Posts Tagged ‘Merewen’

It wouldn’t surprise me if the idea of changing our names has crossed the mind of most of us in the English-speaking world at some point in our lives.

Far fewer of us actually go through with it.

I think that’s a shame. If you feel your name doesn’t reflect who you are, if you feel you would be happier called something else, for whatever reason, do it. Take the plunge, and change your name.

Recently, I was contacted by a woman intending to do just that.

She has one of most popular names of her generation, and wants something “less ubiquitous” than her birth name.

These are her criteria:

  1. 3 syllables
  2. No ‘-a’ ending
  3. Some connection to history and/or mythology
  4. Meanings: “poetic and somewhat unexpected”
  5. Style: “eccentric aristocrat”
  6. Not too similar to well-known names to avoid confusion
  7. Not too associated with a popular work of fiction, such as Harry Potter

The names she currently has under consideration:

  • Genevieve
  • Clementine
  • Seraphine
  • Gwendolen
  • Guinevere
  • Beatrix

She writes:

The only name I have left on my list, after ruling out Seraphine for possibly blending in with the Sarahs, Clementine because I can only picture it on a young girl, Genevieve because I am not that into the meaning, is Gwendolen. However; I keep coming back to Guinevere! I like the sound more than Gwendolen, but I’m worried that the name Guinevere is hard to carry because in the myths. To an audience that doesn’t know any better, she is an adulterer.

I have to say, I really wouldn’t fret so much about the adultery issue. It certainly isn’t the first thing that springs to mind when I think Guinevere, and I don’t think it’s the first thing people think of generally when they hear the name. It’s not as though in the myths she is a serial adulteress!

It’s also worth remembering that the legends owe a lot to the culture of late medieval society, in which marriages were arranged, not love-matches, and the theme of romantic liaisons between women and handsome knights other than their husbands acted as a kind of fantasy escapism.

On a deeper level too, the Arthur-Lancelot-Guinevere love triangle can be viewed as a version of the conflict of the Oak and Holly Kings (also sometimes called the Summer and Winter Kings) and their union with the Goddess – the May Queen.  This love triangle is a recurring theme in Celtic mythology.

But if it remains a stumbling block, Gwendolen is certainly a good alternative. The etymology isn’t a hundred percent certain; while the first element is almost certainly the same Welsh gwyn of Guinevere, meaning “white,” “pure,” and “blessed,” the second is a little less uncertain. The earliest known form is Gwenddoleu, but this may have been was a mis-reading of “u” for “n.” The options are the Welsh dolen “loop,” “link,” and “ring,” or dolau “meadows.” According to Geoffrey of Monmouth writing in the twelfth century, it was the name of Merlin’s wife.

I think both Gwendolen and Guinevere are stunning choices, but I do have some other suggestions:

