Today’s Name of the Day is especially near and dear to our hearts. Thanks to Another and Katharine for suggesting Arthur.
Few names are as clearly connected to a legendary figure and yet so comfortable to wear. We all know about King Arthur and his domain, the most enchanting Camelot, earned by pulling a sword from a stone. Arthur may have been a real 5th or 6th century ruler, or not – the debate rages on.
In the 1130s Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain captured much of the folklore surrounding Arthur. In the late 15th century Thomas Malory’s Le Mort d’Arthur replaced it, only to be supplanted by Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, published in installments from the 1850s to 1880s. More recently, the Tony-award winning musical Camelot debuted on Broadway in 1960 and hit the silver screen in 1967. This list represents only a fraction of the beloved stories’ re-tellings.
The name’s meaning is a matter of debate. Some link it to the Roman family name, Artorius, which was worn from southern Italy to Africa. More common is the link to the Welsh arth, or bear. Others point to old Germanic names like Arnthor, which means eagle, or Gaelic names that mean stone. It’s also possible that Arthur is related to a historical king: cases have been made for both Artognou of Tintangel in Cornwall and Athrwys ap Meurig of Wales. This further muddies questions of the name’s derivation. And, of course, variant spellings abound: Artur, Arter, Arther, Artos and Arzur are among them.
However famous the legendary king, the name was never wildly popular – not until another leader took to the battlefield. Field Marshall Arthur Wellesley, the 1st Duke of Wellington, defeated Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815 and suddenly, Arthur was hot.
In the US, Arthur remained a Top 20 choice until 1926. Other distinguished Arthurs from the 19th century and beyond include:
- Prime minister and later foreign secretary of England, Arthur Balfour;
- Sherlock Holmes’ creator, Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle;
- Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini;
- Groundbreaking science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke;
- German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer;
- Playwright Arthur Miller;
- Noted father and son historians Arthur Schlesinger Senior and Junior;
- Cuban-born jazz trumpeter Arturo Sandoval;
- Tennis great Arthur Ashe.
There are plenty of fictional Arthurs, too:
- Aardvark Arthur Read of children’s books and PBS cartoon fame;
- Arthur Dent, the hero of The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy;
- Aquaman’s real name was Arthur Curry;
- Dudley Moore’s character in the 1981 movie Arthur, who abandons his family fortune for true love;
- Arthur Weasley, patriarch of the red-headed Weasley clan in the Harry Potter series.
You may have eaten at an Arthur Treacher’s Fish and Chips. Treacher was an English actor, best known for his appearances in Shirley Temple films, and an early spokesperson for the chain. Today, of course, Long John Silver’s is the big fish in the fast seafood category and Treacher’s has dwindled to a handful of shops.
There’s no shortage of famous Arthurs – and that’s without considering all those with the surname, much less the McArthurs and MacArthurs. While the given name is out of vogue these days, he hasn’t fallen very far – to a respectable #374.
With other classic appellations for boys like Henry, Oscar, George and Oliver flirting with Top 100, Arthur is attracting some interest, and may be coming soon to a playground near you.