Sunday, August 6, 2017


While Gus can be a nickname for Gustav(e), Angus, and August, and variants of those names, Gus itself ranked #999 in 2016. It hadn't been in the top 1000 since 1978. Mingus, Argus/Argos, Fergus or Ferguson work just as well, and a rarely considered option is the Norman name Guiscard, which is cognate with the word "wizard."

Real-life namesakes for Gus include NCAA basketball announcer Gus Johnson, poker pro Gus Hansen, astronaut Gus (Virgil) Grissom, American skiier Gus Kenworthy, and film maker Gus Van Sant. A few different celebrities have chosen this (some as a nickname for either August or Augustus) for their sons.

In media, Gus-Gus was the name of a mouse in Cinderella, a character in T. S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, and a character in the book The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. In TV world, Gus has been a character in "Psych," Netflix's "Love," Disney's "Recess," "Breaking Bad," "Road to Avonlea," "Queer as Folk," and "Mighty Med."

Should you prefer Augustus as a full name with Gus as the nickname, Augustus is Latin meaning "venerable," and was originally used as a title for religious leaders in ancient Rome who acted similarly to prophets or oracles. The transfer out of religious-only use was made when Caius Octavius won a battle and the name Augustus was given to him as an honor, and future emperors thought they would use it as well. It may have taken all the way until the 1500's until the name was used as a chosen (and only) given name. Augustine was much more common. This name is not popular in England, Wales, or Scotland, and has not been since the 1940's.

Gustav is German and either means "guest of glory," as a Germanization of Old Slavic Gostislav, or Old German "God staff," (though there is debate that it means "Goth staff"). Gustave and Gustav haven't ranked since 1934, but Gustavo is at #533. The list of namesakes is quite long, including Nobel prize winners, artists, musicians, writers, Olympic medalists, a king of Belgium, a Belgian Prime Minister, and a French president.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Melisande, Melisende

The cover of E. Nesbit's Melisande

Melisande (MELL-iss-ahnd, may-lee-SAHND) is the French variant of Amalswintha, and the inspiration for the English name Millicent, meaning "strong worker." There has been some confusion on the name's connection to Melissa, meaning "honey bee." There's a possibility that each spelling variation has a different origin - Melisande from Melissa and perhaps Melisande as cognate with Millicent, but that is speculation, and there could be absolutely no connection to Melissa at all. Melisende was a popular name in France in the Middle Ages. This name has quite the list of credentials, including a play, opera, and fairy tale.

Besides the play Pelléas and Mélisande by Maeterlinck, the opera by Debussy, and the fairy tale mentioned above, Melisande was the alias of a character in the Broadway show Bells are Ringing, a handmaid in the book Zuleika Dobson by Max Beerbohm, a character in The Golden Basket by Ludwig Bemelmans, a noblewoman in the Kushiel series by Jacqueline Carey, a character in Enid Blyton's Adventures of the Six Cousins, the title of a short story by E. Nesbit, and there was a princess character in the Rankin and Bass animated film called The Flight of Dragons. Currently hanging on a museum wall in Germany is the Melisande painting by Austrian painter Marianne Stokes. Comic book readers may recognize the name as Ra's al Ghul's wife in the Batman storyline.

Melisandre, the character from Game of Thrones, is not quite the same name. Although this spelling has been seen historically, author Martin typically uses names that are unique to his created world but slightly similar to historical names in the real world.

In real life, historical namesakes spelled their names Melisende. Melisende of Jerusalem was Queen of Jerusalem from 1131 to 1153, then acted as regent until 1161. Her parents, King Baldwin II of Jerusalem and the intriguingly named Morphia of Melitene, had quite a love story. When Baldwin was elected king, he was urged to divorce his wife and find someone more politically favorable for the time. He refused, and in a show of love he postponed his coronation day until she could be crowned queen alongside him. Melisende's marriage to Fulk was the opposite, as there was a continuous battle for her right to rule alongside him as an equal, although they did eventually settle their differences. It is said she was a very good mother. Melisende was named after her countess grandmother, Melisende of Montlhéry, a daughter of Guy I of Montlhéry. (Melisende de Coucy may be a descendent. This link has notes on a Melisende de Cantilupe as well.) Melisende's sister gave the name to her daughter, Melisende of Tripoli. She was written about in the verse drama La Princesse Lointaine by Edmond Rostand.

Melisende of Arsuf was Lady of Arsuf around the same time as Melisende of Tripoli, and both came from Crusader states. Not a lot is known about her life.

Melisende of Lusignan, Princess of Antioch's direct line died out when her daughter died with no heir. She came from Jerusalem as well.

Melisende de Picquigny was born between 1060 and 1090 in Saint Omer, France. Her son may have been the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem who convened the Council of Nablus with Baldwin II, Melisende of Jersusalem's father.

None of the spelling options mentioned were used in the U.S. in 2016. Melisande registered a total of four times - 5 in 1947, 5 in 1960, 6 in 1972, and 5 in 2005. It is almost as rare in France today. I suspect it won't take long for Melisandre to get some use because of America's current love of Game of Thrones names.