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Posts Tagged ‘Matilda’

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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Speculation is mounting in Britain that the Duchess of Cambridge is expecting.

And a recent change to the rules of royal succession means that their first child will be first in line to the throne, regardless of whether it is a girl or a boy.

Which means the choice of name takes on extra special importance.

It’s not  true to say that since Queen Victoria, all heirs presumptive to the throne have borne the names of former kings or queens – but it’s almost true.

The exceptions are King Edward VII, whose full name was Albert Edward, his oldest son Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence, and King George VI, whose actual name was Albert Frederick Arthur George,

And Victoria herself, of course, who was Alexandrina Victoria.

And so, it is probably safe to say that, even if the child has a first name which has not been borne by a ruling monarch, its second name will be, and that will be its eventual throne name.

However, Kate is clearly a traditionalist through and through, so even if the throne name is a middle name instead of a first, it is very unlikely indeed any and all names the child will bear won’t feature somewhere in the royal family tree.

Which will be?

Well, it’s certainly noticeable that none of the Queen’s granddaughters have been called Victoria, which, given the fact a baby girl would one day be queen, has to be top of the list of names for Kate and Wills’ baby if it’s a girl.

Another likely contender is Mary. There has been a royal princess of the name virtually continually since the time of the fourteenth-century Mary of Woodstock, daughter of King Edward I – until the death of Queen Mary in 1953. It is another name notable for being ‘reserved’ since, prevented from use by more minor royals. It’s not remotely fashionable at present (nor is Victoria in Britain) – but that’s never bothered the royals before, and is unlikely to trouble them now. It might even be considered in the name’s favour.

Elizabeth must also a pretty major contender. That it might to be on the ‘reserved’ list was in evidence in 2003, when Prince Edward picked Louise for his daughter. Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother had died not long before and if Elizabeth wasn’t on the list of names ‘put aside’ for royals higher up the pecking order, it would have, perhaps, been a rather more likely choice.

Then there are the names of the three ‘almost queens’, which might, possibly, be judged acceptable for a future Queen of the Realm, namely Jane, Charlotte and Matilda. Lady Jane Grey was ‘Queen for Nine Days’ in 1553; she was never crowned, and ended up with her head on the block, but, nevertheless, she was declared Queen of England after the death of her cousin, King Edward VI.

Meanwhile, we would have had a Queen Charlotte, had Princess Charlotte of Wales not died in childbirth in 1817. Her death sparked a national crisis, as King George III had prevented all his other children from marrying. That all changed; the princes all set about marrying and reproducing – and Queen Victoria was one of the results.

Lastly, Matilda, daughter of King Henry I and mother of King Henry II was de facto queen in 1141; and she and her cousin Stephen, the man formally considered king during the period, were embroiled for many years in a messy civil war. Peace finally came when Stephen promised to make Matilda’s son his heir.

And while it would be unlikely as a first name, I’ll eat my crane bag if Diana doesn’t feature amongst her likely four given names.

As for boys, there is one name which is screaming out as top contender for Wills and Kate’s first son – George. Like Victoria and Mary, it has had a distinctly ‘reserved’ sign on it for the last fifty years. George is also one of the most popular names amongst the British Upper Class – half of Wills’ Old Etonian friends will be Georges.

Are there others? Well, most of the names of other kings are currently ‘occupied’, which is likely to rule them out: Charles, by Will’s dad, Henry by his brother, Edward by his uncle, James by his cousin, Richard by a second cousin, William by Wills himself. Those which are not are limited to John and Stephen.

John is a no-no; it is regarded as the royal family’s unlucky name, and is unlikely to see use again for centuries.

Stephen is an interesting one; since King Stephen’s time, it has never been used again. The fact that it is ‘unfashionable’ at the moment, however, is perhaps more likely to count in its favour; the royals have never particularly concerned themselves about such things. I would be surprised, though; after all, look what happened when John got resurrected from the medieval scrolls…

There are also the names of the ‘almost-rans’, which widen the choice a bit. Probably the most likely of this bunch for Kate and Wills is Arthur. King Henry VII’s eldest son was called Arthur, and would have been king had he not died before his father, while, a few centuries earlier, Arthur, Duke of Brittany had been the intended heir of King Richard I. It is also one of both Prince Charles’ given names and Wills’. It’s also another name which has seen most use in the last thirty years in the British upper class.

Other sometime heirs presumptive of British Kings, who never made the throne because they died before their fathers were Eustace, Count of Bologne (son of King Stephen), Alphonso, Earl of Chester (son of King Edward I), Frederick, Prince of Wales (son of King George II), and the already mentioned Albert, Duke of Clarence (son of King Edward VII). Frederick might have been a distinct possibility – but it is already borne by another of Will’s second cousins, Lord Frederick Windsor.

Really, of the others, only Albert is a serious contender, although it is telling that neither King Edward VII, nor King George VI ruled as King Albert I. And it is also worth bearing in mind that when King George was born, he was not expected to inherit the throne – he had an older brother, Edward (later King Edward VIII).

But Albert Victor, the Duke of Clarence, would have been King Albert I.

Still, it would be seen as a break in convention for a baby born to be king or queen to bear a name other than one of the names of its predecessors on the throne – and I think Kate (if not Wills) is rather too conventional for that…

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Yesterday, I gazed into my crystal ball (a.k.a. the American SSA’s Popular Baby Name website), and predicted what boys’ names will be in the top 10 in 2035.

They were:

  1. Lucas
  2. Judah
  3. Jacob
  4. Rafferty
  5. Elijah
  6. Owen
  7. Silas
  8. William
  9. Indigo
  10. Joseph

My method is simple. How were today’s top ten ranked in 1985? And what names occupied those spots in 2010?

