Posts Tagged With: Sybil

Downton Abbey of Names Pt. I

Snapshot of the charming Dame Maggie Smith in character, from

I would be a sham of a Brit if I didn’t admit to visiting a few castles/abbeys in my time. I’ve dedicated a whole post to Chatsworth House, and have been thinking about other castles to mention in the near future. But today, it seems time to cover a famed British estate, which may not exactly be real – but it has certainly captured our attentions, and the attentions of those abroad.

Downton Abbey is a period drama, which airs on ITV here in the UK and it set up north in Yorkshire. At the time of the series, George V was the King – and future grandfather of our current monarch – Elizabeth II.

The series was created by Julian Fellowes, so it seems apt to begin our look into names there. In 2010, the name Julian ranked at #311 in England&Wales, whilst Jules is experiencing something of a boom over in France. The name Julian is the English form of the Latin name Julianus, which means belonging to Julius. The name Julius derives from Jupiter, although it is often claimed that he derives from Greek and means downy-bearded.

As an aside, in 2009, Elizabeth Adeney gave birth at the age of 66 to a son she named Jolyon – a medieval variant of Julian – making her then the eldest mother in the UK.

Julian Fellowes is married to Emma Joy, and together they have one son named Peregrine. Emma was born in 1963, and her name means whole, universal, whilst Peregrine means stranger, traveller.

Moving away from real-life, and into the fictional world of Downton Abbey, let’s start with the Crawley family as the focus for Part I. At the top of the pile is The Right Honourable Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham. The name Robert is a classic staple, currently ranking at #90 in England&Wales. He means bright-fame, whilst charming Rupert is a German form of him and ranks at #360.

This character is played by Hugh Bonneville. The name Hugo has been enjoying increased attention of late, not least in thanks to the BAFTA-nomintated 2010 film of the same name. Hugo is the Latin form of the name Hugh, which himself is the English form of the Germanic name Hugi, a name that means heart. It was brought to Britain with the Normans.

Of all three names, Hugi does not rank in England&Wales, but both Hugh and Hugo do. Despite the star-power of comedian-come-actor Hugh Laurie, the name Hugo outranks Hugh at #149 to #364. It’s worth noting at this point that Hugh Laurie isn’t actually a Hugh – his real name is James Hugh Calum Laurie.

Going further with the actor’s family, Hugh Bonneville is married to a lady named Lulu Evans, and together they have a son called Felix. The name Lulu is a common short form for plenty of names, such as Louise; Lucy; Louisa; Lucia, and indeed plenty moreLulu ranked at #840 in 2010, England&Wales. Felix, on the other hand, derives from Latin and means lucky, successful. Felix is another slightly-outside Top 100 lurker at #122.

The wife of the Earl of Grantham is The Right Honourable Cora Crawley. The name Cora is likely to have been derived from the Greek Kore, which means maiden, however there may have been influence from similar names such as Coralie. Cora ranks at #438, whilst Coralie ranks at #2589, with only 8 of them born in 2010.

This character is played by Elizabeth McGovern, whose name means God is my oath. She has two children, called Matilda and Gracie. The name Matilda means strength of battle, whilst Gracie is a diminutive of the name Grace. The name Matilda ranks at #53, whilst Gracie is slightly higher at #51. Elizabeth, meanwhile, is at #49 – so all three names are separated by just 2 other names – Leah at #50 and Amber at #52.

The children of the Earl and Countess of Grantham are called Mary Josephine, Edith and Sybil. As an aside, my sister recently declared dibs on the name Edith, along with a handful of other names. But that’s for another time, another post.

Mary has enjoyed ferocious popularity for centuries, mostly thanks to her prominent role in the Bible. Despite this, it’s never been certain what exactly the name Mary means, but what we do know is that she currently ranks at #213. Her origins could be:

  • Egyptian, meaning to love/desire
  • Hebrew, meaning rebellious/disobediant, or even sea and star.
The name Josephine is the feminine form of the name Joseph, which derives from Hebrew and means he will add. The eldest sister is played by Michelle Dockery, whose name is a feminine form of Michael and means who is like God? In 2010, Josephine ranked at #303, whilst Michelle leads her #251.
The name Edith derives from Old English, and it’s elements means rich and war. She is played by Laura Carmichael, and Laura means laurel. Edith is surprisingly high at #259, whilst Laura is at a respectable #125.

The youngest sister’s name, Sybil, derives form the Latin name Sibylla and means sibyl – which is a title given to a female whom utters prophecies. She is played by Jessica Brown-Findlay. The name Jessica made her début in William Shakespeare’s play Merchant of Venice. Shakespeare likely based the name on the minor Biblical character Iscah – who was known as Jesca/Jescha in his time. Either way, the name derives from Hebrew and means he beholds. The name Sybil was only given to 4 girls in 2010, whilst Jessica was given to a pretty impressive tally of 4102 – rewarding her with a ranking of #6.

Our next character to mention is The Right Honourable Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess, who is played by the rather wonderful Dame Maggie Smith – born Margaret Natalie Smith. She was married to Robert Stephens before divorce and married to Beverley Cross until his death. She has two sons: Toby and Christopher.

