Posts Tagged ‘Alexander’


On to letter “s” of English surnames beginning with “s” of Old English, Old Norse and Anglo-French origin, which have never, or have only rarely, featured in the US top 1000.

It’s another letter with a lot of fabulous names, offering that something a bit different. Looking for a more unusual long-form of Sam, or a new twist on Scott? Read On!

  • Saben — from the personal names Sabin and Sabina “a Sabine”; Sabin has never featured in the top 1000 in the last 130 years either, and Sabina only ever managed 596th place in 1889.
  • Sablin — from Sabelina, a diminutive of Sibylla.
  • Sacher — we have Sacha, why not Sacher? From the Old French sachier “sack-maker.”
  • Sacheverell — a name which saw modest use in Victorian Britain (a famous bearer was Sir Sacheverell Sitwell). From Saultchevreuil in Normandy. Old French: sault “waterfall” + chevreuil “roe deer.”
  • Sacker, Saker — not a sacker of cities but a sack-maker, from Old English sacc “sack.”
  • Sackville — an aristocratic English family (they became Dukes of Dorset), whose name derives from Sauqueville in Normandy. Old French: sambuc “elder” (the tree) + ville “villa,” “farmstead,” “village,” “town.”
  • Saddler — Middle English sadelere “saddle-maker.”
  • Saffery, Saffrey — from the Old English personal name Saefrid “sea-peace.”
  • Sager, Seager — from the Old English personal name Saegar “sea-spear.”
  • Sailant — Old French saillant “dancing”; used of a dancer.
  • Saive, Sayve — from the Old English female personal name Saegifu “sea-gift.” Medieval variants included Seiva and Sageve.
  • St John, Sinjin — like Sacheverell, St John has seen more use in the UK than in the US, being the surname of an aristocratic clan; Sinjin is a phonetic variant. The best-known bearer is St John Rivers in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre.
  • Salby — from Saleby, Lincolnshire. Old Norse Sali (a short form of Salomon, the Old Norse form of Solomon) + “farmstead,” “village” and “settlement.”
  • Salinger, Selinger — from one of the places called St Léger in France. Léger is a French form of Leodegar. Borne, of course, by the great J.D. Salinger.
  • Salliss — we have Katniss, why not Salliss? Meaning “(at the) willows,” from Old English sealh “willow.”
  • Salter — Old English sealtere “salt-maker,” or “salt-seller.”
  • Salton — from Salton, Yorkshire. Old English sealh “willow” + tūn “enclosure,” “farmstead,” “estate,” “manor,” “village.”
  • Salway — from the Old English personal name Saelwig “prosperity-war.”
  • Sambell — a variant of Semple, from one of the places in France called St Paul or St Pol.
  • Samber — a variant of Semper, from one of the places in France called St Pierre (Peter).
  • Sambrook — from Sambrook, Shropshire. Old English sand “sand” + brōc “brook.”
  • Sanby — from Saundby, Nottinghamshire. Old Norse  sandr “sand” or personal name Sandi (a short form of names containing the element sandr) + “farmstead,” “village” and “settlement.”
  • Sandall — from one of the places of the name (Old English sand “sand” + halh “nook of land”) or the Old Norse personal name Sandulfr “sand-wolf”).
  • Sander — a medieval pet-form of Alexander.
  • Sandifer — no, not a cross between Sandy and Jennifer. From a lost village in Yorkshire called Sandiford — Old English sandig “sandy” + ford “ford,” “river-crossing.”
  • Sandon — from one of the places of the name. Old English sand “sand” + dūn “hill.”
  • Sandys — Old English sand “sand,” used of someone who lived next to the sands.
