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Posts Tagged ‘Lily’

There are distint signs now that the pace is gathering in the rehabilitation of names long consigned to granny (or rather great-granny status, as most grannies nowadays are called things like Carol and Susan, and true “granny names” are at least a generation further back).

The trend’s roots actually go back to the seventies and eighties, when the first batch of “Victorian” names started to come back into use. Principal among them have been Emily, Emma, Isabella and Olivia, on both sides of the Atlantic.

In Britain, too, this was the era when names which are only now really capturing the hearts of Americans, such as Alice, Amelia, Beatrice/Beatrix, Charlotte, Matilda and Eleanor (with its pet-form Ellie actually more popular than Eleanor herself), also returned to bask in the sun of popularity.

These could be classed the great-great-granny names; the names borne by the women who went on to name their daughters Lily and Grace, Florence and Evelyn.

This generation began to make a come-back in the nineties.

Some like Lily and Grace are already now thoroughly acclimatized. Some, like Florence, Daisy, Poppy and Ruby, are already considered mainstream in the UK, and are so talked about in the US, it can only be a matter of not very much time before they’re top 100 there too. Others, like Edith, Olive and Maud, are regaining attention.

But there’s a whole Devon cream tea shop’s worth of other delicious and tempting options, and these are the ones I think deserve to be brought back down from the attic.

AgathaI deliberated quite some time about whether to include Agatha, as she’s never actually been very common at all. However, perhaps largely down to Aunt Agatha in the Jeeves stories, she has acquired a distinctly granny edge, and there certainly were more Agathas around in 1910 than 2010! She’s a name I’ll feature on her own some time, as, personally, I love her, and there’s so much to say about her, but I just couldn’t neglect her here, because of my life-long love of all things Agatha Christie…

Agnes — a staple not just of the Victorians and the early twentieth century, Agnes was one of the most popular girls’ names of the medieval and early modern period too. She was under a cloud in the eighteenth century, and again in the twentieth. She is so rich in history, mythology and allusions that she has a post of her own, scheduled for St Agnes’ Eve. But it would be a travesty to not give her a mention here, especially as celeb baby Agnes Lark might well have been the catalyst she needed to spark interest again.

Annie — actually truly belongs  to the great-great granny era, being most in decline since 1881 (when she was ranked 8th). The musical and film arrested her decline in the late seventies and early eighties, but unlike her siblings, she then went back into decline. Her fate may have changed, but at present she still seems to be dithering in the low 300s. Although treated as a pet-form of Ann/Anne, there’s no reason not to consider her a name in her own right, as she’s been used as such so long, and is actually a bit closer to the original Hebrew Hannah, sharing two syllables, rather than just the one.

Blanche — never all that common; like Annie, it hovered in the fifties in the late nineteenth century. Short, elegant, with a long and distinguished history back to medieval times, Blanche makes a worthy alternative to those one-syllable names which are now growing tired, like Claire, Brooke, and Paige.

Doris — in America, one of the darlings of the twenties. This pretty Greek name is definitely ready for revival.

Elsie — already back on the radar and rising, sweet Elsie — usually considered a Scottish short-form of Elizabeth — is also an English surname and essentially the modern form of the Old English Ælfsige “elf-victory.” It’s a must for revival in the UK, slipping comfortably into that established group of friends, Sophie, Evie, Maisie, Ellie, Millie, Katie, Gracie, and Rosie, etc…

Ethel — Ethel’s take up in Victorian times was as a short-form of the numerous girls’ names which featured it as a first element, particularly Etheldred/Etheldreda and Ethelinda. But it is essentially the modern English form of the Old English æthel “noble,” and its German cognate Athalia was used as a name in its own right in medieval times, becoming the English Adela and French Adele. As the name of Lily Allen’s new baby, there are indications are that people are starting to see Ethel — for so long almost the quintessential great-granny name — in a new light. After all, it does combine those softest and most romantic sounds: eth and el…

Freda — Use in the last couple of centuries originated, like Ethel, as a short form of longer names, particularly Winifred and Alfreda. However, also like Ethel, it stands up as a name in its own right, with frithu  meaning “peace” in Old English. Its Norse cognate is found as a name in medieval times: Friða. It survived in Scandinavia as Frida. The Germanic Frieda has also long been used as a variant. Freda is also found in the name of a lwa (divinity) of Haitian Voodoo —   Erzulie Fréda — though in her case, Fréda is probably West African in origin.

