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Archive for the ‘Classical Mythology’ Category

It’s St David’s Day — Wales’s national day — tomorrow, and to celebrate, it’s Welsh week here at the Nook.

For this week’s pick of the week, therefore, I’ve chosen Daffodil.

The daffodil is well-known as the national flower of Wales, and tomorrow will be worn proudly across the country.

We bought a few bunches of proper Welsh daffodils yesterday and they are now looking very bright and sunny on the kitchen table!

As well as the flower’s connection with Wales, the daffodil is celebrated as one of the symbols of spring par excellence.

Swathes of cheerful daffodils bobbing their heads in the spring sunshine are always an evocative and heartwarming sight after the bleakness of winter.

Indeed, they inspired probably one of the most famous  of all poems about flowers  — William Wordsworth’s “Daffodils”:

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
and twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretched in never-ending line
along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
in such a jocund company:
I gazed – and gazed – but little thought
what wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

In the language of flowers, the daffodil symbolizes both respect and unrequited love—but it can also stand for vanity and deceit—perhaps because for all its cheery charm, the daffodil is poisonous.

Neverthless, I’ve always been a bit surprised that Daffodil as a name is so rare. Like other flowers, it was first used in the nineteenth century, but for some inexplicable reason simply didn’t grab the limelight, even when the similar Daphne was enjoying its vogue (in the British Isles, at least) in the second quarter of the twentieth century.

But with flower names once more in fashion, and other rarities like Bluebell seeing more use, maybe Daffodil’s day is not far away.

It does have the fetching pet-form Dilly, as well as sharing Daphne’s nick-names Daff, Daffi, Daffie and Daffy.

The daffodil’s original name was actually Affodill — which has distinct potential too — and an old, rather charming variant is Daffodilly. Affodill arose from the medieval Latin afodillus and derives ultimately from the Greek asphodelosAsphodel.

Also known as king’s spear, the asphodel was grown as a garden flower and medicinal herb from at least the Middle Ages.  In the ancient world, it was believed that asphodels grew in the Elysian Fields and were the food of the dead. We know that their roots were certainly eaten by the living poor of Ancient Greece, and the plant was used as a remedy against snake-bites and as a protection from sorcery.

The daffodil’s Pagan connotations don’t stop there. Among modern Pagans, it has become the quintessential flower of the Spring Equinox, and is now particularly associated with the Goddess Eostre.

Some other great names with daffodil associations include:

  • Narcissus — used generally of a related flower, as well as being the botanical name for the genus. In Greek mythology, this was the name of the narcissistic youth who fell in love with his own reflection, and the name was often used as a given name in the classical period. The feminine form, Narcissa — pet-form “Cissy” —  occurs, of course, in Harry Potter as the name of Draco Malfoy’s mother.
  • Jonquil — the name of an old type of daff.
  • Narciso — the Italian, Portuguese and Spanish form of NARCISSUS.
  • Narcys — the Polish form of NARCISSUS.
  • Nargis — the Persian for daffodil, used as a girl’s name in Iran (derives ultimately from Narcissus).
  • Nergis — the Turkish for daffodil, used as a girl’s name in Turkey (also derives ultimately from Narcissus).

What better way to capture the spring in a name, than with Daffodil and friends?

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First of all, apologies to anyone who happened by yesterday when my blog was temporarily “suspended/archived.”  Thankfully it was a system error, and the nice people at WordPress sorted it out very quickly — though I did have a litter or two of kittens in panic in the meantime!

A couple of weeks ago, I included Agatha in my list of “Grannies” worthy of resurrection, and the eve of the feast day of the saint of the name seemed a good day to feature her properly.

For it was Saint Agatha whose popularity in Britain in the Middle Ages made Agatha a common name in medieval times.

Hers is a particularly gruesome tale, even by the usual standards of hagiography.

For refusing to succumb to the advances of the (naturally) Pagan Roman prefect of Sicily, Agatha was tortured — which included cutting off her breasts — and executed.

These scenes have been popular in art across the centuries, with Agatha usually portrayed carrying her breasts on a tray as though they were macaroons (inspiration, perhaps for the minni di virgini cakes, which are a speciality of St Agatha’s day in Sicily).

