Posts Tagged ‘Orion’

Yesterday, I featured my pick of girls’ names here at the Nook in 2011.

Now it’s the boys’ turn:

  • Alban — most people associate Alban with St Alban of St Alban’s, Hertfordshire. However, Alban is also an old Welsh word meaning “equinox” and “solstice,” and it features in the Druid names of the Solstices and Equinoxes. As for the saint, there are actually three of them and two are British. The one who gave his name to St. Albans was supposedly a Roman soldier martyred in or around 283 CE. However, there is no evidence for his existence before the late fifth century, and the fact he was executed by beheading is a big give-away that a Celtic divinity lies behind him. If he truly was a real historical figure, his name may derive from the Latin cognomen Albanus “of Alba (Longa).” But this is unlikely, as even the legends say that he was a native Briton. Therefore, real or divine, his name probably derives from the Common Celtic *albiyo- “(upper) world” and “white” — the source of  the Old Welsh alban “solstice,” which brings us full circle.
  • Angus — A wonderful old Scottish name, which still sees plenty of use in Scotland but deserves more attention elsewhere, especially by those proud of their Scottish roots.
  • Ao — Love this short, snappy ‘”-o” ending discovery from France.
  • Faramond — With its splendid meaning of “journey-protection,” Faramond has cropped up more than once this year. Uncommon, but with a long, rich history, I think it’s an underused gem just waiting to be embraced.
  • Felix — Another name which has justly had a lot of mention at the Nook. A great meaning, a great “look,” I love it.
  • Iolo — A very accesible Welsh name with a wonderful past, and lots of great Pagan overtones.
  • Loxias — I’ve always thought this epithet of Apollo would make a glorious name…
  • Lucius — I’m an unashamed champion of this magnificent name from Ancient Rome!
  • Odin — the Norse God, Lord of the Wild Hunt; a great name, especially appropriate this time of year, when he rides his eight-legged Sleipnir in the Wild Hunt — seen by many as one of the sources of the modern myth of Father Christmas and the reindeer.
  • Orion — Another name from the ancient world with a very contemporary ring.
  • Rafferty — I have quite a crush on this fabulous Irish surname which is yet to reach the top 1000 in the US, but was 406th in the UK last year and continues to rise.
  • Rufus — Rufus is deservedly on the rise again on both sides of the Atlantic, but is still far from common.
  • Sol — If short and sweet with a big Pagan/Druid/Wiccan punch is what you’re after, Sol can barely be beaten. For those who have issues with short, snappy names in their own right which might be mistaken for a nickname, there are plenty of “long-form” options, from the biblical — but still distinctly witchy Solomon — to the Pagan-and-proud Solstice, not to mention the magical Latin Solifer.

Read Full Post »

Engraving of the solar deity Abraxas on an ancient amulet

The last installment (for now)!

Here, as promised, are some of my favoritest favorites of the obscure names that are to be found within (and in some cases, without) the pages of Harry Potter:

Abraxas. A name with its roots in Gnosticism, Abraxas is a solar deity, who came to be regarded as a demon in Christian demonologies. The original spelling is Abrasax. According to Gnostic belief, the seven letters which make up the name represent the seven classic ‘planets’ known in antiquity — i.e. the Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. In ancient times, the name was engraved upon stones used as amulets and charms, and numerous examples have been unearthed by archaeologists. As well as getting a mention in Harry Potter  as the name of Draco Malfoy’s grandfather, Abraxas has also shown up as a demon in Charmed.

Alphard. Sirius Black’s uncle — and the only member of his family who didn’t disown him. Alphard is the name of the brightest star in the constellation Hydra – the great water-serpent — deriving from the Arabic al-fard ‘the individual (one)’ — a reference to the fact it is the only bright star in that part of the sky. Shortens beautifully to Alfie and offers an interesting alternative to Alfred.

Doris. Two characters in HP are called Doris — Doris Crockford, who introduces herself to Harry in the Leaky Cauldron on his first visit to Diagon Alley (I always expected her to pop up again, but she never did) and Doris Purkiss, who gets a passing mention in Order of the Phoenix.  In Greek mytholog, Doris is one of the Oceanids — the sea-nymph daughters of the God Oceanus. In Greek, it is Dôris means ‘a (female) Dorian’  — though it may derive from dôron ‘gift’. It was first used in the early 19th Century, and became hugely popular in the early 20th Century. I suspect it is one of those name just waiting for that spark to return it shooting back into favor.

