A primer on Dante and his name

In honour of my love Dante’s 696th Jahrzeit (death anniversary), I’m rerunning the first half of my post from 5 April 2016. Dante is my next-greatest literary idol, after only Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn.

Fresco of Dante Alighieri (May/June 1265–13/14 September 1321), by Andrea del Castagno

Dante Alighieri, né Durante degli Alighieri, was one of the greatest writers of all time, and the greatest writer of the Italian language. His choice to write in Italian instead of Latin was a huge influence on those writers who came after him. Because of this, he’s been called the Father of the Italian Language.

Dante was born in Florence, to a pro-Guelph family. His mother, Bella, died before he was 10, and his father remarried quickly. At age 12, Dante was betrothed to Gemma Donati, though he’d been in love with Beatrice Portinari since age nine. Beatrice remained the only woman in his heart, and he never mentioned Gemma in any of his poetry. Indeed, you’d never guess he had a wife from reading La Vita Nuova, the autobiographical work documenting his love for Beatrice.

Dante’s father died when he was a teenager, and Brunetto Latini became his guardian. In 1285, aged about 20, Dante married Gemma and had four children with her. On 11 June 1289, he fought in the Battle of Campaldino with the Guelph cavalry. The Guelphs were victorious over the Ghibellines, but then the Guelphs split into two factions, and Dante’s faction, the White Guelphs, got in lots of trouble with the Black Guelphs.

Dante in Exile, by Domenico Peterlini

To make a long story short, Dante was condemned to perpetual exile in March 1302, and risked being burnt at the stake if he returned to his belovèd Florence. He’d initially only been condemned to two years of exile and a huge fine, but Dante refused to pay. Not only did he feel he weren’t guilty, but all his assets had been seized by the Black Guelphs. In June 2008, Florence’s city council finally rescinded Dante’s sentence.

Recent reconstruction of Dante’s face reveals he didn’t have that famous aquiline nose after all. His nose was probably hooked, but it was pudgy and crooked, not pointy and straight.

Dante now rests in a tomb in Ravenna, in spite of repeated pleas from Florence to return the bones of one of their greatest native sons. The empty tomb in Florence, still waiting for him, bears the inscription Onorate l’altissimo poeta (Honour the most exalted poet), from Canto IV of Inferno. The next line, L’ombra sua torna, ch’era dipartite (His spirit, which had left us, returns), is hauntingly absent.

Dante is a Medieval short form of Durante, the Italian form of the Late Latin name Durans, which means “enduring.”

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Pearly names (including the many forms of Margaret)

Pearl used to be quite a popular name in the U.S. In 1880, it was #47, and it remained in the Top 100 until 1926. Its highest rank was #24, in 1889, 1890, and 1900. It sank lower and lower, until it fell off the charts in 1977, In 1979, it returned, but fell off again in 1987. It returned briefly in 2007, and then returned yet again in 2009. In 2016, it was #567, and has been pulling up quite a bit in rank each year.

Margaret means “pearl,” from the Greek margarites, which in turn is probably ultimately derived from the Sanskrit manyari. Historically, the name has been enormously popular. From 1880–1930 alone, it was in the Top 5, and it was Top 10 from 1931–39. It was Top 20 from 1940–51, and then gradually began sinking. In 1976, it left the Top 100, though it returned from 1982–89. In 2016, it was #139.

Here, then, are both the many forms of Margaret and names whose meanings relate to the word “pearl.”

Unisex:

Alnilam means “string of pearls” in Arabic. This is the name of one of the stars in Orion.

Dar means “mother-of-pearl” in Hawaiian.

Durdana is Arabic and Urdu.

Hae-Ju can mean “ocean pearl” in Korean.

Hyeon-Ju, or Ju-Hyeon, can mean “virtuous/worthy/able pearl” in Korean.

Poema means “pearl of the deep seas” in Tahitian.

Yao can mean “mother-of-pearl” in Chinese.

Yong-Ju can mean “dragon pearl” in Korean.

Female:

Bermet is Kyrgyz.

Bisera is Bulgarian and Macedonian.

Bitxilore is Basque.

Châu is Vietnamese.

Darya means “pearl of God” in Hebrew. This isn’t to be confused with the Persian or Russian name. All three have different etymologies.

Dordana is Urdu.

