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Some vocabulary names are popular, like Poppy and Summer, while others are familiar, like Faith and Melody. Then there’s the vocabulary names which are more unexpected. These are ten names I have seen on Australian babies this year – but only once. They are real names, but comparative rarities.
A breeze is a light gentle wind, pleasantly cooling and appreciated on a warm day. We say that anything easy or effortless is a breeze. The word came into use around the early 16th century, borrowed from the Dutch bries. By the following century it was in occasional use as a name. It has always been rare, and overall evenly given to both sexes, but in both the US and UK is more common now for girls. That might be because it’s similar to Bree, and sometimes girls with names like Brianna have Breeze or Breezy as their nickname. The name has a literary namesake, as H.E. Bates wrote a novella called Breeze Anstey; Breeze is a young woman and it’s a love triangle story. The name was chosen for the daughter of Levi Johnston, former fiance to Bristol Palin and father of her son Tripp, in 2012, and Vanilla Ice’s daughter has Breeze as her middle name. For a rare name, cool Breeze seems easy to wear.
Chillies are spicy fruit from Central and South America, commonly used in cooking. The word comes from Nahuatl, the language spoken by the Aztecs, and doesn’t have any connection with the name of the country Chile, despite sounding exactly alike. Amusingly for Anglophones, a chilli is exactly the opposite of chilly! Chillies were introduced to Europe and Asia in the 15th century, but Chilli and Chili (the US spelling) have only been used very occasionally as names since the 19th century. It’s easier to find it as a nickname or stage name, such as vintage British actress Chili Bouchier (real name Dorothy). The name has gained some interest as a girl’s name since restaurateur Pete Evans, later TV host and cooking judge, and now Paleo Diet advocate, chose it for his eldest daughter around 2005. I see Chilli every now and again, and this hot name certainly packs a punch.
A halo is a ring of light; the word comes from the Greek, meaning “disc”. It can be used in science to refer to bands of coloured light around the sun or moon, and to clouds of gas surrounding galaxies. However, it’s probably best known from religious art, where saints and angels are depicted as having an aura of bright light around their heads, called a halo. It was a common artistic device in ancient Greece and Rome for heroes and rulers, and followed in religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam. The word has been used in English since the 16th century, and in the sacred sense since the 17th; it replaced glory, which was the older term for divine light. Being a modern word, it didn’t become used as a name until around the 19th century. Halo is now mostly given to girls, and has become more common since the Halo video game series was released in 2001. In the games, Halo rings are huge structures used as weapons, but do have a religious connection. A space age virtue name and possible honour name for Gloria.
Harvest comes the Old English haerfest, which was used for the name of the month we call August, and referred to the season when harvesting took place, in late summer/early autumn. From the 18th century, people began calling the season autumn or fall, and then harvest specifically meant the process of gathering crops. However, if you come from a farming background, you will know that country people still often use the word harvest to mean the time of year when crops are gathered, as in “We can’t make any plans until after harvest”. Harvest has been occasionally used as a name since the 18th century, and shows up as originally evenly unisex. Overall Harvest has been mostly given to boys, but in the US data for last year, still looks fairly evenly unisex, given to 9 girls and 5 boys. It doesn’t appear in UK data at all. Harvest can be seen as pleasantly archaic, referring to the ancient cycles of rural life; it also has Christian and pagan connotations, celebrating harvest festivals of thanksgiving. Rich and ripe, Harvest fits in with popular names like Harper and Harvey, and is a fresh take on names like Autumn and August.
Ivory is a costly substance made from the tusks and teeth of animals. The word comes from abu, the ancient Egyptian word for “elephant”, and although we usually think of ivory as coming from elephants, ivory has also been taken from animals such as hippopotamus, walrus, sperm whale, narwhal, elk, and warthog. Ivory has been used since ancient times to make expensive decorative objects, and at the height of its popularity in the 19th century, thousands of elephants were slaughtered every year for their tusks. Although the sale of ivory is now banned or restricted, poaching of elephants for their ivory is increasing, and wild elephant populations are threatened; in many Asian countries, they are almost extinct. That makes Ivory quite a controversial name, even though it’s been in use since the 17th century. Because it fits in with current name trends and is similar to popular Ivy, use of the name Ivory is increasing in both the US and UK (it was #753 in the US last year). Enjoying the name means forgetting what ivory actually is: something I am unable to do.
