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The most popular boys names of the 1940s were John, Peter, Robert, and David, but what were the least popular names? Here are ten names which were only chosen once in any year between 1944 and 1949 in South Australia, making them unique names for their time and place. Still rare, some feel surprisingly contemporary, while one or two have perhaps had their day.
English surname of multiple origins. It can be from a common place name meaning “east settlement”, to indicate a village to the east of a larger town, although occasionally it seems to be a corruption or variant of Ashton, meaning “settlement near the ash trees”. It can also mean “at the stone”, to indicate someone who lived near a prominent stone. Finally, it can be a contraction of a personal name such as Aethelstan, meaning “noble stone”, and there are examples of men with Aston as a first name in the Middle Ages from this derivation. Sir Aston Cockayne, 1st Baronet, was a 17th century writer who was on the Royalist side during the English Civil War, and a close friend of the future Charles II. The name might remind you of Aston Villa Football Club, in the English Premier League, or Aston Martin luxury cars – both familiar in the 1940s as well. I see the name Aston name sometimes in birth notices, perhaps inspired by Aston Merrygold from English boy band JLS.
English surname from an unknown place name meaning “stream surrounded by broom” – broom is a hardy European shrub with yellow flowers. The name has a strong connection with the Salvation Army, because Bramwell Booth was the second General of the Salvation Army who served during World War I, the eldest son of its founder, William Booth. We know the name was used by Salvationists, because Bramwell Tillsley, a Canadian who was the son of British Salvationists, was the 14th General of the Salvation Army. The Salvation Army has a strong history in South Australia, with the first official Salvation Army corps formed in Adelaide in 1880. Booth was also used as a baby name during the 1940s, with the Salvation Army’s support of the troops being greatly appreciated. Bramwell is an attractive, little-used surname that has the appealing nickname Bram.
Form of the Greek name Kosmas, meaning “order”, and thus the opposite of “chaos”. The Greeks also used the word to mean “the world”, because they believed the world was perfectly put in order. We use the word cosmos to mean “the universe, all of creation”. According to tradition, Saint Cosmas was a skilled doctor; along with his twin brother Damian, he performed many miraculous cures before his martyrdom. The name Cosmo was introduced to Britain by the Scottish peer Alexander Gordon, 2nd Duke of Gordon, when he named his son Cosmo in 1720. Cosmo’s name was in honour of his father’s close friend Cosimo di Medici – Cosimo is the Italian form of Kosmas. The name has always had a rather exotic and aristocratic image, and Scottish associations. There were several famous Cosmos that could have inspired the name in the 1940s, including popular British playwright Cosmo Hamilton, and Archbishop of Canterbury Cosmo Lang. Cosmos is also a type of daisy, whose name comes from the same Greek origin, so with some imagination, the name Cosmo could honour someone named Daisy.
Variant of Denzel, a Cornish surname. The name was traditional in the aristocratic Holles family, with one of the earliest and most famous of their number to bear the name Denzil Holles, 1st Baron Holles, a 17th century statesman who is best known for being part of a group who attempted to arrest King Charles I, sparking the Civil War, but also took a leading role in bringing about the Restoration. The Denzel spelling came first, as Denzil Holles’ grandfather was Denzel Holles. These Denzils and Denzels were named in honour of their ancestor John Denzel, who had large estates in Cornwall in the 16th century and was Attorney-General to Elizabeth of York, queen of Henry VII. John Denzel took his surname from the Denzell manor house in St Mawgan, Cornwall, and the meaning of its name is not known for sure, although perhaps from the Celtic for “hill fortress in open view”. A 1940s Australian namesake is Sir Denzil Macarthur-Onslow, a World War II general regarded as a “cracker of a bloke”. Denzil still seems contemporary because of American actor Denzel Washington, and is very usable.
Derived from the ancient Germanic name Eberhard, often translated as “brave as a wild boar”. The name was introduced by the Normans to Britain, where there was already an Old English form of the name, Eoforheard. A famous namesake is Sir Everard Digby, who was executed for his part in the failed Gunpowder Plot, and another was Everard Calthrop, a railway engineer who helped develop the modern parachute. Although in use since the Middle Ages, modern usage has probably been influenced by the surname, as the Everards are an aristocratic family who have been created baronets in both Ireland and England. Everard Park is a suburb of Adelaide, named after the prominent pioneer Sir Charles Everard, said to have the best orchard in the colony, giving this a strong South Australian feel. Everard is an interesting twist on classic Evan, and the trend for girls’ names starting with Ev- may also be a help.
