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My witch of the week series seems to be turning into more of a witch of the month.

There’s just so much I want to say about names, I guess!

This week/month’s choice is a fictional rather than mythological or historic one.

But she was — is — one of my first literary loves.

Mildred Hubble, heroine of Jill Murphy’s Worst Witch series.

I was about seven when I first read the original Worst Witch.

My primary school had a sort of book club; once each term or half-term, we got to take a catalogue home and choose a book.

There were few things to compare with the excitement I felt when the books arrived; you’d go into the class in the morning and see the books we’d ordered sitting on the teacher’s desk, each with a little slip of paper sticking out. Each absolutely spanking new, with that wonderful new-book smell.

The Worst Witch was one of my first purchases, and I still have the copy — though it’s rather more ragged now.

It tells the story of the hapless Mildred Hubble, a young witch just starting to learn magic at a boarding school for witches.

Sound familiar? For the record, The Worst Witch was first published in 1974, more than twenty years before the first Harry Potter.

Although very earnest, Mildred has the gift of making pretty much anything that can go wrong go very wrong indeed.

She inadvertantly manages to save the day by turning the baddies who are planning to take over the school into snails (she was trying for frogs, but still, it did the trick).

Jill Murphy has since written another five books, the last in 2005. It has been a joy sharing them with my own Small Child.

She loves Mildred as much as I do.

There are also the TV shows — the first based on the Worst Witch series itself, the later ones going off in other directions, such as Weirdsister College and The New Worst Witch. I haven’t watched them though — I have a feeling they could never live up to the original books.

Jill Murphy deliberately chose names that were very old-fashioned for her young witches — in 1974.

As well as Mildred, other characters have names such as Maud, Enid and Ethel — all “great-granny names” names hovering on the edge of revival. Will they, or won’t they?

Mildred itself is Old English, and has been around since at least the seventh century.

Originally Mildthryth, it is composed of the elements milde “mild” + þrȳð “power” and “strength.”

Unlike so many Old English names, Mildred survived the Norman Conquest, thanks to a saint popular in the Middle Ages, and managed to cling on in use until the nineteenth century when she was revived along with many other medieval and Old English classics.

She hasn’t fared so well since, which is a shame, as it is a name with charm, character and history.

It also shortens beautifully to Millie, Milly and Milda.

Yet it was given to only 68 little girls in the USA in 2010, and if any received the name in the UK, it was less than three.

But as witchy names go, they don’t get much better than Mildred!

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In celebration of the bicentenary of the birth of Charles Dickens, here is Part II of the best of the names from Dickens’s works for babies… and cats.

