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Variant of the ancient Greek name Althaea, perhaps derived from the Greek word althos, meaning “healing”. In mythology, Althaea was a queen with a son named Melager. When Melager was a baby, the Three Fates turned up, rather like the fairy godmothers in a certain tale. One said he would be noble, the second that he would be brave, but the third did the usual grumpy godmother routine, and said his life would last only as long as a certain piece of wood burning on the fire. Althaea immediately took the wood and blew it out, burying it secretly so that none should ever find it again. When Melager was grown into the brave and noble prince predicted by The Fates, he got into a quarrel while hunting, and killed his uncles. When Althaea discovered Melager had murdered her brothers, she took revenge by setting fire to the piece of wood, so that her son died. Afterwards she committed suicide. This isn’t the happiest name story ever, but the poet Richard Lovelace wrote To Althea, From Prison while imprisoned for a political protest. The famous poem is very romantic, and the name Althea has been used since the 17th century because of it, while never being very common. One attraction of this literary name is the potential to use fashionable Thea as a nickname.
Modern Welsh name derived from caru, meaning “to love”, and given the common -ys ending found in Welsh names, such as Gladys and Glenys. It has been in use since the early 20th century, and is currently #328 in England/Wales, although falling in popularity. The name gained interest as a celebrity baby name, when Welsh-born actress Catherine Zeta Jones chose it for her daughter. It is meant to be pronounced KAH-ris, but the few people called Carys I know in Australia all say their name to rhyme with Paris, and this pronunciation is even used in Wales sometimes (kuh-REES is really pushing it though). Leaving aside possible pronunciation pitfalls, this is a modern name that is feminine without being frilly.
In medieval romance, Isolde the Fair is a stunningly beautiful golden-haired Irish princess with a gift for healing, who is married off to King Mark of Cornwall. Due to a mix-up with a love potion, Isolde falls passionately in love with Tristan, her husband’s nephew and adopted son, with tragic consequences. Tristan actually ends up married to a different Isolde, a Breton princess called Isolde of the White Hands, who he weds for the curious reason that she has the same name as his true love. Their marriage is never consummated, and fed up and jealous, Isolde of the White Hands eventually takes her revenge. The stories originally had nothing to do with Arthurian legends, but became part of them. Adapted by Gottfried von Strassberg in the 12th century, Isolde is a German translation of Iseult, used in French versions of the tale. The Welsh form of the name is Esyllt, and although there are many arguments over the name’s meaning, the most convincing theory is that it is from the Celtic for “she who is gazed upon”, to suggest an overwhelming beauty. The name Isolde has been used since the Middle Ages due to the Tristan and Isolde legend, without ever becoming common: the composer Richard Wagner, who wrote the opera Tristan and Isolde, had an illegitimate daughter named Isolde. A romantic literary name fit for a fairytale princess, you can say Isolde almost any way you like, but common pronunciations would be i-SOL-duh or i-ZOL-duh.
Variant of the Arabic name Jamila, the feminine form of Jamil, meaning “beautiful”. The name became better known in the English-speaking world in 1944 through the romantic fantasy film Kismet, starring Marlene Dietrich as Lady Jamilla, a captive queen who falls in love with a rascally beggar. Set in an Arabian Nightsy type world, at one point, Dietrich does an erotic dance with her legs painted gold, so the name got a rather sexy image. Jamilla works well cross-culturally, and is easy to explain to people, as it is said like Camilla with a J. The popular short form Milla is an added attraction.
Modern Cornish name meaning “joy”, used since the early 20th century, and in rare but fairly steady use in England/Wales. The name is something of a favourite in fiction, even being chosen for historical novels set in Cornwall hundreds of years ago, when it is unlikely the name was in use. Lowenna can be found in the US in the 19th century, where it may be a variant of Louanna, or other names based on Louisa. It was used in the stage version of Rip Van Winkle, written in 1859 (Lowenna is Rip’s daughter; in the original story, his daughter was called Judith). A drawcard is that the name is very similar to the Indigenous name Lowanna, meaning “girl, woman”, giving this name a rather Australian feel.
