Archive for January, 2012

One of my favorite book series in the mid 1980s was Sue Townsend’s The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole.

And it was Sue Townsend who first introduced me to Coventry as a name, in her 1988 novel Rebuilding Coventry.

The title is a nod to the post-war rebuilding of the city of Coventry, which was all-but razed to the ground during the Blitz; but in the case of the book, the Coventry being “rebuilt” is a woman called Coventry Dakin.

The name stuck in my head.

Later, I came across the real life Coventry Kelsey Dighton Patmore, a nineteenth century English male poet. In his case, the name represented an adoption of the surname.

Which also comes from Coventry.

As a given name, despite the poet and the book, Coventry remains extremely rare.

It was, in fact, more common in the nineteenth century than it is today.

But with the growing interest in “place names” as first names, perhaps Coventry’s time might be coming. After all,  while Coventry has never registered in the SSA data, the name of its twin city, Dresden, was given to sixty-one little boys in America in 2010, and eight little girls.

True, modern Coventry is not the prettiest of places. The rebuilding after the war was unsympathetic — putting it kindly.

Since then it has become a modern, largely characterless sprawl.

But that doesn’t — cannot — take away the fact that Coventry is an ancient place, and one of the most important medieval towns in England.

It was the scene of Lady Godiva’s legendary naked ride through the streets to protest against the taxes of Leofric, Earl of Mercia — her husband.

The medieval Coventry Cycle Mystery Plays had their home in Coventry, as did the hauntingly beautiful fifteenth century Christmas Carol — The Coventry Carol, which may have first been sung as part of the plays.

And, although the town’s name actually has nothing to do with a witch’s coven, the similarity does still lend it a distinctly witchy, Wiccan edge.

Rather than a combination of “coven” and “tree,” which it appears to be on the surface, the first element is Old English cofa meaning “cave,” “shelter,” and “chamber” — possibly used as a given name — Cofa.

It occurs in the genitive form in Coventry — i.e. it means “of Cofa.”

But if it was a personal name, it may be that it actually arose as a short-form of some other Anglo-Saxon name, and its resemblance to cofa is superficially. A plausible candidate being the charming and neglected Cuthbert “bright-fame.”

But the second element is “tree.”

And thus Coventry means “Cofa’s tree.”

What, I wonder, was special about Cofa’s tree?

To be singled out as significant enough to define a place, it was presumable noteworthy in some way.

And, of course, it barely needs to be said, that all trees are are held in high regard by most Pagans.

Another reason why Coventry as a given name has a bit of a Pagan edge.

So, will Coventry join the growing ranks of “place-names”?

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The lovely Abby at Appellation Mountain is doing a give-away of my book in the US, complete with a signed bookplate :).

For details, just pop along to Appellation Mountain!



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The darker mood of Hægl and Nyd remains as we reach Is — Ice — in the runes.

The forms it takes in the various runic systems are:

In the runic poems, the focus is on ice’s appearance and nature — it is “the bark of a river,” and “a floor forged by the frost.”

But emphasis is also placed on the danger it brings, both tangible (such as slipping on it), and more metaphorical (for the perils that cold presents, both to the body and environement).

But ice also stands for winter, and as well as its dangers (so real and frightening in those days when famine was always a hair-bredth away), it is a time of rest and introspection.

Nature turns inwards, and so must we. After its sleep beneath the ice, new life will come in the spring.

Modern rune interpretations follow on from all this. Is is a distinct, virtually physical obstacle placed before us. It can represent sudden frustration in endeavours, something that stops us in our paths and threatens to prevent us from moving forward.

Indeed, to some extent it is actual tells us that we might need to stop and take time to think. Time to allow what will be to be. Just like Nature in wintertime. The spring will come.  We just need patience…

And so to the names…

Is is, of course, identical to “is”; I have encountered it as a nickname for Isabella and all her forms, and, after all Will’s resemblance to “will” hasn’t hindered him. Isaz is distinctly exotic, though not a thousand miles from Isis and Isaac.

His? Maybe, maybe not.

But lovely Isa has to be one of the best “rune names” of all. An old short form of Isabella, etc, particularly in Scotland, it has that “great-granny” charm going too, but has yet to be rediscovered in her own right (only 5 in 2010 in the UK), though it features in a lot of other names. In addition to all the variations on Isabella, there’s all these among the girls:

Aanisah, Alisa, Anisa, Anisah, Annalisa, Arisa, Beatrisa, Denisa, Elisa, Elisabeth, Elisabeta, Elisabetta, Ellisa, Eloisa, Elouisa, Erisa, Faisa, Ibtisaam, Ibtisam, Isadora, Isatou, Isatu, Larisa, Lisa, Louisa, Luisa, Khalisa, Khalisah, Maisa, Maisarah, Mandisa, Marisa, Melisa, Nafisa, Nafisah, Nisa, Nisanur, Parisa, Raisa, Ramisa, Romaisa, Risa, Rumaisa, Temisan, Tulisa, Unaisa, Unaisah.

