Wednesday, January 11, 2012


Like many Wicca-lite names, Arthur seems normal enough but has a long history.

The etymology of Arthur (pronunciation "AHR-thur" if you speak English, in other languages it can also be "ar-TUYR" or "AHR-toor") is a little bit mysterious. It could be derived from the Celtic elements artos, meaning either "bear" or "stone," combined with either viros, meaning "man," or rigos, meaning "king." It could be derived from Artorius, an obscure Latin name. It could also be a variant of the Old German name Arnthor, meaning "Thor, the eagle."

But a theory that has been gaining a following amongst scholars is that Arthur comes from the stars. Thy hypothesis is that Arthur is derived from Arcturus, which is the name of the brightest star in the constellation Bootes, which is near Ursa Major (the "Great Bear"). Arcturus is the Latin form of the Greek Arktouros, meaning "guardian of the bear."

The most famous namesake is King Arthur from Arthurian legend, who presided over the Knights of the Round Table. Some believe that King Arthur is based on a real person who lived sometime in the 5th or 6th century. According to Medieval texts, he is responsible for defending Britain against the Saxons. His story varies widely from text to text, so it's hard to pin down historical facts. Most of what we know of King Arthur comes from Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae, a fanciful book published in the 1100s. This book introduced many of the key characters and plot points that we now recognize: his father Uther Pendragon, his wife Guinevere, Merlin the wizard, his sword Excalibur, his final battle with Mordred, and his final rest in Avalon. No matter what the history is, King Arthur is a very popular icon. He has long been associated with idealistic qualities like chivalry and purity.

The name Arthur came into general use during the Middle Ages when Arthurian romances became popular. It also enjoyed a surge of popularity in the 1800s due to the Duke of Wellington Arthur Wellesley, who is credited with vanquishing Napoleon. Therefore, there are a lot of namesakes for Arthur, and it's even a popular name for English royalty. But one namesake is particularly important for Neo-Pagan culture: Arthur Miller.

The year after the last of King James I's Witchcraft Acts were being repealed in England, Arthur Miller's stage drama The Crucible premiered on Broadway in 1952. The play is a not-historically-accurate portrayal of the Salem Witch Trials. Of course, The Crucible is not really about the Salem Witch Trials. It was meant to draw a parallel between that time period and McCarthyism, which would have been going strong at the time. The initial reception for the play ranged from mixed reviews from people who believed that it didn't live up to his earlier work Death of a Salesman, to downright hostility. A few years after, Miller himself was questioned by the House of Representatives Committee on Un-American Activities. Nevertheless, the The Crucible won a Tony Award for Best Play, and became a classic. Some Neo-Pagans believe that without this play, the Neo-Pagan movement would have a harder time achieving what would come later. The Crucible helped people see what the Salem Witch Trials for what it was, hysteria gone out of control.

Not only has this name never left the American top 1,000, it has never left the American top 500. It was most popular in the 1880s at #14, and has been steadily trickling down since then. This might make the name feel old to some people. But right now it ranks #389, which is still pretty well used. It is also popular around the world. In 2008 it ranked #6 in Belgium, #7 in Armenia, #79 in Quebec, #266 in Norway, #294 in Canada, and #330 in Scotland. Arthur is a classic. Variations include Arturo, Artair, Artor, Artturi, Artus, Arthwr, Artie, and Art.

Arthur is a sweet, noble boy's name. There are a few Neo-Pagans with this name, but I'm not sure if it's their magickal names that they chose themselves or the names that they're born with. But it doesn't really matter. Arthur effortlessly belongs to both the magickal and the mundane.


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1 comment:

  1. Really handsome name with tons of history behind it. One of my babies of last year was a bub named Arthur - surname, King! :)


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