Durar means “pearls” in Arabic.

Durdona is Uzbek.

Durrah is a rare Arabic name meaning “large pearl.”

Enku is Amharic.

Gohar is Persian.

Gyöngyi is Hungarian. The letter GY is sort of pronounced like a soft, quick D followed by a Y, the way people in certain parts of the English-speaking world pronounce the first syllable of “due” and “during.”

Gyöngyvér means “sister of pearl” in Hungarian.

Gyöngyvirág means “pearl flower” in Hungarian, and refers to the lily-of-the-valley.

Helmi is Finnish.

Hessa is Arabic.

Inci is Turkish.

Inju is Kazakh.

Inthurat is Thai.

Jinju is Korean.

Jua can mean “second pearl,” “apricot pearl,” or “Asia pearl” in Japanese.

Jumana is Arabic.

Krõõt is Estonian.

Leimoni means “pearl lei” or “pearl child” in Hawaiian.

Lulu is Arabic, and not to be confused with the (mostly) English and German nickname.

Maarit is Finnish.

Maighread is Scottish. The nickname is Maisie.

Mairéad is Irish. Without an accent mark, this is also a Scottish variation.

Makaleka is Hawaiian.

Mākere is Maori.

Makereta is Fijian.

Malghalara is Pashto.

Małgorzata is Polish, with the nicknames Marzena, Gosia, and Małgosia.

Marc’harid is Breton.

Maret is Estonian.

Margaid is Manx.

Margalit, or Margalita, is Hebrew.

Margareeta is Finnish.

Margareta is German, Scandinavian, Romanian, Slovenian, Dutch, Finnish, and Croatian. The variation Margaréta is Slovak and Hungarian. German nicknames include Greta, Grete, Gretchen, Gretel, and Meta; Swedish nicknames are Meta, Märta, and Greta; Norwegian nicknames are Mette, Meta, Grete, and Grethe; Danish nicknames are Merete, Mette, Meta, Grethe, and Grete; Dutch nicknames are Griet, Greet, Grietje, and Greetje; and Finnish nicknames include Reeta and Reetta.

Margarete is German.

Margaretha is Dutch and German.

Margarethe is German and Danish.

Margareto is Esperanto.

Margaretta is an English variation.

Margarida is Catalan, Portuguese, Occitan, and Galician.

Margarit, Markarid, or Margarid, is Armenian.

Margarita is Russian, Bulgarian, Spanish, Scandinavian, Greek, and Lithuanian.

Marged is Welsh, with the nickname Mared.

Margherita is Italian.

Margit is Hungarian, German, Estonian, and Scandinavian.

Margita is Slovak.

Margreet is Limburgish and Dutch.

Margrét is Icelandic. The nickname is Gréta.

Margrethe is Norwegian and Danish.

Margriet is Dutch.

Margrieta is Latvian and Dutch.

Margrit is German.

Marguerite is French. Nicknames include Margaux and Margot.

Marharyta is Ukrainian.

Marhata is Sorbian.

Marit, or Marita, is Norwegian and Swedish.

Marjan is Kazakh.

Marjeta is Slovenian.

MarjorieMargery, or Marjory, is Medieval English.

Markéta is Czech and Slovak.

Marketta is Finnish.

Mèrdgitte is Jèrriais.

Mererid is Welsh.

Merit is Swedish.

Momi is Hawaiian.

Momilani means “heavenly pearl,” “royal pearl,” “noble pearl,” and “spiritual pearl” in Hawaiian.

Morî is Kurdish.

Morvarid is Persian.

Mukda is Thai.

Penina is Hebrew.

Perla is Italian and Spanish.

Perle is French and Yiddish.

Perlezenn is Breton.

Poerani means “divine pearl” or “heavenly pearl” in Tahitian.

Poerava means “black pearl” in Tahitian.

Retha is Afrikaans.

Sadaf means “mother-of-pearl, seashell” in Arabic.

Sadap means “mother-of-pearl” in Turkmeni.

Shinju is Japanese.

Male:

Akinci means “white pearl” in Turkish.

Akincibay means “white pearl lord” in Turkish.

Xhevahir means “pearl, jewel, diamond, gem, precious stone” in Albanian. XH is pronounced like the J in Jupiter.

