Bevan George is a hockey player who won gold at the Olympics in 2004, and bronze in 2008. Bevan is a Welsh surname meaning “son of Evan”; as Evan is a Welsh form of John, this is the Welsh form of Johnson. One of the most prominent people with this surname was Aneurin Bevan, a Welsh Labour Party politician most active in the 1950s. Recognised as one of the leaders of the party’s left-wing, he was a champion of social justice and the rights of working people. As Minister of Health, he was responsible for bringing in the National Health Service – that wonderful institution celebrated so effusively in the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics. For reasons unclear to me, this name seems to have been used more often in Australasia than anywhere else, and unfortunately, familiarity seems to have bred a certain amount of contempt, for in Queensland especially, Bevan is seen much in the same way that Kevin is perceived in the United Kingdom, the word bevan used to denote a lower-class person. As such, parents would rather use the name Evan.
Deveraux “Dev” Mytton won a bronze medal in sailing at the 1956 Olympics. The surname Deveraux is a variant of Devereux, and it’s Norman-French, meaning “from Évreux” in Normandy. The city of Évreux gained its present name from the Gallic tribe the Eburovici, whose name may be related to the word for “yew tree”, so the French city could have a similar meaning to that of York in northern England. According to the BBC, so many of the gold medal-winners from Team GB were from Yorkshire that if this historic county was its own nation, it would have finished 15th on the Olympics medal tally – ahead of South Africa and Brazil. The city of Évreux has its own Olympic champion – Didier Courrèges, who won gold as an equestrian in 2004. The surname is one with an aristocratic air to it, and in the early twentieth century would have been considered a very upmarket, perhaps even pretentious, name to bestow upon your son (a 1920s version of a “preppy” name). Pronounced DEV-er-oh, I cannot see this name coming into use, despite the fashionable ending, but Dev has a brisk sound to it.
Eli Matheson is a hockey player who won bronze at the 2008 Olympics. Eli is a Hebrew name which means “ascension”, and in the Old Testament, Eli is a judge and high priest of Israel who is the teacher and mentor of the prophet Samuel. Eli himself is regarded as a prophet also in Judaism. According to how it is written in Hebrew, Eli can also be a separate name which means “my God”. In Hebrew, it is said EH-lee, but English-speakers tend to pronounce the name EE-lie (probably so it doesn’t get confused with the girl’s name Ellie). One well known person with this name is Hollywood actor Eli Wallach, who starred in the westerns, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, and The Magnificent Seven. As Old Testament names for boys gain increasing momentum, Eli continues to rise and rise. It first entered the charts in the 1970s, and joined the Top 100 in 2009. It’s already #45 and still forging ahead.
Fergus Kavanagh is a member of the men’s hockey team, and won bronze medals in 2008 and 2012. Fergus is the Anglicised and Old Irish form of Fearghas, a Gaelic name meaning “man of vigour, strong virile man” – very apt for an Olympian. It was a name common amongst royalty in both ancient Ireland and Scotland, and is still often used amongst Scottish nobility. One of Queen Elizabeth II’s uncles was named Fergus, and another royal connection is Fergus Boyd, a friend and former flatmate of Prince William. There is a Saint Fergus, an 8th century Irish bishop who was a missionary in Scotland. King Arthur also had Sir Fergus as one of his knights, and he appears in a witty 13th century romance in which he appears valiant but lacking in sophistication. The name Fergus is currently gaining favour with the sort of parents who love Angus and Hamish, but are dismayed by their popularity. Aristocratic Fergus seems so much more select.
Hector “Hec” Hogan was a sprinter who was Australian champion seven times over in the 100 metres, and was able to equal the world record in this event. He attended the 1956 Olympics, and although he was already feeling strangely fatigued, still managed to win bronze. He was afterwards diagnosed with leukaemia, and died in hospital a few years later, while listening to the 100 metre sprint race at the Rome Olympics. In Greek mythology, Hector is a Trojan prince, and the greatest warrior of Troy, who slays Achilles in battle. A leader noted for his brave and noble nature, he is seen as far more worthy than his younger brother Paris, who caused the war. In Greek, Hector means “to hold”, and is interpreted as “holding firm, holding everything together”. It may be an epithet or title rather than a real name. In Scotland, Hector is used to Anglicise the Gaelic name Eachann, meaning “horse lord” or “brown horse”. Sir Hector is one of King Arthur’s knights in the legends, and is the brother of Sir Lancelot, while Arthur’s foster-father Sir Ector shows another form of the name. In Australia, Hector is the name of a cloud which forms each afternoon in the Tiwi Islands during certain months. This name is fast becoming seen as hip and quirky.
