All about Ruth

U.S. anthropologist and folklorist Ruth Benedict, 1887–1948

Ruth is an English, German, Dutch, Spanish, and Scandinavian name derived from the Hebrew Re’ut (friend), which later morphed into Rut (pronounced with a long U, not like the English word “rut”). Most people are familiar with it as the title character of the Book of Ruth. She left her homeland Moab behind to follow her mother-in-law Naomi back to Israel after a famine, and became King David’s great-grandma.

On the second day of Shavuot, this short book of the Bible is read, and many conversion certificates quote the moving words Ruth tells Naomi:

“Do not entreat me to leave you, and to return from following after you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge; your people will be my people, and your God my God; where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried; the Lord do so to me, and more, if anything but death part you and me.”

Latvian lawyer, writer, and politician Ruta Šaca-Marjaša (1927–2016)

Though the name has long been common in the Jewish world, it didn’t come into widespread usage in the Christian world till the Protestant Reformation. Ruth received a big boost of popularity several centuries later, from U.S. President Grover Cleveland’s firstborn child, born in 1891. She was born between his two non-consecutive terms, and sadly died of diphtheria in 1904.

Ruth was #93 in the U.S. when name popularity records began in 1880, and it jumped from #19 to #5 after the birth of Ruth Cleveland. In 1893, it was #3. The next two years, Ruth was #6, and it remained at #5 until 1907. It then was #4 for two years, then back to #5 again till 1922.

The name remained in the Top 10 till 1930, and was Top 20 till 1937. Ruth left the Top 50 in 1951, and left the Top 100 in 1962. In 2018, it was #265.

Ruth Cleveland

Other forms of the name include:

1. Ruta is Polish, Ukrainian, and Maori. The alternate form Rūta is Latvian and Lithuanian.

2. Rute is Portuguese.

3. Ruut is Finnish and Estonian.

4. Rut is Hebrew, Spanish, Icelandic, Scandinavian, Sorbian, Italian, Maltese, Indonesian, Afrikaans, and German. The alternate form Rút is Czech and Slovak.

5. Ruf is Russian. I’ve never been a fan of Russian names where TH is replaced by F in the middle of the name. It just sounds ugly to my ears.

6. Rutt is Estonian.

7. Hrut is Armenian.

8. Hirut is Amharic.

9. Luka is Hawaiian, and not to be confused with the entirely separate name with the same spelling which is several languages’ form of Luke.

10. Luti is Nyakyusa, a language spoken in Tanzania and Malawi.

11. Rutu is Maori and Yoruba.

Names invoking anger

Though many Slavic names are formed from the beautiful roots miru (peace, world), milu (dear, gracious), slava (glory), lyuby (love), and tsvet/cvet/cvjet/kvet (flower), there’s a rather curious group of names with the root gnyevu/gnev (anger). Almost all of these names are Polish, and, to the best of my knowledge, are rare in modern usage. I suppose they date from an era when the various Slavic peoples were much more warlike.

Dobiegniew means “brave/courageous anger.”

Gniewomir means “anger and peace,” a very juxtaposing image. Nicknames include Gniewko and Gniewosz.

Gniewosław means “anger and glory,” another very juxtaposing image.

Izbygniew means “to dismiss/dispose of anger” or “room/hut of anger.”

Jarogniew means “fierce/energetic anger.”

Lutogniew means “fierce/cruel/wild/severe anger.” The Old Slavic word lut is also related to Luty, the Polish nickname for February. That month indeed is very cruel and fierce in Poland, weather-wise.

Mścigniew means “to avenge anger.”

Ostrogniew means “sharp anger.”

Spycigniew means “pointless/futile/unnecessary anger.”

Toligniew may mean “to silence/calm/soothe anger.”

Wojgniew means “soldier of anger” or “soldier’s anger.”

Wszegniew means “always angry” or “all anger.”

Zbigniew means “to dispel anger.” Nicknames include Zbyszek, Zbyszko, Zbysiek, and Zbysio. The Czech form is Zbygněv, with the nickname Zbyněk. This seems to be by far the most popular and common of these names.

Żeligniew means “to crave/long for/thirst for/hanker after anger.”

Male names of literary origin, G-M

FYI: If you’re wondering why I’ve barely mentioned any Arthurian names in this series, it’s because I’m saving them for a future post on that subject only.

Sorry I couldn’t find a bigger pool of names! The relative dearth of literary male vs. female names is evidence of how, until fairly recently, people generally have been more creative with female names.

U.S. comedic actor Buster Keaton as Hamlet, 1922

Gareth first appeared in Thomas Malory’s 15th century collection of Arthurian legends, Le Morte d’Arthur. It’s based on Gahariet, the name of a similar Knight of the Round Table in French legends. This name, like many others in those stories, may also have a Welsh origin. If so, it may be derived from gwaredd (gentleness).

