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This blog post was first published on March 13 2011, and heavily edited and updated on March 20 2015. Not being psychic, I did not know then of the vile crimes that Rolf Harris would be imprisoned for, otherwise he would not have been included.
Slim Dusty’s country song Duncan is one of his two hits which went to #1.The song describes the great enjoyment experienced drinking at the atmospheric Town and Country pub with his mate Duncan. Although the narrator also drinks with Colin, Kevin, Patrick, and Robert to obtain similar effects, it is Duncan who will always be remembered as the mate Slim would “love to have a beer with”. Duncan is the Anglicised form of the Gaelic name Donnchadh; it may mean either “brown-haired warrior”, or “brown-haired chieftain”. A traditional name amongst Scottish nobility and royalty, there have two medieval Scottish kings named Duncan, with Duncan I the original of William Shakespeare’s King Duncan in Macbeth. Unlike in the play, Duncan was a young king, and not assassinated by his war leader Macbeth, but killed in battle against him. Saint Duncan was of royal blood too, and an abbot of Iona. Duncan was #134 in the 1900s, and peaked in the 1970s at #122. It doesn’t seem to have charted since 2009, so this is a handsome underused Scottish choice.
Erasmus is a 2006 song by alternative rock band You Am I, a nostalgic remembrance of the 1990s. Erasmus is derived from the Greek for “beloved”. Saint Erasmus of Formia was a bishop who, according to tradition, was martyred for his faith in the 4th century. He is more commonly known as Saint Elmo, the old Italian form of his name, and St Elmo’s Fire is named after him – the glowing electrical discharge that can appear around tall, pointed structures during thunderstorms. As it was known for appearing around the masts of ships in the days of sail, Saint Erasmus is a patron of sailors. A famous namesake is Erasmus of Rotterdam, a Catholic priest, theologian, and classical scholar of the Renaissance who is known as “The Prince of Humanists”. Charles Darwin‘s grandfather was Erasmus, named after an ancestor, and Charles’ brother also had the same name. This rare name has geek chic, with history, strength, bags of brain power, and of course, a beautiful meaning. Rasmus and Raz could be used as nicknames.
Lazy Harry’s, or, The Road to Gundagai is a traditional folk song with a connection to Banjo Paterson, as he was the first to have it published, in 1905. The song tells of two shearers from a Riverina station who set out for Sydney to spend their pay cheques, but get no further than Lazy Harry’s pub between Wagga Wagga and Gundagai before they’ve spent the lot. Harry is a medieval English form of Henry which has never gone out of use. It has also been used as a pet form of Henry and Harold, and more recently, of Harrison. Harry is a classic name which has never left the charts. It was #32 in the 1900s, left the Top 100 in the 1950s, and reached its lowest point in the 1970s at #234. It began rising in the 1980s after the birth of Prince Henry, always known by his nickname Harry, and joined the Top 100 in the early 1990s. It continued rising through the 2000s, along with the popularity of boy wizard Harry Potter, and peaked in 2010 at #27, although by 2013 it had only dropped one place, to #26. Classic Harry is royal and magical, yet also friendly and casual.
Henry Lee is Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’s 1996 version of an English folk song called Young Hunting, which in the United States is usually titled Love Henry or Henry Lee. It is a macabre tale of sexual jealousy; a man tells his mistress that he is leaving her for another woman, and while offering him a farewell kiss, she stabs him and throws his body in a well. P.J. Harvey sings the woman’s part of this eerie duet. Henry is from the Germanic name Heimrich, meaning “home ruler”. It has been commonly used amongst European royalty, and there are many rulers of Germany, France, Spain and Portugal named Henry, or one of its equivalents. There have also been six Holy Roman Emperors named Henry, one of them a saint. Henry is a traditional name in the British royal family, and there have been eight English kings named Henry. Henry is a classic name which has never left the charts. It was #11 in the 1900s, and left the Top 100 in the 1950s, hitting its lowest point in the 1970s at #265. It was back on the Top 100 by the 1990s, and had reached #23 by 2013. Henry is a handsome classic which is slowly rising in popularity.
