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Iden is an English surname which comes from the village of Iden near Rye in East Sussex, whose name in Old English means “woodland pasture where yew trees grow”. The Iden family were once Lords of the Manor in this village, Anglo-Normans who took their surname from the village.
A famous member of the Iden family is Alexander Iden, a medieval High Sheriff of Kent. He is a character in William Shakespeare’s historical play Henry IV, where he puts down a rebellion almost by accident and is knighted for his good deed.
Iden has been used as a first name since the Middle Ages, and was strongly associated with Sussex and Kent (where there is a hamlet named Iden Green). It was originally almost entirely feminine in usage, most likely because it looks and sounds very much like the name Idunn.
This is the name of a Norse goddess of spring, whose name is conjectured to mean something like “one who rejuvenates”, to indicate immortality and ever-youthfulness. In medieval England, the name was Anglicised to Idonae, Idony, and Idonea (the last one coinciding with the Latin for “suitable”). You could therefore see Iden as another attempt to Anglicise the name.
The gender ratio of Iden gradually evened up, and by the 18th century was significantly more common as a boy’s name, although still given to both sexes. It’s interesting that even in the 19th century, births of Idens in England were still strongly tied to Sussex and Kent, showing a local appeal to the name.
Probably the most famous person with the name is the Shakespearean actor and director B. Iden Payne. He went to the United States just before the First World War, and had a successful career as a director and drama teacher, working on Broadway and in the academic world. He finished his career at the University of Texas, and they have a theatre and acting award named in his honour.
Iden has been used as a character name on Star Trek. In the series Iden, played by Jeff Yagher, is a highly intelligent hologram who tries to defend and save his fellow holograms. In the process, he develops a Messiah complex, which leads to his downfall.
Another science fiction connection is the popular time-travelling cyborg novel In the Garden of Iden, by Kage Baker. In the story, the garden of the title belongs to Sir Robert Iden, a 16th century owner of a country manor house.
Nineteenth century English author Richard Jeffries also had a “garden of Iden” in his novel Amaryllis at the Fair. In it, Mr Iden turns his garden into a miniature paradise, with his daughter Amaryllis as its loveliest bloom. The rich prose and detailed descriptions make this a treasure for garden lovers.
The name Iden has never been common, and in Australia just a few examples can be found in historical records, mostly in the middle. I only saw it as a man’s name, but one or two women had it as a middle name.
The name is in occasional use in the UK, and in 2014 5 boys were named Iden. In the US, 42 boys were named Iden in 2014, and numbers appear to be increasing. The name does not seem to be in use for girls in the English-speaking world, despite the name starting out as feminine. Yet another example which shows that names do not always go from male to female when they switch gender.
Iden isn’t a common name, but neither is it bizarre or unfamiliar, and it has a significant history as a first name. Even for people who aren’t aware of the name Iden, it sounds enough like commoner names such as Aiden, Eden, and Arden not to sound too strange (there’s also Idan, a Hebrew name for boys).
On the flipside, its similarity to other names mean that it might be confused with them. Likewise, its deceptively easy pronunciation (IE-den, so the first syllable sounds like the word eye) will no doubt cause a certain amount of misunderstandings.
Short and simple, Iden is a medieval name that sounds completely modern and even space-age. It travels well, and works cross-culturally, because the name Iden is used in several other languages and countries.
I’ve seen quite a few people considering the name Iden, and can see it increasing in use, especially if it becomes more of a favourite in popular culture.
Thank you to V for requesting the name Iden be featured on Waltzing More Than Matilda.
(Photo shows a view of countryside near Iden, East Sussex)