However, contemporary evidence for her existence is non-existent, and the first references to her date from the sixth century.

All the rest is pure legend and folklore.

So who really was Agatha?

Agatha is a straight-forward name to interpret. It is simply the feminine form of the Greek agathos “good.” Hence Agatha, at its most literal, means “the good (female) one,” in her case, it could be “good woman,” “good lady” — or  “good goddess.”

And, as fate has it, there was a Roman Goddess called exactly that, word for word in Latin — Bona Dea, “the Good Goddess.”

The Bona Dea is quite a mysterious deity. what we do know is that she was a goddess strongly linked with women, and her festival was celebrated only by women (and only well-born ones at that).

Ancient writers interpreted Bona Dea as a title or epithet, concealing her real identity, which was believed to be a closely guarded secret kept by those admitted to her mysteries.

This didn’t stop the writers speculating that her real identity was the fertility Goddess Ops (“plenty”), Magna Mater (the “Great Mother”) and/or Ceres, and she was also identified with Juno and Isis.

Intriguingly, there are many vestiges of the worship of Isis in the festivals of St. Agatha on Sicily, where the cult of Isis was strong in ancient times. These include the greeting of the cult statue and its procession on a carriage and an enormous party.

A further interesting “coincidence” is that these festivities begin on February 2nd—with one of her areas of patronage being protection against fire, linking her to Brigid, who is also sometimes equated with Isis, and whose feast day is suspiciously close.

On Sicily, this connection with fire is particularly linked to Sicily’s volcano, Etna; Agatha’s veil has supposedly protected the island from the volcano on more than one occasion.

Agatha, like Isis, is also closely connected with cats; in France, Agatha is said to appear in the guise of an angry cat to women who work on her feast day, and in Languedoc she even used to be referred to as “Santo Gatto.”

In the Middle Ages, Agatha was very much the “Sunday best” form of the name, used in Latin documents. Like many — if not most — names, the vernacular forms were simpler.

In Agatha’s case, they were forms such as Agas, Agase and Agace, and Agacia was commonly found in Latin documents rather than Agatha.

Two significant medieval bearers were Agatha, the mother of Edgar Atheling, and Agatha of Normandy, a daughter of King William the Conqueror. The name is also ascribed to the mother of the famous fifteenth century “Mother Shipton” — Ursula Southill.

After the Reformation, Agatha plunged out of fashion, becoming unusual until the Victorians with their love of all things medieval plunked it from the history books.

Even then, however, it never became particularly common, while many an Agatha naturally became an Aggie.

The best-known real-life bearer of modern times is the British writer and archaeologist Agatha Christie (1890-1976). I’ve loved Agatha Christie’s books since childhood, and feel an additional bond because my Director of Studies at College, who excavated with Agatha Christie and her husband Max Mallowan in the 1950s. It was rather thrilling to hear about her from someone who knew her personally.

In fiction, there’s more than one witch of the name, such as Agatha Harkness, a witch in the world of Marvel Comics, and Agatha Cackle, the villain of Jill Murphy’s Worst Witch.

But probably the most famous literary Agatha has to be the formidable Aunt Agatha of P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves stories.

Until recently, this battleaxe image has rendered Agatha virtually unusable. But things are changing, and little Agathas are starting to make appearances.

In Britain, the name’s prospects may have improved due to the children’s TV show Guardians of the Museum, which is hosted by a pretty 1930’s ghost called Agatha. Certainly, my Small Child associates the name with this character, and thinks it’s a fabulous name.

So even if the current generation of parents can’t appreciate Agatha’s qualities, the next is distinctly hopeful!

Happy St. Agatha’s!

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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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With Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Names at last completed and gone forth into the big bad world, this week’s pick of the week — the lovely and evocative Elysia — is a thank you to Llewellyn’s Elysia Gallo, who, throughout the whole process of writing and editing, was so supportive, helpful and encouraging.

I have to say, I am very jealous of Elysia’s name — and I absolutely love it. As a girl’s name, it is found in the records from the seventeenth century, though it is clear that, especially in many early cases, it was mixed up with Alicia —  sometimes also Eliza.

But it is also clear that for others, the association intended was clearly Elysium…

Elysium itself is the Latin form of the Greek Êlusion.

