Tuesday, 13 September 2011
Heyeroines, A to E, meanings and origins of the names
Being a great Georgette Heyer fan, I've put together both the Heyeroines and some of the major secondary female characters to trace the origins and meanings of their names.
Heyeroines names and their origins
Abigail A Biblical name that came into fashion with the Puritans. It means ‘father rejoiced’ which as Abigail Wendover points out is something of an irony. By the Regency period the name has acquired the negative overtones of being used to indicate a female servant; and abigail was a lady’s maid. This was because Abigail in the Bible was David’s third wife and was referred to as his handmaiden.
Amanda a re-vamping of an old name by using the gerundive of the Latin verb amare tolove; Amanda literally means ‘she who must be loved’. Medieval versions were Amabilia, Amabel, Amice, Amy etc; though the form Amanda is first mentioned in 1212. At this point it may too have had some connection with the name Diamanda, a fanciful concoction of Medieval romance. 17th century poets revived this obscure form and made it the major variant of the name. Amy was the more common form and was 29th and 41st most popular name in 1700 and 1800 respectively.
Ancilla A name that arose with the popularity of classical sources of names with the age of enlightenment and with some connection to meaning that became attached to the name Abigail since Ancilla means ‘a female slave’ in Latin. It is the root of the word ‘ancillary’.
Annis this is a name synonymous with Agnes and arose because of the original pronunciation of Agnes which did not use the hard g in the Saxon tongue when the name was brought by the Normans. In the Saxon tongue the pronunciation would have been approximately ‘Ayniss’. It derives from the Latin for ‘lamb’ agnus OR from the Greek Hagnes, feminine of Hagnos, meaning pure. With Christian symbolism it is easy to see how the two were rapidly combined. Saint Agnes was a young martyr of the 4th Century under Diocletian who if all the Golden Legend is to be believed did not have much time for anything except persecuting people. Brought by the Normans and generally in the top ten girls’ names through a peak in the fifteenth century and remaining fairly popular until its recent decline. Generally the form ‘Agnes’ was used from the early modern period with Annis becoming a separate and less common name. Agnes was 20th and 39th most popular name in 1700 and 1800 respectively.
Anthea One of the fanciful poetical names of the seventeenth century taking classical names and reinventing them. A byname of Hera, Antheia means flowery; Anthea is the Latinised spelling. It was a name poets liked to symbolise spring.
Arabella May be a fanciful name of the seventeenth century with the Latin ending ‘Bella’ meaning beautiful or may have been in descent of the much older name Orabilia/Orabella meaning ‘prayerful’ which was itself one of the fanciful names of the thirteenth century, like Diamanda and Argentina. It may also have had its origins in Annabella, beautiful Anne, which dates to the Norman conquest though never in great popularity until the early sixteenth century.
Barbara Never a common name but used from the conquest. It is of Greek origin from the same root as ‘barbarian’ ie, one who does not speak Greek and indicated a foreign woman. Its initial popularity and continuation were probably due to St Barbara, patron saint of architects and a protector against fire and lightning. 33rd and 44th most popular name in 1700 and 1800 respectively.
Beatrix variant of Beatrice and from the Latin ‘Blessed’. The name of a selection of saints. Used throughout the middle ages usually in the variant Betris as in Bettrys, the wife of George-a-Green, pinner of Wakefield from the Robin Hood tales. Also one of those pernicious names from Shakespeare, which literary use may have assured its survival.
Belinda A made up name with the prefix ‘Bel’ meaning beautiful and suffix ‘lind’ either from old German meaning serpent [a beast of health and fertility] or ‘linde’ meaning ‘soft and tender’; used in ‘the provok’d wife’ in 1697 by Sir John Vanbrugh and in 1712 by Alexander Pope in ‘The Rape of the Lock’. Literary and upper class.
