Tuesday, 3 April 2012

E Marks the Spot

File:Brooklyn Museum - Capital Letter E - James Tissot - 2.jpg


Often thought to stem from the feminine form of Aidan, the group of names below actually have the humble meaning of 'kernel', but they offer so much to choose from. You can have the trendy E vowel, or the whispery -th sound, or a little bit of old charm thrown in for good measure. If you want it all, you can have it all, too. All of the names below derive from the Gaelic Eithne, which has a number of possible pronunciations. The most common in England & Wales, and the best known of this 'kernel group', is perhaps fusty Edna. Because of her once popular status (she was in the England&Wales top 45 for over three decades, peaking at #20), I'm going to skip her to focus on her more obscure, but equally delightful, cousins.

Eithne - (ETH-na) It has a tricky pronunciation, sure, but isn't it awfully pretty? With all its variants, including Aithne, Ethlenn and Ethliu, this is one name that you certainly wouldn't encounter every day in England & Wales or the US, which is a requirement for many. Its history is medieval and it appears in Irish mythology as the daughter of Balor. It was prophesied that he would be killed by his own grandson, so he imprisoned Eithne in a tower. Unfortunately for Balor, Eithne was seduced and gave birth to triplets, one who survived and did, in the end, kill his grandfather.

Enya - (EN-ya) I may a little bit biased, since I know a little Enya, but this name seems to be an overlooked, under-appreciated gem. Most people recognise the name because of Irish singer Enya Brennan (real name Eithne Ní Bhraonáin), so it isn't completely out of the blue. With the exception of Eithne, Enya is the name with the most noticeable Irish connections of the bunch. Her Irish roots and the fact that she starts with the it vowel of the moment would suggest that Enya should be climbing the charts. However, Enya remains relatively unused; she was used 7 times in England & Wales in 2010 and 41 times in the US.

Ena - (EN-a) Three letter names seem to be hitting just the right  spot. There is Mia, Ava, Eva, Ivy, Ida, and Ada to list just a few. They are short and sweet, going straight to the point, and they are difficult to mispronouce, and cause little confusion. The lack of nickname option is also a bonus for many, and why would you need one with such short a name, right? Ena therefore is in great company and could be a nice alternative to the parent wanting a fuss-free name. Even better, Ena hides a royal connection - Princess Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg, queen consort of Spain and granddaughter of Queen Victoria, was often known as Ena.

Etna - (ET-na) Its connections to Mount Etna make it the least usable of the five names. However, it really isn't all that bad.Volcanoes do have an awe-inspiring quality to them, and an undeniable power. Not to mention how Etna has the possible nickname of Ettie, which seems to fit right in with Hattie, Etta, and other Victorian names which are getting a lot of attention. Because of her associations, it isn't surprising to see Etna absent from the England & Wales chart, but Ettie makes a small appearance - she's at #4012, being used five times in 2010.

Etney - The least heard of the group, Etney is one of those rare names that doesn't even make a tiny little blip in the England & Wales or the US charts. Since no one chose to use it at all in 2010, this is a perfect option for any one wanting a truly 'unique' name. It also has a rather fascinating, albeit distant, connection to one of the most popular First World War songs in Britain. Temple-Etney is a parish in South Tipperary, Ireland, and It's a Long Way to Tipperary remains one of the most iconic songs of the Great War, even now it remains a really catchy tune.

Image: Capital Letter E by James Joseph Jacques Tissot.