GertrudeMy grandmother had the unusual name of Gayther — but was almost universally known as Gertie, the usual nick-name of Gertrude. For a time it was also treated as the archetypal name of a student of my alma mater, Girton College, Cambridge (the shared initial “ger” sound, no doubt). It was also borne by another of my historic heroines, the archaeologist Gertrude Bell. With the strong meaning of “spear-strength,” Gertrude was hugely popular for a time in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and has a distinctly “no-nonsense” air about her. But she does shorten to the gentle Trudy, tom-boyish Gerry and contemporary Tru, as well as the as well that ever-cheerful Gertie…

Gladys — up there with Ethel, Gladys (Gwladys in the original Welsh) is another name that I think only needs a nudge for people to start to think, “why not?” Either the Welsh form of Claudia, or an elaboration of gwlad “country.” After all, there are a number of names ending in, or prominently featuring the “is” sound, such as Alexis, Alice, Allison, Genesis, Melissa, Marissa, Iris, Isis, Paris, Carys, and Cerys, etc. Nor is Gladys actually all that far away from Madison and Addison when you think about it…

Ida — Ida is another that was at her most popular in the late nineteenth century and is long overdue reconsideration; she’s already making steady progress in the UK, and since the very similar Ada is clearly on the up in the US, why not Ida too? Ida was found in Britain in medieval times, though in the Victorian period it was most associated with the nymph of the mountain which shared her name, who was said to have raised the infant Zeus. There’s a whole lot more to Ida, and I intend to feature her as a pick of the week, but she certainly deserves a mention here.

Irene — As the usual English form of the Greek Eirene “peace”, Irene is mostly pronounced with two-syllables, but three is not unknown. With two fresh dramatisations of the Sherlock Holmes takes around at the moment — the big screen Robert Downey, Jr version and the sparkling and clever British television one staring Benedict Cumberbatch — the character of Irene Adler will no doubt be working her magic on how people perceive Irene.

Mabel — The bells should be ringing loudly for Mabel. Roll it around the tongue — “May bell”. How pretty is that? Already rediscovered in certain British circles (ranking 386 in 2010), she vanished in America from the top 1000 in 1960 and has yet to resurface. Mabel originated in the Middle Ages as a shorter form of Amabel.

Mildred — I’ve always had a soft spot of the charming Mildred, an Old English gem meaning “mild/gentle counsel.” Featured as a Witch of the Week here.

Nellie — traditional pet-form of Eleanor, but also used of Helen and Ellen. For a long time Nellie fell under the cloud about the popular song, but it is breaking away now and with that popular “-ie” ending, and those letter “l”s, Nellie has a lot of personality.

Olga — one of my first ever name loves. One of the Russian names that came into fashion in the late nineteenth century, Olga is not actually Russian in origin at all; it is the Russian form of Scandinavian Helga “holy.” Olga was never particularly common, peaking in the US in 1916 in 130th spot.

Opal — a nineteenth century adoption of the name of the precious stone, which derives ultimately from the Sanskrit upala “stone.”  It peaked in the US in 81st place in 1911, and dwindled into obscurity by 1900. Believed by the ancients to be the tears of joy wept by Zeus following his victory over the Titans, in more recent centuries black opals in particular have gained an association with witches.

Pearl — at first used as a nickname — like Daisy — for girls called Margaret, Pearl was in independent use by the mid nineteenth century. It actually peaked by 1890, but remained in the top 100 until 1927. It is just starting to show signs of renewed interest, but there’s still a long way to go.

Phyllis — another pretty “-is” name which has been too long neglected now. It derives from Greek phullon “leaf” (with phullis itself meaning “salad.”).

Vera — Vera is another name of Russian origin, meaning “faith,” though it is identical to the Latin vera, the feminine form of verus “true,” which is the source of the vera of the wonderful Aloe vera. Another of my personal heroines is the British writer and pacificst Vera Brittain. Vera was never particularly common in the US, but has recently started to show signs that its fortunes are changing.

Next week, I’ll take a look at the Grandpas…

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As 2011 draws to a close, I thought I’d take a look back at my top pick of names here at the Nook and elsewhere in Baby Name Blogland.

