Canada’s Olympic-Inspired Names

September 25, 2012 § 5 Comments

(c) August 4, 2012 – Jean Lavac / Postmedia Olympic Team: Rosannagh “Rosie” MacLennan smiles with her gold medal, won in women’s trampoline at London 2012.

I may have been in exile, but I have been reading the blogs when I could – I caught these posts over at Waltzing More Than Matilda this summer, and it inspired me to do one of my own. (I believe Anna created three posts, at least, to highlight Aussie success in London, and I won’t need that many, to be honest.)

Canada, of course, didn’t have the success that Australia or Britain did at the London 2012 Summer Games. That narrows the field of focus somewhat in creating a post of names to inspire Canadians as our athletes travel cross-country this week on the government’s official “Olympic Tour.” (And yes, for the record, though I live in a Commonwealth country, I did not fully learn the lyrics to “God Save the Queen” until these Games, considering how often it played for Britain’s gold.)

The first Canadian to inspire from this summer’s Olympic Games is Rosannagh MacLennan (often called Rosie, perhaps in part to mitigate the confusion over how to pronounce Rosannagh – is it row-ZAE-nah or row-ZAN-ah?) Toronto resident MacLennan was Canada’s only gold medalist in London. She claimed a record score in women’s trampoline to top the podium on August 4th, the one and only time that “O Canada” played from the winner’s podium this summer. An old-fashioned choice, it gains some modern cool points for the Celtic spelling, with the ‘silent G.’

Rosannagh‘s roots are in the Latin name Rose, as in the fragrance, a variation on the English, German, and Italian alternative, Rosanna. But if Anne/Anna is Latin (and Hebrew) for “grace, favour,” then perhaps Rosannagh could mean “favoured rose.” The name is distinctly uncommon, though it’s root names are seen everywhere. In this country, a Google search for “Rosannagh” doesn’t mention anyone with this name but MacLennan, until page 8.

MacLennan might have given us our only gold medal in London, but there were plenty other athletes to be proud of as we dipped into our red and white national pride for two weeks.

Emilie Heymans of Quebec became the first Canadian athlete to medal in four consecutive Summer Games, winning bronze with Jennifer Abel in women’s synchro diving, and Quebec-born Jennifer, whose parents are from French-speaking Haiti, is a great example of the fusion of anglo- and francophone cultures in the predominantly French province. Emilie’s parents were born in Belgium and both competed in the Olympics for their native country, but they emigrated to Canada after their daughter was born in 1981, and Emilie was a World Champion diver for Canada in 2003.

Contrasting Rosannagh, Emilie is an immensely common name, albeit less so with the French spelling. In Canada, name lists can sometimes differ based on whether or not the analyst lumps the English and French versions of names together, reflecting our official bilingual status, or apart due to their different spelling and sometimes different phonetic pronunciations. For that reason, specific name data on Emilie isn’t entirely clear, but Emily is regarded as a Top 5 name nationwide. Like Rosannagh, the name has Latin roots – a Teutonic (Germanic) representation of Aemilia, feminine form of the Roman surname Aemilius. It means “rival, industrious, eager.”

Hottie Adam Van Koeverden of Toronto won a silver medal at Eton Dorney in London – a kayak sprint gold medalist in Athens in 2004, he was hoping to reach the top of the podium again but just missed. He still became Canada’s most decorated canoe-kayak athlete of all time, with another silver and a bronze already in the bank. I’ve talked about the name Adam before, which continues to reign as one of the most popular names in the English world for it’s links to Judeo-Christianity (it’s well within the Top 100 in Canada), but I wanted to mention him and include a nice picture. Enjoy!

(c) Matt Barnes

Vancouver Island’s Simon Whitfield was hoping for more glory in the Olympic triathlon – he was Canada’s flagbearer for the 2012 Opening Ceremonies, having won a surprise gold at the Sydney 2000 Games, when triathlon made it’s debut, and a come from behind silver, which was very nearly gold, at the 2008 Games in Beijing. But a crash on his bike cracked his collarbone, and effectively ended his Olympic career. But he went out with his head high – as did Clara Hughes, who is conceivably our greatest ever Olympian.

