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Chantal (Meek)

Chantal Meek is originally from Britain, and won a bronze medal in 2008 for sprint canoeing. The name Chantal was originally given in honour of Saint Jane Frances de Chantal (her non-saint name was Jeanne-Françoise Frémiot, Baronne de Chantal). Jeanne-Françoise was of the nobility, and married a baron; she devoted herself to prayer and charity, and later in life founded a religious order. Not only kind and sensible, she was known for her great sense of humour. The place name Chantal is from Old Provençal cantal, meaning “stony”, but people often imagine it is from the French word chant, meaning “song”. Chantal was first used as a personal name in France in the 1920s, and was most popular there during the 1940s-60s. The name entered the US Top 100 in 1968, the same year Marie-Chantal Miller was born to American millionaire and socialite, Robert Warren Miller (Marie-Chantal later became Crown Princess of Greece). Chantal (shan-TAHL) has never charted in Australia, with the preference here being for the variant Chantelle (shan-TEL).

Clover (Maitland)

Clover Maitland has won gold twice for hockey, in 1996 and 2000. Although usually thought of as a nature name, Clover was originally from the surname. It was an occupational name given to an official mace-bearer (a mace was called a clavia), or to a timber-worker, with the origin being from the word cleave. This accounts for boys named Clover. The plant of this name plays a role in folklore, for it is said that to find a four-leafed clover is lucky. The shamrock is a clover variety which is one of the symbols of Ireland, and proudly displayed on Saint Patrick’s Day. The word clover ultimately goes back to a Proto-Indo-European word meaning “sticky” – quite apt, as white clover flowers make excellent honey. Clover is also used in farming and gardening to enrich the soil, and so good for stock to eat that we say someone is living in clover if their life is one of ease and prosperity. So many positive things attached to this fresh green plant – another one is that it contains the word love. Clo, Cloey, Clove and Lola could all be used as nicknames.

Maree (Fish)

Maree Fish is a hockey player who won gold at the 1988 Olympics. The name Maree is typically Australasian, and so little known elsewhere that Abby at Appellation Mountain even asked about it, as she was puzzled why so many baby girls in Australian birth announcements had Maree in their names. There are several possibilities. The original pronunciation of Maree was MAH-ree, so it could be an Anglicisation of the Scottish Màiri, which is a form of Mary, and can be pronounced the same way. On the other hand, MAH-ree is how the name Marie was pronounced in England until the early twentieth century, and is also a common Gaelic and Irish pronunciation of the name. There is a Loch Maree in the Scottish Highlands, named after Saint Maree – however, he was a man, and his name is the Anglicised form of Máel Ruba, which roughly means “red haired monk” (sometimes it’s Anglicised as Rufus). These days, Maree is usually pronounced muh-REE, as a variant spelling of Marie. Maree entered the charts in the 1920s and was Top 100 by the 1940s. It peaked in the 1960s at #62, and left the Top 100 the following decade. It hasn’t charted since 2009. Like Marie, it’s much more common as a middle name.

Nova (Peris-Kneebone)

Nova Peris began her sporting career in hockey, becoming the first Indigenous Australian to win an Olympic gold medal when the Australian team won at the 1996 Olympics. She then switched to athletics, and although she won gold twice at the Commonwealth Games as a runner, she never received another Olympic medal. The name Nova is from the Latin word for “new”, and the word nova is well known in astronomy to describe a nuclear explosion in a white dwarf star. This makes it another “star” name. Although a rare name here, it has been on the US Top 1000 since the 1880s, and last year returned at #882, after not being seen there since before World War II. It now seems very usable, with its fashionable O and V sounds – it fits right in with popular girls’ names such as Ava and Eva, and can also be seen as an unusual nature name. It may remind some Australians of the radio station, Nova FM, but I’m unsure whether that would bother anyone.

Rohanee (Cox)

Rohanee Cox is a basketball player with the national women’s team who won silver at the 2008 Olympics. She is the first Indigenous Australian to win an Olympic medal in basketball. She has been awarded many sporting honours, including NAIDOC Sportsperson of the Year in 2010. Rohanee, pronounced ro-HAH-nee, is an Indian girl’s name which is a variant of Rohane, based on Rohana, meaning “sandalwood”. Sandalwood trees are native to southern India, and incense made from the tree is used in Hindu ceremonies, while devotees wear a paste made from it on their bodies, so the name has spiritual connotations. Another person with the name is Rohanee Walters, the sister of actor Brandon Walters, who served as his stand-in during the making of Baz Luhrmann’s Australia. Like Ms Cox, Miss Walters is from Broome in Western Australia, and I think is young enough to have been named after local sports star Rohanee Cox – although I don’t know if that’s what happened.

