Posts Tagged ‘Alfred’

You are unlikely to meet many an Aphra these days.

Not only has it never reached the American top thousand, it has never managed to accrue five or more bearers in any year since records began.

Indeed, it is one of those historic curios which might have long ago slipped into quiet obscurity were it not for one notable bearer.

The poet, playwright and spy Aphra Behn.

Aphra was born in 1640 and died at the age of forty-eight in 1689.

Her early years are somewhat shrouded in mystery, and there is many a question mark which hovers over her life and adventures.

The biggest is over the trip she is supposed to have taken to Surinam in the early sixteen-sixties, the inspiration, it is said, for her Oroonoko, a work which is viewed by many as containing an early condemnation of slavery and the slave-trade.

In the mid 1660s, during the second Anglo-Dutch War, she spied for King Charles II in Antwerp. Charles wasn’t very good at paying her though, and by the end of the decade she was in a debtor’s prison in London.

Someone, however — someone unidentified — paid for her release, after which she turned to writing, becoming one of England’s first professional female writers.

She wrote plays, poetry and verse, often publishing under the name Astraea — said to have been her code name when spying in the Netherlands.

On her death, she was buried in Westminster Abbey — though not in Poets’ Corner.

But what of her name?

Many regard it as almost as mysterious as her life.

The first theory is that it is taken from the phrase “in the house of Aphrah, roll thyself in the dust,” which occurs in the biblical Book of Micah.

Certainly, it is probable that this is behind some examples of Aphra and Aphrah in the period, even though it arose as a mistake; it is aphrah itself which means “dust” in Hebrew, and it wasn’t actually a genuine given-name at all.

Another theory is that it is a variant of Afra, the feminine form of the Latin adjective afer meaning “black.” It occurs as a name in Roman times, and is borne by a minor saint.

However, she was not venerated in Britain in the medieval and early modern period, making it fairly unlikely that this was the source of Aphra Behn’s name, even though she may have been a Catholic.

Perhaps the biggest clue to the real origin of Aphra lies in the fact that her name was recorded in the parish register at her baptism as Eaffry.

This and other variants, such as Effrye, Effery, Efferay, Effray, Affray, and Affery are all found in the medieval period, suggesting that they actually represent a survival of an Old English name.

Likely contenders are Elfreda (ælf “elf ” + þrӯð “strength”), Etheldred (æðel “noble” + þrӯð “strength”), Ælthryth (æl “all” + þrȳð “strength”), or Æðelfrið (æðel “noble” + friþ “peace”).

Even Alfred might lie behind it, as it was also used as a girl’s name in the early medieval period, when it was often Latinized as Albreda. Some of its medieval forms, such as Avery, really aren’t a million miles away from Aphra.

Affery was still to be found in the nineteenth century; it was one of the unusual names collected by Charles Dickens. He obviously took rather a shine to it, as he went on to use it for a character in Little Dorrit.

So, if you fancy an unusual girl’s name with heritage, you could do a lot worse than the intriguing and beguiling Aphra.

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With the trend for adopting the names of our great-grandparents showing signs of gathering pace, last week I shared my pick of “Granny names.”

Today it’s Grandpa’s turn.

Just as with the girls, some, like Arthur, Frederick, George, Oscar and Stanley have already become mainstream in Britain again while still languishing in America (though I’d be surprised if Arthur doesn’t reveal a pick-up in the 2011 rankings when they come out).

It’s a curious phenomenon that in the last few centuries, fashions in girls’ names have always changed more quickly than boys’, and that there have always been more girls’ names in circulation.

True to form, the rehabilitation of the great-grandpa names isn’t showing quite so much energy. It does seem the case that, with the exception of those names which didn’t sink that far down the popularity charts, such as Henry, Edward and William, people are more ready to take up the granny names than the grandpas.

These then, are the Grandpas which I think really deserve to be dusted off and put back into short-trousers.

Albert — Albert is already rising fast in Britain, ranked 159th last year. With short forms Al, Albie, Bertie and Bert, Albert, with its great meaning “noble-bright,” is a great-grandpa name that is going places, and definitely one to keep an eye on.

Alfred — a true Old English name with character, combining ælf “elf ” with rǣd “counsel” (i.e. “advice”). In the medieval period, it also absorbed another marvellous Old English name, Ælfriþ — æl “all” + friþ “peace.” Its friendly, cheerful pet-form Alfie is currently in the British top 5, but the more formal Alfred lies well outside the top 100, though in America, it’s barely in the top 1000.

Arnold — Arnold was at its most popular in the UK in the first decade or so of the 20th Century, reaching 75th place; in America, it peaked in 89th place in 1916. On both sides of the Atlantic it now lies outside the top 1000, even though it has a short-form not that dissimilar to Alfie with the chirpy Arnie. Time to forget Schwarzenegger; with the meaning “eagle-power” (or “power of an eagle” if you prefer) in Old German, surely Arnold deserves reconsideration?