This is the name the Ancient Greeks gave to the part of the Underworld reserved for heroes, righteous individuals selected by the Gods, and initiates of the mystery cults, particularly the Mysteries of Eleusis.

It is probable, but not certain, that Elysium and Eleusis share the same origin. And, if not, they have certainly been blurred together since ancient times.

The Eleusinian Mysteries are probably the best-known of the ancient Mystery cults; they are, indeed, the Mysteries. Centred on the small town of Eleusis in Attica, and within walking distance of Athens, the focus of the Mysteries were Demeter and Persephone, in her maiden aspect, Kore.

Unfortunately, the exact rites, rituals and beliefs of the initiated are, quite literally, a mystery. Absolute secrecy regarding practices and beliefs among initiates was a major component, and they those ancient initiates took their secrets with them to Elysium.

However, enough clues do survive, in the form of oblique references, and archaeological remains, including wall-paintings and mosaics, for scholars across the ages to have pieced together some of it.

The rites included fasting, consumption of ritual drink, the showing of special objects, the re-enactment of the myth of Demeter and Persephone, and revelation of secrets.

To reveal those secrets to a non-initiate, the penalty was death.

It is thought that the Eleusinian Mysteries date back to Mycenaean times (i.e. the second millennium BCE); in decline from the second century, they were banned by the new Christian elite in 396 CE.

The etymology of Eleusis and Elysium are as shrouded as the practices — though by passage of immense time, rather than by design.

The most obvious derivation of Eleusis is from the Greek erkhomai “to come.” Eleusis “coming,” is also a variant of the noun êlusis, which carries the prosaic meaning of “step.”

But a credible and alluring alternative explanation is that its actual origins lie with another Greek word — enêlusios “struck by lightning”; ta enêlusia was a name given to places set apart from worldly uses because they had been struck by lightning.

A further intriguing option is that the roots of Elysium actually lie with the Egyptian: jArw “rush,” a reference to sxt-jArw the “fields of rushes,” which was a similar concept to Elysium in Egyptian religion, ruled over by Osiris.

Given the long history of trade between Greece and Egypt, it is perfectly plausible that this notion would find its way into the Greek belief system.

Both Greek and Latin have adjectival forms of Elysium — Greek êlusios, Latin Elysius. They were used of Elysium and its queen, Persephone, and are often translated as “Elysian,” most famously in the expression Elysian Fields, a translation of the Latin campi Elysii.

In English today, “Elysia” is frequently used interchangeably with “Elysium.” Although its original use was quite specific, it has come into general use to mean “paradise,” passing, largely without hint of irony, into Christian language and iconography too.

As well as Elysia herself, Elysian makes a noteworthy name choice — and could also be used for a boy, as could Elysion, the usual Anglicized form of the original Greek Êlusion, which is sometimes found (mostly in poetry) as a variant spelling of Elysium.

As a name, there are a number of variant spellings, such as Elisia, Elizia and Elyzia. Elyse also wanders into the category, demonstrating the distinct blurring at the edges between Elysia with Alicia, Alice, Elise, Eliza and Lisa.

Certainly, Elysia presents an unusual, meaningful but also very contemporary alternative to those names, especially for a Pagan parent looking for a name with deep and strong Pagan roots.

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Hope everyone has enjoyed the festive season so far.

We’re in that strange limbo-lull now between the celebrations of the twenty-fifth and the New Year, and thoughts are naturally turning to ends and beginnings, looking back, and looking forward…

As we count-down to 2012, I’ll be doing my own share of looking back and forward here at the Nook, and, to set us off on the right foot, what better name to profile for this transitory time than the name of the God who epitomizes it like no other?

The Roman God, Janus.

Pronounced “JAY-nǝs” by some, “JAH-nǝs” by others, Janus is familiar to many as the God with two heads, one facing back over the Old Year, and the other looking ahead to the new.

Although many Pagans, particularly Wiccans and those who embrace Celtc Paganism consider Samhain to mark the transition point between years, the New Year has been celebrated at this time since the days of Pagan Rome — long before Christianity.

So significant was Janus that when the Roman year was extended to twelve months, the first of the newly created months, January, was named after Janus.

But his worship was not limited just to this time. As a God of the end and beginning of ventures, he was invoked not just at the start of a new year, or even the start of  every month, but at the start of every single day, and every and any new venture.

