Monday, 23 January 2012

Name in the Spotlight: Hart

When it comes to nature names, birds have always been particularly well received. We only have to look at how well Robin did as a masculine name in the 1950s, and how on the feminine side of the chart it remained in the top 100 in the US from 1953 to 1979. Now we are seeing the rise of Wren, with Lark and Sparrow gaining more and more attention. Animal names, however, are harder to come across. One does see a Wolf pop up here and there, Bear has made the news, and one can encounter a Salmon or two in old parish registers. 

Hart, however, ranked only once in the top 1000 in the US, in 1888, but was never to be seen again. Out of the names directly and obviously linked to deers, Buck won the popularity contest. But it was the hart, a red deer more than five years old, that was a symbol of majesty and prestige in Medieval England. harts, especially, were a quintessential part of British folklore. It became a revered animal, aweing those who were priviledged enough to see it. Its image and symbolism has changed with the ages. The hart became a symbol of  knowledge, purity, good fortune, and of Christ's presence on Earth. In France, legend says that if one kills a hart he or she will forever be cursed with unrequinted love. It also made a number of appearances in Arthurian legends.

The white hart's status was further elevated when Richard II made it his personal emblem. The Wilton Diptych (now housed in the National Gallery, London) shows the importance of the white hart. The king is shown wearing a large white hart badge, as are the eleven angels on the opposite panel. Indeed, historians now know who the kneeling king is because of the prominence of the white hart, which also appears on the outside of the diptych with a coronet around his neck.

The word originated some time before 900. Its Old English form was Heorot, from the proto-Germanic herut. In Middle English it became Hert; in Old High German Hiruz; in Old Saxon Hirot and in Old Norse Hjörtr. Its Latin form, meaning stag, is Cervus.

Hart appears as part of the following names: Hartley, Hartmann, Harto, Hartwell, Hartigan, Hartford and Hartell.