Friday, October 21, 2005

The Name Game

It seems to me that the most popular names in the English language have historically came from one of two sources. The first is from the various Germanic peoples who either settled or invaded Britain in the Dark Ages, starting with the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes. The second is from the Christian Bible.

As might be expected, many of the popular English names come from the Old English language spoken by the Anglo-Saxon peoples who started settling Britain in the middle of the 5th century. I cannot say for certain, but I think the most popular name of all time to derive from Old English may well be Edward. There have been several kings of England who have borne the name, not to mention writers, entertainers, and so on. The name is composed of the Old English words ead "wealth" and weard "guardian, protector." Indeed, the Angles and Saxons seemed to have been overly fond of the word ead when it came to names. To this day we still have Edgar (ead and gar "spear"), Edwin (ead and win "friend"), Edmund (ead and mund "protection"), and several others. Of course, the Anglo-Saxons didn't simply name their children with variants involving the word ead. War was one of the more popular occupations of the Dark Ages and often children were given names that dealt with war. The name Harold appears to have derived from Old English here and weald "power." Herbert might not be the best sounding name now, but in Old English it meant "army bright." The name Egbert comes from Old English Ecgbryht, meaning "edge (as in the edge of a sword) bright." The name Roger was in Old English Hrothgar; it even appears in Beowulf. The name is composed of hroth "fame" and gar "spear." The Anglo-Saxons had their share of names that dealt with "peace" as well--the name Winfred comes from Old English win "friend" and frith "peace." Many of the more popular names to come from Old English were based in the pre-Christian religion of the Anglo-Saxons. The name Alfred, a name borne by the famous Saxon king, comes from Ælf "elf" and ræd "counsel." Among the Germanic peoples, the elves were originally minor deities. The name Oswald comes from os "god" and weald "power." The Old Engilsh word os is cognate to Old Norse Æsir, the word used of the Norse pantheon of gods.

The Angles, Saxons, and Jutes were not the only Germanic peoples to settle in Britain. Later in the Dark Ages, the Danes invaded England. Beyond creating the Danelaw, they also brought with them names. Among these was the name Eric, or in Old Norse Eirikr. The name Rudolph, now identified with a certain reindeer, also comes from the Danes who invaded England. In Old Norse it was Hrótholfr. The Norman Conquest of 1066 brought even more names of Germanic derivation, most often their ulitimate origns lying in Old High German. The Normans brought with them some of the most popular English names ever. William, Robert, and Richard were all brought to England by the Normans. In some cases the Norman names simply replaced Old English names that were essentially the same. Redbert is simply a name stemming from the Old English variant of the Norman name Robert. Here I have primarily talked about masculine names. Several feminine names from the Germanic languages have survived in English too, among them Emma, Edith, Isa, Wilma, and so on.

In the Seventh century the Christians began the slow process of coverting the Anglo-Saxon peoples. Not surprisingly, the Anglo-Saxons found a new source of names from the new religion. In fact, I rather suspect the most popular names of all time in the Engilsh language tend to come from the Christian Bible. For the most part, for boys it seems that the names of Jesus' disciples were often favoured. John, Peter, James, James, and virtually every name of a disciple (with the possible exception of Judas) have been popular througout the ages. Among women, perhaps no name has been more popular in the English language than that of Jesus' mother Mary. Of course, the English speaking peoples did not just look to the Christian New Testament for names, they also occasionally dipped into the Old Testament as well. Joshua, David, Jacob, and other Old Testament names have been perennial favourites. Not surprisingly, the names of the angels from Judaism also proved popular. Both Gabriel and Michael have proven popular over the ages. Surprisingly, both have given rise to feminine forms. The name Gabrielle comes from Gabriel, while the name Michael gave rise to the feminine form Michelle (in my opinion perhaps the most beautiful name in any language...).

The Roman Empire was a powerful influence in Europe for centuries. And while the Angles, Saxons, and other Germanic peoples who settled England were never ruled by Rome, their influence is seen in a few English names. Several names stem from Roman emperors and generals. Julius (from Julius Caesar), Claude (from the emperor Claudius), Mark (from Jesus' disciple of the same name, but also perhaps from the Roman general Marcus Antonius), Anthony (also from the general Marcus Antonius), and so on. Of course, emperors and generals were not the only Romans whose names made their way into English. The name Terence comes from the Roman playwright of the same name.