Latin for “light”. Lux was used as a male name in medieval Germany, as a short form of Lukas, or a corruption of the German nickname Luchs, meaning “lynx” – this is the origin of the Lux surname. Lux began to be used as an English name by the 17th century, when it was used for girls: in general, English-speakers have preferred it as a female name, although it has been used as a male name too, particularly in North America, which has a history of high immigration from central Europe. The name may be used in a Christian sense, as Fiat lux means “Let there be light”, a famous quote from Genesis to show the beginnings of creation, or even a specifically Catholic context as Lux Aeterna (“eternal light”) is used in Latin prayers to refer to heaven. However, the meaning of light is positive to almost everyone, and the name also has a science-fiction feel to it, because lux is a scientific measurement of luminosity (there is a video game character named Lux, Lady of Luminosity). The name has had publicity from the film The Virgin Suicides, with Kristen Dunst as Lux Lisbon, and from the daughter of One Direction’s stylist – once known in the press as Baby Lux, and almost a celebrity in her own right. A short, cool, luxurious-sounding name that also works well in the middle.
Can be used as a short form of other names, or with the meaning “a small bouquet of flowers” in mind. The word posy comes from poesy, meaning “poetry”, and has been used to mean a bunch of flowers since the late 16th century – a slightly earlier definition of the word was a motto inscribed inside a ring. Posy has been used as a personal name since the 18th century, and although it sounds very dainty and feminine, it has quite often been given to boys. The reason is because Posy is also a surname, after the town of Pusey in Oxfordshire, meaning “pea island”. Although the name Posy has never been very common, there are a few Posys in fiction to give it some publicity. Posy Fossil is one of the main characters in Noel Streatfeild’s Ballet Shoes, a brilliant young dancer filled with ambition. More recently, Posy Hawthorne is a sweet little sister in The Hunger Games, and in the romantic comedy About Time, Posy Lake is the protagonist’s eldest daughter. Although Posy began as a short form of Josephine, you could use it for a wide variety of names, including Sophia and Penelope – British cartoonist Posy Simmonds, from The Guardian, is named Rosemary.
In the 2001 movie Moulin Rouge!, Nicole Kidman plays the role of Satine, a Parisian cabaret star and courtesan who has never known love until she falls for a poor English writer. Satine, which is presumably a professional or stage name, is French for satin, the familiar glossy fabric – its name comes from the Chinese city of Quanzhou (once a major shipping port for silk), which was called by the Arabic name of Zayton during the Middle Ages. Zayton is the Arabic word for “olive”, to symbolise peace, perhaps due to the mix of cultures living and working in the city. This makes Satin or Satine a possible honour name for Olive, weirdly enough. Satine has been used as a name since the 19th century, and although it is not a traditional French name, it has sometimes been used as a baby name in France since the film came out. A soft, exotic-sounding name with an Australian connection.
The name of a highly successful Japanese cosmetics company, and one of the oldest in the world, being founded in 1872. The company’s name is taken from the classic Chinese text, the I Ching (Book of Changes), and can be translated as “How wonderful is the virtue of the earth, from which all things are born!”. The company believes that this embodies its resolve to create new products that will enhance clients’ well being, and also helps to promote an image which is healthy and environmentally sound. Although there are many brand names used as personal names (such as Chanel and Armani), and some existing personal names used for brands (such as Mercedes and Nike), I have only ever seen one baby given the name Shiseido. That makes it very unusual, but it’s rather attractive, and has a lovely, carefully-crafted meaning. Pronounced shi-SAY-doh, you could use Sadie as a short form, although the baby I saw had Sass as her nickname.
Gaelic name meaning “brightness, radiance”. It can be found in medieval Irish documents, so it has a long history. In Ireland it is sometimes Anglicised as Sarah, because of the similar sound, while in Scotland it is more often Anglicised as Clara, which has the same meaning. The Irish actress Sorcha Cusack, who came to prominence in the 1970s as Jane Eyre, and is still on TV now as the housekeeper in Father Brown, has given it publicity in recent decades, and the name isn’t uncommon in Ireland. The correct pronunciation is SAWR-kuh or SAWR-i-kuh, but in practice a wide variety of pronunciations is tolerated in Ireland and Scotland, including SAWR-sha, which is probably easier for English-speakers, and sounds like familiar Sasha (although liable to be confused with another Irish name, Saoirse). An unusual yet very usable name.
People’s favourite names were Carys, Isolde and Posy, and their least favourite were Lowenna, Jamilla and Shiseido.
(Picture shows Nicole Kidman as Satine in Moulin Rouge!)