The Offbeat Alphabet Series



Apologies in advance for the lateness in this post, caused by a sudden weekend-long internet outage. Thankfully, it’s back now and we can finish up with Week C.

I was inspired to cover today’s name for the simple reason that a lady appeared in this year’s Bake Off with the name. For those not in the know, The Great British Bake Off is now one of the most popular shows here in the UK; a noted mishap with a baked alaska caused a storm on twitter and ended up making front page news. Yes, we take this baking competition seriously.

Chetna was my favourite to win the series, but sadly left in the semi-finals this week, leaving Nancy, Richard and Luis left to battle it out in the final on Wednesday. Right now, I want Nancy the Maverick to win – but most agree we could be looking at another scandal if five-time star baker Richard doesn’t take the title.

The name Chetna is Indian in origin, and looks similar to the names Chetana and Chetan, who mean soul in Sanskrit. However, Chetna doesn’t seem to be an offshoot of Chetana, and whilst I’ve seen various meanings for Chetna bandied about, the most consistent one given is alert, realisation.

When it comes to popularity, Chetna has near to none – which I’ll admit surprised me, given we have many Indian communities living here in the UK. The name was given to 3 girls born in England&Wales in 1996, but since then doesn’t rank at all. It should be interesting to see the 2014 list next year to see whether the Bake Off has prodded Chetna into at least ranking. The name Chetana doesn’t rank, whilst Chetan was given to 7 boys in 2013.

With Chetna, you have an obscure Indian pick that is gorgeous and deserves more usage that she’s currently receiving. That might make her appeal to those looking for something unique, but now well known in the UK thanks to the Bake Off.

And Chetna, you rule.

The Bake Off 2014 competitors, Chetna is at the front in the pink jumper, via

The Bake Off 2014 competitors, Chetna is at the front in the pink jumper, via

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Originally when I was drafting up a list of names to feature this week, I included a long-time personal favourite – Crimson – on the list. Somehow, over the many, many revisions Week C went through, we’ve switched to instead look at Cramesy.

Cramesy is an old term for Crimson which dropped off the radar in the early 19th century. Crimson has been around since the 15th century, and has seen various spellings over the centuries before settling on the one we know today, used to describe a shade of red.

The word comes from the Medieval Latin word cremesinus, which refers to the dye produced from the Kermes scale insects (the original source of the colour), itself coming from the Arabic word qermez, meaning red.

I’m interested to see what happens with Crimson, in terms of popularity, as in 2013 she recorded her first ranking in England&Wales of #5742 with 3 girls given the name.

One of the reasons that I chose to cover Cramesy instead is for the undefined gender usage, and following on from that, the similarity Cramesy has with longtime favourite James, a name that has been inside the Top 10 for the last two decades. Interestingly, he’s been hovering around the #10 mark recently, so in a year or two could potentially drop out of the Top 10. I think James is an example of a name overcoming a less than stellar meaning – he means supplanter – to be an extremely popular name. That said, most are probably unaware of said meaning.

To conclude, Cramesy is a word once forgotten that could see a revival as people look for something ‘like James, but not James‘.

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We’re coming to the midpoint of Week C and we’re taking a trip into the world of Ancient Celtic names.

Cynbel is a new find for me, and rather reminds me of the musical instrument, cymbals – even more so if you consider that I’ve seen this name alternatively spelled Cynbal. He’s a Welsh male name by origins and means warrior chief.

When it comes to popularity, as with many names in this feature, the name has failed to rank at all in England&Wales since 1996. The only Cyn- names to rank are Cynan (#2954) and Cynthia (at the surprisingly low #3160).

Trying to come up with a popular sound-alike brethren proved tricky. Sybil is similar, but ranks at #2313. Cyril ranks even lower at #4685. There is Sydney, which ranks at ##378 for the girls and #233 for the boys (spelled Sidney).

One name I thought of though is Cymbeline, which I became interested in a few years ago. It’s the name of the eponymous character in the Shakespeare play. The name Cymbeline also doesn’t rank, and means hound of Belenus.

What’s interesting is that Cymbeline from the Shakespeare play was male, although most agree that these days that the name would be more suited to the female side of things. With Cynbel, I think it’s a little less clear cut.

It is worth noting that, -bel names are all the rage right now: Annabelle; Isabella; Isabelle; Isabel; Bella; Isobel are all within the Top 100, with Annabel; Arabella; and Mabel not far behind.

