Sunday, October 6, 2013

The New Covens of Witch Names

It's that time of year again - when new shows hit our screens, and old favourites return with a fresh new season. In recent years you can count on there being a few new shows that feature some of the most popular supernatural beings - vampires, werewolves and witches - and this season does not disappoint. It's always interesting to see how these types of characters are named. Do the writers give them little known, "exotic" names to emphasise their mysterious natures? Or old and sometimes antiquated names to emphasise just how old they are? Or "everyday" names to instill in viewers the fear that these types could be living amongst us and we wouldn't even realise it?

Well, often that depends on the era the show is set in. And usually a show will employ more than one of the above tactics. Out of interest though, I thought I'd look a this years batch of witch names, as seen in four new series to feature witch covens in their storyline.

'American Horror Story: Coven'
I love how this show refreshes itself, with each season an encapsulated storyline with different characters but employing a similar cast of actors. This season the show gets away from murder houses ad lunatic asylums and heads to New Orleans and a house that hides and nurtures young witches. This means there should be plenty of young witches (and names) to look at, but these are the main players.

Cordelia - I have to admit to finding this to be perhaps the "witchiest" name of this season. I love Cordelia, and have been seeing this name mentioned a lot over on the Nameberry forums. She feels kind of magical, almost regal, filled with feminine strength. Cordelia is a Latin name meaning 'heart' and has literary and Shakespeare connections.

Delphine - Pretty and delicate, I love Delphine. Kathy Bates, who is playing the character, doesn't really make me think 'delicate' though. And apparently her character is very nasty, very quickly, so it's unlikely to give this name much of a boost. It hasn't been in the U.S. top 1000 since 1962. and ranked just #4293 in 2012. Delphine is a French name that comes from the Greek town Delphi, means 'dolphin' and is also associated with the delphinium flower.

Fiona - Fiona is probably not the first name to come to mind for most people when picturing a Supreme witch. I guess that's about to change. Pronounced fee-OH-nah, it's a Gaelic name that is quite popular in Scotland but no quite as much in the U.S., although it has been steadily climbing in recent years. It was ranked 209 in 2012. Meaning 'fair, white', it's a pretty, understated name, which will probably feel at odds with this character if Jessica Langes' past roles on 'American Horror Story' are anything to go by.

Madison - Madison is one of the young "pupils" in the series. I like that they have chosen typical, modern names for the younger generation, rather than going out of their way to find outlandish, mystical sounding names. Used for a long time for boys, it came into sudden use for girls after it was infamously given to mermaid Daryl Hannah in 'Splash' in 1984, quickly peaking at #2 in the U.S. in 2001/2002. Swift peaks like this almost guarantee it will fade just as swiftly, but as of 2012 it was still a top 10 name.

Misty - Dare I say it, many would probably call this pretty nature name a "stripper name". Which is a shame as I think it's quite pretty. It does however require that care is taken with the middle name to avoid it becoming a pun name (avoid Dawn at all costs, as this one is already taken by a porn star). Misty peaked in the 1970's at #40, but has declined fast and in 2012 was positioned at just 2741 in the U.S. Which unfortunately also means it feels a little dated these days.

Myrtle - I have a feeling this might be one of those "fusty" names on the brink of being seen as a "vintage chic" name. She peaked in the 1890's and has only charted once since 1997, but a recent appearance of Myrtle on the gorgeous Isla Fisher in 'The Great Gatsby' earlier this year may see her chart again in 2013. It's a Greek/nature name based on the evergreen shrub that has star like flowers and little berries.

Queenie - An English name that means 'queen' (duh), this is also one of the younger characters. I'm not a fan personally as it lacks subtlety, but it has charted in the U.S. almost every year since 1880. It's a rare but not totally unheard of name.

Zoe - another of the younger pupils, Zoe is right on trend, peaking at #30 in the U.S. in 2012. Alternative spelling Zoey has fared even better, also peaking in 2012 but at number 20. Zoe is a Greek name meaning 'life', and I wonder if it's a hint as to what this characters mysterious "ability" is. This pretty name is a firm favourite of mine - along with many other people.

'Sleepy Hollow'
This show is oh-so-very-loosely-based on the legend of Ichabod Crane and the headless horseman. Turns out that the horseman is one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse - go figure - and that Ichabods' wife was a witch (of the good variety of course) who managed to do something that preserved Ichabod so he could rise again to defeat the horseman when he re-appeared in Sleepy Hollow. Which just so happens to be in current times. It's all a bit silly, but I've enjoyed the first few episodes enough. So far we haven't met many witches, but I'm sure there will be more to come as the "good" versus "bad" witch mythology is very prevalent here. And I'm also pretty sure we'll find that Abbie turns out to be a "good" witch and her sister Jenny a "bad" witch. Just saying.

