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A region of Warwickshire in England, once thickly covered in trees and known as the Forest of Arden. It has strong Shakespearean connections, as William Shakespeare’s home town of Stratford-upon-Avon is one of the region’s main attractions. Furthermore, the Arden family were prominent in the area for centuries – they are one of the few landed families in England who can trace their lineage back to before the Norman Conquest. William Shakespeare’s mother, Mary Arden, was one of this family. Shakespeare’s comedy As You Like It is set in the Forest of Arden, a creative mixture of the real forest, a romanticised version of it, and the Ardennes Forest in central Europe. The name Arden is thought to come from the Ancient British word ardu, meaning “high land”; it has been used as a personal name since the 17th century, and had strong ties with Warwickshire. Arden is more popular for girls in the US (perhaps because of cosmetics company Elizabeth Arden), but is fairly even in the UK, and rising for both sexes. This matches my own observations in Australia, and it fits with both male and female name trends.
The capital of Massachusetts, one of the oldest and largest cities in the United States. Founded by Puritans in the 17th century, it was the scene of many of the key events in the American Revolution – perhaps most famously, the Boston Tea Party. Boston is one of the most economically powerful cities in the world, and a major educational centre, the home of top universities such as Harvard. It has been called “The Athens of America” for its contribution towards literature, art, music, and high culture in general. It is also known for its strong Irish history and culture: former President John F. Kennedy was from a Boston family of Irish Catholic heritage. The city is called after the town of Boston in Lincolnshire, whose name is said to be a contraction of “St Botolph’s town” – St Botolph was an obscure yet strangely popular Anglo-Saxon saint, and his name is believed to be an Old English one meaning “messenger wolf, herald wolf”. Also a surname, Boston has been in use since the 18th century. I saw this name more frequently after the Boston Marathon terrorist attacks in 2013, which matches the situation in the UK, although the name remained stable in the US.
The capital of Egypt, and one of the largest cities in the world. Founded in the 10th century, it is close to several ancient sites, including the Pyramids, so that despite being a busy metropolis, it is often associated with the romance of Ancient Egypt. Cairo is a transliteration of the Arabic name for the city: al-Qāhirah, meaning “the victorious”. The reason for the name is because the planet Mars (in Arabic, Al Najm Al Qahir) was rising at the time of the city’s founding. The Egyptian name for the city is Khere-Ohe, meaning “place of combat”, referring to a battle which is supposed to have occurred here between the gods Set and Horus. Not only a strong, war-like name, Egyptian-themed names are very cool at present, and this might appeal to someone wanting a nod to African or Arabic culture. It fits very well with current trends in boys names and can be shortened to Cai.
The largest island in the Caribbean, which was claimed for Spain by Christopher Columbus in 1492. It is an ethnically diverse nation with a tumultuous history, and has been under Communist rule since 1965. The island’s name comes from the indigenous Taino language, but the meaning is not certain: it may be from cubao, meaning “where fertile land is abundant”, or coabana, meaning “great place”. Cuba has become well known as a boy’s name due to Hollywood actor Cuba Gooding Jr. As his name tells you, Cuba was named after his father Cuba Gooding Sr, lead singer of the group The Main Ingredient. Cuba Sr’s father Dudley was from Barbados, but fled to Cuba, and met and married a woman there. After she was murdered because of their involvement in the Pan-African movement, Dudley promised her on her deathbed that he would name his first son Cuba. That is a very powerful name story for the name Cuba, and let’s face it, yours won’t be able to compete. However, Cuba has been used as a name since the 18th century, and in the US had strong ties to the African-American community: it may have originally been given as a slave name.
The capital of Colorado, and one of the largest cities in the American south-west. Set high in the Rocky Mountains, it has the distinction of being exactly one mile above sea level. The city was named after a 19th century politician, James W. Denver, in hopes of currying favour. The surname Denver is after a village in Norfolk, meaning “the passage of the Danes” in Old English – it’s a place on the River Ouse once crossed by Danish invaders. Famous people with the surname include Bob Denver from Gilligan’s Island, and singer John Denver (born Henry Deutchendorf). Denver Pyle played Jesse Duke in The Dukes of Hazzard, while a famous Australian namesake is Denver Beanland, a former Liberal politician from Queensland. The name isn’t particularly strongly tied to the city and can be seen just as easily as a surname name. In use in Australia since the 19th century, it has a reasonable history, so that it doesn’t seem too modern and trendy, despite having a fashionable letter V. Little wonder that it seems to be in quiet but steady use.
