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Posts Tagged ‘Pleasant’

In celebration of the bicentenary of the birth of Charles Dickens, here is Part II of the best of the names from Dickens’s works for babies… and cats.

  • Lupin — believe it or not, J.K. wasn’t the first to use this flower name as a surname; Mrs Lupin features in Martin Chuzzlewit.
  • Magwitch — I’d love to name a cat Magwitch after Abel Magwitch in Great Expectations!
  • Magnus — Peter Magnus is another of Pickwick Papers‘s characters. As a first name, Magnus (simply Latin for “great”) has become regarded as particularly characteristic of the Shetlands. It makes the perfect choice for lovers of Felix and Rufus wanting something that is still off the radar…
  • Malta — named after the island, Malta Bagnet appears in Bleak House.
  • Manette — the surname of Dr. Alexandre and Lucie in A Tale of Two Cities.
  • Marley — now most associated with Bob, never forget the other Marley — the ghost of Jacob Marley with his rattling chains in A Christmas Carol… The surname derives from the Old English mearth “pine marten” or “weasel,” or mǣre “boundary” + lēah “wood,” “woodland clearing,” “glade,” “pasture,” and “meadow.”
  • Maylie — a cheerful surname borne by Mrs Maylie and her children Harry and Rose in Oliver Twist.
  • Merry — not uncommingly used as a nickname for Mercy, as it is in Martin Chuzzlewit for Merry Pecksniff.
  • Micawber — one of the most likeable of all Dickens’s characters is the perennially optimistic Mr Wilkins Micawber in David Copperfield. Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones has a guitar called Micawber.
  • Mulberry — a great name for a not particularly savory character — Sir Mulberry Hawk in Nicholas Nickleby.
  • Nancy — undoubtedly one of Dickens’s best-loved characters, Oliver Twist‘s Nancy is perhaps the best embodiement, in so many ways, of what Dickens’s work was all about. Like Betsy, it’s a Victorian charmer of a name, still falling in America, but reviving in the UK (the oldest daughter of British Prime Minister David Cameron is called Nancy).
  • Nell — another tragic Dickensian character is “Little Nell” — a.ka. Nelly Trent — of  The Old Curiosity Shop. Traditionally, the pet-name for Eleanor, it is also used for Ellen and Helen, and very much falls in that same category as Nancy and Betsy.
  • Nemo — Jules Verne was not the first to have a Captain Nemo — Dickens was; he used Nemo as the pseudonym of Captain James Hawood in Bleak House.
  • Nickleby — surname of the hero of eponymous her of Nicholas Nickleby.
  • Ninetta — the real name of “The Infant Phenomenon” in Nicholas Nickleby.
  • Oliver — the eponymous hero of Oliver Twist. Number One in England and Wales in 2010, and rising rapidly in the US. Usually shortened to Olly or Ollie, there’s always Ol too, and how about the medieval Noll or snappy, modern Liv instead? I’ve even seen Levi suggested…
  • Peggotty — Clara Peggotty, always known as “Peggotty,”  is David’s kind and loving nurse maid in David Copperfield.
  • Pet — the name by which Minnie Meagles is known in Little Dorrit.
  • Phenomenon — “The Infant Phenomenon” is how the Crummles refer to their beloved daughter Ninetta in Nicholas Nickleby. Offers interesting nicknames, such as Phen, Phenie, Nomi, Nomie, Menon, Mena and Minnie.
  • Pip — obliged to legally change his name to Pip, Philip “Pip” Pirrip is the hero of Great Expectations.
  • Pleasant — first used by the Puritans, Dickens used Pleasant  for the character of Pleasant Riderhood in Our Mutual Friend.
  • Plummer — we have Tyler and Mason, so why not Plummer? Caleb Plummer appears in The Cricket in the Hearth.
  • Pumblechook — definitely one for the cats, but too great a creation to leave out. A pompous and somewhat ridiculous character in Great Expectations.
  • Quebec — another of the Bagnet children in Bleak House.
  • Quinion — Mr Quinion, good name, though not a particularly nice character, in David Copperfield.
  • Rogue — Rogue has the halmark of a modern “word name”, but Dickens used it in Our Mutual Friend for Rogue Riderhood. He lives up to his name!
  • Rosa — the charmingly named Rosa Bud features in The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Why doesn’t America like the lovely Rosa? She’s 238th in the UK, and rising, but 564th in America — and falling…
  • Seth — another of the Pecksniffs in Martin Chuzzlewit, Seth has been threatining to go stellar for a while, but peaked in 200o in the US in 63rd place and has since slipped back to 165th. Curious, as it ticks the boxes — why Ethan and Noah, but not Seth? The same’s not true in Britain, where it wouldn’t surprise me if Seth enters the top 100 this year.
  • Sophronia — an unusual option for lovers of Sophie and Sophia looking for that something slightly different. Sophronia Lammle is another of Our Mutual Friend‘s characters. From the Greek sôphrôn “sagacious,” “prudent,” and “of sound mind.”
  • Sophy — Although the French-spelling Sophie with an “ie” is the most popular vernacular form of Sophia in Britain at the moment, in the past, Sophy with a “y” was more normal. David Copperfield. Sophy Crewler features in David Copperfield.
  • Sweedlepipe — a particularly good cat name, as Paul “Poll” Sweedlepipe in Martin Chuzzlewit is a bird-fancier!
  • Sydney — Sydney Carton of A Tale of Two Cities is one of my personal favorite characters — I’ve mentioned before my preference for the flawed hero, and Sydney epitomises flawed hero so well. It is he who utters those immortal lines: “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.” Nowadays, Sidney is the preferred spelling.
  • Tattycoram — the name given to Harriet Beadle by the Meagles when she becomes their servant in Little Dorrit. Tatty is a pet-form of Harriet (via Hattie) and Coram was added because it was the name of the founder of the foundling hospital where Harriet spent the first years of her life. Would make a lovely name for a cat.
  • Tite — Tite Barnacle appears in Little Dorrit.
  • Turveydrop — Prince Turveydrop is a dancing master in Bleak House. Cat.
  • Uriah — Like Ebenezer, Uriah may well have suffered because of a Dickensian character. In Uriah’s case it is the odious, unctious Uriah Heep in David Copperfield. I have seen Uriah mentioned positively in recent times, and he made it to 549th place in America in 2010, but can her really shake Heep off? And his disconcerting similarity to the word urine?
  • Wemmick — John Wemmick is a kind man in Great Expectations, known for caring really well for his elderly father.
  • Wopsle — a minor character in Great Expectations, Wopsle would work well for cat — though perhaps reserve it for an indoor one (unless you fancy the idea of standing on the doorstep yelling “Wopsle, Whiskas!”)
  • Zephyr — “The Zephyr” is the pseudonym of Mr Minvins, a character in Pickwick Papers.

