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4615398-16x9-512x288Last month the Logie Awards were held to honour those deemed most excellent or most popular in the TV industry (the public votes on the “popular” categories via the TV Week website). The Gold Logie for most popular personality on Australian television overall went to actress Asher Keddie, for her work in popular thirty-something drama Offspring (she also won Most Popular Actress).

Comedian Hamish Blake won the Gold Logie last year, but this year had to be satisfied with Most Popular TV Presenter, for Hamish and Andy’s Euro Gap Year and Hamish and Andy’s Caravan of Courage: Australia vs New Zealand.

We’ve already seen Asher Keddie and Hamish Blake on the blog before – Asher for her award-winning role playing Ita Buttrose, and we covered Hamish’s surname, Blake, a year ago. So this seemed like a good opportunity to cover both their first names.

In the Bible, Asher is one of the sons of Jacob and the founder of one of the twelve tribes of Israel. Because Asher’s mother is said to be one of Jacob’s handmaids, rather than one of his wives, some scholars believe this means the tribe of Asher had non-Israelite origins, of which there is some evidence from outside sources.

The tribe of Asher was believed to be especially blessed, for they were very wealthy, produced an abundance of sons and beautiful daughters, and had a reputation for great wisdom. This fits very well with the Hebrew meaning of Asher given in the Bible: “happy, blessed, fortunate”.

However, meanings of names given in the Old Testament are nearly always just folk etymology, and Asher may be named after Asherah, the Semitic mother goddess; she was worshipped as the consort of Yahweh before the Israelites became monotheistic. Her ancient name may mean “straight, upright”, with reference to trees, or “holy place, shrine”, or perhaps “lady”. It is pronounced uh-SHEER-uh.

Another possibility is that Asher is after the East Semitic god Ashur, which means “the whole of heaven”. He was the major Assyrian deity, and seems to have been a god of the weather – both sunshine and tempests.

An interesting theory put forward is that the tribe of Asher descended from the Uash people, one of the mysterious Peoples of the Sea who were seafaring raiders. As nobody is quite sure where the Uash people came from (they may have been Trojans), I doubt that the meaning of their name is even known.

So quite a range of attractive meanings to choose from, and quite possibly the real meaning is so ancient and mysterious as to be unknowable.

Although usually listed as a boy’s name, in Australia the name Asher is unisex, and in Victoria at least (Asher Keddie’s home state), is given fairly equally to boys and girls (it is #168 for boys and #195 for girls).

Apart from Ms Keddie herself, another reason for its unisex status here is that in an Australian accent, this is said the same way as the girl’s Asha. And if you believe the name Asher is related to Asherah, then it has a feminine meaning.

Hamish is an Anglicised form of Seumas, the Scottish form of James, and obviously based on the Irish form of the name, Séamas. The Scottish pronunciation SHAY-mas is similar to how Hamish is said – HAY-mish. (Hamish shouldn’t remind you of ham any more than James reminds you of jam).

Apart from all the famous Hamishes (on the blog alone we have already had Hamish Blake, Hamish Rosser and Hamish McLachlan) there are several Hamishes in fiction, including Hamish Campbell in Braveheart, and TV detective Hamish Macbeth, played by Robert Carlyle. Another detective connection is that Hamish is the middle name of Dr. John Watson, Sherlock Holmes’ sidekick.

Hamish first charted in Australia in the 1950s, and from the 1980s onwards, rose steadily to make the Top 100 in the early 2000s. It peaked in 2010 at #60, and since then has been on a decline. Currently it is #85 in New South Wales, #58 in Victoria, #77 in Queensland, #28 in Tasmania and #67 in the Australian Capital Territory.

Apart from its obvious Scottish heritage associations, Hamish is often seen as a rather upper class name in Australia. It’s still popular, and outside New South Wales at least, is probably set to have a fairly gentle decline.

POLL RESULT: Hamish received an approval rating of 81%, and Asher a slightly higher approval rating of 83%. This makes Hamish and Asher two of the most highly-rated names of the year.

(Photo is of Asher Keddie with her Logie)