If you are considering Cynbel as a female name, the option of a respell as Cynbelle or Cynbella is a possibility – although not one I personally would consider (although that’s simply personal preference).

However, with the Cynbal spelling this issue is almost side-stepped, if you consider it to be one (and are considering this as a male name).

In the end, what you have with Cynbel is a long forgotten male name that could see an interest as a modern female name.

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This was the only name the made it from the original planned list to actually be including as part of the week. That’s impressive, despite a last minute panic about whether Christabel and Chesten were too similar to both warrant their own post.

The name Christabel is an interesting one because she sounds as if she’s a modern smoosh name, but she first appeared in Sir Eglamour d’Artois, a Medieval romance dating from the 1350s. However, Christabel became more commonplace on birth certificates by those wonderful people we know today as the Victorians, inspired by Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem Christabel (first part published 1797).

The poem was published in two parts, and the story it tells is that of Christabel and her encounter with a stranger named Geraldine after she goes into the woods to pray by the large oak. Geraldine claims to have been abducted from her home by a group of men. Christabel pities the woman and things go on from there. The interesting thing to note is that the poem was never finished: Coleridge published two parts, and had plans for at least an additional three more.

Whilst not a modern smoosh, speculation is that she originally came about as a combination of Christ and Belle. It is also worth noting the Spanish name Cristóbal, which is the Spanish form of Christopher. The name Christopher comes from the Greek word chrio, meaning to anoint, whereas Belle is the French word for beautiful. I guess that means you could construe Christabel’s meaning as beautiful anointment.

Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu would publish a novel entitled Carmilla almost a century later in 1872, which is said to be inspired by Christabel – complete with a fascinating C- name. In this case, Carmilla looks to be either an elaboration of Carmel or Camilla (or maybe even a smoosh of the two ! ). In the case of this novel, Carmilla is the vampire character and inspired by Geraldine – and the novel would likely prove inspiration for one of the defining works of the vampire genre, Dracula by Bram Stoker.

Perhaps one of the more noted bearers of times gone by is Dame Christabel Pankhurst (1880-1958), a suffragette. This lends the name a strong forebearer and may be reason enough to use Christabel. Ms Pankhurst has previously been mentioned in this blog before in a Sibset post.

The name also has had sporadic use by the Royals – with Princess Alexandra bearing Christabel as one of her 4 middle names. Princess Alexandra is a cousin of Queen Elizabeth II (their fathers are brothers) and when she was born, Princess Alexandra was sixth in line to the throne, but now lies all the way down at #46. I’ve read somewhere that her middle name Christabel was chosen because she was born on Christmas Day.

Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester almost ruled as Queen Elizabeth II’s regent had her father King George VI (his brother) died before she came of age. He married Lady Alice Christabel Montagu Douglas Scott in 1935. By happy coincidence, Princess Alice, as she came to be known, was also born on Christmas Day.

When it comes to usage, again, it’s a sporadic story, although in recent years there’s an emerging pattern of roughly 15-20 girls born in England&Wales each year given the name; her 2013 ranking was #1639.

It seems surprising maybe that Christabel not be rising in popularity, given the surge in popularity of likes of Arabella and Annabel. And I think that is the greatest shame of all, although that makes her all the more alluring for those looking for a fabulous literary name with next to no usage and almost guaranteed ‘recognisability’.

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I’ll be honest, I had a hard time choosing names to feature this week: there were just so many great options ! I was swapping names in and out more times than you can imagine, but finally we’ve made it.

For day 1 of Week C, we’re looking to Cornwall for inspiration. The county lies at the south-western tip of England, and has the dubious honour of being the only English county that I’ve yet to visit. Strange really, since Cornwall has been a popular tourist destination since the times of the Victorians.

Cornwall is the home of the Cornish people, who are recognised as being distinctly different, culturally speaking, from the majority of the rest of England. It’s interesting, as alongside the whole Scottish independence furor, several did comment about the potential for an independent Cornwall. Indeed, some have tried for years for Cornwall to compete separately from England at the Commonwealth Games.

What this is a very long way of saying is that Cornish names are more influenced by Celtic roots than the Germanic influence felt elsewhere, which gives rise to a whole host of fascinating names.

