Archive for November, 2011

It’s St Andrew’s Day today — Scotland’s national day.

To mark it, I thought I’d feature some of  my favorite of Scotland’s lesser known names, past and present:

Affrica ♀ — The Anglicized form of the Gaelic  Oighrig, an ancient name. Its meaning isn’t known for certain, but most agree the most likely source is the Old Irish Aithbhreac. It is found in a number of other forms across the centuries, including Africa, Affreca and Effrick. One bearer was a Viking princess of the Isle 0f Man, who married John de Courcy, the twelfth-century de facto king of Ulster.

Aldan ♂ — The name of the legendary founder of the Scottish Clan Home has two possible origins; it could be the Scots Gaelic form of English Aldwin “old friend,” or a variation of the Old Norse name Haldane — “half-Dane.”

Archina ♀ — The usual feminine form of Archibald; although is is a German name in origin, it took strongest root in Scotland. Nowadays, its pet-form Archie is more common, and used across Britain. Archina (a contracted form of the original Archibaldina), however remains uncommon.

Beathag ♀ — diminutive form of Gaelic beatha “life.”

Dolina ♀ — A simplified form of Donaldina, the Scottish feminine form of Donald. Its Gaelic forms are Doileag, Doilìona and Doilidh.

Ferelith ♀ — Anglicized form of the Gaelic Forbhlaith “true sovereignty.” It was the name of one of the two heiresses of an early thirteenth-century Earl of Atholl. Other forms include Forflissa, Fernelith and Forveleth. It does not seem to have survived the Middle Ages, but was re-adopted in the late nineteenth century—an early example being Ferelith Ramsay (1882–1951), daughter of Sir James Henry Ramsay, 10th Baronet of Bamff, Perthshire. The novel Ferelith (1903) by Victor Hay, the 21st Earl of Errol, is probably responsible for making the name a little better known. Errol bestowed the name upon his own daughter a year later—Lady Rosemary Constance Ferelith Hay (1904–44). Lady Anne Ferelith Fenella Bowes-Lyon (1917–80), later Princess Anne of Denmark, was a niece of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.

Fingal ♂ — The name in Irish myth of the Scottish giant who built the Giant’s Causeway so he could fight Finn McCool in Ulster, and—after being tricked by Finn’s wife Una—hotfooted it back to Scotland, ripping up the Causeway behind him as he went. He gave his name to Fingal’s Cave, immortalized in Felix Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture (1830) — commonly known just as Fingal’s Cave. In Gaelic, Fingal’s name is Fionnghall fionn “white” + gall “stranger.”

Gormelia ♀ — Latinized form of Gormal, a traditional Scots Gaelic name—gorm “blue” and “green.” Other forms include Gormail, Gormel, Gormyle, Gormilia and Gormula.

Islay ♀ ♂ — a modern Scottish name, taken from the name of the island, known for a single malt whisky produced there. Its Gaelic name is Ìle, although the ultimate origin of the name is uncertain. It may be a combination of the Old Norse  name Yula + ey “island.”

Macbeth ♂ — Anglicized form of the Scots Gaelic Macbeathamac “son” + beatha “life.” Although now regarded as a surname—and forever associated with the infamous Scottish king who was immortalized by Shakespeare in his tragedy Macbeth—Macbeth is actually a traditional personal name.

Marsailí ♀ — Gaelic form of Marcella.

Morag ♀ — Scottish pet-form of Mòr, an ancient Gaelic name, cognate with the Irish Mórmór “great.” Morag, is the name f an alleged monster that lives in Loch Morar, first sighted in 1887. There are also the Katie Morag children’s books by Mairi Hedderwick.

Sidheag ♀ — an old Gaelic name, deriving from sidheach “wolf.”

