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P04233.001Amy

Amy is the English form of the Old French name Amée, meaning “beloved”; it’s a form of the Latin name Amata. It was in use in the Middle Ages, and revived in the 19th century. Amy was #32 in the 1900s, and by the following decade had sunk to #58, leaving the Top 100 in the 1920s. Amy disappeared from the charts between 1940 and 1960, but soared in popularity to make the Top 100 in the 1970s, and peaked in the 1980s at #8; by the 1990s it had only dropped one place. Amy had a very gentle decline, and left the Top 100 in 2011, but last year rallied and made #89, showing that there is life in this name yet. No wonder Amy has remained such a favourite – it’s a simple, unpretentious name with a nice meaning, and possesses appealing fictional namesakes from Little Women‘s Amy March to Doctor Who‘s Amelia “Amy” Pond.

Enid

Enid is a Welsh name meaning “soul”. In medieval Welsh legend, Enid is the wife of Geraint, a warrior king who is one of King Arthur’s men. Due to a silly misunderstanding, Geraint believes Enid has been unfaithful, and drags her off on a dangerous journey where she is not allowed to speak to him. Sensible Enid ignores this request, as she often has to warn him of approaching danger. Somehow this road trip from hell doesn’t put Enid off her husband, and in the end the two lovebirds are reconciled. Lord Tennyson turned the legend into two poems for his Idylls of the King, which brought the name to the attention of literature-loving Victorians. Enid was #64 in the 1900s, #49 for the 1910s, and peaked in the 1920s at #40. It left the Top 100 in the 1940s, and hasn’t charted since the 1950s. The most famous Australian Enid is Dame Enid Lyons, the first woman elected to the House of Representatives. Strong yet sweet, and sounding like an anagram of Eden, this is a clunky old-style name which deserves revival.

Gertrude

Gertrude is a Germanic name meaning “spear of strength”. It was used amongst medieval German nobility and royalty, and Saint Gertrude was one of the great mystics of the 13th century. The name probably didn’t become well known in Britain until the 15th century, due to immigration from the Netherlands. Shakespeare used it for the Danish queen in Hamlet, giving it a stamp of approval as an English name. The name seems to have been more common in Australia amongst Catholics, due to its saintly namesake. Gertrude was #54 in the 1900s, #87 in the 1910s, and had left the Top 100 by the 1920s. It hasn’t charted since the 1930s – a very steep decline. However, I feel that this dignified name could have a slight revival, and would make a very hip and cutting-edge choice. The nicknames Gertie and Trudy seem cute and usable.

Helen

Helen is a name of Greek derivation whose meaning has been much debated. Often translated as “light”, “torch” or “the shining one”, the name may be related to a Sanskrit name meaning “swift”. The name is forever connected to its original namesake, Helen of Troy, a woman of staggering beauty. In Greek mythology, Helen was the daughter of Zeus, who came to her mother Leda in the guise of a swan, so that Helen was born from an egg. Married to King Menelaus of Sparta, she was carried off by Prince Paris of Troy, sparking the Trojan War to avenge her abduction, causing no end of trouble for all involved. Famous Helens include singer Helen Reddy, novelist Helen Garner, and opera star Dame Helen “Nellie” Melba. Helen has never left the charts; #77 in the 1900s, it was #71 in the 1910s and peaked in the 1940s at #4. A long-time favourite, it didn’t leave the Top 100 until the 1980s. It reached its lowest point in 2009 at #554, and since then has taken a slight upward turn, making #355 in 2011. With names such as Eleanor and Elena gaining rapidly in popularity, and retro nicknames Nell and Nellie becoming fashionable, classic Helen looks like it has plenty of room for growth.

Joan

Joan is the English form of the Old French name Johanne, a feminine form of Johannes, which is the Latin form of the Greek name Ioannes, from the Hebrew name Yehochanan, meaning “Yahweh is gracious”. The English form of Johannes is John, and Joan is also a Spanish form of John. Joan was introduced to Britain by the Normans, and it was used amongst royalty and the nobility during the Middle Ages. Later it became less common, and had a revival in the 19th century. It is well known from Saint Joan of Arc, the visionary military leader, whose French name is Jeanne d’Arc. Famous Joans include Joan Lindsay, who wrote Picnic at Hanging Rock and opera star Dame Joan Sutherland. Joan was #152 for the 1900s, shot up to make #28 for the 1910s, and peaked in the 1920s at #2. It didn’t leave the Top 100 until the 1960s, and hasn’t been on the charts since the 1970s. For many years, Joan’s image was stout and sensible, but since Mad Men came to our TV screens, Joan Holloway has given it a stylish and sassy edge.

