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seals on neptuneAt the end of November, the Premier of South Australia announced that the Neptune Islands Group Marine Park would be renamed the Neptune Islands Group (Ron and Valerie Taylor) Marine Park. This is no mere change of name, for a network of 19 marine parks has taken effect in order to protect the seas from over-fishing. The premier noted that the southern oceans had more diversity than the Great Barrier Reef, and contained many plants and animals that cannot be found anywhere else.

The marine park has been named in honour of Ron and Valerie Taylor; divers, film-makers, shark experts, and conservationists who were ardent proponents of preserving marine habitats. Their skills in underwater filming were used on such films as Jaws and The Blue Lagoon, but more importantly, they wrote books and made documentaries to highlight the beauty and fragility of marine ecology. They won many awards for both photography and conservation. Ron passed away this year, and Valerie continues to be an advocate for marine protection.

The Neptune Islands, near Port Lincoln, were named by the navigator and cartographer Matthew Flinders in 1802. Rugged and remote, they seemed to him inaccessible, as if they would would always belong to King Neptune.

Neptune is the English form of Neptunus, the Roman god of fresh water springs, lakes, rivers, and the sea; he is the Roman equivalent of the Greek god Poisedon. He was worshipped in a festival that fell at the height of summer, when rainfall was at its lowest, and water most needed and valuable. As you know, his name has been given to the eighth planet from the Sun.

The meaning and origin of his name is obscure, with etymologists in disagreement over which language/s Neptune might be derived from. The general view is that it means something like “moistness”, “damp, wet”, “clouds, fog”, or “to water, irrigate”.

Another theory is that it is from the Italian town of Nepi, north of Rome, which was anciently known as Nepet or Nepete. This town is famous for its mineral springs, and traditionally connected to the god Neptune, who would presumably have approved of its watery wonders.

The town’s name is Etruscan, from the Etruscan name for Neptune, which was Nethuns. This may be related to the Irish god Nechtan, who had a sacred well, and thus another liquid connection. In fact there are several Indo-European deities with similar names and aqueous roles, and it is speculated that their names may go back to an ancient word meaning “nephew, grandson”.

One of the ships of the Second Fleet was called Neptune, and unfortunately it had the worst reputation of all for its appalling mistreatment of convicts.

Neptune sounds as if it should be ultra rare in Australian name records, but there are quite a few from the 19th century – at least quite a few more than I expected to find. It was mostly used in the middle, such as Cecil Neptune, and Samuel Caesar Neptune, but you can also find men named Neptune Persse and Neptune Frederick. Two of them rejoiced in the full names of Neptune Love and Neptune Blood; I believe the name Neptune is traditional in the Blood family.

Neptune would be very unusual as a baby name today, and I can’t quite imagine what you would use as a nickname – Neppy sounds too much like “nappy” to me. At the very least, please not Tuna.

A complete change of pace brings us to the name Taylor, a very common English surname referring to someone who made clothes as their occupation; the word tailor is ultimately from the Latin talea, meaning “a cutting”. In the Middle Ages, tailoring was a high-status craft, as only the wealthy could afford to have their clothing professionally made, and tailors could command good fees. Both men and women were employed as tailors.

There are many folk tales and fairy stories about tailors, and nearly always the tailor is depicted as being extremely clever, and confidently able to outwit others. Tailors having to be so precise and painstaking in their work, and no doubt with plenty of diplomatic skill to handle their rich clients, they must have gained a reputation for being as sharp as pins and as smooth-talking as silk.

The earliest Taylor-as-a-first-name I can find in the records is from the 16th century, and it was on a female. This may be an error in transcription, as subsequent early Taylors seem to be male (with plenty of girls who had Taylor as a middle name). In the United States, Taylor has always charted as a boy’s name, and only charts for girls from the late 1970s onwards, but is currently Top 100 for girls, and in the 300s for boys. In the UK, it only charts for boys, where it is barely on the Top 100 and falling.

In Australia, Taylor has charted for both boys and girls since the 1980s, when it was #383 for boys and #785 for girls. It peaked for both sexes in the 1990s, when it was #38 for girls and #130 for boys. At the moment, Taylor is only just outside the Top 100 for girls at #108, is #251 for boys, and falling for both sexes.

So that’s a quick survey of Taylor popularity around the world: Top 100 for girls in the US, Top 100 for boys in the UK, and not on the Top 100 at all in Australia.

Here are two very different names which evoke the sea and honour its protectors, as well as having a strong connection to the history of South Australia.

(Picture shows seals on Neptune Island; photo from Flickr)