English surname referring to someone living near a triangular field; the word gar means spear in Old English, and a gar field is one that is shaped like the point of a spearhead. The surname is well known in the United States, as their 20th president was James A. Garfield, and his sons also went on to have illustrious public careers – there is a town in Victoria named Garfield in honour of the American president. A namesake from the 1940s was Hollywood actor John Garfield, while one with Garfield as his first name is Garfield “Gar” Wood, an American inventor, showman, and record-breaking motorboat racer – the first to travel over 100 miles an hour on water. An Australian namesake from this era is Sir Garfield Barwick, a barrister who came to prominence during a 1943 court case involving the Archibald Prize. He later became a Liberal MP, Attorney-General, and Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia. He was the legal advisor to Sir John Kerr during the controversial dismissal of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam (an old enemy of Barwick’s), so he well and truly made history. Garfield would be a charming and unusual vintage name, except for one thing – the obese cartoon cat!
In Greek mythology, Linus was a Thracian prince who was so musically talented that he was said to have been the son of Apollo, god of music, and Calliope, the muse of epic poetry. According to legend, Linus invented melody and rhythm, and taught music to his brothers Orpheus and Heracles. Unfortunately, Heracles didn’t appreciate the music lessons, and killed Linus with his own lyre after he tried to give Heracles some constructive criticism. Although the meaning of the name is not certain, there was a type of dirge in classical Greece called a linos, and it’s possible that the mythological character was a personification of this song of mourning. The name has a Christian association because Linus is said to have been a Bishop of Rome in the early church, and is listed as the second pope. The name Linus is especially popular in Scandinavia, although many people will connect it to Linus Pauling, the American scientist who won both the Nobel Chemistry Prize and the Nobel Peace Prize, and whose work was aleady known by the 1940s. The name might also remind you of security blanket-hugging philosopher Linus from the Peanuts comics. A sweet, smart name with a mythological musical connection.
Greek name meaning “new”. It wasn’t an unusual name in ancient Greece, and there are several prominent men named Neon from history. However, in modern times the name is strongly associated with neon lighting – bright electrified glass tubes often used for signs. They are named after neon gas, which is used to give off a bright orange light, but other gases provide different colours. Neon has has the same meaning as the name Neon. Neon lighting was invented in 1910, and was in its heyday between 1920 and 1940, the bright colours suddenly bringing dark streets to life. It’s probably not a coincidence that the name Neon peaked in the 1940s and ’50s, usually given to boys. Neon feel both space age and vintage, and has been used as a comic book hero name, for both a male and female character. As neon is often used in an artistic context today, you might think of this as an arty name, and it’s otherwise bright and energetic.
A revel is a festive celebration, while to revel is to make merry. The word comes from Old French, and is directly related to the Latin rebello, from which our word (and name) Rebel is derived. This is probably because we think of celebrations as tending to be rather unruly or disorderly, and sometimes they can even get out of hand! This fun-loving word has been used as a personal name since the Middle Ages in both England and France, and was also given as a nickname to people who were known for partying particularly hard. It is from this that the surname derives, and it is especially associated with Yorkshire. A famous Australian namesake is Western Australian Indigenous artist Revel Cooper, whose career began in the 1940s. Although he was just a child then, he was one of a number of children in state care who were given specialised art training, and their artwork exhibited in Perth, New Zealand, India, and Europe. Unlike many of the children, Revel continued his art career into adulthood. Revel is a boisterous medieval boys’ name that still sounds contemporary.
Rollo was a powerful 9th century Viking leader who was the founder and first ruler of the area of France now known as Normandy. He was the great-great-great grandfather of William the Conqueror, and through William, is the ancestor of the present day British royal family, as well as all current European monarchs. His name is a Latinised form of the Old Norse name Hrólfr, which in modern times is known as Rolf. It’s a shortened form of Hrodulf, now known as Rudolf, meaning “famous wolf”. Rollo is also a Scottish surname, the Clan Rollo being descended from the Normans, and in particular the nephew of William the Conqueror, Erik Rollo. Because the Lords Rollo is a title in the Scottish peerage, the name gains further aristocratic credentials. Rollo fitted in well with 1940s name trends, when Rolf and Roland were fashionable, and Australian artist Rollo Thompson flourished in this decade. Like Cosmo, it fits in with current trends for boys names ending in -o, and this is a fun yet blue-blooded choice.
People’s favourite names were Linus, Aston and Bramwell, and their least favourite were Neon, Denzil and Garfield.
(Picture shows Denzil Macarthur-Onslow, on the right, supervising a training exercise in Queensland in 1942; photo from the Australian War Memorial)