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Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Heyeroines, F to V, meanings and origins of the names

and here's the second half

Fanny/Frances Frances was not used as a name in England – except in unusual circumstances – until about 1500 and after although the male counterpart Francis was used. It means someone from France.  The name Fanny however would have been known before as a pet name for Fanchon or its variant Fancy, a medieval female name that has become obsolete.  Fancy is used in Thomas Hardy’s ‘under the Greenwood Tree’ and was considered an unusual name by then.  Frances was 12th and Fanny 35th most popular names in 1700, showing that they were given independently; in 1800 Frances was 15th and Fanny at 26th had become much more popular.
Frederica  a female version of Frederick, from the old German Friedrich, meaning peace-ruler. Suitable for the soothing older sister of quarrelsome siblings.
Henrietta/Harriet Female forms of Henry, from old German Heinrich, home-ruler. I have found no incidence of either version in England in the medieval era though the forms Henna and Hendina were occasionally used. I suspect that Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I, may have been responsible for its arrival in England and I also suspect that it gained more currency in the eighteenth century. Harriet, the preferred form, was 44th most popular in 1700 and had moved up to 11th by 1800.
Hero Shakespeare used this one too and a very silly name it was for a girl by the Regency with the naming conventions of the time. Kit Marlowe also wrote a poem ‘Hero and Leander’ about an old Greek tale.  which if you subscribe to the conspiracy theory that Kit Marlowe and Will Shakespeare were the same man explains a lot. It is a Greek name that has not been massaged at all to more modern naming conventions and has the unfortunate associations with a manly sort of man, a hero, rather than a tragic priestess of Aphrodite and an aquatically inclined lover.  I doubt it was commonly used and was probably picked by Heyer as a name so improbable that poor Kitten suffers from it. That she is the proactive member of that marriage in running away to force a reaction from Sherry makes her perhaps the hero of the story after all….
Hester/Esther Biblical.  Rose in popularity with the use of Biblical names after the Reformation.  Associated together, they are from different origins, Hester being Persian and Esther Greek, meaning respectively ‘star’ and ‘Myrtle’.  They were associated from the early story of Hester, named Hadassah in her own language.  The name gave rise to Estelle and Stella, from the Latin Stella, ‘a star’ though Stella had its further roots in Stella Maris, star of the sea, an epithet of the Virgin Mary.  Esther was 27th and 25th most popular name in 1700 and 1800 respectively.
Horatia Female version of Horatio, from the Roman clan name. Horry is named supposedly for Horatio Walpole though generally speaking the name was not used until coined by Lord Horatio Nelson for his daughter.
Jenny/Jennifer A Cornish name and a variant of Guinevere.  Used occasionally and locally up to the early 16th century when Jenefer appears as a mainstream name.  Guinevere/gwynhwfar means ‘white ghost’ and is a synonym for the barn owl aka screech owl or ‘white waves’ depending on which smooth tongued Celt you choose to believe. Jenny was 32nd and 37th most popular name in 1700 and 1800
Judith  Biblical and meaning ‘A Jewess’. An Apocryphal heroine who came down on the Assyrians like a wolf on the fold. It dropped from 25th most popular name in 1700 to 47th in 1800, in equal place, incidentally, in both cases with Deborah [Hebraic, ‘a bee’]
Juliana The Latinised form of the old name Julian which was used for male and female names alike, cf Julian of Norwich the first English feminist writer.  Several saints bore this name and its variant Julia.  It descends from the Roman Julius clan and means ‘descended from Jove’.  Another variant popular in the middle ages which has become a name in its own right is Gillian, and its variants like Gilota and Jill.  So common was the name that it was synonymous with a young girl and gave rise to the word ‘jilt’.
Katharine/Kate Greek for ‘Purity’. There were at least three Saints called Catherine or Katherine that I can think of off the top of my head and on looking it up I find a score or more.  St Catherine of Alexandria is the most famous. Katherine and its variants have been in the top 20 names for girls since the 14th century and in use since the Norman conquest.  The difficulty the Normans had in pronouncing the letter r and the regional confusion over letters/letter groups ‘d’ ‘eth’ ‘thorn’ and ‘th’ led to such variants as Catelin whence  too Kate. Catherine/Katharine was the 10th and 14th most popular name in 1700 and 1800 respectively.  Kitty was 44th and 36th.