Hesper. Hesper Gamp appears in a genealogy, and Hesper Starkey, features on a wizard card.  Hesper is a poetic name for the Evening Star, from the Latin Hesperus, itself from the Greek Hesperos ‘of evening’, ‘evening’ and ‘Evening Star’. Closely related to Hespera, meaning simply ‘evening’ in Greek, which is the name of one of the Hesperides, the nymphs who guard Hera’s golden apples and the grove where they grew, on islands somewhere in the far west of Greece. Hesper itself is found as a genuine given name from the mid 19th Century. Makes an interesting variation on Hester.

Loxias. One of the previous owners of the imfamous Elder Wand. Loxias is an epithet of Apollo; in Greek, it means ‘the ambiguous’, ‘the oblique’ and ‘the obscure’, deriving from loxos ‘slanting’ or ‘aslant’ and ‘ecliptic’. It is often taken to be a reference to the cryptic prophecies delivered by his oracles, most notably at Delphi, but it could be interpreted as a reference to the fact the sun – identified with Apollo – also traverses the ecliptic obliquely.

The French actress, Musidora

Musidora. Occurs only on a famous wizard card, but nevertheless is part of the HP universe. Essentially meaning ‘gift of the muses’, The earliest Musidora I have encountered is a painting by William Etty (d.1849). The name also appeared as a character in the 1914 opera Béatrice, by André Messager, but it is best known as the stage name of French actress Jeanne Roques (1889-1957), not quite the original vamp, but not far from it; her most famous role was Irma Vep in Les Vampires (1915). Used as a genuine given name since the 19th Century, it shortens beautifully to Musie and Dora.

Myron. In Harry Potter’s world, Myron Wagtail is the lead-singer of The Weird Sisters. A rock star who can do magic too — how cool is that? Myron is an Ancient Greek name meaning ‘sweet oil’ and ‘perfume’. The historic Myron of Eleutherae (fl. 480-440 BCE) was a celebrated sculptor.

Orion. Another of my absolute favorites. Ever since I was a child, gazing up at the constellation of Orion, glittering in a winter-dark night sky, I have thought Orion was a seriously good name. Orion was a legendary Greek huntsman who, after being struck either by a blow from Artemis or from a Scorpion (which became the constellation Scorpio) was placed among the stars — he may have been chasing the Pleiades at the time, though, so it might have been deserved. He was also reputedly a lover of Aurora, and the most handsome mortal who ever lived. The etymology of his name is uncertain, but it possibly derives ultimately from the Akkadian: Uru-annaurru ‘light’ + anu ‘sky’; this was the constellation’s name of the constellation in Ancient Mesopotamia. As a given name in more recent times, it makes an appearance around the 17th Century, and currently seems to be gaining popularity — how much has yet to be seen; in 2010, it ranked 466th in the US, so it has a way to go before reaching ten-to-the-dozen proportions just yet.

Walburga. The name of an 8th Century English-born saint, also known as Wealdburg and Wealdburh, whose cult was established in Germany from the Middle Ages. She is also probably the first known woman writer in England and Germany. Her name derives from the Old English weald ‘power’ and ‘dominion’ + burh ‘fortress’. Because her feast-day was held on May 1st, folklorists have proposed that she was either a pre-Christian fertility Goddess or became conflagrated with a Germanic fertility Goddess — the latter seems most likely, since Walburga as a person does seem to be rooted in historic fact. In Germany, she is also known as Valderburg and Walpurgis. Walpurgisnacht — usually translated to ‘Walpurgis Night’ in English — is famous for its celebrations with bonfires, and its association with Witches. It is fairly well-known that Rowling originally intended to call the Death-Eaters ‘the Knights of Walpurgis’.


Read Full Post »

Tonight sees the première of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II. As I write, the stars are arriving in Leicester Square, London, and greeting the thousands of excited fans, who have been gathering all day (well, in truth, all week) in the hope of catching a glimpse of the faces we have come to know so well, the physical manifestations of J. K. Rowling’s magical characters.

And what better way to mark the occasion than to take a closer look at some of the Harry Potter names?

It would be impossible to start with anything other than Harry — the boy wizard who takes on the most terrible wizard of all time, Lord Voldemort — and wins. Harry is the Traditional English vernacular form of Henry, which has been in use as an independent name since the Middle Ages. Harris and Harrison are two surnames which derive from it, both now used as first names. J. K. Rowling’s Harry is not the only fictional Harry Potter caught up in magic;  The hero of the film Troll (1986) was also called Harry Potter.

As for Henry, its roots lie in Dark Age Germany. It is a combination of the Old German haimi ‘home’ and ricja ‘ruler’ and its earliest known form was Haimirich. This was Latinized as Henricus, from which the French Henri and Anglo-French Henry later evolved. Harry is very popular in the UK, in 3rd place in 2009. Given the popularity of the books and films in the US, it is surprising that it is in 658th place over there — and falling.

