Generic nicknames for boys is a baby name trend that some parents detest, and others are eager to embrace. But how much use and history do some of these names have? Here’s a close look at two.
Buddy is a slang word meaning “friend, companion.” It may be an affectionate alteration of the word brother, but there is an eighteenth century English and Welsh dialect word butty, meaning “work-mate,” which was used by coal miners. This goes back to the sixteenth century term booty fellow, given to a partner that you share your booty or plunder with; thanks to pirate movies, we know that booty has nothing to do with boots or buttocks, but means “gains, rewards,” often with connotations of being ill-gotten. Interestingly, we still sometimes jokingly introduce a friend as our partner in crime.
There’s a lot to be said for having a name that is familiar in many countries. It makes travel and working overseas just that little bit easier, and if you have a particular cultural background, it’s nice to know that relatives in your country of origin will easily be able to spell and pronounce your child’s name. Even if your child never leaves their native shores, we live in a global village, and they will most likely meet, study, and work with people from other countries.
To me, a name with high international recognition needed to be popular in as many regions as possible, so that as a mimimum, it needed to be Top 100 in the English-speaking countries of Australia, New Zealand, England/Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Ireland, Canada, and the USA. It also needed to be popular in Western Europe, Eastern Europe, and Scandinavia.
The Australian birth data is generally released by each state and territory between New Year and Easter, culminating in the national Top 100. Below are the names which rose the most in 2013, and some possible reasons why they might be doing so well at present. People from other countries may be interested to compare this to their own fastest-rising names, when all the data is in. I have also written an article on my site on those Top 100 names that rose significantly in several states, which has slightly different information.
Name Days began in medieval Europe as a way of replacing the pagan custom of birthday celebrations with the Christian tradition of saints’ days. The Name Day was to honour your patron saint (the one you were named after), and complicated calendars were drawn up based on saintly feast days.
In modern Europe, Name Days have mostly lost their Christian overtones and become more of a folk tradition. Even the link to saints’ feast days seem to have been broken in many countries, with the date of the Name Day not always correlating with any special date in the saint’s hagiography.
In many countries, your Name Day is more of a big deal than your birthday, and it is certainly a lot more public. While only family and close friends might know when your birthday is, everyone who knows your name knows when it’s your Name Day – it’s written right there in the calendar!
Caspian is a character in C.S. Lewis’s fantasy series, The Chronicles of Narnia. As a young boy in Prince Caspian, he had to fight for his throne against his usurping uncle to become king of Narnia, and as a youth in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader he led a daring expedition to the end of the world. In The Silver Chair, we meet him as a very old man, having reigned wisely and well, but also suffering personal tragedy. Because of his great sea voyage, he is known as Caspian the Seafarer. Perhaps because of this connection, Lewis named his character after the Caspian Sea, the world’s largest inland body of water; Caspian is a romantic geographic name which sounds rather like Casper with a Latin -ian ending. Actress Neve Campbell used it for her son.
Dexter Morgan is the protagonist of the Dexter series of psychological thrillers by Jeff Lindsay. Dexter works for the police as a forensic blood spatter analyst, but is a serial killer in his spare time–though only killing murderers, rapists, and other criminals. Dexter is an English occupational surname for someone who dyed cloth, literally “dyer” in Anglo-Saxon. The word was originally feminine, but Dexter has overwhelmingly been used as a male name. Dexter also happens to coincide with the Latin for “right handed,” with connotations of being skilful. The books have inspired a popular television series, with Michael C. Hall in the title role, and since Dexter began airing in 2006, the name (which was about to slip off the Top 1000) has gone steadily up in popularity in the US; it is currently #362. It may seem strange that a serial killer could save the name, but Dexter Morgan is an oddly sympathetic murderer and (perhaps slightly worryingly) female viewers find the character very attractive. Dexter fits in the surnames-for-boys trend, and has a cool X sound in it.
Dorian Gray is the protagonist of Oscar Wilde’s only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. An extremely handsome young man who wishes his portrait could age while his own beauty remains changeless, his narcissistic wish is granted, and he spends his life in debauchery while retaining a youthful appearance, as his hidden portrait bears the mark of his every corruption. It is usually assumed that Wilde took the name Dorian from the Dorian people of ancient Greece–the Greeks did have names from this source, such as Dorieus and Doris. However, Dorian is also an Irish surname from O’Deoradhain, meaning “son of Deorain.” Use of the name predates the novel’s publication, and in Eastern Europe it may be a pet form of Teodor. Dorian is sometimes used for girls. Despite Dorian Gray being an evil character, the name has remained in use, and is #558 in the US, and #549 and rising in the UK.
Heathcliff is the male lead character in Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, the foster-brother and love of Catherine Earnshaw. The novel explores the deep and obsessive love that Cathy and Heathcliff have for each other, and how the thwarting of that love turned Heathcliff into a tortured monster, though many think of Heathcliff as the Byronic hero and romantic lover whose passion lived beyond the grave. In film, he has been portrayed most memorably by Laurence Olivier. Heathcliff is an uncommon English surname meaning “heath on the cliff”; it doesn’t seem to have been used as a personal name before Wuthering Heights, and only rarely since. Actor Heath Ledger was named after Heathcliff (and his sister after Catherine!), and as Heath is a fashionable name at present, Heathcliff doesn’t seem too bizarre as a long form, although admittedly a bold choice.
Huckleberry “Huck” Finn is the protagonist of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and the best friend of the hero in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. The son of the town drunk, a neglected vagabond who lives a carefree existence until he is adopted and “civilised,” he runs away with an escaped slave named Jim, and the two travel down the Mississippi River by raft in search of freedom. Huck has been portrayed on film by Mickey Rooney, Ron Howard, Elijah Wood and others. Huckleberry is North American dialect for the bilberry, although in practice applied to several wild berries. The word has long been part of American slang, usually to suggest something small and insignificant – the perfect name for Huck Finn, a child of little consequence in his town. Later it came to mean “companion, sidekick”. Huckleberry was in occasional use as a personal name prior to the publication of Twain’s novels. This would make a sweet, offbeat name, while Huck is a hip short form.
Rhett Butler is the love interest of Scarlett O’Hara in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind. A black sheep, he becomes entranced with the spirited Scarlett, and admires her will to survive. Although viewed as a cad by polite Southern society, Rhett is tall, dark, handsome, charming, intelligent, and has a very good understanding of human psychology – especially female. He is the only person who can stand up to Scarlett, and beat her in a battle of wits. In the 1939 movie, the biggest box office smash in history when adjusted for inflation, Rhett is played by Clark Gable. Rhett is a surname which comes from the Dutch de Raedt, meaning “counsel, advice”. Mitchell seems to have chosen the name as an allusion to her first husband, “Red” Upshaw, on whom the character of Rhett Butler is based (with a dash of Rudolf Valentino). Rhett is a sexy bad boy name; in the U.S. it is #508 and rising.
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.