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The 2012 Olympics came to an end on the weekend, and today our athletes came home, to be met by huge crowds at the airport, which included the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition. Although the London Olympics had many critics and doubters before they began, from the stunning Opening Ceremony onwards, all was forgotten as everyone agreed that London had done a bang-up job hosting the Summer Olympics.

Everything had gone smoothly, athletes were well taken care of, the historic capital looked grand and stately, the weather was good, and the wonderful volunteers ensured that, above all, it was a friendly and fun Olympics where people felt free to relax and enjoy themselves. No wonder that Rio has said that it watched and learned from London, as it prepares for its own hosting gig in 2016.

There were so many memorable moments from the Olympics, but from an Australian perspective, I am choosing two athletes who, for me, were the stand outs from our team. The first is hurdler Sally Pearson, simply because her race, which ended in a photo-finish, was nail-bitingly close. Nearly everyone I’ve spoken to has nominated Sally’s gold medal win as the most exciting of the Olympics. Sally not only set an Olympic record, she joined a select group of athletes who were world champions when they won at the Olympics, and is the first Australian woman to win Olympic gold in athletics since Cathy Freeman.

The other is sailor Malcolm Page, because our sailing team did so well at the Olympics, and it’s obvious their training regime really paid off. Malcolm is the first Australian sailor to win two gold medals at consecutive Olympic Games, and he was chosen as the Australian flag-bearer for the Closing Ceremony. Just as Sally was named the IAFF Female Athlete of the Year in 2011, Malcolm was inducted into the Australian Institute of Sport’s “Best of the Best”. Two sportspeople at the top of their game, and here’s a closer look at their names.

The name Sally is a pet form of Sarah, a Hebrew name meaning “princess”. It’s been used as an independent name since the 16th century, and seems to have been first used in the southern coastal areas of England. Since then, it has become a short form of almost any similar name, including the Italian male name Salvatore. It is also, by coincidence, an English vocabulary word, for sallies is an old word for “willow trees”, as in the W.B Yeats poem, Down by the Salley Gardens (the Latin for “willow” is Salix). In military terms, a sally is a sudden attack on an enemy, and we use this word to also mean to attack someone verbally in a witty way. To sally also means to rush off or venture out – very suitable for a sportswoman!

Like Jack, Sally is a name we are familiar with from dozens of cultural references. Sally has appeared in many popular songs, from the nursery rhyme Sally Goes Round the Sun, the traditional Sally in Our Alley, to the blues song Mustang Sally to the rock and roll Long Tall Sally. There is the traditional English fairground game, Aunt Sally, in which a ball is thrown to knock off a wooden woman’s head. We know many a fictional Sally, from wayward Sally Bowles in Cabaret, to Charlie Brown’s sister in the Peanuts cartoon, to the good-looking but annoying Sally Hayes in Catcher in the Rye, the Sally who was met by Harry in the romantic comedy, and the little sister of Dick and Jane in the vintage reading books.

Sally first entered the charts in the 1920s, and was Top 100 by the 1950s; it peaked in the 1970s at #53, and left the Top 100 in the 1990s. Currently it’s #492, and fell last year after a sharp rise in 2010. Sally is one of the most popular names Googled to reach my blog, and I can see the attraction – it’s a fresh, spunky little name that seems clean and wholesome, but not exactly goody-two-shoes. It’s girlish without being girly, and a fuss-free way to wear a princess name without sounding the slightest bit princessy.

Malcolm is the Anglicised form of the Scottish name Máel Coluim, meaning “devotee of Saint Columba”. Columba is a Latin name meaning “dove”. It was a common name amongst medieval royalty in Scotland, which has a long line of King Malcolms. The most well known is Malcolm III, for it is claimed that he is the historical person on which the character of Malcolm in Shakespeare’s Macbeth is based, and who becomes king of Scotland after Macbeth is killed. Although his second wife, Margaret, is recognised as a saint, King Malcolm does not seem to have been very religious.

Scottish-born Malcolm Young is famous in Australia as the brains behind rock band AC/DC, but although the name of his younger brother Angus is a popular favourite, Malcolm’s name has languished. Malcolm was #81 for the 1900s, and peaked in the 1950s at #52. It left the Top 100 in the 1980s, and hasn’t charted since 2009.

Part of the reason may be that Malcolm is a name well known in politics, which rarely seems to do a name any favours. Liberal Party Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser came to power in 1975, a time which saw a definite plummet in popularity for the name Malcolm. In recent times, Malcolm Turnbull has been the Liberal Party Leader of the Opposition, and is currently Shadow Minister for Communications and Broadband. He is known for being Australia’s wealthiest parliamentarian, and is the only sitting politician to make the BRW Rich List. Since he was elected in 2004, the name Malcolm has gone out of regular use altogether.

So although Scottish names for boys continue to be fashionable choices in Australia, the related name Callum, which is the Scottish form of Columba, has taken over from Malcolm – soaring in popularity during the 1980s as Malcolm sank. Is it purely coincidence that the 1980s was a decade in which Malcolm Fraser’s party suffered the worst defeat of a non-Labour party since Federation, and he was discovered in a confused condition in a seedy hotel in Memphis, wearing only a towel? I cannot help but feel neither of these things improved the prospects of the name Malcolm.