August 18, 2002
What's In A Name?

Andrea Harris of Spleenville links to a Washington Times story that quotes "Gallus Cadonau, the managing director of the Swiss Greina Foundation for the preservation of Alpine rivers and streams". I want to know what Mr. Cadonau's parents were thinking when they named him 'Gallus'. It's a good Latin name, with several meanings, none of which seems entirely appropriate:

  1. Cornelius Gallus was an ancient Roman poet, the first to write whole books of love elegies. (Catullus had written individual love elegies, but Gallus turned them into a genre.) These were addressed to his mistress Volumnia (Lycoris in the poems), who had previously been mistress of Mark Antony. Gallus was also one of Octavian's generals, and captured Egypt from Antony and Cleopatra. Octavian, the future emperor Augustus, made him first governor of the new province (previously an independent kingdom), but ordered him to commit suicide after he put up too many statues of himself with laudatory inscriptions. Despite his ancient fame, Cornelius Gallus seems an unlikely source for a modern name. Unlike the other three Roman love elegists (Propertius, Tibullus, and Ovid), his works do not survive, except for one line quoted in another ancient author and nine lines that turned up in a trash heap in Egypt in 1979.
  2. The Latin word Gallus also means 'Frenchman', but Gallus Codonau is apparently Swiss. Of course, French is one of the official languages of Switzerland: perhaps he has an identical twin named Germanus? (At least one French Mediaevalist and editor of Crusade epics has named his son 'Christian'. I always thought the boy ought to have had an evil twin named 'Infidel'.)
  3. Latin Gallus also means 'cock' (the poultry kind: get your mind out of the gutter) or 'rooster' -- surely not a likely source for a personal name. (Lt. Col. Tim Chicken is a British commando leader in Afghanistan, but it's harder to avoid giving your child an embarrassing last name.)
  4. Finally, the versatile word Gallus also means a eunuch priest of Cybele, the Great Mother Goddess (Magna Mater) of Asia Minor, or of Bellona, Roman goddess of war. Ancient Galli castrated themselves with a piece of broken pottery to show their submission to the Great Mother, and then went from town to town playing flutes and tambourines, dancing orgiastically, begging, and slashing their arms with knives. (Catullus 63 tells the sad story of a Gallus: it's a great poem, but men tend to cross their legs when they read it.) I hope Mr. Codonau's parents weren't thinking of this kind of Gallus when they named him -- though Gallus would make an excellent name for a EUnuch.
Posted by Dr. Weevil at August 18, 2002 12:47 AM

Isn't there a St Gall monastery in Switzerland?
The saint presumably was called `Gallus' in Latin, making it a plausible name for a Swiss.

Posted by: Anton Sherwood on August 22, 2002 04:13 AM

Mr Sherwood is entirely correct. St Gall was an Irish scholar and missionary who wound up a hermit on the Steinau River in Switzerland. There is a famous monastery there in his honor, and he is counted an apostle to the Swiss, so there is nothing odd about a possibly pious Swiss naming a son Gall or Gallus. As to 'cock' in relation to the bird and the male organ, does it occur to you that the swelling red organ crowning the avian cock might prompt perfectly relevant associations in a non-Puritan culture still in touch with the land and farming? D H Lawrence makes that continuing association in the novel eventually titled 'The Man Who Died' which had earlier been 'The Escaped Cock.' He sees his Jesus figure rescued from anti-life and legalistic associations. And of course, there reverberates all through that book the last words of Socrates, I owe a cock [it's always rendered cock] to Aesclepius [the traditional thanksgiving sacrifice for having been healed].

Posted by: bernard hassan on August 23, 2002 09:58 PM