Hermione, on the other hand, has never made the top 1000 names in the US, though it has been used in the English-speaking world since at least the 18th Century. In the UK in 2009, it was place 370th — and climbing. While Harry is a firmly Germanic name, Hermione’s is Classical. In Greek mythology, Hermione was the daughter of Menelaus, King of Sparta and the infamous beauty, Helen of Troy. Her life, in contrast to her parents, was considerably less eventful. She married her cousin Orestes (after he murdered his mother as punishment for her murdering his father, and had a spell being chased around Greece by the Furies) and not much else is know about her. Her name, however, has rich meaning. It is formed from the name of the Greek God Hermes (the Roman Mercury). Most people know he is the messenger of the Gods, but his role goes far deeper than that. He conveys the souls of the dead to the underworld — a role arising from the fact he is also a God of boundaries, making him a male counterpart of Hecate. And the similarities don’t end there. There are distinct hints of magic about him, from his ‘magic wand’ – the caduceus – to his associations with the night. He was seen in ancient times as a protector of those on the fringe of society, both those who were only temporarily in that position (namely travelers) to those who resided there permanently, i.e. thieves, prostitutes – and Witches.  A very apt name, then, for a witch.

Ronald takes us to the Celtic fringe and medieval Scandinavia. It derives ultimately from the Old Norse Rögnvaldrregin ‘might’ and ‘counsel’ + valdr ‘ruler’. It has been used continually in Scotland since medieval times, and in the 19th Century, it became popular elsewhere in the English-speaking world. The pet-form Ronnie was popular as a name in its own right in the first half of the 20th Century — and then, of course, there’s Ron. Among the many real-life bearers is the Historian Ronald Hutton, well-known for his books on Paganism and Witchcraft. Ronald was in joint 848th place in the UK in 2009, along with such varied names as Abel, Armani, Cairo, Dewi, Hunter, Hussein and Stanislaw, though Ronnie was up in the 131st spot. In the US, Ronald was 342nd in 2010.

Albus is Latin and means ‘white’ — specifically ‘dead white’. It was regarded as a symbol of good fortune. Although now it will be forever associated with Albus Dumbledore, it has actually been in use since at least the 19th Century.

Severus is also Latin, unsurprisingly meaning  ‘serious’, ‘sober’, ‘strict’ ‘stern’ and ‘austere’. It has actually been used as a genuine name since ancient times; three Roman Emperors alone bore the name: Lucius Septimius Severus (145-211 CR), Marcus Aurelius Alexander Severus (208-235 CE) and Flavius Valerius Severus (fl. 306-07 CE). There are also a number of saints called Severus. It was first used as a given name in the English-speaking world in the 16th Century, though it is more widely used in Italy and Spain in the form Severo.

Sirius is well-known as the name of the brightest star in the sky. Bearing the scientific name Alpha Canis Majoris, Sirius is also known as ‘the Dog Star’ because of its place in the constellation Canis Major – one of the hunting dogs of Orion. It is the Latin form of the Greek seirios ‘the scorcher’, which comes from the verb seiraô ‘to be hot’ and ‘to scorch’, acquiring the name because it first rises at the hottest time of the year.  It, too, has also seen genuine first name use — the first examples appearing in the 19th Century.

Remus is an important figure in the legendary history of Rome. He and his twin brother Romulus were the founders of that famous city. Twin sons of Rhea Silvia and the God Mars, they were said to have been suckled by a she-wolf as babies — making it a good name for a werewolf. The brothers quickly fell out over which of them should give their name to their new city; Romulus settled the matter by killing Remus. In fact, both of the brothers’ names derive from the name of the city, rather than the other way around. Remus has been used as a real given name since the early 18th Century. Another famous literary Remus is Uncle Remus, the central character in Joel Chandler Harris’ Uncle Remus, His Songs and His Sayings: The Folk-Lore of the Old Plantation (1881), which is very much a thing of its time. Remo is used in Italy, Portugal and Spain.

Nymphadora is the feminine form of Nymphadorus – a genuine Ancient Greek male name. A shorter form of it – Nymphas – occurs in The New Testament. It comes from the Greek numphê ‘nymph’ and the verb didômi ‘to give’ – i.e. ‘given by a nymph/the nymphs’.

Bellatrix — such a good name for a bad witch! In Latin bellatrix means ‘female warrior’, and is the name of a star in Orion. In use for real since the late 19th Century.

Well, that’s all for now, folks. I plan another Harry Potter themed post to mark the cinema release next week, so watch this space!

Read Full Post »