Archive for October, 2011

This weekend, people of all faiths and none across the world will be celebrating Halloween.

For most, it is just an excuse to dress up and have a party, the start of the midwinter party season which culminates in Christmas and the New Year.

From an anthropological perspective, the scary, spooky theme which most embrace belongs to a time honored tradition of facing our deepest fears in a controlled, safe environment.

We embrace all the monsters from the wardrobe, including the scariest of them all (as far as most folk are concerned) — death — but live to party another day.

It is a form of catharsis.

No one can doubt that the roots of Halloween lie deep in the past. Probably the ancient, Pagan past. “Halloween” — more often “Hallowe’en” in the UK — means simply “All Hallows’ Eve” — a reference to the fact that November 1st is the Christian feast of All Hallows — generally called “All Saints” today.

In Mexico, November 1st is “The Day of the Dead,” a feast of commemmoration of loved ones who have died. This often continues on November 2nd (the Catholic feast of All Souls). Although it shares many characteristics with Halloween, its origins are indiginous, and was originally a festival in honor of the Aztec Goddess of the Underworld.

While most Pagans participate in all the fun aspects of Halloween just like most people, Pagans often mark it with more sober observation too. Like the Mexicans, it is considered a time to honor and remember those who have died.

Many regard it as the end of the old year and start of a new, as seems to have been the case in Ireland into the medieval period.

And to distance it from the vernacular celebrations, the Irish name Samhain is often prefered.

It derives from the Old Irish sam “summer” and fuin “end.”

In Wales, Pagans and non-Pagans call it Calan Gaeaf “the first day of Winter.”

Whichever way you look at it, it is clear that the Celts regarded it as a time of transition.

Today, it is regarded as not just a time of transition between seasons, but between worlds. Between the planes of existence.

This ethereal, otherworldliness pervades all four of the year’s “quarter-days”, which fall midway between the solstices and equinoxes.

They are often called the “fire festivals” as there is evidence to suggest that fire — symbolic of purification and light — featured in the celebration of all the quarterdays.

But the sense that the “veil between worlds is thin” is felt particularly strongly at Samhain, and the festival which faces it on the other side of the wheel of the year — Beltane.

The focus of Samhain is very much on reflection — looking back, and looking inward. It is a time of remembrance and contemplation at the start of the season when the earth itself retreats within itself, to sleep.

Everywhere, there are signs of dying, death and decay — but we know it is only a semblance. An illusion.

For come the spring, it all springs up anew. Rejuvinated. Regenerated. Reborn.

The wheel always turns. There is no beginning. And no end.

And when it comes to names? Here are just a few to mark this special season:

Apple — apple bobbing is an old Halloween tradition, probably bound up in an ancient fertility rite to Pomona, Goddess of fruit, whose name derives from the Latin pomum “fruit,” source of the French pomme “apple” — a hint that of all fruit, apples are the fruit. English “apple” is cognate with the Welsh afal, with which Avalon, is also connected, a hint at the apple’s Otherworldly and mystical connections. She’s on my list to feature as a Pick of the Week, so I’ll say no more for now.

Aradia  — an Italian Witch-Goddess, introduced to the world by the American folklorist Charles Leyland in 1899 in the influential Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches. Probably a form of Herodias,  which derives ultimately from the Greek hêrôs “hero.”

Autumn — appropriate for this festival as much as for the Equinox.

Calan — deriving ultimately from the Latin kalends a word used to mean “first of the month.” Calan Mai is used as the Welsh equivalent of Beltane, though it is used by all Welsh speakers to mean simply “May Day.”

Circe — one of the most famous mythological Witches. A daughter of the Sun, her name derives from the Greek for “to encircle” — no doubt with enchantments. Other legendary Witches with wonderful names include  Ceridwen, (the Witch of) Endor, Lilith, Medea, Morgan/Morgana, all who deserve posts (and will get them) all to themselves.

Edric — an Old English name meaning “rich ruler.” Wild Edric is a figure of English folklore, associated with the Wild Hunt — and Halloween marks the start of the Wild Hunt season. Of course, chief among those associated with the Hunt is Odin.