Like Chesten. She is, for all intents and purposes, the Cornish form of Christine and – from what I can gather – is pronounced how you’d probably expect: CHEST-en.

This name doesn’t rank at all in the England&Wales data, which includes babes born in Cornwall. As an aside, I personally think it would be fascinating to see separate Cornish stats, if only to see how Cornish names fare. We know that 17 girls were named Elowen in 2013, but I can’t help but wonder about their distribution.

Christine as a name is interesting, as it was recently commented to me by a 20-something friend that Christine is ‘hopelessly unfashionable’. Don’t you just love tidbits from those who don’t obsess over name statistics? But she makes a good point, nonetheless, as Christine is more common amongst the grandparents of we hip 20 year olds than our parents. The name ranked at #3 in 1944 and 1954, #26 in 1964, #63 in 1964, #89 in 1984 and thus dropping out of the Top 100 some 20 years ago in 1994. The name now lies outside the Top 1000, so the unfashionable comment is not without it’s merit.

But that’s still at least 27 more uses in 2013 than Chesten received.

Looking at the Top 100 these days and there are plenty examples of names that a reinventions of popular names of bygone years. Think Maisie for Margaret (#1, 1924-1944); Molly for Mary (#1, 1904-1914); Jack for John (#1, 1914-1944).

So there’s precedence, especially in the case of Maisie, who started out life as a nickname for the Scottish form of Margaret: Mairead.

Of course, the problem I see is that Chesten isn’t feminine and frilly like many popular girl names these days, which could be somewhat of a problem.

Chester the walking chest, from Don't Starve

Chester the walking chest, from Don’t Starve

The name actually reminds me of Chester, a character from the Don’t Starve survival PC game. Once you pick up the Eye Bone, Chester appears and you can store items in him. His name is a pun on the word chest, obviously. Chester is also, of course, a city in the Cheshire region of England, close to the Welsh border.

To surmise, what you get with Chesten is a no-frills Celtic adaptation of a name that’s not like to rise in popularity any time soon.

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Here’s the thing, I had a hard time choosing the final name to cover this week. There were plenty of fantastic names, but none that really felt like ‘the one’. In the end, I’ve gone with what could be considered a compromise choice, but one with plenty of fascinating things to say about her.

The first four names we’ve covered this week are ones you’d probably be somewhat surprised to meet someone with such a name, but Bryony is a name that enjoyed a reasonable amount of popularity in the 90s in England&Wales – enough that you wouldn’t bat an eyelid at meeting one.

But maybe you might be unlikely to meet a younger Bryony as in 2013 the name ranked at a lowly #1075 (with Briony faring not much better at #1707). The name Briony peaked at #334 in 2000, whilst Bryony peaked at #129 in 1996. Technically, this doesn’t make the name all that ‘offbeat’, however, whilst the name enjoyed Top 200 popularity in her Bryony form in the 90s – she still remains pretty unused elsewhere.

Now, a note on the spelling – as both are valid. Bryony is the usual spelling for the plant, with Briony a common enough variant. Another spelling, Bryonie, last ranked in 2011, and peaked at #1107 in 1999.

The Bryony plant – usually called Bryonia – is a type of vine native to Europe, which may explain her absence of use elsewhere in the English-speaking world. The name for the plant ultimately comes from the Greek bryo, meaning to swell. Growing up, I remember seeing Bryony in hedgerows whilst driving through the countryside.

Bryony’s heyday was certainly the 80s/90s, although she’s been in the British naming lexicon since at least the Victorian times. One of the most notable uses of the name is for the lead character in Atonement by Ian McEwan – a girl born in the early 1920s Britain. What’s notable is the the book was released in 2001, right near the end of Bryony’s heyday – although Mr McEwan used the less popular spelling of Briony for his character. Then there’s Bryony Shaw, born in the early 80s, who won a bronze at the 2008 Olympics in windsurfing.

These days, you could consider fellow nature name Brooke to have filled the gap left by Bryony, as she was climbing whilst Bryony was falling. Brooke currently ranks at #67, falling from her peak of #39 in 2009.

In the end, what you have with Bryony is a lovely floral name, sadly past her heyday, but since she never cracked the Top 100,she never fell foul of being ‘overused’.

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We’re approaching the end of Week B, and today we’re looking across the Irish Sea to Nana Lou’s home country of Ireland. In a way, we’re looking at the Emerald Isle as a whole, since today’s name is sometimes used as a poetic name for Ireland.

