Wednesday, 9 November 2011

We are a grandmother: 1 - the name Edith

Back in 1989 Margaret Thatcher got a lot of flak for announcing, "We are a grandmother". People thought she was using the "royal we" and had delusions of grandeur. I now understand what happened. The arrival of your first grandchild produces such a combination of anxiety, fatigue and euphoria that, for some days afterwards, you are not responsible for anything you say or do.

Starting a sentence in the plural and ending it in the singular is nothing compared to how I behaved when my own first grandchild was born last week. I was so shell-shocked that I called her by another baby's name - twice. As a peace offering to her parents, I thought I'd blog about the pretty names they have given her - Edith Anne Georgina.

According to Nameberry: "Edith was a hugely popular name a hundred years ago that's being revived among stylish parents in London". Her parents, who live in London, will be pleased with that. I think it is a lovely name and it suits our new darling girl perfectly.

Edith comes from the Old English Eadgyth, derived from the words ead, meaning 'rich, wealthy, blessed, happy', and gyð, meaning 'battle, combat, strife, war'. Experts are divided about what the combination of these two words actually means. Since Edith has always been a girl's name, I don't think it means "war is a blessing" or "war makes you rich", neither of which is a very feminine attitude. I think it is much more likely that the name means "warrior for what is blessed" i.e. someone who fights the good fight. That is what us girls spend our lives doing, after all, as we work hard to build our homes and families and fight like tigers to defend our cubs.

Edith was a very popular name in Anglo Saxon times and has some rather splendid historical connections:

  • Edith of England (910-946), was the granddaughter of King Alfred the Great and wife of Otto I, the Holy Roman Emperor. She was very popular in her adopted country and when she died, "the whole of the German nation mourned her with an intense grief". Edith is buried in Magdeburg Cathedral and her sarcophagus was found and opened in 2008. Tests on the remains showed that they were from a high status lady, who ate fish and rode horses, and who had spent her childhood on the chalk uplands of southern England, thereby confirming the identification of Edith.

Edith of England

  • Edith of Wilton (961-984), was a nun of royal birth, later a popular English saint. She was the daughter of the mis-named King Edgar the Peaceful, who carried her mother off by force from Wilton Abbey, near Salisbury. Edgar subsequently did penance for this crime by not wearing his crown for seven years. Edith became a nun but refused her father's offer to make her an abbess. She was greatly celebrated for her learning, beauty and piety and was canonised shortly after her death. St Edith's feast day is 16 September and there are 21 churches dedicated to her in England.

Saint Edith

  • Edith the Fair (c1025-c1086), wrongly called Edith Swan Neck, was the common law wife of King Harold. She walked through the carnage of the battlefield at Hastings to identify Harold's body by markings on his chest known only to her, thus enabling the monks at Waltham Abbey to give him Christian burial.
  • Edith of Wessex (c1025-1075), was the wife of King Edward the Confessor and sister of King Harold. She was an educated woman who spoke several languages. She was Queen of England from 1045 to 1066. In the course of that fateful year she lost four brothers at the Battles of Stamford Bridge and Hastings. She was the only member of her family to make peace with William the Conqueror and it has been suggested that Edith was responsible for commissioning the highly subversive Bayeux Tapestry. She died, childless, at Winchester and was buried beside her husband in Westminster Abbey.
    Edith of Wessex

The name Edith is also associated with some inspirational ladies in more recent times:

  • Edith Cavell (1865-1915), was the heroic English nurse who helped Allied soldiers escape from occupied Belgium during World War I and who, when caught, was shot by the Germans. She famously said, "Patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness for anyone". Motivated by her strong Christian faith, she helped wounded soldiers from both sides of the conflict, saying, "I can't stop while there are lives to be saved". There is a monument to her memory at the bottom of St Martin's Lane in London, which has always been one of my favourite London memorials.


  • Edith Evans (1888-1976), was a British actress, created a Dame in 1946. She is most famously known for her wonderful portrayal of Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest. When I played the same role in a University production, aged just 18, I relied heavily on Dame Edith's example.

Dame Edith Evans as Lady Bracknell

  • Edith Piaf (1915-1963), was a French street singer who became a worldwide cultural icon. She was named Edith in honour of Edith Cavell. She is remembered especially for her powerful renditions of the songs Milord and Non, je ne regrette rien. These two songs, released when I was aged 5 and 6, formed a powerful musical backdrop to my own childhood.

edith piaf


  1. Congratulations! I'm a few weeks behind you and so looking forward to meeting our first grandchild. This is a wonderful post. I was particularly pleased to see your comments on Edith Cavell, one of my personal heroines.

  2. Thank you, Susan. I look forward to hearing when your first grandchild is born. It is a truly wonderful moment. I'm delighted that Edith Cavell is a heroine of yours. Her name is rarely mentioned in the UK these days but I did come across this excellent website in her memory:

  3. Congratulation Caroline. may you spend many happy times with Edith.

  4. Congratulations to you Caroline on becoming a grandma. I didn't know 'Anne' was coming back into fashion. I've been trying to escape from it for 48 years! lol

  5. Thank you, Annie. My granddaughter was given the second name Anne after one of her great grandmothers, who was named Anne but also known as Annie. I think Annie is really pretty.