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An eclipse is when an astronomical body is obscured, either by passing into the shadow of another body, or having another body pass between it and the viewpoint. The word comes from the ancient Greek ékleipsis, meaning “abandonment, downfall or darkening of a heavenly body”.
Although there are several different types of eclipse possible in the universe, the ones we can see from Earth are the solar and lunar eclipses. We tend to get more excited by solar eclipses, when the Moon appears to pass in front of the Sun, blotting out its light temporarily. The most impressive of all is a total eclipse of the Sun, when the Moon appears to perfectly cover the Sun, so that it disappears from view.
A total eclipse of the Sun can only be viewed along a very narrow band of the Earth’s surface, and on November 13, a total eclipse could be seen in far north-eastern Australia. Although many had gloomily predicted that cloud cover would ruin the eclipse-enjoying experience, just before dawn the clouds obligingly parted, and the Moon passed in front of the Sun. For two minutes it became darker and colder, the birds stopped singing, and tens of thousands of spectators from all over the world gaped in wonder, just as our ancestors did thousands of years ago.
Many indigenous groups, including in Arnhem Land, were watching the event, which has deep spiritual meaning for them. Most Aboriginal cultures believe the Sun is female and the Moon male. In their myths, the Sun is in love with the Moon, but he doesn’t return her feelings, so she chases him around the sky. Occasionally she manages to catch him, and in a jealous rage tries to kill him, but the Moon convinces the spirits which hold up the sky to save him, which they always do.
However, another version is that a solar eclipse marks those rare times when the Sun-woman is hidden by the Moon-man while he relents and makes loves to her, while a similar tale is that a spirit man covers the Earth with his hand to leave it in darkness, so that the Sun and Moon may have privacy together.
In Queensland, the celebrations for the eclipse included a Solar Eclipse Marathon in Port Douglas, and a week long Eclipse Festival at the remote Palmer River Roadhouse. More than 50 000 tourists arrived from Europe, North America and Asia, with some hotels booked out three years in advance. The eclipse was big news, and big business. And why shouldn’t they party? It was the first time in the past thousand years that this part of Australia had experienced a total solar eclipse.
Eclipse can be found as a unisex name in occasional use since the late 18th century. According to blogger Nancy Man at Nancy’s Names, the births of many of those given the name Eclipse can be correlated with either solar or lunar eclipses.
In Australian records, there are only a small number of people listed as having the name Eclipse, and it is exclusively used as a middle name. It is balanced between the sexes, with three women and two men having Eclipse as part of their name. My favourite combinations were Pearl Eclipse and Thomas Eclipse Vivian.
Only a year of birth is given, so it isn’t possible to correlate their dates of birth with eclipses, but it is reasonable to assume that it might have been the inspiration for at least some births. However, there was also a convict ship called Eclipse, although it doesn’t seem to match up with any of the places or dates of birth in the records in any obvious way.
Scientist Dr Natalie Dillon from Mareeba attended the eclipse viewing this year and said:
When it goes dark and the temperature drops, you get a sense of the fragility of life. I just feel in awe. It is like the Moon has wiped a cloth over the face of the Sun and we can start afresh.
An eclipse is a rare celestial event, and one which fills us with a mixture of awe and dread, as well as great joy and a sense of renewal when the light of the Sun is returned. It reminds us how much we need the Sun, and gives us a brief uneasy taste of what Earth would be like without it – chill, dim and silent.
The basis of the word eclipse is the Greek for “I leave behind”. To eclipse someone means to cast them into your shadow, to surpass others with your superior talents or skills – to leave them behind, so that they can never catch up.
As a name, Eclipse has power, a certain foreboding, and perhaps a touch of arrogance. It is little seen, and that gives it an even greater significance. Perhaps it’s not surprising it has been timidly tucked away in the middle.
Nicknames for Eclipse include Clip, Clipper and Clipsie, which give it a much friendlier and more approachable sound.
What do you think – a viable baby name, or a little too much?