Arrietty Clock is a teenage “borrower” from Mary Norton’s classic children’s fantasy book series, The Borrowers. The borrowers are tiny people who live by “borrowing” everyday items from the Big People they call “human beans.” Because of the spirited Arrietty’s curiosity, she and her family have far more adventurous lives than the average borrower. The borrowers’ names have also been “borrowed,” and used in new ways. Arrietty is reminiscent of the word arietta, meaning “little song, a small aria” in Italian. It is also similar to the name Harriet, and the short form Etty. As Aria and Harriet are quite popular, and Etta very hip, Arrietty is one of those invented names which we are half-surprised wasn’t used before the books’ publication.
In J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic fantasy novel, The Lord of the Rings, Arwen Undómiel is an Elven princess, said to be the most beautiful of the last generation of the High Elves. She is the lover of the hero Aragorn, and because she is an immortal, Arwen must sacrifice a great deal to be with her love. In the Elvish Sindarin language created by Tolkien, Arwen is said to mean “noble maiden.” However, Tolkien did not invent the name itself, which is a modern Welsh name. It may be a feminine form of Arwyn, which I have seen translated as “very fair, greatly blessed, splendid.” In the UK, Arwen began charting around the time The Fellowship of the Ring came out, and is currently #654 and rising.
Bellatrix Lestrange is an evil witch in the Harry Potter series, the Dark Lord Voldemort’s most faithful follower. Bellatrix was born into the Black family, and like all members of that clan, she is named after a star. Bellatrix is the common name of Gamma Orionis, a bright star in the constellation of Orion. Its name is Latin for “female warrior.” Bellatrix Lestrange’s name is apt because she is a skilled warrior for Voldemort, and has won many duels. It sounds very usable, because it has the popular Bella in it, and the -trix from hip Beatrix. However, while the Harry Potter character has raised the name’s profile, it’s also a stumbling block, because the character is evil – and not in a cool “strong yet misunderstood woman” way. Bellatrix is a fanatical racist with a love for murder and torture, and a starstruck Voldie fangirl with an annoying little-girl voice. So on one hand: great name. On the other: horrible association.
The Lorelei is the name of a famous rock on the River Rhine, and also that of a beautiful water sprite or siren associated with the rock, who is supposed to lure men to their doom. The character of the Lorelei comes from a nineteenth century German ballad which poet Heinrich Heine turned into a poem called Die Lorelei, where a golden-haired siren unwittingly distracts men with her beauty so they crash onto the rocks. The poem has often been set to music and is part of German popular culture. The name Lorelei is a combination of German dialect and Celtic, and means “murmuring rock,” and is the name of the alluring blonde in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, played on screen by Marilyn Monroe. The name also features in garrulous gabfest Gilmore Girls, where both mother and teen daughter share the name Lorelei (the younger goes by Rory). Pronounced LOR-uh-lie, it is #531 in the U.S.
Pollyanna Whittier is the title character of the Pollyanna books by Eleanor H. Porter, an eleven-year-old orphan who is sent to live with her Aunt Polly in New England, where her sunny disposition soon teaches her stern relative, and the whole town, how to play the “Glad Game” – where you always look for something to feel glad about. While many are charmed by the heroine’s upbeat view of life, cynics find her too syrupy and her philosophy simplistic. Because of this, the word Pollyanna has entered our language to mean someone optimistic to the point of naiveté. This would be a difficult name to give a child in many ways, but would make a sunshiney middle, and easily shortens to Polly.
Velvet Brown is the heroine of Enid Bagnold’s novel, National Velvet, about a teenager who rides to victory in the brutally difficult Grand National Steeplechase jump race. The story is about the ability of ordinary people to achieve great things – Velvet is a plain, rather sickly girl from a working-class family, and the horse she wins on is a piebald. The movie version chucks most of this inspiring message aside so they can show a radiantly pretty pre-teen Elizabeth Taylor galloping about on a chestnut thoroughbred. Velvet is a fabric that was originally very expensive to make, and therefore associated with nobility and royalty. The word is from Old French, from the Latin for “tuft, down”, because of velvet’s distinctive texture. It has been used as a name since the nineteenth century, and has been given mostly to girls.
This is an adaptation of a blog on Anna Otto’s site Waltzingmorethanmatilda.com. You can see the full, expanded version here. Anna blogs about a wide variety of Australian names, and Aussie name trends, at Waltzing More Than Matilda. Boys’ names will be coming soon.