The Winnipeg native had won six Olympic medals – one gold, one silver, four bronze – since 1996. She had won two bronze medals in road cycling in Atlanta, then after the Sydney Games switched to long track speed skating, specializing in the longest distances. She medalled in the 5000m three Olympics in a row, winning gold at Torino in 2006, and added silver that year as a member of Canada’s long-track team pursuit squad. She retired from speed skating in 2010, but made the move back to road cycling in the hopes of winning one more Olympic medal, which would make her the most decorated Olympic athlete in Canadian history. She came up just short, finishing fifth in the women’s time trial in London before officially retiring from sport, but she and Simon both retained their status as respected national representatives.

Not to assume the root of Clara’s popularity in this country, but the name Clara is as popular in Canada as in Ireland, where the name has deep ancestral roots, more than anywhere else in the English-speaking world (though it’s most popular these days in continental Europe). The name had dropped out of the Top 100 in Canada in the early 2000s, but climbed back in 2010 when Hughes’ ‘Great Olympian’ status was truly solidified, the same year she was given the Order of Canada – our highest civilian honour. The name is of Latin origin, a variation on Clare meaning “clear, bright, famous.”

Simon is Hebrew for “to be heard/reputation,” and was the name of two apostles in the Bible. Common through the ages until the end of the 18th Century, usage has dropped significantly throughout North America – maybe because the “Simple Simon” rhyme, first published in 1764, got in it’s way when people realized Simon could rhyme with “pie man.”

While Canada, as a country, is by no means strong in track and field, we were able to celebrate the success of two young stars who could be in their prime four years from now, in Rio. Damian Warner of London, Ontario shocked the nation with a fifth place finish in decathlon, often deemed the most grueling and diverse Olympic sport, at least inside the athletics stadium. Canada is often just lucky to qualify a decathlon participant, let alone have one finish so strongly (he hovered around the bronze medal position, turning in personal best after personal best, for much of the competition). And Derek Drouin came from nowhere (he graduated college in May, and had participated in just two previous international events to qualify for London) and won bronze in men’s high jump, Canada’s first high jump medal since the 1976 Games in Montreal. Warner and Drouin’s successes underscored the youth on Canada’s team and, naturally, let us look pridefully ahead to the next Summer Games.

And there will be at least four track athletes in Rio with redemption on their minds – the members of Canada’s 4x100m relay team. Canada (made up of Jared Connaughton, Gavin Smellie, Oluseyi Smith, and Justyn Warner) reached the final with the third fastest qualifying time – behind the blistering fast US and Jamaican squads who would battle for gold. Canada had every reason to hope a 13th bronze medal was on the way, whether or not it further highlighted our disproportionate medal tally (1 gold, 5 silvers, 12 bronze). The squad crossed the line in third place and spent ten minutes celebrating their podium finish, before being disqualified for stepping over the lane barrier on the third leg. Grown men crying ensued coast to coast, as well as inside the Olympic Stadium in London. Connaughton, who ran the third leg, took full responsibility for the disqualification, and lamented letting down his country though we, naturally, would not have it. One young boy in Nova Scotia sent his rec league soccer participation medal to Connaughton by mail, to let him know he’d made us proud no matter what.

Damian is believed to derive from the Greek damianos, or “to tame.” But plenty are familiar with Damian, as the name of the Satanic kid in the horror flick The Omen. The classic was far superior to the remake, but the remake seemed to solidify this film in pop culture. Interestingly enough, this counteracts the name’s intended meaning, and Olympic athletes aren’t exactly classified as tamed, either.

Derek was immensely popular in North America through the 1980s and ’90s, but it’s dropped to around 200 over the past decade. Some even credited the male name’s popularity on model/actress Bo Derek, who sizzled onscreen in 10 in 1979. But Derek entered the US charts in 1941, and by 1960 had climbed inside the US Top 200. Derek is the Germanic and accepted English form of Old German Theodoric, later Dietrich, and means “people’s ruler.” Perhaps Derek is more responsible for the name’s decline – it actually peaked in the early 1980s, and has slowly fallen ever since.

