Monday, August 20, 2007

Names and Fiction

Or more specifically names in a certain series of fiction - the Chalet School. Basically, looking at how realistic the names are in contrast with the time they were written.There are a few problems with the method I am using, that I am going to outline.

1) The early Chalet School books (School at the Chalet through to Exile) take place in Austria, where a lot of local girls attend. The school is much more international during this time, drawing pupils from throughout Europe. This is reflected in the names, and thus skews the data. I am therefore focussing primarily on the names in the later books.

2) The information that I am going to use to compare them with is the US statistics (top 1000) as these are much more accessible than the British data for the period. This is not ideal, but this entry is not expected to be a thesis, just an overview.

3) Elinor Brent-Dyer (EBD) isn't exactly consist in all of her dates (some people age too quickly, others too slowly etc.), I am using the dates on the site I link to in the next paragraph.

Much of the information I am using is, of course, from Elinor M Brent-Dyer's books. They have been usefully collated here.

The late 1920s girls:
In the US, the late 1920s saw the dominance of Mary - almost twice as many Marys were born in 1928 than the #2 name - Betty. It accounted for 5.5% of all names here. With the Chalet School, the popularity is more pronounced - 4 out of the 48 names are Mary - 10%, additionally with the nickname Mollie and alternative form Marie appearing as well.

Margaret was another name peaking in the 1920s, though only accounted for 1.6% of births. With the CS, we have Margaret as well as Meg and Peggy. Additionally, the Daisy of the list, is actually a Margaret. This leaning upon Margaret is well documented throughout the series - the founder of the Chalet School is a Margaret, her mother-in-law is a Margaret, so her sister-in-law has a Margaret (the aforementioned Daisy). Original Margaret (or Madge, as she is more commonly known), is honoured by her twin brother with his first daughter (known as Peggy), and her sister with one of her triplet daughters (known as Margot). Additionally, Madge's ward Juliet, has a Meg.

None of the other members of the US top 5 for this period (Helen, Dorothy and Betty) appear, though there is a Beth, a Lysbet, an Isabel and various attempts to avoid Dorothy (Dorcas, Doreen, Doris, Dorothea). Of the other members of the top 10 - Ruth, Doris, Barbara, Virginia and Shirley, only Doris and Barbara appear.

What else is there? There are three Annes (one Anne, two Nancys), which in the US was experiencing a drop in popularity. Two Franceses (#13 in the period), Roosje sticks out as a reminder of the previous international nature of the school, and Edris (an attempt at Idris?) and Gwensi appear as precursers of what is to come (moving of the school to Wales).

1930-5 girls:
I'll be focussing on 1933 US data for this part. This section of girls is considerably larger - we only started with about 1928 last time. Mary is slightly less popular by this time - down to 5.3% of population, and this is reflected in the CS. Out of 158 girls we have 3 Marys, 2 Mollies, 1 Polly and a Marie - approx. 4.5% - closer to the US than last time. The name that is rising in popularity in the US, Barbara, appears 3 times, though that is roughly the same %ge as last time. This may be marred by the fact that one of the more principal characters in this section of the series is a Barbara. Betty still doesn't appear - we have Bess, Betsy and Elizabeth - but Dorothy (#4) does once on a minor character, Joan (#5) appears twice and Patricia (#6) does in the form of Pat.

Margaret, once again, is very strong. There are 3 Madges (1 from Magdalen), 3 Margarets, 1 Meg and 2 Peggys, only one of home (a Peggy) being easy to link with the school foundress.

There is also a surplus of Anne's which goes against the US's fall - 7 Annes, 1 Anne-Marie, 1 Annis, 1 Nan and 1 Nancy.

Of the 'unusual' names, we have a couple of double occurrences of names that I would consider rare in English - Diana, Joy, La/eila, Lilias, Nina and Nita, Primrose and Primula and Rosalind.

A little thing to point out - the main characters born during this time: Mollie McNab, Peggy Bettany, Nita Eltringham, Bride Bettany, Nancy Chester, Tom (Lucinda Muriel) Gay, Julie Lucy, Flora and Fiona MacDonald, Vanna and Nella Ozanne, Primula Venables, Clem(ency) Barras, Carola Johnstone, Betsy Lucy, Sybil Russell and Blossom Willoughby (some more principal due to family rather than anything they do). Of these 17, 14 have 'individual' names (not worn by another character of this age range, though some eg Nita and Betsy are similar to others).

1935-40 girls:
This age group is roughly the same size as the previous. The top 10 in the US in 1938 was Mary, Barbara, Patricia, Betty, Shirley, Carol, Nancy, Dorothy, Margaret and Joan. A quick skim through this set of CS data shows that Mary and Marie are plentiful, as are Hilda and Iris.

Mary has retained it's strong popularity - we have 3 Marys, 1 Mary-Lou and 1 Mollie, but does appear to be overshadowed by the 3 Maries and 1 Marie-Therese. What this data hides is that fact that the Len, Con and Margot all have Mary as their first names but, as triplets, go by their middle names. A principal character during this stage of the story is Mary-Lou which may explain why Marie has increased as an alternative to Mary. Additionally, with the move of the school to Switzerland, there is an increase in 'international' pupils - Marie being the French form of the name.

Anne is the name that has taken a huge knock during this time: only 2 Annes, but an Anna and an Anneli (both are Swiss) and a Nan (no Nancys so flying in the face of the American popularity). Anne itself was still decreasing during this time.

Margaret also does not appear prominent - there is only one, who appears not to have any link with the school foundress. Margot does (school foundress's niece), and this time there are no Megs but one Peggy (not related). This decrease in Margarets coincides with the school foundress's removal from school life - first to Canada and then Australia. This also neatly coincides with the ascendancy of the name Hilda - only one has been in the data before, but this time there are three. This amount also flies in the face of the American data where Hilda is decreasing. The headmistress at this time is Hilda Annersley, which must have at least kept the name at the forefront of EBD's mind when naming characters.

In terms of unusual names, there is quite a plethora: Amandine, Carmela, Catriona, Chloe, Emerence, Ghislaine, Lesceline, Nesta, Olwyn, Penelope, Richenda, Truda, Ursula, Yseult and Zena spring out.

As for the 'no characters named similarly to main characters' - in this section the main characters are Mary-Lou, Len, Con, Margot, Verity-Anne, Barbara, Vi, Josette, Jo, Ted, Rosamund and Yseult. Of these 12, only Barbara and Rosamund are repeat names, though Josette and Jo are similar in the bank of 'Jo-' names of the time: 2 Joans, Jocelyn and Josefa in addition.

1940+ girls:
This group is larger than the others. We never see these girls 'lead' the school, so that is why I have grouped them together. There is a very international feel here - out of the c.230 names here, I would guess (without checking surnames or nationalities) that 80-100 are not traditional English choices, and are much more international.

Anne has retained its popularity - there are 6 here compared with just one Anna. Annelise, Annette also appear, but just one Anna this time. Mary is still diminishing (just 3) - especially in the face of the 7 Maries and 2 Marias. Jeanne is also performing well with 4 appearances. As a general point of interest, the most popular names in France in the early in1940s were Monique, Nicole, Danielle, Michele and Jacqueline, of which only Michele appears in the Michelle form. EBD's names are much more of the 1910s and 1920s when Jeanne, Marie, Madeleine, Simone, Yvonne, Odette and Denise were all popular.

To view the data I used go here