By Eleanor Nickerson
I was lucky enough recently to visit Bath for a weekend break to celebrate a good friend’s birthday.
Among many other treasures there I noticed a carved block bearing the name “Cornelianus.” The impact and permanence of the stone struck me for a moment; how one name, carved centuries ago indelibly into rock, has survived and is still seen today. Cornelianus may no longer be used as a given name, but for this particular Cornelianus, his name endures.
Sol – Back when the Roman baths were at their apex, the great temple courtyard featured two buildings facing each other across the altar dedicated to the moon goddess Luna and the sun god Sol. Lovely Luna is at #146 in England and Wales, 110 in the US and on the rise. Sol, in contrast, languishes down at #988 over here and is not even in the Top 1000 in America. In many ways this is surprising. It’s a short and punchy name – a style which is fashionable at the moment but isn’t so entirely unheard of as to make it weird.
Godiva – I live in Coventry, a city famous for being extensively bombed during WW2 and for being the place in which Lady Godiva rode naked through the streets to save the people from unjust taxation. July is the key month of the year for us Coventrians when we host the “Godiva Festival,” a weekend-long music and arts festival.
Like Cornelianus, Godiva is a name that has been preserved for centuries, even though it is very rare as a given name. It is both a common name and an extremely rare one at the same time. Not only is it inextricably linked to the Lady of Mercia herself, it is synonymous with a festival here in Coventry; is an American chocolate brand, and is loudly sung at parties when Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now is played. In other words, its use as a proper noun has diminished, to be replaced by its ascendancy as a common noun.
Coco – My visit coincided with the Wimbledon Championships. To be honest, I pay little attention to tennis itself but I am always fascinated by the names. This year it was American player Coco Vandeweghe who caught my attention. Her full name is actually Colleen, which shows how versatile a nickname it can be. Any Co/C-o name will work: Colette, Chloe, Cordelia, Constance, Coralie, Coraline, Cosima, Corinne, Corisande, Cosette, Constanza…Coco alone doesn’t rank in the US Top 1000, and languishes down at #740 in England and Wales.
Reeva – July was also the month that Britain reached a fever-pitch of excitement as the Welsh soccer team reached the UEFA EURO semi-finals. Joe Ledley’s daughters Layla and Reeva were brought out on to the pitch post-match to melt hearts. The younger, Reeva Iggy, was born in 2015 after her name made its breakout into the charts in England and Wales in 2013 – the highest rising name that year – inspired by South African model and paralegal Reeva Steenkamp who was tragically killed that year.
It’s an interesting case of a celebrity baby being given a name directly inspired by another celebrity. Reeva rose again to #589 in 2014 in England and Wales, and looks set to rise much, much further. Internationally, its usage, however, is still very rare.
Cybi – Amidst Euro-fever, many celebrities (especially Welsh ones) were taking to social media to proclaim their support. Former ‘Steps’ band member Ian “H” Watkins, shared a sweet picture of his twins, Macsen and Cybi. Macsen, having reached #78 in Wales, is the mainstream choice in its homeland (though outside the Top 1000 elsewhere). Cybi (pronounced CUB-ee) is the name of a 6th century Cornish saint. The Cornish form of the name is spelled Cuby, but is also extremely rare.
Clova –A few years ago, while trawling through old birth registrations, I came across Clova. It’s a rare name – one that has only been registered a handful of times in the English-speaking world since the 19th century – but makes a very pretty and accessible choice.
For me, Clova is a twist on the floral name Clover with Celtic and place-name heritage. Clova is a village in Glen Clova in Angus, Scotland. ‘Glen Clova’ itself is also a popular raspberry variety, perpetuating the nature theme. However, for others, Clova is a feminine form of Clovis, a shortened Latin form of the kingly Frankish name Chlodovech, which later became Ludwig and Louis. File Clova then as a nature name, place-name, Gaelic heritage choice and sister to Louise and Louisa.
Elwen – As we say goodbye to David Cameron as Prime Minister, so we saw a farewell of his family from Downing Street with Mr Cameron saying: “I want to thank my children – Nancy, Elwen and Florence, for whom Downing Street has been a lovely home over this last six years.”
Elwen? Who’s Elwen? I had assumed that the Camerons’ nine year old son, Arthur Elwen, was simply Arthur. Apparently, however, he is known more commonly by his unusual middle name. His sisters are Nancy Gwen (12) and Florence Rose Endellion (5), who both go by their first names. Elwen is a variant of Elwin and Alvin, medieval forms of three Old English names Aelfwine “elf friend,” Aethelwine “noble friend” and Ealdwine “old friend.”
Zaidee – As David Cameron moves out of Downing Street, so Theresa May moves in. Our new Prime Minister ’s name, like her predecessor’s, may be comfortingly ordinary, but her mother was the intriguingly named Zaidee Mary.
Zaidee is a rare form of Sadie, itself a diminutive of Sarah. It has been speculated that her name indicates Middle Eastern origins, but the reality is that Zaidee’s mother Violet chose it because of its biblical associations.
Zolestine – Thinking of Zaidee brings to my mind another uncommon Z name: Zolestine. I’ve long been musing about this one, and how exotic yet surprisingly accessible it is.