, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Summer is cyclone season, and here are ten girls’ names from the official list used to name Australian cyclones. Information on cyclones from the Bureau of Meteorology.

Cyclone Adele was off the east coast of Australia in 1969. Adele is the Anglicised form of Adèle, the French form of the Germanic name Adela, meaning “noble”, and the basis for familiar English names such as Adelaide, Adeline, and Alice. Adèle has been in use since the Middle Ages, and as with its related names, was a favourite with the nobility; it is still a popular name in France. Adele has been used all over the world, and has recently been placed in the spotlight by the popular British singer. In fact there’s quite a few singers called Adele so it’s a good name for songbirds – there is also an Adele in Johann Strauss II’s operetta Die Fledermaus. Adele was #272 in the 1900s and peaked in the 1940s at #198; it’s never been off the charts, yet never been popular. It’s risen sharply since 2011, when Adele’s second album went to #1, and is probably somewhere in the 100s. Pretty and substantial with a high-profile namesake, there is much to recommend this underused classic, and it might be right for someone like you!

There have been several cyclones named Clara in the north of Australia. Clara is the feminine form of the Roman name Clarus, meaning “bright, clear, famous”. It was used in ancient Rome, but became well known in the Middle Ages due to St Clare of Assisi, one of the first followers of St Francis of Assisi. She was born Chiara Offreduccio to a noble family, and her Italian name can be translated as Clara or Clare. Clara is familiar throughout the world, and a popular name in Europe. You might think of this as a Christmas name because Clara is the little girl in Tchaikovsky’s ballet The Nutcracker. A more contemporary fictional namesake is Clara Oswald, companion to Dr Who, played by Jenna Coleman; she also has a Christmas connection. Clara was #57 in the 1900s and left the Top 100 the following decade; it was off the charts by the 1950s. It made a comeback in the 1980s, perhaps because of friend Clara in the Heidi movies and TV shows. Since then it has been climbing steadily, and is probably not far outside the Top 100. A stylish retro name rapidly recapturing its former heights.

Cyclone Cynthia hit the Gulf of Carpentaria in 1967, bringing strong winds and heavy rain. Cynthia is a Greek name meaning “from Mount Cynthus”. Mount Cynthus is in the middle of the island of Delos, and according to Greek mythology the twin deities Apollo and Artemis were born on the mountain. Because of this, Cynthia was an epithet of Artemis, goddess of the moon and hunting. In modern times, Mount Cynthus is a popular tourist destination, offering superb views. Cynthia has been used as an English name since around the 16th century, but was better known in literature. Richard Barnfield wrote a series of sonnets to Cynthia, while Ben Jonson wrote a comedy called Cynthia’s Revels, where the goddess Artemis represents Elizabeth I. The name became much more common in the 18th century, with usage concentrated in America. Cynthia has been almost continually on the charts, making #284 in the 1910s and peaking in the 1940s at #133. It may be around the 500s now; I am seeing more of this underused classic. An elegant literary name from the mountain of the moon goddess: its short form Cindy is coming back into fashion, with Thia another possibility.

There was a Cyclone Delilah in 1966 and another in 1988. In the Old Testament, Delilah is the lover of Samson; the Bible implies she is a prostitute or courtesan. Delilah was heavily bribed to discover the source of Samson’s supernatural strength, and through nagging/emotional blackmail, eventually brought him down and betrayed him. Unusually, the Bible never punishes Delilah, but her name became synonomous with treachery and feminine wiles. The name Delilah is said to be from the Hebrew for “poor, weak”, perhaps with connotations of “she who makes weak”, as Delilah sapped Samson’s strength. It can also be translated as “flowering or fruitful vine or branch”, which Bible commentators have tended to associate with sexual availability. However, the name is written to connect it with the word for “night” – layela; Bible writers probably wanted to give the name a feeling of dangerous sensuality. The name was in common use by the 18th century, particularly in the American South, so parents weren’t put off by the Bible story. Its use is rapidly growing in the English-speaking world, and is probably around the 100s, thanks to its similarity to popular Lila. Delightfully pretty and wickedly sexy, it’s a bad girl name celebrated in a slew of popular songs.

There was a Cyclone Elise in 1966 and another in 1986. Elise is a short form of Elisabeth which has been in use as an independent name since at least the 16th century, and is popular in Europe. A favourite musical association is Beethoven’s Für Elise (“For Elise”), not published until many years after the composer’s death. Who Elise was remains a mystery – there are several possibilities of the time known by this name. One of them was a teenage musical prodigy, and it’s nice to think of this piece being dedicated to a young girl. Elise has charted since the 1960s, debuting at #634, and although it has hovered just below the Top 100 a few times, it’s only once been on it: in 2014, when it made #97. This is an underused modern classic that’s been overtaken by more fashionable names such as Eloise and Elsie. Its spelling variants tend to be confused with those for Alice, making it harder for sweet Elise to be noticed in the data. A good choice for those wanting something contemporary but not trendy.