An area of Manhattan in New York City which has been known as a major centre for African-American culture since the “Harlem Renaissance”of the 1920s. Originally a village settled by Dutch immigrants, it is named after the city of Haarlem in the Netherlands. Haarlem is the capital of North Holland, and historically the centre of the famous tulip industry. Its name probably means something like, “home on the forested dunes”, as it lies on a thin strip of land near the North Sea. It is also a surname; one example is former Norwegian prime minister Gro Harlem. I see this name fairly regularly, and that’s probably because it fits in so well with the strong trend for Har- sounds in boy’s names, such as Harvey, Harley, Harland, and so on. Not only similar to these, Harlem celebrates a place with a cool, and perhaps slightly dangerous image. The Harlem Shake memes could even be a contributing factor!
A city in Palestine on the River Jordan. It is believed to be one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world, and the oldest walled city; archaeologists have found remains in Jericho dated to 9000 BC. Jericho features in a famous Bible story, which tells how Joshua, the general of Moses, took the city of Jericho. The Israelites marched around the city perimeter for six days with the Ark of the Covenant. On the seventh day, they marched around seven times, then the priests blew a ram’s horn and the Israelites raised a great shout. The walls of the city fell down, and the Israelites slaughtered almost all the inhabitants. There is a very rousing African-American spiritual about the incident, where the “walls came tumbling down” – an inspiration for the Thatcher era pop song. Archaeologists tell us that although Jericho’s famous walls have been brought down during various conflicts, Jericho was temporarily abandoned during the time that Joshua was supposed to have lived. Perhaps more importantly for the name, it fits in with the current fashion for names with an -o ending, and joined the US Top 1000 in 2013, as it has recently become known as one of the Teen Titan superheroes, and a common name in video games.
A busy port in Japan, and one of the country’s largest cities. It is famous for its hot springs, which provide a tranquil retreat and have been in use since at least the 8th century, making them amongst Japan’s oldest. The city’s name is connected to its Ikuta Shrine, a Shinto shrine founded in the early 3rd century to venerate Wakahirume, the Japanese goddess of the rising sun and weaving. The city’s name is derived from kamube, an old name for the people who supported the shrine. It is also a Japanese surname, after the city. The name has been popularised by American basketballer Kobe Bryant, whose parents named him after Kobe beef, a very high quality meat from Japan, that they saw on a restaurant menu. Although the Japanese pronunciation is more like KO-BEH, English-speakers generally say it as a homophone of the name Coby, which is one of the name’s attractions. In fact, it is also a Dutch pet form of Jakob. Kobe is around the 100s in Australia, significantly more popular than in either the US or the UK, although it is a Top 50 name in Belgium.
The largest city in the state of Tennessee. It is famous as a centre for popular music; because of this, almost a thousand songs are about Memphis, or mention it in some way, and Graceland, Elvis Presley’s famous estate, is a major tourist attraction of the city. Memphis is named after a a capital of ancient Egypt because the American city is situated on the Mississippi, just as the Egyptian one was situated on the River Nile. The Egyptian city is now in ruins, but was once a port and busy commercial centre. Memphis is the Greek transliteration of the Egyptian name Men-nefer, meaning “enduring and beautiful”, and Greek mythology personified it as a nymph named Memphis who founded the city along with her husband, a king and son of Zeus. Despite this feminine history for the name, Memphis is much more common as a male name than a female one, most likely because of Elvis. It is around the 600s for boys in Australia, more popular than in either the US or UK.
The largest county in Northern Ireland. Its name comes from Tir Eoghain, meaning “land of Eoghan”; according to Irish legend, Eoghan was a son of a great medieval king who claimed this land for himself. Eoghan may be derived from Eugene, and thus an Irish form of the Welsh name Owen; others say it is from the Old Irish, and means “born under the protection of the sacred yew tree”. Tyrone has been used as a personal name since the 18th century, and originated in the United States, presumably as an Irish heritage name. It later became used in Ireland too. The name was popularised by Hollywood actor Tyrone Power Jr; part of a long line of actors, the name Tyrone was traditional in his family. The original Tyrone Power, the great-great-grandfather of the Hollywood actor, was from a landed family in Ireland. Tyrone entered the charts in the 1960s at #413, and peaked in the late 2000s at #181. Currently around the 300s, it has never become popular, yet never gone out of use, pioneering, and still fitting in with, the well-worn trend for Ty- names for boys, such as Tyler and Tyson.
People’s favourite names were Arden, Jericho and Boston, and their least favourite were Cairo, Harlem and Cuba.
(Photo of the Ikuta Shrine in Kobe, Japan by Suguri F)