Cecil — Cecil is usually treated as the English form of the Roman family name Caecilius (deriving ultimately from a nick-name meaning “little blind one”), and thus the male form of Cecilia. However, its use in the English-speaking world is actually more down to the aristocratic English family of Cecil. This may in fact derive ultimatley through the Welsh Seisyllt, which probably derives from another Roman family name, Sextilius (“little sixth one”).

Edgar — Old English Edgar is actually healthier in America at the moment (216th in 2010), than in Britain (759th). However, it is rising in Britain, and falling in America. Time to arrest the fall! With the meaning “spear of wealth/riches” (or “rich/wealth-spear”), it carries connotations of prosperity and protection and, like all the Ed- names, has the simple and charming short-forms Ed and Ned.

Edmund — Edmund has been one of my personal favorites for twenty years. I’ve always had a bit of a thing for the anti-hero, and Edmund’s borne by two of the best — Edmund Pevensie of the Chronicles of Narnia and the immortal Edmund Blackadder. Another Old English name, it has the fabulous meaning of “rich-protection.” Only 42 baby boys were called Edmund in England and Wales, and 93 in America.

Eugene — Eugene was at its most popular in America in the early twentieth century, though it remained in the top 100 until the 1950s. In Britain, however, it has always been inexplicably rarer. Its longevity in the first half of the twentieth century may preclude its general revival just yet, but if you want your son to have the name everyone’s talking about for their babies when he’s in his twenties or thirties, give Eugene a thought. It has the great, auspicious meaning of “well-born” too.

Harold — Old English names dominate the Grandpa names, and like so many of the others, Harold drips with clunky old-fashioned charm.  If it’s strong meaning you want, Harold has it; it can be interpreted as “army-power,” or “power of an army” or “power of the army.” The name of the last Saxon king of England, Harold also shortens to trendy Harry and attractive Hal. In decline since its heyday during the First World War, it was up on the year before in 2010, though in 745th place, it still has a long way to go.

Herbert — Herbert has Old English and Old German roots, coming from cognate names meaning “bright army.” It has some great short-form options; Herbie and Bertie, which ooze nobbly-knee charm, Herb, which has quite a hippie vibe, and no-nonsense Bert.

Horace — I took rather a shine to Horace many moons ago when I contemplated what a great nick-name Azzo would make for it. These days, I probably lean more towards the more romantic Horatio, but I still have a soft-spot for Horace. As the name of one of Rome’s greatest poets, Horace has gravitas in abundance. Another great short-form is, of course, Ace.

Leonard — With the current American preference for giving babies “long-forms” of the names really intended for use, Leonard (as the “long-form” of Leo) did see a rise in 2010. The name actually has nothing really to do with lions at all, translating from the Old German as “people-hard.” In the past, it was more often shortened to Len and Lenny.

Lionel — a name of medieval romance, adopted for the name of a younger son of a medieval English king, Lionel was one of the names re-embraced by the Victorians, and is pretty much what it looks like — a diminutive of Lion, essentially meaning “little lion.” It remains a great rarity in the UK; only ten little boys were called Lionel in 2010, but it did re-enter the US top 1000. I think it’s got a lot of potential, and now’s the time to start re-considering it. Put it this way, I wouldn’t be all that surprised if William and Kate used it for a younger son in years to come…

Reginald — Unsurprisingly, in Britain, the cute Reggie, on the rise, is much more popular than its formal long-form Reginald, though it, too, is rising. Reginald was actually at its most popular in America in the 1960s, though it never made the top 100, though in Britain it was 20th in 1904. Reginald is the same name as the rarer Reynold, meaing “might-power.” Another traditional short-form is Rex

Roland — An Old German name meaning “fame-land,” its literary Italian form Orlando is currently more popular, but Roland, most popular in Britain in the 1890s, is worthy of reconsideration. Although Rolly is often the default short-form, there are other options, such as Ro, Rollo, and Lan — you could even use Lance, whose roots really do lie with Roland and other Germanic names containing the element landa “land.”

Sidney — the charms of Sidney, with its solid short-form Sid, has already started to recapture the hearts of British parents. Like Cecil, it was one of the surnames which Victorians fell in love with. It probably comes from a place name meaning “broad island,” but the aristocratic Sidney family traditionally derived it from Saint-Denis in France.