Sorley ♀ — Anglicized form of the Gaelic Somhairle, the Gaelic form of Somerled, from the Old Norse Sumarlíði “summer wayfarer,”

Talarican ♂ — The name of an eighth-century Pictish bishop and saint, also known as Tarkin and Tarquin. Little is known about him, and the fact that there is more than one well dedicated to him, such as St. Tarkin’s Well at Fordyce, Aberdeenshire, hints there might be more to him than meets the eye. The meaning probably goes back to the Common Celtic *talu– “forehead” + *r-g-

Vanora ♀ — a Scottish form of Gaynor, a form of Guinevere. Vanora’s Grave in Meigle, Scotland, is a grass-covered mound in front of which two carved Pictish stones of Christian date are known to have once stood.

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Cen is the sixth letter of the Runic alphabet. It has the following forms in the various runic systems:

Cen means “torch,” though the Old English survives today only in the word “beacon,” however, khen and khaun mean “ulcer,” which means the Cen rune is another with a bit of a split personality and some big differences in the rune poems.

Although in modern interpretations, cen is frequently linked with the dialectic word ken “to know,” the two words have separate etymologies.

It is uncertain whether *kaunan itself meant “ulcer” or “torch”; though the alternative *kenaz does seem to have meant “torch.”

The Norse ones, for instance, which interpret it with the meaning “ulcer,” focus on how illness and disease kills children.

Meanwhile the Anglo-Saxon ones, which interpret it with the meaning “torch,” dwell on its positive associations with light, fire and illumination.

Quite a contrast!

Modern rune-users concentrate on the “torch” interpretation for its positive associations, and the “ulcer” one for the negative. Thus it symbolisizes the spark of life, inspiration, and creativity, as well as the illumination and enlightenment brought by knowledge and wisdom.

Drawn reversed, its principal meaning is disease.

All the forms of Cen, strike me as having name potential, although with their meanings, I think I’d steer clear of Khen and Kaun. Cen makes an interesting variant on Ken, though as with many other runes, it is distinctly “short.” But there are plenty of “long” names to tick the box, if that box needs ticking, such as Kendall, KendraKennedy, Kenneth and Kenzie.

And there are also lots of names which reflect Cen’s meaning. Here is just a small selection:

  • Abner — Hebrew “the father is (a) light”
  • Aidan
  • Áine — An Irish Goddess, whose name probably means “light” and “heat”
  • Amitabh — Sanskrit amitābha “infinite light”
  • Argia — Basque for “light”
  • Aydın — Turkish name meaning “well-lighted” and “enlightened.”
  • Blaze
  • Brand
  • Cahaya — Indonesian/Malaysian name meaning “light.”
  • Candle
  • Ember
  • Fire
  • Firefly
  • Firelight
  • Flame
  • Flare
  • Galadriel — an elven queen in Lord of the Rings, whose name combines galad “light” and “radiance” + riel “garlanded maiden” in Tolkien’s invented language of Sindarin
  • Goleuddydd — Old Welsh name combining golau “light” + dydd “day”
  • Haru — Japanese name meaning “sunlight” or “spring” depending on the kanji
  • Helena — although Helena’s true meaning is uncertain, it has been associated with the Greek helenê “torch” since ancient times. It opens the door to all Helena’s associated names too: Helen, Ellen, Eleanor, Elinor, Nell, Elena, Elin, Lena, etc.
  • Jyoti — Indian name, from the Sanskrit for “light” and “fire”
  • Lampedo — an Amazonian queen; Greek lampas “torch,” “beacon”
  • Light
  • Lucetta — a diminutive of Latin lux “light”
  • Lucidity
  • Lucius — Roman first name, from Latin lux “light”
  • Lucy — English form of Lucia, the feminine form of LUCIUS. There’s also Lucia’s diminutive: Lucilla
  • Lux — Latin for light
  • Luz — Spanish for light
  • Melchior — Hebrew: “king of light”
  • Mitsuko — Japanese name, combining mitsu “light,” “ray,” “brilliance,” etc. + ko “child”
  • Ner — Hebrew: “light”
  • Noor — Arabic: “light”
  • Pasiphaë — Greek pas “all” + phaos “light”
  • Phanes — from Greek phainô “to bring light”
  • Phoebe — from Greek phoibos “bright” and “radiant”
  • Photine — from Greek phôs “light”
  • Prabhakar — Indian name, from Sanskrit prabhā “light,” “radiance” + kara “ray.”
  • Prakash — Indian name, from Sanskrit prakāśa “bright,” “clear,” “shining,” “light,” “splendor,” and “enlightened”
  • Ray
  • Roshan — Persian roshan “light”
  • Solas — Irish solas “light,” “flame,” and “beacon”
  • Sorcha — Irish sorcha “light,” “bright” and “clear”
  • Sparkle
  • Svetlana — Russian name from svet “light”
  • Ugnė — Lithuanian name meaning  “light,” “fire,” “glitter.”
  • Valo — Finnish for “light”

