Baby name story: Handa

Puffins on Handa Island (Scotland)

English ornithologist Reynold Bray, “an Arctic explorer of considerable achievement and much promise,” was traveling through northern Canada with Scottish glaciologist Patrick Baird when he was lost at sea in 1938.

On 14 September, their engine broke down about 65 kilometres south of Igloolik and Baird waded ashore to get some water to make tea. But when he returned to shore after an hour’s hike inland, the tide was too high for his hip waders, so he called to Bray [to] use their collapsible dinghy to bring a line ashore. Bray tried, but took only a single oar with him and was swept away in heavy seas, never to be seen again.

A month earlier, on August 10, a baby girl had been born to Reynold’s wife Gillian back in England.

Notice was cabled to Bray at Churchill [in Manitoba] where he was waiting to embark upon what proved to be his last expedition. At his request the child was named Handa, after a bird island off the northwest coast of Scotland that he and Mrs. Bray had visited the previous May.

Handa Island’s Scottish Gaelic name, Eilean Shannda, is of mixed Gaelic/Norse etymology and means “island at the sandy river.” These days, Handa Island is a wildlife reserve.

What are your thoughts on the baby name Handa?

P.S. Pat Baird married Bray’s widow in early 1940, and they went on to have four more children: Neil (1941), Kirsty (1943), Elspeth (1947), and Anna (1948).

P.P.S. Handa Bray inherited Shere Manor Estate in Surrey in 1964. Currently, she is the fifteenth — and first female — Lord of the Manor.


  • Birds of Nunavut, Vol. 1. Ed. by James M. Richards, Anthony J. Gaston. Vancouver, BC: UBC Press, 2018.
  • Explorer’s Baby Named After Island.” Geraldton Guardian and Express [Australia] 17 Jan 1939: 4.
  • Mr. Reynold Bray.” Nature 4 Mar. 1939.
  • Roberts, Thomas S., T. S. Palmer and W. L. McAtee. “Obituaries.” The Auk Vol. 57, No. 1 (Jan., 1940), pp. 137-140.
  • Handa Island – Wikipedia

Image: Puffins by Donald Macauley under CC BY-SA 2.0.

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