Jared is a Hebrew name related to Jordan, which means “down-flowing” as is the name of the longest river in Palestine. Jared means “descending” and was the name of a pre-flood ancestor of Jesus Christ in Christian scripture, and it was a Top 100 name in Canada until 2004 (it peaked in the US and Australia in the late ’90s). British actor Jared Harris was last Sunday nominated for an Emmy for his work on Mad Men. In North America, credit for the name’s popularity has been given to TV Western The Big Valley, which featured a character named Jarrod.

To take nothing away from Rosie’s gold, she was not Canada’s biggest story at the London 2012 Games – rather, that distinction fell upon the women’s soccer team, who battled through a brilliant tournament to win a bronze medal in sincerely dramatic fashion – first knocking aside the beloved home squad, Team GB, in the quarterfinals, and then nearly defeating their arch-nemesis, the Americans, in the semifinals in what was widely regarded as the greatest women’s game in the history of football, and subsequently so controversial. They won an improbable bronze by fighting off the French in a game where they were outplayed from start to finish, but the French could never find the back of the Canadian net. In the dying seconds, Team Canada got a hero of Paul Henderson proportions (1972 Summit Series) when Diana Matheson scored the winning goal. Captain Christine Sinclair was the tournament’s leading scorer with six goals, and she carried in the flag, by popular public demand, into the London Closing Ceremonies. Their success significantly raised the profile of soccer in this country in general. The full roster of inspired choices for a baby girl:

Christine Sinclair
Melissa Tancredi
Diana Matheson
Jonelle Foligno
Kaylyn Kyle
Desiree Scott
Sophie Schmidt
Marie-Eve Nault
Carmelita Moscato
Lauren Sesselman
Robyn Gayle
Candice Chapman
Erin McLeod
Karina LeBlanc
Rhian Wilkinson (pronounced Ian, with an R)
Chelsea Stewart
Kelly Parker
Melanie Booth
Brittany Timko
Emily Zurrer

And here’s a bonus for Canadian Olympic Names, this one propping up during ‘Shuttlegate,’ which saw four teams disqualified for match fixing in women’s badminton. Canada’s Alexandra Bruce and Michelle Li, who had been eliminated after not winning a single match in round robin play, were one of four reinstated teams to benefit from the disqualifications. They beat a team from Australia (also reinstated) in the quarterfinals to reach the semifinal round, guaranteeing them at least a shot at a bronze medal. Unfortunately, but perhaps not surprisingly, the girls were unable to win either of their next two match-ups, and settled for a fourth place finish – still a best ever for a Canadian badminton athlete. And apart from the scandal, why did hockey-loving sportscasters find joy in reporting on Canada’s female badminton team? Because they were billed as Bruce Li!


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§ 5 Responses to Canada’s Olympic-Inspired Names

  • So many great Olympic names! I love the name Clara, and the Bruce Li thing is hilarious.

    It’s strange that Derek was so huge in Britain for years and years, and became fashionable in the US around the 1980s (and still charts respectably). It never caught on in Australia, and to us it’s a comically uncool name.

    • Comically uncool? Crazy! I know so many Dereks, and it’s as acceptable for twentysomething guys as Mike or Dave. I didn’t delve into Bo Derek’s influence on Derek as a girl’s name (the post was long enough, Derek Drouin is a guy, etc.) but it certainly has happened, if not in major quantities.

      • In the UK, Derek is now very old-fashioned and rarely used, and in this article from the BBC, they got people named Derek to write in with their stories. An American reader wrote in, clearly having no idea what they are talking about, as to her Derek is a completely “normal” name! One Derek had his name legally changed to avoid the burden of being a Derek.

        PS Derek on a boy is amusing, but Derek on a girl is taking the joke too far! I hate the name Adolf, but I would prefer a son named Adolf than a daughter named Derek.

      • That’s awesome, that poor guy! Ha! I seriously don’t mind Derek at all and I’m not alone here, for sure.

        Thankfully you can avoid both names unless you have 50 million kids and run out of alternatives 🙂

      • Haha, I have no plans to use either name on either sex! 🙂

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