Wednesday, March 21

Names from Mother Goose

illustration by Blanche Fisher Wright

How many miles to Babylon?
Threescore miles and ten.
Can I get there by candlelight?
Yes, and back again.
~ from "To Babylon"

I've always loved reading Mother Goose rhymes to my daughter, and she loves them, too. Looking through our many, many collections, I realized they were a great place to find names. Here are some that stood out.

Hector — meaning "holding fast," Hector was a Trojan warrior of Greek myth. The original Greek spelling of the name is Hektor, which I slightly prefer for its more angular look. It's a name that's been on my long list for some time. Seems that Ms. Goose might have been aware of the meaning/history (not too shabby, for a goose) since this one comes from a rhyme called "Hector Protector"
Pippen — this one's from "Pippen Hill," which is sort of a cheat, but there are way too many boys called Jack, Johnny and Jim in nursery rhymes, so I looked for anything unusual that could work as a name. Pippen ultimately derives from Frankish name Pépin, which may mean "awe-inspiring," or "to tremble." Pépin III the Short was Charlemagne's father
Solomon — from "Solomon Grundy." From Hebrew, Solomon means "peace." I love the history and heft of this one, and its variants. Some favorites include Turkish Süleiman and Portuguese Salomão 
Taffy — yep, Taffy's a boy. A Welshman, actually (and a thief, the scumbag). It's a diminutive of the Welsh form of David, Dafydd. Finnish form Taavi is pretty cool too, and reads slightly more masculine to the un-Welsh eye
Wilkin — a medieval diminutive of William, I think this one could get some love from modern parents looking for a way to honor Bill with something less common

Bo-Peep —  all right, so I wouldn't necessarily advise naming your child Bo-Peep, but imagine it in an alternate universe where excessively twee double-names are totally acceptable. I love the sounds. Bo's always been a guilty pleasure of mine (spelled Beau, too, for a boy or a girl) and who doesn't think Peep makes a sweet nickname, at least?
Joan — Jeanne d'Arc is a great namesake for a girl (if you can overlook the burning at the stake imagery) and Joan's a nouveau classic that hasn't been brought back into Trendyland just yet. From "Little Jumping Joan," master of the obvious: "Here am I, little jumping Joan,/ when nobody's with me/ I'm always alone"
Nancy — from "Nancy Dawson," as I understand it this one does enjoy some use amongst modern British parents at least, appearing regularly on new baby girls in the birth announcements there. It's still quite dated in the US but as we know, generally the US follows slightly behind British name trends, so I wouldn't be surprised to see Nancy begin to pop up here and there
Polly — a nice Mary-diminutive (or Pollyanna diminutive!) Polly is one I'd consider to be a prototypical nursery rhyme name. Sweet, short, lyrical and classic, I'd love to see Polly used at least as much as similar-sounding Molly. From a few rhymes, including "Little Polly Flinders" and "Polly and Sukey," which leads us to ...
Sukey — that contrarian who keeps taking the kettle off. The Sookie Stackhouse novels and True Blood series have brought Sookie into the mainstream, though I first heard it in the annoying film Igby Goes Down, where Claire Danes plays a girl called Sookie (if I remember correctly, there's a name joke made at her expense, too) 

If you're feeling very adventurous and have a gaggle of girls to name, I think the various double-names from nursery rhymes would make a great, weird sister set. Can't beat combinations like Bessy Bell, Mary Gray, Betty Blue, Jenny Wren, Lucy Locket and Kitty Fisher, really.

1 comment:

  1. Betty Blue and Jenny Wren! love. And sometimes I kind of wish for that excessively twee universe.


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