  • Adelaide – “noble-sort”; if it’s a bit too mainstream, there’s also the medieval variant Adeliz
  • Anchoret – a curious medieval name, probably from the Welsh Angharad “my love,” a name borne by numerous medieval Welsh princesses.
  • Averil – a vernacular form of EVERILD; it survived for centuries in Yorkshire
  • Betony
  • Celestine – English form of Latin Celestinus, from caelestis “heavenly”
  • Ceridwen
  • Corisande — A name principally of medieval romance.  The etymology is uncertain; the first element is likely intended to be the Latin cor “heart.” The second may very possibly be a contracted form of Latin sanandus “healing, ” from sano “to heal.”
  • Everild — one of my life-long favorites. The meaning — “boar-battle” — might be a bit off-putting at first, but it’s worth remembering what boars meant to the ancient peoples who first used the name. They are associated with more than one deity, and to the Celts symbolized royalty and strength
  • Gwenllian
  • Ingaret – a variant of ANCHORET
  • Kilmeny – Made famous by James Hogg’s poem about the “uncanny maid” who spent seven years in Elfland. It also featured in Lucy Maud
    Montgomery’s Kilmeny of the Orchard (1910). The name was taken from a small village on Islay in Scotland, meaning “monastery church,” “owl church,” or “my Eithne’s church”
  • Leceline – a medieval form of Letitia “happiness”
  • Lorelei — the name of a siren-like nymph or Goddess who is said to lure sailors to their deaths from a rock overlooking the River Rhine. I have a feeling the associations here will cause it to be rejected, but I think it’s still worth a consideration. No doubting Lorelei’s girl-power! The meaning isn’t entirely certain; the second element is from a Celtic root meaning “rock” while the first might be from Old German words meaning “to whisper,” “to lure” or “to watch out”
  • Marjolaine — the French form of marjoram, though it was also used in England in the Middle Ages. Used as a name from the nineteenth century, it still carries all marjoram’s pleasing associations with protection and love
  • Merewen
  • Mirabel — medieval name, from mirabilis  “wonderful,” “marvelous,” “amazing,” “strange,” and “extraordinary”
  • Muriel — an ancient Celtic name, going back to the Common Celtic *mori- “sea” + *gelwo– “yellow” and “white.” In Ireland, this
    became gel which carried the additional meanings of “fair” and “shining.” Another nice variant is Meriel
  • Nephele — meaning “cloud” in Greek, Nephele was the name of a semidivine woman in Greek mythology, fashioned out of the clouds by Zeus. 
  • Nimue — a variant of NINIANE. Used in some versions of the Arthurian cycles as the name of Merlin’s lover
  • Niniane — the Lady of the Lake, probably deriving ultimately from the Common Celtic *nino– “ash.”
  • Opaline — both an English adjective meaning “like an opal,” and a medieval variant of Apollonia “belonging to Apollo”
  • Ottilie – probably the most familiar form today of the medieval Odilia/Odile, from the Old German: uod “wealth” and “riches.” St. Odilia of Cologne was reputed to have been the daughter of a king of Britain and one of the virgins who accompanied St. Ursula, while the late seventh-/early eighth-century St. Odile of Alsace was allegedly a blind daughter of the Duke of Alsace, whose sight was miraculously restored by St. Erhard of Regensburg
  • Ottoline — a diminutive form of OTTILIE. A famous bearer was Lady Ottoline Morrell (1873–1938)
  • Perenelle — a medieval form of Petronilla, the name of a popular medieval saint. It derives ultimately from the Latin petra “rock” and “crag”
  • Sabeline — a medieval diminutive of Sibylla “sibyl,” and “prophetess”
  • Thermuthis — the name given in the first century by the Roman writer Josephus to the daughter of the pharaoh who allegedly adopted Moses. Its origins are not clear, but if genuinely Egyptian, it may be a corruption of the Egyptian name Thutmose “born of Thoth”
  • Verity — one of the abstract nouns first used as a given name by the Puritans in the seventeenth century
  • Zephyrine — the French form of Zephyrina, ultimately from Zephyr, the name of the Greek God of the West Wind.

Some of the names I suggested as names for the twin siblings of a little boy called Peregrine also fit the bill: Amabel, Christabel, Clemency, Emmeline, Ianthe, Imogen, Jessamy, Oenone and Rosamund.

Over to you!

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Another seasonally appropriate rune — by pure coincidence — Wynn.

It means “joy.”

Wynn is only found in two systems, the Eldar Futhark, and the Anglo-Frisian; it is missing from both the Younger and the Marcomannic:

Predictably, with the meaning “joy,” it is all sunshine and light in the rune poems.

Modern rune interpreters see Wynn as symbolic of joy in all its aspects, from the wonder and delight of childhood, to the sexual pleasure of adulthood.

As such it is a rune that reminds us to embrace the Now; to live in and enjoy the moment, grasping life with both hands, and not dwelling always in the past or the future, a trap so many of us fall into all too readily.

Wynn itself has a great deal of name potential, both as a boy’s name and a girls. With other one syllable “-nn” names, such as Finn and Flynn, making waves at the moment, Wynn slips right in alongside as a more unusual alternative.

It also has quite a long heritage.

Wyn occurred as a given name in Wales in the Middle ages as a variant of Gwyn, the straightforward use of gwyn  “white” as a personal name. It was also common as a proto-surname, and both gave rise to the Welsh surname Wynn — also spelled Wynne.

Meanwhile, in Medieval England, there existed the personal name Wine “friend”, usually in use as a short form of one of the many names which contained it as an element, such as Edwin. Like the Welsh gwyn, wine was also used as a proto-surname, and led to the English surname Wynn — also spelled Winn, etc.

Both the Welsh and English surnames started to given as first names from the seventeenth century.

