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4448972-3x2-700x467New Year’s Eve is celebrated in Sydney with a huge firework display on the Harbour, the Harbour Bridge forming the centrepiece. Each year’s theme is displayed across the Bridge in words and pictures; for 2013 the theme was Embrace, asking us to embrace love, Sydney, possibilities, and the moment, illustrated by a butterfly and a pair of red lips.

Being one of the earliest places in the world to greet the New Year, the Sydney fireworks are amongst the first celebrations that people see, so they really do try to put on a show. Sydneysiders firmly believe their NYE firework display is the best in the world, although this year Abu Dhabi insisted theirs was clearly superior. I think London was my favourite, although Sydney was definitely the best city with a harbour fireworks display (sorry Hong Kong!).

Such an enormous spectacle necessitates a team of people working on it, but someone has to have their name at the top, and in this case it was Aneurin Coffey, the producer, Fortunato Foti, the director, and Kylie Minogue, the creative ambassador. As we have already covered Kylie in an earlier blog entry, when Ms Minogue was ambassador for the Sydney Mardi Gras, we are going to look at the names of Messrs Coffey and Foti instead.

Aneurin Coffey, originally from Perth, has been in event management and production co-ordination for many years, and been involved with the Sydney fireworks since the late 1990s. Fortunato Foti comes from a long line of pyrotechnicians; the Foti family have been creating firework displays since the 18th century in Italy. Fortunato’s grandfather Celestino migrated to Sydney in the 1950s, after being interned here during the war.

As you can imagine, in the lead-up to the Big Bang, these two gentlemen were often interviewed on the news and in newspapers, which is how I came to hear their intriguing names.

Aneurin is a variant of the name Aneirin, which has an important role in Welsh literature. Aneirin was a British bard in the Dark Ages, believed to have been a poet at a court which today is Edinburgh, and possibly the son of a queen of West Yorkshire. His best known work, Y Gododdin, is a series of elegies for warriors who fell in battle; there is a chance that it contains the earliest reference to King Arthur, although it isn’t certain. Revered in his own era, and rediscovered in Tudor times, he is still highly-regarded today.

The meaning of Aneirin is not certain, and it may be the British form of the Latin name Honorius, meaning “honourable, noble”. The name would have been familiar to Britons as that of the Emperor Honorius, under whose rule Rome was sacked in 410. There is a famous story that in this same year, Britain asked for Roman help against barbarian incursions, and Honorius, who had problems of his own, replied by telling them that Britain must guard itself. It is from this moment that the end of Roman control in Britain is dated.

From the 18th century, Aneirin’s name began to be spelled Aneurin, presumably to make it look as if it was derived from the Welsh for “all gold”. The name is usually pronounced a-NY-rihn, and the Welsh politician Aneurin Bevan, founder of the National Health Service, used Nye as his nickname.

The name has been mostly used in Wales, and by those with Welsh heritage. A contemporary namesake is attractive young Welsh actor Aneurin Barnard, who has won an award for his stage work, but also appears in films, and made guest appearances on TV shows such as Shameless.

Fortunato is the Italian form of the Latin name Fortunatus, meaning “fortunate, blessed”. There are several saints called Fortunatus, including Fortunatus the Apostle, listed as one of the Seventy Disciples of Christ, and mentioned by Saint Paul. Fortunatus also appears in literature as the hero of a German tale from the 16th century, who meets the goddess of Fortune and is given endless riches. Despite his charmed life, his heirs are unable to share his wealth, for they do not have the wisdom and honour to manage it.

Fortunato is not uncommon as an Italian surname, and there are quite a few streets and businesses in Australia bearing this name. A young namesake is Fortunato Caruso, who plays Australian rules football for West Adelaide.

The beginning of a new year, whatever it may bring, is always filled with hope for the future. Here are two rare names associated with luck, honour, gold and riches – good omens for the year ahead.

All the best for 2013!

POLL RESULTS: Aneurin received an approval rating of 23%, while Fortunato received a more favourable approval rating of 37%. More than 45% of people said they hated both names. One nice person said they loved both.

(Picture shows the fireworks on Sydney Harbour, January 1 2013; photo from ABC News)