Ines was a severe cyclone affecting the north coast of Australia in November 1973, bringing heavy rains and gale force winds; so far, this is the earliest in the season a cyclone has ever hit. Ines is based on Inés, the Spanish form of Agnes, originally used in honour of Saint Agnes. It gained a romantic medieval namesake in Inês de Castro, a noblewoman who had a secret relationship with Peter I of Portugal with tragic results – this story of forbidden love has often been turned into operas and ballets. The name Ines has a long history in Spain, Portugal, and Latin America, and spread early to the English-speaking world. It’s popular in many European countries, including in Scandinavia and Eastern Europe, and is most popular in France. This stylish name is being used more often in Australia, where it is known from the daughter of chef Bill Granger. Pronunciations vary, but it’s usually said ee-NEZ or ee-NESS – gentle correction is probably necessary. Sometimes confused with Scottish Innes, but familiarity will make things easier as the number of girls named Ines grows.

Cyclone Selma hovered around Darwin in December 1974, then changed course and disappeared – a harbinger of rampaging Tracy who would infamously do all the damage later that month. The origin of Selma is unsure. It may be a short form of Anselma, a Germanic name meaning “helmet of God, protection of God”. However, it only came into common use in the 18th century, after the publication of the Ossian poems by James McPherson, where Selma is a royal castle. McPherson created the name from the Scottish Gaelic for “good view”, translated as “beautiful to behold”. Just to confuse things, the name Selima also became known in 18th century Britain, thanks to a mock elegy by Thomas Gray about a cat called Selima who accidentally drowned. It was based on a real life incident: Selima was the pet of Gray’s friend, the writer Horace Walpole. The name – an apparent variant of the Arabic name Salima, meaning “peace” – took off, and Selma may be a variant. Currently popular in Norway and Sweden, this name has gained publicity from actress Selma Blair, and the film Selma, about the Civil Rights marches in Selma, Alabama. Rising in both the US and UK, this would have a real chance if people could forget about Selma Bouvier from The Simpsons.

Cyclone Vida was off the south west coast of Western Australia in 1975, bringing gale force winds and strong squalls which did about a million dollars worth of damage. The name Vida has several possible origins. It can be a feminine form of the Germanic name Wido, meaning “wood”, or of the Roman name Vitus, meaning “life” (a variant of Vita). In Portuguese and Spanish-speaking countries, it can be understood as a vocabulary name meaning “life”, from the Latin vita. It can also be used as a short form of Davida, a feminine form of David particularly associated with Scotland. In Australia, the name may be known from feminist Vida Goldstein, who campaigned for female suffrage in the late 19th and early 20th century; she was the first woman in the British Empire to stand for election in a national parliament. Her left-wing pacifist views made it almost impossible for her to be elected during World War I, but she was an extremely popular speaker. Vida was #129 in the 1900s, and off the charts by the 1940s. Little seen today, vivacious vintage Vida fits in well with popular names like Olivia and Ava, and seems very usable.

Winnie was a severe cyclone that hit the north-west of Australia in 1975, with powerful winds. Winnie is traditionally used as a short form of Winifred, but in practice can be a nickname for anything that sounds similar, such as Wynne, Wilhelmina, Winter, Winsome, Gwendolyn, Guinevere, or Edwina (Appellation Mountain has an article on long forms for Winnie). Jimmy Fallon’s daughter Winnie was named in honour of Lake Winnipesaukee, a favourite holiday spot. A famous male with the name is Winston Churchill, known affectionately by the public as Winnie. Another is Winnie-the-Pooh, from the books by A.A. Milne. Winnie-the-Pooh was a real life teddy, and the first part of his name was after a Canadian bear at London Zoo, named Winnipeg. Of course, Winnie is fabulous as a name all on its own, and has been in common use as an independent name since the 18th century: it was especially associated with Ireland. This sweet and spunky short form is very fashionable, and rising in popularity in both the UK and US.

Cyclone Zoe hit the coast at Coolangatta in 1974, causing extensive flooding in southern Queensland and northern New South Wales. Zoe is a Greek name meaning “life”. Early Christians chose the name in allusion to life everlasting, and there are two saints and martyrs named Zoe. The name was also traditional for Byzantine Empresses. Greek-speaking Jews used the name to Hellenise the Hebrew name Chava, which also means “life” (its English form is Eve). Zoe came into use in modern times in the 19th century, and was especially associated with France. Zoe had a flurry of activity in the 1920s, when it reached #305; a famous namesake of this era was silent film star Zoe Palmer. It returned in the 1960s at #499; a possible inspiration is Australian actress Zoe Caldwell, who made several international TV appearances in this decade. It was in the Top 100 by the 1980s, and is currently #18 and stable (it is among the most popular names for Jewish baby girls in Australia, so remains a Jewish favourite). Zoe is popular in Europe and the English-speaking world, and this retro name will appeal to parents wanting something long-familiar, yet still faintly exotic.

People’s favourite names were Clara, Zoe and Elise, while their least favourites were Ines, Vida and Selma.

(Painting is Delilah, by Australian artist Henry Clive, 1948; the model is Broadway beauty Beryl Wallace)