  • Sangar, Sanger — Old English sangere “singer.”
  • Sangster — Old English sangestre “(female) singer.”
  • Sangwin — Old French sanguin “sanguine.”
  • Sankin — from a medieval pet-form of Samson.
  • Santon — from one of the places of the name. Old English sand “sand” + tūn “enclosure,” “farmstead,” “estate,” “manor,” “village.”
  • Sarell — from the Old Norse personal name Sǫrli, a short form of names begining with saro “armor,” “protection.”
  • Sarson — partly “son of SAYER,” and partly Old French Sarrazin “Saracen.”
  • SauvainSauven, Savin — partly from Silvanus, and partly from Old French salvagin “wild.”
  • Savigny — from Savenay, or Savigni-le-Vieux, France. Both may derive from the Roman name Sabinus (see Saben above).
  • Savoner — from Old French savon “soap”; used of a soap-maker.
  • Sawden, Sawdon — from Sawdon, Yorkshire. Old English sealh “willow” + denu “valley.”
  • Sawle — from a medieval form of biblical Saul.
  • Saxby — Partly from one of the places of the name (Old Norse Old Norse personal name Saksi “Saxon” + “farmstead,” “village” and “settlement”) and partly French sacqué “drawn” + epée “sword,” used of a man who taught swordsmanship.
  • Saxon — not “a Saxon” as you might think, but from one of the places called Saxton. Old English Seaxe “Saxon” or Old Norse personal name Saksi “Saxon” + Old English tūn “enclosure,” “farmstead,” “estate,” “manor,” “village,” and Old French secrestein “sexton.”
  • Sayer — from the Old German personal name Sigiheri “victory-army,” which was popular in medieval times in forms such as Sayer and Saer.
  • Saylor — actually nothing to do with “sailor.” Old French sailleor “dancer.”
  • Scafe — from the Old Norse skeifr “crooked,” “awry,” “wild.”
  • Scarborough — from Scarborough, Yorkshire. Old Norse by-name Skarthi “hare-lip” + Old English burh “fortress.”
  • Scarcliff — Lion King meets Wuthering Heights, anyone? From Scarcliffe, Derbyshire. Old English sceard “gap” (the source of my surname, for the record) + clif “cliff,” “slope.”
  • Scholler, Scouler — it looks like it might be the English form of Schuyler — but it’s not. Old Norse skáli “(temporary) hut/shelter” + erg “shieling,” “pasture.”
  • Schorah, Scorah — from Old French escorre “to run out,” “to scout,” “to spy.”
  • Schrieve — Old English scīrgerēfa “sheriff.” Also Shreeve and Shrieve.
  • Scollan — from Scotland — not so much the place as the Norman personal name, though it essentially had exactly the same origin: Norman-French Scot “a Scot” + land “land.” A medieval variant was Scolland.
  • Scollas — from the medieval girl’s name Scolace, a vernacular form of Scholastica, from the Latin scholasticus “teacher,” “scholar,” “person of learning.” St Scholastica was the sister of St Benedict.
  • Scorton — from one of the places of the name. Old Norse skor “ditch,” “ravine” + Old English tūn “enclosure,” “farmstead,” “estate,” “manor,” “village.”
  • Scotney — from Etocquigny, Normandy, a place-name probably with Celtic roots.
  • Scotto — from Scottow, Norfolk. Old English Scot “a Scot” + hōh “hill-spur.”
  • Scotton — from one of the places of the name. Old English Scot “a Scot” + tūn “enclosure,” “farmstead,” “estate,” “manor,” “village.”
  • Scriven — Old French escrivain “writer.”
  • Scrivener — essentially a variant of SCRIVEN.
  • Scudder — Middle English scoudere “clothes-seller” from Old English scrūd “clothes.”
  • Scutt — Middle English scut “tail of a hare,” “hare.”

