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A form of the Germanic name Adalwolf, meaning “noble wolf”. The Old English form is Æthelwulf, and there are a few famous men of this name in English history, most notably the father of Alfred the Great. The name was often used amongst the royal houses of northern Europe, and the Latinised form Adolphus turns up in the monarchy of the United Kingdom. There is a saint called Adolf of Osnabrück, a 9th century German monk. Up until the mid-twentieth century, the name was common in central and northern Europe, and can be found in Australia due to immigration from Germany and Scandinavia. The reason this name has been included is because barely a day goes by without someone Googling: “Is it legal to call your child Adolf?”, to which I can say, yes, it is legal here, and you can find quite a few Australians in the records with this name – including ones born during and shortly after World War II. I have met a man named Adolf (born around the early 1960s), and I believe he was named after his grandfather. The other chestnut is, “Is it legal to call your child Adolf Hitler in Australia?” to which I reply, Why would you want to do that? Seriously, why? As the name Ned Kelly is banned because he is considered too wicked, I’m pretty sure Adolf Hitler would also be illegal here.
This spunky name has more history than you might think. In England, it was first used in the middle position; Buster is a variant of the surname Bustard, after the bird. In 18th century America, it seems to have been more common for African-Americans, and may have started as a pet name in the sense of “breaker”. Later it took on the meaning of “unusual, prodigious, amazing”. Buster is used to address males in the same way as pal or fella (“Now listen up, buster”). This comes from the Spanish dialect busté, meaning “you”. It’s gone on to have negative connotations. One of the most famous men with this name is actor Joseph “Buster” Keaton, who started his career in vaudeville as a small child. He claimed to have received his nickname as a toddler from Harry Houdini, after falling down a flight of stairs unhurt. Houdini allegedly remarked, “That was a real buster!”, meaning “a fall with the potential to cause injury”. So Keaton’s name indicated he was tough enough to take a tumble. Buster Brown was a cartoon strip boy who was an angelic-looking blond prankster. In Australian slang, come a buster means to fall or fail by misfortune, while buster is a term for a strong wind – especially the Southerly Buster. This is a name Sydneysiders give to the abrupt cool change that sometimes blows in from the south during the warmer months. Vintage name Buster has recently become rather an Australian favourite for boys, although in the novel, The Shiralee, by D’arcy Niland, Buster is a little girl.
Chester is a city in Cheshire, England, founded by the Romans as a fortress in 79; its size has led some historians to speculate that the Romans intended it to be the capital, rather than London. Its current name comes from the Old English Ceaster, meaning “Roman fort”, and its early history was very military, with wars seemingly constant. Even King Arthur is supposed to have won a major battle here, and it was the last city to fall to the Normans during the Conquest. Today it’s a thriving modern city which still tries to preserve its historic buildings. Chester has been used as a personal name since the 16th century, probably after the surname, although early births in Cheshire suggest they may have been named directly for the city itself. Although it’s been a popular name in the US in its time, and only left the Top 1000 in the mid-1990s, for some reason it never caught on in a big way here. I was surprised to see it on a baby in the Bonds Baby Search Competition this year. For some reason, this baby name is often Googled, although the slang term chester is an impediment to its use.
An English surname from a place name meaning “settlement by the ditch”, derived from a combination of Old English and Old Norse. The name seems to have been first given in honour of the aristocratic Digby family, Anglo-Irish peers whose family seat in Coleshill, Warwickshire was granted to them by Henry VII. It is from the town of Coleshill that the personal name originates in the 17th century. One of the most famous of this clan was Sir Kenelm Digby, a Catholic philosopher considered a great eccentric for his exuberant personality and fascination with science, which extended to studying alchemy, astrology and magic (not considered incompatible with science then); he was the first person to note the importance of oxygen to plants. A man of action as well as thought, he became a privateer, and killed a man in a duel; he also wrote several cookbooks, invented the modern wine bottle and managed to fit in a secret romance to a famous beauty which led to their marriage. A true all-rounder. This name regularly appears in birth notices here, especially from Victoria, and may be encouraged by comedienne Cal Wilson, who welcomed a son named Digby a few years ago. People seem to either loathe this name or find it irresistibly cute; I must confess to being in the second category.
This is the Welsh form of the Old English name Ælfwine, meaning “elf friend”; it went out of use after the Norman Conquest. J.R.R. Tolkien liked to think of the name as meaning “friend of the elves”, and invented two fictional characters with this name who formed close bonds with elves. Modern forms include Alvin and Elvin, both taken from the surname form of the name. There are several famous people in Wales with Elfyn as either their first name or surname, including young rally driver Elfyn Evans and poet Menna Elfyn. For reasons I cannot explain, it is Googled several times a week.