Eve — Instead of Halloween, think All Hallow’s Eve. Eve as an established name is the English form of the Hebrew Ḥawwāh. But there is also the English “eve” a poetic form of “evening,” redolent of twilight, and thus perfect for the season.

Hallow — an Old English world meaning “saint.”

Halloween, Hallowe’en — not without precedent, such as a little girl called Hallowe’en Lucy Trodden in Durham, England, in 1899, but it certainly makes for a very bold choice.

Hecate — the famous Witch-Goddess of the Greeks. Although not specifically associated with Halloween (although she may have a festival at the end of the November), she is a Goddess of the earth and boundaries. Many Wiccans and Witches regard her as the Goddess in her Crone aspect, making it an appropriate — if distinctive — name for a girl born at this time of year.

Nicevenn — a Scottish Goddess, equated with Hecate, Diana and others, whose name means either “daughter of heaven” or “daughter of frenzy.” She is particularly associated with Samhuinn.

November — a neglected month name, but why not? It comes to us direct and unchanged (except in pronunciation) straight from ancient Pagan Rome too, with the literal meaning of “ninth month.”

Nox — the Latin for “night”. Nights are drawing in quickly now, and we have more night than day. With Halloween’s association with death, and darkness, Nox resonates well.

October — same comment as November, except it means “eighth month.”

Pumpkin — the vegetable which has come to symbolize Halloween more than any other. Its etymology provides more suble options, such as the original Pompion, from Pepon, a type of melon or gourd, deriving ultimately from the Greek pepôn “ripe,” “mellow.”

Samhain — As already said, this is the name which many Pagans, especially Wiccans, use for Halloween. Others, especially Druids, often use a slightly different version, the Scots Gaelic cognate Samhuinn. With the meaning “summer’s end” it would make a good name generally for those born at this time of year.

And with that, I wish you a bright and blessed Halloween!

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This week’s pick of the week is the romantic Rosamund.

It is a name which isn’t quite what it seems.

Even in medieval times, the name was associated with the Latin rosa “rose.”

It was taken one step further, with mund interpreted as the Latin munda “pure” or mundi “of the world” — thus “pure rose” or “rose of the world.”

As a result it even became an epithet of Mary.

But they were wrong.

In fact Rosamund is an Old German name, a combination of (h)ros “horse” and munda “protection.”

It was taken to the British Isles by the Normans.

An early, but significant bearer was the tragic Rosamund Clifford (bef. 1150-c.1176), the mistress of King Henry II.

Known as “Fair Rosamund,” many legends surround her.

Henry was said to have kept her in a house surrounded by a maze which only he could penetrate. Unfortunately, his queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, managed to breach it too.

She ensured that Rosamund was sufficiently mistreated that she died not long after – a tale distincitly reminiscent of the Greek myths surrounding Zeus and Hera.

Whether she bore Henry any children or not is still disputed.

Other bearers include the British actress and Oxford graduate Rosamund Pike (b.1979), who played Jane Bennet in the 2005 film version of Pride and Prejudice, and British novelist, Rosamunde Pilcher (b.1924).

Variants include Rosamond, Rosamunde, and Rosemonde, and it shortens comfortably to Rose, Rosie, Rosa, Ros and Roz, as well as the more unusual Mundy or Romy, and quirky Momo.

Rosamund has never been in the US top 1000; Rosamond featured a little in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, but never got into the top 500.

In 2010, less than three baby girls in America received the name — if any at all — in any form.

The name fares a little better in Britain, where six little girls were called Rosamund in 2010.

Why this beautiful, classic and romantic name has been so long neglected is anyone’s guess, but surely it is ripe for resurrection?

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Sumer was one of the world’s first civilizations.

It was the Sumerians who first invented writing.

In July, I featured a series of articles on Sumerian names and words which might make interesting, contemporary names.

I still had, however, a collection of Sumerian words which deserved a spotlight.