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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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I took to musing the other day about how popular the top ten names of 2010 in the USA were twenty-five years ago.

Will the names currently occupying the spots taken by America’s current favorites be the top ten in 2035?

First things first — where were today’s top ten boys’ names twenty-five years back?

The year was 1985. Hair was Big. Shoulder pads were even Bigger…

And 2010’s top ten occupied the following spots:

  1. Jacob: 35 (rising)
  2. Ethan: 308 (in decline; reached lowest ebb in 1986, ranked 333)
  3. Michael: 1 (reigned 1954-1998)
  4. Jayden:  Unranked (only 10 boys received the name in 1985)
  5. William: 16 (in decline; rose again from mid ’90s)
  6. Alexander: 50 (rising)
  7. Noah: 217 (in decline; started to rise again in 1990)
  8. Daniel: 5 (at its peak; has been dithering between the 5th and 12th spot ever since)
  9. Aiden: Unranked (only 19 boys called Aiden in 1985, and only 54 called Aidan)
  10. Anthony: 20 (slowly rising)

So who has filled their shoes now? And will they be 2035’s top ten?

  1. LUCAS is 35. A distinct maybe. Has been rising consistently since 1959, not too fast, not too slow. It is currently the most popular name in France, so the precedent is set… nearby, other contenders could be Caleb (33) or Isaac (39).
  2. JUDAH. In 308th place it is actually Emilio, but as lovely a name as it is, I can’t see it ever reaching the top ten. More likely from this section of the ranks is Judah (297) or maybe Finn (300), both rising rapidly in recent years.
  3. JACOB is 1. I doubt it. 1985’s top dog Michael was no 1 for nearly half a century. Jacob’s been there for over ten years, to be sure, but will it be there much longer? And does it have Michael’s staying power? Time will tell.
  4. RAFFERTY. A lot of names names were borne by just ten baby boys in 2010, including gems such as Yates, Taro, Soul, Rigel, Remus, Philemon, Odysseus, Orestes, Lion, Kit, Covey, Ashe, Altair. But Rafferty, I think, is the one to watch.
  5. ELIJAH. Matthew occupies the current 16th slot, but along with other former top-tenners close by — Christopher (13), Andrew (14) and David (15) — Matthew has had its day and will probably be still falling. Elijah (18), however, shows all the signs of heading into the top ten erelong.
  6. OWEN. Current no. 50 is Justin, which is in decline, and I don’t see turning. Owen, however, is only a couple of spots away at 47 and rising…
  7. SILASJohnathan is the real 217, but would be very unlikely to follow in Noah’s footsteps and make the top ten. Standard Jonathan (28), I think will always outrank its variant spellings. If any name from the 210s or 22os will be top ten in 25 years time, I’d put money on it being Silas (222).
  8. WILLIAM is 5. I wouldn’t be surprised if this tenacious classic is still in the top ten twenty-years from now. That or that other barnacle, Michael.
  9. INDIGO. Lots of names notched up just 19 bearers in 2010, including Aldrin, Arlan, Bayne, Bowman, Godric, Jehu, Mordecai, Sabin and Summit.  I think however, that there are stronger contenders among those names with 18 bearers in 2010, which include Ajax, Arrow, Griffith, Prentice, Roark and Sirius. But I’m going with the wildcard Indigo from those with 20 bearers last year, because I like it so much.
  10. JOSEPH is 20. He could do it, although that other old faithful James (19) could have clawed his way back up to the top ten too.

What girls’ names will be top of the tree in 2035? Find out tomorrow…

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Thorn is the third letter of the Runic alphabet.

Like Ur, Thorn has a split-personality, with the different Futharks parting ways. The Eldar Futhark *þurisaz  and Younger Futharks þurs  mean “giant”, while the Anglo-Frisian and Marcomannic connect it with the Old English þorn “thorn.”

Interestingly, þyrs — the Old English equivalent of þurs — was in use throughout the Anglo-Saxon period and passed into Middle English as “thurse,”  with the meaning “demon,” “devil” and “goblin.” Why, then, the Anglo-Frisian rune mutated to Thorn is unknown.

In the runic poems, Thorn’s giant and thorny attributes are focused on. The giants do not have a good reputation when it comes to treating women, it seems, while the focus on the thorn is, predictably, on its sharpness, readiness to wound and the discomfort of sitting on one.

Emphasis by modern diviners varies, depending on which Futhark is preferred. Those using the Eldar — and thus *Thurisaz — see it as symbolic of both destruction and protection, conflict and cleansing. It is a strongly masculine rune, of masculine energy and fertility.