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We’re sadly coming to the end of the mushroom season now, here in Wales. Although I’m very cautious about eating fungi I find in the wild, my Small Child and I love collecting specimens, taking spore prints, and doing our best to use all the clues to identify them.

Last week, we were both excited — and a little spooked — to find a rather good destroying angel… it looked so innocent, and yet is so deadly.

Back at the end of August, I featured the name of one of my favorite mushrooms (to look at, and use for catching flies, anyway) — Amanita muscaria, a.k.a. fly agaric.

But lots of other lovely mushrooms have interesting names. Here are some of my top picks, mostly of the genus names on offer:

Agaricus — the genus of the wood mushrooms, many of which are edible. Among them is the popular horse mushroom and the good old field mushroom. Its name derives from that of the fly agaric.

Aleuria Aurantia — a beauty of a mushroom; the common name is “orange peel fungus,” and it is edible. Greek aleuron “white meal” and aurantia “orange.”

Cantharellus — it is a shame the scientific name of the Chanterelle is not feminine, as Cantharella  is pretty splendid. Still, it’s perfectly grammatical, so if you like it, go for it. Chanterelles are some of the tastiest of mushrooms. Both the scientific and everyday names derive ultimately from Greek kantharos — a type of drinking vessel, and a reference to the mushrooms shape.

Clavaria — acquiring its name from the Latin clava “club,” these interesting fungi often have a club-like appearance, though soemties they look more like pencils, and one or two distinctly coral-like. Some of the vernacular names include golden spindles, rose spindles, and smoky spindles.

Galerina — from the Latin galea “helmet.”

Grifola — a diminutive of Latin gryphus “griffin”, so: “little griffin”; an appropriate name for a genus which includes the fairly well-known hen-of-the-woods.

Lactarius — the milkcaps. So named, because the exude droplets of “milk” when damaged.

Lepista — genus of the wonderful wood blewit. from the Latin lepista, the name of a type of goblet, a rederence to the almost goblet like shape the mushrooms develops with age.

Loreleia — a small genus, related to Omphalina and named after the mycologist Lorelei Norvell.

Omphalina — a name deriving from the Greek omphalos “navel.” A genus of very pretty, but inedible mushrooms.

Morchella — the genus of the Morel, one of the yummiest of mushrooms. The scientific name derives from its German name Morchel, while the English is from the French morille and ultimately from Late Latin morus “black.”

Mycena — the Mycena genus is characterised by small mushrooms with bell-like caps, that exude juice if broken. Their common names often feature Bonnet, which has a certain ring to it. From the Greek mukês “mushroom.”

Psathyrella — like “psychology,” pronounced without the “p.” Generally known as brittle-caps, the genus name comes from the Greek psathuros “crumbling.”

Psilocybe — often pronounced with three syllables, correctly, it should be four. In British English, the first syllable is pronounced “sigh”, while in American English, “sil” might be heard. Either way, with four syllables, it makes quite a good name, I think. It is the genus of the famed liberty cap — a.k.a the magic mushroom. From the Greek psilos “smooth” and “bare” + kubê “head.”