He also presided over points of transition, including doorways.

Although there is some question marks over the ultimate source of his name, it is connected with the Roman word for a door — ianua — and identical with ianus “covered passage”; and the most likely source, in my opinion, is a derivation with the same root which gives the verb eo, ire “to go.”

Also related to Janus is the name as well as the month of January, the Anglicized form of Januarius, a name used in the later Roman Empire and borne by more than one saint — most famously the patron saint of Naples.

January’s use as a girl’s name (such as the actress January Jones) represents a simple adoption of the name of the month.

There is also Jana, which, while in most modern usage represents an elaboration of plain Jane, was actually the name of a Roman Goddess, who was essentially the female counterpart of Janus. She particularly protected doors and passageways.

Pagan Romans celebrated January 1st by exchanging simple gifts called strenae “omens,” such as nuts, honey, figs and coins.  There was even another deity, the Goddess Strenia, who presided simply over these New Year gifts!

The thought behind them was that it was held important that a new begininng had an auspicious start, and giving gifts of this kind was a good omen. In the same spirit, it was customary — just as it is today — to wish people well for the coming year.

A rather nice Pagan Roman custom associated with the New Year involved the hammering in of a nail into the door of the temple of Nortia at Volsinii. Nortia was an Etruscan Goddess, who was absorbed into the Roman pantheon, and the nail symbolized that the events of the past year were now fixed and immutable.

As a given name, Janus is found from the eighteenth century, though in many cases, it probably represents an adoption of the identical-looking English surname, which actually derives from John, with Janus representing a medieval Latin form of the name; King John II of Cyprus (1375-1432) is also known as King Janus.

But most people will always identify the name Janus with the Roman God, and it’s a true rarity these days. Less than three boys in Britain, and five in America — if any in either nation at all — received the name in 2010.

What more perfect a name could there be for a baby boy born around the New Year?

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It’s the Winter Solstice tomorrow in the Northern Hemisphere (and the Summer Solstice in the Southern — I’m not jealous, really, I’m not).

That is to say, it’s the shortest day, or — as my mum used to say — the longest night.

And whatever your religious persuasion, or none, there’s something special about it.

It marks the very deepest, darkest moment of winter — that’s the bleak bit.

But it means from now on, the days gradually start to lengthen again. The ever turning wheel of the year has shifted, and we’re on our way back to the warmth and light. Yippee!

However, for a few days, each side of the Solstice, to the naked eye, the sun appears to rise and set in the same places — hence the name, from the Latin sol “sun” + sisto “to stand still.”

Of course, we know today that the reason why the sun grows weaker and the days shorten after the Summer Solstice is because the Earth goes round the sun, spinning on its axis, which is on an angle.

But for most of human history (and prehistory) most humans thought it was the sun doing the moving, rising in the East, setting in the West.

As the Winter Solstice approached, they thought the sun was dying; the Sostice marked the point when the sun was reborn, to strengthen and grow until it reached the peak of its power at the Summer Soltice.

No wonder this period is marked with numerous festivals, frequently of light.

Chief among them in the pagan Roman Empire was Sol Invictus — “The Unconquered Sun” — whose birthday was celebrated on December 25.

It is no coincidence that it shares December 25 with Christmas, only celebrated on that date since the fifth century.

December 25 is the first date after the Solstice when the sun stops seeming to “stand still” and the day is discernibly a little longer.

The word “Christmas” actually dates only to the twelfth century. Prior to that, the festivities which took over Sol Invictus were called Yule (the earliest Old English form known is geohol), almost certainly the name of the Germanic pagan festival celebrated at this time.

The ultimate source of the word “yule” is uncertain, but it is either cognate with, or derived from the Norse jól and is, most likely, connected with “jolly,” though there is a bit of a chicken and egg situation about which came first.

The original Norse festival of Jól was celebrated between the 20th and 31st December.

Yule and Yuletide are still used generally as an alternative name for Christmas, as they have for centuries, but it is the preferred name for the season by most Pagans of all persuasions, who usually use it now for the Solstice, rather than December 25.

Druids, however, will often call the Solstice Alban Arthan, which was first recorded by Iolo Morganwg.