  • Lupin — believe it or not, J.K. wasn’t the first to use this flower name as a surname; Mrs Lupin features in Martin Chuzzlewit.
  • Magwitch — I’d love to name a cat Magwitch after Abel Magwitch in Great Expectations!
  • Magnus — Peter Magnus is another of Pickwick Papers‘s characters. As a first name, Magnus (simply Latin for “great”) has become regarded as particularly characteristic of the Shetlands. It makes the perfect choice for lovers of Felix and Rufus wanting something that is still off the radar…
  • Malta — named after the island, Malta Bagnet appears in Bleak House.
  • Manette — the surname of Dr. Alexandre and Lucie in A Tale of Two Cities.
  • Marley — now most associated with Bob, never forget the other Marley — the ghost of Jacob Marley with his rattling chains in A Christmas Carol… The surname derives from the Old English mearth “pine marten” or “weasel,” or mǣre “boundary” + lēah “wood,” “woodland clearing,” “glade,” “pasture,” and “meadow.”
  • Maylie — a cheerful surname borne by Mrs Maylie and her children Harry and Rose in Oliver Twist.
  • Merry — not uncommingly used as a nickname for Mercy, as it is in Martin Chuzzlewit for Merry Pecksniff.
  • Micawber — one of the most likeable of all Dickens’s characters is the perennially optimistic Mr Wilkins Micawber in David Copperfield. Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones has a guitar called Micawber.
  • Mulberry — a great name for a not particularly savory character — Sir Mulberry Hawk in Nicholas Nickleby.
  • Nancy — undoubtedly one of Dickens’s best-loved characters, Oliver Twist‘s Nancy is perhaps the best embodiement, in so many ways, of what Dickens’s work was all about. Like Betsy, it’s a Victorian charmer of a name, still falling in America, but reviving in the UK (the oldest daughter of British Prime Minister David Cameron is called Nancy).
  • Nell — another tragic Dickensian character is “Little Nell” — a.ka. Nelly Trent — of  The Old Curiosity Shop. Traditionally, the pet-name for Eleanor, it is also used for Ellen and Helen, and very much falls in that same category as Nancy and Betsy.
  • Nemo — Jules Verne was not the first to have a Captain Nemo — Dickens was; he used Nemo as the pseudonym of Captain James Hawood in Bleak House.
  • Nickleby — surname of the hero of eponymous her of Nicholas Nickleby.
  • Ninetta — the real name of “The Infant Phenomenon” in Nicholas Nickleby.
  • Oliver — the eponymous hero of Oliver Twist. Number One in England and Wales in 2010, and rising rapidly in the US. Usually shortened to Olly or Ollie, there’s always Ol too, and how about the medieval Noll or snappy, modern Liv instead? I’ve even seen Levi suggested…
  • Peggotty — Clara Peggotty, always known as “Peggotty,”  is David’s kind and loving nurse maid in David Copperfield.
  • Pet — the name by which Minnie Meagles is known in Little Dorrit.
  • Phenomenon — “The Infant Phenomenon” is how the Crummles refer to their beloved daughter Ninetta in Nicholas Nickleby. Offers interesting nicknames, such as Phen, Phenie, Nomi, Nomie, Menon, Mena and Minnie.
  • Pip — obliged to legally change his name to Pip, Philip “Pip” Pirrip is the hero of Great Expectations.
  • Pleasant — first used by the Puritans, Dickens used Pleasant  for the character of Pleasant Riderhood in Our Mutual Friend.
  • Plummer — we have Tyler and Mason, so why not Plummer? Caleb Plummer appears in The Cricket in the Hearth.
  • Pumblechook — definitely one for the cats, but too great a creation to leave out. A pompous and somewhat ridiculous character in Great Expectations.
  • Quebec — another of the Bagnet children in Bleak House.
  • Quinion — Mr Quinion, good name, though not a particularly nice character, in David Copperfield.
  • Rogue — Rogue has the halmark of a modern “word name”, but Dickens used it in Our Mutual Friend for Rogue Riderhood. He lives up to his name!
  • Rosa — the charmingly named Rosa Bud features in The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Why doesn’t America like the lovely Rosa? She’s 238th in the UK, and rising, but 564th in America — and falling…
  • Seth — another of the Pecksniffs in Martin Chuzzlewit, Seth has been threatining to go stellar for a while, but peaked in 200o in the US in 63rd place and has since slipped back to 165th. Curious, as it ticks the boxes — why Ethan and Noah, but not Seth? The same’s not true in Britain, where it wouldn’t surprise me if Seth enters the top 100 this year.
  • Sophronia — an unusual option for lovers of Sophie and Sophia looking for that something slightly different. Sophronia Lammle is another of Our Mutual Friend‘s characters. From the Greek sôphrôn “sagacious,” “prudent,” and “of sound mind.”
  • Sophy — Although the French-spelling Sophie with an “ie” is the most popular vernacular form of Sophia in Britain at the moment, in the past, Sophy with a “y” was more normal. David Copperfield. Sophy Crewler features in David Copperfield.
  • Sweedlepipe — a particularly good cat name, as Paul “Poll” Sweedlepipe in Martin Chuzzlewit is a bird-fancier!
  • Sydney — Sydney Carton of A Tale of Two Cities is one of my personal favorite characters — I’ve mentioned before my preference for the flawed hero, and Sydney epitomises flawed hero so well. It is he who utters those immortal lines: “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.” Nowadays, Sidney is the preferred spelling.
  • Tattycoram — the name given to Harriet Beadle by the Meagles when she becomes their servant in Little Dorrit. Tatty is a pet-form of Harriet (via Hattie) and Coram was added because it was the name of the founder of the foundling hospital where Harriet spent the first years of her life. Would make a lovely name for a cat.
  • Tite — Tite Barnacle appears in Little Dorrit.
  • Turveydrop — Prince Turveydrop is a dancing master in Bleak House. Cat.
  • Uriah — Like Ebenezer, Uriah may well have suffered because of a Dickensian character. In Uriah’s case it is the odious, unctious Uriah Heep in David Copperfield. I have seen Uriah mentioned positively in recent times, and he made it to 549th place in America in 2010, but can her really shake Heep off? And his disconcerting similarity to the word urine?
  • Wemmick — John Wemmick is a kind man in Great Expectations, known for caring really well for his elderly father.
  • Wopsle — a minor character in Great Expectations, Wopsle would work well for cat — though perhaps reserve it for an indoor one (unless you fancy the idea of standing on the doorstep yelling “Wopsle, Whiskas!”)
  • Zephyr — “The Zephyr” is the pseudonym of Mr Minvins, a character in Pickwick Papers.

Happy Birthday, Charles!

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Tomorrow is the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens, probably the greatest of all nineteenth century novelists — and a contender for the greatest novelist of all time.

His works also provide a mine of wonderful names. To celebrate his birthday, today and tomorrow I’ll be featuring a selection of those which have fabulous potential for a baby born two hundred years on…

And others which make fine names for cats!