Ramaria — an unusal genus of rare and beautiful, coral-like fungi. They get their name from Latin ramus “branch.”

Russula — as the name suggests, the Russulas are characterized by their red caps — though not all Russulas have them; some have yellow, brown cream or grey caps. They often look pretty — but they effects won’t be. Russula emetica, for instance, is “the sickener.”

Suillus — the genus of one bunch of the boletes, many of which are edible and very good. The name derives from the Latin sus “pig” and means “little pig.”

Tazzetta — “little tazza”; a tazza being a type of ornamental bowl or vase. The rare Tazzetta scotica looks a bit like an egg with a nibbled shell.

Telamonia — a subgenus of Cortinarius (the webcaps), deriving from the Greek telamon “belt” and “strap.” Telamon, for the record, is also the name of a Greek hero, father of Ajax and Teucer.

Thelephora — has the charming vernacular name of Earthfan (though stinking earthfan is perhaps a bit too vivid). From the Greek phêlê “nipple” + phoros “bearing.”

Xylaria — a number of non-edible fungi, which have less than attractive vernacular names such as “dead moll’s fingers” and “dead man’s fingers.” The name derives from Greek xularion “twig.”

I’ll return to mushrooms in later posts — there’s plenty to pick from, when it comes to mushrooms.

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More surnames of Old English, Old Norse and Anglo-Norse origin, which have yet to see much use as first names:

  • Nalder, Nolder — Middle English atten alre “at the alders,” used of someone who lived near alders. The alder is a very significant tree in Celtic Paganism, sacred to Bran the Blessed.
  • Naldrett, Neldrett — Middle English atten *alrett “at the alder-grove,” used of someone who lived near a grove of alders.
  • Napier — from Middle English naperer “one in charge of table linen”; a medieval post in the household of a noble or the king.
  • Nateby  — from one of the places of the name in Cumbria and Lancashire. Old Norse: *nata “nettles” or personal name *Nati + “farmstead,” “village” and “settlement.”
  • Naughton — from Naughton in Suffolk. Old Norse personal name Nagli + Old English tūn “enclosure,” “farmstead,” “estate,” “manor,” “village.”
  • Nayland, Naylon — from Nayland, Suffolk. Old English atten ēg-land “at the island.”
  • Naylor — Middle English nailere “nail-maker.”
  • Neslen — Middle English nestling “nestling.”
  • Neston — from Neston, Cheshire. Old English næs “promontory” + tūn “enclosure,” “farmstead,” “estate,” “manor,” “village.”
  • Netter — Middle English netter “net-maker.”
  • Nicklen — a medieval pet-form of Nicholas.
  • Niker — Old English nicor “water-sprite.”
  • Noak, Noakes — Middle English atten oke “at the oak,” used of someone who lived by an oak tree.
  • Noar — Middle English atten ore “at the bank/steep slope/shore.”
  • Nodger — from the Old German personal name Notgar. Old German knútr “knot” + gar “spear.”
  • Norden, Nordon — from Norden, Devon. Old English norþ “north” + denu “valley.”
  • Norham — from Norham in Northumberland. Old English norþ “north” + hām “homestead,” “village,” “estate,” “manor.”
  • Norland — Old English norþ “north” + land “land.” The name is famous in the UK as the name of the nanny-training college.
  • Norley — from one of the places of the name. Old English norþ “north” + lēah “wood,” “woodland clearing,” “glade,” “pasture” and “meadow.”
  • Northby, Norby — from Norby, Yorkshire. Old Norse norðr “north” + “farmstead,” “village” and “settlement.”
  • Northow — Old English norþ “north” + haga “enclosure”
  • Noven — Middle English atten oven “at the furnace.”
  • Noy, Noyce — from Noe, a medieval form of Noah.
  • Nugent — from various places in France called Nogent, which derive from the Common Celtic *novio- “new.”