Wilfred — Yet another Old English name, this time meaning “will/determination-peace.” Wilfrid is a variant spelling and in the past it was invariably shortened to Wilf, but it also lends itself well to Will, Bill, Billy, Freddie and Fred. Another which is already rising steadily in Britain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And her family makes a most interesting sibset.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of British novelist Mervyn Peake, author of the magnificent Gormenghast trilogy. To mark the occasion, here are some of the best names (and characters!) from the trilogy:

A Sketch by Peake of Fuchsia and Steerpike; as well as being an author, Peake was a highly regarded artist (Official Gormenghast Website).

Titus. Titus Groan, 77th Earl of Groan is the hero of the series, and Titus Groan is the title of the first book, despite the fact that Titus is only a baby in it. He becomes the major protagonist, however, in the following novels, and though he doesn’t actually do much in Titus Groan, he is the pivot around whom the story unfolds. Titus was a Roman praenomen — i.e. the closest thing Romans had to a first name. Probably the best known bearer was the Emperor Titus (39-81 CE). The origins are very obscure; it may possibly be related to Latin titulus ‘title’ or titio ‘fire-brand’. It was first used as a given name in the English-speaking world in the 16th Century.

Fuchsia. Lady Fuchsia Groan is Titus’s sister, a girl on the cusp of womanhood. Virtually ignored by her parents, she is half-feral,  fiercely proud and passionate. Her name is taken from the delicate, ballerina-like flower, named in the 18th Century in honor of the 16th Century German botanist Leonhard Fuchs — a surname meaning ‘fox’ in German. Fuchsia is first found as a given name in the 19th Century, when ‘flower names’ first came into fashion.

Gertrude. Countess Gertrude, whom Peake described as ‘of huge clay’, is the flame-haired, distant mother of Titus and Fuchsia. Though she cares more for her cats than her children, she is a good ally when the chips are down. She definitely suits her name; deriving from the Old German gêr ‘spear’ + drudi ‘strength’. The original bearer was one of the Valkyrie, and Peake was clearly giving a nod in the direction of the earliest of the 7th Century German saints of the name, who is the patron saint of cats (and mice). The 12th Century St Gertrude — St Gertrude the Great — was a famous mystic. The name didn’t really take of in England until the 15th Century, when the cult of St Gertrude (the cat and mouse one), spread to Britain from the Continent. Although Gertrude is still quite a heavy name, its pet-forms Gertie and Trudy both have charm.

Alfred. Alfred Prunesquallor is the kindly doctor at the vast and ancient Gormenghast Castle. Alfred is one of a small number of Old English first names which is still in regular use – at least in the UK, and in the pet-form Alfie. This has actually been immensely popular in recent years, largely because of popular character of the name in the soap Eastenders.  Alfred could barely be less popular in the States, and Alfie is completely off the radar. Most people don’t realise that the modern Alfred actually represents two  Saxon names: is Ælfræd, from ælf ‘elf’ + rǣd ‘counsel’ — as borne by one of the most famous of all the Kings of Anglo-Saxon England, King Alfred the Great of Wessex (849-99) — and Ælfriþ, æl ‘all’ + friþ ‘peace’.

Clarice. Lady Clarice Groan is the twin of Lady Cora, the snobbish, very simple spinster aunts of Titus. The machiavellian Steerpike uses them in his plans to gain control of the castle — and is responsible for their very sorry end. These days, Clarice is mostly associated with Clarice Starling and The Silence of the Lambs. It is a very old name, a medieval elaboration of Clara (meaning ‘clear’ and ‘famous’ in Latin). The US pronunciation is ‘clah-REES’, but the traditional UK way is ‘CLAH-ris’.

Cora. Lady Cora Groan — the other twin. Identical to her sister. It is essentially a Latinized form of the Greek korê ‘maiden’, but the form demonstrates influence from Corinna and Coralie, both already around at the time it first appeared at the end of the 18th Century. It became popular in America during the 19th Century after it featured in James Fenimore Cooper’s novel, The Last of the Mohicans (1826). There is also the Inca mother and fertility Goddess Mama Cora Ocllo.

Irma. Irma Prunesquallor is the doctor’s spinster sister. Her name is German, originating as a short form of names beginning with Irm-, representing the Old German element ermen ‘whole’.

Keda. Keda is Titus’s wet-nurse, the widow of one of the ‘bright carvers’ who live in the shanty town beneath the walls of Gormenghast. The names seems to be pure invention on Peake’s part.

Barquentine is the elderly and and rather repulsive Master of Ritual. A barquentine is a small boat, deriving from bark, itself from the French barque and ultimately from Latin barca ‘small boat’.

Sepulchrave. The 76th Lord Groan, and father to Titus. He is a sad, lonely man, worn down by years of attending to the pointless ritual which accompanies his position as Lord Groan. The name is another of Peake’s inventions, based on English sepulchre ‘tomb’, emphasizing how completely Sepulchrave is trapped by stagnant tradition — a major theme of the trilogy.

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