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Bronwyn Bishop resigned as Speaker of the House two days ago, after a furore over her use of travel allowances. Usually when someone is caught out abusing the system they quickly hand in their notice and quietly slip away before too many questions can be raised. However Ms Bishop refused to admit she had done anything wrong and resisted all pressure to resign for three weeks, which meant we had plenty of time to hear about her extravagant travel expenses.
They included a $6000 private flight from Sydney to Nowra for a Liberal party fundraiser, and more than $1000 on a limo so she could attend a theatre premiere in her home city. There was also the $600 return flight to attend colleague Sophie Mirabella’s wedding in Albury, and $130 000 spent on overseas travel to Europe and Asia, including $1000 a day on private limos.
The one that really left people gobsmacked was a $5000 chartered helicopter to take her from Melbourne to a Liberal party fundraiser in Geelong and back – a trip which takes only about an hour each way by road. Referred to as Choppergate, this was the scandal that brought Ms Bishop down. She wasn’t a first-timer at this: in the 1980s she once hired a helicopter at taxpayer’s expense to transport her from a fete to a dog show.
Ironically, back in the 1990s Bronwyn Bishop rose to fame as the face of public accountability when she was on the Senate estimates and joint public accounts committee. This sounds dull and usually was – an assessment of government departments and where they spent their appropriations. Under Bishop, committee meetings became virtual show trials where senior public servants were routinely interrogated, hectored, and taunted for their spending habits.
When Bronwyn Bishop was appointed Speaker in 2013, the Opposition described her as Dolores Umbridge, after the infamous headmistress from the Harry Potter series. This didn’t refer to a penchant for hair ribbons or interest in fluffy kittens, but indicated a fear she was to be a corrupt tool of government. This turned out to be not unfounded, for in her term of office Ms Bishop showed considerable bias, ejecting 393 Opposition members from the house, but only 7 of her own party.
Bronwyn Bishop was appointed to the role of Speaker by the Prime Minister, who describes her as a close personal friend, and himself as her ideological love child. This has turned out to be yet another damaging captain’s call, and no doubt the next Speaker will be the choice of his party.
It’s been a spectacular fall from grace for the longest-serving woman in Parliament, who once boasted she would be a future Prime Minister. Now the Prime Minister admits her parliamentary career is at an end.
Bronwyn is a variant of Bronwen, a modern Welsh name meaning “white breasted, fair breasted”. The meaning is possibly less important than the fact it is very similar to the medieval Welsh name Branwen, meaning “fair raven”; in Welsh legend, Branwen was the sister of Brân the Blessed. Both Bronwen and Bronwyn have been used since the 19th century.
There is a popular notion that Bronwyn is the masculine form of Bronwen, since in Welsh the suffix -wyn is usually attached to masculine names. In fact, you can get into some quite nasty arguments about it on baby name forums, with angry people telling you that you have ignorantly given your daughter Bronwyn a specifically male name.
However if you look at the records, Bronwyn was always used as a girl’s name in Wales right from the start, with the -wyn spelling just a variant, not an indication of gender. Interestingly, the few examples of men named Bronwyn I found, dating from the 20th century, were all from outside Wales. I suspect their parents read up on the Welsh language and “corrected” Bronwyn from feminine to masculine, possibly being a bit too clever in the process and giving their sons a traditionally female name.
While Bronwen was originally by far the more common spelling in the 19th century, Bronwyn overtook it in the 20th. It was popularised by the 1941 film How Green Was My Valley, with Anna Lee in the role of Bronwyn, the narrator’s sister-in-law that he loves. The film is based on the 1939 novel by author Richard Llewellyn, and is set in a Welsh mining village. In the book the sister-in-law’s name is Bronwen, and I’m not sure why Hollywood decided to spell her name with a Y. Perhaps they thought it looked more feminine.
The name Bronwyn first joined the charts in the 1940s, coinciding with the release of the film; it made its debut at #143. (Bronwyn Bishop was born in 1942, the year after the film came out). By the 1950s it had joined the Top 100 and peaked in 1964 at #53. It left the Top 100 in 1980, and hasn’t charted since the late 2000s.
For some reason, Bronwyn has only been popular in Australia: it doesn’t seem to have ever been a Top 100 name in the UK, and has never even charted in the US. In 2013, there were 23 baby girls named Bronwyn in England/Wales, and last year there were 49 baby girls named Bronwyn in the US. Numbers of Bronwyns seem fairly stable in both countries.
Bronwen has never charted in Australia. In the UK in 2013 Bronwens and Bronwyns were roughly equal (21 babies named Bronwen), while in the US there were 6 Bronwens, a lot less popular than Bronwyn.
Although Bronwyn is now a dated name, the sound of it seems to have led to the popularity of similar-sounding Bronte, which joined the Top 100 just as Bronwyn slipped off the charts. Perhaps even the rise of Bonnie owe something to Bronwyn, since a common nickname for Bronwyn is Bronnie.
Dolores is a Spanish name meaning “pain, sorrow”. It is taken from one of the titles of the Virgin Mary, Nuestra Senora de Dolores, or Our Lady of Sorrows. The title refers to the Seven Sorrows of Mary, which are seven sad events in Mary’s life connected with her son Jesus. They begin with his Presentation in the Temple, and the prophecies made about him, and end with his body being placed in the tomb.
The feast day for Our Lady of Sorrows began in the Middle Ages, and was originally the third Sunday after Easter; today it is September 15. It’s possible that the name Dolores was first given to girls born around this feast day, although I can’t find any evidence for this.
The feast was rarely celebrated until the 16th century, and by the 17th century Dolores had become a common name in Spanish-speaking countries, although occasionally also used by Catholics in other countries. It came into common use in the English-speaking world in the 19th century, and was a particular favourite with Irish Catholics.
Dolores has never charted in Australia. In the United States, Dolores joined the Top 100 during the 1920s, the era when Mexican actress Dolores del Rio flourished as a Hollywood star. The first Latin American actress to become famous internationally, Dolores was exquisite, elegant, and gracious.
The name left the US Top 100 in the 1940s, after Dolores de Rio was accused of Communism during the McCarthy era, and continued her career in her homeland. The name left the charts in the 1980s, after Dolores del Rio’s death, but Dolores is still remembered as one of the classic Hollywood beauties, and a great lady.
During Ms del Rio’s heyday this name must have been exotic and glamorous, but now seems dated and frumpy. The evil Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter has not helped its image: her name was chosen because it sounds similar to the English word dolorous, which can be understood as “causing pain or grief” (it has the same Latin source as the name Dolores). However, Lola is a popular pet form of Dolores, and I can see Lolita, Dolly and Lolly becoming fashionable in the future.
Two names connected with Hollywood beauties which have fallen from favour, but are probably more influential on current trends that we give them credit for. Which one will score higher, I wonder?
Bronwyn received an approval rating of 44%. 39% of people weren’t keen on the name Bronwyn, while 18% loved it.
Dolores received an even lower approval rating of 28%. 40% of people weren’t keen on the name Dolores, while 10% loved it.
(Photo from the ABC website)