  • Abel — a name which features in more than one Dickens novel; there’s Abel Garland in The Old Curiosity Shop, and Abel Magwitch in Great Expectations. Abel is a biblical name still waiting in the wings somewhat,  though he has been rising steadily for years and years and broke the US top 1000 for the first time since records began in 2010. If you like him, use him now!
  • Affery — Affery Flintwinch is a maid in Little Dorrit. Dickens was an avid collector of names, and Affery was one of his finds. A form of Aphra.
  • Agnes — Agnes Wickfield is David’s childhood friend and second wife in David Copperfield.
  • Arabella — buzzing round the baby name boards as a successor to Isabella, Dickens used Arabella in Pickwick Papers for Miss Arabella Allen. In the UK, a name which until recently was regarded as rather archetypical of the Upper Class.
  • Avenger — “The Avenger” is the name by which Pip’s serving boy is known in Great Expectations.
  • Bamber — In Pickwick Papers, we meet with a Jack Bamber. The name  was made familiar to most in the UK by the TV presenter Bamber Gascoigne (b.1935), but not many know there were two eighteenth century politicians also called Bamber Gascoyne, the first born in 1725 — his father was called Crisp.
  • Barnaby — eponymous hero of Barnaby Rudge. Barnaby is another name mostly heard in British public (i.e. very expensive fee-paying) schools. It has never reached the US top 1000, but 224th in England and Wales in 2010.
  • Belle — yes, there is another Belle besides the one in Beauty and the Beast.  Belle was Scrooge’s fiancée in A Christmas Carol.
  • Betsy — with unpretentious and old fashioned charm, Dickens used Betsy more than once. The best known is Betsy Trotwood is David’s crunchy but kind old great-aunt in David Copperfield.
  • Brownlow — Mr Brownlow is the kind old gentleman who adopts Oliver in Oliver Twist.
  • Bumble — the famous beadle of Oliver Twist. Would suit a very fat cat.
  • Buzfuz — what a fabulous name for a cat! Serjeant Buzfuz (Serjeant is his name) is a not-very-nice barrister in Pickwick Papers.
  • Caddy — pet-name of Caroline Jellyby in Bleak House.
  • Charles — how can I leave out Charles? Dickens used his own name a few times, including Charles Darnay in A Tale of Two Cities, and Charles Cheeryble in Nicholas Nickleby. Use of Charles is surprisingly consistent on both sides of the Pond; in 2010 it was ranked 63 in America, and 62 in England and Wales.
  • Cherry — traditional pet-form of Charity, and used as such in Martin Chuzzlewit  for Charity Pecksniff.
  • Chuzzlewitsurname of the eponymous hero of Martin Chuzzlewit, I’d say Chuzzlewit falls firmly in cat-name territory, although there is a Chuzzlewit Mcclintock on the 1880 American Census!
  • Clara — a favorite of Dickens’s, borne by both David’s mother and nurse in David Copperfield and Clara Barley in Great Expectations.
  • Darnay — Charles Darnay, the son of a French marquis, is one of the heroes of A Tale of Two Cities.
  • Dodger — once I would have said Oliver Twist’s “The Artful Dodger” fell firmly in cat name territory, but actually, in today’s climate, maybe the world might be ready for Dodger as a bona fide name? The Artful Dodger’s real name was Jack Dawkins.
  • Dorrit — the surname of Amy Dorrit, invariably known as “Little Dorrit” in Little Dorrit. Could make an interesting variation on Dorothy — but is it too similar to Doritos?
  • Ebenezer — Ebenezer Scrooge is one of Dickens’s best-known characters, and although at the end of the tale he becomes a kind, happy and philanthropic old gentleman, his miserly former self has blighted Ebenezer ever since. But is that changing? With a number of great nickname options, such as Eben, Ben, Eb and Zer, and the meaning “stone of help,” it’s a great name.
  • Estella — the rather tragic Estella Havisham is Pip’s great love in Great Expectations. 
  • Fan — a short form of Fanny, the well-known pet-form of Frances, Fan was Scrooge’s sister in A Christmas Carol.
  • Fern — Will Fern, a character in The Chimes.
  • Fezziwig — another for the cats rather than the children. “Old Fezziwig” was Scrooge’s generous and happy employer in A Christmas Carol.
  • Fizkin — cat name! A candidate for parliament in Pickwick Papers.
  • Granger — Edith Granger is one of the characters in Dombey and Son.
  • Grewgious — what a name for Puss! Grewgious can be found in The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
  • Herbert — the genial Herbert Pocket is Pip’s best friend in Great Expectations.
  • Hexam — the surname of more than one character in Our Mutual Friend, including the beautiful and good Lizzie.
  • Hominy — Mrs Hominy is a rather stereotyped “brash American” in Martin Chuzzlewit, her name no doubt a direct pluck of hominy, the dried kernels of corn (maize) used a lot in Southern, Latin American and Caribbean cooking.
  • Jarvis — Jarvis Lorry appears in A Tale of Two Cities, bearing a name which originated both as a medieval form of Gervais and a surname derived from it.
  • Jemima — a name which gets a number of minor mentions in the works of Dickens, such as Lady Jemima Bilberry in Little Dorrit.
  • Job — borne by Job Trotter in Pickwick Papers, Job is a suprisingly neglected biblical name (although it was 88th in Holland in 2010), presumably hindered so much by the fact it looks like the word “job,” even though the pronuncation is different (rhyming with “robe”). Roll it around a few times — I think it makes for a distinctly contemporary choice if you want a simple, one-syllable name with heritage. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have the greatest of meanings (“persecuted”), but that’s not stopped many another name…
  • Jupe — the wonderful Cecilia “Sissy” Jupe is a daughter of a circus clown in Hard Times.
  • Kit — Kit Nubbles (Nubbles makes a great name for a cat) is a character in The Old Curiosity Shop.  A classic, old short form of Christopher, Kit has been in quiet independent use in the UK for some time.
  • Lillian — Will Fern’s little niece in The Chimes.
  • Lowten — a clerk in Pickwick Papers.
  • Lucretia — Lucretia Tox is found in Dombey and Son.

