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Just before the Summer Olympics started this year, we lost our oldest Olympian – Forbes Carlile, who was 95. Forbes was a scientifically-trained pioneer in elite swimming coaching, using many of the training methods we take for granted today in sports physiology and psychology, and writing the first book on modern competitive swimming.
Forbes was Australia’s first Olympian post-war swimming coach, and the youngest Olympic coach when he began at the age of 27. He was the Australian swimming coach at the 1948 and 1956 Olympic Games, and Scientific Adviser at the 1960 Olympic Games; he coached the Dutch team at the 1964 Olympics.
Swimmers coached by Forbes won 12 Olympic medals including 5 gold, and set 31 world records. His greatest success was at the 1973 Swimming World Championships, which produced nine Australian champions, and his most successful student was Shane Gould, who held six world records simultaneously when she was 15.
Forbes is the only person so far to have coached at the Olympic Games, and then gone on to compete at Olympic level. He was the first Australian to compete in the modern pentathlon at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, where he came 25th overall and 10th in the swimming phase.
Forbes went on to receive many awards for his work as a coach and is in three sporting Halls of Fame, both in Australia and internationally. He and his wife Ursula were the first in Australia to open a commercial swimming school, still in operation.
A quote from Forbes Carlile demonstrates the thinking behind his success: Our aim is not to produce champions, but to create an environment where champions are inevitable.
Forbes is a Scottish surname which comes from a place name in Aberdeenshire derived from forba, Gaelic for “field”. Clan Forbes claims to have owned land in this area since the 12th century, but the first Forbes on record is Duncan Forbes, in the late 13th century. The Forbes were raised to the Scottish Peerage in the 15th century, so the name has an aristocratic feel.
The name is well known in the United States, as members of the Scottish clan emigrated to America and became one of the wealthiest and most prominent in Boston. Politically influential, one of their best known members today is US Secretary of State John Forbes Kerry. Another Forbes from Aberdeenshire, of more modest origins, emigrated to the US later and is known for founding Forbes business magazine, famous for its rich lists, so either way this name signals money.
In Ireland, the surname Forbes can either be directly related to the Scottish name, as one of the aristocratic Forbes settled here in the 17th century, or can be an Anglicisation of the Gaelic name MacFearbhisigh, with the personal name Firbhsigh from the Celtic for “man of prosperity”. Whatever the origin, Forbes is a wealthy name.
The name is known in Australia from the New South Wales town of Forbes, named after the state’s first Chief Justice, Sir Francis Forbes. Sir Francis was related to the Scottish clan, and because of his family’s business links, had been educated in America and travelled there, which is said to be the source of his politically liberal views.
Forbes the town got bad reviews at first, with explorer John Oxley opining that it was impossible to imagine a worse country, due to the clay soil, poor timber, and swamps. Perhaps these weren’t mentioned on the brochure, as people did settle in the area. Everything changed when gold was discovered in 1861 and the population swelled by more than 30 000. A historic town, the bushranger Ben Hall met his end in Forbes, and Ned Kelly‘s sister Kate died a heroine here.
Forbes has been used as a personal name since the 18th century, where it was originally strongly associated with Scotland, but soon became much more generally used. In America, it was most commonly found in Boston. Although at first girls with the names Forbes weren’t particularly unusual, overall the name is overwhelmingly male.
Forbes is a very uncommon name. In the US, just 5 baby boys were named Forbes in 2015, while in the UK no baby boys are listed as having been given the name since 2008. I have occasionally seen Forbes used as a boy’s first name in Australia, but perhaps more often as a middle name. (This reminds me that a well known person with Forbes as his middle name is mathematician John Forbes Nash, of A Beautiful Mind fame).
Forbes is a rare surname name for boys redolent of success, wealth, power, nobility, and even long life. Although most of us like the idea of names which have positive meanings, namesakes and associations, some parents might feel that this one is almost too much. However, for a name with history and class behind it, Forbes is worth considering for your own future champion – at least in the middle.
(Photo from Carlile Swimming)