Breton name, common amongst aristocracy, introduced to England by the Normans, where it became one of the most popular names. The meaning is uncertain – the word alan was used in Brittany to mean “fox”, but evidence suggests it originally meant “deer”. The two meanings may both refer to someone with red hair, or to indicate speed. There is also an Irish name Ailin, meaning “little rock”, very similar to the Irish/Scots Gaelic word alainn, meaning “handsome”, while the Welsh Alun may mean either “nurturing” or “wandering”. When the Normans brought Alan with them, the name spread to Scotland as Breton lords gained lands there – perhaps partly because the Scots already had similar names. Another theory is that the name comes from the Alans, Indo-Iranian peoples who settled in parts of France and Brittany in the Middle Ages; their name has the same origin as Aryan, meaning “noble”. There are several saints named Alan. Alan is a classic name which has never left the charts. It was #55 in the 1900s, and peaked in the 1940s at #20, leaving the Top 100 in the 1980s. It has recently had a small rise in popularity, and is around the 300s. Surname variants Allan and Allen have also been popular; Allen is back on the charts, while Allan has disappeared. I have seen a few babies named Alan and Allen lately.
English form of the Roman family Caecilius. The Caecilii traced their ancestry back to the mythical figure Caeculus, a son of the smith god Vulcan. According to legend, Caeculus had mastery over fire, and was unharmed by it, although the smoke damaged his eyes, which were smaller than usual – his name means “little blind boy” in Latin. Another story is that the Caecilii were descended from Caecas, a follower of the legendary Roman hero Aeneas: his name means “blind” as well, although it also can be translated as “dark, secret”. Of course both these tales are just folklore. The name Cecil has been used since the Middle Ages, and it was also given in honour of the noble Cecil family, whose surname comes from the name Seisyll, Welsh form of the Roman name Sextilius, from Sextus, meaning “sixth”. Cecil was #18 in the 1900s, and was #89 in the 1940s. It left the Top 100 the following decade, and dropped off the charts in the 1970s. I recently saw a baby Cecil, and I think this name seems pretty hip.
English surname, from a village in Herefordshire meaning “ford at the cliff”. The Cliffords are a noble family who originally came over with the Normans, and were prominent in medieval England. One of their members was Rosamund Clifford, “The Fair Rosamund”, who was the mistress of Henry II. Clifford has been used as a first name since at least the 16th century. Clifford was #61 in the 1900s, peaking in the 1910s and 1920s at #59. It was #92 in the 1940s, left the Top 100 the following decade, and was off the charts by the 1990s. This name will remind many parents of the classic children’s book series, Clifford the Big Red Dog. It seems strong and solid.
Anglicised form of the Irish surname O’Deasmhumhnaigh, meaning “son of the man from Desmond”. Desmond is the original name for South-West Munster, and means “south Munster”. Munster means “land of Muma”; Muma was a goddess associated with writing. Desmond became prominent as an aristocratic title, as the Earls of Desmond were lords of Ireland, related to royal houses in England and France. Their family name was FitzGerald, and US President J.F. Kennedy is believed to have been descended from them. Desmond has been used as a personal name since the 18th century, and originated outside Ireland. Desmond was #127 in the 1900s, joined the Top 100 in the 1920s, and peaked in the 1940s at #66. It left the Top 100 in the 1960s, and dropped off the charts in the early 2000s. This name is rising in popularity in the US, and I wonder if that could happen here too? Desmond Miles from the Assassin’s Creed video game series, and Desmond from Lost are contemporary namesakes.
From the Greek name Gregorios, meaning “watchful”. Because the Latin for “flock” is grex, it became understood as “shepherd”, the idea being that the shepherd would keep watch over his flock. Because of this, it became a popular name for monks and bishops to adopt, and there have been dozens of saints and 16 popes with the name Gregory. Pope Gregory I was known as Gregory the Great, and he is famous for sending Christian missionaries to England to covert the Anglo-Saxons, and for the Gregorian chant, which is attributed to and named after him. Because of him, Gregory has been a common English name since the Middle Ages. Gregory is a classic name which has never left the charts. It was #143 in the 1900s, and joined the Top 100 in the 1930s. It was #34 in the 1940s, and peaked in the 1950s at #7 (when Gregory Peck was big in Hollywood). It didn’t leave the Top 100 until the 1990s, and is currently around the 600s and fairly stable. It may not be stylish, but this is a solid choice.
