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Thursday, January 10, 2013

Literary Inspiration: Girl with a Pearl Earring

I recently finished reading Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier. It is set in 17th Century Holland and is historical fiction about the girl who is the subject of the painting that shares its title with the book. I was fascinated by the main characters name, and pleased by some of the minor characters, so I thought I would feature it on the blog. It became even more fascinating when I realized that over half the names in the book are real people, and that I was dealing with part of a real-life massive sibling set! Ready for this? It could get long....

Fictional Characters
The main character is named Griet, pronounced "greet". The name seemed very unique and I was curious where it came from. Some googling revealed its a nickname for Margriet, the dutch version of Margaret. The meaning is pearl.  I think Margriet is charming spin on the popular English name . and Griet could be a unique nickname.

Griet's sister in the book is named Agnes. I most closely associate the name Agnes with a folk song called "Lovely Agnes", which is a very positive association for me. Agnes is Greek in origin and means "pure and holy". The most obvious nickname, Aggie, is a common nickname for the beautiful stones called agates in my neck of the woods. I feel like Agnes fits in well with a lot of other rising old-school names like Ester, Ethel, Harriet, and Stella.

Griet and Agnes also have a brother named Frans. Frans is a variant of Francis, which is Latin and means "frenchman" or "free man". There are a number of other similar variants of the name Francis like Frantz, Franzen, and Franchesco. Frans seems a bit foreign and mysterious, but still familiar like Hans. I think this could have a lot of appeal.

Griet is courted by a butcher's son, Pieter. This is a Dutch/German spelling of the name Peter (same pronunciation). With parents loving unique spellings its a nice option. Peter is a Greek name meaning rock.

Griet works with another made named Tanneka. I have been unable to track any history or origin to this. It feels like a variation on Anneka or perhaps Danica. I am going to go with Danica because its Danish in origin. It means "morning star'.

Historical Figures
The book includes many members of Johannes Vermeer's family. Johannes (pronounced yo-hon-es) is a variation of John, and means "god is gracious". It is a slightly longer and softer version than Johann (like Johann Sebarstian Bach). The Germanic J (sounding like Y), might cause some pronunciation issues, but not so many its unusable. The last name,. Vermeer, could also make an interesting boy's name, particularly if you are fond of Vermeer's work.

Johannes is married to Catharina, which is derived from the very similar Catherine. Origins are Greek and these names mean "pure". I have heard Katerina and Catherine, but I have not seen the in-between option of Catherina, which has both the soft "th" sound and the soft a ending. It is very beautiful. Nickname options could be Cathy, Ari, or Rina (along with the less obvious options like Cat, Kitty).

Now here is the crazy part. Catharina and Johannes had 10 children! Not all of them are featured in the book, but the real life sibset was:  Maria, Elisabeth, Cornelia, Aleydis, Beatrix, Johannes, Gertruyd, Franciscus, Catharina, and Ignatius. What a mix of "common" names (Maria, Elisabeth), old fashioned (but possibly new again?) names (Cornelia, Beatrix, Gertruyd, Franciscus) and unique names (Aleydis and Ignatius).

I feel like Beatrice and Beatrix are ripe for a rise. They have that classic feel to them like other names growing in popularity- Harriet, Eleanor, Mathilda, and the adorable nickname options of Bea for the reserved or Trixie for the playful (to match the nicknames Hattie, Ellie, and Tilly for example). Beatrix means "voyageur through life" and is Latin in origin.

I also have been growing fond of Cornelia, since it featured in my Thanksgiving post. It means horn. I like then nickname Neila.

With a discussion of Francis up above, I don't think Franciscus needs more discussion.

Gertruyd, a variation on Gertrude, is probably the least likely to rise from this bunch IMO, but still possible. Trudy is another nickname and a more modern variant. Gertruyd means "good spear" in old German.

Ignatius is actually a Harry Potter name, so I would have gotten to it eventually. It is most likely derived from Latin and means burning fire (like "to ignite"). Possible nicknames or variations are Iggy, Ignace, or Inigo (Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya, prepare to die!)

Aleydis is more mysterious. There is a saint Aleydis, patron saint of the blind and paralyzed. I am unsure of the pronunciation of this name, but it is a variation of Adelaide, another old gorgeous name ripe for rise. Adelaide means "noble and kind".

Author's Variation
Then there are the "common" names. Maria and Elisabeth. I have a feeling that the author of Girl with a Pearl Earring is a nameaholic, because these names were just too ordinary for her! In the book, she named these two girls Maertga and Lisbeth. Perhaps she just meant Lisbeth as a nickname for the true Elisabeth (a beautiful nickname or alternate name!), but Maertga is not just a nickname for Maria. Actually, Maertga does appear in Vermeer's family tree- it is his aunt! I cannot find any record on what this name means or its derivation.

What do you think? If you made it through the post, do any of the names from this book strike your fancy? I know a couple of the will stick with me!

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