Today it’s the turn of  girls’ names at the Nook:

  • Amanita – I featured Amanita back in late August, and I still love it; it’s feminine, quirky, and very witchy. While some might be put off the thought of naming a child after a mushroom, Amanita muscaria is one of the most beautiful and evocative, and perhaps associated with fairies more than any other…
  • Betony – Betony was another of my August loves; it’s such a lovely herb, and as a name has a great contemporary ring to it.
  • CirceIjust love Circe, the mythological witch-Goddess and the name.
  • Elvy – Elvy only got a brief mention as a little used surname-as-first name, but I think it’s got a lot going for it. With the variants Elvey and Elvie, it slips in comfortably alongside all those lovely resurrected Victorian -ie names, many of which are already in favor in the UK (such as Evie, Millie, Maisie, etc) and others like Elsie and Edie on the rise. Unlike many of these, however, though it has the ring of a pet-form about it, and certainly can be used as a nickname for names such as Elvina and Elvira, Elvy is a bona fide name in her own right.
  • Fuchsia – Fuchsia’s such a stunning name, it has that same bright, slightly rebellious edge as names like Ruby and Scarlett
  • Guinevere – Queen Guinevere, Arthur’s May Queen is such a magnificent character with a name to match; why oh why isn’t it seen more?
  • Hermione – ah, Hermione, Hermione, Hermione! Probably my number one of the year; I can’t champion Hermione enough. I suggested her as a possible sibling for Peregrine in early December, and tipped her as the number one girl’s name in America in 2035. Grab her now, while she’s still such a rarity!
  • Hesper – another of my Harry Potter picks, but much less known, Hesper’s a step away from the familiar Hester, and only a couple of steps away from uber-voguish Harper. A discerning but contemporary choice.
  • Ishtar – Ishtar is another of those names which has had a number of mentions, but hasn’t really been properly featured in her own right yet. Ishtar is probably the most famous of the Goddesses of Mesopotamia—equated with Aphrodite and Ashtoreth, and it may be her name which lies behind Esther. In Egyptian texts, she appears as ‘Astar-Ḫūru. The etymology is unknown for certain; many theories abound, ranging from (rather far-fetched) connections with Eostre (see Easter) to a shared root with Aster, but evidence is too flimsy to say anything with absolute conviction. What can be said is that it is a most beautiful and evocative name.
  • Leveret – I love this unusual word-name, the little heard name for a baby hare. It oozes Pagan, witchy, Wiccan charm, and is one the source of the surname Leverett, which makes a nice variant.
  • Lilou – one of my Provençal finds, I think it gives a fetching, zingy twist on the ubiquitous Lily.
  • Merewen – A very soft, attractive Old English name.
  • Tigerlily – I just adore Tigerlily; it is a name bursting with life and color, and has considerable versatility. Would be a travesty for her not to make this baker’s dozen of mine!

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Yesterday I looked at some of the most interesting (to an English eye) of the girls’ names currently in the French top 500.

Today, it’s the turn of the boys.

Arda. Turkish boy’s name meaning “stake” and “chisel,” which has started to take off in the last couple of years. A good example of how the modern French collect names from everywhere.

Côme. French form of Cosmo.

Joris. Dutch form of George.

Kenzo. Anywhere but France, this is a Japanese boy’s name, with numerous meanings depending on the kanji used to write it. In the case of Takada Kenzo, the owner of the Kenzo brand, it combines “wise” and “three.” Its use in France, however, is perhaps inspired by the feminine Kenza, an Arabic girl’s name meaning “treasure,” which is also popular.

Keziah. Names change gender in France too, but why the biblical Keziah “cassia” has gone baby-blue in France is definitely one to pass a few idle hours over.

Lilian. No, you didn’t read it wrong. It really is Lilian. Keziah isn’t the only name which is feminine in the English-speaking world and male in the French, but even my laissez-faire jaw hit the floor when I saw this. It first appeared in the 1920s, growing in popularity since the 60s. Even French websites say it was probably coined as a “masculine” form of Lily.

Others include Alix, Andrea (Italian form of Andrew), Ange (French for “angel”), Eden, Jessy, Joan (Catalan form of John), Lois (Galician form of Louis), Mae and Marley. They almost deserve a post all of their own…

Loan. A shorter form of Elouan. Loann and Lohan are variants.

