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Michelle’s partner has suggested the girls’ names Maida and Maeva to add to their name list. At first, Michelle thought these were “made up”, but once she discovered they were genuine names, became a lot more interested in using them, as she quite likes them. She’s asked that Maida and Maeva be featured on Waltzing More Than Matilda, so she can learn more about them.

This name was popularised in Britain during the 19th century because of the Battle of Maida, which was a British victory against the French during the Napoleonic Wars. It took place in the town of Maida, in Italy, and the British were able to inflict significant losses while incurring far fewer casualties on their side. Through the battle, the British were able to prevent a French invasion of Sicily.

The commander during the Battle of Maida was John Stuart, who was named Count of Maida by Ferdinand IV of Naples and Sicily in thanks for his efforts (the British knighted him, and gave him £1000 a year). Not long after his victory, he received another honour: a pub on the Edgeware Road in London was named The Hero of Maida, and when this area was developed for residential housing in the mid-19th century, it was named Maida Vale after the pub (and indirectly after Sir John Stuart). Maida Vale is now quite an affluent area.

Maida Vale in London has given its name to a suburb in outer Perth, which still has plenty of natural bushland. There is a rare wildflower unique to this area called the Maida Vale Bell (Blancoa canescans), which is a type of kangaroo paw with reddish bell-like flowers. Another Western Australian connection is that the pioneer Sir Richard Spencer took part in the Battle of Maida as a naval captain (the British navy captured a French vessel, and renamed it the Maida). After emigrating to Australia, Spencer ended his days on the heritage-listed Strawberry Hill Farm in Albany.

A Scottish connection is that Sir Walter Scott was given a deer-hound named Maida, reputedly his favourite dog. It was a gift from Sir Walter’s friend, Colonel Alexander MacDonnell of Glengarry, known as Glengarry after his estate. Glengarry’s brother, James MacDonnell, had led the 78th Highlanders Regiment of Foot at the Battle of Maida, and won a Gold Medal for his services. The 78th fought valiantly, and are said to have lost only one man: the name Maida has ever after had particular resonance in Scotland, and is still in some use.

The rural town of Maida, where the Battle of Maida was fought, is in Calabria in southern Italy: often identified as the “toe” of the country’s shape. The name of the town is derived from Greek, and may have the same source as the name Medea, familiar in Greek mythology as the wife of the hero Jason. Her name literally means “cunning”, but with connotations of “rule over, protect”, from an ancient root meaning “to measure, give advice, to heal”.

While the Battle of Maida was behind the name’s surge of popularity in 19th century Britain, it doesn’t explain the handful of times it was used prior to 1806, nor does it explain the name’s use in the United States, where the name Maida occasionally made the Top 1000 between 1880 and 1920. In such cases, the name may be a pet form of names such as Magdalene or Madeline; in Scotland, it could be seen as a variant of Maisie. It also can’t be ruled out that it was sometimes based on the English word maid, shorthand for maiden, meaning “young girl, virgin”.

A 20th century influence on the name in the United States was the Maida series of children’s books by Inez Haynes Irwin, a feminist and socialist author and journalist. The books revolve around a beautiful motherless little girl named Maida Westabrook who possesses both fabulous wealth and a fantastic personality, recovering from severe illness that has left her with a slight disability. It turns out some wholesome child labour and the friendship of a whole neighbourhood of ordinary kids is what she needs to put the roses in her cheeks, and further adventures follow with her posse of plebeian pals.

I read the first book online and was charmed: it’s an urban fairytale, and the sort of vintage book I would have loved reading when I was about nine. I can quite understand why this series of books, spanning from 1909 to 1955, has gained generations of loyal fans, and was not surprised to see several comments from people who had been named for the character or had named their daughters after her.

Last year there were 26 baby girls named Maida in the United States, and 18 in England/Wales. Maida doesn’t show up in recent Australian birth data, although is occasionally seen on older women. There are over a hundred Maidas in Australian historical records, mostly from the late 19th century to the early 20th century.

This is from Tahiti, and means “welcome”; it is used as a word and a name in Polynesia, and is a Top 100 name in France, as Tahiti is part of France’s overseas territories. Maeva is pronounced mah-AY-va in Tahitian, but judging from one example on forvo, French people seem to say the name very much like MAY-va.

Maeva is used as a name in Australia too, appearing in historical records from the late 19th century. Most likely it was an elaboration of the Irish name Maeve rather than of Polynesian origin. Maeva was the middle name of Gladys Cumpston, who transcribed texts into Braille. If you look at Maevas in Australia currently, many seem to be French, although there are also Australians, including those of Islander heritage. Last year there were 34 babies named Maeva in the United States, and 4 in England/Wales.

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Michelle, what an intriguing pair of names your partner has suggested! I am very impressed by his style, because these are both very rare names which are nonetheless bang on for current trends. They fit in so beautifully with the trend for vintage names, and with names beginning with M, and with the AY sound, so that you’d have a baby name different from everyone else’s, without sounding too glaringly different.

Maeva in particular would blend in almost seamlessly, as it sounds like a mixture of Mae, and Maeve, and Ava. It would be very easy to explain to others as “Spelled like Maeve, but with an A at the end”, or “Pronounced like Ava, but with a M at the front”. You might even worry that it blended in a bit too easily, and could be confused with other names – there might be a few moments of “No, it’s Maeva, not Maeve”, although that doesn’t sound like a big deal.

Maida seems a bit more daring, although it reminded me a little of a contracted Matilda, or Maia with a D. I feel as if some people might be slightly taken aback by the Maid- part, as we use the word “maid” to mean “servant, serving girl”. But what a rich and interesting history the name Maida has, with so many layers of meaning and evocation. The more I learned about the name Maida and its many associations, the more I was mentally barracking for you to choose it.

I think these are both beautiful names, rare yet accessible, vintage but in line with current trends. What do you think of Maida and Maeva, readers?

Maida received an approval rating of 56%, while Maeva did extremely well, with its approval rating of 76% making it one of the highest-rated names of 2014.

Thank you to Michelle for requesting Maida and Maeva be featured on Waltzing More Than Matilda

(Photo shows the farmland around the town of Maida in Italy)