Today’s top ten girls’ names were ranked as follows in 1985:

  1. Isabella: Unranked (only 34 girls received the name in 1985)
  2. Sophia: 236 (in slight decline in 1985, though generally rising)
  3. Emma: 267 (rising)
  4. Olivia: 248 (in decline — but started to rise again in 1986)
  5. Ava: Unranked (only 132 girls called Ava in 1984, but it re-entered the charts again in 1986)
  6. Emily: 24 (rising rapidly)
  7. Abigail: 153 (rising)
  8. Madison: 628 (its first appearance in the rankings, prompted by the 1984 film Splash)
  9. Chloe: 564 (rising)
  10. Mia: 438 (rising)

And their 2035 replacements look like this (with a bit of tweaking)

  1. HERMIONE. Many people are pretty amazed to find out that not only was today’s darling Isabella not in the top 1000 in 1985, but only 34 baby girls were given the name at all. There were some interesting names in the same place in 2010, including Ara, Empress, Indiana, Mathilda, Saba, Wisdom and Zamora, but I can’t see any making the top 10 (Mathilda’s big sister Matilda might, but she is in the top 1000). There are one or two interesting possibilities among the names given to 35 little girls, such as Clarice, Lavinia and Polly; while another old classic Ursula was borne by only 32 girls in 2010, but it is lovely Hermione, given to only 37 baby girls in 2010 that gets my vote. I can’t help thinking it’s only a matter of time that the USA finally embraces her, and that she’s the one to watch from the bottom of this barrel.
  2. ELIZA. Jayda occupies the present 236th slot, but although she may rise quite high, I think her time in the sun will be over by 2035. Nearby, however, Eliza (240) is rising.
  3. ESTHER  is 267. She’s been away in the wilderness a while, but I think the tide is turning in her favor now.
  4. HARMONY. Ranked 248th is Cassidy, but she’s in decline. Harmony, however, is 249th, and rising…
  5. CLEMENTINE — 132 little girls were called Clementine in 2010. This beauty vanished from the top 1000 in 1953; in 1994, less than three girls received the name (if any at all), but since then, the numbers have generally been increasing.
  6. LEAH is 24. Like her predecessor Emily was, twenty-five years ago, she’s steadily rising. Will she have made the top ten by 2035? Perhaps.
  7. DAISY. Actually ranked 151 in 2010; 153rd was Makenzie, which is in decline and pretty unlikely to be in 6th place in 2035 now. Popular in the UK, Daisy, however, is on the rise again. Another possibility from the 150s is Vivian (158).
  8. ANNABEL is 628. She re-entered the top 1000 in 2000 and might well go places.
  9. ROSA is 564. She’s at her lowest yet, but surely the time is ripe now for her fortunes to change? They have already in Britain.
  10. ADELAIDE. In the 438th spot is Kadence, a doubtful top ten contender for 2035. Adelaide (434), however, is rocketing up the charts. Another possibility is Helen, languishing in the 437th spot. Its a long time now since she was in favor, and perhaps its her time to shine once more?

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The 11th Century Spanish St Casilda

Last week, I wrote about the rare old name Quenilda. Today I thought I’d look at many of the other names ending in -ilda and -ild.

Most -ilda names have the same element in common: the Old English hild ‘battle’ — or its cognate in the other Germanic languages.

The exceptions in the list below are Milda, which is from the Old English milde ‘mild’, Marilda, which is a modern combination of Mary/Maria with -ilda and Wilda, which is an elaboration of plain wild.

There’s also Casilda, a Spanish name of uncertain origins; it was first born by an 11th Century saint, who was said to be the daughter of a Muslim king of Toldeo. If this is true, it would make most sense if it has Arabic roots.

Hild itself is an Anglo-Saxon name in its own right; best known in the form Hilda.

7th Century St Hilda is a well-known East Anglian-born saint, associated with Whitby in Yorkshire (now best known for being a principal location in Bram Stocker’s Dracula and the Whitby Gothic Weekends).

Poor Hilda has yet to shown any signs of rehabilitation itself, saddled as it is with associations of Hilda Ogden in long-running British soap opera Coronation Street.

But not all -ildas should be tarred with the same brush. In the last couple of years, Matilda has returned to the US top 1000, though it still has a long way to go.

Elsewhere, though, it is already becoming very popular. In the UK, for instance, it ranked 46th in 2009.

But it’s Down Under, appropriately enough, where Matilda is really waltzing  — it was 18th in New South Wales in 2010.

This magnificent old name started out in early medieval Germany as Mahthildis, combining Old German mahti ‘might’ and ‘strength’ with hildi — the Old German equivalent of hild. Matilda of Flanders was the wife of William the Conqueror, and the name was extremely popular in medieval times, often in the vernacular form Maud.

One of its traditional short forms is Maddy, and it is one of the medieval names behind the surname Maddison.

But without further ado, here is a hearty selection of -ildas/-ilds from around Europe and throughout the centuries:

Alfhild, Audhild, Borghild, Botilda, Brunhild, Casilda, Clotilda, Durilda, Eoforhild, Ermengilda, Estrilda, Everilda, Farahilda, Farilda, Gerhild, Gilda, Gunhild, Gunilda, Hextilda, Hilda, Ignvild, Irmhild, Kriemhild, Lovilda, Magnild, Marilda, Matilda, Merilda, Milda, Otthild, Pharahilda, Ragnilda, Ravenilda, Reinhild, Richilda, Romilda, Ronilda, Sieghild, Somerilda, Sunilda, Swanilda, Thorilda, Tilda, Torilda, Wachilda, Wilda.

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