Part II tomorrow!

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Matilda in Australia and her husband have a little boy with the beautiful name of Peregrine.

Their great passion is travel; they love the outdoors and also enjoy reading. Matilda found out she was expecting Peregrine when travelling, and when her husband encountered the name, they thought it was perfect for their child, as they like unusual, but long-established names with a history.

Peregrine, with its meaning  “traveler,” fitted the bill perfectly.

They are now expecting twins and would like help in finding a name which has a similar sort of background to Peregrine, or sounds harmonious with it.

I’m very flattered to be asked my opinion, and these are my thoughts.

There’s certainly a lot of names of Latin origin, like Peregrine, which would complement Peregrine beautifully, and if the search is widened to include Latin’s close partner Greek, then there are even more beauties to tempt the discerning parent to be:

Boys:

  • Aeneas (ǝ-NAY-ǝs/ǝ-NEE-ǝs) — Greek: ainê “praise.” The son of the Goddess Venus by a mortal, Aeneas according to Greek and Roman myth was one of the few Trojans to survive the Trojan war. The Romans believed he and his followers sailed from the smoking ruins to found a new home in Latium and was the direct ancestor of Julius Caesar and the Emperor Augustus. Virgil’s masterpiece The Aeneid chronicled that epic journey. In use since the 16th C, mostly in Scotland as an “English form” of Angus.
  • Felix — Latin: felix “auspicious” and “happy.” It was very common in the Roman world, and has also been used in the ESW since the 16th C. Seems to be rising in popularity at the moment, but at 122nd in the UK, and 331st in the US, I think it still falls in the not-common quality.
  • Hector — Greek: hektôr “holding fast.” The name of the champion of the Trojans. Although he was eventually killed by the Greek hero Achilles, he was held in high repute in the ancient world, considered an honorable, loyal, brave and noble man. Used since the 16th C, especially in Scotland, where it was used instead of the Gaelic Eachann (“brown horse”).
  • Octavian — English form of the Latin Octavianus meaning “belonging to the Octavius family (gens) “; the Octavii derived their name from octavus “eighth” from octo “eight” — a very auspicious number, associated with infinity. The two circles represent the joining of Heaven and Earth (or this world and the Otherworld, depending on your perspective). This was the Emperor Augustus’s name from the time of Julius Caesar’s death (and Octavian’s adoption as his heir in Caesar’s will) and the time he took the name Augustus on becoming emperor. Used from the 16th C, but always rare.
  • Philemon (FIL-ǝ-mǝn) — Greek: philêma “kiss.” Philemon and his wife Baucis entertained Zeus and Hermes as they traveled in mortal guise. As a reward they were blessed with long life and the gift that neither would outlive the other; at the moment of their death they were transformed into an oak and linden respectively. Philemon was used as a genuine given name in Ancient Greece, and has been found in the ESW since the 16th C. Although it begins with a “p,” like Peregrine, the initial sound is different, so I don’t think it’s a problen.
  • Ptolemy (TOL-ǝ-mee) — English form of the (Macedonian) Ancient Greek Ptolemaios. Ptolemy’s 2nd C Geographica is one of the most important sources of information on the geography of the Roman Empire to survive from the ancient world. It was only one of his works — he was a true polymath. Ptolemy was a very common name in the Greek world; it occurs in mythology and in history; another significant Ptolemy was the Macedonian general Ptolemaios Soter, founder of the Ptolemaic Dynasty of Egypt (to which Cleopatra belonged), and most of Egypt’s last pharaohs were also called Ptolemy. The only drawback of Ptolemy, in my view, is its origin; it derives from the Greek ptolemos, a variant of polemos “war,” and ptolemaios carries the meaning “belonging to war,” “hostile” and “enemy.” But this doesn’t have to be interpreted negatively — there are many things which are worthy to be hostile or an enemy of, including war itself, but also injustice, prejudice, intolerance, hatred, greed, etc., etc. And although it also formally begins with a “p,” that “p” is silent.
  • Rufus — Latin rufus “red.” Not just for red-heads :). The name can also be chosen for its positive associations with red. Like Felix, is definitely on the up at the moment, but still has a long way to go before it is in danger of falling out of the unusual category. Occurs as a nickname as early as the 11th C (a famous example being King William II — known as William Rufus), and as a genuine name from about the 16th.
  • Silvanus — Silas is very much coming into vogue at the moment, but I prefer Silvanus, the name from which it almost certainly derived. Silvanus is the Roman God of woods and wild places. Also used from the 16th C or so.
  • Theophilus — meaning “friend of (a) God/Divine Being,” Theophilus makes an interesting alternative to Theodore and, of course, shares the lovely short-form Theo. Used since the 16th C.