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I have been trawling through my old Latin dictionary once more, digging out some more gems — and duds.

The Lovelies:

  • Caecias — “north-east wind”
  • Caelator — “engraver,” “carver”
  • Caelestis — “heavenly”
  • Caelifer, Caelifera — “bearing the heavens”
  • Caeruleus, Caerulea — “blue”
  • Caesius, Caesia — “bluish-grey”
  • Calcar — “spur”
  • Calix — “goblet”
  • Calor — “warmth”
  • Caltha — a plant, probably the marigold
  • Camella — “goblet”
  • Canor — “melody”
  • Cantamen — “incantation”
  • Caprea — “roe-deer”
  • Carex — “rush,” “sedge”
  • Cassis, Cassida — a type of helmet
  • Castanea — “chestnut-tree”
  • Castimonia — “purity”
  • Castus, Casta — “pure,” “clean”
  • Cedrus — “cedar”
  • Celeber — “celebrated,” “famous”
  • Celer — “quick”
  • Celox — “quick”
  • Cerintha — the waxflower
  • Cerinus, Cerina — “wax-colored”
  • Chalybs — “steel”
  • Chara  — a type of edible root
  • Ciris — a type of bird
  • Cistella — “little box”
  • Cithara — a type of instrument
  • Clinamen — “inclination”
  • Coluber, Colubra — “serpent”
  • Columen — “that which is raised high”
  • Columna — “column,” “support”
  • Comiter — “kindly”
  • Concha — “sea-shell”
  • Conviva — “guest,” “table-companion”
  • Cornicen — “horn-blower”
  • Corniger, Cornigera — “horned”
  • Cornix — “crow”
  • Cornu — “horn”
  • Corona — “crown”
  • Corvus — “raven”
  • Cottana — a type of small fig
  • Crista — “crest”
  • Croceus, Crocea — “of the crocus,” “golden-yellow”
  • Culter — “knife”
  • Cura — “carefulness,” “care”
  • Currus — “chariot”

The Loathlies:

  • Caenosus, Caenosa — “muddy”
  • Caepa — “an onion”
  • Calamister — “curling-iron (for the hair)”
  • Calva — “bald patch”
  • Cantharis — “beetle”
  • Caper — “he-goat,” “the smell under the arm-pits”
  • Carcer — “prison”
  • Caris — a type of crab
  • Catasta — the name given to a stage on which slaves were exposed in a market
  • Catena — “chain,” “fetter”
  • Cena — “dinner”
  • Cenula — “little meal”
  • Cera — “wax”
  • Ceroma — a type of ointment made of wax used by wrestlers
  • Chane — “sea-perch”
  • Cheragra — “gout in the hands”
  • Cimex — “bug”
  • Cinis — “ashes” (specifically cremation ashes)
  • Clades — “destruction”
  • Clava — “knotty staff”
  • Cloaca — “sewer”
  • Clunis — “buttocks”
  • Collyra — a type of pastry broken into broth
  • Contumelia — “outrage”
  • Cordyla — the fry of the tunny-fish; “mackerel”
  • Crambe — “cabbage”
  • Cruor — “gore,” “murder”
  • Culex — “gnat”
  • Curtus, Curta — “shortened,” “mutilated”

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Last Friday, I speculated on the names of the first child of William and Kate, and, inevitably, Victoria was high on the list.

It is a little ironic that Victoria would now be considered a very traditional and conventional choice for a royal baby.

That wasn’t true when Victoria was named; Victoria — Latin for “victory” — was a rare name in Britain at the time, although it had been in use since the sixteenth century, one of the names plucked from Classical Antiquity. For to the Romans, Victoria was the personification of victory, and worshipped as a Goddess.

Why did Victoria receive such a name? Because that’s what her mother was called. She was Marie Louise Viktoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfield.

It wasn’t actually Queen Victoria’s first name, either. That was Alexandrina, after Tsar Alexander I of Russia.