Lubin. The name of an obsucre sixth-century French saint. The Latin form of his name is Leobinus, and is probably from the Old Germanic name Leobwin, cognate of the Old English Leofwine “dear friend.”

Merlin. Officially more popular in France than anywhere else, where it ranked 427th in 2009. In the UK, it was 1911th in 2010, and in the US, I don’t know exactly, but I do know there were only 22 of them.

Nolan. The Irish surname, weirdly also spelled Nolhan and Nohlan in France, as well as Nolann. Other Irish names also in vogue in France include Aidan, DonovanKevin, Kylian, Liam/Lyam, Logan, Malone, Oscar, Ronan, Ryan and Sullivan.

As may be becoming apparent, the ending –an is the must-have ending for French baby boys these days; with the traditional –en is distinctly languishing. Others, of various sources, often foreign, include Adrian, Alan/Allan, Alban, Ayman/Aymane, Brayan, Bryan, Christian, Dan, Dorian, Dylan, Elouan/Eloan, Erwan/Erwann, Esteban, Ethan/EtanEvan/Evann, EwanFlorian, Gaétan, Ilan/Ilann/Ylan/Ylann, Iban, Ilhan, Ilian/Ilyan, Imran/Imrane, Ivan/Yvann, Johan/Johann/Yohan/Yohann, Jonathan, Jordan, Julian, Kenan, Kylian, LILIAN, LOAN, Lohan, Maelan, Marouane/Marwan/Marwane, Milan/Mylan, Morgan, Nathan/Natan, Noan/Nohan, Rayan, RomanSean, Sevan, Sofian/Sofiane, Soan/Soane/Sohan, Souleymane, Stan, Stéphane, SWAN, Titouan, Tristan, Yann, Yoan/Yoann.

Octave. Actually, the French form of Octavius, rather than the musical term. Popular a hundred years ago, and on the rise once more.

Swan. Believe it or not, more than one French baby name website lists the origin of Swan as the English “swan” — i.e. the beautiful but somewhat unfriendly large bird. Since its use is modern, this really might be the truth of it, but the variant Swann, hints at the English surname, which actually comes mostly from the same source as the modern Scandinavian Sven “boy.”

Timeo. Seems to be treated as an adoption of the Greek for “I honor God.” , Timeô is a variant of the more usual timaô “I honor”; while in Latin, timeo means “I fear.” Very, very au courant, only registering on the French radar since the millennium. Var: Tymeo.

Tom. English Tom ranked 12th in France in 2009 — five places above multi-lingual Thomas. The French fascination with names popular in the English-speaking world applies to boys’ names as well as girls. Others in the charts include: Aaron/Aron, Alex, Andy, Angel, Anthony/Antony, AymericBrandon, Calvin/KalvinCameron, Cedric, Charlie/Charly, Chris, Christopher, Colin, Dany, Eddy, Edgar, Elijah, Eliot/Eliott/Elliot, Ewen, Gregory, Hayden, Hugo, James, Jason, JeremyJimmy, Kenny, Lenny/LenyLucas, Marcus, Marlon, Matt, Matthew, Melvin/Melvyn, Michael, Nelson, Neo, Noah, Owen, Rudy, Sam, Sacha/Sasha, Steven, Teddy, Tim, Tony, Warren, William, WesleyZachary. Like the Girls, there are also French forms of “English” names, such as Léo and Théo.


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Mais oui, c’est definitely French week here at the Nook.

Researching the names I’d encountered while away in France inevitably got me browsing the most popular French names of the last few years over at the wonderful Behind The Name‘s Most Popular Names in France 2009.

I can’t resist looking at some of the more intriguing and noteworthy names currently dancing in the French charts.

Today it’s the girls:

Anaë. One of many elaborations of Anne currently far more popular than Anne itself (491st). Anae is 152nd. Also occurs as Anaé and Annaë.

Capucine. In 70th place in 2009, Capucine immediately brings to mind “cappuccino” — with justification, as the ultimate derivation is the same: the Latin caput “head”. It is, in fact, the French for “nasturtium” and Capucine was the stage-name of French actress Germaine Lefebvre (1928-90), as well as featurine in Québécois children’s show Pépino et Capucine.

Fanta. Ranked 486th in 2009, this is not an adoption of the drink, which is little known in France (they prefer Orangina). The name seems to be a short form of Fantine, the name of one of the principal characters in Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables (1862), thought to derive from French enfant “child.”