And here they are:

Adamen – argument, fight

Agarin – a flat area; father, mother, womb

Amah – flood, bursting of a dam

Anbir – noon, midday

Anki – universe

Biluda – worship

Dagrim – fields, precinct

Didila – very small, young

Enkara – weapon

Erish – queen, lady

Eshkar – daily task

Garadin, Karadin – pile of sheaves, shock

Garash – decision, oracle, military camp, catastrophe, straw, supply-master

Garza – customs, rights, duties

Gashan – lady

Gazimbi – pole, stake

Gidri – staff, sceptre

Gilninda – measuring reed

Girin – pure, spotless

Gishimmar – date palm

Gishkim – omen, sign

Gitlam – lover, husband, spouse

Gizzal – intelligence

Harran – road

Hashur – cypress

Hazi – axe

Hedu – decoration

Henbur – reed shoots, stalks

Hili – beautiful

Hilimaz – beauty

Hirin – spikenard shoots

Hulla — ‘very happy’, ‘joyful’

Hurin – eagle

Kirashi – emmer wheat used for making beer

Kishar – horizon

Kisher – enclosure

Kizurra – sharp edge

Malah – sailor, captain

Mashda – gazelle; commoner

Mashdaria, Mashdara – offering

Maur – ravine, gorge

Mendalla – beaming crown

Mesharra, Meshara – all the oaths, duties

Mezem – support, maintenance

Minesh – a calendar month

Minussa – bride

Munzur – bitter plants

Musarra – inscription of the king

Mushen – bird

Namazu – medical arts

Namkuzu – wisdom, cleverness

Namluh – purification

Namshita – prayer

Namtar – fate, destiny

Namtilla – life

Narua – dedicatory stone

Nigba – present, gift

Niggina – truth, justice

Nigmah – a lot, too much

Ninda – bread

Nirgal – noble

Nuesh – knife bearer

Nurma – pomegranate tree

Penzer – hearth-tender/leather-worker

Sagar – advisor, counsellor

Saghaza – to attach securely

Sagma – bow of a boat

Sagmi – slave-girl

Shabra, Shapra – temple administrator

Shanesha – supplications

Shemush – bitter grain

Shenbar – wild boar

Shenshen – combat, strife

Sheriga – gleaming grain

Shesa – roasted barley

Shezilzilla – to dehusk barley

Shimim – aromatic substance

Shimsusa – perfume

Shuhalla – open hand

Shuhaza – to hold in the hand

Shuri – one half

Shusi – finger

Simush – shining horns

Tabira – metal-worker

Temen – foundation

Tibira – merchant, tradesman, metal-worker

Tilhar – cloud

Tilmun – distinguished

Tukumbi – please; certainly

Uanna – light of the heavens

Uli – herbs

Ulushin – emmer beer

Urash – earth, secret

Urbarra – wolf

Urda – to be mindful, to care

Urmah – lion

Urtur – pet dog, puppy

Ushar – companion

Ushera – reed bundle

Usun – wild cow

Uten, Utena – morning, daylight

Utur, Uturra – early in the day

Zibin – chrysalis

Zidmilla – coarse flour

Zigan – rudder, oar

Zimah – legitimate, lofty

Ziz – moth, emmer

Ziza – calendar month

Zua – acquaintance

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This month’s Pagan Name of the Month (a name with great Pagan potential ranked in the top 100 names in the US or UK) was chosen by my Small Child.

She decided today that “ruby red” was now her favorite color (after months of it being blue), and when I asked her for a name, she didn’t hesitate to offer Ruby.

Sadly, it happens to be firmly in my personal category of “Old Biddy” names — but I guess that’s just me and my childhood prejudices, and I promise I won’t let it influence me :).

Certainly, Ruby does have a lot in its favor. As the name of a precious stone, it’s obviously a good choice to emphasis the precious nature of a child.

And, unlike some precious stones, the meaning’s quite good too. The word “ruby” comes to us from the Old French rubi, which in turn derives from the Latin rubeus (as in Hagrid) meaningred.”

Red is a wonderfully symbolic color. Principally in the West, it is associated with fire and blood – and because of this, it is symbolic of those emotions thought to “stir the blood,” such as love and anger.

Perhaps because blood is regarded as a pollutant in many cultures, it also has acquired association with the Christian notion of “sin.” Christians usually portray their “devil” red, partly because of the color’s association with sin, and partly, no doubt, due to their notion of a fiery hell over which he is said to rule.

