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This blog post was first published on October 16 2011, and completely rewritten on October 15 2015.   

Famous Namesake
Today it is the 152nd birthday of ethnographer Daisy Bates, who was born October 16 1859. Daisy migrated to Australia from Ireland as a young woman, and like many other immigrants, took the opportunity to reinvent herself. Her story was that she was born as Daisy O’Dwyer into a wealthy Irish Protestant family, and after being orphaned, was brought up to be a “lady” by her grandmother. Adopted by an aristocratic family, she seemed destined to lead a life of leisure, until a brush with TB sent her to Australia in order to recover her health.

In fact she was Margaret Dwyer, born into a poor Irish Catholic family, and brought up in an orphanage, where she was educated to be a governess. It may have been a sexual scandal that sent her across the world to Australia, and she seems to have been keen to seek a husband. Good looking with lovely dark eyes, a lively manner, and the gift of the gab, Daisy had little trouble attracting men, and she married three of them in rapid succession, including “Breaker” Morant (she didn’t bother getting divorced, so she was a serial bigamist). She took the surname of her second husband, Bates.

An unplanned pregnancy resulted in her son, and the process was so traumatic that she ever after had only distant relations with her husband and child. Her husband became even more estranged from her when she developed what was considered a bizarre interest in Aboriginal culture, and she finally left him to take up what was to be her life’s work.

Daisy spent forty years studying Aboriginal language, history, rituals, beliefs, and customs, and for much of that time lived in isolated areas, apparently always dressed in heavy dark Edwardian clothing. The usefulness (and even truthfulness) of her anthropological work has been much debated, but she was a pioneer in the field, being one of the first to live among the people she was studying and observe them at first hand, without trying to “educate” them or convert them to her own beliefs.

Although she was never sentimental or high-minded in any way about it (she was brutally frank that her interest in Aboriginal culture was a sport more than anything else), she did work towards Aboriginal welfare. She wrote with great feeling of their suffering at the hands of Europeans, and was able to identify that much of their misery was compounded by a lack of cultural awareness towards them.

She helped pave the way for greater attention to Indigenous health, and was prepared to defend Aboriginal women from sexual exploitation by white males, with a gun if necessary. She could be kind and generous towards Aboriginal people, paying for their needs from her own limited funds. Most importantly, her work has been an invaluable resource for those seeking Native Title claims.

In her lifetime, Daisy Bates was famous, but also seen as a stubborn, publicity-seeking eccentric, and remains a deeply controversial figure to this day. Many of her ideas about Indigenous Australians were paternalistic – one of her books is titled My Natives and I. She also saw Aborigines as a doomed race, and had an appalling hatred of people with mixed black and white ancestry, believing them to be completely worthless.

A staunch monarchist and imperialist, and a social-climbing, gossipy old snob, she loathed feminists, socialists, Catholics, and Germans – her views, not abnormal for her time, are now so out of fashion that they have alienated many, and this has helped lead to her neglect.

An interesting question is what the Aboriginal people themselves thought of her. She claimed that they called her Kabbarli, a word that can be translated as “grandmother”, to suggest a relationship that was both affectionate and respectful. It can also be translated as “crazy old bat”.

Name Information
Daisies are members of the aster family which grows widely over the world – everywhere except the polar regions. The word daisy comes from the Old English for “day’s eye”, as the English Daisy (Bellis perennis) opens when the sun rises, and closes in the evening. An English saying is that spring has not arrived until you can set your foot on a dozen daisies, while a Celtic tradition says that daisies are formed whenever a child dies so that they might comfort their grieving parents.

A well known divination is to discover if someone truly loves you by plucking daisy petals: he loves me, he loves me not, he loves me! Daisies were the flower of the love goddesses Freya and Venus, and it may not be a coincidence that daisies and daisy chains have long been gifts between sweethearts. In Roman legend, the wood nymph Belides transformed herself into a daisy to escape the attentions of Vertumnus, the god of seasons and plants, so that daisies are associated with chastity.

A Christian legend says daisies sprung from the tears wept by Mary Magdalene when she was forgiven of her sins. In Christian iconography, daisies symbolise the Virgin Mary; they were a favourite in medieval paintings and tapestries of the Virgin. Later they were used to symbolise the Christ Child. The purity of the Virgin Mary and the passion of Venus often seem to combine in medieval literature, so that daisies were used to symbolise the “good woman” who was equally sweet and sensual.

Daisy has been used as an independent girl’s name since at least the 17th century, and became popular in the 19th, along with other floral names. It is also used as a nickname for Margaret, because the French name for the Ox-eye Daisy is the marguerite. Because of this, it was used as a royal device by Marguerite de Navarre, the sister of Francis I of France, Margaret of Anjou, the wife of Henry VI, and Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry VII. King Louis IX of France wore a daisy engraved on his ring as a tribute to his wife, Marguerite of Provence.

Daisy was quite a popular nickname among the upper classes during the Edwardian era, as evidenced by Princess Margaret “Daisy” of Connaught, who became the queen of Sweden; society beauty Mary “Daisy”, Princess of Pless; fashion icon and heiress Marguerite “Daisy” Fellowes; and Frances “Daisy” Greville, the mistress of the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII), whose love for the bicycle craze of the 1890s is popularly believed to have inspired the music hall song about Daisy with a bicycle built for two.

Literary Daisys include Daisy Buchanan who arouses a life-long obsession in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and the enigmatic Annie “Daisy” Miller, from Henry James’ novella. Sweet Meg from Little Women is sometimes called Daisy, and when she has a daughter named Margaret, she is known as Daisy to differentiate her from her mother. All these fictional Daisys are American, and two more American sweethearts are Disney’s Daisy Duck and sassy Southern belle Daisy Duke, from the Dukes of Hazzard.

The name Daisy was #58 in the 1900s, and left the Top 100 in the 1920s. It dropped from the charts in the 1940s, made a minor come-back in the 1950s, then dropped out again the following decade. Daisy returned to the charts in the 1980s at #646, and climbed fairly steadily. It rejoined the Top 100 in 2013 at #90, making it one of the fastest-rising names of that year. Last year it left the national Top 100, although it still made the Top 100 in Queensland and Tasmania.

Daisy is most popular in the UK. It was in the Top 100 there from 1880 until the 1930s, then made a comeback in the 1990s, peaking in 2010 at #15. Currently it is #24. In the US, Daisy has never left the Top 1000. It was in the Top 100 from 1880 to 1908, and reached its lowest point in 1972 at #629. It is currently #180. Australia’s Daisy popularity may be closer to New Zealand, where Daisy has made the bottom of the Top 100 a few times without any signs of climbing.

Daisy is a wholesome retro name which manages to sound both pure and innocent, and cute and spunky. There is something demure about little Daisy, but also rather sexy: Venus has given her a certain sweetness that blows like a fresh spring breeze across the fields. Daisies may be common flowers, but the name Daisy is not overused, and shows no signs of shooting up in popularity. You may use Daisy as a nickname, but it is just fine as a name in its own right.

POLL RESULT
Daisy received an approval rating of 88%, making it one of the highest-rated names of 2011. 37% of people loved the name Daisy, and only one person hated it.

(Painting is Daisy Bates at Ooldea, by Sidney Nolan, 1950)

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