Trilby
Posted: 28 September 2008 02:37 AM   [ Ignore ]
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I was pondering this word today. George du Maurier, of course, was responsible for its popularity with his 1894 novel, Trilby, and in quick order it became a slang term for the foot, a shoe and a hat. Only the hat and the forename itself have surived, and it’s the origin of the name I was wondering about.

Firstly, here’s what OED has (some of the later cites for sense 2 are omitted):

trilby

[The title of a novel by George du Maurier published in 1894, and the name of its heroine.]

1. colloq.  a. A jocular name for the foot (with reference to Trilby’s feet, which were objects of admiration). ? Obs.

1895 People 7 July, An American paper has spent its energy of psychological investigation on the foot (I beg pardon, the trilby). 1907 H. E. DUDENEY Canterbury Puzzles 114 ‘Two feet{em}’ he murmured. ‘Somebody’s Trilbys?’ I inquired. 1932 U. SINCLAIR Candid Reminiscences I. v. 29 There was a book by the name of ‘Trilby’, which the ladies blushed to hear spoken of… I knew it had something to do with feet, because thereafter my father always called them ‘trilbies’.

b. A particular type of shoe. (Formerly a proprietary name in the U.S.) Obs.

1895 Official Gaz. (U.S. Patent Office) 16 Apr. 447/1 Boots, shoes and lasts. S. Weil & Co., New York… ‘Trilby’. Essential feature{em}the word ‘Trilby’. Used since October 1, 1894. 1895 Montgomery Ward Catal. Spring & Summer 509/3 The Trilby… The very latest in ladies’ footwear. 1897 Sears, Roebuck Catal. 192/1 Our New Trilby… The accompanying cut is an exact reproduction of our new Trilby Shoe.

2. In full trilby hat: a soft felt hat, esp. one of the Homburg type with a narrow brim and indented crown; any hat of a similar shape.

[1895 Bradford Daily Argus 12 Nov. 1/8, I have been puzzling my head to account for the reason of so many soft hats being worn at present, and at last I have hit it. It is another phase of the ‘Trilby’ complaint. In one of the illustrations of the book Little Billee is ‘discovered’ wearing a hat of this description, so it has been seized upon by those worshippers at the shrine of Trilby, whom nature will not assist in the cultivation of a Svenjali [sic] beard or Taffy whiskers.] 1897 Daily News 6 Feb. 6/5 In the struggle Mr. Bennett lost his hat, a black ‘Trilby’… Mr. Carr..was also wearing a black ‘Trilby’ hat.

George Du Maurier’s heroine, Trilby O’Ferrall, is Irish, so presumably it’s an Irish name. My usual recourse for names is BehindThe Name but Trilby is not there.This site(FWIW, and that’s not a lot) gives it as English, meaning ‘from Thorolf’s farm’. Hmm.

Does anybody know if this was a common Irish (or English) name before Du Maurier? Anything more definite on origin?

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Posted: 28 September 2008 06:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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The -by suffix in English place names does indeed mean farmstead or town. It’s an Old Norse addition to the language. The OED implies that personal names with the suffix are generally derived from such place names.

I want to note the coincidence that I’ve also been pondering Trilby over the past few days. A reminiscence by John Le Carre in the latest issue of The New Yorker refers to a British spy he once new wearing a Trilby hat; this is what sparked my pondering of the word.

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Posted: 28 September 2008 06:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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It’s coincidence day—I just wore my trilby hat this morning for the first time in ages!  (I started wearing hats because of an Oxford grad student with whom I bummed around Ireland over 30 years ago; he had a trilby and a Panama, and he let me wear whichever he wasn’t wearing.)

Trilby isn’t in the Dictionary of American Family Names, by the way.

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Posted: 28 September 2008 07:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Oxford _Dictionary of English Surnames_ lists Trilby [so written]: //Alan of Trilleby 1254 ... Probably from Thurlby [Lincolnshire]// ... likely the place-name Thurlby is from something like Thorolf’s-farm, I suppose.

The given name Trilby during the 19th century was probably largely related to the 1822 French novel _Trilby_, in which Trilby was a Scottish goblin or fairy. I suppose this name Trilby was based on a pre-existing surname, but I don’t know for sure.

[ Edited: 28 September 2008 07:28 AM by D Wilson ]
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Posted: 28 September 2008 10:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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FWIW, searching Ancestry.com’s Census data show the last name Trilby to be very rare (in the 1920’s 2 US households and 2 UK households). In the 1880 US Census, there are no first name Trilbys found.  In the 1900 Census (1890 Census was mostly destroyed in a fire), there are just over 200 Trilby first names mostly born after 1894, but a few back to 1878, then there’s a big gap back to one in 1831 (who was born in Norway), and one in 1827 (born in Massachusetts).  I also checked the 1930 Census and stopped paging forward after 450 names.  That’s the last census that’s publicly available.

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Posted: 28 September 2008 11:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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I was completely unaware of the 1822 Trilby, ou le lutin d’Argail by Charles Nodier. Fascinating chap, much like a French Hoffmann, I’d be interested in seeking out a decent translation of some of his works.

[ Edited: 28 September 2008 11:38 AM by aldiboronti ]
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Posted: 28 September 2008 01:44 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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I found an amusing book, published in 1895, called Trilbyana: The Rise and Progress of a Popular Novel (link). On pp.3ff.7 Nodier’s Lutin d’Argail is discussed.

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Posted: 29 September 2008 02:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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I wonder if Crocket Johson had this book in mind when he chose the name for the abandoned steamroller Barnaby discovered in the scrap metal drive in the WWII era comicstrip Barnaby.

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