Wednesday, February 6, 2013


The Possum Magic Float in the 2010 Christmas Parade
 in Adelaide, South Australia

If you have been a child in Australia at any time since the 1980's, you're probably familiar with an author named Mem Fox. Mem (pronounced MEHM) is the author of best selling children's book 'Possum Magic', first published in 1983. She has of course published several more since then to become one of Australia's best loved children's authors, but 'Possum Magic' was the book that made her a household name for many. Her latest big success was 'Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes', which was an international hit and on the New York Times bestseller lists for 18 weeks in 2008-2009.

I guess growing up I just accepted that Mem was a name. Yes, I knew it was rare, but didn't really give it much more thought than than. A relative of ours (my mum's cousin's) named her daughter Mem, inspired by the author, so to me it was definitely a name. Cute side story, Mem's brother's are named Jed and Kip - such an adorable sibset!

Now that I have this blog, I remembered Mem and what an unusual name it is. It's not listed on any of the usual baby name sites, so there is no accepted origin and meaning for the name. Wikipedia however does tell us that the word Mem is the thirteenth letter of several early "alphabets", including Phoenician, Aramaic, Hebrew and Arabic. It is thought that it comes from the Egyptian hieroglyph for water, so I guess you could say that Mem is a water related nature/word name.

This lead me to wondering how Mem came to be named, and it turns out that she has helpfully recorded a short note on how to pronounce her name and where it came from. I didn't previously know this, but it turns out that Mem is not actually her given name, but a shortening of her name that she chose when she was thirteen. Which just goes to show how powerful nicknames can be sometimes - I guess you never know when it will end up gracing the cover of a book and becoming more of an alter ego than just a mere pet name.

No matter how it came about, I love the idea of Mem as a short and spunky name. It has a pretty unique look and sound, and could work well for either a boy or a girl. And as we've already seen, it makes a great nickname if you prefer a longer name for the birth certificate Now I just wonder what Mem Fox's given name is........


  1. According to wikipedia, it was Merrion.

    1. Definitely wouldn't have been my first guess, considering I think her sisters are named Jan and Alison. I probably would have guessed Miriam first :)

    2. Mem speaks here in a radio interview. She changed her name to Mem. Mem is a Hebrew letter.

  2. I know a girl in high school who goes by Mem, she wouldn't tell anyone what her name was for years. It turned out to be Clementine.

  3. My brother owns the book and he's 9. He got it as a gift from a student tutor as it was his favourite book.

    I love the idea of it for Clementine.

  4. Mem as a nickname for Clementine is fantastic!

    Interesting that this Clementine didn't want anyone to know her name. I think opinions of Clementine have definitely shifted over the past couple of years - it's seen in a much more positive light these days.

  5. I love Mem for Clementine, but could also see it as a nn for Jemima.

  6. Mem is a hebrew letter for the letter M in English