The Old English wynn itself was used as an element in girls’ names in Anglo-Saxon times:

  • Ælfwynn — “elf-joy.” Old variants: Elfwyn, Elfwynn, Alfwen. The name of one of Alfred the Great’s granddaughters
  • Æþelwynn — “noble-joy”; the Modern English form Ethelwynn was adopted in the nineteenth century.
  • Æscwynn — “ash-joy.” The Modern English form is Ashwynn.
  • Beorhtwynn — “bright-joy”; one of the sources of the surname Brightwen.
  • Beornwynn — “warrior-joy.”
  • Burgwynn – “fort-joy.”
  • Ceolwynn — “bright-ship”; old variant: Ceolwen.
  • Deorwynn — “dear-joy.”
  • Eawynn — “river-joy” (though possibly originally Eadwynn “rich-joy”).
  • Ealuwynn — “ale-joy.”
  • Ecgwynn — “sword-joy.”
  • *Eohwynn — “horse-joy.” Not a known name in Anglo-Saxon or medieval times; Tolkien, however, used the elements to form Éowyn.
  • Herewynn — “army-joy.” Old variant: Herewinne.
  • *Hroðwynn — “fame-joy.” Normalized as Rothwyn, this is often cited as the origin of Rowena, but it is not actually attested in Anglo-Saxon or medieval times.
  • Leofwynn — “dear-joy.” Old variant: Lefwen. Probably the source of the old country name Levina.
  • Mærwynn — “famous-joy.” Source of the lovely Merewen.
  • Oswynn — “(a) God-joy.”
  • Sæwynn — “sea-friend.” Old variant: Sewenna.
  • Wulfwynn — “wolf-joy.”
  • Wynstan — “joy-stone.” The only male name in this list, it is one source of the surname Winston.

As for other names with the meaning “joy,” I covered many of them recently in my post celebrating the festive cheer and merrymaking that was the Roman Saturnalia, which can be found here. But there’s still a few more:

  • Adebayo — Yoruba: “the crown has met with joy.” Short-form: Bayo
  • Adedayo — Yuruba: “the crown has turned to joy.” Short-form: Dayo
  • Amena — Spanish: “delightful”
  • Aniel — Hebrew; possibly “joy of (a) God”
  • Aoibhinn — Irish: “delightful” and “charming”
  • Chara — Greek: “joy”
  • Charidotes — Greek: “giver of joy” (an epithet of Hermes)
  • Charmian — Greek: kharma “joy”
  • Delicia  — Latin: “delight.” Var: Delice
  • Delight
  • Desta  — Ethiophian: “joy”
  • Eden — as in “Garden of –“; one option for its source is a Hebrew root meaning “delight”
  • Etsuko — Japanese: “delight-child”
  • Euphrosyne — Greek: “mirth” and “merriment”; the Hungarian Fruzsina derives from it, and it is probably the true source of the curious English Frusannah
  • Euterpe — Greek: “delightful”
  • Euthymia — Greek: “joy”
  • Fiayosemi — Yoruba: “mold me with joy”
  • Freyde — Yiddish: “joy” and “delight”
  • Gwenydd — Welsh: “joy”
  • Hedone — Greek: “joy” and “pleasure”
  • Hephzibah — Hebrew: “my delight is in her.” Often shortened to the gorgeous Eppie (I fell so in love with Hephzibah and Eppie after the BBC dramatization of Silas Marner in 1985)
  • Hesione — Greek; possibly from êdô “to please.”
  • Ifedayo — Yoruba: “love has turned to joy.” Short-form: Dayo
  • Le’a — Hawaiian: “joy” and “pleasure”
  • Libentina — Roman Goddess of sensual pleasure, from Latin: libens “glad”
  • Mayowa — Yoruba: “comes with joy”
  • Myrna — Irish: “joy” and “affection”
  • Nishatsi — Hausa: “joy of being alive”
  • Omolayo — Yoruba: “a child is joy.” Dim: Layo
  • Omotayo — Yoruba: “a child worthy of joy.” Dim: Tayo
  • Oregano — interpreted in ancient times as deriving from Greek oros “mountain” and ganos “joy,” “brightness” and “pride”
  • Rana — Sanskrit: “delight” and “pleasure”
  • Rati — Sanskrit: “delight,” “love potion” and “sexual pleasure”
  • Rina — Modern Hebrew: “joy,” “divinity,” “soul,” etc
  • Shin — Korean: “joy”
  • Terpsichore — Greek: “delight-dance”; one of the Muses
  • Yuki — one reading of this Japanese name is “reason-joy.”