As for Thorn itself, its sharpness too is equated with destruction and defense. It can also serve as a warning, or represent an obstacle — a “thorn in the side” which needs to be addressed.

The negative aspects of both are pretty self-evident too; brutality, severity, pain, malice, curses, and so on and so forth.

As a name, Thurisaz certainly has zing — a distinct conversation starter, whether you like it or not.

The rune’s defensive associations mean that a number of the names which work well for Ur also work for Thorn. But here are some other names with meanings in tune with the rune’s associations of protection, cleansing, masculinity, sharpness and destruction:

  • Acacia ♀ — Australia’s national plant; most acacias are thorny. Greek: akis “sharp point.”
  • Acer ♂ ♀ — Botanical name for “maple.” Latin: acer “sharp.”
  • Acis ♂ — a character of Greek mythology. Greek: acis “sharp point.”
  • Alexander ♂ — Greek: alexandros “defending men.”
  • Andrew ♂ — Greek: andreios “manly.”
  • Arrow ♂ ♀
  • Ara ♀ — Latin “altar,” but also used by the Romans to mean “refuge” and “protection,” while ara in Greek means “vow” and “curse.”
  • Blade
  • Clarimond(e) ♀ — Latin: clarus “clear” + Old German: munda “protection.”
  • Dagger
  • Dart
  • Deianira ♀ — the name of the wife of Hercules. Greek: dêioô “to destroy” + anêr “man.”
  • Devlin ♂ — Anglicized form of Irish surname Ó Dobhaileín “descendant of Dobhailen.” Dobhailen is probably a byname deriving from dobhaidhail “boisterous,”  “destructive” and “terrible” + the diminutive suffix -án.
  • Dirk ♂ —  a type of dagger.
  • Edmund ♂ — Old English: ēad “rich” + mund “protection.”
  • Épée ♀ — a fencing foil.
  • Esmond ♂ — Old English: ēast “grace” and “favor” + mund “protection.”
  • Eryma ♀ — an epithet of Athene. Greek: eruma “defense.”
  • Faramond ♂ — Old German: fara ‘journey’ + munda ‘protection’.
  • Garmon ♂ — English surname from Old English name Garmund: gār “spear” + mund “protection.”
  • Gillebhràth ♂ — Old Scots Gaelic name. Gaelic: gille “servant” + bràth “judgment” and “destruction.”
  • Gunnora ♀ — Latinized form of Old Norse Gunnvǫr “war defense.”
  • Lance
  • Liv ♀ — Scandinavian name from Old Norse: hlíf “cover” and “protection.”
  • Montagu(e), Montacute ♂ — English surname, from Montaigu-le-Bois in France. OF: mont ‘hill’ + aigu ‘point’. Popularly shortened to Monty.
  • Mugain ♀ — the name of an Irish Goddess, which possibly derives from the Old Irish: múgha “perishing” — in Scots Gaelic it carries the meaning “destruction.”
  • Osmond ♂ — Old English: ōs “(a) God” + mund “protection.”
  • Oxys ♂ — an epithet of Ares. Greek: oxus “sharp” and “piercing.”
  • Persephone ♀ — the Queen of the Underworld in Greek mythology. Greek: perthô “to destroy” + phonos “slaughter” or “slayer.”
  • Perseus ♂ — the well-known Greek hero. Greek: perthô “to destroy.”
  • Pierce ♂ — technically, the name derives from Peter, but this version is obviously identical to “pierce.”
  • Raymond ♂ — Old German: regin “counsel” or “might” + munda “protection.”
  • Rosamund ♀ — Old German (hros) “horse” + munda “protection.”
  • Saber, Sabre ♂ ♀
  • Scimitar
  • Sharp ♂ ♀
  • Sigmund ♂ — Old English sige “victory” + mund “protection.”
  • Spike
  • Thormund ♂ — Old Norse theonym Thor + Old English: mund “protection.”
  • Tulle ♀ — the fabric takes its name from a French town, deriving from Latin: tutela “watching” and “protection.”
  • Vör ♀ — Norse Goddess, whose name probably meant “defense” and “protection.”
  • Yashpal ♂– Indian name, from the Sanskrit yasha “fame” + pāla “protector.”