So, what names for a Winter Solstice baby?

  • Aglaia — Greek aglaios “splendor”; one of the Graces
  • Alban — Welsh “solstice”; identical to the name of the saint, and quite probably sharing the same roots in the Common Celtic *albiyo- “upper world” and “white.”
  • Amaterasu — Japanese 天  “heaven,” “sky” and 照 “shine”; the name of the Japanese Goddess of the sun
  • Amber — one ancient belief was that amber was the solidified light of the setting sun on the sea.
  • Anwu — Igbo “sun”
  • Apollo — God of the sun
  • Arevik — Armenian name meaning “sun-like”
  • Arthan — An Old Welsh word meaning “winter”, connected by Iolo Morganwg with arth “bear.”
  • Arthur — Druids see Arthur as symbolic of the sun and equate him with the winter solstice.
  • Arun, Aruna — In Hindu mythology, Aruna is the charioteer of the sun.
  • Aster
  • Aten — Egyptian “disc of the sun”; the name of an Egyptian God, considered an aspect of Ra.
  • Aurinko — Finnish “sun”
  • Bay — one of the herbs traditionally added to a seasonal mulled wine
  • Cam — the Romani word for “sun” (and “to love”)
  • Cardamon — a spice added to mulled wines in the Middle Ages
  • Cerah — Malaysian “sunny” and “bright”
  • Chrysogon — Greek khrusogonos “gold-born”; Grisegond is an old variant
  • Cinnamon
  • Citrine — used since the eighteenth century as the name of a type of yellow topaz; it is believed to radiate the energy of the sun
  • Clove — one of the most important ingredients of a mulled wine
  • Cressida — derives ultimately from the Greek mythological Chryseis, meaning “(daughter) of Chryses” — a male Greek name from khrusos “gold.”
  • Day
  • Diell — Albanian “sun”
  • Eguzki — Basque “sun”
  • Enya — in the Native American language of Papai, enya means “sun.” The Irish Enya originated as the Anglicized form of Eithne used by the Irish singer-songwriter Enya; Eithne is an old form of Áine, the name of an Irish Goddess, whose name means “heat” and “light”.
  • Frankincense — an ancient resin, used as an incense since ancient times, and used for purification in Pagan temples. It is considered to be ruled by the Sun even today, and the Ancient Egyptians used it particularly in the worship of the sun God Ra.
  • Geola — Old English form of YULE
  • Gold — associated with the sun since ancient times
  • Grian — an Irish Goddess of the sun, whose name means “sun”
  • Günay — Turkish girl’s name combining güneş “sun” + ay “moon”; Aygün is a variant
  • Haru — Japanese boy’s name: 陽 “sun,” “sunlight”; Haruki, another boy’s name, combines it with 輝 “radiance, shine” or 生 “life,” while the girl’s name Haruko combines it with 子 “child.”
  • Heliodorus, Heliodora — Greek “gift of the sun”
  • Heliostásio — Modern Greek “solstice”
  • Helius — Greek God of the sun; his name means “sun”
  • Heuldro — Welsh “solstice”
  • Heulwen — Welsh haul “sun” + (g)wen “white,” “blessed” and “pure”; used since the late nineteenth century
  • Hina — Japanese girl’s name: 陽 “sun,” “sunlight” or 日 “sun,” “day” + 菜 “vegetables”
  • Honey — associated with the sun since ancient times
  • Iolo — although unrelated, Iolo (with its feminine form Iola) has a very similar ring to YULE…
  • Jólnir — a byname of Odin. Old Norse: jól “YULE”
  • Jolie — French jolie, feminie of joli “pretty,” derives from, or shares the same origin, as the Old Norse jól “YULE”
  • Jolly — sharing the same origin as JOLIE, if you find this too light, why not consider the “long-form” Jolyon, a form of Julian, deriving ultimately from Julius? Although, like Iolo, not related to Yule, the similarities are there…
  • Jua — Swahili “sun”
  • Kem — Romani “sun”; a variant of CAM
  • Khurshid — Old Persian “shining sun”; the name of an angel in Zoroastrianism associated with the sun
  • Light
  • Lucius
  • Lucy — English form of Lucia, the feminine of LUCIUS. St Lucy’s day was celebrated in many parts of Europe last week on the thirteenth; until the switch over from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, St Lucy’s used to fall on or around the Solstice.
  • Lux — Latin “light”
  • Maeve — Usual modern form of the Irish name Medb, which derives from the Common Celtic for MEAD (cognate with mead itself)
  • Matahari — Indonesian “sun” (from mata “eye” + hari “day”)
  • Mead — a beverage made from HONEY, dating back to ancient times; probably the unofficial official Pagan drink, especially for the Solstices; it shares honey’s associations with the sun.
  • Midwinter — a word used of the Solstice since Angl0-Saxon times
