Posts Tagged ‘Vera’

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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Last month I did my first ‘Pagan Name of the Month’ feature, starting the ball rolling with Blake. The premise for Pagan Names of the Month is to feature a name from the top 100 names in the UK or US, and show just how good a ‘Pagan name’ it is.

This month, I have opted for the seasonal Summer.

In 2009, Summer was the 24th most popular girl’s name in the UK, and it’s popular Down Under too, ranking 39th in New South Wales,and 34th in New Zealand.

On the other side of the pond, though, it was only 164th in 2010.

In former times, when life wasn’t made so easy and comfortable by electricity, double glazing, central heating, fresh produce shipped across the globe, etc, etc, the blessings of summer were valued far more highly than today.

Summer in the past was synonymous with the prime of life and plenty. It was the season when fields were full of ripening grain, orchards and hedgrows with ripening fruit. The season of long, warm days, genial, short nights, forgiving winds, soft rain, rustic scenes of shepherds and their lasses out making hay…

But, as the Greeks were fond of pointing out, in Arcadia ego — death and decay lurk even in the heart of paradise, and the wheel of the year is ever-turning.

It is the sting in the tail, which makes each summer’s day so poignant.

The word summer derives directly from its Old English counterpart — sumor. This is exactly cognate with the Welsh haf and Old Irish sam. The name of the Celtic feast of Samhain derives from the latter — the feast of ‘summer’s end’ (and winter’s beginning).

The use of summer as a name, or a part of a name, is not new.

The Scottish Sorley is the Anglicized form of Gaelic Somhairle, itself from the Old Norse Somerled from sumar ‘summer’ + líðr ‘to pass by’, hence ‘summer passer-by’ or ‘summer wayfarer’.

Another summery name of Old Norse origin is Somerilda ‘summer-battle’.

Somerset is also not unheard of as a given name (a well-known bearer was the writer Somerset Maughan). This comes from the Old English cognate sumor ‘summer’ + sǣte ‘dwellers’ and ‘settlers’. It became the surname of a powerful aristocratic family, who are still Dukes of Beaufort today.

Names meaning ‘summer’ can be found in other languages too.

The Welsh Haf (pronounced ‘harv’) is not uncommon as a girl’s name in Wales, especially as a middle name. It also features in the girls’ names Hafwen and Wenhaf ‘blessed summer’, Hafren, and Hafgan — ‘summer song’ — the name of a King of the Otherworld in Welsh mythology. There’s also Hefin ‘of summer’ — specifically, ‘of midsummer’.

Meanwhile, Samhradán is an Irish boy’s name meaning ‘little summer’.

Belisama is a Gaulish Goddess of light, whose name means ‘powerful summer’.

Therina is rare name first encountered in the late 18th Century from the Greek therinos ‘of summer’. Another is Therea, first used in the 19th Century. Rarer still is Euthera — ‘pleasant in summer’. All are from theros ‘summer’. Some argue this is the ultimate source of the better known Theresa.

Others include the Chinese Xia (夏), the Indian girl’s names Grishma and Ushma,  the Finnish girl’s name Suvi, and boy’s name Kesä, the Kurdish girl’s name Hawin, and the Albanian boy’s name Behar.  Also in Albania, the girl’s name Vera can be interpreted as deriving from verë, another Albanian word for summer.

Meanwhile, the Basque girl’s name Udane derives from uda ‘summer’, and the rare French boy’s name Veran may be an adoption of the Galician verán.

A number of Japanese girls’ names  include Japanese word for summer. Natsuko and Natsumi are just two which feature natsu, while Shizuka can be interpreted as meaning ‘quiet summer’.

Hebrew Kayitz and Swahili Majira (strictly, ‘season’) are also attested, and Latvian/Lithuanain Vasara is not unknown.

Summer stands out as an ideal Pagan choice, free of all and any association with any other religion, but not too ‘way out there’, if ‘way out there’ isn’t your thing.

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There are few names more evocative of medieval romance than Guinevere, the Celtic queen, caught up in probably the most famous love triangle of all time — Guinevere, King Arthur, and Sir Lancelot.

The enduringly popular story of King Arthur and Guinevere has been retold countless times for a thousand years or more, most recently in the TV series Camelot.

What the truth is behind the legends is a question which has occupied historians, archaeologists and folklorists alike for hundreds of years.

Guinevere is the now classic form of the legendary queen’s name, as used by Alfred, Lord Tennyson in the Idylls of the King, but there are many others.

Probably the next most seen is Guenevere,  used in a number of versions, including Rosalind Miles’ Guenevere, Queen of the Summer Country (1999) and the musical Camelot (1960).