Ji Wallace is a gymnast who won a silver medal for trampolining at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. He later came out as gay, and was the first Australian to be an ambassador for the Gay Games; while attending the 2012 Olympics, he revealed that he is HIV-positive. Ji is a unisex Korean name which means “wisdom”; it’s also the word for an ancient Korean flute. This name sounds similar to the Indian name Jai, but manages to use even fewer letters, and is suitable for both boys and girls.
Kenneth “Ken” Wallace started out competing in Ironman, and switched to sprint canoeing while still in his teens. He won gold and bronze medals at the 2008 Olympics, and last year took part in Channel 7’s Australia’s Greatest Athlete. He came third, with Shannon Eckstein beating him to second place. Kenneth is the Anglicised form of two separate names. One is the Pictish Coinneach, meaning “handsome”; the other is Gaelic Cináed, meaning perhaps “born from fire” or “fire-head”, possibly to denote someone red-haired or hot-headed. According to tradition, the 9th century Kenneth MacAlpin was the first king of Scotland, and is known as Kenneth I (during his lifetime, he would only have been known as king of the Picts, however). There also two legendary saints named Kenneth, one Irish, one Welsh. For some reason, Kenneth became a “funny name” – perhaps because of uber-camp comic actor Kenneth Williams, from the Carry On movies. Kenneth was #38 for the 1900s, and peaked in the 1920s at #6. It left the Top 100 in the 1980s, and is currently #409. It rose last year, so things may be looking up for this attractive name.
Nimrod Greenwood won bronze for rowing at the 1952 Olympics. In the Old Testament, Nimrod is a great-grandson of Noah, and king of several Mesopotamian cities. He is depicted as a man wielding great political power, a warrior, and a mighty hunter. Although the Bible never states this, according to tradition, he is the king for whom the Tower of Babel was constructed. This hubristic piece of engineering sought to build a tower into heaven itself, and so alarmed God that He scattered humanity over the globe, and made them speak different languages, to prevent further outbreaks of co-operation and harmony. It’s obviously a story to explain cultural differences, and there are similar myths around the world. The name Nimrod is traced to the Hebrew for “rebel”, but as he was Sumerian, this seems unlikely. The most convincing theory is that he is based on the Babylonian god Bel Marduk, one of whose titles was Bel-Nimrod, meaning “to pursue, to make someone flee before him”. Nimrod has entered our language to mean either a tyrant, a warrior, or a huntsman; however, in the United States it is slang for “idiot” – perhaps due to a 19th century play with a character called Nimrod Wildfire. It is still an Olympian name, for one of the Israeli swimmers at this year’s Olympics was Nimrod Shapira-Bar-Or.
Ralph Doubell had a brief career in athletics, but was lucky enough to peak just as an Olympics came around. He won gold in 1968 in the 800 metres, and set a world record of 1:44.3. No other Australian has ever managed to equal this, and it’s stood as the Australian record for more than 40 years. Ralph is a contraction of the Old Norse name Ráðúlfr, meaning “wolf counsel”, which was introduced to England by Scandinavian settlers. When the Normans arrived, they brought with them their own form of the name, Radulf, and English Ralph can be seen as a continuation of both these names. Ráðúlfr is pronounced ra-THOOL-fer, and Radulf is said RAD-oolf; in the beginning Ralph was spelled Ralf and pronounced RAYF. By the 17th century the spelling had been changed to Rafe to reflect the pronunciation, and the Ralph spelling appeared in the 18th century. You are now free to pronounce this name either RAYF or RALF, but as far as I know, only one Ralph seems to say his name like Rafe, and that’s English actor Ralph Fiennes. The name was favoured by the ruling classes during the Middle Ages, but American pop culture has not been kind to it, often assigning it to comic or dim-witted characters. In American slang, ralph means “to vomit”, which can’t have done its image any good. Ralph was #91 in the 1900s, and peaked in the 1920s at #89. It left the Top 100 by the 1950s, and hasn’t ranked since the 1980s.
Verdi “Vern” Barberis was a seven times Australian champion in weight-lifting, and took the bronze medal in the Lightweight category at the 1952 Olympics. He was the first Australian lightweight to clean and jerk over 300 lb (140 kg), which at that time exceeded his state’s heavyweight record. The name Verdi is an Italian surname, common in the north of Italy, and best known as that of the composer, Giuseppe Verdi. One of the most influential composers of the 19th century, he is famous for such operas as Rigoletto, Aida and La Traviata. The name means “green”, from the Latin viridis, related to the word virere, meaning “to bloom and flourish”. In the same way, the English word verdant, from the same Latin root, means “green”, but also has connotations of lush vegetation. It’s very much a name of freshness, spring time and new life. I think this rare unisex name is very appealing, and also begins with the fashionable V.
(Photo shows Ken Wallace after winning gold at the 2008 Olympics)