Friday, February 11, 2022

Words From Women's Type Names

A type name is a personal name used to describe a type of person who is most likely to have the name, like Karen is used to describe a middle aged woman who might feel a little too entitled. These are different from eponyms as they aren't used in reference to one person with the name, but to all people with the name. I've collected these words as historical examples of when a popular woman's name or nickname was used to describe a type of person, which then evolved into a new word.

St. Tib's Eve

Tib is an old nickname for Isabel, popular in Europe during the Middle ages, and often paired with Tom in the same way Jack is paired with Jill. Tib came to mean prostitute in the 1500s, and spawned the phrase "on St. Tib's eve", meaning something very unlikely to happen similar to "when hell freezes over", because a prostitute would never be made a saint. (St. Tib's Eve is celebrated in Newfoundland on Dec 23rd, because Newfies).


Jill is a short form for Jillian or Gillian, the Middle English common form of Juliana. It was very popular in medieval England, and became a generic term for a girl in the early 1400s, and paired with Jack since mid 1400s. Gillet (or Jillet) was another diminutive that came from Jillian, and became a familiar or contemptuous name for a woman or girl. Jilt is probably from the contraction of jillet/gillet, and came to mean a loose, unchaste woman, or harlot from 1670s. From this you get the verb "to jilt", as in jilted lover, to mean give hope then discard.


Malkyn was a diminutive of the name Maud/Mault (itself a shortened form of Matilda) or Mary during the Middle ages. It came to mean a woman of lower class, a slattern, or loose woman by the 1200s. From Malkyn came malkin which was used to refer to a mop, possibly from the sense of "untidy woman", or a bundle of rags. From the mop meaning you get merkin as the name of a wig for pubic hair used by prostitutes, attested to at least 1610s, which is still used today. Also related is grimalkin, the name of the witch's cat from Macbeth, from grey-malkyn where Malkyn was used a name for a female cat in the same way Tom is used for males.


The female proper name Molly or Moll served as a type name of a low-class girl or prostitute in old songs and ballads (perhaps in part for the sake of the easy rhymes) from the 1600s. Both are familiar forms of Mary. By the 1700s, molly was a colloquial term for a homosexual or effeminate male, and from that we get mollycoddle, which means to pamper or fuss over.


From an Irish nickname for the very popular Brigid, used to refer to any Irish serving maid, and also a complaining old woman.


From 1700s canting slang which used the name Florence to mean a well dressed wench, "touz'd and ruffled". The word flossy then appeared which in the 1890s was slang for fancy or frilly, and by 1902 floozie meant a woman of disreputable character.

Men's names have similar examples with Jack doing the lions share of the work in word creation. Examples include jacket, jockey, and hijack but there's also billy, jimmy, zany and yankee.


Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Three Surprising Unisex names from the Early 20th century, USA

Cleo, June and Fay were at one time unisex names. Let's start with Cleo.

Cleo can be short for Cleopatra but it was also short for Cleon and the biblical name Cleopas. Cleon is from the Greek word for glory. Cleopas comes from the same root as Cleopatra, it is a short form of the masculine version Cleopatros. In the Gospel of Luke, Cleopas sees Jesus after his resurrection. Cleo for men is recorded more often in the SSA dataset than both Cleopas and Cleon. Cleo was still twice as popular for women in the 1920s, although women are over represented in the early data.

June can be short for Junius, a masculine name that had some use in the American south during the 1800s. The father of J.P. Morgan and the father of John Wilkes Booth were both named Junius, likely in honour of the anonymous author of the British Junius papers in which Junius was his pseudonym. June can also be found being used by women but widespread popular use only occurred in the late 19th century. June can also be short for Junior. A notable man with the name was June C. Smith, Illinois Supreme Court Judge.

And last but not least, as it is my favourite, is Fay. Fay is short for Lafayette, a popular man's name in the US in the 1800s, given in honour of American Revolutionary War commander Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette. Fayette, Lafe, and Fate are other short forms but Fay was the most popular at the turn of the century. Fay and Faye became more popular for women in the 1910s and '20s but Fay did still have some usage by men. Notable men include American sprinter Fay Moulton, baseball player Fay Thomas, and architect E. Fay Jones, a student of Frank Lloyd Wright, and for whom the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design is named at the University of Arkansas.

The trail of the name Sigourney

Sigourney is a surname that originates from the French town of Sigournais. It was called Segurniacum in latin which is of unknown origin. Si...