Girls:

  • Althea — the Greek name for the marsh mallow, from althos “healing.” A name from Greek mythology, used by 17th C poets (most famously by Richard Lovelace in “To Althea, from Prison” (1642), containing the famous lines: “Stone walls do not a prison make/Nor iron bars a cage.” A more unusual “long-form” of Thea.
  • Amabel — from the Latin amabilis “loveable.” Amabel has been used since medieval times, though it was quickly eclipsed by its simpler form Mabel. Amabel never quite died out and saw a slight revival in the 19th C, but remains a rarity.
  • Beatrix — Latin: beatrix “she who causes happiness.” Much talked about in name circles, Beatrix is still rare (Beatrice is the more popular spelling, but still uncommon, ranked 834th in the US and 116th in the UK last year).
  • Felicity — Latin: felicitas “happiness.” Felicitas is the Roman Goddess of happiness and good fortune. It’s a name full of cheerfulness and positivity. In use since the 16th C, it has only made it over the parapet in America in the last decade (due to a TV series of the name, which ran 1998-2002), though it has enjoyed a fair amount of popularity in Britain (and Australia too, I think) in the mid 20th C, but is currently still only in quiet usage, ranked 195th in Britain last year.
  • Flora — from the Latin flos “flower”; the name of the Roman Goddess of flowers. Another name used since the 16th C, particularly in Scotland, this time in place of the Gaelic Fionnuala. One of the best-known bearers was Flora Macdonald (1722-90), who famously helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape after his defeat in 1745, helping him “sail over the sea to Skye.” The related Florence is one of those names everyone seems to be watching at the moment, but Flora, although increasing, is still under the radar.
  • Hermione — I’ve featured Hermione a couple of times here at the Nook (here and here) and that’s because I think it’s such a beautiful and special name. Despite being catapulted to fame by Harry Potter, it’s not seeing very much use (yet). As essentially the feminine form of Hermes, one of whose spheres of influence was as the proctector of travelers, Hermione would make a nice choice for those for whom travel is important. It has been used as a genuine given name since the 17th C.
  • Ianthe (eye-AN-thee) — Greek: ia “violets” + anthos “flower.” The name of an Oceanid in Greek mythology. A favorite of the poets since the 17th C; Percy Bysshe Shelley called his daughter, born in 1813, Ianthe. Related are the equally attractive Ione (eye-OH-nee) and Iole (eye-OH-lee), both meaning “violet” and the 19th C hybrid of Iole and Ianthe — Iolanthe (eye-oh-LAN-thee).
  • Miranda — from the Latin mirandus “worthy of admiration.” I rather like Miri/Mirie as a pet-form.Used by Shakespeare for the heroine of The Tempest, the lovely noblewoman exiled since childhood with her slightly mad, wizard father on a magical island, which Caliban describes with exquisite beauty in one of my favorite Shakespearean passages:

… the isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears; and sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again; and then in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open, and show riches
Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked
I cried to dream again.

  • Oenone (EE-nō-nee/ee-NŌ-nee) — from the Greek oinos “wine.” The name of a mountain-nymph, the first wife of Paris of Troy.
  • Zenobia — although interpreted as “life of Zeus” in Greek, the name is probably from the Palmyrean form of Arabic Zaynab, the name of a fragrant flowering plant, as the original Zenobia was a 3rd C Queen of Palmyra who defied the Romans. Although she was ultimately defeated, she was said to have lived out her days in Rome as a respected philosopher and socialite. Used since the 16th C, but always a rarity. The American actress Tina Fey called her daughter Alice Zenobia in 2005, but it doesn’t seem to have impacted very much on the name’s use.

Non-classical names which I think also work well with Peregrine are:

Boys:

