Monday, 13 February 2012

The Three Ugly Sisters

Have you noticed that some names are always given to the bad guys? Or the mean old ladies? Three that I've encountered again and again in these roles are Lavinia, Lucretia and Sophronia, names that I am rather fond of. They have substance, not to mention history, and can be spiced up with funky, sweet and modern nicknames. With all of that going for them, surely we should give them more love and attention.


Of unknown meaning, the name goes back to Roman times. Lavinia appeared in the Aeneid, the Latin epic poem by the Roman poet Virgil. She was the daughter of King Latinus and his queen, Amata, and later married the poem's protagonist Aeneas. It was through her marriage that she became known as 'The Mother of Rome'. 
Lavinia has never been a very popular name. It ranked in the top 1000 in the US until 1929, but in 2010 only 35 girls were given the name. Even worse than that, it was only given to 17 girls in England & Wales in the same year. Regardless of how unused and unloved she is, there are some great nicknames to be gotten from Lavinia, such as Livy, Liv, Lanni and even the boyish Vinnie.


An Ancient Roman name, it is the feminine form of the Latin family name Lucretius, with the possible meaning of  'profit' or 'wealth'. The story of Lucretia is a tragic one, whichever version is read. The king of Rome's son, Sexton Tarquinious, was sent on a mission to Lucretia's town of Collatia. As the wife of a nobleman connected to the king's family, she welcomed Sexton into her home. Versions vary, but one key element of the story remains the same, and that is that Sexton raped Lucretia. This, combined with her suicide, was seen as the catalyst for the downfall of the monarchy and the rise of the Roman Republic. Her story has captivated artists and writers throughout the ages, such as Titian, Botticelli, Rembrandt and Shakespeare.

With such heavy baggage it is easy to see why Lucretia has fallen out of favour. She wasn't used at all in England & Wales in 2010, and was used only 8 times in the US that year - the same as Rhyen, Honestii  and Milady, which, frankly, makes me want to cry a little bit. Lucretia is a name with depth and history. Its harsh sound may put some people off, but then there is always the softer alternative of Lucrèce. Plus, there are some user-friendly nicknames, like Lulu and Luca.


The feminine form of the late Greek name Sophronios, meaning 'self-controlled' or 'sensible'. Sophronia also has literary links. She appears in Jerusalem Delivered, an epic poem about the First Crusade by Torquato Tasso, in which she is a Christian woman, accusing herself of a crime so to avoid a massacre of Christians. 

If Sophia is the popular cheerleader, then Sophronia is the geeky girl who sits by herself at lunch. Sad, but true. One is currently #2 in US (#27 in England&Wales), and the other was last seen in the top 1000 in 1909. Perhaps it will take a lot for Sophronia to be used again. However, with such an increasing interest with names from the past, perhaps she too can gain some new admirers. And there are, of course, some fun nicknames to be had, from the obvious Sophie to the more creative Sonny, Ronnie and Nia.

Image: The Three Nieces of Cardinal Mazarin. (Left to right) Marie, Olympia and Hortense. The sisters were actually known for their beauty.