A rather over-romantic portrait of Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine
In this blogposting…* Names
* Stranger Than Fiction
* AGM XXIX
Proceed with caution...
I recently idled away an hour or so looking up the derivations of the names of some of the people I know. The results, though trivial in the extreme, were nevertheless interesting - especially to a logophile like me.
My real forename is derived from sty-ward, the ‘pig-keeper’. Poetic justice gone mad.
Apparently, it only became popular as a given name in the 19th century, when it appealed to romantic Victorians because of the Stuart royal family, which produced several kings and queens of Scotland and Britain between the 14th and 18th centuries.
This started out as a short form of names containing the Germanic element hild, ‘battle. No comment. It was used for both Old English and continental Germanic names.
Saint Hilda was a celebrated 7th-century English saint and abbess who began her spotless life at Hartlepool and ended it not far away at Whitby.
The name became rare in England during the later Middle Ages, but was revived in the 19th century.
There’s some disagreement about this name, unsurprisingly.
Some experts think it was originally derived from various place names in England meaning ‘wide island’ - a likely story.
Others have suggested that it comes from the name of a town in Normandy called Saint Denis (the patron saint of France).
In either case, it was first used as a given name in honour of executed politician Algernon Sidney (1622-1683). Another notable bearer of the surname was the poet and statesman Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586).
Originally a medieval short form of Germanic names containing the element linde, ‘soft, tender’. Again - no comment.
It also coincides with the Spanish word linda meaning ‘beautiful’.
This Scottish name was originally derived from a place name, itself probably derived from British cet, ‘wood’ - although the linguistic link isn’t obvious to me. Keith occurs in quite a few Scottish place-names, like Dalkeith - ‘valley with a wood’.
It was the surname of a long line of Scottish earls and has been used as a popular given name since the 19th century.
This is an easy one. Derived directly from a Norman French place-name meaning ‘new town’ - neuf-ville.
This is, of course, the short familiar form of Adelaide and other names beginning with the same sound.
It’s been popular since the mid-19th century, when it was borne by Augusta Ada King (1815-1852), the Countess of Lovelace (known as Ada Lovelace), a daughter of Lord Byron. Interestingly, she was an assistant to Charles Babbage, the inventor of an early mechanical computer.
Hereby hangs a tale.
This is the feminine form of Vivianus. Who he? Keep reading.
Saint Vivianus (also known as Bibiana) was a either a Roman saint and martyr of the 4th century or a French bishop who provided protection during the Visigoth invasion of the 5th century. It apparently means ‘living, alive’, which seems inappropriate, considering.
It was used occasionally as an English (masculine) name from the Middle Ages but it’s only in modern times that it’s been adopted as a feminine name, too.
We’re back to France again for this familiar, shortened form of Eleanor.
It comes from the Provençal name Aliénor and, unusually, we know exactly who first bore the name - Eleanor of Aquitaine - the queen of Louis VII, king of France, and later of Henry II, king of England.
She was originally named Aenor, after her mother, but was called by the Provençal phrase alia Aenor, ‘the other Aenor’, in order to distinguish her from her parent.
Eleanor has been a hugely popular name ever since the Middle Ages, largely due to the fame of the original. Indeed, two queens from the following century had the same name: Eleanor of Provence, the wife of Henry III, and Eleanor of Castile, the wife of Edward I.
So now you know. I hope you appreciate all the effort that’s gone into this.
STRANGER THAN FICTION
Just when we think we’ve got the hang of it, the world comes up with something so staggeringly unbelievable that we almost have to go back to square one and re-think our view of the planet.
In a tiny corner of western Poland, for example, there’s a very strange forest indeed.
Hidden deep in what is otherwise a fairly unremarkable - not to say predictable - woodland of pines and firs and larches and stuff like that lies a mysterious copse which has puzzled and amused both local people and dendrologists for over 70 years.
Go for a tramp in this wood (no jokes, please) and you’ll discover a clutch of about 400 pine trees growing with a 90-degree bend at the base of their trunks. As if that weren’t enough to stop you in your tracks, keen observation will show that, without exception, they are all bent toward the north.
The area is known as the Crooked Forest, for fairly obvious reasons, and to save you the trouble of actually having to go to Poland to verify this unlikely tale, I append a picture of the trees in question. Look at it and gasp.
But then something inexplicable happened. The tree-farmers who were caring for them applied some sort of mechanical weight (or so it’s thought) to the bases of their nascent trunks with the result you see in the picture.
Exactly why they did this is unknown. Nobody knows what possible use tree trunks of this shape could possibly have or what advantage the foresters were hoping to gain.
Perhaps they did it just for fun. If only someone had asked.
Our next AGM will take place at 1100 on Wednesday 19 October.
If you have any suggestions for venues, get in touch in any of the many useful ways available to you.
Wherever it takes place, come prepared to plank.
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