Literary Baby Names: 8 novel names from Chaucer
Chaucer was writing in the Middle Ages, between 1343 and 1400, and the Greek myths he alludes to are far older. Jacqueline de Weever has created a dictionary of the names in Chaucer’s works, found at: http://www.columbia.edu/dlc/garland/deweever/menu.htm. Some of the names are clearly too awkward for modern use. For instance, teaching 4-year-old Cresseyde to spell her name would be an extremely daunting task, Ceyx and Dictys could give rise to rather risqué pronunciations and although Cutberd or Huberd would make awesome pirate names, they could cause sniggers in the classroom. Many of Chaucer’s names are still in current usage and, for those that are not, we have selected eight names worthy of resurgence.
De Weever’s dictionary reminded me of some beautiful Nameberry names that are beginning to gather dust: Abraham (#183), Ariadne (#147), Arthur (#323), Basil (#630), Blanche (#531), Cassandra (#459), Cato (#179), Lucia (#241), Prudence (#490), Susanna (#837), Tarquin (#347), Theodora (#286), Thisbe (#863) and Tristan (#97). So many of these names are steeped in history or literature, it’s a shame they are not given an outing more often.
De Weever also drew my attention to Nameberry names that are all but forgotten, trending between #844 and #13511: Aesop, Alban, Argus, Balthasar, Cadmus, Cenobia, Clementia, Clio, Corinna, Cybele, Gawain, Janus, Isidore, Lucan, Lucilla, Malkin, Perkin and Renard. Renard’s rank at Number 13511 is surprising: Renard is a name from medieval folklore, a cunning fox who shows the power of skill over strength. Renard is a rip-roaring rocket of a name and far more sophisticated than the Grandpa alternatives: Gerard, Bernard and Howard.
Finally, we hit buried treasure. De Weever’s list reveals the following new entries:
Alisandre has an obvious elegance and is much softer and more feminine than Alexandra. The “re” rolls off the tongue nicely and makes the name feel Continental. The “sandre” ending removes any unwanted smoosh with the name Sandra.
With its closeness to Calypso, Calipsa is a sunny, joyful, high-spirited name. The type of name that makes you want to jump into a grass skirt and hurl yourself under a limbo pole. The “a” at the end heightens her femininity and, in the middle, she delivers a whopping great kiss with her “lips.”
Cibella is certainly on trend, following in the footsteps of Isabella, Bella, Ella, Stella, Estella and Mariella. I was tempted to add Rubella to the list, but, for obvious reasons, resisted. The spelling of Cibella looks less austere than Sybella and brings the name closer to her cousin, Cinderella.
Livilla is similar to Olivia, Livia, Willa, Camilla and Drusilla. In fact, it’s a smoosh between Livia and Willa. It was the name of Julia Livilla, who was the youngest great-grandaughter of Emperor Augustus.
Mabely is a variant of Mabel, possibly made prettier by the “ly” ending. It has a rhythmic quality and would sit well in a love poem. Perhaps one day Mabely could be as popular as Emily? As I write this article, I am trying desperately not to recall the Maybelline ad (“Maybe she’s born with it…”) because that would spoil this pretty little name. Thankfully, the spellings of Mabely and Maybelline are quite different.
Rupheo is an intriguing name. Reminiscent of Rufus and Rupert, it follows names like Theo, Leo and Matteo. The “ph” adds a level of sophistication and brings it in line with Raphael and Ralph. Rufio was the leader of The Lost Boys in the 1991 version of Peter Pan (Hook). You’ve got to love the boisterous, rough and tumble charm of Rupheo. Please, don’t let this sucker punch name go to waste!
Joanna is happily married and lives in Singapore where she teaches English literature. As for her initial interest in names, she says, “I was 4 years old when my Mummy first told me that I had a hitherto undisclosed middle name. “What is it?” I asked, with enormous excitement, as if a secret door to my identity was about to be unlocked. “Jane” she said, conspiratorially. At first I was a bit underwhelmed, “plain Jane super brain” seemed a bit dull. Later, I was perplexed that my parents had chosen first and middle names that both derived from “John”, it was as if they had given me the same name twice. However, as I studied poetry at school, I began to I appreciate the alliteration of Joanna Jane and when my Auntie Jane died I felt very fortunate to carry her flame in my name. Romeo & Juliet asks the eternal question “what’s in a name?” For me, the answer is parental love, family pride and forever belonging. At home your name opens doors and arms.”