Flower baby names are hot favourites for modern British parents. So much so that, when all the spellings are added together, Lily has ranked as the most popular girls name in England and Wales for the last two years. Other Top 100 choices include Daisy, Poppy, Holly, Jasmine and Rose, with Violet, Iris and Ivy not far behind.
And this is nothing new; the British love of floral names is long established. The Edwardians took their love of flowers and elevated them to the heights of fashion in girls’ names.
But, before they took off as names, flowers were used as an intricate form of communication known, quite grandly, as floriography. If a Victorian lady received flowers, she would automatically consult her floriography handbooks and dictionaries (which helpfully attributed meanings and phrases to a variety of flowers) to see what messages were being conveyed. A white rose meant “I am worthy of you;” a Carolina rose meant “Dangerous love,” while a full rose placed over two buds meant “Secrecy.”
Manx is one of the six Celtic languages that hail from the British isles. It is the native language of the Isle of Man, an island uniquely situated between the coasts of Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales. From its highest point, Snaefell, you can even see all four countries on a clear day.
Over the centuries it has passed from and between Welsh, Viking, English and Scottish rule, though now has its own democratic parliament. The Manx language — a close relative of Irish and Scot Gaelic — was spoken up until the 1970s, when its last native speaker died. However, it is now beginning to see some signs of revival.
Brits love diminutives. We use them, often automatically, to shorten names in a familiar way, and they have been essential for centuries as a way of distinguishing individuals with the same name. We love them so much, many of them have now been elevated into full-name status, and happily litter the Top 100.
The most common are two-syllable, ie/y-endings we know and love well; Isabelles are Izzy, Olivers are Ollie, Katherines are Katies and Fredericks are Freddies. But more and more, parents are looking to a more brisk and quirky style of diminutive. Edwards are often Ned, rather than Eddy; several Henrys are Hal, and Christophers are the striking Kit rather than Chris.
With this niche trend in mind, here is a rundown of some one-syllable diminutives that have become overlooked since they were developed in the Middle Ages. Several of them, perhaps surprisingly, were unisex.
In the 16th century Bess was a popular nickname for Elizabeth. You could almost say that it was the diminutive for the name, as the most famous bearer, Elizabeth I, was known fondly as “Good Queen Bess“. It began to lose favour in the 18th century, but was revived as Bessie in the 19th. In some instances, Bess was also used as a diminutive for Beatrice.