It makes sense, as according to Irish mythology, Banbha is the patron goddess of Ireland. Some traditions also hold that Banbha was the first person to set foot in Ireland before the flood.

Try to think of some names similar to Banbha who are currently popular, and you might struggle. After mulling over it, I came to the conclusion that she shares a certain similarity to Bella, who is currently (i.e. 2013) #56 in England&Wales. Consider it, and both are two-syllable B names ending with the ‘ah’ sound, of course, what you might call Bella’s ‘middle-section’ is softer sounding, which may be part of why she’s so loved.

Of course, most by now accept that the popularity of Bella can also in part be attributed to the Twilight furore. Especially if you consider my favourite fact that on the girls list, Beau outranks Bella’s sister, Belle, ranking at #178, compared to #321 – a gap that actually grew between 2012 and 2013 as Belle fell 66 places. Belle and Beau both mean beautiful in French, with Beau the masculine form of the word and Belle, the feminine; Bella, on the other hand, is Italian for beautiful. 

Despite the similarities, Banbha fails to rank at all for any year since 1996.

Which is a shame, as whilst the likes of Siobhan (#1484) and Caoimhe (#639) rank, despite their pronunciation issues, Banbha is legitimately Irish and without the difficulty, but next to no usage. Although, as a side note, I have a friend named Siobhan and a mutual friend of ours still struggles with her name, despite me considering it to be a more ‘mainstream’ Irish name, i.e. one people ought be fine with the pronunciation of, like Sean. I went to Catholic school, though, so there were many Siobhans, Roisins, Sineads et al, that means not only did my school provide me with a traditional education, but also a fairly robust grounding in how to pronounced popular Irish names.

When it comes to the meaning of the name, the likeliest source of the name is the Scottish Gaelic word banbh, which means land unplowed for a year. However, there is an Old Irish word – banb – which could also figure in: the word means piglet.

To surmise, the name Banbha seems to be crying out for usage, and she could find fans in those looking for an Irish heritage pick off-the-beaten track, and this one has the added plus of links to Irish mythology.

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Today we’re being inspired by fiction, specifically A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin.

Lord Beric Dondarrion is one of the more interesting characters in A Song of Ice and Fire, not least because he just won’t die. In A Game Of Thrones, he comes to King’s Landing to fight in the Tourney of the Hand, but is unhorsed by Thoros of Myr. Later in the books he is appointed leader of an expedition to arrest Ser Gregor Clegane by Eddard Stark.

At the Battle at the Mummer’s Ford, Beric is impaled by Gregor’s lance, but it resurrected by Thoros of Myr. He then leads his band of now outlaws (now called Brotherhood Without Banners) to raid Lannister forces.

He next appears on page in A Storm of Swords as Arya Stark comes across the band. Since his last appearance, he’s been killed a few times, but each time resurrected by Thoros of Myr, although this begins to affect his outward appearance and hampers his memories. Eventually, Beric gives up his life for Lady Stoneheart’s resurrection (spoiler, although rumours are that Lady Stoneheart won’t be appearing in the show as expected).

The origin of the name fascinated me however – and it’s worth noting that Mr Martin isn’t the only author to use the moniker. In fact, he was beaten to it by several decades by Rosemary Sutcliff, whose book Outcast came out in 1955. The tale occurs during the time of Roman Britain, and follows the life of Beric – an orphaned Roman child raised in a tribe in Celtic Britain.

Then there’s Beric the Briton: A Story of Roman Invasion by G. A. Henty, which came out even longer ago: 1893. In this story, Beric is a young chieftain in Britain during the Roman Invasion.

The name certainly has links to the time of the Roman Empire, as history also records a Berica as a client king of the Roman Empire in the UK, also known as Verica.

The name looks like he could be Eric-with-a-b, a name which comes from Old Norse and means ever ruler. However, my preferred possibility lies in Northumberland, with one of my favourite place names: Berwick-upon-Tweed (the w is silent). The name Berwick is pronounced exactly like Beric, and comes from Old English origins, meaning barley farm/settlement.

Other possibilities it that the name could derive from the Biblical name Baruch, as the names are pronounced ever so similarly; the name means blessed in Hebrew. There’s also Barak, again Biblical, a  name that means lightning in Hebrew. The name Barak can also be sourced from Arabic and means blessing. 