Garance.  Although it looks to an English eye like a diabolic coupling of Gary and Clarence, garance is actually the French for “madder” — the plant, and the colour it produces: a rich, pinkish red.  It was 134th (up 36 places) in 2009. It featured in the classic French film Les Enfants du Paradis (1945).

Jade. Yes, Jade. In 2nd place. Demonstrates the French love-affair with names which have enjoyed recent vogues abroad. Other very “English” names include Emma in 1st place, Sarah in 8th, Lola in 10th and Lisa in 25th, as well as French forms of others which have been popular such as Léa, Chloé and Zoé, which were all in the top 10.

Elsewhere in the top 50, you’ll also find Alicia, Anna, Laura, Lily and Melissa, and other ESW names working their way up or down the French charts include Alexandra, Alexia, Aleyna, Alyssa, Amelia, Amy, Anastasia, Angie, Annabelle, Ashley, Audrey, Ava, Candice, Carla, Cassandra, Cassie, Charlie, Charline, Eden, Ella, Emily, Emmie/Emmy, Enola, Erin, Fanny, Farah, Fiona, Flora, Gwendoline, Hannah, Helena, Jenna, Jessica, Kayla, Kelly, Kim, Kimberley, Lana, Lara, Linda, Lindsay, Lorena, Lucy, Madison, Maia/Maya, Marion, Marylou, Maureen, Melinda, Melody, Mia/Mya, Mina, Mona, Nell, Nelly, Nora/Norah, Olivia, Sabrina, Sacha/SashaSavannah, Serena, Sophia, Stacy, Stella, Tessa, Thea, Tiffany, Tina, Vanessa, Victoria and Wendy.

Kessy. A curious name which has made an appearance in recent years and was 459th in 2009. It may be an adoption of the surname, a French take on Kizzie (the usual English pet-form of Keziah), a variant of Cassie, or perhaps the French form of a name of African or Arabic origin. No-one in France seems to know either.

Lamia. Probaby the Arabic name, from lammā’ “shining,” as there are many Arabic and other Ethnic names in use in France by people of all heritages. It is also, however, the name of the Libyan queen turned child/man-eating monster of Greek mythology, responsible for giving Latin the word lamia meaning “vampire” and “witch.”

Louison. Not “son of Louis,” but a pet form of Louise, using the old diminutive ending –on which occurs in other French names such as Manon. In 233rd, place — 58 up on the year before. Also used for boys, as a diminutive of Louis.

Luna. In 43rd place — ranking considerably higher than any ESW country. What’s more, the variant Louna ranks even higher, in 21st place.  Meanwhile, the consonant cluster “-l-n-” is clearly in vogue generally. Others are: Lena (16th), Lina (19th), Lana (52nd), Leane (60th), Leana (78th), Leona (252nd) Line (line 269th), Leanne (303rd), Leyna (339th), Leina (385th). A great many others end in –line or –lina, etc.

The cluster “-l-l-” is also popular; as well as yesterday’s Lilou, English Lily (plus Lilly, Lili, Lilie) and Lola, there’s Laly (132nd), Lalie (183rd) — from EulalieLeila (143rd), Lila (105th), Lilia (120th), Lilya (314th) and Lilas (318st).

Maeva. At first glance, seems to be a French take on the Irish Maeve. In fact, it is the adoption of the Tahitian maeva “welcome,” and is found in 54th place — in 2008, it was 16 places higher.

Pauline. A traditional French name, to be sure, but one thoroughly in “vintage” class now in the ESW. Currently bobbing along nicely still in France in 35th place. Other classic French names which are now considered dated in the ESW but are still top 100 in France (and therefore deserve to be considered “au courant”) include Louise (13th), Juliette (22nd), Marie (28th), Julie (38th), Justine (46th), Gabrielle (63rd) and Adèle (92nd).

Prune. The French for “plum” ranked 444th in 2009.

Shana (130th), with its variants Shaina (226th), Shayna (294th) and Shanna 277th, would appear to be a French feminine on Shane, the phonetic spelling of Irish Sean, or an elaboration of Welsh Sîan (Jane).

Tea. Superficially yet another drink to the English eye, Tea (also Téa — which makes the pronunciation clear), is actually a variant of Thea. 468th in 2009.