Then there are all the great names beginning with Is-. As well as Isaac, the Isabellas and Isadora, there’s:

Isabèu, Isaiah, Isambard, Isamu, Isao, Isca, Iseult, Isfael, Isfandiyar, Ishaq, Ishara, Ishkur, Ishtar, Isidore, Isioma, Isis, Iska, Iskander, Iskra, Isla, Islay, Islwyn, Islyn, Isra, Issachar, Issoria, István.

Then there’s the meaning; and what leaps out first is Ice itself, along with Icie and Icy and “ice” or “icy” in other languages:

  • Ais — Malay: “ice”
  • Akull — Albanian: “ice”
  • Akulli — Albanian: “icy”
  • Bīng — Mandarin: “ice”
  • Buz — Turkish: “ice”
  • Duramen — Latin: “ice”
  • Eis — German: “ice”
  • Eisig — German: “icy”
  • Gelido, Gelida — Italian: “icy”
  • Gelu — Latin: “ice”
  • Glace — French: “ice”
  • Glacial — French: “icy”
  • Glacies — Latin: “ice”
  • Hielo — Spanish: “ice”
  • — Welsh: “ice”
  • Izotz — Basque: “ice”
  • Jää — Estonian, Finnish: “ice”
  • Jäine — Estonian: “icy”
  • Jäinen –Finnish: “icy”
  • Jaleed — Arabic: “ice”
  • Jég — Hungarian: “ice”
  • Jeges — Hungarian: “icy”
  • Kerakh — Hebrew: “ice”
  • Kori — Japanese: “ice”
  • KryerosKryera, Cryerus, Cryera — Greek: “icy”
  • KrymosKryma, Crymus, Cryma — Greek: “icy”
  • Krystallos, Crystallus — Greek: “ice”
  • KryosKrya, Cryus, Crya — Greek: “icy”
  • Led — Croatian, Czech: “ice”
  • Ledas — Lithuanian: “ice”
  • Ledovy — Czech: “icy”
  • Ledinis — Lithuanian: “icy”
  • Ledus — Latvian: “ice”
  • Lód — Polish: “ice”
  • Lyed — Russian: “ice”
  • Oighreata — Irish: “icy”
  • Oighir — Irish: “ice”
  • Pegylis — Greek: “icy-cold”
  • Rhew — Welsh: “ice”
  • Stiria — Latin: “icicle”
  • Thalj — Arabic: “ice”
  • Xeado — Galician: “icy”
  • Xeo — Galician: “ice”
  • Yax — Persian: “ice”
  • Yelo — Filipino: “ice”

It also inspires the following in English:

  • Berg
  • Cryo
  • Crystal
  • Diamond
  • Floe
  • Frazil
  • Frost
  • Frostflower
  • Frosty
  • Gelid
  • Glacier
  • Glacieret
  • Glaçon
  • Glaze
  • Glitter
  • Glittery
  • Hail 
  • Icicle
  • Kittly
  • Kulfi
  • Lollipop
  • Lolly
  • Nilas
  • Popsicle
  • Rime
  • Rone
  • Sparkle
  • Sleet
  • Star
  • Thaw
  • Varve
  • Winter

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Q is one of my favorite letters for names!

Here are some interesting options for unusual Q names from surnames of Old English, Old Norse and Anglo-French origin.

  • Quaife — Old French: coif, the name of a type of close-fitting hat worn in the Middle Ages; used of someone who made them.
  • Quant — Middle English: cointe “crafty,” “clever.”
  • Quantock — from the Quantock Hills in Somerset. Celtic *canto- “circle” + Old English wudu “wood” or tūn “enclosure,” “farmstead,” “estate,” “manor,” “village.”
  • Quantrell — Old French: cointerel “a beau,” ” a fop.”
  • Quarles — from Quarles, Norfolk. Old English: *hwierfel “circle,” a word related to “whirl” and “whorl”; thought to refer to ancient, but now lost, stone circles.
  • Quarmby — from Quarmby, Yorkshire. Old Norse: kvern “quern” + “farmstead,” “village” and “settlement.”
  • Quarrier — Old French: quarreour “a quarryman.”
  • Quartermain — Angl0-French quatremayns “four-hands,” i.e. “mail-fisted.”
  • Quartermass — from Quatremares in Normandy. French “four seas.”
  • Queech — from Middle English queche “thicket.”
  • Queldrick — from Wheldrake, Yorkshire. Old English hwēol “wheel” + Old Norse drag, the name given to the iron rim under the keel of a boat, suggesting that there was originally some rollers for moving boats up a weir.
  • Queniff — Old English: Cwengifu “queen-gift”; medieval forms included Queniva and Quenyeve.
  • Quennell — from the Old English girl’s name Quenilda.
  • Quiller — Old French: cuiller “spoon,” used of someone who made them.
  • Quilter — Old French: cuilte “quilt.” used of someone who made quilts or mattresses.
  • Quinnell — a variant of QUENNELL.
  • Quinsee — a variant of the well-known Quincy, from Cuinchy in Normandy, or one of the places in France called Quincy.
  • Quintrell — a variant of QUANTRELL.
  • Quixley — from Whixley, West Yorkshire. Old English personal name *Cwic + lēah “wood,” “woodland clearing,” “glade,” “pasture” and “meadow.”

