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Last week there were commemorations around the world for the centenary of the start of World War I. I chose the name Hope to mark this solemn occasion, because even during those dark days, when the “lamps went out all over Europe”, there still remained a glimmer of hope for eventual peace.

Britain declared war on Germany on August 4 1914, to take effect at 11 pm. Less than four hours later, the first shot was fired by the British Empire – not in Europe, but thousands of miles away at Point Nepean, near Melbourne.

On August 5 1914, at 12.45 pm, the German cargo ship SS Pfalz was in Port Phillip, desperately trying to leave Australian waters, for they were now in enemy territory. Just minutes after learning that war had been declared, Fort Queenscliff gave the order to Fort Nepean: “Stop her or sink her”.

The first shot was sent across the bow, fired by Sergeant John Purdue. The Australian pilot Captain Montgomery Robinson, who was guiding the Pfalz through the heads, tussled with the German captain for a little while, because Robinson was adamant the Pfalz must stop, or the next shot would go into the ship.

The Pfalz, which was carrying consular officials and contraband, surrendered and was requisitioned by the Australian navy. Her crew were captured and interned, so nobody was killed or even injured. So quietly began the war which would claim 16 million lives and change the world forever.

I also chose to feature Hope because it feels as if the world has become a darker place in the last twelve months. Every day I hear of war and strife, of fear and cruelty, of genocide and bloodshed, of my countrymen and women lying in foreign fields, or at the bottom of the sea.

At such times, all one can do is light a little candle against the darkness, and its flickering flame, which sometimes wavers, and sometimes leaps up tall and strong, is hope.

Hope is a familiar vocabulary word which suggests confident optimism and positivity, a belief that things will improve, or an expectation that a good outcome will be achieved.

Hope is one of the three theological virtues in Christianity, along with faith and love. It refers to the hope of attaining heaven, and means much more than a vague optimism – it’s a complete trust in God’s guidance, and a firm assurance of a reward in the next life.

Saint Hope is one of a trio of legendary martyred saints named Faith, Hope, and Charity, the daughters of Saint Sophia (Wisdom). Their story is very old, and they are clearly personifications of theological virtues. There is also a male Saint Hope, a 6th century Italian abbot.

Modern psychology also views hope in a very favourable light, with many seeing it as harnessing the power of positive thinking to overcome difficult circumstances. Like religion, it also sees hope as more than just optimism, being stronger, and more goal-oriented. While an optimistic person has a passive “something will turn up” attitude, a hopeful person actively works towards the attainment of their desires.

Hope makes an appearance in Greek mythology, in the story of Pandora, who curiously opened a jar which released all the evils of the world. When everything had gone, only Hope remained in the jar. The Greeks generally depicted Hope as a young woman carrying flowers in her hands, and the Romans worshipped her as a goddess, and a power which came from the gods.

Hope has been used as a girl’s name since the late 16th century, and although name sites often say it was first bestowed as a virtue name by the Puritans, there isn’t much evidence of that. In fact, early births suggest that it may have orignally been inspired by places, such as the Hope Valley in Derbyshire, or Hope Cove in Devon.

These place names don’t have anything to do with being hopeful, but are from an Old English word meaning “a small enclosed valley”; it’s one of the sources of the Hope surname. However, later on a Christian meaning does seem more obvious. The name Hope has sometimes been given to boys as well, and you may remember that war hero Hugo Throssell had Hope as one of his middle names.

The name Hope was #247 in the 1900s, and has been on the charts almost constantly, only dropping out for brief periods. It began rising in the 1970s, and seems to have peaked in 2010 at #177; currently it’s in the 200s.

Interestingly, the name seems to have gone down a little in popularity since the sitcom Raising Hope has been on the air; the baby who gives her name to the show’s title is called Hope Chance, and her father changed her name from Princess Beyonce, given to her by her serial killer mother. The eccentric Chance family may have dampened enthusiasm for the name.

I often see the name Hope in birth notices and newspaper stories, most often in the middle, and I think in almost every case, the name was given because the baby was conceived against the odds, or born in difficult circumstances. It adds an extra layer of meaning to the name Hope.

Hope isn’t as popular as Grace, or climbing in popularity like Faith, but that may make this underused classic virtue name all the more desirable. Simple, clean, sweet, and wholesome, it’s a pretty name evoking a state of mind almost magical in its power. May your little Hope glow like a candle in the darkness, may she shine like a star in the night sky.

POLL RESULTS

Hope received an outstanding approval rating of 86%, making it one of the highest-rated names of 2014, and the highest-rated Famous Name for girls of the year. People saw the name Hope as a simple and elegant classic (29%), sweet and wholesome (21%), beautiful or pretty (16%), and having a very positive meaning (13%). However, 6% thought it was tacky and downmarket. Nobody was put off the name by the TV show Raising Hope.

(Photo shows candlelit vigil for World War I centenary service)

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