Something else that is mildly ironic is the fact that since Victoria died, only one member of the royal family has received a name which had not been previously borne by a prince or princess of England or the United Kingdom — and that is Andrew. Yet Victoria herself actually made quite a point of breaking with tradition in the naming of her own children.

And her family makes a most interesting sibset.

Oldest of Queen Vicky’s children, born in 1840, was the Princess Royal, Victoria Adelaide Mary Louisa. Victoria was not just in honor of the Queen, but also the Queen’s mother, who was one of the little princess’s godmothers — the others being Adelaide, the wife of Victoria’s uncle, King William IV, and Mary, Duchess of Gloucester, one of the daughters of King George III. Louisa was the name of Prince Albert’s mother. Princess Victoria married Kaiser Friedrich III in 1858, and was the mother of Kaiser Wilhelm II. She died aged only 48, in 1888.

Second was Albert Edward, born in 1841, who ruled as King Edward VII. In naming the heir to the throne such, Victoria caused quite a stir at the prospect of a future King Albert. That had, indeed, been Victoria’s wish; Edward himself chose to rule as Edward upon his succession. He was named after his father, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, and Victoria’s father, Edward, Duke of Kent, who had died when she was only a baby.

The third child was the tragic Princess Alice, later Grand Duchess of Hesse, whose full name was Alice Maud Mary. Alice, like Albert, had never been borne by a member of the Royal Family before. It is said it was suggested by the Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, who was close to Victoria. Likewise Maud was also a break with tradition, demonstrating Victoria’s medieval tastes, though it was a nod to one of Princess Alice’s godparents, Princess Sophia Matilda of Gloucester (Maud, as most folk know, being a medieval form of Matilda). She was born in 1843, and died in 1878, aged just 35, of diptheria, a month after her four year old daughter had also died of the disease.

Her family was particularly ill-fated; her two-year-old son had died a few years earlier after a fall from a window, while two of her daughters died in the Russian Revolution. Alix (later the Tsarina Alexandra) was famously shot with her family in a basement in 1917. Elizabeth, who married Grand Duke Sergei of Russia, was brutally murdered in 1918 along with other members of the imperial family. They were thrown down a mineshaft, grenades thrown in after them, and left to die.

Fourth of Queen Victoria’s children was Alfred Ernest Albert, later Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Known as Affie, he was the second British prince to be called Alfred since the time of King Alfred; the first was one of the younger sons of King George III. He had died in infancy. Ernest was another new name in the British royal family — an import from Germany. It was the name of Prince Albert’s brother. Alfred was born in 1844, and died in 1900.

Queen Victoria’s fifth child was Princess Helena, later Princess Christian of Schleswig-Holstein. Born in 1846, her full name was Helena Augusta Victoria. Helena was another new name for the royal family; she was named after one of her godparents, Hélène, Duchess of Orleans. Augusta was likewise in honor of a godparent, Augusta, Duchess of Cambridge. Princess Helena lived to quite a good age, dying in 1923 at the age of 77.

Sixth of Queen Victoria’s progeny was Princess Louise, later Duchess of Argyll. Born in 1848, her full, correct name was Louisa Caroline Alberta. Though baptised Louisa, she was always known as Louise. Caroline had been the name of King George IV’s estranged wife, and Alberta was, of course, in honor of her father. She lived to the ripe old age of 91, dying in Kensington Palace in 1939.

The Seventh child was Prince Arthur, later Duke of Connaught and Strathearn. He was born in 1850, and also lived to be 91, dying in 1942. His full name was Arthur William Patrick Albert. Arthur was very much a choice in line with Victorian fashion, and its love of all things Arthurian. He wasn’t the first prince to bear the name — but it had been a long time since the last: Arthur, Prince of Wales, the oldest son of King Henry VII, who died aged 15 in 1502. One of the Duke of Connaught’s godparents, however, was the Duke of Wellington, whose name was, surprise surprise — Arthur. He also shared the prince’s birthday. The choice of William was in honor of both King William IV and another of Prince Arthur’s godparents, Wilhelm, then Crown Prince of Prussia, and later Kaiser Wilhelm I (he later became the Princess Royal’s father-in-law). No British prince had ever been called Patrick before, and its choice was in homage to Ireland — it was no coincidence Prince Arthur was made Duke of Connaught.