However, the shedding of blood is also symbolic of the self-sacrifice made by warriors, thus the color red has taken on this symbolism too, along with the courage that goes along with it.

Its association with war is cemented by the fact that Mars – the planet of the Roman God of War – is also red.

And – simply because of red’s brightness – it has become the color of warning.

Meanwhile, in some cultures – because red is the color of fire, and fire is the color of the South, and both have positive connotations – it is also associated with good luck.

This is especially true in China, where it is also associated with fertility and success.

Red is the traditional bridal color in both China and India, while in Ancient Rome, brides also wore a “flame-colored” veil, generally understood to be red.

Rubies share many of the same associations as the color red, such as passion and fire. This led to an old legend that said a ruby dropped in water would cause it to boil.

Regarded as the birth stone for July and Cancer – though also sometimes associated with Capricorn – rubies are believed to inject energy, and stimulate passion for life. They represent courage, integrity and strength.

In Hinduism, it is believed the homes of the Gods are lit by rubies and emeralds, while in Burma, rubies are considered to be the blood of Mother Earth herself.

Ruby first appeared as a girl’s name in the eighteenth century – possibly earlier – but it wasn’t until the late nineteenth century when the fashion for using gemstones as names came in that it became widespread.

It is currently very popular indeed in the UK. It was number 1 in 2007, while in 2010 it was 7. In the USA, it has still to break into the top 100 again; in 2010 it was ranked 113.

If you want a mainstream name that is cheerful, bright, and rich in significance, Ruby might be exactly what you’re after.

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Ever since Roman times, people have been coining names from Latin.

A couple of weeks ago I featured a number of Latin words beginning with “A” which are yet to be used as given names, but which have considerable potential.

There were also those which looked and sounded pretty cool, but had pretty awful meanings.

Here are some interesting options — and some perhaps to steer clear of — from “B”.

  • Babae — an exclamation of joy; “wonderful”
  • Baca — “berry”
  • Bacatus, Bacata — “set with pearls”
  • Baccha — a female worshipper of Bacchus (Dionysus — Bacchae is used as the name of a play by Euripides)
  • Bacchanal — the place where the festival of Bacchus was held
  • Balanus — “acorn” (technically feminine)
  • Beatulus, Beatula — “blessed little one”
  • Bellaria — “dessert (consisting of fruit, nuts, confectionary and sweet wine)”
  • Bellator — “warrior”
  • Bellicus, Bellica — “relating to war,” “warlike”
  • Belliger — “warlike”
  • Beneficus, Benefica — “kind,” “generous”
  • Benevolentia — “good-will,” “friendly disposition”
  • Benevolus, Benevola — “kind,” “well-disposed”
  • Benignus, Benigna — “kind,” “friendly”
  • Beta — “vegetable,” “beet” (also the second letter of the Greek alphabet)
  • Bicornis — “two-horned”; used poetically of the new moon
  • Bombyx — “silk-worm,” “silk”
  • Bonitas — “goodness,” “excellence”
  • Bonus, Bona — “good”
  • Boria — a type of jasper
  • Bractea — “a thin plate of metal,” “gold leaf”
  • Bracteola — ” a thin leaf of gold”
  • Bruma — “winter solstice”
  • Brumalis — “belonging to the winter solstice”
  • Bucina — a type of trumpet, specifically a shepherd’s horn or a military trumpet
  • Bucula — “heifer”
  • Buxus — “box-tree” (techincally feminine)

And the loathlies:

  • Ballista — a piece of military equipment for throwing large stones
  • Barbula — “a little beard”
  • Bardus, Barda — “stupid,” “dull”
  • Baris — “(Egyptian) barge”
  • Baro — “simpleton,” “blockhead”
  • Bilis — “gall,” “bile”
  • Blatta — “cockroach”
  • Blennus — “stupid fellow”
  • Bucaeda — “one who is beaten with the thongs of ox-hide”
  • Bucca — “the cheek,” “bawler,” “parasite”
  • Bucco — “foolish fellow”
  • Buthysia — “a sacrifice of oxen”

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On to “M” in my look at surnames of English, Norse and Anglo-French origin which have yet to see much use as first names…