Gavroche was created by Victor Hugo for a character in Les Misérables (1862). Because of the fictional Gavroche, this has become slang for “street urchin” and “mischievous child.”

Goldmund is one of two title characters of Swiss-German writer Hermann Hesse’s amazing 1930 novel Narcissus and Goldmund. It’s meant to mean “gold mouth,” from German gold and mund, but it can also mean “golden protection.” Mund means “mouth” in modern German, but “protection” in Old High German.

Hamlet is an Anglicised form of Danish name Amleth, famously created for Shakespeare’s 1600 play of the same name. For whatever reason, this name is also used in Armenian.

Hareton may have been created by Emily Brontë for a character in her 1847 novel Wuthering Heights. It may also derive from an English place name meaning “hare town.”

Heathcliff was invented for the male protagonist of Wuthering Heights, and has the self-explanatory meaning “from the heath cliff” or “from the cliff with heath.” A heath is a shrubland with low-growing, open, woody plant life, mostly in acidic soils.

Sir Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon in Wuthering Heights (1939)

Indulis started as a diminutive of Latvian name Indriķis (home ruler; i.e., Henry), but is now given as a full name in its own right. Playwright and poet Rainis (a pseudonym of Jānis Pliekšāns) used it on one of the title characters of his 1911 play Indulis un Ārija.

Keimo was invented by legendary Finnish writer Aleksis Kivi in the 19th century, inspired by the village of Keimola.

Kordian is the protagonist of Polish writer Juliusz Słowacki’s famous 1833 play. I’m going to give this name to a till-now minor background character who’s soon to become an important secondary character, and also gave it as a middle name to another character. It’s derived from the Latin cordis (heart). This name is so romantic and beautiful!

Lesław was created by Polish writer Roman Zmorski for his 1847 poetic novel of the same name, derived from Lech (the legendary founder of the Polish nation) and the root sław (glory).

Lestat was created by Anne Rice for a character in her Vampire Chronicles series, which débuted in 1976. She may have intended it to look derived from Occitan or Old French l’estat (the status, state), though Lestat’s name was originally Lestan, in honour of her husband Stan. While writing the first book, she accidentally wrote the name wrong, and only noticed later.

U.S. President Andrew Johnson (left) as Mercutio, 1868 political cartoon by Alfred Waud

Malvolio means “ill will” in Italian. It was created by Shakespeare for a character in his 1602 play Twelfth Night.

Marganore was invented by Italian writer Ludovico Ariosto for his 1516 poem Orlando Furioso (published in its complete form in 1532). Fittingly, since it belongs to a tyrant, the name derives from Greek words margaino (to rage, to be mad) and anor (man). Thus, it means “madman.”

Mercutio is a diminutive of Mercury, probably ultimately from Latin mercari (to trade) or merces (wages). Shakespeare used it for a character in Romeo and Juliet (1596).

Female names of literary origin, G-M

I belatedly realised I left out three names in the first post in this series:

Daiva was created by Lithuanian writer Vydūnas and possibly based on a Sanskrit word meaning “destiny.”

Dalma was created by Hungarian poet Mihály Vörösmarty for his 1825 epic poem Zalán Futása. Though the original Dalma was male, later writers used it for female characters.

Etelka was created by Hungarian writer András Dugonics for the protagonist of his 1788 novel of the same name. It’s derived from male name Etele, which is possibly a form of Attila (little father).

Image of Jessica, from The Graphic Gallery of Shakespeare’s Heroines, 1896, by Luke Fildes

Gloriana is the title character of Edmund Spenser’s 1590 epic poem The Faerie Queene, an allegory of Queen Elizabeth I. It’s an elaborated form of the Latin word gloria (glory).

Grażyna means “beautiful” in Lithuanian. It was created by great Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz for the title character of an 1823 poem.

Gyneth is King Arthur’s daughter in Sir Walter Scott’s 1813 poem The Bridal of Triermain. It’s possibly a variation of Welsh name Gwyneth, either from Gwynedd (the name of a region in Wales, perhaps derived from Old Welsh name Cunedda) or the word gwyn (fair, blessed, white).

Haidee was created by Lord Byron for a character in the 1819 poem Don Juan, possibly derived from Greek word aidoios (reverent, modest).

Imogen is a princess in Shakespeare’s 1609 play Cymbeline, based on legendary character Innogen, which in turn is probably derived from Gaelic inghean (maiden). Her name was misprinted and never corrected.

Janice is an elaborated form of Jane created by Paul Leicester Ford for his 1899 novel Janice Meredith.

Jessica was created by Shakespeare for Shylock’s apostate daughter in The Merchant of Venice (1596), probably based on Biblical name Yiskah (to behold).