Prince Leopold was the penultimate child; later made Duke of Albany, his full name was Leopold George Duncan Albert. Leopold, another new name in the royal family tree, was in honor of the King of Belgium, whose first wife was Princess Charlotte of Wales, daughter and heiress of King George IV, whose death in childbirth led to King George’s unmarried sons scrambling to marry and produce a new heir to the throne (which led to Queen Victoria’s birth). Leopold also happened to be the uncle of both Victoria and Albert; Victoria’s mother was his sister, and Albert’s father was his brother.  George was actually in honor of his godfather, King George V of Hanover, grandson of King George III. Leopold received the name Duncan in the same way Arthur acquired Patrick; the Dukedom of Albany had once been borne by heirs to the throne of Scotland. Leopold had the shortest life of all Victoria’s children; he was a haemophiliac and may also have epilepsy. He died in 1884, aged 30.

The youngest of Queen Victoria’s children was Beatrice Mary Victoria Feodore, later Princess Henry of Battenberg. Beatrice was yet another name new to the royal family — as was Feodore. Mary was once more in honor of Mary, Duchess of Cambridge, and Feodore was after Victoria’s older half-sister, Anna Feodora of Leiningen. Feodore is one way in which the Russian form of Theodora is transliterated into the Latin alphabet from the Cyrillic. Beatrice was born in 1859, and lived to be 87. She was the last of Victoria’s children to die, passing on in 1944.

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I’ve chosen one of my favorite Arabic names for this week’s Pick of the Week here at the Nook.

Many moons ago, when I was studying Assyriology at university, I learnt some Arabic.

Not enough, sadly, to read some of my favorite Arabic literature — The Thousand and One Nights — in the original, but enough to get by well enough on a trip to Syria a few years ago.

For many people Arabic is almost synonymous with Islam.

But while Arabic is the langauge of Islam and most important Islamic texts (the Qu’ran, of course, first and foremost among them), the Arabic language itself is not exclusive to Islam.

It is actually spoken by those of other faiths too.

And Arabic language and culture has had an immense impact on European and Western culture too. A great many words in the English language owe their existence to Arabic.

I first encountered Nasir as a child in Robin of Sherwood.

I’ve probably mentioned this iconic TV show before, and I daresay I shall do so again!

Nasir was the name of the silent and mysterious Assassin (with a big “A”), a “saracen” brought back from the Crusades by the evil Baron de Belleme as a bodyguard.

No-one could wield a blade (frequently two of them) like Nasir could.

Robin was yummy, to be sure, but if Nasir had turned up on his Arabian stallion and offered to whisk me away to his desert tents, I’d have been off in a shot.

Nasir means “helper,” “supporter,” and “ally” in Arabic, deriving from a verb meaning “to render victorious” — very apt for the character in Robin of Sherwood, and a great sentiment for a name in general.

It is also transliterated into English as Naseer, and there is a feminine form too — Nasira.

A related name is Nasar, meaning “help” and “support.”

And it shortens to the very cool Nas, as borne by the American rapper, Nasir Jones (b.1973).

And, of course, another brownie point for an Arabic name is the fact that the Arabic script is arguably the most beautiful in the world.

Nasir in Arabic is written: نصیر.

While Arabic names are popular in the Islamic community, they are unusual in the English-speaking world at large. Nevertheless, the precedent has been set and there are Arabic names in general circulation, such as Layla, while in France and a number of South American countries Arabic names do see wider use generally.

Why not, then, plum for something a bit more different, a bit more cosmopolitan, and consider an Arabic name, like the wonderful and dramatic Nasir?

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