About Names: “Cleveland Evans: Agatha’s popularity is a mystery”

Agatha Christie in 1910 (Public Domain)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his September 11th column, he looks at the name Agatha.

Forty-six years after her death, Agatha still inspires books.

British author Agatha Christie (1890-1976) is the best-selling novelist of all time. Her 72 novels and 14 short-story collections have sold over two billion copies. “Agatha Christie: An Elusive Woman,” a biography by historian Lucy Worsley, was released Sept. 8. Next week “Marple: Twelve New Mysteries,” where contemporary writers including Leigh Bardugo, Lucy Foley and Ruth Ware present stories about Christie’s sleuth Miss Marple, goes on sale.

Agatha’s the Latin form of Greek Agathe, from “agathos” (“good”). The original St. Agatha was a Christian martyred in Catania, Sicily, in the third century. A later legend claimed virgin Agatha was imprisoned in a brothel after refusing a Roman official’s advances. There her breasts were cut off, making her patron saint of breast cancer patients.The first Agatha in England was wife of Edward the Exile (1016-1057). When Danish conqueror Cnut defeated King Edmund Ironside in 1016, Edmund’s infant son Edward was banished, first to Sweden and later to Ukraine. He helped another exile, Andrew of Hungary, regain his throne in 1046.

Edward married Agatha in Hungary. Her origin’s unclear. She might have been a German, Hungarian, Ukrainian, Polish or Bulgarian princess. When Edward was recalled in 1056 by King Edward the Confessor, Agatha brought her name to England.

Agatha’s husband died in 1057, leading to 1066’s Norman conquest. Agatha’s granddaughter Matilda married King Henry I in 1100, joining Norman and Anglo-Saxon royal lines.

Though her medieval namesakes were “Agatha” in official records, in everyday English they were called Agace. Agace disappeared in the 1500s. When the Victorian love of medieval names revived Agatha, the Latin form came into use.

Want to learn more? Read on to learn more about the name Agatha!