Aladdin Sane was David Bowie‘s 1973 album. Although people often forget the name of this Bowie persona (a pun on A Lad Insane), his image is one of the most memorable: a face crossed by a lightning bolt to represent a divided self. A continuation of Ziggy Stardust, it was partly inspired by David Bowie‘s brother Terry, who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Aladdin features in The 1001 Nights as a boy who becomes trapped in a cave by a wicked magician, but escapes with the help of a genie. A pantomime staple, it has also been made into a popular Disney film.
The name Aladdin is an Anglicised form of the Arabic name Ala Al-Din, meaning “excellent in faith”. Aladdin has been rarely used as an English name, and probably reminds people too strongly of the magical lamp.
The Thin White Duke was the persona attached to Bowie‘s 1976 album Station to Station. Outwardly an elegant aristocrat with cabaret style, the Duke had a sinister side which included an undercurrent of Fascism. David Bowie described him as “a nasty character”.
Duke is an English noble title derived from the Latin dux, meaning “leader.” As a surname, it was given to those employed in a duke’s household, or could be derived from the Irish name Marmaduke. Although it has been given as a personal name for centuries, it has more often been used as a nickname, such as jazz legend Duke Ellington. On and off the US Top 1000 since the 19th century, it had a break of more than 40 years before returning in 2013, perhaps inspired by Dukes in popular culture, such as the characters in the GI Joe films and the TV series Haven. It’s currently #666 in the US and #959 in the UK, rising steeply in both.
The Thin White Duke was partly influenced by the look of Bowie‘s character Thomas Newton in the 1976 sci-fi film, The Man Who Fell to Earth. David Bowie plays a lonely alien who becomes trapped on earth, and the film has gone on to become highly influential. Bowie himself has used the film’s imagery on the album Low, and in the video for The Stars (Are Out Tonight).
Newton is an English surname, taken from a common place name meaning “new settlement.” Its most famous namesake is the great scientist Sir Isaac Newton, who made so many contributions to physics and optics, but is best known for discovering the laws of gravity – by his own account, by watching an apple fall from a tree. He fulfilled all the requirements of a popular genius by not only being staggeringly brainy, but also mysteriously eccentric and pleasingly modest. There must have been many Newtons named after Sir Isaac, but the name left the US Top 1000 in 1957; in 2014 there were just 21 boys named Newton in the US and 7 in the UK. It may be in for a resurgence with the Harry Potter prequel Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, starring Eddie Redmayne as animal-loving wizard Newton “Newt” Scamander.
Jareth was the flamboyant Goblin King in the 1986 fantasy film Labyrinth, a role Bowie played with dark menace, a spiky hair-do, and a pair of alarmingly well-stuffed pants. Jareth was an evil, baby-snatching trickster with his own magical maze, yet also an object of unwilling desire. The movie bombed, but thanks in large part to Bowie‘s performance, has become a cult favourite.
Jareth is often considered a mash-up of Jared and Gareth, invented for the film. However it has been in rare use since at least the 19th century, perhaps a variant of Jared, or the surname name Jarrett, derived from either Gerard or Gerald. Since 1986 the name has become well-used in sci-fi/fantasy stories and games, so has gained a bit of geek chic. For most people this name will be irrevocably linked with the Goblin King (even the character Jareth in Madam Secretary makes reference to it) so good luck getting anyone to believe your son’s name Jareth was inspired by anything other than Labyrinth. In 2014, there were 73 boys named Jareth in the US, and 3 in the UK.
Lazarus is the 2015 off-Broadway musical that was one of the last works David Bowie completed before he died, a surreal sequel to The Man Who Fell to Earth. The title track Lazarus is not only Bowie‘s swan-song, but his final gift to his fans.
Lazarus is from the Greek form of the Hebrew name Eleazar, meaning “God has helped.” However, its significance far outweighs its etymology, as in the New Testament Lazarus is a close friend of Jesus Christ that he raises from the dead, a foreshadowing of his own resurrection. Because of this we use Lazarus to refer to any restoration of life, such as Lazarus syndrome where a patient who has been declared dead by medics later recovers. That isn’t the only Lazarus in the Bible: Jesus told a parable about a beggar covered in sores named Lazarus, so a lazar house is another word for a leper colony. Lazarus is a classic yet rare name – it has been in use since the Middle Ages without ever becoming common. In 2014 there were 124 boys named Lazarus in the US; coincidentally, the same number as those called Eleazar.