Katrina - Ichabod's wife. Katrina is an Old German name meaning 'pure'. It's a variant of Catherine/Katherine and has long been considered a classic name in many countries. The devastating Hurricane Katrina in 2005 led to a dramatic drop in the popularity of this name in the U.S., but 2012 saw it starting to rise again.

Serilda - does the "eril" sound make you think of "evil"? That's probably the point. That said, I quite like Serilda. It's a little like Serena, a little like Matilda. She's also an Old German name, meaning 'armed warrior woman' - making it a strong name if you're looking for something rare and a little mysterious sounding. It has never charted in the U.S.

'The Originals'
Technically about vampires, this show also mixes in werewolves, werewolf/vampire hybrids and an uneasy pact with a coven of witches. It's also set in New Orleans and is a spin off of the highly popular 'The Vampire Diaries', centred around the family of "the original" vampires.

Davina - pronounced dah-VEE-nah, this is a feminine version of David and means 'beloved'. It's definitely not a name you hear everyday - it's well outside the U.S. top 1000 - but it has quite an understated, classy feel to it. Nickname Vina is an interesting option too.

Esther - Biblical Esther (pronounced ESS-ter) has enjoyed quite a steady popularity in the U.S., never ranking outside the top 400. It's thought to have Persian origins and mean 'star'. If this spelling looks a little dated, maybe Esta is more to your liking. Either way, I have to admit to not being a fan of Esther. Which I think is mainly due to the 2009 movie 'Orphan'. It's just a creepy movie. If you love creepy movies and haven't seen it yet, I recommend that you watch it.

Jane Ann - technically not a character, because she has already died in the first episode. But I found this pairing as a first name quite charming so I thought I'd include it.

Katie - Katie is often thought to be an endearment for Kate or Katherine, but Katie is one nickname that has long been used as the name on the birth certificate. It has the same roots as the above Katrina, and hence also means 'pure'. It's a sweet, happy, friendly feeling name that due to it's long popularity feels almost timeless.

Sabine - This is one of those names that makes many name nerds swoon. It's sophisticated and internationally appealing yet charmingly simple. Pronounced sah-BEEN in English and French but sah-BEEN-eh in German, Sabine is a Latin name. It comes from the ancient Sabine people of central Italy and remains quite underused in the U.S.

Sophie - It's not quite as popular as U.S. number 1 Sophia, but it's not too far off at position 52. This is another, friendly, happy feeling name to me, which makes me think that this particular coven are meant to be "good" witches. Sophie (pronounced SOH-fee) is a Greek name meaning wisdom. It's a pretty name for a girl to wear.

'Witches of East End'
This show is based on a novel of the same name by Melissa de la Cruz, which I have to admit I haven't heard of before let alone read. And it seems the show is aimed at readers, as information about the show is relatively light on, except to say that witch sisters Joanna and Wendy are reunited after a long time apart and something happens that means that Joanna must reveal to her two adult daughters that not only is she and their aunt witches, but her daughters are too.

Joanna - Joanna is a Hebrew name meaning 'God is gracious'. It's a pretty well known name in many countries, peaking at #88 in the US in 1984. One benefit to this name is that although everyone has heard it and is familiar with it, plenty of Joanna's say they have rarely met another one. That makes it a great standing-out-yet-fitting-in name option. It's also a multi-syllable girls name that doesn't feel overly frilly, a middle ground which is sometimes hard to find.

Freya - Pronounced FRAY-uh, Freya is a Scandinavian name meaning 'noble lady'. In Norse mythology she was also the goddess of fertility and love. It's starting to get a little more attention in the U.S., where it has never breached the top 1000, but in other countries such as Scotland, Ireland and England/Wales it's a top 100 name. I was a little surprised to see this name on a show about American witches but it makes for a fresh, different name and might give it a bit more exposure.

Ingrid - They may be surprising choices, but a sibset of Freya and Ingrid is truly lovely. Ingrid is also a Scandinavian name with Norse mythology ties. It means 'Ing's beauty', coming from the Norse God of earth's fertility Ing who was said to ride the land every year to prepare it for spring planting. It's more widely known in the U.S. than Freya, but is also yet to reach high levels of popularity.

Wendy - Talking about surprising name choices, to me Wendy felt a little out of step with the other main characters names. And it made me think of Casper the Friendly Ghosts pal, Wendy the Witch. Wendy is a literary name, famously created by 'Peter Pan' author J.M. Barrie and means 'friend'. It feels slightly dated now as it peaked in the U.S. in 1970 at position 28, but still has somewhat of a happy-go-lucky feel to it.

Well there you have it - 20 new witches that will be gracing our screens this month. Which ones do you think are winners? Will the shows, characters and actors they are attached to give them a boost in popularity, or turn people off?


  1. Great post! I love Sabine, Serilda, Katrina, Freya and Wendy. While not all of them actually sound like "witch" names to me, I think they're great picks for the shows.

  2. I love Freya and Ingrid. They are both high up on my list.