The many forms of Daniel

Daniel has been a steadily popular Top 60 name in the U.S. since at least 1880. Its lowest rank was #55, from 1914–16. It entered the Top 20 in 1952, and in spite of a somewhat fluctuating rank, eventually entered the Top 10. Its highest rank was #5, which it held in 1985, 1990, 2007, and 2008. In 2016, it was #13.

It’s also popular in Romania (#9), Spain (#2), Ireland (#3), Galicia (#5), Hungary (#8), Finland (#10), the Czech Republic (#12), Iceland (#10), Catalonia (#13), Austria (#26), Canada (#23), England and Wales (#24), Australia (#29), Chile (#33), Italy (#41), Mexico (#12), New Zealand (#28), Norway (#17), Scotland (#18), Northern Ireland (#5), Croatia (#63), Switzerland (#39), Portugal (#31), and Poland (#55).

The spelling Daniel is used in English, French, German, the Scandinavian languages, Romanian, Hebrew, Portuguese, Armenian, Georgian, Czech, Slovak, Polish, Bulgarian, Macedonian, Slovenian, Spanish, and Croatian. The variant Dániel is Hungarian and Faroese; Daníel is Icelandic; and Daniël is Dutch.

Other forms include:

1. Daniyel is the original Hebrew form, and means “God is my judge.”

2. Daniil is Russian, with the nickname Danya.

3. Danilo is Slovenian, Serbian, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Montenegrin, and Croatian.

4. Daniele is Italian.

5. Danijel is Serbian, Slovenian, and Croatian.

6. Danyal is Persian, Urdu, Arabic, and Turkish.

7. Taniel is Western Armenian.

8. Danielius is Lithuanian.

9. Daniels is Latvian.

10. Dánjal is Faroese.

11. Deniel is Breton.

12. Danail is Bulgarian. The nickname is Dancho.

13. Taneli is Finnish. The nickname is Tatu.

14. Deiniol is Welsh.

15. Taaniel is Estonian.

16. Tanel is also Estonian.

17. Tâniale is Greenlandic.

18. Daaniel is Estonian.

19. Dainéil is Irish.

20. Dánial is Faroese.

21. Daniello is Italian.

22. Danielo is Latin American–Spanish.

23. Danilbek is Chechen, and means “Lord Daniel.”

24. Danilis is modern Greek.

25. Danilos is also Greek.

26. Daniyal is Kazakh and Pakistani.

27. Dänu is Swiss–German.

28. Danyil is Ukrainian.

29. Danila is Belarusian.

30. Daniley is also Belarusian.

31. Danylo is Ukrainian.

32. Kaniela is Hawaiian.

33. Rāniera is Maori.

Danaë and Diomedes

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Painted by the awesome Artemisia Gentileschi

Danaë is the mother of the great hero Perseus (fathered by whom else but the always-horny Zeus), and the daughter and only child of King Acrisius and Queen Eurydice of Argos. Danaë is also credited with founding the now-Italian city of Ardea during the Bronze Age.

Acrisius was really upset he didn’t have any sons, though at least he didn’t pull a Henry VIII by marrying a whole slew of women and then divorcing or beheading them when they failed to produce male heirs. He went to the Oracle of Delphi for help, and was told he’d never have a boy. His daughter, however, would.

The Oracle went on to say Acrisius would be killed by this grandson. Danaë didn’t have any kids yet, so her father locked her up in a bronze chamber. Depending on the story, this chamber was either beneath the palace or in a tower.

Zeus once again couldn’t keep it in his pants, and came to Danaë in the form of golden rain coming through the roof. This golden rain went right into her uterus and created Perseus. Those familiar with Hinduism will recognise parallels to the story of Krishna’s conception following the imprisonment of his parents.

Krishna’s evil uncle Kamsa had been told his sister Devaki’s eighth-born son would kill him, and threw Devaki and her husband Vasudeva into prison, chained to opposite walls, after being told Vishnu is the ultimate trickster, and that any one of those boys could be the eighth if put in a circle. He also murdered the first seven sons. Radiant light poured into the cell, and Krishna was conceived from the power of Devaki and Vasudeva’s thoughts.

