If there were any justice, we wouldn’t be talking about how Bella from Twilight suddenly convinced oodles of parents to name their kiddos Isabella. For one, because Isabella was a rock solid favorite long before Stephenie Meyer ever christened her vampire-pining, werewolf-rejecting heroine(ish) Bella. But second – and more importantly, it would be because we were all so busy swooning over Bella’s elegant surname.
Our Baby Name of the Day is Swan.
A swan is my kind of creature. Gorgeous and ill-tempered, the supermodel diva of the avian world. Ducks are their cousins, but while ducks are cheerful, approachable little beasts, the kind we animate as Daffy and Donald, swans are more forbidding.
They feature in myths and legends aplenty:
- The mute swan, found in Europe and Asia, is one of the oldest birds on record. Operas like Lohengrin and Parsifal are swan-centric. The Ugly Duckling turns into a swan. In many a story, the swan is mute only until death – at which time, he belts out an achingly gorgeous swan song.
- In Greek myth, the gorgeous Helen of Troy was fathered by Zeus in the form of a swan.
- They’re also sacred to Apollo, sometimes depicted pulling his chariot.
- The Children of Lir is an Irish legend about a wicked stepmother who turns her husband’s children into the birds until the curse is broken.
- They’re important in Hinduism, and St. Hugh of Lincoln is said to have kept a pet swan.
- Then there are swan maidens – a young woman who can take on the form of a swan, possibly thanks to a curse – in folk legend.
- They’re also mixed up with the idea of prophecy. “It swans me” is an archaic way of saying “I have a feeling.”
- My favorite swan phrase is “to swan about.” If you’re swanning about, you’re moving in a dramatic, exaggerated fashion.
Black swans are associated with something rare – though they’re native to Australia. A 1942 novel called The Black Swan was about a swashbuckling pirate. Then there’s that 2010 flick, the one about Swan Lake, with the good girl ballerina who falls apart, caught in the roles of Odile and Odette. This links swans back to Russian folklore, too, as Tchaikovsky’s inspiration is said to come from traditional tales. Odette – the cursed princess in the ballet – is an innocent character, and swans are also associated with purity.
So is Bella’s surname pure fiction? Not at all. It is a long-established last name. It could be given to someone thought to be swan-like in some fashion.
Or it could’ve come from a given name. Plenty of Old Norse names incorporate Svan – their word for swan. There’s Svanur and Svana, as well as lots of compound names. The one that might come to mind is Swanhilde, with roots in Norse and Germanic languages. This takes to another ballet – Coppelia– though that’s about a doll. There just happens to be a character named Swanhilde.
Lastly, if you lived near a house with the sign of the creature, that’s a possible way to get the name.
How does any of this make for a wearable first name in 2013?
Maybe it doesn’t.
Swan is exceedingly rare, given to a handful of boys and an even smaller number of girls over the years. This suggests that Swan was a family name occasionally promoted to the first spot.
Plus for all that they’re symbols of all things elegant and lovely, the birds are really quite fierce. They mate for life, protect their nests in showy, spectacular fashion, and it’s said that their wings are strong enough to break a man’s arm. (Though Mythbusters hasn’t tackled that one yet.)
And yet, I’ll admit that Swan only makes my short list as a middle name. All of their sterling qualities aside, I do think this one could be tough to pull off as a given name.