Jharal Yow Yeh is an NRL star who plays for the Brisbane Broncos. An Aboriginal Australian from the Margany people of Queensland, he also has Torres Straits Islander, Vanuatuan and Chinese heritage. Now aged 22, he has been playing for the Broncos since 2009, for the Indigenous All-Stars since 2010, and for both the Queensland state team, the Maroons, and the Australian national side, the Kangaroos, since last year. Early this season he sustained a serious leg injury, and is still recovering. People Google Jharal’s name all the time, asking for its meaning, and often querying whether it’s of Indigenous origin. In fact, his name was created for him by his grandmother. His mother couldn’t decide what to call him, so she asked nana Iris to name him. Iris cleverly arranged the letters of all the strongest men in her family into a name, and came up with Jharal. It is taken from the initials of James, Harold, Anthony, Reece, Arthur and Linc. The name is pronounced JHUH-rahl, and Iris says that most people think it is an Indian name. In fact, by coincidence, a jharal is a mountain goat from India. Names created for celebrities often seem too unique for others to use, but I have seen Jharal a few times in birth notices recently. Looking for a nickname? Jharal is known to his family as Joe.
This unisex name has several different origins. There is a Hawaiian male name Koa meaning “strong, brave, fearless”, and it’s also the name of a Hawaiian tree, the Acacia koa. The wood was traditionally used to make dug-out canoes and certain types of surfboards. In Maori, the word koa means “happiness”. In the Kaurna language of South Australia, the word koa means “crow”, and the Koa people come from south-east Queensland, so it’s also a tribal name. There has been a sudden proliferation of this name in Australian birth notices, and that might be because Tom Dumont from No Doubt welcomed a son named Koa last year. However, I am beginning to see far more girls named Koa in birth notices than boys. This may be because of model and actress Koa Whelan, a contestant on this year’s dating show, Please Marry My Boy. I think this works equally well for boys and girls, although the first meaning is male only.
This is from an Ancient Greek prefix meaning “new, young, fresh”. It turns up in words such as neonatal, meaning “pertaining to the newborn”, or neologism, meaning “a freshly coined word”. The name has become well-known since 1999 because Neo is the protagonist of the cyberpunk Matrix film series. In the films, the character’s name is Thomas Anderson, and Neo is his computer hacker identity (Anderson does have the letters N, E and O in it). Neo is also an anagram of One, and the films seek to discover whether Neo is “The One”, a Messiah-like figure who will be able to rescue humanity. The films have become cult classics, and intermingle a range of philosophical and spiritual ideals from the East and the West – it’s even spawned its own religion, Matrixism. From the amount of times that people have Googled neo baby name or neo for a boy, there are quite a few parents considering using this name. Neo fits right in with current trends, and doesn’t sound any stranger than Leo. It is very strongly associated with the film character though. However, Australians have a solid history of gaining name inspiration from the movies, and most of The Matrix series was filmed in Sydney, giving it an Australian connection.
A Scandinavian name derived from Old Norse meaning “secret”. The runes are the letters of the runic alphabets, which were used to write different Germanic languages, dating from at least the first or second century AD. Runic inscriptions seem to have been for magical and divinatory use, and perhaps their knowledge was restricted to an elite in early times. According to Norse mythology, the runes were originally stolen from the god Odin. They are part of English history, because the Anglo-Saxons had their own runic alphabet. If you have read The Hobbit, you will have seen Anglo-Saxon runes used on a dwarven map; Tolkien later invented his own runic alphabet which appears in The Lord of the Rings. Rune stones are used for divination today, often in a similar way to tarot cards. The name isn’t unusual in Scandinavia, and you may know the name from the Polish speedway rider Rune Holta, born in Norway. I think this is a simple, attractive name with layers of history and meaning.
A zephyr is a light, warm wind. It comes from the name Zephyrus, who was the Greek god of the west wind – the gentlest of breezes, which served as a harbinger of spring. He married both Iris, the goddess of the rainbow, and Chloris, the goddess of flowers – who is also seen as a deity of spring (and named Flora by the Romans). Children may know the name as that of a bat in the Silverwing book series, and, in the form Zephir, as the monkey in the Babar the Elephant stories. Grown ups may be reminded of The Zephyr Song by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. If you take the name as derived directly from the god, then it is male, but if you accept it as a nature name and vocabulary name, it is unisex. It only seems to be Googled to my blog as a male name however. Pronounced ZEF-uhr, this name is unsual but not outrageous; it seems like a breezy alternative to popular Z names like Zachary, Zeke or Zane. The obvious nickname is Zeff or Zeffy.
(Picture shows actor Keanu Reeves in his role of Neo from The Matrix; Sydney skyline in background)