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Last month, New South Wales Liberal Premier Barry O’Farrell resigned from his position during a NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption investigation into Australian Water Holdings. Barry denied receiving a $3000 bottle of Grange Hermitage from a AWH executive and failing to declare it, but a thank you note in his handwriting, even mentioning the 1959 vintage of wine (the year of Barry’s birth), was presented to ICAC as evidence.

Minister for Transport Gladys Berejiklian was Barry O’Farrell’s choice for his successor, but in the end she settled for Deputy to Premier Mike Baird, and was rewarded by being made Minister for the Hunter region.

New South Wales is not unaccustomed to these political scandals. The former Labor Premier resigned from his shadow ministry roles due to a personal affair, and a former Liberal Party leader resigned in tragic circumstances several years ago. The new Premier is now watching his ministry become engulfed in a cash-for favours scandal which has also damaged the NSW Labor Party, and is creating anxiety for the Federal government as well. Expect more scalps.

Barry can be seen as an Anglicised form of the Irish name Bairre, a short form of Finnbarr or Barrfind, meaning “fair hair”. It can also be an Anglicised form of the Irish name Berach, derived from a Gaelic word meaning “sharp”, and often glossed as “spear”.

There are five Irish saints named Finnbarr, with the best known being a 6th century monk who created a centre of learning in the city of Cork. Saint Barrfind (known by a confusing variety of spellings of his name) is a 6th century Irish saint who legend says was a disciple of Saint Columba, and said to have voyaged to North America, serving as an inspiration for Saint Brendan the Navigator. Saint Berach was a 6th century Irish saint who was a disciple of Saint Kevin.

The Barry surname can be derived from these names, such as O’Baire, meaning “son of the fair haired one”. But most Irish Barry families got their surname from the Normans, because de Barri was a knight who came over during the Norman Conquest of Ireland. The name comes from the village of LaBarre in Normandy, whose name may mean “gateway, barrier”.

However, the aristocratic de Barry family, Normans settled in Wales, received their name from ownership of Barry Island, whose name seems to come from the Welsh for “hill”, although it’s often said to be named after Saint Baroc, a British saint who had a chapel on the island. The Scottish Barrys take their name from a place name in Angus which also means “hill”.

Barry has been used as a first name in Ireland and England (and more rarely, Wales and Scotland) since at least the 18th century, and due to immigration from Ireland, became known in the Americas and Australia as well.

A famous Australian namesake is comedian Barry Humphries, who created the character of naively ocker Barry McKenzie for a Private Eye comic strip in the 1960s. In the 1970s films, Barry McKenzie is the nephew of Humphries creation Edna Everage, and played by Australian singer Barry Crocker. Perhaps due to this trio of Barrys, and Barry McKenzie’s rich Australian slang (mostly made up), Barry is often perceived as a very Aussie name. This does have some validity, because Barry peaked higher in popularity here than elsewhere.

Barry was #121 in the 1910s, and joined the Top 100 in the 1920s at #84. It peaked in the 1940s at #10, and left the Top 100 in the 1970s – perhaps the Barry Mackenzie films weren’t a help to it? Barry last ranked in the 1990s, but just two years ago I saw a birth notice for a baby Barry, so it is still in occasional use. Bazza or Baz are the traditional nicknames, although Baz Luhrman is not a Barry.

Gladys is a modern form of the medieval Welsh name Gwladus, traditionally identified as a Welsh form of Claudia, although it may come from the Old Welsh word for “country, nation, realm”, with connotations of sovereignty and rulership over the land.

The name Gwladus was used amongst royalty and nobility in medieval Wales, and Saint Gwladys (often called Saint Gladys) was the beautiful daughter of a legendary Welsh king who married another king, also a saint (somehow he managed to fit raiding and robbery onto his CV). The saintly couple had a number of children who were saints as well. According to legend, Gwladys and her family knew King Arthur, and lived in the woods as hermits, with a strict regimen of vegetarianism, cold baths, and chastity.

The name Gladys became well known outside Wales in the 19th century, when English author Ouida used it for a character in her novel Puck. In the book, Gladys is a farm girl who becomes a gifted actress; angelically beautiful, she manages to be both pure and passionate. Apart from this attractive namesake, the nickname Glad seems cheerful, and Gladys may have reminded some parents of gladiolus flowers (the familiar “gladdies” so beloved of Dame Edna Everage).

Gladys was #8 in the 1900s, left the Top 100 in the 1940s, and hasn’t ranked since the 1950s. There was a very famous Australian singer named Gladys Moncrieff, an absolute superstar for decades, known as “Australia’s Queen of Song”, and “Our Glad”. She started her career as “Gladys the Wonder Child” in the 1900s, and was still holding farewell concerts in the 1960s, laden with awards and honours on every side. The name Gladys disappeared from the charts around the same time she retired, but must have remained in some use, for Gladys Berejiklian was born in 1970.

Gladys was very popular once – as popular as Ava is now. In its day it was fashionable, and must have been seen as fresh, pretty, and charming. It is now generally viewed as an “ugly old lady name”, and often cited as an example of a name that can never be brought back, like an unlovely corpse with DO NOT REVIVE scrawled across its chest.

I think most of us are realistic enough to know that our daughters’ names – so popular, fashionable, fresh, pretty, and charming at present – will probably become “old lady names”, given enough time. We know there will be wrinkled Madisons, widows-humped Khaleesis, Willows with hip replacements, and Arias doting over their great-grandchildren, and their names’ image will change to match their senior status.

But names like Gladys are a looming spectre – what if our daughters’ names don’t just become old lady names, but ugly old lady names? Names that people hate, shudder with horror to think they were ever used, and vow will never be used again? And what popular names of today will be the “ugly old lady names” of the next century, I wonder?

POLL RESULT
Barry received an approval rating of 17%, making it the lowest-rated boys’ name of 2014, and the lowest-rated name overall. 45% of people thought that Barry was a terrible name, and only one person loved it. Gladys did slightly better, with an approval rating of 25%, but 46% of people hated the name.

(Photo of Barry O’Farrell and Gladys Berejiklian from The Sydney Morning Herald)

 

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