I took both German and French to a GCSE level, which is to 16 years of age for any international readers. You usually take your GCSEs at the end of your last compulsory year of education, known as Year 11, but several schools are now running towards you taking some at the end of Year 10 then doing more at the end of Year 11 so you come out with more qualifications. This is mostly due to the scrapping of the Key Stage 3 SATs tests at the end of Year 9 – figures that my year was the last to sit them.
So, what does this have to do with anything? Well, as part of the MFL course, our teachers introduced us to the world of German and French cinema, and the names Til and Audrey are the given names of two prominent actors from each area, respectively.
Til Schweiger appeared in pretty much all of the German films my teacher showed us, which included Barfuss, Keinohrhasen and Mannerherzen, the latter of which we actually saw in Berlin not long after it’s premiere in the same cinema, but most of you may recognise him from the Tarantino film Inglourious Basterds. Casting our minds back many moons, we’ve previously covered the names of Til’s four children.
Til’s full name is Tilman Valentin, and he’s widely regarded as one of the most successful people in German cinema, and no other German man has apparently drawn more people to the box office since 1968.
But Til could be used as a short form for other names, male and female:
- Matilda/ Mathilde
- Tyler/ Taylor
…to name but a few. In terms of the name Tilman, he’s another one of those occupational surnames-come-first names. If we were a farmer, we would till the soil to loosen it up before planting seeds, and thus Tilman means one who plows the earth.
Whilst Attila ranks in the England&Wales data, neither Tilman nor Til do. I’d probably class this name amongst name such as Kit and Kip, especially interesting short names for those who want simplicity, not complicated.
Audrey Tautou’s films were also a favourite of my French teacher, albeit not as obsessively. Her most prominent English film is likely to be The DaVinci Code, but she’s also appeared in Coco Avant Chanel, Amélie and The Very Long Engagement – the latter of which inspired a previous Names of the Week post about Mathilde et Manech.
It may be surprising for you, then, to discover that despite the actress’ popularity in France, her name has slowly been slipping down. According to INSEE the name Audrey now ranks outside the Top 200 in France, sitting at #242 alongside Ophélie. And by now I mean 2009, since that’s the most recent data I can lay my hands on.
Hand around the American dominated name boards long enough, and you’ll likely believe there are Audrey’s everywhere given her popularity in the States and elsewhere – but this trend is attributed to the actress Ms. Hepburn, not Ms. Tautou. In the States, the name has been rising since around the mid-90s, and she peaked at #44 in 2008. Currently  she stands at a still respectable #52.
In Canada, she’s even higher at #37 in 2010, having entered the Top 100 in 2006, and another place in the world where she’s acheived a Top 100 rank in New South Wales, in lovely Australia, where she sits at #80. Still pretty respectable.
So, the question now remains where Audrey ranks as a name in England&Wales if she’s not in the Top 100? Sitting alongside Darcey in the Top 150? Top 400 with Pippa and Beatrix? Well, no, she’s actually outside the Top 500 at a surprisingly low #655 which gives her the same rank at Mylee, Soraya and Tamsin to name a few. Similar in terms of sound name Aubrey was far outside the Top 1000 #3156 with just 7 girls given the name.
It’s all rather surprising, given that Audrey Hepburn is classed as a British actress, despite being born in Belgium. It could be because she’s faded somewhat from memory, given that she died at the beginning of 1993, putting her slightly before my time – but that feels like a weak case, since she’s considered one of the world’s most famous actresses of all time, and ranked by the American Film Institute as the third greatest female screen legend in the history of American cinema. Overexposure may be the ticket of the day, up until I tell you that my sister’s primary school teacher told her the other day that Audrey Hepburn was an American actress. The mind boggles.
Personally, and I may not be the only one, I just can’t ‘sell’ the name when I say her. I sound like I’m saying oh dear, rather than Audrey. It may also be the case that we chose to name all our daughters Audrey before her big screen debut, Roman Holiday, came out in 1953. In 1954 the name ranked at #100, but that was the end of the fall for her, since she’d already peaked at #15 in 1934, which makes her popular amongst my grandmother’s generation. The general of thumb is that one tends to use names from your [great] grandparents generation, which is why Lily is so popular nowadays, since she was also #20 in 1904 – 30 years before Audrey peaked. That to me says that we could follow suit in the future, but given that in 2009 the name ranked (and peaked) slightly higher at #576, I remain doubtful. Especially since I also think of the not-too-great-to-name-one’s-child-after Shakespeare character from As You Like It when I hear the name, and British schools love teaching Shakespeare (I went through about 6 of ’em during my 11 years of schooling), not 1950s films.
Let’s consider the roots of the name, which also may play a factor. It starts with Saint Æthelthryt, who was a seventh-century princess of East Anglia, whom ended her days at an abbey in Cambridgeshire, who was nicknamed Awdrey. Thanks to a lace fair, the name gathered an association with the word tawdry, which is still alive and kicking in the English vocabulary today. The newspapers love to use the word when they’re talking about naughty footballers and the like.
So, Til and Audrey are both names with potential, especially considering just how popular Schweiger and Tautou are in their respective cultures, but not enough it seems to really make an impact elsewhere.