Family Names for Sale: Edna

New Yorker cover illustrated by Edna Eicke, 31st October 1953

When I was a wee lass, a little older than 10, I became fixated with the idea of nicknaming a future daughter Eddie. But I hated Eden. In the end, I came across the name Edna, who was my paternal grandmother’s mother. When my sister was very little, she was often nicknamed Baby Edna, because she was the spit of Great Grandma Edna, who had passed a few months before her birth. That means Ebba technically has first dibs on Edna, much like I could have first dibs on Carole, my paternal grandma, as I’m the spit of her. But that just would not be acceptable in a family–name hating family. So I pose this question to you: Would you use Edna?

In 1924, Edna charted at #25 in the UK, up from #27 in 1914. Other rankings: #44 in 1934, #47 in 1904.

As for her place in the US, she last ranked in the US Top 1000 in 1991, at #916. Her peak was #11 in 1899. So, essentially, if you meet an Edna, she’s likely to be of pensionable age. But don’t let that put you off using her.

Edna Eicke was an american illustrator, notable for her illustrations for the cover of the New Yorker. Born in Montclair, New Jersey in May 1919. She studied advertising and fashion at Parsons School of Design, and after graduating landed a job at Sue Williams’ Display Studio in New York where she sketched window and other displays. It washere that she met her husband, Tom Funk.

From 1945, she had painted 51 covers for the New Yorker, the majority of which depicted scenes of childhood, inspired by her own one, as well as her life in New York City, and her family.

In 1953 she moved with her family to Westport, Connecticut, which at the time was a small town of artists. She continued to paint New Yorker covers until 1961, and then illustrated children’s books. She died in December 1979.

There are two possible origins of Edna, the first being the anglicised form of Eithne, which means kernel or little fire in Gaelic. There was a 5th century Irsh saint named Eithne, who was the sister of St. Fidelma and follower of St. Patrick.

Then there was the St. Eithne, who was born a princess, and met St. Patrick his disciples during their mission to convert Ireland. St. Patrick later baptised both Eithne and her sister, after which they asked to see the face of God. After taking their first communion, both girls fainted, and later died. They were buried in the spot where they fell, and other converts of Patrick built a church over their final resting place.

Then there was another Eithne, who had a prophetic dream about the birth of her son, St. Columba:

An angel stood before her, displaying to her astonished gaze a cloak of perfect colouring, and covered with the most beautiful flowers. She longed to take it in her hands, but the cloak rose into the air, and spreading out, floated over land and sea ‘till it seemed to rest upon the hills of a distant land.

        Puzzled by this vision,  she described  it to some who were versed in these matters, and they explained  it as foretelling  that her little son was to travel over the seas, and there  win great distinction  and honour. 

There is also St. Edana of West Ireland, from the sixth century. She was sometimes known as St. Edna, and lived near the Boyle and Shannon rivers. According to legend, she received her veil from St. Patrick himself, and there are reports of her being canonised as St. Modwenna in the ninth century, but this is a result of confusion with other similar named saints.

There is, however, another Saint Edna. She was Saint Modwenna, an Irish nun who lived in the 9th century. The prefix mo in Gaelic means my, so it is suggested that Modwenna may be understood as a devotional phrase, translated into English as My Edna. This Edna was a princess, daughter of a King. Renouncing her wealth, Edna offered her life to the service of God and people. In the convent she was reowned for her sanctity and miracles.

The feast day of St. Edana and St. Edna is the 5th July.

The other origin of Edna is from Hebrew, meaning pleasure. It appears in the Old Testament apocryhal books Jubilees and Tobit as the name of the wives of Enoch, Methuselah and Terah.

In the 2D world, the best known Edna is Edna Krabappel, Bart Simpson’s 4th grade teacher, notably for her romantic puruits and failures.

Categories: Family names | Tags: , | 6 Comments

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6 thoughts on “Family Names for Sale: Edna

  1. PoppySeeds

    I love the work of Edna Eicke! So pretty.


  2. Gwen

    My first thought was the Simpsons character, but my dear, I need to look into Edna Eicke, beautiful illustrations!


  3. Fantastic post on all the possible origins of Edna – which I’m afraid I can’t warm too, although the picture is beautiful. The strong ED sound at the beginning just doesn’t sound pretty or feminine to me.


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