Jolánka is the protagonist of Hungarian writer András Dugonics’s 1803 novel Jólánka, Etelkának Leánya. It may have come from jóleán (good girl) or Yolanda (violet).

Juliet is an Anglicized form of respectively French and Italian nicknames Juliette and Giulietta. It was first used in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (1596).

Kinscő was created by Hungarian writer Mór Jokai in 1872’s The Novel of the Next Century, derived from kincs (treasure).

Lalage is a character in one of Roman poet Horace’s odes, derived from Greek lalageo (to prattle, babble).

Lalla is the protagonist of Thomas Moore’s 1817 poem Lalla Rookh, derived from Persian laleh (tulip).

Layla means “night” in Arabic, and was used in 7th century romantic poems. The variation Leila was used in several of Lord Byron’s poems.

Loredana is a character in French writer George Sand’s 1833 novel Mattea, possibly based on Venetian surname Loredan and ultimately place name Loreo.

Lorna was created by R.D. Blackmore for his 1869 novel Lorna Doone, based on Scottish place name Lorne and possibly ultimately legendary king Loarn mac Eirc of Dál Riata.

Lucasta was created by poet Richard Lovelace for a 1649 poetry collection of the same name, dedicated to his love Lucasta, Lucy Sacheverel. He nicknamed her lux casta (pure light).

Lucinda was created by Miguel Cervantes for a character in 1605’s Don Quixote, an elaboration of Lucia, ultimately derived from Latin lux (light).

Magnhild derives from Old Norse magn (strong, mighty) and hildr (battle). This is the title character of Norwegian writer Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson’s 1877 novel.

Malvina was created by 18th century poet James MacPherson for his Ossian poems, possibly intended to mean “smooth brow” in Gaelic.

Mahulena was created by Czech writer Julius Zeyer for his 1898 play Radúz and Mahulena, possibly derived from Magdalena.

Miranda, from The Graphic Gallery of Shakespeare’s Heroines

Mavis was first used as a personal name in a character in British writer Marie Corelli’s 1895 novel The Sorrows of Satan. It comes from a bird also known as a song thrush, ultimately from Old French mauvis (unknown etymology).

Melantha may be a portmanteau of Mel (from names such as Melissa and Melanie) and suffix antha, from Greek anthos (flower). John Dryden used it for a character in his 1672 play Marriage à la Mode.

Mélisande is the French form of Millicent (strong work), used in Maurice Maeterlinck’s 1893 play Pelléas et Mélisande.

Minea was created by Finnish writer Mika Waltari for his 1945 hist-fic The Egyptian, possibly based on Greek name Minos (king).

Miranda was created by Shakespeare for the protagonist of The Tempest (1611), derived from Latin mirandus (wonderful, admirable).

Mirèio is an Occitan name first used by French writer Frédéric Mistral in the 1859 poem of the same name, possibly derived from Occitan mirar (to admire).

Moema means “lies” in Tupí, an indigenous Brazilian language. Poet Santa Rita Durão used it in his 1781 poem Caramuru.

Myra was created by 17th century poet Sir Fulke Greville, 1st Baron Brooke, possibly based on Latin myrra (myrrh), or an anagram of Mary. This is also the name of an ancient city of Anatolia.

The Ws of Slavic names

Female:

Wanda is a Polish and German name possibly meaning Wend, a Slavic tribe of eastern Germany. This was the name of King Krak’s daughter, the legendary founder of Kraków.

Wierzymira means “to believe in peace” in Polish.

Winanda is a rare Polish, West Frisian, Dutch, and German feminine form of the German name Winand, which may mean “sacred bravery” or “sacred risk.”

Wisenna is a rare Polish name meaning “cherry” or “springtime” in Old Polish.

Wszebora is the feminine form of the Polish name Wszebor, derived from Slavic roots wsze (always, all) and bor (battle) or borit (to fight). I gave this name to a sadistic Blockälteste character, whose superimposed green and yellow triangles indicate she’s a Jewish murderer. She’s later framed for insubordination, demoted from her prized position of authority, and sent to the infamous Block 11 of Auschwitz.

Wyszeniega means “higher snow” in Polish.

Male:

Witold is the Polish and German form of the Lithuanian name Vytautus, derived from Baltic roots vyti (to drive away, to chase) and tauta (people, nation). It may also derive from the Ancient Germanic name Widald, derived from roots witu (wood) and wald (rule, power). The feminine form is Witolda.

Witomyśl roughly means “lord of thought” in Polish.

Włościbor is a Polish name derived from roots włości (rule) and bora (struggle).

Wojciech is a Polish name derived from Slavic roots voji (soldier) and tekha (joy, comfort, solace). A rare feminine form is Wojciecha.

Wojgniew roughly means “soldier’s anger” in Polish.

Wszegniew means “always angry” in Polish.