  • Mithras — the Greco-Roman God of the mystery religion of Mithraism, popular with Roman soldiers. His worship arrived from the East in the first century; he is identified with Sol Invictus, and his birthday was also celebrated on December 25.
  • Mull — “mulled wine,” from the verb “to mull” meaning “to warm.” The Island of Mull gets its name from a Gaelic word meaning “bare,” also quite appropriate for the season, since all is bare (the cognate Welsh word is used of bare, “bald” hills).
  • Myrene — an Amazon in Greek myth; Greek: murinês “sweet wine.”
  • Myristica — botanical name for NUTMEG, meaning “fragrant”
  • Naran — Mongolian name meaning “sun”
  • Natalia — from the Latin natale “bitth”; these days, associated with the birth of Jesus, but is just as appropriately applied to the rebirth of the Sun, as celebrated at Sol Invictus; Natalie and Nathalie are the popular French forms, and Natasha, the Russian pet-form.
  • Noel — Anglo-Norman noel “Christmas” from Latin natale —  see NATALIA
  • Nutmeg — another spice often added to a mulled wine
  • Oenone
  • Orange — oranges, being round and, well, orange, are often associated with the sun
  • Oriana — coined by Elizabethan poets in honor of Queen Elizabeth I, from Latin orior “to rise,” used specifically of the rising sun.
  • Orinda — another poetic invention coinage from orior (see Oriana above), this time of the seventeenth century.
  • Orun — Yoruba: òrùn “sun”
  • Phaëthon — Greek “shining”; the name of a son of Helius, famous for almost crashing the chariot of the sun
  • Phanes — a primeval Greek God, associated with MITHRAS; his name derives from the Greek phainô “to bring light.”
  • Phoebe
  • Phoebus — Greek: phoibos “bright” and “radiant”; epithet of Apollo
  • Ra — the Egyptian God of the Sun, whose name means “sun”
  • Ramesses — The name of a famous Pharaoh, meaning “RA/the sun bore him.”
  • Ravi — Sanskrit “sun”
  • Renaissance  — French “rebirth”; generally used since the nineteenth century of the cultural “rebirth” at the end of the Middle Ages, its basic meaning is simply “rebirth” and could be used as a name with reference to the rebirth of the sun at the Winter Solstice
  • René, Renée — French forms of RENATUS
  • Renatus, Renata — Latin “reborn”; used of the rebirth of the sun
  • — Chinese 日 “sun,” “day”
  • Samson — Hebrew: “child/man of SHAMASH”; Sampson is a common variant
  • Saulė — Lithuanian Goddess of the sun, whose name means “sun”; Saulenė is a variant
  • Shamash — major Assyrian God; his name means “sun” in Akkadian
  • Shams — Arabic “sun”
  • Shemshi — Swahili “sun”
  • Sherry — rolled out across the land at this time of year, particularly to leave out for Santa…
  • Soare — Romanian “sun”
  • Sol — Latin “sun”; Norse Sól meaing “sun” is the name of the Norse Goddess of the Sun
  • Solar
  • Solaris — Latin “of the sun”
  • Soleil — French “sun”
  • Solifer, Solifera — Latin “sun-bearing”
  • Soligena — Latin “sun-born”
  • Solstice
  • Solveig — Old Norse sól “sun” + veig “strength”
  • Sonne — German “sun”
  • Sorin — Romanian name, usually derived from SOARE
  • Sorina — feminine of SORIN
  • Sounia — epithet of Athena, from Sounion in Attica, which may, possibly, derive from the Proto-Indo-European root *su(w)en- “sun”; Latinized as Sunia
  • Stella
  • Sulien — Old Welsh name, probably meaning “sun-born”
  • Sun
  • Sunčana — Croatian name from sunče “sun”
  • Sunday — could be interpreted as referring to the Solstices as well as the day of the week
  • Sunlight
  • Sunna — Goddesss of the sun in Germanic tradition.
  • Sunniva — Old English: Sunngifu “sun-given”
  • Sunny
  • Sunrise
  • Sunset
  • Sunshine
  • Surya — Sanskrit “sun”; the Hindu God of the sun
  • Svarog — Slavic God of the sun; Slavic: svar “bright”
  • Tesni — Welsh name deriving from tes “sunshine” and “warmth”
  • Wassail — originally a salutation used when passing a cup to a guest; from the Old English wes hāl “be in good health”; in time it came to be used of the drink too, especially the spiced ale drunk during the twelve days of Christmas
  • Wine — another popular beverage of the season, especially mulled
  • Winter
  • Yáng — Chinese  陽 “sun,” “positive”
  • Youko — Japenese girl’s name: 陽 “sun” + 子 “child”
  • Yule — of course. Also the fab variant Yul. Yule was actually used as a given name in medieval times (with a feminine form Yula), surviving for some time on the Isle of Man in the form Jole.

