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In a week it will be Easter, which is always on the first Sunday after the full moon following March 21. This computation was agreed upon in the 4th century, although it was apparently already an old tradition in Rome. The Gospels tell us that the Resurrection of Christ took place on a Sunday, and from then on the day had special significance for Christians.
In the New Testament Sunday is called the Lord’s Day, and early Christians gathered for worship then. This was formalised in the 4th century, and may have been easier to implement because Sunday was already a public holiday in the Roman Empire. It is because of Christianity, and in particular because of Easter, that Sunday is regarded as a holiday – technically every Sunday of the Christian year is “Easter”, because it commemorates the Resurrection.
The English word Sunday comes from Old English, and simply means “sun’s day”. It is derived from the Germanic translation of the Latin term dies solis, meaning “day of the sun”, and in turn, this translates the Ancient Greek, heméra helíou.
The Ancient Greeks named each day of the week after the sun, the moon, and the five known planets, which were associated with gods; an idea they got from the Egyptians. The Romans followed this pattern, as did the Germanic peoples. It seems to be an Indo-European custom, because in most Indian languages, the word for Sunday is also linked with sun gods. So although Sunday has strong Christian associations, the English word has a long pagan history.
Sunday has been used as a personal name since at least the 18th century, and was possibly used for babies born on a Sunday. The first American named Sunday I can find was African-American, and in her case it may have been a slave name. The name Sunday was originally given fairly evenly to boys and girls, although today Sunday is usually thought of as a female name. Its unisex status is still active – in 2012 we had a celebrity baby boy called Sunday.
Sunday has become a celebrity baby name in Australia, since radio host Kate Langbroek chose it for her eldest daughter, Sunday Lil Lewis, in 2005. Kate’s daughter was named after celebrated art patron Sunday Reed, born Lelda Sunday Baillieau. She was from a wealthy and privileged background, and her second husband was John Reed. Together the couple gave both friendship and financial support to modern artists such as Sidney Nolan and Charles Blackman. Sidney Nolan became Sunday’s lover, and he painted his famous Ned Kelly series in the Reeds’ dining room.
The Reeds’ home near Heidelberg was named Heide, and it later became the Heide Museum of Modern Art. There was a kitchen garden at Heide, and many years later, Kate Langbroek ate from a rockmelon which Sunday Reed had planted there. It seems to have been something of an epiphanous moment for Kate, and served as the inspiration for her daughter’s name.
In 2008, actress Nicole Kidman and her husband, country music star Keith Urban, named their eldest daughter Sunday Rose. This caused Kate Langbroek a certain amount of consternation, who declared that the Kidman-Urbans had “stolen” her baby name.
What may have made it more irritating for Kate was that news sources reported that Sunday Rose had also been named after Sunday Reed. Nicole’s father Dr Antony Kidman was quoted as saying that he and Nicole’s mother had suggested the name Sunday after reading about Sunday Reed.
Meanwhile, baby name conspiracy theorists believed that the name Sunday had been chosen for its Christian significance. They saw the choice of the name Sunday as a declaration of Nicole Kidman’s Catholic faith, and a public rejection of her ex-husband’s devotion to the Church of Scientology.
By Nicole Kidman’s testimony, neither of these stories was correct, and they simply liked the name Sunday. Furthermore, what made the name special to them was that Sunday was the couple’s day to spend together – it was a name that symbolised love and the end of loneliness. It was also the day of the week they got married.
Although some people still see Sunday as a religious name, it’s important to remember that Sundays have secular significance too. Sunday is a holiday, a day of freedom from work, a day for sports and games, for beaches and barbecues, for friends and family. A great day for visiting art museums, too!
When the name of Nicole and Keith’s daughter was announced, I was surprised to see how many people online thought of it as a “wacky celebrity baby name”, like Audio Science or Pilot Inspektor. There often seemed to be disdain or even hostility towards it. In Australia, most people seem to like the name, except those who think that Sunday Rose sounds too much like “Sunday roast”.
Now Canadian comedian Mike Myers has a daughter named Sunday – Sunday Molly. However, Mike’s son is named Spike, which may just cement the idea that Sunday is the sort of crazy baby name that parents who like the name Spike might choose.
The name Sunday has only been on the US Top 1000 once, in the 1960s, and is extremely rare in the UK. Sunday has never charted in Australia, and between 2002 and 2007 there were 36 babies named Sunday born in Victoria. While Kate Langbroek hasn’t managed to keep the name to herself, her fear was that after the birth of Sunday Rose, the popularity of the name would snowball and there would be a “plague of Sundays”. Her baby name nightmare hasn’t eventuated – yet it does feel as if the name Sunday is slowly gathering momentum.
Sunday is a rare name, but still in occasional use, and you must not expect to be the only parent in the world, or even the state, with a little Sunday. It’s a day of the week with a simple meaning, and many layers of associations that are pagan, Christian and secular, but overall tied to the light and life from the sun – a name of warmth and happiness. Sunny or Sunnie is the obvious nickname, which brings the name right back to its origins.
Sunday received an excellent approval rating of 80%. 31% of people thought it was a good name, while 28% thought it was a great name. Less than 5% of people hated the name Sunday.
(Photo shows the original 19th farmhouse at the Heide Museum of Modern Art in Melbourne, which became a focal point for progressive art and culture: the Reeds made it their home from 1935 to 1967)
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