Illustration by Walter Crane

Acrisius couldn’t bring himself to murder his own flesh and blood, so he set Danaë and Perseus adrift in a wooden chest. Poseidon calmed the sea, and Zeus saved them. They washed ashore on the island of Seriphos and were taken in by Prince Dictys, brother of King Polydectes. The king had the hots for Danaë, but she wasn’t charmed, and Perseus was very protective of his mother.

Polydectes pretended he was going to marry Princess Hippodamia of Pisa, and ordered everyone to bring wedding gifts. Perseus was held to an earlier boast to bring back the head of a Gorgon, a winged woman with a hideous face and snakes for hair. When Perseus returned with Medusa’s head, the king was among those who turned to stone. In another version, Danaë married Polydectes soon after her arrival.

The name Danaë comes from Danaoi, a word Homer used to designate the Greeks. Other forms are Danaé (French, Czech, Italian, German), Danai (modern Greek), Dânae (Portuguese), Dánae (Spanish), Dànae (Catalan), Danae (Italian), Danaya (Russian, Belarusian, Ukrainian), Danaja (Polish, Serbian, Macedonian, Czech, Slovak, Slovenian, Croatian), and Danaée (French).

Diomedes is a great hero in Greek mythohistory, particularly known for his role in the Trojan War. His parents were Aeolian hero Tydeus (one of the Seven Against Thebes) and Princess Deipyle of Argos. Sadly, his dad was murdered when he was only four, during the abovementioned mission to Thebes. By the funeral, Diomedes and the other sons of the Seven Against Thebes vowed to someday vanquish Thebes. They named their little band Epigoni (Offspring).

The Epigoni successfully waged war against Thebes, and many epics (now all lost) were written about this war. Indeed, it was the most important war in Greek history prior to the Trojan War. After the Epigoni War, Diomedes was crowned King of Argos at only fifteen years old.

Diomedes ruled Argos very successfully, and also restored the throne of Calydon to his paternal grandpap Oeneus. He went on to engage in even more heroism during the Trojan War. Though he was the youngest of all the warriors, he was the most experienced fighter and leader. If you haven’t already read The Iliad, I highly recommend the Robert Fagles translation!

Diomedes is derived from the elements Dios (of Zeus) and medomai (to plan, to think).

The many forms of David

David is a perennially-popular classic, working so well on all ages and types of guys. It’s never been tied to any one generation, and can’t be stereotyped as belonging to one particular personality type since it’s so widely-used. There are also some feminine forms of this name.

1. David is Hebrew in origin, meaning “belovèd.” It’s also used in English, German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian, Serbian, Macedonian, Scottish, Czech, the Scandinavian languages, Slovenian, Russian, Dutch, Serbian, and Croatian. The alternate form Dávid is Hungarian and Slovak.

2. Davit is Georgian, and the name of one of Georgia’s greatest kings, Davit the Builder.

3. Daud is Indonesian and a variant Arabic transliteration.

4. Dawud is the more common Arabic transliteration. Dawood is also used.

5. Dafydd is Welsh. Nicknames are TaffyDeio, and Dai.

6. Dàibhidh is the native Scottish spelling. A rarer spelling is Daividh.

7. Davide is Italian.

8. Davud is Persian. An alternate transliteration is Davoud.

9. Taavi is Estonian and Finnish. An alternate form is Taavet.

10. Tavit is Armenian.

11. Kawika is Hawaiian.

12. Dovydas is Lithuanian. Davydas is an alternate form.

13. Dovid is Yiddish. An alternative form is Duvid.

14. Daibhead is Irish.

15. Dávið is Faroese. The Icelandic variation is Davíð.

16. Daavi is Greenlandic.

17. Daví is Catalan.

18. Dāvids is Latvian. The nickname is Dāvis.

19. Davido is Esperanto.

20. Dävu is Swiss–German.

21. Davut is Turkish.

22. Dávved is Sami, a native Siberian language.

23. Davyd is Ukrainian.

24. Dawie is Afrikaans.

25. Dawit is Bashkir.

26. Dawei is Chinese.

27. Devassy is Malay.

28. Devi is Breton.

29. Tavita is Tongan.

30. Dawid is Polish.

Feminine forms:

1. Davida is Hebrew, Italian, and English.

2. Davina is Scottish. This is the name of one of my favorite secondary characters, a very annoying grandma and stepgrandma with a shocking secret in her past.

3. Dawida is Polish.

4. Davita is Dutch and English.