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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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Today sees the publication of Shadows at Stonewylde the fourth book in the Stonewylde Series by Kit Berry. For those who don’t know it, Stonewylde is an ancient estate deep in a forgotton corner of Dorset, England. It is a beautiful, idyllic place, where the inhabitants live in unison with the gentle rhythms of the land, at one with Mother Earth, marking out the turning of the seasons with time-honoured traditions. But beneath the surface, not all is well — or good…

To mark the occasion, here are some of the best names from the series (so far!):

Yul. Yul is the hero of the series. He was born at the Winter Solstice, hence his name — a variant of Yule. For centuries this was the usual name for Christmas and Christmastide and remained the more usual form in Scotland and Northern Counties until recent times. It comes from the Old English: ʓeōl, cognate with the Old Norse: jól – the Norse Pagan midwinter festival lasting twelve days. These days, it is now the most commonly used Pagan term for the Winter Solstice. Yule was used as a personal name in the Middle Ages — probably for those born at Christmastide — and a feminine form Yula is recorded.

Sylvie. The books’ heroine. The ethereal Sylvie is a slight-framed girl with striking silver-blond hair. She also has a mysterious affinity with the moon. Named because of her silver hair, Sylvie is the French form of Sylvia, the usual modern spelling of Latin Silvia, the feminine of Silvius, a name borne by a number of legendary kings of Alba Longa in Latium. It derives from Latin: silva ‘a wood’. Rhea Silvia is the mother of Romulus and Remus by the God Mars. Her name may indicate that she is in reality a woodland deity or nymph, although in the myth she is simply a mortal princess.

Solstice. The name of the original Magus — a special Stonewylde title used of Stonewylde’s lord and master.  Solstice — invariably called Sol — was born at the Summer Solstice. The word comes from the Latin: solstitium, itself from sol ‘sun’ + stito ‘to stand still’. The Summer Solstice is popularly called Midsummer; in Pagan circles, it is often called Litha or Alban Hefin. Vestiges of Pagan celebration survive across Europe, such as the Latvian Jāņi – though whether this gets its name from St John — who took over the Summer Solstice — or the solar God Janis is not known for certain! Even in Victorian England, ancient rites still abounded; young women would creep into churchyards at night to sow hemp seed as a charm to reveal their future husbands!

Eclipse — usually called Clip — is Sol’s brother. He is a somewhat nomadic shaman and story-teller. He gained his name because he born at an eclipse. Eclipse is an Old French word from Latin eclipsis, itself from the Greek ekleipô ‘to fail’  — i.e. fail to appear. In the past, eclipses were viewed as portentous – especially solar ones.

Miranda. Sylvie’s flame-haired mother. Miranda derives from the Latin: mirandus ‘worthy of admiration’ from the verb miror ‘to admire’, and first appears in Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

Leveret. Yul’s younger sister. A leveret is a baby hare. It comes from levrette, an Old French diminutive form of levre ‘hare’. Leveret is also a surname — deriving from the same source — which is found as a given name in real life from as early as the 17th Century.

Maizie. Yul’s mother. A variant of Maisie, itself a Scottish pet-form of Margaret. The spelling with a ‘z’ hints of maize, in keeping with the preference at Stonewylde for names from Nature.

Rufus. An entirely new character for Shadows! Rufus is Miranda’s son by the original Magus. The name simply means ‘red’ and ‘ruddy’ in Latin. It was a very common cognomen (surname) in Roman times, especially for people with red hair, and there is more than one St Rufus. In times past, it was also used as a nickname — one of the most famous examples being William Rufus (c.1058-1100), a.k.a. King William II of England. Evidence of its use as a genuine given name dates from the 16th Century

Merewen — an artist, in charge of painting the stones at the circle in preparation for festivals. It is form of the Old English name Mærwynn, from mær ‘famous’ and wynn ‘joy’; other forms include Merewina, Merewin, and Meriwenna — the usual form employed for 10th Century saint of the name.

Gefrin. Yul’s younger brother. Gefrin is an important Anglo-Saxon site in Northumberland, the seat of the Kings of Bernicia. Gefrin itself is of Celtic origin, sharing the same source as Welsh gafr ‘goat’ and bryn ‘hill’.

Sweyn. And another brother! A variant of the English swain, little found outside of poetry any more, but it is an old English word for a young man, specifically a servant of a knight. It is exactly cognate with the Old Norse sveinn from which the popular Scandinavian name Sven derives. This has long been used as a name — the Vikings introduced it to Britain too, in the Middle Ages, and it is responsible for a number of English surnames, such as Swann, Swain and Swayne.

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