In Mallory’s 15th Century Le Mort dArthur she is Gwenyvere.

The original Welsh form of her name is Gwenhwyfar.

This is really ancient!

For while Gwen features in a great many Welsh names of all periods, its Common Celtic predecessor  *uindo- ‘white, bright’ is attested in Celtic names in Roman Britain.

Hwyfar, however, is not recorded anywhere, except in Gwenhwyfar’s name.

There has been a lot of speculation over the years as to its meaning; the Victorians conjectured that it must carry some soft, feminine sort of sense, and interpreted it as ‘soft’ and ‘smooth’, linking it to the rare (and obsolete) Welsh word gwyf.

But this doesn’t actually even mean ‘smooth’!

It means ‘that which extends’.

And the sort of torture it must endure to turn it into hwyfar really brings tears to the eyes.

But there is a better explanation, provided by historical linguistics — the Common Celtic *sŒbro- ‘specter’.

In Old Irish, this became síabar — ‘fairy’ and ghost’ — a word which almost certainly features in the name of another tragic figure of mythology, the Irish Fionnabhair. This make it exactly cognate with Guinevere.

This begs the question whether Guinevere and Fionnabhair are linked at a level deeper than just their names, and whether rather than ever being real historical figures, they belong to the pantheon of the Pagan Celtic Gods.

Given the role they both play, a convincing argument could be put forward that they both represent Goddesses of sovereignty, like Rhiannon and Medb (it is probably no coincidence that in the myth, Fionnabhair’s mother is Medb of Connacht).

Even today, in North Wales, the legend persists of an apparation — ‘the Grey Lady’ who haunts the Celtic hill-fort of Moel Arthur, and is now said to protect the grave and treasure of King Arthur.

Alternatively, they may be the bride aspect of the Goddess — the May Queen. There are certainly strong parallels in the tale of Arthur and Guinevere with that of Lleu and Blodeuwedd.

Perhaps they are both.

Guinevere is found as a genuine given name from at least the 14th Century — largely as a result of the popularity of the Arthurian Cycles. In Wales and the Marches, it survived  in forms such as Gaenor, Gaynor, Gwennor and Gwenifer.

In Cornwall, it became Jenifer. George Bernard Shaw introduced it to the rest of the ESW in his play The Doctors Dilemma (1905), which features a character called Jennifer Dubedat.

In Scotland, it became Vanora. Vanora’s Grave in Meigle, Scotland is a grass-covered mound in front of which two carved Pictish stones are known to have once stood, though Vanora isn’t found as a given name itself before the 19th Century.

Another variant is the Italian Ginevra — made better known by Ginevra ‘Ginny’ Weasley in Harry Potter.

But Guinevere itself has always been uncommon. It has never featured in the top 1000 names in the US. And even in England and Wales, there were less than 250 girls given the name Guinevere as a first or second name between 1847 and 1915. 57 baby girls were called Guinevere in the USA in 2010, but only 4 in England and Wales.

This is a great shame, and Guinevere is crying out to be re-embraced. It makes a fantastic alternative to its love-child Jennifer, which is now tumbling out of favor after so long as a firm favorite. It shortens nicely to Guin or Guinny (or Gwin, Gwyn, Gwinny, Gwen and Gwenny, etc) — even Ginny or Jenny.

There are the Welsh pet-forms  of Gwen– names too: Gwenno, Gwennan and Gwenog.

You could even use Vere or Vera, Nev or Neve — or Never!

Why not?

And why not Guinevere? A magnificent name for Pagans and non-Pagans alike!

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Martin Tovar y Tovar's Signing of the Venezuelan Declaration of Independence

I’m staying in the Americas today, as another country is celebrating its independence – its 200th anniversary in fact.

On the 5th July 1811, Venezuela announced its independence from Spain, and today Venezuelans are celebrating.

To honour this event, I thought I’d take a look at Venezuelan Names.

Venezuelan names have gained a reputation for being inventive and innovating (or way-out and wacky, depending on whom you’re talking to – great old article here from the New York Times, if you missed it the first time around!).

In 2007, the trend had grown so widespread that there was a backlash amongst the more conservative elements in Venezuelan government, which threatened to see such names banned and parents limited to a choice of just 100 names.

Obviously, this was considered preposterous; the notion was dismissed, leaving Venezuelan parents free to continue to name their children with whatever takes their fancy, without giving a hoot for what anyone else thinks.

Personally, I find the attitude quite refreshing – even though I would draw a line at the more notorious Venezuelan Names such as Stalin, Hitler, Yesaidú (yes, I do) and Iroshima (Hiroshima).