There are a lot of rich pickings in M, so it comes in more than one part…

  • Maberley, Mabberley — from one of the places called Mapperley. Old English mapuldor “maple-tree” + lēah “wood,” “woodland clearing,” “glade,” “pasture” and “meadow.”
  • Mabley — medieval form of Mabel.
  • Mace — dipped toe in the ranks in 1881 and 1902. As a surname, it is a medieval pet form of Thomas and/or Matthew. English “mace” is also a weapon and a spice.
  • Macer — “mace-bearer”; a type of soldier who carried a mace.
  • Machen — a form of Mason.
  • Madder — From Old English mædere “madder”; used of someone who used or delt in dye made from the madder plant.
  • Madeley — from one of the places called Madeley or Madley. Old English male personal name *Mada + lēah “wood,” “woodland clearing,” “glade,” “pasture” and “meadow.”
  • Maffre — from the Old German name Mathefrid “power-peace.”
  • Maldon, Malden — from one of the places of the name. Old English mǣl “cross” + dūn “hill.”
  • Malin — a medieval pet form of Mary.
  • Malkin — another medieval pet-form of Mary.
  • Malosel — Old French mal oisel “bad bird”; a medieval nick-name.
  • Maltby — from one of the places of the name. Probably Old Norse malt “malt” + “farmstead,” “village” and “settlement.”
  • Malter — in part a variant of “malster” (maalting is an important process in making beer and whiskey, and beer was the staple drink in medieval times).  Another source is from a French place name Maleterre “poor earth.”
  • Malton — from Malton in Yorkshire. Old English mæthel “assembly” + tūn “enclosure,” “farmstead,” “estate,” “manor,” “village.”
  • Malyan — and another medieval pet-form of Mary.
  • Mansel — Old French Mancel “inhabitant of Maine”, or mansel “tennant of a manse” (a manse in medieval France was a property large enough to support a family).
  • Manwin — from the Old English personal name *Mannwine “man-friend.”
  • Marber, Marbrow — Old French marbrier “quarrier/carver of marble.”
  • Mardon, Marden — from one of the places of the name, such as with various Old English origins, such as mere “mare” + denn  “woodland pasture” (Marden, Kent), mærc “boundary” + denu “valley”  (Marden, Wiltshire), and mærc + dūn “hill” (Marden, Sussex).
  • Markby — from Markby, Lincolnshire. Old Norse personal name Marki or mork “frontier area,” “wilderness” + “farmstead,” “village” and “settlement.”
  • Markham — from Markham, Nottinghamshire. Old English mærc “boundary stone” + hām “homestead,” “village,” “estate,” “manor.”
  • Markley — From Markley, Sussex. Old English mærc “boundary stone” + lēah “wood,” “woodland clearing,” “glade,” “pasture” and “meadow.”
  • Marler — Old French marle “marl,” used of a quarrier of marl.
  • Marner — Old French marinier “mariner,” “sailor.”
  • Marris, Maris — Old French marais “marsh.” Maris is also familiar to many from the Latin Stella Maris “star of the sea,” now used as an epithet of Mary, but originally used of the Goddess Isis.
  • Marsden — from Marsden, Yorkshire. Old English mærc “boundary stone” + denu “valley.”
  • Marson — from MARSTON.
  • Marston — from one of the places of the name. Old English mersc “marsh” + tūn “enclosure,” “farmstead,” “estate,” “manor,” “village.”
  • Martley — from Martley, Worcestershire. Old English mearth “marten” + lēah “wood,” “woodland clearing,” “glade,” “pasture” and “meadow.”
  • Maser — Old French maser “maple-wood bowl”; used of someone who made them.
  • Massen — another variant of Mason.
  • Massey, Massie — partly arose as a pet form of Matthew or Thomas, and partly from places called Macey, Massy and Macé in France.
  • Matchell — probably from the Old German name Machelm or Maghelm “might/strength-helmet.”
  • Mather — Old English mǣðere “mower.”
  • Maudsley — from Mawdesley, Lancashire. Personal name Maud + lēah “wood,” “woodland clearing,” “glade,” “pasture” and “meadow.”
  • Maxey, Maxcey, Maxcy — from Maxey, Cambridgeshire. Personal name Maccus ( either from the Common Celtic *makko- “pledge” or perhaps an Old Norse form of Magnus) + Old English ēg “island.”
  • Mayhew — from a medieval form of Matthew.
  • Maylan, Maylon — from Mayland, Essex. Old English mægthe “mayweed” + land “land.”
  • Maylor — from Old French esmailleur “enameler.”
  • Mayner — from the Old German personal name Maginhari “army-might.”
  • Maysey — from Maizy or Maisy in France. From a Latin or Celtic personal name Masius or Macius, the latter perhaps from the Common Celtic *makko- “pledge.”