Magnolias are beautiful fragrant flowering trees native to south-east Asia and the Americas, with a strong association with the southern states of the US. Magnolias are ancient plants, and despite their rather delicate appearance are quite tough (Steel Magnolias was chosen to depict Southern women as both strong and beautiful, but they could have just gone with Magnolias!). They are named in honour of French botanist Pierre Magnol; his surname is most likely a pet form of the name Magne, French form of Magnus, meaning “great”. Magnolia has been used as a name since the 19th century, when flower names were fashionable, and was most common in the American south. The name Magnolia made the US Top 1000 until 1940, and returned in 2013, although almost unknown in the UK. A lovely exotic name with Maggie as the obvious short form.
Ochre is a naturally coloured clay, ranging in tone through yellow, orange, red, purple, and brown; it is iron oxide in the clay which gives it its colour. The word ochre is from ancient Greek, and literally means “pale yellow”. Ochre has been used for art since prehistoric times, and Australian Aborigines have used ochre for painting and body decoration. The very earliest human remains in Australia, many tens of thousands of years old, were buried with ochre. Ochre is an exceedingly rare name, found only a few times since the 19th century, and not showing up in any current data. Yet it means much the same thing as popular Sienna (another clay coloured with iron oxide) and sounds similar to fashionable Oakley. A strong earthy nature name that is both unusual and evocative.
Temperance is moderation and restraint; it comes from the Latin meaning “moderation, sobriety”. A temperate person avoids excess of negative emotion, such as anger or grief, and is prudent in their habits, never over-indulging. Temperance was one of the cardinal virtues of the Greek philosophers, and was adopted by Christian thinkers; it is also an essential element of the spiritual path in Buddhism and Hinduism. Modern psychology views the calmness and self-control of temperance as a hallmark of maturity and psychological health. The classic image for Temperance is a woman mixing water with wine, and this is the standard picture on the Temperance tarot card (number XIV). The word is often connected with the temperance movement, which advocated limiting alcohol consumption or abstaining from it altogether. Temperance has been used as a girl’s name since at least the 16th century, and was especially connected with the Puritans. Temperance joined the US Top 1000 in 2011, the name rising since comedy-drama crime show Bones, which stars Emily Deschanel as chic geek Dr Temperance “Bones” Brennan. It showed up in UK data after the TV series began in 2005, and is occasionally seen here too. Virtue names are back on trend, and this one is attracting many fans.
Vogue means the fashion or style of the time, or of a particular era. The word came into use in the 16th century, from the French meaning “wave, course of success” – it’s from voguer, meaning “to travel through water, to swim, sail or row”. You can see how what’s in vogue is at the crest of the wave, and how those who follow it are in the swim of things. Ultimately it’s from ancient Germanic meaning “to sway, to fluctuate”, a reminder of fashion’s fickleness. It’s famous as the name of iconic fashion magazine Vogue, and the magazine has inspired a dance called the vogue, brought into the mainstream with Madonna’s song Vogue. Vogue has been in rare use as a personal name, mostly since the 20th century. It doesn’t show up in current US data, but has been rising in the UK since 2013. It’s influenced by Irish model Vogue Williams, briefly married to pop singer Brian McFadden, Australian popstar Delta Goodrem‘s ex-boyfriend: Vogue’s grandmother suggested her name after an encounter with someone named Vogue. I see this name occasionally (Vogue Williams lived here at one point), and vaguely wonder how for long it will be in vogue.
Zinnias are ornamental daisies related to the sunflower and native to the Americas; the best known species are from Mexico. Introduced to Europe at the end of the 18th century, they are named after German botanist Johann Zinn; his surname is an occupational one for someone who worked with pewter. Zinnia has been used as a girl’s name since the 19th century, favoured by that era’s trend for flower names, but has never been common. Nevertheless it has several fictional namesakes, including grieving Zinnia Taylor from young adult novel Chasing Redbird, mischievous Zinnia Larkin (twin sister to Petunia) from the Larkin family books by H.E. Bates, and neglectful mother Zinnia Wormwood from the film Matilda. It’s also a bit of a favourite for animal characters. Last year there were 89 girls in the US named Zinnia, and 12 in the UK, the name rising in both countries. A bright, quirky flower name that seems both aristocratic and exuberant.
People’s favourite names were Magnolia, Zinnia and Temperance, and their least favourite were Ochre, Chilli and Vogue.
(Photo shows Emily Deschanel as Dr Temperance Brennan on Bones)