Whilst discussing Gilbert, Catherine mentioned that she preferred this similar moniker – which prompted Lola to knock our socks off with her recitation of the nursery rhyme Oranges and Lemons, detailing church bells once heard around London.
This conversation led us to today’s Name of the Day: Giles.
Once upon a time, Giles was an ordinary name for a boy born in the US. From 1880 to 1955, he usually appeared in the Top 1000, and while he was never popular, we imagine that he was never eye-poppingly unusual, either.
The name comes to us from the Late Latin Aegidius. There’s a bit of a tangle around the name’s meaning. It’s given as both “shield” and “young goat” – two seemingly unrelated concepts, yet we’re fairly confident that both are correct. The missing link? Our word aegis, meaning protection or sponsorship, comes from the Greek aigis. Aigis referred to Zeus’ shield fashioned from – wait for it – goat skin, or aigos. So while the animal reference is correct, it’s not the whole story.
In the seventh century, a well-born Athenian traveled to France, lived as a hermit and eventually founded a monastery. He was known as Aegidius, which became Gide, Gilles – zheel – and eventually Giles when the Normans invaded England. You can still visit St. Gilles, near Nîmes in southern France. St. Giles is best known as the patron saint of those with disabilities, probably because he once suffered an injury himself while taking an arrow intended for his pet deer.
In the 13th century, Giles of Assisi was one of St. Francis of Assisi’s first followers. While little is known of his early life, the Blessed Brother Giles appears to have kept his birth name, which squares with other reports that Giles remained in steady use throughout Medieval Europe.
Today, St. Giles of London stands on ground that has been consecrated since before the Norman invasion. The present church dates to 1394, though it’s been extensively restored over the years. The nursery rhyme tells us “Brickbats and tiles, say the bells of St. Giles.” It could be a reference to trades practiced around the parish, or possibly a veiled political meaning, lost to time.
The name continues to appear in the historical record. Giles Corey was born in England in the 1620s, and met his death during the Salem witch trials in 1692.
By the 1600s, Giles was also established as a surname, though at some point it was confused with a host of other names, including Gilbert and Gaillard, and was adopted as an Anglicized version of the Gaelic Ó Glaisne.
Pop culture gave us a well-known Giles – Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s mentor was a very British character called Rupert Giles.
With Miles re-entering the Top 200 for boys, we suspect that parents will soon re-discover this rhyming choice for their sons. We find Giles smart and capable, and we like his throwback vibe. He’d fit right in with other gems like Simeon and Silas.