Adam Harvey’s 2001 country song The House That Jack Built went to #1. It’s inspired by the nursery rhymes The House That Jack Built and Jack and Jill, while giving them a modern twist. Jack is a short form of Jackin, which began as Jankin, a medieval pet form of John. It has been used as an independent name since the Middle Ages, and was so popular in that era that it became a slang word to mean “man, male”. Jack is a fairytale hero, such as Jack and the Beanstalk and Jack the Giant Killer, and a trickster figure, like a jack-in-the-box and the knave in a deck of cards. Jack has a particularly British association, because of the Union Jack which is on our flag. Suffice to say I could talk about Jack until you were completely jack of it! Jack is a classic name which has never left the charts. It was #24 in the 1900s, and left the Top 100 in the 1940s. It hit its lowest point in the 1960s at #277, and was Top 100 again by the 1980s. It hit its peak in the 2000s at #1 name, when there were many heroes on film and TV named Jack. By 2013 it had only fallen two places, to #3, so it has been extremely stable as well as extremely popular. Jack the lad is an everyman name, and a nickname with its own rich history.
Jake the Peg is a 1965 novelty song by Rolf Harris, based on the Dutch-Canadian song Ben van der Steen. It’s a simple tale of an unfortunate man born with three legs, and Harris performed it onstage with a theatrical prop which left the audience guessing as to which of the three legs was fake. It has been voted one of the best Australian singles of all time. Jake is a medieval variant of Jack, but today is often used as a short form of popular Jacob. Jake first joined the charts in the 1970s at #392, the same decade as Jacob, and just after the song’s release. It joined the Top 100 in the 1980s and peaked in the 1990s at #6. In 2013 it was #43. More boyish than Jacob, more rakish than Jack, this name lets you know that everything is “jake”.
Rick Springfield’s pop song Jessie Girl was an instant hit, reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 of 1981, and winning a Grammy. According to Springfield, Jessie’s Girl was inspired by a real-life admiration he had for his friend Gary’s girlfriend. He considered using Gary’s real name, until he saw a girl wearing a softball jersey with the name Jessie on it. The song has been featured in movies and TV shows, and named one of the best songs of the 1980s. As a boy’s name, Jessie is a variant of the Hebrew name Jesse, which may mean “gift”. It’s also a girl’s name which was originally a Scottish pet form of Jean, but also used as a pet form of Jane, and more recently, of Jessica. In Australia, Jessie charted as a unisex name until the 1950s, but since the 1970s and the rise of Jessica, has only charted for girls. It made the Top 100 in the 1990s, when Jessica was the #1 name, and is currently in the 300s. Still usable for boys, although the popular Jessica has given it a pink vibe.
Men at Work’s 1982 rock song Be Good Johnny is an obvious reference to Chuck Berry’s Johnny B. Goode. The song is about a young boy, a seemingly troubled daydreamer who can’t relate to or listen to adult authority. It could be the anthem for ADHD kids, and in fact a cover version of the song is the theme tune to the reality TV series Supernanny. Johnny is a pet form of John, long used as an independent name. There’s been heaps of famous Johnnys in Australia – Johnny Diesel, Johnny O’Keefe, Johnny Young, Johnny Lewis and Johnny Warren, to name a few. Johnny has charted since the 1950s, when it debuted at #265. It has not yet become popular, and is currently in the 200s. Modern classic Johnny seems like it has a lot of potential to go further.
Rak Off Normie was written as a sequel to comedian Bob Hudson’s satirical narrative, The Newcastle Song, which was at #1 for four weeks in 1975. The Newcastle Song is about a young man called Normie looking for a date, and pokes fun at the working class youth culture in the city of Newcastle. Eager for further success, Bob Hudson rapidly penned Rak Off Normie from the point of view of the girl Normie is attracted to, and Maureen Elkner was chosen to sing it. The song reached #6 on the charts. Normie is a pet form of Norman, used as an independent name since the 19th century. It is well known in Australia from 1960s pop star Normie Rowe, and will probably only make a comeback if Norman does.
Olivia Newton-John’s Sam reached #1 on the Billboard Easy Listening chart of 1977. It’s a song about two people who have been (apparently deservedly) dumped by their respective lovers and are now lonely; the song implies that the two of them may get together in order to comfort each other. Sam can be used as a short form of names such as Samuel or Samson, and as short for the female name Samantha. It is also a Persian name meaning “very dark”, and is familiar from Frodo’s companion in The Lord of the Rings, whose name is short for Samwise (samwise is the Old English for “half-wise, half-wit”). Sam has long been used as an independent name, overwhelmingly given to boys. Sam first joined the charts in the 1950s at #301, and was Top 100 by 1986. It peaked at #62 in 1991, left the Top 100 in 2011, and is still only just outside the Top 100. Well known from Welsh children’s TV show Fireman Sam, which has an Australian rescue pilot in it, this is a modern classic with boyish charm.
People’s favourite names were Jack, Harry, and Duncan, and their least favourite were Johnny, Jake, and Normie.