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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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This morning, I read a post over on Waltzing More than Matilda about a baby called Jasper, and it got me musing about names which, on the surface, appear to be straightforward adoptions of English words, but are, in fact — in origin at least — entirely unrelated. The most popular name of this kind currently in use is Lily, and after yesterday’s Harry Potter Premier! post, it seems the perfect name to put a spotlight on today.

Lily — now almost exclusively associated with the flower (so much so that the Wikipedia entry entirely fails to mention its original roots) — actually arose in the Middle Ages as a short-form of Elizabeth — Lylie.  This quickly developed its own pet-form — Lillian/Lilian, which has been treated as a name in its own right since at least the 16th Century. It didn’t see much use, though, until the latter 19th Century, when it rapidly became one of the most popular girls’ names across the English-speaking world. And, inevitably, it was usually shortened to Lily. Lily was also very popular in its own right in the early 1900s in the UK; in the US, however — where short and pet-forms often seem to be shunned in favour of the full form — Lily remained relatively rare.

Like all names that enjoy great popularity, a time came when it started to be considered ‘over-used’, and, as people began to neglect it in favour of new darlings, it became associated with a particular generation. Thus, it came to pass that, by the 1960s, Lily and Lillian had ended up firmly in the ‘old Biddy’ category. I had an aunt of the name, and I’m afraid that even now, I struggle to associate Lily with anything other than alarming encounters with yellow dentures in a plastic mug, rows of granny pants and surgical stockings strung over a bath to dry, and a very particular kind of smell — one which didn’t bring lilies to mind..

Lily’s turning point in the US was in 1963, with an episode of Western TV series Wagon, called ‘the Lily Legend’. It boosted Lily from 983rd place in the Social Security Administration‘s ranks of that year to a dizzying 951st. The following year, Lily’s real saviour came along — Lily Munster in the TV sit-com The Munsters, which enjoyed its first run between 1964-66. Re-runs of this classic comedy over the following decade and a half are almost certainly responsible for keeping Lily hovering around the 1000th mark, rather than sinking still further. Further Munster spin-offs of various kinds, flower-power in the 70s, and the love of all things Victorian — which began in the 70s and flourished in the 80s — triggered the start of Lily’s complete rehabilitation, and it has been on the up in the US since ever since. In the late 90s and early 00s, it received a further massive boost — and gained what is now probably its most famous association  — from Harry Potter, as the name of Harry’s devoted mother, Lily Potter. It can be no coincidence that it was in 2002 — following the release of the first Harry Potter film at the end of 2001 — that the name first leapt into the top 100 in the US.

There is a little irony to all of this. For, in 1960 — the year that the fictional Lily Evans Potter was born — Lily had sunk about as far as it could go in Britain; only 34 little girls in England and Wales were really given the name Lily (and no, none of them was an Evans!). In 1965, it had sunk to just 10. Then, in 1966 — the year the film Munster, Go Home!  was released — it shot up to 59. It wasn’t all plain sailing after that — it dithered a bit until the early 80s, when, like in the US, it really began to take off. But Harry Potter has unquestionably influenced Lily’s astronomical rise in the UK in the last ten years, as much as elsewhere. In 1996, the year before the first Harry Potter was published in the UK, Lily was 83rd — it actually fallen two places from the previous year. In 1998, the year after publication, it had leapt to 62nd and by 2001, it was 36th. In 2002, it went up to 29th (and this is all without taking into account the different spellings, which would place the name considerably higher still).

I don’t usually go in for such in depth tracking of a name’s popularity — but Lily’s history is interesting because its reversal in fortune can be traced so clearly to two distinct products of popular culture. Yet Lily is one of those names held up as ‘traditional’ and ‘normal’, etc by those who like to knock more unusual or innovative names brought to a wider audience by some media source or other. They are entirely unaware — or conveniently forget — that Lily, like most of the names currently in vogue, is just as much a product of media influence and fashion as any other.

Lily is still a great name — not everyone has a smelly Auntie Lily to tarnish it for them — and I for one find it a bit sad that it is only a matter of time — and probably not very long from now either — that the arbiters of fashion will brand it ‘over-used’ and ‘out-dated’, and it will be promptly popped back into the reject bin for another sixty or seventy years. Ah well. Such are the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.  Lily Munster and Lily Potter will still remain, keeping it ever young in fantasy, until the next generation of baby Lilys come along.

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