Happy Birthday, Charles!

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Today marks the start of the Roman Pagan feast of Saturnalia, celebrating the birthday of the God Saturn.

As Gods go, Saturn is quite neglected these days in the retelling of Classical Myths.

He usually gets dismissed as “the equivalent of the Greek Cronus” and that’s pretty much it.

The tale of Zeus and Cronus is quite well known: Cronus — who had castrated his own father, Uranus, with a sickle — swallowed all his children by Rhea as soon as they were born, for fear that one would overthrow him.

That was, until, Rhea contrived to smuggle the infant Zeus away.

He grew up on Mount Ida, suckled by a goat — and grew up to overthrow his father.

Most assume that’s all there is to Saturn too.

But it’s important to remember that while there are parallels between the Greek and Roman pantheon, and the Romans equated Saturn with Cronus, they do in fact have quite separate existences.

Cronus, with his sickle, was associated with the harvest, Saturn — the Roman God of agriculture — was associated more with sowing.

And to the Romans, Saturn, unlike Cronus, never became a shadowy figure in the background, even though the Roman passion for all things Greek meant that among the literatti, he did get his nose shoved out somewhat.

But it is clear that he still remained one of their most important deities, very much at the forefront of their religion.

They named one of the planets after him (the Greek name for the planet Saturn was Phainon “shining”).

In turn, the planet Saturn gave its name to a day of the week — the only day of the week, indeed, which in our calendar still bears his name: Saturday.

Saturn’s temple stood at the foot of the Capitoline. It was an important place, home to the state treasury, the Tables of Law and the records of decress by the Senate.

And the Saturnalia was probably the most popular festivals of the Roman calendar.

Originally, it lasted only a day, and it was  held in celebration of the sowing of the crops, which took place in Roman Italy in December.

From the 3rd Century BCE, though, it started to grow, lasting a week by the time of the Emperor Augustus.

It was a period characterised by revelry; the formal, cumbersome toga was put aside, and everyone wore the equivalent of party clothes instead.

Slaves got to be cheeky to masters, and to have their celebratory feast before — or with — their masters.

A “lord of misrule” was chosen, and everyone had to do what he said, no matter how ridiculous — indeed, the more ridiculous, the better.

And, most significantly for us today, as we dash madly round the shops trying to find something to buy Auntie Mabel for Christmas, we have the Saturnalia to thank for the tradition of giving gifts at this season.