Mavis

Mavis is an English dialect word meaning “song thrush”; it is related to the French word mauvis and appears in literature as a poetic word for the bird. The word was in rare use as a girl’s name, but massively popularised by its use in Marie Corelli’s 1895 novel, The Sorrows of Satan. Although panned by the critics, it is considered the world’s first best-seller. Mavis was #85 in the 1900s, #16 by the 1910s, and peaked in the 1920s at #14. It left the Top 100 in the 1940s, and hasn’t charted since the 1950s. Mavis seems to have been a real Australian favourite, because it was more popular here than in Britain, and much more popular than in the US. In the 1960s, pioneering TV series, The Mavis Bramston Show, set the tone for Australian sketch comedy (a “Mavis Bramston” was theatre slang for an actress who was a pain in the backside). Australian band The Mavis’s were named after a cat. Mavis was a fresh, pretty name in the 1910s, and I think it can be again. It sounds very much like Maeve, and its associations with spring time and bird song are lovely.

Minnie

Minnie can be used as a short form of many different names – Mary, Amelia, Wilhelmina, Minerva, Hermione, or anything similar – and has long been used as an independent name. Famous fictional Minnies include Disney sweetheart Minnie Mouse, the Beano‘s tomboyish Minnie the Minx, and Cab Calloway’s jazzy Minnie the Moocher. These lively vintage creations make Minnie seem appealing, mischievous and off-beat; you can’t imagine a Minnie being tame or dull. Minnie was #56 in the 1900s, and by the 1910s was #100; it hasn’t ranked since the 1940s. With other vintage nicknames like Millie in vogue, piquant Minnie seems more than ready for a comeback.

Olga

Olga is the Russian form of the Scandinavian name Helga, meaning “holy, blessed”. Saint Olga was a 10th century Russian saint and princess, and the first Russian ruler to convert to Christianity. She didn’t convert until she was quite elderly, and before that she was a fierce ruler and brutal military leader. The name Olga was used by the Russian imperial family, and Mount Olga in the Northern Territory is named after Queen Olga of Württemberg, a daughter of Nicholas I of Russia. Olga was #88 in the 1900s, and peaked in the 1910s at #60. It left the Top 100 in the 1930s, and last charted in the 1980s. I am not sure why Olga became such a trend in this decade; I can only think it had something to do with the Russian Imperial Family, who would have often been in the news during World War I, and who were overthrown in 1917. Today we might connect the name to actress Olga Kurylenko, who played Bond girl Camille in Quantum of Solace and recently appeared in Oblivion. On Nancy’s Baby Names, people debated whether Olga was a “horrid” name; although some find it ugly, others could find it clunky and hip. This would be a bold choice which still seems exotic.

Stella

Stella is the Latin for “star”, and it was created as a name by 16th century poet Sir Philip Sydney in his sonnet sequence Astrophel and Stella. It is believed that Stella was inspired by real-life noblewoman Lady Penelope Rich, so endowed with dark-eyed, golden-haired beauty that it was practically mandatory for the poets of the day to fall in love with her (or pretend to), and dash off poems in her honour. Apparently unmoved by their literary efforts, she instead chose as her lover a handsome, wealthy and ruthless baron. Perhaps Sydney saw Lady Rich like a distant star – beautiful, glittering, cold, and unattainable. Stella wouldn’t have seemed too crazy as a name, because the Old French name Estelle is based on the Latin stella, and had been in use since the Middle Ages, and the Virgin Mary had for centuries been known as Stella Maris (“Star of the Sea”). Stella is a classic name in Australia. It was #48 in the 1900s, and #70 in the 1910s; by the 1920s it had left the Top 100. It reached its lowest point in the 1980s at #563, and since then has mostly climbed, reaching the Top 100 in the late 2000s. It is currently #52 in New South Wales, and still rising. You can understand why parents continue to use this pretty, star-like name, which fits in with the trend for -ella names.

Veronica

Veronica is a Latin form of the Greek name Berenice, which means “bringing victory”; the spelling was altered to make it seem as if it was based on the Latin phrase vera icon, meaning “true icon”. Saint Veronica is a legendary saint who is said to have been so moved to pity when she saw Jesus on his way to Calvary that she wiped his face with her veil. By a miracle, the image of his face was impressed upon it, and this cloth could then be used to heal the sick, or even bring the dead back to life. This legend, which comes from the Eastern church, was very popular in the Middle Ages, and several of these veils were venerated as holy relics until their cult was suppressed. Veronica was first used as a girl’s name in Italy, and spread from there. In Australia, Veronica was #63 for the 1900s and #69 for the 1910s; it didn’t leave the Top 100 until the 1950s. It has never stopped charting, and is currently at its lowest point yet – #356. Veronica has something of a glamorous image. Hollywood femme fatale Veronica Lake lent her name to Veronica Lodge from the Archie comics, with the comics themselves suggesting that “a Veronica” was a stunning high-maintenance girl. This was picked up by 1980s mean girls cult flick Heathers, with Winona Ryder as Veronica, and Australian girl band The Veronicas called themselves after Ryder’s character. This is an underused classic which seems sophisticated, with dark undertones.

POLL RESULT: People’s favourite names were Stella, Helen, and Minnie, and their least favourite were Gertrude, Joan, and Olga.  

(Photo is of Australian World War I nurses; standing at the back on the right is Sister Constance Keys, who was mentioned in the post on Gallipoli. These nurses received military decorations for their heroism, and all made it back to Australia at the end of the war)

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