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Ashley Callus won gold in 2000 and bronze in 2008. Ashley is an English surname from a common place name meaning “ash tree clearing”. It’s been used as a personal name since the 17th century, and was originally given to boys. It only became popular in Australia after the release of the 1939 movie Gone with the Wind, with the character of Ashley Wilkes (actually George Wilkes – Ashley is his middle name). Played by Leslie Howard, Ashley is a true Southern gentleman, and the one man Scarlett cannot get. The name Ashley first charted in the 1940s, and by the 1950s was #160; it made the Top 100 for the 1970s, and peaked in the 1980s at #62. It was during the 1980s that Ashley became a unisex name, making an impressive female debut at #55 – higher than the peak for boys. Coincidentally or not, it was in 1982 that the popular character Ashley Abbott joined soapie The Young and the Restless, first portrayed by Eileen Davidson. Ashley peaked for girls in the 1990s at #33, and although it left the Top 100 in 2009, it rose again and is now #93. As a boy’s name, Ashley left the Top 100 in the 1990s, and no longer ranked by 2010. However, last year Ashley increased for boys as well as girls, reaching #466. The usual nicknames is Ash.
Francis “Frank” Gailey won three silvers and a bronze at the 1904 Olympics. Born in Australia, Frank emigrated to the United States, and his medals are credited to the US. However, as he was an Australian citizen when he won them, we claim them toward our own medal count. This doesn’t seem to be accepted internationally. Francis is the English form of the Italian name Francesco. This began life as a nickname, because the 12th century Giovanni di Bernardone was known as Francesco, “the Frenchman”. This may have been because his father was on business in France when he was born, or because the young Giovanni quickly became fluent in French. While still a young man, Francesco began to turn away from the pleasures available to him as the son of a wealthy man, and to live a life of poverty and simplicity. Known as Saint Francis of Assisi, he is the patron saint of Italy, and also the environment. Many stories about him reflect on his deep love for animals, and his sense of kinship with all life. Francis charts as a unisex name from 1900, but by the 1950s was male-only, and in the Top 100. It left the Top 100 the following decade and remained stable for decades before falling out of use in 2010. However, last year Francis was back in the charts at #388.
Sir Robert David Garrick Agnew, always known by the second of his middle names, attended the 1948 and 1952 Olympics. A graduate of Harvard, Sir Garrick became a very wealthy businessman, and also a champion fisherman. He died of a heart attack after going swimming in a pool. Garrick is an English surname which is the Anglicisation of two slightly different French surnames of Old Provencal origin. Garric means “kermes oak tree”, a small evergreen oak; Garrique means “grove of kermes oaks” – both names denoted someone who lived near such trees. The surname was introduced to Britain in the 17th century by French Huguenots, Protestants who fled persecution in France. The great 18th century English actor David Garrick was from a Huguenot family; his grandfather changed the name from Garric. Garrick has been used as a personal name since the 18th century, and first appears amongst British Huguenot families. It’s been reasonably well used in Australasia, and I think it still sounds rather distinguished and gentlemanly.
Jayden Hadler is a young swimmer who attended his first Olympics this year. Jayden is a modern name of uncertain origin. It’s first found in the United States in the 19th century, and turns up around the same time as other J-D-N names then in vogue, including Jadin. Jadin is a French occupational surname for someone who made bowls, derived from the French word for bowl, jatte, and it’s hard not to wonder if Jayden began as a variant of this name, influenced by Jay, a surname after the bird, whose name means “joyful, lively”. Jaidan, Jadan and Jaden were also in use around this time – some of the variants we see today date back over a century. Jayden became popular in Australia earlier than other countries, and first charts in the 1970s. You can see that it fit perfectly with popular or fashionable names of that era such as Jason, Hayden and Aidan. By the 1980s it was #307, then zoomed up the charts to make #47 for the 1990s. It peaked in 2003 at #14, and by 2010 had fallen to #28. Last year it rose again to #21, and could be considered a modern classic. The question is – is Jayden from the 1970s “the same name” as Jayden from the 19th century?
Kieren Perkins was considered one of the world’s best long-distance swimmers, specialising in the 1500 metre freestyle. He won gold and silver at the 1992 Olympics, gold in 1996, and silver in 2000. Since retiring from swimming, he has gained success in the media and the corporate world. Kieren is an Anglicised form of the Irish name Ciarán, a diminutive of the name Ciar, meaning “black, dark”. There are six Irish saints called Ciarán, the eldest of which is known as the first Irish-born saint. Although an educated man of noble birth, according to tradition he was a hermit, who lived like a wild man dressed in skins. Many legends describe him as having a love for and power over wild animals. Kieren is pronounced KEE-ren. Kieren has never charted in Australia, with parents preferring the variant Kieran, currently #240.
