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Happy Mother’s Day! One of my mum’s favourite hobbies is browsing in antique shops and vintage stores: sometimes you find the most wonderful items in these places, and marvel that we ever stopped making such beauties. On the other hand, sometimes there’s nothing but junk in them. But either way, you get to lose yourself in the past for a while. Here are ten boys names from the 1920s, and I will let you decide whether I have dug up something worthwhile, or whether they should be allowed to lie under dust sheets for a few years longer. 

Based on the place name Atholl, a district of the Scottish Highlands which means “New Ireland” in Gaelic. One of its towns is named Blair Atholl, and the Duke of Atholl is a member of the Scottish peerage – the only person in Europe legally commanding his own private army, the Atholl Highlanders. Both Sydney and Adelaide have suburbs named Blair Athol; the one in Sydney is named after a historic house. A famous Australian namesake is Athol Guy, from folk group The Seekers – he’s the one with glasses. Athol has been used as a first name since the 18th century, and originates from the Atholl region of Scotland. Athol was #86 in the 1900s, and peaked in the 1910s at #70; by the 1920s it was #72. It left the Top 100 in the 1940s, and hasn’t ranked since the 1950s. Athol unfortunately sounds a lot like the female name Ethel, and can be mispronounced to sound like a rude word (I went to primary school with an Athol, and can testify to this). It might be better suited as a middle name.

Germanic name translated as “brave as a bear”. It was brought to England by the Normans, where it replaced the Old English equivalent, Beornheard. There are several saints named Bernard, including St Bernard of Mentone, founder of a famous refuge for pilgrims in the French Alps; the St Bernard dogs used to rescue people are named after him. Another is St Bernard of Clairvaux, who founded the Cistercian Order and is a Doctor of the Church, famed for his eloquence. Two Australian celebrities demonstrate the different ways this name can be pronounced: Bernard Fanning from Powderfinger says his name with the accent on the first syllable, while tennis player Bernard Tomic has his name pronounced with the emphasis on the second. Bernard was #62 in the 1900s, and peaked in the 1920s at #53. It didn’t leave the Top 100 until the 1970s, and last ranked in the 1990s. With more than sixty years in the Top 100, yet never in the Top 50, Bernard seems very usable. It’s a strong, masculine name that is quite funky, and comes with cute nicknames like Bernie, Barney, and Bear.

Germanic name translated as “bright army”, and found very early in the form Charibert, who was King of the Franks in the 6th century; his daughter married a king of Kent. The Anglo-Saxons had their own form of the name, Hereberht, and there is a 7th century saint with this name, as well as an obscure French St Herbert. When the Normans conquered England, they brought the name with them, and it replaced the Old English form. Unlike many other medieval names, Herbert managed to remain in use because it is an aristocratic surname – the Herbert family have been Earls of Pembroke in an unbroken line since 1501. The first Earl of Pembroke was a courtier married to the sister of Catherine Parr, one of Henry VIII’s wives, and the present Earl still lives on the estate built by the first Earl. The name Herbert became popular during the 19th century, when Sidney Herbert, the 14th Earl, was a distinguished politician famous for being the most handsome MP of his day. Herbert was #23 in the1900s, and #48 by the 1920s. It left the Top 100 in the 1940s, and hasn’t ranked since the 1960s. I have seen one or two small children named Herbert, and this is one for the serious lover of vintage names, with the nicknames Herb, Herbie, and Bertie.

Anglicised form of Iain, a modern Scottish Gaelic form of John, derived from the medieval Irish name Eoin. Both Iain and Ian date from the 19th century, and it is not impossible that Iain was an attempt to Gaelicise English Ian. Ian was #128 in the 1900s, and joined the Top 100 the following decade. It was #57 in the 1920s, and peaked in the 1950s at #10. It didn’t leave the Top 100 until the 1990s, and is currently stable in the mid-200s. This makes Ian a very safe choice – it’s a classic which was popular for eighty years, and is still in reasonable use.

English form of the Welsh Llwyd, commonly translated as “grey”, which in practice referred to various shades of brown in different contexts, and white, in the sense of grey hair being white. Although Llwyd was sometimes used as a personal name, it became better known as an epithet, which came to describe someone with mouse-brown hair, and then developed into a surname. By this stage, the original meaning of “grey” was pretty much lost, and it was understood as “brown-haired”. The word llwyd could also be understood as meaning “holy, blessed”, although this doesn’t seem to have contributed to the surname. In Britain, Lloyd has some heavy-duty business clout, due to Lloyds Bank, and the insurance market Lloyd’s of London. Use of the name may have been boosted by David Lloyd George, Britain’s only Welsh Prime Minister. Lloyd was #148 in the 1900s, and peaked in the 1910s at #80. By the 1920s it was #91, and it left the Top 100 the following decade. However, the name Lloyd continued to chart until the late 2000s. It’s still in occasional use, and I see it quite often as a middle name in birth notices. Lloyd may be a little clunky, but it’s not an outrageous choice.

