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It is Australia Day tomorrow, and for our patriotic lists, I thought it must be about time to have names of our prime ministers and their spouses. Ladies first!

Antonia
Antonia Watson (nee Dowlan) was the second wife of Chris Watson; she was a 23 year old waitress and he was 58. Antonia is the feminine form of the Roman family name Antonius. The Antonia was a very old family who claimed descent from Anton, a son of Hercules – Anton seems to have been invented, and the name may be Etruscan in origin. The most famous of the Antonii was Marcus Antonius (Mark Antony), made famous by Shakespeare’s play Antony and Cleopatra. Mark Antony’s first wife was his cousin Antonia, and he had three daughters, all named Antonia. The youngest Antonia was famed for her beauty and virtue, and became the mother of the Emperor Claudius, and grandmother of Caligula. There is a Saint Antonia who seems to be Saint Theodora under another name, and the name has been used amongst continental royalty – it was a middle name of Maria Antonia, otherwise known as Marie Antoinette. Antonia has charted since the 1950s, when it debuted at #346, and it peaked in the early 2000s at #279. Currently it is around the 400s, so this elegant name is an underused modern classic.

Bettina
Lady Bettina Gorton (nee Brown) was the wife of John Gorton. Bettina was an American student at the Sorbonne who met John while on holiday in Spain; he was a student at Oxford. After marrying in England, they moved to his family’s farm in Australia, and Bettina supported her husband in his political career. On an official visit to Sarawak, Bettina became interested in Asian languages and culture; she later graduated with honours in Oriental Studies from ANU and worked on the English-Malay dictionary. When John became prime minister, her knowledge of South East Asian languages made her a great asset when travelling overseas, and she established a native garden at The Lodge which is named in her honour. The name Bettina can have two possible origins. If German, it is a pet form of Elisabeth, while if Italian, it is a pet form of Benedetta, the feminine form of Benedetto, the Italian form of Benedict. One of the world’s first supermodels was Simone Bodin, who worked under the professional name “Bettina” in the 1940s and ’50s. The French model gave the name Bettina a little boost in the postwar era, but it’s never been common.

Blanche
(Josephine) Blanche d’Alpuget is the second wife of Bob Hawke; she was named after her great-aunt Blanche d’Alpuget, a pioneering journalist. Blanche lived in South East Asia for several years, and after returning to Australia, began writing about her experiences, winning a number of literary awards for both fiction and non-fiction. She later became Bob Hawke’s biographer: his wife tolerated their open relationship for many years, and after retiring from politics he divorced to marry Blanche. Blanche was originally an Old French nickname meaning “white”, to suggest “pure”. The name became common in the Middle Ages, perhaps because very fair skin was considered beautiful and aristocratic. It was popularised by Blanche of Navarre, who had a French mother; as she became Queen of Castile, the name was traditional in her royal family. A famous namesake is Blanche of Lancaster, the mother of King Henry IV, said to be pretty and fair. Blanche was #125 in the 1900s, and left the charts in the 1940s. This is a vintage name which works well in the middle; it might remind you of The Golden Girls or A Streetcar Named Desire.

Ethel
Ethel Bruce (nee Anderson) was the wife of Stanley Bruce. She and Stanley were a devoted couple, and the first to live at The Lodge. Ethel is a short form of names starting with Ethel-, such as Ethelinde. The Old English word ethel meant “noble”, and it was a common name element in royal and aristocratic names. The Victorians were mad keen on Anglo-Saxon names, and began using Ethel as a name in its own right; usually for girls, but occasionally for boys, as there were plenty of male names starting with Ethel-, such as Ethelred. The name was popularised by two 1850s novel – The Newcombes, by W.M. Thackery and The Daisy Chain by C.M. Yonge. Ethel was #14 in the 1900s, and left the top 100 in the 1940s before dropping off the charts in the 1960s. It recently became a celebrity baby name, when pop singer Lily Allen named her first child Ethel, and would appeal to someone looking for an old-fashioned alernative to the current crop of fashionable E names, such as Esther and Eloise.

Ilma
Ilma Fadden (nee Thornber) was the wife of Arthur Fadden. Ilma was a supportive political wife who campaigned for her husband and accompanied him on official visits overseas. The name Ilma can be a short form of Wilhelmina, as well as a Finnish name meaning “air”; I have also seen it listed as a Hungarian form of Amelia. I suspect that in everyday usage, it was often given as a variant of Elma – a name of obscure origin, possibly sometimes created from other names, such as Elizabeth and Mary. Ilma was #176 in the 1900s, and fell until it left the charts in the 1940s – it was a minor trend of the early twentieth century and almost a twin in popularity of Elma. Now this vintage name seems like an interesting multicultural choice not much different to Isla and Emma.