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It is twenty years ago today that the United States recognized the independence of the Baltic States of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia from the former USSR.

Seems like a good opportunity to take a look at what people are calling their babies in the Baltics!

Lithuanian and Latvian are closely related languages — both belong to the Baltic family. Linguists regard Lithuanian as the modern language which most closely resembles Proto-Indo-European.

Estonian, meanwhile, is a Finnic language, related — oddly enough — to Finnish.

Lithuania’s top ten in 2010 was as follows:


  1. Emilija — Emilia/Emily
  2. Gabija — Lithuanian Goddess of fire
  3. Ugnė — ‘fire’
  4. Austėja — Lithuanian Goddess of bees
  5. Urtė — uncertain. Possibly Lithuanian form of Urd — the Norse Goddess of fate (itself from Old Norse urðr ‘fate’ and ‘uncanny’, though there are numerous other suggestions
  6. Kamilė — Camilla
  7. Gabrielė — Gabriella/Gabrielle
  8. Goda — probably arose as a short form of names beginning God-; now is interpreted as deriving from old Lithuanian words meaning ‘dream’ and ‘glory’.
  9. Rugilė — from rugys ‘rye’
  10. Miglė — from migla ‘mist’.


  1. Matas — short form of Motiejus — Matthew; matas also means ‘measure’
  2. Lukas — Luke
  3. Dovydas — David
  4. Nojus — Noah
  5. Kajus — Gaius
  6. Jokūbas — Jacob
  7. Dominykas — Dominic
  8. AugustasAugustus
  9. Mantas — of uncertain origin; possibly simply mantas ‘treasure’, or from manta ‘property’, ‘goods’, or mantus ‘friendly’, ‘clever’, ‘beautiful’
  10. Gustas — either Lithuanian form of Gustav, or a short form of AUGUSTAS. Also gustas ‘taste’ and ‘desire’.

Latvia’s looks like this:


  1. Sofija — Sophia/Sophie
  2. Alise — Alice
  3. Viktorija — Victoria
  4. Anastasija — Anastasia
  5. Marta — Martha
  6. Anna — Anna/Ann(e)
  7. Evelīna — Evelina/Evelyn
  8. Emīilija — Emilia/Emily
  9. Laura
  10. Katrīna — Katherine


  1. RobertsRobert
  2. GustavsGustav
  3. Markuss — Mark/Marcus
  4. Maksims — Maxim/Maximus
  5. Daniels — Daniel
  6. ArtjomsArtemius ‘belonging to (the Goddess) Artemis; the name of a saint venerated in the Eastern Orthodox Church. The Russian form is Artyom (it is also the source of the boy’s name Artemis, made famous by Artemis Fowl)
  7. Aleksanders — Alexander
  8. Ričards — Richard
  9. Ralfs — Ralph
  10. Artūrs — Arthur

And lastly, but not leastly, Estonia. Rather harder to pin down, but apparently, these were the most popular names in June 2011:


  1. Laura
  2. Mia
  3. Sofia — Sophie/Sophia
  4. Maria — Maria/Mary
  5. Alisa — Alice
  6. Milana — could be an adoption of the Slavic Milana, feminine of Milan < mil ‘gracious,’ ‘dear’ and ‘beloved’, or an Estonian take on Melanie, or even Magdalene (Malin is a Finnish name derived from the last).
  7. Aleksandra — Alexandra
  8. KertuGertrude
  9. Annabel
  10. Darja — Daria


  1. OliverOliver
  2. Rasmus — Erasmus
  3. Maksim — Maxim/Maximus
  4. Romet — modern name of uncertain meaning; possibly deriving from rõõmu ‘joy’
  5. Daniel
  6. Daniil — Daniel
  7. HenriHenry
  8. Karl — Charles/Karl
  9. Sander — Alexander
  10. Markus — Mark/Marcus

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Do you think the toddler in this portrait by Richard Buckner a boy or a girl? The answer is - we simply don't know.

