Swimmers in front of the Serpentine Bridge during the 2012 Games, David Davies/PA Wire

We can draw inspiration from rivers (hello to Trent, Arun & Lea), so why not lakes?

Remember the Olympics? A well known area in London called Hyde Park was host to numerous events during the Games, including the open water swim and triathlon which took place in the Serpentine, a man-made recreational lake spanning 40 acres. That said, is the Serpentine a river or a lake? Whilst defined as a lake, plenty refer to it as the Serpentine River.

The lake itself was created in the 18th century for the then-Queen Caroline, who is also said to have chosen it’s name. Now, it is a common mistake to think that the lake owes it’s name to the curving shape it takes (although it strictly only has one bend). The name was more likey to have been inspired by the colour of the water.

The 2012 Games are not a one-off event for the lake, as every year an event called the Peter Pan Cup takes place in the Serpentine. In keeping with the wonderful eccentric Brit stereotype, it takes place on Christmas morning, when the water is pretty darn chilly; as such, the event is only open to members of the Serpentine swimming club.

It’s a tradition that dates back to 1864, when the first 100-yard swimming competition took place in the Serpentine. 50 years later in 1904, the author J.M.Barrie awarded the Peter Pan Cup for the first time to the winner of the race, which is continued to be handed out to this day.

Looking past the fabulous London landmark, the immediate flaw you may see with the name Serpentine is, well, the word serpent embedded into the name. There is then, of course, the added complication that Serpentine is also a word, which the Cambridge dictionary defines as:

  • curving and twisting like a snake
  • complicated and difficult to understand

Sir Isaac Newton may have defined gravity, but he also described a Serpentine is terms of geometry. It’s a cubic curve in geometry and has a rather complicated equation to go with it.

There are also types of rock called Serpentine, and they are used in the making of jewellery; however, they are also known (amongst many other names) as false jade, which may not be considered a positive association.

All in all, if we were to base Serpentine on just her sounds and looks, she should be a firm new favourite a la Clementine et al, but like many other names, she has baggage.

Some may care, you may not.

Categories: Name Profile | Tags: | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “Serpentine

  1. thenamestation

    I couldn’t use it, but it’s lovely nonetheless!

    Very cool that you volunteered during the Games – what kind of stuff did you get to do?

    And we’ve got a similar tradition in Canada – the Polar Bear Swim on New Year’s Day. There’s no prize, though, except the cold you get a few days later 😉


    • I was a volunteer at the Olympic Stadium, so I was either scanning tickets or showing people to their seats. The seating gig was great because once everyone was in, you could basically just stand there and watch the action as there was really nothing left to do until they all left a few hours later (hence why it was a highly coveted job during the ceremonies) 🙂


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