Leith Brodie won two bronzes at the 2008 Olympics. Leith is the port area in the city of Edinburgh; its name comes from the Gaelic word lìte, meaning “wet”. This makes sense when you realise that Leith is at the mouth of a river. Leith has played an important role in Scottish history and been the scene of many battles, as well as a major industrial centre. Leith is an aristocratic surname; the Leith family are of Scottish origin, and descend from William Leith, who was Lord Provost of Aberdeen in the 14th century. Leith has been reasonably well-used in Australia, and from the available records, seems to have been used almost equally on males and females. For boys, it probably seemed like a cross between Lee and Keith, and for girls, maybe a cross between Lee and Beth. This name still seems a bit “mum and dad” to me, but maybe it’s ready for an early retro-revival.
Maurice “Moss” Christie won silver at the 1924 Olympics. Moss can be a nickname for names such as Moses, Mostyn or Maurice, or it can be from the surname. The surname Moss has several possible sources. As an Irish name, it is usually translated as “son of the follower of Saint Munnu”. Munnu was the nickname of Saint Fintán of Taghmon; his nickname means “teacher”. As an English surname, Moss can mean “swamp, peat bog”, given to someone who lived near one, or it can be taken from the name Moses. Although many of these sources are male, the swamp one is obviously unisex, and you could also see Moss as a nature name, directly after the soft springy green plant. This could be used on both boys and girls.
Noel Ryan was an international swimming champion who attended the 1932 Olympic Games. Noel is another word for Christmas which was introduced by the Normans and comes from the Old French. Ultimately it is from Latin, meaning “birth”, referring to the birth of Jesus Christ. It’s been used for both boys and girls in England since the Middle Ages, originally given to those who were born at Christmas time. Later on, it may have been influenced by the surname, which could be from the personal name, given as a nickname to someone born at Christmas, or to someone who played an important role in Yuletide celebrations. In Australia, Noel has only ever charted as a male name. It was #76 for the 1900s, and peaked in the 1930s at #21. It was out of the Top 100 by the 1970s, and hasn’t charted since the 1990s. This is another 1930s name I would like to see make a comeback, and think it works equally well for girls.
Percival “Percy” Oliver won thirteen Australian freestyle and backstroke titles, and attended the 1936 Olympics. After retiring from swimming, he became a teacher and was responsible for the administration of the Education Department’s swimming programme. He died last year aged 92. In Arthurian legend, Percival is one of King Arthur’s knights, and connected to the quest for the Holy Grail. In the romance Perceval by Chretien de Troyes, Perceval meets the crippled Fisher King in a mysterious castle, and sees a grail (in this poem, a wide deep dish with a communion wafer which feeds the king), but does not understood its importance. Brought up not to chatter too much, Perceval fails to ask the question that would have healed the king, and once he realises the mistake he’s made, vows to find the castle again and complete the quest. At this point, Chretien abandons his poem, and it was left to other writers to finish the story. In doing so, the role of Percival became much diminished. The name Perceval seems to have been created by Chretien de Troyes from the Old French meaning “pierce valley”. What he was trying to get across I have little idea. This is another Arthurian name which was revived by the Victorians due to Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, which depicts Sir Percival as a spiritual knight better suited to holy quests than the average warrior. Percival was #77 in the 1900s, and left the Top 100 by the 1920s; it hasn’t charted since the 1950s. This is a vintage name which seems very usable, especially with its cute nickname Percy.
Regan Harrison won silver at the 2000 Olympics. Regan (pronounced REE-guhn) is an Anglicised form of the Irish surname O’Riagain or O’Raogain, meaning “son of Riagain”. Riagain is a Gaelic name of uncertain meaning; one suggestion is that it comes from the Gaelic word for “impulsive, angry”; another that it means “little king”. There was a medieval Irish prince called Riagain; he may have given his name to the town of Ballyregan in Northern Ireland. Regan is also found as a female name in Shakespeare’s King Lear, where Regan is the middle of the king’s three daughters. She is a vile creature full of false flattery, who throws her elderly father out of her home in the middle of a storm. To nobody’s disappointment, she is poisoned by her older sister, who is even more horrible. This revolting namesake doesn’t seem to have put parents off using the name for their daughters. The meaning of it is unknown; Shakespeare got the story and characters from earlier British legends, and Regan is presumed to be Celtic. A popular notion is that (female) Regan is derived from the name of the Celtic goddess Rigantona, who we also know as Welsh Rhiannon. It makes the name slightly more appealing, but I can’t confirm if it’s true or not. Rigantona means “great queen”.
(Photo is of Kieren Perkins after winning gold at the Atlanta Olympics, becoming the only Australian since Dawn Fraser to successfully defend an individual Olympic championship)