There’s been quite a bit of discussion about unisex names in the name-blog community recently, such as Appellation Mountain’s In Defense of Riley Anne and Evan Marie: Ten Reasons Boys’ Names on Girls Are Not a Sign of End Times and Waltzing More than Matilda’s Help! A Girl Stole My Boy Name!

As both articles point out, using a boy’s name for a girl is not a new phenomemon. It was actually common in the Middle Ages, and while Latin feminine forms were often used in formal records (Pipe Rolls, Court Rolls, etc), there is plenty of evidence to show that most, if not all, girls who appear as Alexandra, Philippa and Nicholaa, etc were in fact called Alexander, Philip and Nicholas. Nicholas is known to have survived as a girl’s name in Scotland into the Early Modern Period.

Next, the names of surname origin. Girls have been given surnames as first names since the trend first began in the 16th Century. Douglas Howard, Lady Sheffield (d.1608) is a good early example. They have been used as girls’ names ever since. Not on a par with their use for boys, perhaps, but still examples exist from every generation until the 19th, since when it has been growing. And many other names have a long history of use as unisex names – Julian and Christian, for instance, while now considered boys’ names, were both more commonly found as girls’ names in the Middle Ages.

So why shouldn’t a girl be given any name of surname origin now any less than then? And what does it matter that it first became known as a boy’s name – or a girl’s name? But the latter rarely crops us as an issue, because the anti-unisex camp have one terror and one terror alone – boy’s names used for girls. Full stop. End of. It is a terror of a name becoming considered ‘girly’ or ‘too feminine’ – not becoming ‘boyish’ or ‘too masculine’. The underlying fear being that a boy so named will himself become ‘girly’ and ‘feminine’…

At the heart of all of this lies a much deeper issue of far greater concern. The fact that, when we are supposed to be living in an age of equality between the sexes, society puts pressure upon parents to differentiate between boys and girls from birth far more intensely than ever before. A hundred years ago, women didn’t have the vote in most of the English-speaking world, and yet if you encountered a toddler in a park, you would have struggled to tell whether it was a boy or a girl without asking. They were dressed identically; little boys often had their hair in curls, little girls in bobs. It wasn’t even uncommon in past centuries for boys to be dressed in pink. And yet when one brave Canadian family decided to recreate this ‘genderlessness’ of a baby (if you missed it, here is the UK Daily Mail’s typically horror-stricken account), they are met mostly with cries of outrage and out-pourings of ridicule.

Unsurprisingly, it’s largely the anti-unisex name faction who are most likely to disapprove of little boys with long hair, little boys playing with dolls, little boys wearing pink, or dressing up in Disney princess dresses. What they don’t seem to realise is that regardless of what sex we are, we all have feminine and masculine sides – and this is nothing to do with sexual-orientation. The East acknowledges it in Yin and Yang. But here in the West, millennia of ruthless, patriarchal rule – in which half the population was essentially enslaved just because of their sex – have deeply indoctrinated society into hacking the feminine aspect out of boys from birth.

No wonder the West is in such a mess.

Attitudes such as this reveal that we are still far from achieving equality. If you’re in the anti-unisex name camp, just pause, and ask yourself these questions:

  • Why, precisely, do we need to differentiate between the sexes in a name at all? Why does it matter for you to be able to tell what sex someone is on paper? Isn’t it the person themselves, their qualities, talents, interests, expertise etc, that matter?
  • What exactly is wrong with ‘feminine’? Why is it wrong to allow a boy to connect with his feminine side, when it is a fact that a man who is in touch with his feminine side is more likely to resolve issues through discussion than through force or violence?

I’ll end with a quote from the American novelist Dorothy Allison: Class, race, sexuality, gender and all other categories by which we categorize and dismiss each other need to be excavated from the inside. Eradicating all this nonsense from names would certainly be a good place to start.

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