A region in north-west Scotland, said to mean “headland” in Gaelic, perhaps referring to the Black Isle, a peninsula in the Scottish Highlands. Another possibility is that it means “horse island” in Old Norse, in reference to the island of Orkney. The Scottish surname Ross originates from this area. However, the surname has English roots too, because there are places in England named Ross, with the meaning “headland”, and Rozzo was an Anglo-Saxon name meaning “fame” (related to the name Rose). The Rosses were a large Yorkshire family who came over with William the Conqueror from the village of Ros in Normandy (the name means “red’); in the Middle Ages they bought up large tracts of Ayrshire, so their surname also became Scottish. Ross has been used as a personal name since at least the 16th century, and first used in England rather than Scotland. Ross was #203 for the 1900s, and hit the Top 100 in the 1920s at #75. It peaked in the 1950s at #37, didn’t leave the Top 100 until the 1980s, and still ranked in the late 2000s. Ross is fairly common in the middle, and wouldn’t be too surprising up front.

Anglicised form of Ruadh, a Gaelic name meaning “red”, often used as a nickname for someone with red hair. One of the most famous bearers is Scottish outlaw Raibeart Ruadh MacGriogair, known in English as Rob Roy MacGregor. His story was turned into a best-selling novel by Sir Walter Scott, and Liam Neeson starred in a film about him. The name can also be derived from the surname, which can be from Ruadh, but also from Norman-French Roi, meaning “king”. This could be used as a nickname, but was a medieval personal name as well. Roy was #25 in the 1900s, and #34 by the 1920s. It left the Top 100 in the 1950s, and reached its lowest point in 2010 with a ranking of 0. Since then, Roy has begun to pick up steam, and has become rather fashionable, along with similar names like Royce, Elroy and Leroy. This classic is once again on trend.

Aristocratic surname which probably comes from a place name meaning “at the water-meadows” in Old English. However, folk etymology derives it from the French Saint-Denis, a suburb of Paris named after the city’s first bishop. The Sidney family became prominent during the Tudor period; Sir William Sidney was squire to Henry VIII. Sir William’s grandson was poet Sir Philip Sidney, famous for creating the name Stella. The story goes he had a noble and gallant death, for as he lay dying in battle, he gave his water to another wounded soldier, with the words, “Thy necessity is yet greater than mine”. Sir Philip’s great-nephew was Algernon Sidney, a 17th century republican executed for treason, and afterwards revered as a heroic patriot and martyr. Although Sidney had been used as a first name since the 16th century, it became much more popular in the United States during the 18th and 19th, because Algernon Sidney’s anti-monarchist views were highly influential to the American conception of liberty. Although it has charted for both sexes in the US, in Australia Sidney has only charted as a male name. Sidney was #48 in the 1900s, and peaked in the 1910s at #47; by the 1920s it was #63. It left the Top 100 in the 1940s, and dropped from the charts in the 1980s. However, it ranked again in the late 2000s at #450, and has been gently increasing. This retro name is back in style, along with its short form, Sid.

English form of the Roman family name Terentius, of unknown meaning. The Roman comic playwright we call Terence was named Publius Terentius Afer, and he was a slave (probably from Libya) of a Roman senator from the Terentius family, who educated him, and later freed him; he adopted the name Terentius after gaining his freedom. There are several saints we call Terence, although most of them were named things like Terentianus, Terentian, or Tertius. Terence has been used as an English name since the 17th century, and in Ireland was used to Anglicise the name Toirdhealbhach, meaning “instigator”. Terence was #141 for the 1900s, and joined the Top 100 in the 1920s at #71. It peaked in the 1940s at #30, and left the Top 100 in the 1960s. It hasn’t ranked since the 1990s, but Terence still seems usable, and could be seen as either a “posh” choice or an Irish one.

English surname derived from the Norman French waleis, meaning “foreigner”. Although often translated as “Welsh”, the word waleis could refer to someone from Wales, or from the English counties bordering Wales, or to Cornish Celts, or to Bretons who came to England after the Norman Conquest and settled in East Anglia. The surname became associated with Scotland because of the early medieval Kingdom of Strathclyde, which straddled northern England and southern Scotland. The people of Strathclyde spoke Cumbric, a British language closely related to Old Welsh, and were known as walensis. Even after becoming part of Scotland, it remained a distinctive area into the 12th century. The surname is famous because of Sir William Wallace, a commander during the 13th century Wars of Scottish Independence who has become an iconic Scottish national hero. There have been many books and poems written about Wallace’s exploits, and he features in the film Braveheart, played by Mel Gibson. Wallace has been used as a first name since the 17th century, and originates from Scotland. Wallace was #74 for the 1900s, and peaked in the 1920s at #68. It left the Top 100 in the 1940s, and hasn’t ranked since the 1950s. Wallace really deserves to make a comeback, and the nicknames Wally and Wal are cute.

The public’s favourite names were Sidney, Wallace and Ian, and their least favourite were Terence, Athol and Herbert.

(Picture shows two boys riding their tricycles amongst grape vines in Mildura, Victoria in the 1920s; photo from Museum Victoria)