With Yule and Sol Invictus to celebrate, I’ll be back at the Nook when the mead’s worn off…

A bright and blessed Solstice, Yule, Alban Arthan and Christmas one and all. 🙂

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Today marks the start of the Roman Pagan feast of Saturnalia, celebrating the birthday of the God Saturn.

As Gods go, Saturn is quite neglected these days in the retelling of Classical Myths.

He usually gets dismissed as “the equivalent of the Greek Cronus” and that’s pretty much it.

The tale of Zeus and Cronus is quite well known: Cronus — who had castrated his own father, Uranus, with a sickle — swallowed all his children by Rhea as soon as they were born, for fear that one would overthrow him.

That was, until, Rhea contrived to smuggle the infant Zeus away.

He grew up on Mount Ida, suckled by a goat — and grew up to overthrow his father.

Most assume that’s all there is to Saturn too.

But it’s important to remember that while there are parallels between the Greek and Roman pantheon, and the Romans equated Saturn with Cronus, they do in fact have quite separate existences.

Cronus, with his sickle, was associated with the harvest, Saturn — the Roman God of agriculture — was associated more with sowing.

And to the Romans, Saturn, unlike Cronus, never became a shadowy figure in the background, even though the Roman passion for all things Greek meant that among the literatti, he did get his nose shoved out somewhat.

But it is clear that he still remained one of their most important deities, very much at the forefront of their religion.

They named one of the planets after him (the Greek name for the planet Saturn was Phainon “shining”).

In turn, the planet Saturn gave its name to a day of the week — the only day of the week, indeed, which in our calendar still bears his name: Saturday.

Saturn’s temple stood at the foot of the Capitoline. It was an important place, home to the state treasury, the Tables of Law and the records of decress by the Senate.

And the Saturnalia was probably the most popular festivals of the Roman calendar.

Originally, it lasted only a day, and it was  held in celebration of the sowing of the crops, which took place in Roman Italy in December.

From the 3rd Century BCE, though, it started to grow, lasting a week by the time of the Emperor Augustus.

It was a period characterised by revelry; the formal, cumbersome toga was put aside, and everyone wore the equivalent of party clothes instead.

Slaves got to be cheeky to masters, and to have their celebratory feast before — or with — their masters.

A “lord of misrule” was chosen, and everyone had to do what he said, no matter how ridiculous — indeed, the more ridiculous, the better.

And, most significantly for us today, as we dash madly round the shops trying to find something to buy Auntie Mabel for Christmas, we have the Saturnalia to thank for the tradition of giving gifts at this season.

The traditional gift of the Saturnalia were small terracotta dolls called sigilla, and other popular gifts were candles, fruit and nuts, but all kinds of gifts were given. Book 14 of Martial’s Epigrams contains all sorts of Saturnalia gifts, ranging from a lyre to an apron, Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey  to an ape — although Martial was writing satire, so does needs to be taken with a pinch of salt…

So what names do we have for Saturnalia babies?

Well, the possibilities are endless, but here are a few suggestions.

