s, and is now around the 200s. More solid than Francesca, Frances is a quiet achiever which gets royal glamour from being the middle name of Diana, Princess of Wales, and offers the cool nickname Frankie.
From the Greek Eirene, meaning “peace”. In Greek mythology, Eirene was the personification of peace, depicted as a beautiful young girl carrying symbols of plenty. Another mythological Eirene was a daughter of Poisedon. The name was in use in ancient Greece, and one Eirene was a famous artist. There are a number of saints named Irene, with Irene of Thessalonica martyred with her sisters Love and Purity, so personifications of theological virtues. Originally more popular in eastern Christianity, it was the name of a Byzantine Empress, and has been used by European royalty. The name was originally pronounced e-REE-nee, but is usually said IE-reen now. Irene is a classic name which has never left the charts. It was #19 in the 1900s, and peaked the following decade at #17. It was #56 in the 1940s, and left the Top 100 in the 1960s. It reached its lowest point in the late 2000s at #684, and since then become more popular, perhaps because it’s been used for several fictional characters in the past few years. Currently it’s around the 400s. This is a hip, underused classic with a lovely meaning.
In the New Testament, Lois was the pious grandmother of Saint Timothy. It’s not known what the name means: it may be from the Greek meaning “more desirable, more agreeable”, and understood as “the most beautiful, the best”. However, as Lois was Jewish, it could be an attempt to Hellenise a Hebrew name. Lois is also a male name – an Occitan and Galician form of Louis. The female name Lois has been in use since the 16th century, and was used by Puritan families. Lois Lane, Superman’s love interest, has given the name publicity for many decades, but more recently it has become a “mum name” on TV, with Lois Wilkerson from Malcolm in the Middle, and Lois Griffin from Family Guy. Lois joined the charts in the 1910s, debuting at #181. It joined the Top 100 in the 1930s, when it peaked at #84, and was #93 in the 1940s. It left the Top 100 the following decade, and was off the charts by the 1970s. Soft sounding Lois would make an interesting alternative to popular names such as Eloise.
German name combining Maria/Marie and Magdalene, so it commemorates Mary Magdalene from the New Testament, the chief female disciple of Jesus Christ. The German pronunciation is mahr-LE-nuh, but it is often said MAHR-leen in English. The name became well known in the English speaking world because of iconic German-American film star Marlene Dietrich, whose real name was Marie Magdalene. The name Marlene rocketed into the Top 100 from nowhere in the 1930s when Dietrich became a star after appearing as the uberdesirable Lola Lola in Josef von Sternberg’s movie The Blue Angel. It both debuted and peaked at #63 in the 1930s. The name Marlene was #68 in the 1940s, when Dietrich did valuable war work, such as performing for the troops and raising war bonds. By the 1950s, when Dietrich became a cabaret star, the name Marlene had left the Top 100. It left the the charts in the 1980s, when Dietrich’s career was over. Despite being a dated name which spiked in popularity only briefly, Marlene still seems glamorous and sexy, fitting in with modern names such as Marley and Elena.
Created by Sir Philip Sidney for his 16th century epic, the Arcadia; in the story, Pamela is an attractive main character. It is usually thought that Sidney based the name on the Greek for “all sweetness”. The name was given publicity by Samuel Richardson’s best-selling 18th century novel, Pamela, where a lovely teenaged maidservant is threatened with rape by her employer, but she successfully resists him, and is rewarded for her virtue by being allowed to marry him. Not only are there so many things wrong with that sentence, it was apparently based on a true story. Pamela was originally pronounced pa-MEE-luh, but PAM-eh-luh is more usual now. Pamela has been used since the 17th century, and an early namesake was Lady Edward Fitzgerald; although her real name was Stephanie, she named her eldest daughter Pamela. Pamela joined the charts in the 1910s, debuting at #310, and peaked in the 1940s at #9. It left the Top 100 in the 1970s, and hasn’t been on the charts since the early 2000s. This is an elegant literary name which is dated, but still seems very usable.
In the Old Testament, Ruth was the loyal widowed daughter-in-law of Naomi, who famously offered to follow her mother-in-law wherever she went. Naomi married Ruth to one of her relatives, who called Ruth a “noble character”; she is one of the nicest people in the Bible, blessed with a loving spirit. Her name comes from the Hebrew ru’at, meaning “friend, companion” – it seems chosen for the story, as she was such a good friend to Naomi. Ruth is also an English word meaning “mercy, compassion” – it’s one of those words which only seems to be used in its negative form, as we often describe people as ruthless, but rarely ruthful. Ruth has been in common use throughout the modern era, and is a classic name which has never left the charts. It was #66 in the 1900s, and peaked in the 1920s at #41. It was #58 in the 1940s, and left the Top 100 in the 1970s. It’s currently around the 500s. An underused classic with two lovely meanings and a sweet namesake, this is a great name. After all, you can’t spell truth without Ruth!
Popularised by Marie Corelli’s 1887 novel Thelma; in Corelli’s romance, Thelma is an enchantingly beautiful, snow-pure Norwegian princess who marries an English nobleman. The name Thelma had been in use since at least the 18th century, but the meaning is not known. One theory is that it is based on the Greek word thelema, meaning “will”, but there is no evidence to support it. It may be a variant of Selma, since Selma is a common name in Scandinavia even today, and Thelma was used in Norway before the novel was published. The name Thelma was also used in Spanish-speaking countries before Corelli’s novel, and Anselma (the long form of Selma) is a Spanish name. Thelma was #18 in the 1900s and peaked the following decade at #9. It was #96 in the 1940s, left the Top 100 by the following decade, and was off the charts by the 1970s. With the name Selma now receiving a boost from the film, could its clunky sister Thelma be in with a chance?
English form of the French name Valérie, from the Latin name Valeria, the feminine form of Valerius, meaning “strong, healthy”. It comes from the same source as the name Valentine. St Valerie was a legendary French saint who was martyred by beheading, then went for a walk carrying her head. This was a popular thing for French saints to do in medieval legends, so the name Valerie got quite a boost. Valerie is a classic name which has never left the charts. It was #180 in the 1900s, and joined the Top 100 the following decade. Peaking in the 1930s at #12, it was #38 in the 1940s. It left the Top 100 in the 1960s, and has remained in uncommon use. It had a small boost at the start of this decade, when it was in the 400s. Valerie is a classic with a rather luscious feel to it. It makes a great middle name too.
(Picture shows members of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force working on a RAAF plane; photo from the Australian War Memorial)