Jean
Lady Jean Page (nee Thomas) was the second wife of Earle Page, and originally his secretary. Like Joan and Jane, Jean is a medieval form of the Old French name Jehanne, introduced by the Normans, and a popular choice in both England and Scotland during the Middle Ages. In England, Jean was eventually surpassed in popularity by Jane, but continued being used in Scotland. In the 19th century, the name was re-introduced back to England, where it now seemed a Scottish name choice. Jean is also a man’s name, the French form of Old French Jehan, and thus the French equivalent of John. Jean first charted in Australia as a unisex name, peaking in the 1910s and ’20s (in the Top 50 if most of the Jeans were girls). In the 1950s, Jean joined the charts as a specifically feminine name, where it peaked at #140, and left the charts altogether in the 1990s. Never popular in the postwar era, it remains very well used as a middle name.

Margaret
Margaret Whitlam (nee Dovey) was the wife of Gough Whitlam. A former champion swimmer, Margaret was a social worker who seemed the perfect match for her husband, and the couple were deeply in love. Margaret was an outspoken advocate for women’s rights, a regular guest on radio and television, and a columnist for Woman’s Day. She died just two years before her husband, acknowledged as one of Australia’s National Treasures. Margaret is derived from the Greek for “pearl”. The name came into common use because of Saint Margaret of Antioch, a legendary saint who was tortured for her faith. She was supposedly swallowed by Satan in the form of a dragon but escaped unharmed, which made her enormously popular. Margaret has been used by European royalty since medieval times. Queen Margaret of Scotland was an Englishwoman married to Malcolm III canonised as a saint: the name has particularly strong associations with Scotland. Princess Margaret was the younger sister of Queen Elizabeth; her grandfather was a Scottish peer. Margaret is a classic name which has never left the charts. It was #6 in the 1900s, and the #1 name of the 1930s and ’40s. It left the Top 100 in the 1980s, and is currently in the 400s, where it has remained fairly stable for decades. An intelligent, dignified classic with tons of nicknames, including Daisy, Greta, Maggie, Maisie, Margot, Meg, Meta, Peggy, and Rita.

Martha
(Elizabeth) Martha “Pattie” Deakin (nee Browne) was the wife of Alfred Deakin. Alfred was a lifelong spiritualist, and Pattie shared his faith; their marriage was long and happy. Martha is the Latin form of the Aramaic name Marta, meaning “lady, mistress”. In the New Testament, Martha was the sister of Lazarus and Mary of Bethany. Many remember the story when Martha was busy in the kitchen cooking for the disciples, while her sister Mary sat listening to Jesus. Worried and distracted, Martha asked Jesus to rebuke her sister for not helping her, but Jesus said that Mary had chosen the better path (tough advice for those who wear themselves out working for others). Practical and caring, Saint Martha is a role model for those seeking an active helping role in the spiritual life. Martha was #92 in the 1900s, and left the Top 100 the following decade, dropping off the charts briefly in the 1940s, and again in the 1990s. It had a minor comeback in the late 2000s, and is already a Top 100 name in the UK, and climbing. A strong, capable, and attractive name which has never been very popular.

Sonia
Lady Sonia McMahon (nee Hopkins) was the wife of William McMahon. The grand-daughter of one of Australia’s wealthiest men, she was an occupational therapist before her marriage. Glamorous and charming, Sonia made international headlines when she wore a revealing dress to a dinner at the White House, showing more leg than was usual. Sonia is a variant of Sonya, Russian pet form of the name Sophia, from the Greek for “wisdom”; Sonja is another common variant. Sonia is also an Indian name, meaning “golden” in Hindi. The name was popularised in the English speaking world through a 1917 best-selling novel called Sonia: Between Two Worlds by Stephen McKenna. The title character is an upper class English girl with big brown eyes and a face like a Sistine Madonna. Sonia first entered the charts in the 1920s, debuting at #309. It entered the Top 100 in 1967, around the time Sonia McMahon came into the public eye, and peaked in 1971 at #52 – the year she wore “that dress”. Leaving the Top 100 in the 1980s, it hasn’t charted since the early 2000s, having been well and truly taken over by popular Sophia.

Tamara
Tamara “Tamie” Fraser (nee Beggs) is the wife of Malcolm Fraser. Ambivalent about being in the public eye, she proved an excellent political campaigner, and was the first prime ministerial wife to employ her own secretary; Tamie also oversaw extensive renovations in The Lodge. She continues to be active in community affairs. Tamara is the Russian form of Tamar, a Hebrew name meaning “date palm”. The name became better known in the English speaking world because of Russian ballerina Tamara Karsavina, who moved to London as a ballet teacher in the 1930s. Tamara first joined the charts in the 1950s, debuting at #522. Its rise in the 1950s seems to be as a formal option for the name Tammy, which became popular because of a Debbie Reynolds romantic comedy called Tammy and the Bachelor: the song Tammy from the film became a smash hit. Tamara joined the Top 100 in 1975, when Tamie Fraser came into the public eye, and peaked in 1989 at #56, leaving the Top 100 in the early 2000s. Currently it is around the 300s, and shows some signs of a slight recovery.

POLL RESULTS
People’s favourite names were Margaret, Antonia and Martha, and their least favourite were Blanche, Ethel and Ilma.

(Photo shows Sonia McMahon in the entrance hall of The Lodge, 1971)

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