Zeffy is the enthusiastic blogger at Baby Names from Yesteryear, which features wonderful, winning, and sometimes slightly wacky names from history. Whether you enjoy names of English gentlemen, ladies from antiquity, or contemporary British royals, you will find many beautiful names which are elegant, elaborate and eccentric. You will also find names from South America, and names from Zeffy’s own family tree. One of my favourites of Zeffy’s posts is an extremely sweet story about one of her sentimental favourites – I dare you to read it without either smiling tenderly or getting a tear in your eye. Zeffy has been away from blogging for a year, but she’s back (hooray!!!), and this is a chance to catch up with her and find out what Zeffy is short for.
What is your name?
Sephora. I go by Zeffy online, a nickname given to me by my loopy, but incredibly sweet, university professor.
Have you ever wished you had a different name?
Have I ever! I’ve disliked my name for most of my life. As a child, all I wanted was a nice common name, something like Jessica or Rebecca, so I could blend in. I was a bit shy as a child so I hated being different from everyone else. It was only when I got to my late teens that I realised my name was quite nice and fitted my personality very well. I would never consider changing it now – having such an unusual name is a big part of my identity.
How did you become interested in names?
It goes back to having an unusual name. I’ve always wanted to know where my name came from, what it meant, how it came to be used. My curiosity stemmed from having absolutely no clue about my name’s origins. I guess my interest in names in general dates back to when I started school and noticed that I was the only one whose name wasn’t “normal”. Since then I’ve always loved reading about names and looking up meanings. There hasn’t been a time when I haven’t been interested in names and their stories.
How did you become interested in names from the past?
I’m obsessed with history. I’ve always been interested in the history of people’s lives, particularly focusing on the social and private life of early 19th century English aristocrats. There’s something very fascinating about discovering the small details of what people 200 years ago ate for breakfast, where they bought their boots from, why they married who they did, and what they named their children. That’s what attracts me to names from the past – it’s a glimpse into the personal and private life of someone who lived hundreds of years ago.
What inspired you to begin a name blog?
I came across The Gentleman’s Magazine during my last year of university. I was meant to be researching contemporary reviews for Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man, but I kept flipping back and having a look through all the wedding announcements. Once I left university, I had a heck of a lot of time on my hands, and I really don’t deal well with boredom. I had to find a project to do before I completely lost my sanity. I thought about all the lovely names I’d read and decided to share them. I knew there had to be someone out there who was equally as interested in Georgian era names as I was. I couldn’t be the only one who oohed and ahhed over them!
Do you have a favourite blog entry on Baby Names from Yesteryear?
I really enjoyed writing about The Patronesses of Almack’s and Popular Names of the Georgian Era. They hit on my favourite time period in history so I can’t help but have a soft spot for them. Having said that, the posts I tend to like the most are those which required me to really do research, to look through a number of sources before hitting name gold. I’m such a geek, I know.
Do you have a pet peeve in regard to names?
When people think that many of the current trends are a modern concept. People have been naming their children all sorts of weird and wonderful things for hundreds, even thousands, of years. Masculine names on girls, surnames used as first names, nature names, unusual names … it’s all been done before, so let’s not get in a tizzy about them now.
There’s also something about the word “unique” which I find unrealistic. The chance of any name being unique is truly slim, and I don’t think it’s a good idea to change spellings in search for uniqueness.
What are some of your favourite names?
A few of my current favourites are Minerva, Emmeline, Margaux, Josephine and Magdalene. For boys, Alexander, Lucien, Mikael and Hart are long time favourites. I think Noa is absolutely darling. Tierney, Seren, Clover, Lyra, Orion and Shia are just a few that are on my favourites list.
What names do you dislike?
I’ve never been a fan of overly “cute” names, on girls or boys, for a number of reasons. Children don’t need cute names to be cute. A lot of names that fall into that category for me have really taken off in England and Wales where there is currently a trend for over-the-top cuteness, especially on the girls’ side. There’s a message behind that trend which I’m not comfortable with.
I’m also not at all keen on the Mae/May/Mai hyphenated names which are very popular over here. It feels like half the female population under the age of 5 answers to Something-Mae. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike Mae or May. Just please, please stop hyphenating it!
Are there any names you love, but could never use?
So, so many. Hyacinth is always in the back of my mind, but I think of Hyacinth Bucket [from sit-com Keeping Up Appearances]and it’s over. Millicent is another. I really love how it sounds, but not how it looks. Ptolemy is probably the biggest one. Why does the P have to be silent?! I so wish it wasn’t; it would be a serious contender then.
What are your favourite names in the UK Top 100?
Eleanor (#63) and Alexander (#27).
What are your favourite names that have never charted in the UK?
Sanceline and Holland.
Do you have any names picked out for your future children?
Not really. Children haven’t crossed my mind yet so it’s all up in the air. If, however, I were to have a baby at this exact moment, I guess it would be something like Emmeline Clover, Emmeline Jane Noa, or Noa Emmeline Jane. I adore Jane. I know it has in the past been overused in the middle spot, but it’s lovely and I can’t help myself. For a boy, it would be Alexander Lucien or Shia Alexander. I think when it comes down to it, I won’t be as tame in my choices. It’s fun having a name on the unusual side so I think I’ll go down that path. But who knows?!
What is something we don’t know about you?
I’m incapable or remaining serious for very long. Trying to answer your questions without making silly and inappropriate jokes hasn’t been easy! Also, I love exclamation marks 🙂
What advice would you give someone who was choosing a baby name?
I wouldn’t. I don’t have any children so I don’t know anything about how hard the naming process is or the pressures of it. I only wish all parents would put as much time as possible into choosing their child’s name. Your child has to live with their name every single day. That’s a big thing. Take it seriously! (Yay, got to use an exclamation mark again.)
(Painting shown is Eugenie, Empress of the French and Her Ladies by Franz Xaver Winterhalter; 1855 – one of the many lovely illustrations on Zeffy’s blog)