Thanks to Katie B for suggesting Bragnae as our Baby Name of the Day.
Tristan and Isolde were Romeo and Juliet before there was Romeo and Juliet. The ill-fated lovers’ tale appears in Arthurian legend, and has captured the imaginations of plenty of storytellers through the years.
She’s not exactly the bit character that is typical of servants, nor is she comic relief like Juliet’s unnamed nurse. Instead, Bragnae is an important plot point in several versions of the tale. Instead of admitting her identity, Isolde claims to be Bragnae – after all, Tristan is the knight sent to fetch her for her betrothed, who happens to be the would-be-groom’s nephew.
By now you’re probably staring at Bragnae wondering how to say it, and maybe you filed Bronagh away with a question mark, too. Turns out they’re most likely variations of the same name. At least they’re both pronounced something like this: BRON ya.
So is Brónach, believed to have been the name of a fifth or sixth century saint, a holy woman who established a church in a remote area near the coast. It is said in some legends that she used a bell to guide sailors to shore.
I’ve also come across Bróna and Bráinne – but I suspect that second one is an error, from association with Gráinne.
All of the names share a rather unfortunate meaning – sorrow, from the Gaelic brón. But it isn’t a deal-breaker. Mallory has flourished despite her less-than-cheerful story.
Bragnae’s burden is undeniably her spelling. Bragnae baffles American English speakers. Bronagh and Brona are at least as accessible as Oonagh or Eithne. But I find the Bragnae spelling strangely attractive – and I can’t help think that Bronagh loses a little something, even though she gains a clearer pronunciation.
The challenge isn’t a new one, either. Bragnae is almost entirely absent from US Census records, and while I’ve turned up a horse and a kitten who answer to the name, real girls are not to be found.
Bronagh, on the other hand, has enjoyed modest use through the ages. If you were going to put this one in the first place, one of the more modern spellings is a safer bet. But in the middle, Bragnae could be a completely unexpected literary choice, with ties to an obscure Gaelic saint as a bonus.