Yet other names in the English language come from other sources. The name Catherine comes to us via Latin Katerina, which ulitimately comes from Greek Aikaterina. George also comes from Latin through Greek, in its case from Latin Georgius, a name which stems ultimately from Greek Georgios. In some cases people have simply invented names. Longfellow developed the name Evangeline for the poem of the same name!

One thing that I have always found curious is the phenomenon of masculine names becming feminine names (as far as I know, it has never happened the other way around). As hard as it may be to believe now, the name Kelly was once a male name, but by the time I was born, there were droves of little girls named "Kelly." The same thing has happened to the name Ashley At one time it was a masculine name--remember Ashley Wilkes in Gone With the Wind? All of this seems to have changed in the past twenty years, when it has become one of the more popular female names--I swear that over half of my oldest great niece's friends (and herself, for that matter) are named "Ashley."

As might be expected, names vary in popularity over the years. I rather suspect the names John and Mary are probably the two most popular names of all time in the English language, although they are not always so popular. In 1918, they were the two most popular names. William and Helen came in second. Acutally, in this area I think Helen may have been more popular as a name for girls than Mary--I swear over half of my mom's friends bore the name Helen! All of this had changed by the time I was born. In 1963, the two most popular names were Micahel and Lisa--John and Mary were now second. Curiously, I can't say I have ever known too many women my age named Mary, so I suppose the name wasn't that popular for girls in Randolph County (I think Jennifer and Deborah wer more popular....). These days John and Mary aren't even in the top ten most popular names. In 2004, the most popular name for boys was Jacob. Indeed, where boys are concerned, it seems that people are looking to the Bible again--Michael, Joshua, Matthew, and Joseph all rank in the top ten. Not being overly fond of Biblical names (my family already has too many Johns and Jameses), if I ever have a son I don't think I'll be naming him any of those names... Among girls, it seems that Bibical names are out of fashion. In 2004 Emily, Emma, Madison, and Olivia were the top four names.

Anyhow, I have always been fascinated by names. And like most people I have given thought to what I would like to name any children I might have. I realy haven't any ideas as to what I would want to name a boy, although I am fond of the name "Edward." I certainly am not going to name any son of mine "John," "James," "Jacob," or any other Biblical name (we already have too many names of the sort in our family). As to feminine names, I would like to name a daughter "Emma." It is a name that goes back pretty far in my family and it is also the name of one of my favourite TV characters--Emma Peel of The Avengers. I certainly will not bestow a boy's name on any daughter I might have. Other people might think that is cute, but I personally would be happy if there are no more girls named "Ashley" in my family (I keep picturing Leslie Howard in my mind....) Call me old fashioned, but I prefer for masculine names to stay masculine.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Two Songs By The Partridge Family

Today I am in a bit of a strange mood. For whatever reason I am thinking of The Partridge Family. I watched the show loyally as a child, although I cannot say I have been a big fan of it as an adult. I watched it a few years ago and it seemed to me to be a fairly standard sitcom, albeit with songs. Strangely enough, given my musical tastes, I still like a lot of The Partidge Family's songs. Their biggest hit was probably "I Think I Love You." I honestly think that song sums up the whole experience of falling in love, complete with the fear that comes with it, better than most songs. Another big hit of their was "Doesn't Somebody Want to Be Wanted." Like "I Think I Love You" it wasn't the happiest song in the world, in fact even less happy than "I Think I Love You." These days the song may be most famous for being used in The X-Files episode "Betty," where it was the soundtrack for a murder. Aside from that Cass Elliot song used in this season's premiere of Lost, it may have been the most sinister use of a pop song in a TV show. They also had a hit with the song "I Woke Up in Love This Morning," but I don't find myself in the mood for that one--not like I am "I Think I Love You" and "Doesn't Somebody Want to Be Wanted."