I don’t intend to dwell on the names most people consider outlandish on this special day for Venezuelans (for all the hype, most Venezuelans still choose pretty conservative names for their children; in 2010, the top five girls’ names were Camila, Isabella, Sofía, Victoria and Valentina, while the boys were Sebastián, Santiago, Samuel, Diego and Gabriel).

Instead, I thought I’d focus on Venezuelan names with wider appeal. For as well as all the cooky names, a lot of pretty nifty new names have emerged from Venezuela’s slightly anarchic creativity in past decades that are worth a look.

Feliz día de la independencia, Venezuela!

Betulio ♂ — a name which immediately highlights the fact that with many Venezuelan names, it is all but impossible to identify its origin. The most famous bearer is Betulio González (b.1949), the Venezuelan boxer. The most likely source seems to be the Latin betula ‘birch’.

Chiquinquirá ♀ — the name of a town in Colombia, made well known in Venezuela by (María) Chiquinquirá Delgado (b.1972), a model, actress and TV presenter. This is a classic Catholic religious name, rather than an invention; Chiquinquirá is home to the ‘Virgin of Chiquinquirá’, patron saint of Colombia and the Venezuelan province of Zulia, where Chiquinquirá was born.

Coraima ♀ — popularly derived from Greek korê ‘maiden’ and touted in Spanish with the elaborated meaning of templo divino de la juventud – ‘divine temple of youth’. Its most famous bearer in Venezeula is the actress Coraima Torres (b.1973), who is said to have Lebanese ancestry, so it is possibly its true origins lie with an Arabic name such as Karima ‘kind’ and ‘generous’.

Dayana ♀ — probably plucked straight from the world of plants; dayana features as part of the botanical name of more than one South American orchid. It was coined at the end of the 19th C in honor of the English botanist John Day (1824-88). Dayana’s similarity to Diana probably influenced its adoption too.

Goizeder ♀ — actually a Basque name from goiz ‘morning’ + eder ‘beautiful’, but it is Venezuelan model and TV presenter Goizeder Azúa (b.1984) — of Basque ancestry — who has put the name on the radar.

Greivis ♂ — Greivis Vásquez (b. 1987) is a Venezuelan-born basketball player. His name appears to be a classic Venezuelan coinage, devised to appear foreign — and thus exotic and desirable in the mind of the creator. Somewhere, deep in its subconscious, may lie the English surname Grieves or Graves.

Hannelly ♀ — this seems to be an adoption of the unusual surname of Irish origin, which is probably a variant of Hanley and deriving ultimately from the Irish Gaelic áluin ‘beautiful’. Why it should be taken up as a girl’s name in Venezuela is simply Venezuelan. Hannelly Quintero (b.1985) — a model and TV presenter — is responsible for bringing the name to a wider audience.

Huáscar ♂ — Spanish form of Incan Waskar Inca, the name of a 16th Century Incan Emperor. Its use is a good example of the fact that Venezuelans don’t ignore their Native American heritage in the search for interesting names.

Keidy ♀ — Highly likely a phonetic spelling of Katy – pronounced with an American accent.  Keidy Moreno (b.1983) is an international model.

Majandra ♀ — a combination of María and Alejandra, made well-known in Venezuela by the actress and singer Majandra Delfino (b.1981),  whose birth name was Maria Alejandra.

Mayré ♀ — almost certainly conceived as a phonetic rendition of the plain English Mary; many English names are popular in Venezuela, often spiced up with creative spellings. Mayré Martínez (b.1978) is a Venezuelan singer-songwriter.

Ninibeth ♀ — probably a combination of Nina and Beth. Ninibeth Leal (b.1971) is a former Miss World.

Ugueth ♂ — As borne by Ugueth Urbina (b. 1974), a former baseball player – though as he is now in prison for attempted murder, he is a bit of a persona non grata in Venezuela at present. Possibly, just possibly, related to Hugh; Ugo is the Italian form of Hugh, while Ugue and Ugues are found in Provence (while the usual French form is Hugues).

Veruska ♀ — a visitor to Venezuela might be surprised to find so many Russian and Russian-style Venezuelan names, but these were popular during the Cold War. Veruska is a pet-form of Russian Vera – though it now seems far more common in Latin America! Verushka is another form.

Yaxeni ♀ — probably a reworking of Xenia or Yesenia, or perhaps a blend of both. Yaxeni Oriquen (b. 1966) is well-known in Venezuela as a female body-building champion.

Yormery ♀ — another classic Venezuelan invention; almost certainly a respelling of English your Mary.

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