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April 15 this year marked one hundred years since the sinking of the RMS Titanic. There were many exhibitions to mark the event, and James Cameron re-released his romantic film Titanic in 3-D form. As I read the many newspaper articles about  the centenary, and watched ceremonies being performed in various countries on television, I wondered whether there were any Australians aboard the ill-fated Titanic, and if so, had any of them survived?

It turned out that there were six Australians who travelled on the Titanic – four crew members, and two passengers. Crew members Donald Campbell, Alfred Nicols and Leonard White were drowned and their bodies never found, while second-class passenger Arthur McCrae also drowned, but his body was recovered and buried in Halifax, Canada. That left two survivors: third-class passenger Charles Dahl, and crew member Evelyn Marsden.

Although Charles had spent thirty years in Australia, he was born in Norway and was actually in the process of making his way back to his home country when he travelled on the Titanic (he eventually made it home and died in Norway many years later). This leaves Evelyn Marsden as the only female Australian survivor, the only surviving Australian crew member, and the only Australian-born survivor. That made me decide to choose Evelyn as my Famous Name to mark the centenary of the sinking of the RMS Titanic.

Evelyn was from country South Australia, and the daughter of a railway worker. As a young girl, she learned to row a boat on the Murray River while staying on a farm, and later trained as a nurse at Adelaide Hospital. She had previously worked on board the Titanic‘s sister-ship, the Olympic, and signed on to work as a stewardess on the Titanic on April 6 1912, aged 28. She also assisted as a nurse for the first class passengers.

During the sinking, Evelyn escaped on board Boat 16, which held about forty people. They were in the life boat all night, from about half past one in the morning until around seven in the morning, when they were picked up by the Carpathia. Evelyn’s rowing skills became necessary, because she helped row the boat, and also took care of a baby.

Shortly after the disaster, she married a doctor named Abel James who had also worked on board ocean liners, and they went to live in South Australia. Evelyn made a point of returning to the farm, and thanked them for teaching her to row. Evelyn and her husband ended up living in Bondi, Sydney, and when they both passed away in the late 1930s, they were buried in Waverley Cemetery. Their grave was unmarked until 2000.

Evelyn is an English surname derived from the female name Aveline. Aveline is the Norman French form of Germanic Avelina, a pet form of Avila. It’s not certain what Avila meant, but it’s generally thought (perhaps hopefully) that it meant “desired”, as in a child that was long hoped for. The name is possibly related to Ava.

Other theories I have heard are that the surname is derived from aveline, the Old French word for “hazelnut” (the word comes from the Italian city of Avella), or after a place in Shropshire, which the Normans are supposed to have named after a village in France, Ivelyn. In early records, the surname is found as both Ivelyn and Avelyn.

Evelyn was first given to boys in the 17th century, since Aveline was no longer in use as a woman’s name. In the 19th century it began to be bestowed on girls as well, quite possibly because Fanny Burney’s novel Evelina reminded everyone that the name had a possible feminine origin (Evelina is the Latinate form of Aveline). If you are a fan of the theory that the surname is after the hazelnut, then you may see the male name Evelyn and the female name Evelyn as having quite separate origins.

The most famous person with the surname Evelyn is probably 17th century English writer John Evelyn, best known for his diaries. He wrote on many other subjects as well, including gardening, and the Evelyn rose is named after him – a beautiful old-fashioned rose with clusters of large pinky-apricot blooms. There is currently a campaign to restore Evelyn’s own garden at Sayes Court, in east London.

Nearly everyone has heard of the male English novelist Evelyn Waugh (whose wife was famously also called Evelyn), and a famous Australian man named Evelyn is Evelyn Owen from Wollongong, who invented the Owen gun. Mr Owen was apparently known by the nickname Evo. A famous Australian woman named Evelyn was Evelyn Tazewell, a champion hockey player in South Australia for many decades. Miss Tazewell went by the nickname Taz.

Evelyn is a classic name which has never been out of the charts. It was Top 100 in the 1900s, and stayed there until the 1950s. It reached its lowest point in the 1980s, at #435, then began climbing again. Last year it joined the Top 100 for the first time since the 1940s, coming in at #67 (an impressive leap). It has never charted as a male name since Federation.

The pronunciation of Evelyn is up for discussion, because it can be said EEV-lin, EEV-uh-lin, EV-lin or EV-uh-lin. I have heard theories that EEV is the British way and EV the American way, but plenty of people in both places say it the other way around. Another theory is that EEV is the masculine pronunciation, and the girl’s name should be said with an EV. This advice sounds plausible to me, but surely rather outdated given that Evelyn hasn’t been a serious contender as a boy’s name for over 120 years?

Most people in Australia go with the EV-uh-lin pronunciation, although EV-lin gets used as well, because it’s a more “Irish” way of saying it (apparently). I must be very odd, because I naturally say EEV-uh-lin, as if the name was related to the name Eve. I don’t recommend following my (no doubt wrong) example, except that it does lead rather neatly into the popular nickname Evie. You could use Evvie for the other pronunciation, although to me that sounds as if you are saying heavy in a Cockney accent.

Classic Evelyn is very much back in fashion, and looks certain to soar. She fits right in with Ava, Eva, Eve, Evie, Eden, Eloise, Madeleine, Madison and Addison, yet has an elegant air all her own.