Shirley (Strickland)

Shirley Strickland is one of our most famous athletes, gaining more Olympic medals than any other Australian woman in track and field. She won silver and two bronze at the 1948 London Olympics, gold and bronze at the 1952 Olympics, and two gold at the Melbourne Olympics in 1956. Shirley is a surname from a common English place name meaning “bright clearing”. It was a rare male name until Charlotte Brontë’s 1848 novel Shirley was published. In the story, the lively young heiress Shirley Keeldar has been given a boy’s name, because her parents had no son to pass the family name on to. The US Top 1000 shows Shirley as a unisex name from the 1880s onwards, with 1957 being the last year it appears as a male name. The name began steadily rising just before World War I, coinciding with the 1908 publication of L.M. Montgomery’s novel, Anne of Green Gables, with its imaginative red-haired heroine, Anne Shirley (in a later book, Anne calls her youngest son Shirley). In Australia, Shirley was in rare use in the 1900s, and skyrocketed in popularity to be #10 for the 1920s. It peaked in the 1930s at #3, and had left the Top 100 by the 1960s. It hasn’t charted since 2009.

Taryn (Woods)

Taryn Woods was a member of the women’s water polo team which won gold a the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Taryn is a name popularised by Hollywood matinee idol, Tyrone Power, and his second wife, Linda Christian. They gave the name to their second daughter in 1953, and the name Taryn first appears on the US Top 1000 in 1955. Her name is presumed to be a feminised form of the name Tyrone, which is the name of an Irish county. Taryn is found in ultra-ultra-rare use before that as a unisex name, and similar-sounding names such as Taren, Terrian, Toreen and Torunn were common in the 1940s and ’50s, so the Powers did seem to be tapping into a mid-century zeitgeist. Many of these names look to be inspired by Scandinavian links to the Norse god of thunder, Thor, or perhaps combinations of names, such as Terri and Karen. Taryn first entered the Australian charts in the 1960s, and peaked in the 1980s, at #230. It hasn’t charted since 2009. The name seems to have been more popular in Australia than anywhere else, although its only tenuous Aussie connection is that Linda Christian was one of Erroll Flynn’s lovers.

Tatiana (Grigorieva)

Tatiana Grigorieva was a national hurdler in Russia, but when she migrated to Australia in 1997 she took up pole vaulting. Within a year of picking up a pole for the first time, she won a medal at an international competition. After winning silver at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, she became a household name, and her blonde good looks made her very marketable. Tatiana is the feminine form of Tatianus, derived from the Roman family name Tatius. The name may be of Sabine origin, and the meaning is unknown. Saint Tatiana is supposed to have been a 3rd century Roman Christian who was martyred for her faith. She was venerated in Orthodox Christianity, and her name has been commonly used in Russia and surrounding areas. Although Tatiana is unusual in Australia, its forms Tania and Tanya both peaked in the 1970s in the Top 100. Last year, NRL star Akuila Uate welcomed a baby girl named Tatianna, and its short form Tiana peaked in the early 2000s.

Virginia (Lee)

Virginia Lee is a rower who won bronze at the 1996 Olympics. The name Virginia is the feminine form of the Roman family Verginius; the meaning may be “bend, turn toward”, but modern writers often spell it Virginius, to make it seem as if it is derived from virgo, Latin for “virgin”. According to legend, Verginia was a beautiful Roman girl murdered by her father to protect her honour. Virginia was the name of the first English colony in North America. In 1584, Sir Walter Raleigh’s expedition to what is now North Carolina brought word of a Native American chief named Wingina. The first Native American leader to meet English settlers, he died by their hand soon after, setting an unhappy precedent for future cultural relations. Queen Elizabeth I called the new colony Virginia in her own honour, due to her status as Virgin Queen; it is thought that Wingina’s name may have helped inspire her choice. The original colony stretched from North Carolina into Canada, but the modern American state of Virginia is of more modest proportions. The first child born in the Americas to English parents was Virginia Dare, named after the colony, and her fate is a mystery, for all the colonists disappeared a few years later. Because of its origins, Virginia has been more popular in the United States than elsewhere. In Australia, it first charted in the 1920s, and peaked in the 1950s at #94 – the decade when Virginia McKenna starred in A Town Like Alice. It hasn’t ranked since the early 2000s.

Wendy (Schaeffer)

Wendy Schaeffer is an equestrian who won gold in eventing at the 1996 Olympics. The early history of the name Wendy is rather murky, and it’s usually suggested that it began as a pet form of Gwendoline or Wanda. Unfortunately for this theory, the first Wendy I can find was born in 1615 in Cambridgeshire, and was male. He may have been named after the Cambridgeshire hamlet of Wendy, meaning “island on the river bend”. In fact, boys named Wendy in 18th century England did tend to come from Cambridgeshire. The earliest woman named Wendy I can find died in Essex, and is estimated to have been born around 1711. Wendy is also a surname which is most commonly found in Essex – as this county is next to Cambridgeshire, could it be inspired by the place name? Leaving aside this mysterious origin, the name’s popularity is due to author J.M. Barrie. He knew a wee lass called Margaret Henley, and she called Barrie “fwendy”, as a childish way of saying “friend”. Margaret died aged five, and Barrie named the heroine of his 1904 play, Peter Pan, Wendy Darling; the novelisation of the play was published in 1911. In Australia, Wendy first entered the charts in the 1920s, and was Top 100 by the following decade. It peaked in the 1950s at #15, and left the Top 100 in the 1980s. It is still in rare use.

(Photo shows Tatiana Grigorieva after winning silver at the Sydney Olympics in 2000)