  • Allegra — Italian “happy” and “cheerful”; Byron renamed his illegitimate daughter Clara Allegra when he gained custody of her in 1818
  • Ananda — Sanskrit “happiness” and “pleasure”
  • Antic
  • Asher — Hebrew osher “happy” and “blessing”
  • Banter
  • Bliss
  • Blithe
  • Carousel
  • Cereus — Latin “wax candle”; one of the traditional gifts of the Saturnalia. Cerea makes a nice feminine form.
  • Cheer
  • Cithara — an ancient instrument, resembling a lyre, plucked at many a Saturnalia feast
  • Cymbal — simple musical instruments were often a feature of festivities such as the Saturnalia
  • Droll
  • Drummer — plenty of drumming at the Saturnalia!
  • Dulcimer — a medieval musical instrument, with the loveliest of names
  • Džiugas — Lithuanian boy’s name, dating to medieval times, meaning “cheerful” and “merry”
  • Farah — Arabic “joy” and “delight”
  • Felicia — variant of FELIX dating back to medieval times
  • Felicity
  • Felix
  • Festal
  • Festival
  • Festive
  • Festus — Latin “festive”; used as a cognomen (surname) in Roman times
  • Fête — French “festival”
  • Fidicen –– Latin “minstrel”
  • Frolic
  • Gala
  • Gale — obsolete English word meaning “merriment” and “mirth”; the identical looking word for a high wind has a different etymology
  • Gaudeamus — Latin “let us rejoice”; from the Latin student’s song “Gaudeamus igitur…”; gaudeamus was sometimes used in the 19th Century of merry-making, particularly by students.
  • Gaudeo — Latin “I rejoice”
  • Gaudi — Spanish surname, made familiar by the genius Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí; it derives ultimately from the Latin gaudium “joy”
  • Gioconda — Italian “merry”  (La Gioconda is one of the names of the Mona Lisa)
  • Glad — and maybe, dare I through it in — Gladys?
  • Glee
  • Gŵyl — Welsh “festival”
  • Happy
  • Harper — more music…
  • Hilaria — Latin: hilaris  “merriment.” The original medieval Latin form of Hilary when used for girls.
  • Hilarity
  • Io — although pronounced differently, if I had a Saturnalia baby, I’d be very tempted to use this lovely and rather quirky name from Greek mythology as a nod to the traditional cry of “Io, Saturnalia” (kind of the equivalent of “Merry Christmas”…)
  • Jape
  • Jest
  • Jester
  • Jink
  • Jocant — obsolete English word meaning “jolly”
  • Jocund
  • Jollity
  • Jolly
  • Jovial
  • Jovy — obsolete form of JOVIAL
  • Joy
  • Joyeux — French “merry”
  • Joyous
  • Kermis — a periodical fair or carnival in the Low Countries and parts of Germany characterized by much merry-making
  • Laeta (simplified as Leta) — Latin “happy”
  • Lecelina — a medieval diminutive form of LETITIA
  • Letitia — Latin laetitia “happiness”; used as a given name since the Middle Ages
  • Lettice — the charming ye-olde-worldey English form of LETITIA
  • Levity
  • Llawen — Welsh “merry” (the name of an early saint)
  • Lowena — Cornish “joy”
  • Lowender — Cornish “mirth”
  • Lyra — Latin name of the Lyre (which also has name potential), the best known instrument of the ancient world, and grandmother of the harp. Like the Cithara, there would have been much strumming of the lyre at the Saturnalia, and it was one of the gifts featured by Marial in his epigrams about Saturnalia presents…
  • Merriment
  • Merry
  • Minstrel
  • Mirth
  • Piper — plenty of pipe-playing at the Saturnalia too…
  • Pleasance
  • Pleasant
  • Revel
  • Revelry
  • Saturn — Saturn derives from Latin satus “sown,” from sero “to sow.” There are actually examples of Saturn as a given name since the 19th Century.
  • Saturnalia
  • Sigilla — Latin “little image”; the little statuettes handed out as traditional Saturnalia gifts
  • Timbrel — a medieval instrument akin to a tamourine, used in festivities and celebrations

Not to mention all the names meaning “gift.”

And now it’s time to go and celebrate. Io, Saturnalia!

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