French form of Roman name Mauritius, derived from Maurus, meaning “man from Mauretania”. Mauretania was a region of the Roman Empire where north Africa is today, so the name is often understood as “dark-skinned”, and sometimes translated as “a Moor” (the old name for someone from northern Africa). The name became commonly used because of St Maurice, a 3rd century Egyptian who served in the Roman army. According to legend, he was part of a Christian legion who refused to kill other Christians, and were martyred together. As a Roman soldier, St Maurice was patron of the Holy Roman Emperors and many of the royal houses of Europe, so his name became used by royalty and nobility. Prince Maurice of Battenberg was Queen Victoria’s youngest grand-child; he was killed in action during World War I. Maurice was #71 in the 1900s and peaked in the 1920s at #52. It was #82 in the 1940s, and left the Top 100 the following decade; it dropped off the charts in the 1990s. Maurice has a rather nerdy image, although AFL fans may be reminded of footballing great Maurice Rioli. It can be said muh-REES or MOR-is, with Reese or Morrie as the nicknames.
Germanic nickname or surname meaning “north man”, referring to Vikings. The Normans were descendants of Vikings who had taken over and settled the region of northern France now known as Normandy. Later a Norman duke named William conquered England, so that the Normans became an important part of British history and culture. The name Norman or Normant was used in England even before the Conquest, and became more common after 1066, although dropped off again in the late Middle Ages. It never went out of use, but became much more popular in the 19th century, due to the Victorian love of anything antique-sounding. In Scotland, it was used to Anglicise the Norse/Gaelic name Tormod, meaning “courage of Thor”. Norman was #19 in the 1900s, and peaked in the 1920s at #14. It was #46 in the 1940s, left the Top 100 in the 1960s, and disappeared from the charts in the 1990s. There are many Australian namesakes, from artist Norman Lindsay to comedian Norman Gunston to pop star Normie Rowe. Many people still remember Norm, from the Life. Be in it fitness campaign, representing a pot-bellied man as “the norm”.
The Germanic name Raginmund is composed of ragin, meaning “advice, counsel” and mund, “protection”; it is sometimes translated as “protected by good counsel”. The Normans introduced it to England in the form Reimund, where it became very common in the Middle Ages. It was a traditional name amongst medieval nobility, and there are several medieval saints called Raymond. Never out of use, Raymond is a classic name which has always remained on the charts. It was #33 in the 1900s, and peaked in the 1940s at #9. It left the Top 100 in the 1990s, and hit its lowest point in 2009 at #326. Since then it has improved its popularity ranking, and is currently in the 200s. With Roy- names so fashionable, Ray- names cannot help getting a boost as well, and Raymond is not only a solid classic choice, but one which has recently gained some cachet. Plenty of parents love Raymond!
From a Germanic name meaning “famous spear”. The Normans introduced the name to England in the form Rogier, where it replaced the Anglo-Saxon form, Hroðgar or Hrothgar, which is found in the poem Beowulf as the name of a Danish king. The name was common in medieval England, heavily used by the aristocracy, and there are a couple of saints named Roger. It has never gone out of common use, even though roger was a slang term for “penis” – possibly because of the spear connection. More recently, roger has become understood as “to have sexual intercourse”. It has often been chosen for comic characters, such as the Beano‘s Roger the Dodger, Roger Ramjet, Roger Rabbit, Roger the alien from American Dad, and Roger the Shrubber from Monty Python’s Holy Grail (not to mention “Welease Woger” in The Life of Brian). Roger was #155 in the 1900s, joined the Top 100 in the 1930s and peaked in the 1940s at #57. It left the Top 100 in the 1970s, and dropped off the charts in the late 2000s, albeit with a sudden burst of use in 2009, when it got up to #384. Although perhaps too many jokes have been made at its expense, the pirate flag of the Jolly Roger, and radio procedure call of Roger give it a rollicking feel.
English form of the Greek name Stephanos, meaning “wreath, crown”, to denote the laurel wreath worn by those who achieved victory in contests. In the New Testament, St Stephen was a deacon of the early church who was martyred by stoning. As the first martyr, St Stephen’s name seems apt, and he is often said to have won his martyr’s crown. There are several other saints with the name, and nine popes. The name Stephen became more popular in England after the Norman Conquest, and although it is a common name for royalty in eastern Europe, there has only ever been one English king with the name. Stephen of Blois was a grandson of William the Conqueror who took the throne in controversial circumstances; his rule marked a period of anarchy as he fought the Empress Matilda for the right to rule. In the end he failed, and his name has never been used again for a British king. Never out of common use, Stephen is a classic name which has remained on the charts. It was #72 in the 1900s, was #36 in the 1940s, and peaked in the 1950s at #5. It didn’t leave the Top 100 until the early 2000s, and is currently fairly stable around the 300s. The variant Steven, in use since the Middle Ages, is more popular than Stephen, around the 200s.
People’s favourite names were Desmond, Stephen and Gregory, and their least favourite were Roger, Maurice and Norman.
(Picture shows the famous “dancing man” from the joyous celebrations in the streets of Sydney which marked the end of World War II in August 1945)