It was International Women’s Day on Sunday, so this seems like a good chance to cover the name of a prominent and ground-breaking Australian woman.
Quentin Bryce (nee Strachan) was one of the first women admitted to the Queensland Bar, and became the first woman appointed as a faculty member of the law school where she had studied, at the University of Queensland. As well as her teaching role, she was appointed to the new National Women’s Advisory Council in 1978, becoming its convenor a few years later.
She went on to take up other key roles in women’s issues, such as becoming the first Director of the Queensland Women’s Information Service, and Queensland Director of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. She served as Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner for five years, then became founding chair and CEO of the National Childcare Accreditation Council. A surprise move saw her become principal and CEO of the Women’s College at the University of Sydney, where she was able to combine her academic interests with her skills in administration.
In 2003 she was appointed Governor of Queensland by Premier Peter Beattie, only the second woman to take the role (the first was Leneen Forde, in the 1990s). Peter Beattie’s successor offered her an extension of her five-year term, but by then Dame Quentin had another appointment, and so she was succeeded as Governor of Queensland by Penelope Wensley – the first time a female governor of the state made way for another woman.
In 2008, the Queen approved Quentin’s appointment as Governor-General, on the recommendation of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, and so she became the 25th Governor-General of Australia, and the first female Governor-General of this country. The decision gained approval on all sides of politics, and was seen as a positive move by commentators. Towards the end of her term, she made headlines after giving the annual Boyer Lecture, when she implied that she looked forward to Australia becoming a republic, and legalising gay marriage.
When her term was completed last year, Quentin Bryce was made a Dame of the Order of Australia, on the recommendation of the current prime minister. Shortly afterwards, Dame Quentin was announced as the chair of a new task force to combat domestic violence in Queensland, so she continues her valuable work on behalf of Australian women.
French form of the Roman name Quintinus, derived from Quintus, meaning “fifth” in Latin, and traditionally given to a fifth child.
Saint Quentin is a 3rd century saint, and according to legend he was a Roman citizen who went to Gaul as a missionary, where he settled in Amiens in northern France. After performing many miracles, he was tortured and martyred before his body was thrown into the marshes of the Somme. By miraculous means, his body was later discovered and a shrine erected in his honour.
The cult of Saint Quentin was an important one in the Middle Ages, and Saint Quentin’s tomb was a major pilgrimage site, much favoured by the Carolingians. There are many places named after the saint in northern France. Because of the saint, the Normans introduced the name Quentin to England, where it may have contributed to the surname Quentin, although that could also come from Quinton in Warwickshire, meaning “the queen’s settlement” in Old English.
The name Quentin has been in use since medieval times, overwhelmingly as a male name. It is in the Top 500 in the United States, while in England/Wales, 17 baby boys were named Quentin in 2013. The name is most popular in France, where it is in the Top 50. There are not many Quentins in Australian historical records, and they are all male.
Besides Quentin Bryce, there are many famous Australians named Quentin in the media. Quentin Spedding was a journalist in the 1920s and 1930s, while ABC journalists include Quentin Dempster, Quentin McDermott, and Quentin Hull. There’s also film-maker and producer Quentin Kenihan, who first rose to fame as a little boy being interviewed on television.
You might also be reminded of American film director Quentin Tarantino, or British illustrator Quentin Blake. Homosexual author and performer Quentin Crisp changed his name to Quentin (born Denis Pratt), while Quentin Cook changed his name to Norman, and performed under the stage name Fatboy Slim.
These are all men named Quentin, but as a surname, Quentin refers to a queen, and even as a first name, Quentin could be used as a form of the female Roman name Quintina. I only know two people named Quentin, and they are both female, so the name seems very usable for girls to me, in addition to being a splendid choice for a boy.
Surname derived from the male name Brice. Saint Brice was a Bishop of Tours during the Dark Ages. Acccording to legend, he was an orphan rescued by Saint Martin and raised in an monastery as St Martin’s pupil. He took over as bishop from St Martin, but proved rather worldly, so he was exiled to Rome for seven years to have his sins absolved by the pope. When he returned, he was a changed man, and served with such humility that he was venerated as a saint.
He is remembered in England because his feast day is November 13, and on that day in 1002 there was a mass killing of the Danes living in England ordered by King Ethelred the Unready, who was fed up with England being ravaged in Viking raids each year. It is known as the St Brice’s Day Massacre.
The meaning of Brice is not known for sure, although it is assumed to be Celtic. It may come from the Gaulish word briccus, meaning “speckled”. As a surname, Bryce is particularly associated with Scotland, and is understood as meaning “follower of Saint Brice”.
The name is very well known in Australia because of best-selling author Bryce Courtenay, who was born in South Africa – his name was Arthur, but went by his middle name. Before becoming a published writer, Bryce worked in advertising, and headed many award-winning campaigns, including Louie the Fly, The Milkybar Kid, and It’s Time, on behalf of Gough Whitlam. His most famous work is his first novel, The Power of One, which has been made into a film.
Bryce entered the charts in the 1960s, debuting at #274 – its similarity to Bruce is so striking that you might suspect it was a replacement for the name, which was still popular in the ’60s, but falling steeply. Bryce rose into the Top 100 by the 1990s, just as Bryce Courtenay began his career as an author, and left the Top 100 in 2000. It is now around the 200s, so still fairly common.
It’s more popular in the US, where it has fallen much more slowly, and is not far out of the Top 100. It is least common in England/Wales, where 19 boys and 3 girls were named Bryce in 2013 (the second time that Bryce has charted as a female name in the UK, probably because of American actress Bryce Dallas Howard, who has recently been in the Twilight series and The Help).
Modern classic Bryce is still getting reasonable use, along with old favourites like Brock and Brody, and is also on trend, fitting in with fashionable rising choices like Byron. It’s a great way to honour a Bruce and a Bryan simultaneously, and I see this name more commonly in the middle, as it goes well with so many first names.
Two medieval French saints names – but which one do you like best?
Quentin received an approval rating of 51%. 40% of people weren’t keen on the name Quentin, but 21% thought it was a good name.
Bryce received an approval rating of 37%. 53% of people weren’t keen on the name Bryce, although 10% loved it.
Thank you to Brooke for requesting that the name Quentin be featured on Waltzing More Than Matilda, and Dame Quentin Bryce be featured as part of the Famous Name series
(Picture shows Dame Quentin Bryce opening the Defence Museum in Darwin)