Thursday, February 11, 2016

Throwback Thursday: Sylvia Plath

I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead; I lift my eyes and all is born again.

On this day in 1963, American poet Sylvia Plath was found dead in her home of an apparent suicide. Her works have inspired generations of feminists and women authors - from her poetry to The Bell Jar, her legacy lives on. Today I'll be looking at some of the women's names surrounding Sylvia Plath's life and work.

Melodic and classic, Sylvia is back on the rise after having declined for many years - it just jumped back into the top 500. Could the trend be due to Ms. Plath's legacy for many young feminists having children today? Is it connected to the rise in Italian names? Or is Sylvia part of the retro trend along with Rose and Alice? I think it's probably a combination of all three. Sylvia means "from the forest", and variants Sylvie, Sylvette, and Silvina are also nice options. 

Sylvia Plath used the name Victoria Lucas to publish her semi-autobiographical novel The Bell Jar in 1963. It's comparable ranking in 1962 and similar vibe to Sylvia - euphonic, feminine, elegant - are among the reasons I believe she picked it, though I haven't found her reasoning in online sleuthing. Victoria has remained popular since the early 1990's, and ranks in the top 20 today. 

The title of Plath's posthumous collection of poetry, Ariel is also the name of a poem in the book (arguably one of the better-known of Plath's poems). According to her husband, Ted Hughes, the poem was named after a horse Plath rode in riding school. The name Ariel has long been used as a Hebrew boy's name, but jumped up the girls' charts in the 1980's and 1990's, boosted by Disney's mermaid princess. Ariel means "lion of God". 

Sylvia Plath's daughter and a poet in her own right, Frieda Hughes is a working artist in the UK today. When Frieda was born in 1960, the name wasn't ranking in either the US or the UK, so I'm curious as to how it was chosen (perhaps a Plath fan can help me out in the comments?) It's beautifully German and artistic - think Frida Kahlo - and certainly rare today. Variations Freya and Freja have been rising in the UK, and are beginning to make their way across the pond. 

Sylvia Plath's mother Aurelia was a major force in her life, raising her alone after the death of Plath's father. Their tumultuous relationship was explored in both The Bell Jar and Plath's poetry. The name Aurelia declined slowly in the US at the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, making a comeback in 2013. It means "the golden one", and it has a royal, charming quality. 

A writer and philanthropist, Olive Higgins Prouty supported Plath during a medical stay and through a scholarship at Smith College. Herself a sufferer of mental illness, she championed psychotherapy at a time when few others did. Plath is believed to have based the character of Philomena Guinea (another excellent name) in The Bell Jar on Prouty. Olive ranks in the top 300 today, rising due to its association with star Olivia. It's a sweet nature name, especially next to Lily and Ivy

The protagonist of The Bell Jar, Esther Greenwood is not-so-loosely-based on Sylvia Plath herself and her experiences as a young adult between college and marriage. The last name Greenwood was her grandmother's maiden name, anglicized. Esther, a name popular in Christian and Jewish families, has been slowly on the rise since 2000. And despite its perpetual popularity, Esther still has a vintage, retro vibe that makes it even more alluring.

Any Plath fans out there? Tell me in the comments!

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