Anyhow, without further adieu, here they are:

"Doesn't Somebody Want To Be Wanted" by The Partridge Family

"I Think I Love You" by The Partridge Family

Monday, October 17, 2005

Rock & Rule

It was in the early Eighties, when I was still a member of Cheap Trick International (the band's fan club), that I learned that Cheap Trick was providing some of the songs for the soundtrack of an animated feature (besides Heavy Metal). That movie was Rock & Rule. I waited patiently for it to arrive at the local theatres, but it never did. Fortunately, I did catch it on HBO around 1984. Indeed, at that time the premium channels seemed to show it almost daily. Unfortunately, after the mid-Eighties, I never saw Rock & Rule again. At least until now. Released on VHS in the Eighties, Rock & Rule has finally been released on DVD by Unearthed Films.

The origins of Rock & Rule go back to 1971 when Mark Hirsch, Patrick Loubert, and Clive Smith formed the animation studio Nelvana in Canada. The studio produced several holiday specials and even provided a ten minute animated segment featuring Boba Fett for George Lucas's Star Wars Thanksgiving special. Producer Ivan Reitman even approached them about animating Heavy Metal. They turned him down in favour of their own project, a feature film initially titled Drats.

Originally, Drats was geared towards a younger audience and would have featured a softer approach. But as the project evolved, it took on more mature themes and more adult content. Quite simply, it became Rock 'n' Rule. Unfortunately, things did not run smoothly for Nelvana's dream of producing an animated feature film. It took three long years for the project to be finished. In that time, the budget grew out of proportion and its distributer in the United States, MGM/UA, began to make their voice known with regards to the movie. The voice of the hero, Omar, would be completely redubbed. Cuts were made to the film. At one point the movie was even renamed Ring of Power (a rather generic name that really has nothing to do with Rock & Rule as we know it).

It was on April 14, 1983 that Rock & Rule finally appeared in theatres in the United States. Released in Boston with no fanfare, the film played to nearly empty houses. It soon disappeared, never receiving a wide release. Fortunately, Rock & Rule was saved by both television and home video. As I mentioned earlier, it was shown a good deal in the mid-Eighties by premium channels such as HBO. And in its homeland of Canada, it was even shown on the CBC. Rock & Rule was released on VHS in 1984 and laserdisc in 1986. Slowly but surely it gained a following. It was probably a fait accompli that it would be eventually released on DVD.

Although it has a loyal, cult following, Rock & Rule is not a perfect film. Perhaps its greatest shortcoming is its story, which almost seems as if was pieced together like patchwork. And sometimes the classic, Warner Brothers style humour seems out of place alongside the darker themes of the movie. But utlimately, Rock & Rule succeeds where other animated films have failed.

Much of this is due to the strength of its characters. The voices of the characters endowed them with personalities all their own, a task further helped by the animators who gave each character his or her own distinctive body language. It perhaps helped that the characters were voiced by some of the most talented actors in Canada at the time. Paul LeMat gave voice to the hero, Omar, while Don Francks provided the voice for the villain of the piece, Mok. Indeed, Mok is one of the great animated screen villains of all time. Flamboyant, egomaniacal, totally self centred, Mok comes off like a bizarre cross between Mick Jagger, David Bowie, and Jimmy Page--one part rock star, one part sorcerer. As to the heroine, Angel, she is no mere damsel in distress, but a character with a personality all her own.

Rock & Rule also boasts some truly great animation. There are some truly fantastic images in the film, from Mok's blimp to the skyline of Nuke York (the warped, future version of New York in the film). In some respects the animation in Rock & Rule is truly groundbreaking. Indeed, it was one of the earliest animated films to actually make use of CGI. Although very primitive by today's standards, it is an impressive accomplishment for its era.

From the beginning, it was planned for music to play a large role in the movie. Some of the greatest artists of the late Seventies and early Eighties lent their talents to Rock & Rule. Cheap Trick provided the music for Omar's songs (including one of their best songs ever, "Born to Raise Hell"). Deborah Harry and Chris Stein of Blondie provided the music for the heroine Angel's songs. Lou Reed was a perfect choice to write and perform Mok's songs. The soundtrack also includes songs by Earth, Wind, & Fire, and Iggy Pop.

As I said earlier, Rock & Rule is not a perfect movie. It does have its faults. But those faults are made up by the sheer energy, the sheer talent, that clearly went into the making of the movie. For me it is a film that is very easy to love. Even after having not seen for it for literally years, I could still quote dialogue from the movie. If you love animation and you love the music of the early Eighties, then you must see Rock & Rule.