The traditional gift of the Saturnalia were small terracotta dolls called sigilla, and other popular gifts were candles, fruit and nuts, but all kinds of gifts were given. Book 14 of Martial’s Epigrams contains all sorts of Saturnalia gifts, ranging from a lyre to an apron, Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey  to an ape — although Martial was writing satire, so does needs to be taken with a pinch of salt…

So what names do we have for Saturnalia babies?

Well, the possibilities are endless, but here are a few suggestions.

  • Allegra — Italian “happy” and “cheerful”; Byron renamed his illegitimate daughter Clara Allegra when he gained custody of her in 1818
  • Ananda — Sanskrit “happiness” and “pleasure”
  • Antic
  • Asher — Hebrew osher “happy” and “blessing”
  • Banter
  • Bliss
  • Blithe
  • Carousel
  • Cereus — Latin “wax candle”; one of the traditional gifts of the Saturnalia. Cerea makes a nice feminine form.
  • Cheer
  • Cithara — an ancient instrument, resembling a lyre, plucked at many a Saturnalia feast
  • Cymbal — simple musical instruments were often a feature of festivities such as the Saturnalia
  • Droll
  • Drummer — plenty of drumming at the Saturnalia!
  • Dulcimer — a medieval musical instrument, with the loveliest of names
  • Džiugas — Lithuanian boy’s name, dating to medieval times, meaning “cheerful” and “merry”
  • Farah — Arabic “joy” and “delight”
  • Felicia — variant of FELIX dating back to medieval times
  • Felicity
  • Felix
  • Festal
  • Festival
  • Festive
  • Festus — Latin “festive”; used as a cognomen (surname) in Roman times
  • Fête — French “festival”
  • Fidicen –– Latin “minstrel”
  • Frolic
  • Gala
  • Gale — obsolete English word meaning “merriment” and “mirth”; the identical looking word for a high wind has a different etymology
  • Gaudeamus — Latin “let us rejoice”; from the Latin student’s song “Gaudeamus igitur…”; gaudeamus was sometimes used in the 19th Century of merry-making, particularly by students.
  • Gaudeo — Latin “I rejoice”
  • Gaudi — Spanish surname, made familiar by the genius Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí; it derives ultimately from the Latin gaudium “joy”
  • Gioconda — Italian “merry”  (La Gioconda is one of the names of the Mona Lisa)
  • Glad — and maybe, dare I through it in — Gladys?
  • Glee
  • Gŵyl — Welsh “festival”
  • Happy
  • Harper — more music…
  • Hilaria — Latin: hilaris  “merriment.” The original medieval Latin form of Hilary when used for girls.
  • Hilarity
  • Io — although pronounced differently, if I had a Saturnalia baby, I’d be very tempted to use this lovely and rather quirky name from Greek mythology as a nod to the traditional cry of “Io, Saturnalia” (kind of the equivalent of “Merry Christmas”…)
  • Jape
  • Jest
  • Jester
  • Jink
  • Jocant — obsolete English word meaning “jolly”
  • Jocund
  • Jollity
  • Jolly
  • Jovial
  • Jovy — obsolete form of JOVIAL
  • Joy
  • Joyeux — French “merry”
  • Joyous
  • Kermis — a periodical fair or carnival in the Low Countries and parts of Germany characterized by much merry-making
  • Laeta (simplified as Leta) — Latin “happy”
  • Lecelina — a medieval diminutive form of LETITIA
  • Letitia — Latin laetitia “happiness”; used as a given name since the Middle Ages
  • Lettice — the charming ye-olde-worldey English form of LETITIA
  • Levity
  • Llawen — Welsh “merry” (the name of an early saint)
  • Lowena — Cornish “joy”
  • Lowender — Cornish “mirth”
  • Lyra — Latin name of the Lyre (which also has name potential), the best known instrument of the ancient world, and grandmother of the harp. Like the Cithara, there would have been much strumming of the lyre at the Saturnalia, and it was one of the gifts featured by Marial in his epigrams about Saturnalia presents…
  • Merriment
  • Merry
  • Minstrel
  • Mirth
  • Piper — plenty of pipe-playing at the Saturnalia too…
  • Pleasance
  • Pleasant
  • Revel
  • Revelry
  • Saturn — Saturn derives from Latin satus “sown,” from sero “to sow.” There are actually examples of Saturn as a given name since the 19th Century.
  • Saturnalia
  • Sigilla — Latin “little image”; the little statuettes handed out as traditional Saturnalia gifts
  • Timbrel — a medieval instrument akin to a tamourine, used in festivities and celebrations

Not to mention all the names meaning “gift.”

And now it’s time to go and celebrate. Io, Saturnalia!

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