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Yesterday, I gazed into my crystal ball (a.k.a. the American SSA’s Popular Baby Name website), and predicted what boys’ names will be in the top 10 in 2035.

They were:

  1. Lucas
  2. Judah
  3. Jacob
  4. Rafferty
  5. Elijah
  6. Owen
  7. Silas
  8. William
  9. Indigo
  10. Joseph

My method is simple. How were today’s top ten ranked in 1985? And what names occupied those spots in 2010?

Today’s top ten girls’ names were ranked as follows in 1985:

  1. Isabella: Unranked (only 34 girls received the name in 1985)
  2. Sophia: 236 (in slight decline in 1985, though generally rising)
  3. Emma: 267 (rising)
  4. Olivia: 248 (in decline — but started to rise again in 1986)
  5. Ava: Unranked (only 132 girls called Ava in 1984, but it re-entered the charts again in 1986)
  6. Emily: 24 (rising rapidly)
  7. Abigail: 153 (rising)
  8. Madison: 628 (its first appearance in the rankings, prompted by the 1984 film Splash)
  9. Chloe: 564 (rising)
  10. Mia: 438 (rising)

And their 2035 replacements look like this (with a bit of tweaking)

  1. HERMIONE. Many people are pretty amazed to find out that not only was today’s darling Isabella not in the top 1000 in 1985, but only 34 baby girls were given the name at all. There were some interesting names in the same place in 2010, including Ara, Empress, Indiana, Mathilda, Saba, Wisdom and Zamora, but I can’t see any making the top 10 (Mathilda’s big sister Matilda might, but she is in the top 1000). There are one or two interesting possibilities among the names given to 35 little girls, such as Clarice, Lavinia and Polly; while another old classic Ursula was borne by only 32 girls in 2010, but it is lovely Hermione, given to only 37 baby girls in 2010 that gets my vote. I can’t help thinking it’s only a matter of time that the USA finally embraces her, and that she’s the one to watch from the bottom of this barrel.
  2. ELIZA. Jayda occupies the present 236th slot, but although she may rise quite high, I think her time in the sun will be over by 2035. Nearby, however, Eliza (240) is rising.
  3. ESTHER  is 267. She’s been away in the wilderness a while, but I think the tide is turning in her favor now.
  4. HARMONY. Ranked 248th is Cassidy, but she’s in decline. Harmony, however, is 249th, and rising…
  5. CLEMENTINE — 132 little girls were called Clementine in 2010. This beauty vanished from the top 1000 in 1953; in 1994, less than three girls received the name (if any at all), but since then, the numbers have generally been increasing.
  6. LEAH is 24. Like her predecessor Emily was, twenty-five years ago, she’s steadily rising. Will she have made the top ten by 2035? Perhaps.
  7. DAISY. Actually ranked 151 in 2010; 153rd was Makenzie, which is in decline and pretty unlikely to be in 6th place in 2035 now. Popular in the UK, Daisy, however, is on the rise again. Another possibility from the 150s is Vivian (158).
  8. ANNABEL is 628. She re-entered the top 1000 in 2000 and might well go places.
  9. ROSA is 564. She’s at her lowest yet, but surely the time is ripe now for her fortunes to change? They have already in Britain.
  10. ADELAIDE. In the 438th spot is Kadence, a doubtful top ten contender for 2035. Adelaide (434), however, is rocketing up the charts. Another possibility is Helen, languishing in the 437th spot. Its a long time now since she was in favor, and perhaps its her time to shine once more?

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