  • Diggory — A name of a knight in Arthurian Romance. The meaning is very uncertain; the traditional interpretation has it from Medieval French de “of” + egaré “lost,” but this is unlikely. Diggory is probably a much mangled French form of a name which was probably Celtic in origin. There is a legendary king of Dumnonia (Devon and Cornwall) called Dungarth (meaning “deep love”), who might conceivably lie behind the character. Diggory has been used since the 15th C, especially in Devon and Cornwall, and was used by C.S. Lewis in The Magician’s Nephew, for the hero, whose fantastical journey led to the creation of Narnia and the Wardrobe.
  • Faramond — Old German: fara ‘journey’ + munda ‘protection’.
  • Guy — Old German: witu “wood” or wit “wide” (encompassing the sense of “widely travelled” as well as referring to experience, knowledge, etc).
  • Jago (JAY-go) — the Cornish form of Jacob.
  • Jasper — Jasper is the English form of Caspar, one of the names attached to the fabled three “wise men” in medieval times. Its etymology is not known for certain, but most favor a derivation from the Persian khazāndār “treasurer.” Jasper has been used since the 14th C, and Caspar (the Dutch form) since the 19th. The vampire of the name in the Twilight series has put it in the spotlight, and it is increasing in use, but hasn’t yet reached the top 150 yet.
  • Ludovick — from the Latin form of LouisLudovicus — in orgin an Old German name meaning “loud battle” or “renowned warrior.” As with Ptolemy, the martial element may not immediately appeal, but there are many battles of a non-violent kind to be fought metaphorically in life. Shortens to the fabulous Ludo.
  • Matthias (mǝth-EYE-ǝs) — the Greek form of Matthew “gift of Yahweh.” Depending on your religious persuasion, you may or may not be able to see past the meaning, but it certainly sounds magnificent. A related name which presents the same dilemma is Ozias (ō-ZEYE-ǝs) “strength of Yahweh.”
  • Orlando — an Italian form of Roland dating from the Renaissance, when it featured in two of the most important works of literature of the period, Boiardo’s Orlando Innamorato, and Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso. It also had an outing in Shakespeare, and has been used in the English-speaking world since the 17th C. It was actually at its most popular in America in the 1970s (reaching the dizzing heights of 247th place in 1975), and although Orlando Bloom has raised its profile, he doesn’t seem to have affected its use all that much. It remains uncommon.
  • Rafferty — The wild-card. Rafferty is an Irish surname, but can be considered the Anglicised form of the Gaelic names behind that surname, both bynames, one meaning “wielder of prosperity” — highly auspicious — the other “spring-tide” — full of the promise of new journeys to be taken. Its use as a given name without connection to a Rafferty is quite recent, but its roots are old.
  • Torquil

Girls:

  • Christabel — a literary creation of medieval times, a combination of Christ with the –bel ending of names such as Isabel. It returned to modest use in the 19th C thanks to Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Christabel” (1816); his own granddaughter was named Christabel in 1843. The suffragette Christabel Pankhurst (1880-1958) is the most famous bearer.
  • Clemency — one of the Puritan names which was first used in the 17th C. With its attractive meaning, it remains a lovely choice.
  • Emmeline — a Norman-French name, starting out as a diminutive of the Germanic Amalia, from amal “work.” Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928) was the leader of the Suffragettes.
  • Estrella — a Spanish name used in the English-speaking world since the early 19th C. Its roots lie with the Germanic Austrechildis “Easter battle,” but it has long been associated with the Spanish estrella  “star.” Alfonso and Estrella (1822) is an opera by Schubert.
  • Imogen — the heroine of Shakespeare’s Cymbeline, one of the few tragedies with a happy ending. Imogen is a princess who undertakes a physical and emotional journey to be reunited with the man she loves. It is generally accepted that the name arose as a misreading of the Celtic Innogen, meaning “daughter.”
  • Jessamy
  • Rosamund
  • Sabrina — don’t let the teenage witch put you off this gem!
  • Topaz — the wildcard in the girls. The name of the precious stone. It derives ultimately from the Sanskrit tapas “heat” and “fire.” It is one of the gem names adopted at the end of the 19th C. Borne by the wonderful character of Topaz Mortmain in Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle (1949).

So what does everyone think? What would you choose?

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My Small Child’s Halloween costume yesterday is today’s inspiration.

Originally, she planned to be a little Victorian ghost, but after a visit to Disneyland, Paris, back in September, she changed her mind, and decided to be the bride from the Phantom Manor.

So, in keeping with the season, here are some of my favorite ghostly names:

Alexander. One of the ghostly children of Lucy M. Boston’s Children of Green Knowe (1954), who lived and died during the reign of King Charles II. The most famous Alexander is, of course, Alexander the Great (356-323 BCE). Greek: alexandros “defending men.”

Araminta. Although not actually a ghost, Araminta “Minty” Cane travels in time and appears as a “ghost” to a boy in the eighteenth century, in Helen Cresswell’s children’s novel Moondial.

Banquo. The tragic figure of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, who was murdered by his erstwhile friend. The origin is uncertain, but even the historicity of the man is questioned. It is quite probable he was invented by a sixteenth-century Scottish academic.

Caspar. The perennial “friendly ghost,” first introduced to the world in 1945. Caspar started out as the Dutch form of Jasper, but has long been established in the English-speaking world too.

Claudia. A child-vampire, and later ghost, of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles.

Elly and Blair. Elly Kedward is the name of the “Blair Witch,” a woman supposedly hanged for witchcraft at Blair, Maryland, in the eighteenth century. Elly is usually a short form of Eleanor or Ellen, but Elly Kedward is actually an anagram of Edward Kelley — the sixteenth century ceremonial magician and alchemist. Personally, what would put me most off Blair itself, is not the spooky connotations lent by The Blair Witch Project but by its association with our former British PM Tony Blair. Far too scary.