Let’s start with Violet, which derives from the plant. The name is currently lurking just outside the Top 100 at #123. Out of Maggie and her long form of Margaret, it is Maggie who ranks higher – at #276 to Margaret’s #505. The name Margaret means pearl.

The name of her second husband highlights the once masculine edge Beverley possessed – a name which means beaver stream. As for the names of her two sons: Christopher derives from Late Greek and means bearing Christ; Toby is a short form of Tobias, the Greek form of Tobiah, which means Yahweh is good. Christopher dropped out of the Top 100 in 2010 to #104, whilst Toby has recently entered the Top 100 at #54.

The name Beverley no longer ranks for males, whilst 6 female Beverleys were born in 2010.

The last two Crawleys are called Matthew and Isobel. The name Matthew means gift of Yahweh, and is a Top 100 favourite at #41. Then we have Isobel, which is the Scottish form of Isabel. The name Isabel herself is a medieval variant of the already mentioned Elizabeth. There are currently a few versions of Isobel in the England&Wales Top 100:

  • Isabella at #12
  • Isabelle at #17
  • Isabel at #58
  • Isobel at #75

Matthew Crawley is played by actor Daniel Jonathan Stevens. Daniel derives from Hebrew and means God is my judge, whilst Jonathan is also from Hebrew and means Yahweh has given. Daniel lurks just outside the Top 10 at #11, whilst Jonathan is a little lower down at #141.

Last, but by no means least, we have Isobel Crawley who is played by Penelope Alice Wilton, and both names are rather in vogue in Britain at the moment. Alice is currently at #43, whilst Penelope is at #272; her common short form of Penny is at #396.

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Names of the Week: Basil and Sybil

Sybil and Basil Fawlty, from

Last week we mentioned Father Ted, and this week we’re talking about another one of my favourite sitcoms: Fawlty Towers. Headed by John Cleese, and co-written by his then-wife Connie Booth, it got away with comedy scenes that could never be broadcast nowadays. Those familiar with the series will likely realise I’m talking about the episode entitled The Germans which in 1997 was ranked #12 on TV Guide’s 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time.

In terms of the program itself, in a list of the British Film Institutes TV 100 drawn up by the BFI in 2000, and voted for by industry professionals, Fawlty Towers was placed first. It was also voted fifth in the BBC’s “Britain’s Best Sitcom” poll in 2004 – not bad going for something that first aired way back in 1975 and only lasted two series.

The name of the incompetent hotelier and main character was Basil Fawlty, with his wife named Sybil (played by Priscilla Scales) – who frequently shrieked his name at the top of his voice.

In terms of the herb, Basil (although sometimes referred to as Sweet Basil) is commonly used in cooking. Well, I know I use it frequently. It has origins in India, and thus prominently feature in Indian cuisine – but it not limited simply to it. I have a few other Asian friends from all over Asia who assure me that they too use basil in their home cuisine on a frequent enough basis.

As for where the word basil comes from, it’s likely to be from the Greek word basileus, which means king. It seems apt then that there are plenty of chefs who have referred to basil as the king of herbs. There is also the tale that basil was believed to have grown above the spot where St.Constantine and his mother St. Helen discovered the Holy Cross.

As for how you say Basil, you may think it’s obvious, but I remember watching a show once of American origin where they pronounced Basil as BAY-zil, not the BAH-zil pronunciation I use which is something to certainly be aware of. Something else you may like to be aware of is that only 19 boys were named Basil in England&Wales in 2010.

Whilst one could claim Basil isn’t particularly considered a name of the elder generation – Sybil has been consistently named as a name one could only ever imagine on dear ol’ Great Auntie Sybil. You needn’t spell the name as Sybil, there are plenty of variations out there which indicate that this name could have what it takes to win over the mother of today:

  • Cybill
  • Sibyl
  • Sybille

They all go back to the Ancient Greek name Sibylla, meaning prophetess. There was once a word sibyl, a given title to usually female prophets. According to later Christian theology, the sibyls were thought to possess divine knowledge and hence were revered in pretty much the same fashion as Old Testament prophets.

It’s believed that because of this, Sibyl came into usage as a name amongst Christians during the Middle Ages. It because relatively rare after the Protestant Reformation, but received a lifeline from Benjamin Disraeli’s novel Sybil which was published in 1845.

Of course, nowadays more and more people (especially children) will firs think of Professor Sybil Trewlaney when they hear the name Sybil – who is the slightly batty professor of divination at Hogwarts, first appearing in the third book: Prisoner of Azkaban. She end up playing a key role in the series after predicting Harry’s destiny of defeating the Dark Lord.

You may also be thinking about the name Cybele at this post, which is the name of the Phyrian goddess of fertility and nature. She was also later worshipped by both the Greeks and Romans. Generally speaking though, she’s pronounced with three-syllables: SIB-a-lee.

I could see Cybele appealing to today’s parents more, what with her very on-trend ending of -bel, but could see this particular name pronounced them same as one would say Sybil, which then may in turn lead to a pick up in usage for the name. Although that said, whilst only 4 girls were given the name Sybil in 2010, neither Sibyl nor Cybele ranked.

Categories: Names of the Week | Tags: , | 3 Comments

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