Leonie The female version of Leon, by which name we first meet this heroine, meaning like a lion.  It is a French name. Leon and Leonard have always been uncommon names in England though there have been instances since the Norman conquest possibly at first because of the similar sound to native names like Leomer.
Leticia  This is an old name meaning ‘joy’ from the Latin; its earlier form in daily use [ie not as recorded in official documents] was Lettice. Other variants are Laetitia and Lecia. Never tremendously popular it reached a zenith in the 14th century when it was more popular than the new name Elisabeth  which rapidly surpassed it.
Lucasta first used in 1649 by the poet Richard Lovelace as a nickname for the woman he loved, Lucy Sacheverel whom he called ‘Lux Castra’ or ‘pure light’. Lucas had long been a male name.
Lucinda  One of the ‘light’ names, from the Latin. The form Lucy is more common and early on Luciana, the feminine of Lucian, was also used. Popular in the 18th century. . Lucy is 36th and 27th most popular name in 1700 and 1800 but no sign of the less common forms.
Mary One of the most common Biblical names and meaning ‘bitter’. One of the few names continuously in use from at least the Norman conquest to, indeed, the present day. It has generated a large number of pet names and derivative names. The difficulty the Normans had in pronouncing the letter ‘r’ led to such popular derivatives as Molly. Mary was in top position of popularity in 1700 and 1800and had never been out of the top 10 since the conquest.
Penelope In Greek legend, the faithful wife of Odysseus [Ulysses] who agreed to remarry when she had finished her weaving, which she worked at all day and unravelled at night.  Used from the 16th century when classical names began to be used by an increasingly literate upper and artisan class.
Phoebe Greek, meaning ‘radiant’ [cf Phoebus the sun].  Also Biblical being a woman who gave aid to Paul.  However the name was not used significantly until the 18th century.  The common form was Phebe which may be found in Jane Austen’s letters.29th and 38th in popularity in 1700 and 1800 respectively.
Prudence Not as one might think a Puritan virtue name but a virtue name of greater antiquity. It has been used since the Norman conquest but was uncommon until the rise in popularity of virtue names after the Reformation. Pleasance and Constance have equal antiquity.
Sarah a Biblical name, the wife of Abraham and one of the few names continuously in use from at least the Norman conquest to, indeed, the present day.  The meaning is ‘A princess’. The Norman difficulty pronouncing ‘r’ led to the pet name Sally by which diminutive Hugh Thane calls his sister.  Sarah was the 4th most popular name in both 1700 and 1800; Sally was 42nd and 27th.
Selina From the Greek ‘Selene’ ‘the moon’ and first found in the 17th century.  It is possible that it owed some success to the similarly sounding Celia, itself a diminutive of Cecilia.
Serena from Latin ‘calm, serene’. An obscure early saint and used by Spencer in 1590 in his ‘Faerie Queene’ so a name either for a Roman Catholic family or a literary name.
Sophy/Sophia Greek, meaning ‘wisdom’.  Well the Grand Sophy certainly has the wisdom of the serpent in her manipulations, A saint’s name; I cannot find it in use early so again, I suspect its use in England became more widespread from about 1700. It certainly became popular quickly being just into the top 50 names [equal 48th] in 1700 and had risen to 21st by 1800
Tiffany has been an accepted pet name for Theophania since the middle ages giving rise to the surname Tiffany as in Louis Comfort Tiffany.  The Curia Regis rolls mention a woman known variously as Theophania, Teffania and Theffanie in 1206. The French version was Tiphaine occasionally Tiphine and was given to girls born on Epiphany from the Greek meaning of Theophania, 'Manifestation of God'.  Othe variants in the Middle Ages were Tiphina, Tiffania, Tiffin and Teffan. It has been around in the general stock without ever making it into the top 20 names, being at a zenith in the 14th century,
Venetia The Latinised version of the Welsh name Gwynedd [Gwynneth] which bears also a resemblance to the place name Venice and may therefore have gained some currency from a romantic far away place.  The famed beauty Venetia  Anastasia Stanley [1600-1633 not to be confused with Venetia Stanley 1887-1948] may also have added to its popularity.   Used from the seventeenth century. 

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