Elvira. The dead wife in Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit (1941), summoned by Madam Arcati. “Elvira, Mistress of the Dark” has added perhaps a bit too much color to poor old Elvira these days.

Emily. The “Corpse Bride” of Tim Burton’s film.

Erik. The “Phantom of the Opera.” Today, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical is the definitive version everyone thinks of, but it actually began as a 1910 novel by Gaston Leroux (Le Fantôme de l’Opéra). Technically, of course, Erik is not actually a ghost, but his heart was in the right place…

Hamlet. Probably the most famous literary ghost of all time, Hamlet’s father — also called Hamlet — is pivotal to Shakespeare’s play. The late medieval English name Hamlet is a pet form of Hamon, from the Old German haimi “house” and “home”; but Hamlet in the play is used for the medieval Danish Amleth, which is probably a form of Olaf.

Helena. Helena Ravenclaw is the reclusive “Grey Lady” of Ravenclaw House, in Rowling’s Harry Potter tales. The original Greek Helenê means “torch,” but as far as Helen of Troy’s name is concerned, this may be coincidental — but certainly, the Ancients used to interpret the name as meaning “shining.”

Herbert. The young man killed in W. W. Jacobs’  classic 1902 short story The Monkey’s Paw, brought back to life by the second wish… Herbert is a Germanic name meaning “bright army.”

Jacob and Marley. With his clunking chains and grey, transparent palor, Jacob Marley typifies the classic Victorian image of the restless ghost, when he appears to Scrooge on Christmas Eve to warn him to mend his ways.

Linnet. Linnet Oldknow is another of the ghosts of Green Knowe. A “linnet” is a type of small songbird, but as a name, its roots probably lie ultimately with the Welsh Eluned.

Marty. Marty Hopkirk is the ghostly partner of a detective agency — Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), of the classic Sixties British television series and its remake of ten years ago. Marty is the friendlier, less formal form of Martin, which derives ultimately from Mars, the name of the Roman God of war.

Melanie. The ghostly bride of Disneyland, Paris’ Phantom Manor. From the Greek, meaning “black.”

Peter and Quint. Is Peter Quint a ghost — or not? He is one of the former employees that the governess thinks she sees and grows increasingly fraught about in Henry James’ masterpiece ghost story The Turn of the Screw.

Sam. Sam Wheat is the ghostly hero of the massive 1990 film Ghost. Usually short for Samuel, Sam could also be used as a short form of Samhain (although Samhain is pronounced “SOW-en”).

Simon. Sir Simon de Canterville is Oscar Wilde’s Canterville Ghost, who fails miserably to scare an American family from his family home. In America, Simon falls very much in the class of “British names”; something which many Brits are quite surprised about, as over here, it is seen as a very “normal” name, at its most popular in the Sixties and Seventies.

Toseland. Another of the Green Knowe children, Toseland is a family name of the Oldknow family. The ghost of the name has the nickname Toby, while the living one goes by Tolly. Toseland is a village in Cambridgeshire, close to where the author of the Green Knowe books used to live.

Over to you. What are your favorite “ghost” names?

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O Tiger-lily... I wish you could talk!

I have to say up front, I love the name Tigerlily. It’s bold, quirky and zesty. It has sparkle. It dances in the dewy grass in the bright new light of the Age of Aquarius.

And, unlike many names, it offers plenty of scope to be tailored to suit the bearer.

Thus a child who grows up to be ultra-conservative can quietly drop the Tiger and go by plain Lily.

The cooky one can become a Tiggy.

The cutsey one in pig-tails will be a Tilly.

The feisty spitfire can embrace Tiger.

And the tomboy can plum for gender-neutral Ty.

And the one ready to embrace the world and take all it throws, the one who will laugh in the rain, sleep under the stars, climb mountains, sing by the camp-fire till dawn, kayak down rapids, and find the cure for cancer is Tigerlily!

It’s not a name, however, you will find many people sitting on the fence over. It’s one that people will immediately love — or immediately hate.

In genuine given name use only since the late twentieth century, it is still very rare. In the US, there were only 14 little girls called Tigerlily in 2010, and 5 called Tigerlilly.

In the UK, there were 9 babies called Tigerlily in the UK 2010, and 3 each of Tiger-Lily and Tigerlilly. There were also eight little girls called Tiger — who are probably Tiger Lilies (only first names and hyphenated names appear in the statistics).

As Tiger Lily, it features famously as the name of the Native American princess in J.M.Barrie’s Peter Pan (1904).

It has featured in numerous other fictional and cultural settings, from a little girl in the gentle world of Rupert Bear, to Bubbles “Tiger Lily” White in the 1940 film Dance, Girl, Dance — not to mention several songs of the name over the years.

Probably the best known (perhaps infamous) example of it as a real name is that of (Heavenly Hiraani) Tiger Lily, daughter of the tragic Paula Yates and Michael Hutchance, both dead before their daughter was five.

Tiger lily is the popular name of more than one lily with orange blooms marked with black spots, though the classic is Lilium lancifolium, a native of North-East Asia and Japan.