Cecilia/Cicely A very old name stemming from the Caecilius clan. It may too have been the Latinised version of the Welsh name Seissylt, meaning sixth. Cecilia means blind; the most famous saint to bear the name is patron saint of music. It was very popular all through the middle ages and acquired a raft of bynames like Celia, Sisley, Cissota. The Latinised form Cecilia replaced Cecily in the eighteenth century. Celia incidentally is also a name in its own right from an independent source.
Charis means, as Mr Trevor was aware, ‘grace’ in Greek. Spencer used the version Charissa as its first incarnation in 1590, in his poem ‘The Faerie Queene’. Charis was used first in the seventeenth century. It may too have received some popularity from its similarity to the word – and origin – of Charity, a Puritan virtue name. Incidentally the name Grace was 17th and 27th in 1700 and 1800 respectively.
Charity/Cherry A Puritan virtue name; Charity is the translation from the King James Bible but earlier Greek versions could more readily translate the word as ‘love’.
Cleone Another literary name of Greek origin, the feminine of the Greek name Cleon. Used by Racine in 1667 and in 1758 was the title of an English play. It means ‘glory’
Cordelia Shakespeare is responsible for this one’s use, having managed [like Imogen] to invent it from the previously used name Cordula a fourth century saint. [Imogen was his mangling of Innogen]; or possibly Cordeilla, from Hollinshed’s Chronicles 1577
Cornelia A female form of Cornelius and from that Roman clan. Use arose with an exemplary mother of the second century and a martyred saint. Probably revived with the interest in classical names from the 16th century.
Cressida Most people are most familiar with Shakespeare’s retelling of Troilus and Cressida but earlier honours go at least to Boccaccio in retelling a version of the Iliad and who used the form Criseida. His tale was taken wholesale by Chaucer who used the version Criseyde. It derives from the Greek Kryseis, ‘gold’, the girl in the Iliad whom Agamemnon was forced to return to Troy leading to his taking of Briseis from Achilles and all that brouhaha. Shakespeare Latinised the name and it never looked back.
Diana Diana the Huntress, the Roman version of the goddess Artemis. Diana of Ephesus being mentioned in the Bible may have been a reason for the popularity of this name – after all, some of the names taken from the Bible by ignorant but willing new Protestants do not have especially savoury pasts, Sapphira for example, Delilah, and Dinah. The similarity of Diana to the old testament Dinah may too have helped its popularity. Dinah was 42nd and 43rd most popular name in 1700 and 1800 respectively; Diana was always going to be more up market.
Drusilla The female version of the Roman clan Drusus and also with Biblical associations being the daughter of Herod Agrippa. I am inclined to suspect however that any use of it was literary rather than Biblical.
Elinor/ Helen/Nell A name of perennial appeal right back to the conquest; Greek in origin from Eleni, the original version of the name of Helen of Troy. It means ‘shining light’ and was probably popularised because of Saint Helena, mother of Constantine; she is supposed to have discovered the True Cross and in my opinion was one of the most astute politicians of the historical age up there with Octavian/Augustus, Machiavelli, Cardinals Richelieu and Mazarin, Abe Lincoln and Disraeli. Eleanor was 13th and Ellen, the more common form of Helen, was 21st most popular name in 1700, Ellen was 20th and Eleanor 24th in 1800.
Elvira may be of either Old German or Spanish origin, appearing from the Spanish history of Don Juan in around 1630, retold many times including by Mozart as Don Giovanni.
Eugenia Greek, meaning ‘well born’ or ‘noble’. The first is a French form. There is a saint Eugenia who appears in the Golden Legend. Probably rose in use from the increase in use of classically inspired names from the 16th century though it was more used on the continent.
Eustacie/Eustacia Greek meaning fruitful. This is one of the names that in medieval times was not distinguished between men and women, and both were called Eustace. Others were Clement, Julian, Jocelyn, Jordan. With the 16th century the rise of interest in classically based names led to the formalising of Eustacia as a feminine form, though it was more common on the continent.