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Pagan Name of the Month features a name currently in the American or English top 100 which has what I like to call “Pagan umph.”

This month’s choice — Evan — features in both the American and English chart, ranked 36th in America, and 76th in England and Wales.

Superficially, it might seem an odd choice, for today it is generally regarded as the Welsh form of John.

Which it is. Sort of.

It is actually the now standard Anglicized form of Ifan, just one of the Welsh forms of John.

Others include Ieuan and Ioan, made familiar by the Welsh actor, Ioan Gruffudd. These were Anglicized in the early modern period as as Javan, Jevon and Jowan (now considered purely Cornish).

Evan itself evolved from the older form Yevan, from the Welsh Iefan, with Evan itself first appearing in around 1500.

Although its roots were in the Hebrew John, it became regarded, quite rightly, as thoroughly Welsh, and remained one of the few Welsh names to remain in popular and regular use until the Celtic Revival in the nineteenth century.

Hence why Evans is one of the commonest surnames, especially in Wales. It also lies behind Bevan (from ap Evan “son of Evan”), Avens and Heaven.

Another old variant was Even, which is also found as a variant of Euan in Scotland and parts of England. Indeed, it seems to have been the
most common form of EWAN still prevailing in “the Old North” in the early nineteenth century.

There are also (rarer) modern feminine forms: Evana, Evanna, Ifanna and Ifanwy. A well-known bearer being the Irish actress, Evanna Lynch, known for playing Luna Lovegood.

So far, so good. But you might be wondering what it is about Evan that gives it a Pagan edge, apart from a fairly flimsy connection to a fictional witch?

The answer lies in a more unexpected source — Classical Latin.

For Evan also happens to be one of the alternative names of the Roman God Bacchus — identified with the Greek Dionysus.

I bet you weren’t expecting that!

Of course, the Romans didn’t pronounce it the same as we do; they said it “eh-wan,” and it is also written Euan. Other forms include Euhan, Euius and Evius.

It probably arose from the ritual cry used at his festival by worshippers — euoe!  or euhoe! — which even had a special adjective derived from it, which was used of worshippers, particularly Bacchantes: euans, meaning  “shouting ‘Evan.'”

So if you’d like a mainstream name with a nice little Pagan twist, Evan might be just the one for you.

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Yes, as in Holmes.

Elementary, my dear Watson.

Only — Sherlock doesn’t say that anymore.

There is no question that Sherlock Holmes is one of the best-known, best-loved fictional characters of all time.

But largely thanks to Basil Rathbone’s marvelous — but distinctly middle age and very, very cold — Holmes, and a succession of wannabe Basil Rathbone interpretations which followed, it has, until now failed to enamor many parents.

That, however, might now change, thanks to two very different, very compelling new Sherlock Holmeses on the block: those of Robert Downey, Jr, and Benedict Cumberbatch.

Asking which I prefer would be asking whether I prefer a good cheddar or a good stilton. Love ’em both.

And what they both do, in very different ways, is rescue Holmes from the cultural cliché he had almost become and inject him with new life; the one by giving it the Holywood action-adventure-spy treatment, albeit preserving the late nineteenth century setting (well, kind of); the other by bringing Holmes bang up to date with clever new twists on the old tales.

Cumberbatch’s Holmes may be out of his original time (not that that hasn’t been done before — most of Rathbone’s films had a contemporary setting too), but in my opinion he’s actually the most faithful to Doyle’s original.

And, let’s not beat about the bush, both Robert and Benedict have “seriously attractive” stamped all over them.

If they can’t make people start to seriously consider Sherlock as a name, nothing will.

Plus, it really is a great name.

A surname, no less, in origin.

Nowhere is it stated in Conan Doyle’s work how Sherlock got his name, but it is a safe bet that as a man who came from a clan of “country squires,”  somewhere in his family tree, it featured originally as a surname.

It may have been a family name in the Holmeses for centuries, or it may have been his mother’s maiden name, or it may have been the surname of a family friend. We simply don’t know.

