Sibylla of Normandy. Berengaria of Navarre. Agnes of Essex. Maud le Vavasour.
Oh, and Tiffany. Hey, ladies.
Yep, Tiffany was a name used for girls in the 12th century. Verily, it was. It hath been proven as a fact.
UK TV show QI blew people’s minds recently when it posted about Tiffany on Facebook.
“No one would believe that a woman in the Middle Ages could be named Tiffany, yet it was a real medieval name,” the post explained.
“So in medieval times one could ask, ‘How about breakfast at Tiffany’s?” asked Isaac Bobjork.
“So, I was like, and then he was like, and then we, like, died of the plague,” suggested Nathan Jenkins. “So ridic!”
“I’m still trying to come to terms with Herod’s wife being called Doris,” added Alice Klaar.
As QI points out, there’s an expression coined by the fantasy writer Jo Walton: The Tiffany Problem.
It describes “the tension between historical fact and the popular perception of history”. In other words, it’s when a writer who has done painstaking research puts historically correct information into a novel, and readers complain that they’ve got it wrong, just because it looks wrong, when it’s actually right.
“Tiffany is a real attested medieval name,” Walton explained in an interview with the Internet Review Of Science Fiction.
“It’s a variant of Theophania. It appears in 12th century documents from Britain and France, and you cannot give it as a name to a character in a historical or fantasy setting because it looks too horribly modern.”
On the topic of baby names, we've realised that there's no one under 60 with the name ‘Nigel’ anymore. The Mamamia Out Loud team discuss why. Post continues after audio.
So why do we find it so hard to think of Tiffany as a medieval name?
As Walton points out, it comes from the Greek name Theophania, meaning “God appears” or “Epiphany”. The feast of the Epiphany – when the three wise men brought gifts to the baby Jesus – falls on Twelfth Night, or January sixth. So baby girls born on that day during the Middle Ages were often called Theophania, or one of its variations, including Tiffany.
Tiffany eventually dropped out of use as a first name, but it stuck around as a surname. (That’s why Richard Gere’s middle name is Tiffany. It’s a family surname.)
In 1837, two Americans called Charles Lewis Tiffany and John B. Young co-founded a store. By 1853, the business was known as Tiffany & Company, and it began specialising in jewellery. Tiffany started sounding very classy, especially after the Audrey Hepburn movie Breakfast At Tiffany’s came out in 1961.
America went nuts for Tiffany as a girls’ name. It was massively popular in the 1980s. In Australia Tiffany was less popular, but it hit the top 100 in the late 1980s and stayed there for most of the 1990s.
Then famous Tiffanys came along. Tiffany (Darwish), the singer. Tiffany, the bride of Chucky. Tiffany Trump, Donald’s daughter.
Tiffany stopped being seen as a classy name. Users on the website Behind The Name now describe it as “low-class-trying-to-sound-upscale”, “like an obnoxious and stuck-up cheerleader who talks to her best pal Chelsea” and “a chav name”.
Last year it was reported that the name Tiffany had dropped out of the US top 500. The finger was pointed at the US president.
But no one called Tiffany should despair about any of its modern associations. Just keep thinking of it as an elegant, beautiful medieval name.
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