With Beric you have a charmingly handsome literature name that has a spattering of real-life uses to boot.

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Going into day two of Week B, we’re looking at a place name local to my old stomping ground of Nottingham.

The village of Brinsley lies in the south-west part of Nottinghamshire, these days split into Old Brinsley and New Brinsley, with each belonging to a different parliamentary constituency. Old Brinsley lies in my old constituency, Broxtowe, which was a strong contender to feature this week, eventually losing out to Brinsley.

So I’ll make a quick mention of it now: the name Broxtowe is formed of two parts, and the second is a common place name suffix: stow, which is of Old English origins and simply means place. The first part derives from the Old English name Brocul, which unlike Broxtowe, does not survive to these days. If you’re looking for a quirky name with an oh-so-fashionable x, feel free to consider Broxtowe.

As for the name Brinsley, he is formed of a combination of two Old English elements:

  • brun, meaning brown
  • leah, meaning meadow

The name Brinsley shares his second half with many popular names of yesterday: think the likes of Ashley, Bradley and Stanley. These days, Stanley has made a resurgent into the Top 100, ranking at #70 in 2013, whilst Ashley has fallen from #40 to #288 (on the female side, Ashley currently ranks at #519) and Bradley fell out of the Top 100 in 2011.

The name can also be spelled Brynsley, and I do actually know a lad who bears the name spelled this way; he shortens it to Bryn. The name Bryn is Welsh name that means hill that ranks at #804 for lads.

Aside from that, you’re unlikely to meet a Brinsley or Brynsley, as the name fails to rank for either gender. At this point it’s worth making a reference to Bingham, another town which lies in Nottinghamshire, and think of the boost in interest that name got when Matt Bellamy and Kate Hudson chose it for their son born in 2011. However, I concede that it didn’t particularly translate into people actually using the name Bingham, with only 12 uses of the name recorded in the US in 2013.

What you get with Brinsley is a name that might have won fans in the time of Bradley and Ashley (i.e. the 90s, which explains why I know one), but these days might not be what parents are looking for.

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I’ve been a fan of the How To Train Your Dragon books since I was gifted the first book many, many Christmases ago. So, naturally, I was excited for the DreamWorks film franchise, and whilst a little bit horrified that my favourite character from the books (a girl named Camicazi) was replaced, I am mostly satisfied with the films because I see them as being inspired by the books, rather than an adaptation of them. Although it remains a shame that they’ve totally cast aside the King’s Lost Things storyline, which I think of as a better executed Horcrux plotpoint.

Where I’m going with this is that whilst in the books the characters have pretty ludicrous names such as Big-Boobied Bertha, Madguts the Murderous and Norbert the Nutjob, the film has brought in some fantastic Nordic-inspired names such as Astrid, Valka, Drago and Eret. And as a name nerd, I appreciate the touch.

Today’s name that we have kicking off Week B doesn’t feature in the films, but I think she’d fit right in as she’s another Nordic-inspired pick. She’s also a sound-alike to the ever popular name Freya.

But they’re not just sound-alikes, as Brynja shares Scandinavian roots with Freya; she comes from Old Norse and means armour. The name Freya also comes from Norse mythology, where she is the name of the goddess of love, beauty, war and death. As for meaning, Freya is decidedly more feminine: she means lady.

The name Freya is another one of those names that have been inside the Top 100 since what seems like forever (also known as 1998), so that means there are a lot of teenaged-to-little Freya’s running around England&Wales. Right now, the name Freya ranks at #20. On top of the many Freyas, there are a few little girls with the name Freyja and Freja, as the names rank at #699 and #1220, respectively.

This is all whilst the name Brynja fails to rank at all in England&Wales. However, it is worth noting that she ranks highly in Iceland: #48 in 2012, which makes a certain amount of sense given that Icelandic parents have a deep love of Scandinavian names.

The name Brynja is said how most would hopefully presume: BRIN-yah. Some may wonder whether the ‘-ja’ would cause problems, but names like Sonja and Freja seem to have little issue when compared to Sonya and Freya. Of course, there is the potential to simply respell as Brynya, if you so wish, although I think she looses some of her Scandinavian charm.

In the end, what you have with Brynja is a quirky Scandinavian pick that works as an alternative to Freya.

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