It derives from the Old English scīr “bright,” and “shining” (the same source as “sheer”) and loc(c) “lock (of hair),” which as surnames-as-first-name meanings go, is appealing.

And while any child called Sherlock would have to get used to being called Holmes, there are certainly many names, some of them quite popular, with far worse and more irritating “jokes” lying in wait to torment someone with.

If I were called Sherlock, I might adopt Holmes as a nickname myself, and have done with it. Rug from under feet and all that.

There’s also the contemporary Lock, which I’ve personally liked for a long time.

And if you were to be very daring, and like turning things on their heads, and gave Sherlock to a girl, then Sher and Sherry naturally present themselves.

What Sherlock Holmes himself would have thought to being called Sherry though, I wouldn’t like to say!

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That’s “Happy Saint Dwynwen’s Day!” in English.

Saint Who?

In Wales, Dwnywen (pronounce “doo-in-wen” — the “doo-in” bit pronounced so quickly that it almost sounds like “dwin”) is considered the “Welsh St. Valentine,” and people increasingly mark St Dwynwen’s as well as — sometimes instead of — Valentine’s day.

Naturally, she has also become the Welsh patron saint of lovers.

Like Valentine, she’s a saint of very shadowy roots.

The legend says she lived in the fifth century, one of the many daughters of the legendary Brychan Brycheiniog — a man who, according to the myths, has more saintly children under his belt than most of us have hot dinners.

There are many versions of her tale, but in essence, she fell in love with a young man called Maelon, but would not marry him, either because her father forbade it or because she had sworn herself to a life of saintly celibacy.

She prayed for a solution — and an angel appeared with a magic potion to give to Maelon.

She gave it to him — and it turned him into a block of ice, thus saving him the sorrow of pining away for her, and to remove him from her temptation.

In some versions, she then asks for three requests — that Maelon be released, that she never marry, and that she could become the patron of true loves.

Not exactly happy-ever-after, but at least there’s no beheading!

The centre of Dwynwen’s cult was originally on a small island off the coast of Anglesey called Llanddwyn Island, which preserves another form of her name within its — Dwyn.

She is also known as Donwen, and Donwenna — all of which hint strongly at what may well be her true origin, the ancient Cymric Goddess Dôn.

Her name is almost certainly a combination of Dôn with gwyn. This is a familiar ending in Welsh names — featuring as Gwyn and Gwen at the start of names, and –wyn and –wen at the end (in Welsh, –wyn is always masculine, and –wen is feminine).

It’s basic meaning is “white,” but it also carries the sense of “pure” and “blessed.”

Dôn is the Welsh equivalent of the Irish Goddess Danu. In Welsh myth, she is the mother of the Plant Dôn—the “Children of Dôn”— a number of major Welsh deities, including Gwydion and Arianrhod.

As a very ancient Goddess, unraveling her name is difficult, and there are a number of options. One is the Common Celtic *dƒnu– “gift.”

However, she is associated with a number of rivers. There are four called Don in the British Isles, plus others that are related: the Dane in Cheshire,
two Devons (one English, one Scottish), and possibly the Teign, Tone, and Tyne too. Then there are the great European rivers deriving from the same root: the Danube, the Dneiper, and the Donetz.

Moreover, in the early medieval period, Dôn may also have been known as Donwy. An old name for the River Dee, which flows through Chester, is the Dwfrdonwy (dwfr is a Middle Welsh word meaning “water” + Donwy), while the Welsh name for the Danube is Afon Donwy—i.e. “River Donwy.” Donwy is also found in the name of yet another Welsh river, the Trydonwy, known in English as the Roden.

All this makes it quite likely that the name’s roots lie far, far back with the Proto-Indo-European *dānus “river.”

But there’s a further twist to this tale. What if this Goddess’s associations with rivers is so ancient that instead of her gaining the name “river,” the word *dānus derived from her name?

This would explain why there does not seem to be any vestige of *dānus with the meaning “river” in any of the living Celtic languages, despite the large number of rivers in the British isles which seem to derive from it.

But there is a further option for its etymology.

A clue lies with Deva, a Celtic name by which the Romans knew the River Dee. It points firmly towards the Proto-Indo-European *deyw-o– “a divine being,” combined with the suffix –ono– (often indicative of the name of a Deity).

Originally, *deyw-o-, seems to have carried connotations of relating to a sky God; it litters the Indo-European languages in words meaning “a god”, as well as names of individual Gods and Goddesses themselves, such as Zeus and Diana.

Despite her popularity in modern Wales, Dwynwen is a rarity. But it’s a pretty name, and whatever the truth that lies at its roots, no-one can dispute that it has history and positive associations in abundance.

Dydd Santes Dwynwen Hapus!

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