But there are also the American Lilium catesbaei (also known as the leopard lily, Catesby’s lily, the southern red lily and the pine lily), Lilium columbianum (which also goes by the name Columbia lily), and Lilium superbum (Turk’s cap lily, turban lily and swamp lily). There’s also the wild tiger lily Lilium philadelphicum (chalice-cup lily, wood lily etc).

In the language of flowers, the bright, bold tiger lily represents wealth and pride. But it is still a lily, and shares the lily’s strongly feminine associations, which go back to ancient times.

Lilies are associated with more than one Goddess. Principally, it is the flower of Juno — Queen of Heaven — and most symbolic of purity. Brides have been carrying lilies in their wedding bouquets since the days of the Romans.

Tiger lilies have medical uses too; a tincture is used in various problems arising in pregnancy, while the flower essence is used to help control aggression and chanel it more positively. In China, meanwhile, tiger lily buds are eaten — both fresh and dried.

So, you see, there’s a great deal more to Tigerlily than a Disney princess. If you like something different, something daring, perhaps Tigerlily is the name for you.

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Julie Christie played Andromeda in the original BBC production of A for Andromeda.

It’s ten years today since the world lost the British astrophysicist Fred Hoyle, best known for coining the phrase ‘Big Bang’.

As well as being an important 20th Century astrophysicist, Cambridge University Professor Hoyle — born in 1915 — was also a talented novelist and screen-writer. Among his works is the science-fiction TV series A for Andromeda (1961) and its sequel The Andromeda Breakthrough (1962), in which Andromeda was a sort of super-computer built from specifications sent from a distant galaxy.

Most of the original series of A for Andromeda was lost, but it was remade by the BBC in 2006.

To commemorate the anniversary Hoyle’s passing, here’s a closer look at the alluring Andromeda.

The original Andromeda is a character of Greek mythology. The daughter of Cepheus, King of Ethiopia, and his queen, Cassiopeia, Andromeda was a beautiful princess, whose priviledged royal lifestyle took a nasty turn when her mother offended the Gods.

Cassiopeia failed to learn the classic Greek lesson that saying you were in some way better than the Gods was not a good idea. She boasted that she was more beautiful than the Nereids.

The Nereids got into a huff, and complained to Poseidon. He avenged them by sending a terrible sea-monster to ravage the land.

The chaining of Andromeda to a rock has been a popular theme for artists across the centuries - probably because it gave them an excuse to paint a naked woman tied up. This is English artist Edward Poynter's 1868 interpretation of the myth.

Cepheus and Cassiopeia learned that the only way to stop the monster was to sacrifice their only daughter Andromeda to it. And so they chained the poor girl to a rock and left her to her terrible fate.

Fortunately, the heroic Perseus turned up and saved the day by turning the sea-monster to stone with the head of the Medusa.

Beats a pocket knife.

He and Andromeda lived happily ever after, and when they died, were placed among the stars.

Andromeda is a Greek name, from anêr ‘man’ + medomai ‘to advise’ – i.e. ‘advising like a man’.

When interpreting the exact nuance of this, it is important to remember that in Ancient Greece, women had little status and were treated as chattels.

A comparison of a woman to a man, therefore, might be complimentary or condemnatory, depending on the context.

As the mythological Andromeda is a pretty conventional Greek woman (apart from the sea-monster business, which was hardly her fault), it is probably safe to assume that, in her case, it was complimentary.

The constellation of Andromeda contains a number of bright stars — Sirrah (also known as Alpheratz), Mirach and Almach.

It is also home to the Andromeda Galaxy (M31), the most distant object visible to the naked eye. Light from the Andromeda Galaxy takes two and a half million years to reach us on Earth.

A for Andromeda and its sequel aren’t Andromeda’s only forays into popular culture — particularly the realm of science-fiction. Andromeda (2000-05), was another Science Fiction TV show to bear the name, while Andromeda: A Space Age Tale (1957) is a Communist era Russian take on the genre by Ivan Efremov.

Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain (1969), ventured into the slightly different science-fiction territory of superbugs.

Almost inevitably, Andromeda also turns up in Harry Potter. Andromeda Tonks is the mother of Nymphadora Tonks. Born a member of the infamous Black family, Andromeda — called Dromeda by her Muggle-born husband — bears a scary resemblance to her Death Eater sister Bellatrix, but is considerably nicer.

But it’s not all science fiction and fantasy; Andromeda polifolia is the botanical name of the pretty heathland shrub bog-rosemary, so-named by Linnaeus in the 18th Century.

Despite all its fictional use — perhaps over-use — I feel Andromeda still has integrity as a name in its own right. It shortens naturally to the familiar Andi or Andie — or the slightly more exotic Meda.

Although it has only ever been rare, it is found as a given name from the 19th Century; in more recent years occuring in such interesting combinations as Aerial Andromeda, Andromeda Breeze, Andromeda Ursa, Astra Andromeda, Andromeda Hesper, Andromeda Reign and Andromeda Starr.

All in all, a very sparkly name!

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