Aleister Crowley’s Naming Theory

“For many years I had loathed being called Alick, partly because of the unpleasant sound and sight of the word, partly because it was the name by which my mother called me. Edward did not seem to suit me and the diminutives Ted or Ned were even less appropriate. Alexander was too long and Sandy suggested tow hair and freckles. I had read in some book or other that the most favourable name for becoming famous was one consisting of a dactyl followed by a spondee, as at the end of a hexameter: like Jeremy Taylor. Aleister Crowley fulfilled these conditions and Aleister is the Gaelic form of Alexander. To adopt it would satisfy my romantic ideals.”

So said legendary occultist Aleister Crowley on the subject of his name change from Edward Alexander Crowley.

Aleister Crowley

Aleister Crowley

I had to look up dactyl and spondee. Fantastic words.

A dactyl is a long syllable followed by two short syllables. And a spondee is two syllables, which are both stressed equally.

Hence the “Jeremy Taylor” of Crowley’s example. I’m pleased to note that both my children’s names are spot on for the dactyl-spondee combo. Although mine isn’t, well first name anyway – “Estelle” being a spondee. Perhaps I should change my first name to the one that I spent a good deal of time hankering after as a kid, because it was the name of a friend of mine – Rosemary. That is, until the kids in school became aware of Hong Kong Phooey and “Rosemary the telephone operator” became my nickname because of my thick glasses (it was that and Penfold – which ticked the boxes of both the glasses and being small). I went off it a bit then.

Anyway, I’m trying to think of phrases that match up with this….

Terrible Blackhole, Blackadder Edmund, Jessica Seinfeld, Eleanor Rigby, Jeremy Clarkson, Balustrade Lanyard…

Does your name fit?

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5 Responses

  1. I wondered what else there was, and found the following on the Wiki page on Latin prosody. The rest of the stuff on that page makes me regret having looked.
    Iamb: 1 short + 1 long syllable (c?r?)
    Trochee: 1 long + 1 short (m?ns?)
    Dactyl: 1 long + 2 shorts (l?t?r?)
    Anapaest: 2 shorts + 1 long (p?t?la?)
    Spondee: 2 longs (f?t?)
    Tribrach: 3 shorts (t?m?r?)

  2. Angela says:

    “Estelle” is an iamb, not a spondee. But also, “Crowley” is a trochee and not a spondee, so Aleister is incorrect about his own name as well.

    • Estelle says:

      Hmm, I suppose it depends on how you pronounce it – I say the syllables of my name pretty evenly rather than short-long.

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