Eustace: Baby Name of the Day

by appellationmountain on March 12, 2013

EustaceWhat happens to once-fashionable names?  Do they fade away, or do we see them in a different light?

Thanks to Shan for suggesting Eustace as our Baby Name of the Day.

I would be shocked to meet a baby boy Eustace.

Not horrified.

But very, extremely, astonishingly surprised.

Eustace hasn’t cracked the US Top 1000 in over a century.  You’d have to go back to the 1920s to find a year when more than a dozen newborns answered to Eustace.

Eustace comes from a Greek name meaning fruitful, or more generally, good fortune.

There’s the inevitable second century martyr saint and Latin form of the name: Eustachius.

The saint was a Christian convert, and because he was inspired to convert after a vision during a hunting trip, he’s the patron saint of hunters.  He suffered like Job but held fast to this faith.  There’s a gory story about Eustace his death by fire.

It may be nothing but legend, but he was a big deal in the Middle Ages.

  • The Counts of Boulogne from the eleventh through twelfth century used the name frequently.  The fourth Eustace would have been king of England – his dad, Stephen, had claimed the throne.  But he died before his father.
  • A twelfth-century Bishop of London wore the name.
  • Then there’s Eustace the Monk – though he was mostly an outlaw.  Born near Boulogne in the thirteenth century, the stories about him are incredible.  He studied black magic, became a monk – briefly, left the monastery to avenge his father’s death, quarreled with the local Count, and generally caused a ruckus.
  • Despite a respectable family, Eustace Folville became a notorious criminal in the 1500s.  His exploits included murder, theft, and  kidnapping, to name a few.  Folville was never brought to justice, and he ended his days as a respectable member of the community.  Some accounts give him a Robin Hood-like status.
  • An eighteenth century writer wore the name, Eustace Budgell, though he lost his fortune and ended badly.  (I mention him only because that his picture above.)

So Eustace was a hero and a scoundrel, a ruler and a saint.  The name must have been thoroughly wearable in the day.

In the twentieth century, Eustace was anything but.

First there’s the Chronicles of Narnia character.  In the words of C. S. Lewis, “There once was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”

Scrubb starts out an arrogant, whiny brat.  He spends some time as a dragon.  If you read to the end of the series, you’ll know that ultimately Eustace proves himself heroic – it’s the kind of redemption that could make Eustace a Neville name – but most of us think of the character from the early books.

Then there’s Eustace Tilley, the monocle-sporting dandy who has graced many a New Yorker magazine cover.  The humorist Corey Ford gave the character his name in the 1920s, inspired by a maiden aunt’s surname and a Columbia classmate’s first name.

Lastly, I think of Eustace Bagge, the crotchety, cruel senior on Courage the Cowardly Dog.

Speaking of courage, it would take a lot to revive Eustace.  Still, if Trace is hot for boys, does the prospect of Stace – combined with his rich history – offer any hope for Eustace?

Original photo: Eustace Budgell Esqr., via Library of Congress

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