August 8th, 2011
Today I am ecstatic and honored to bring you our first in a series of guest posts, Names Across Nations, by Nell Bang-Jensen. Nell writes:
My interest in names inspired me to apply for a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship after graduating from Swarthmore College this past spring. The Watson Fellowship is a one-year grant given to forty students from participating institutions that is for independent study and travel outside of the United States. One year after beginning my application for the fellowship, my “Names Across Nations” project has become a reality.
Over the next twelve months I’ll be traveling to seven different countries, Indonesia, India, Morocco, Germany, Zambia, Ireland and Iceland, in order to study what makes a name. The process of naming a child varies around the world and is shaped by a variety of considerations including religious traditions, governmental restrictions, family history, and cultural icons. I will explore a range of naming practices to better understand how names shape identity and how people, in turn, shape names. From witnessing Hindu naming ceremonies, to watching as thirteen year-old Zambian children choose their own names, to talking to people who work at German offices of vital statistics, I hope to explore naming from a variety of different perspectives.
I think this study is particularly timely as technology increases and names are shared on a global level. To think of the impact names can have when they transcend religious and national boundaries, just think of the large response the American public had when finding out that Barack Obama’s middle name was “Hussein” in the 2008 election. Due to rapid changes in recent technology, as more people are able to connect across borders, names become increasingly important to defining and representing who we are. What are the thoughts and intentions of parents when they give names that their children will have for the rest of their lives life? With each choice of a name, there is a story.
Because my name, “Nell”, is unusual, as a child I was unsettled on the rare occasion that I would meet another “Nell.” I felt betrayed and unable to fathom that when all of the people in her life spoke or thought of “Nell”, they thought of her. I also realized, however, that there was something innate we shared just by virtue of having that name, and by the fact that, though they used different rationales, our parents all arrived at that name for their daughters. Upon meeting another Nell, I invariably felt my identity had been stolen from me, but realized that the name “Nell”, (a variant of the Greek “Eleanor” or “Helen”, or of the Latin “Cornelia” that literally means “shining light”), was being constantly redefined by this other girl and also by me. The name itself represents countless other Nells before and Nells to come across the globe. I am playing a role in defining the name “Nell” while the name itself projects its own meaning, cultural context, and history onto me.
I want to explore how the meaning of names, these shared strings of letters and sounds, are constantly changing as they are defined by those who give these names and the individuals who bear them.
It is with excitement (and a little fear) that I begin my twelve month journey outside of the United States. I’ll be gone from July 28, 2011 to July 28, 2012 and I will be writing about my travels on my blog:namesacrossnations.blogspot.com. I am eager to hear any ideas, feedback, suggestions or questions that you may have.
Nell, I think I can speak for all of us when I say we are so excited to follow you on your travels. Next up, Nell’s own name story, the beginning of a journey.
Image: The Namakarana Samskara (Hindu name ceremony) by S. Rajam
July 5th, 2011
I tried I did try to get this post up for everyone on the 4th of July! But alas, the beach was calling, so we can celebrate this great country on July 5th, and every day.
City names populate nearly every classroom. There are Madisons who hail from Texas and Austins who hang their hat Wisconsin. But the inspiration goes further than that– state parks, rivers, lakes.
Has anyone ever looked at counties for fresh ideas? I collected one from each state that piqued my curiosity. Some are named after famous figures in history, others go back to native languages, still more originate as place names elsewhere — but all are rarely used on United States birth certificates, and easily could be. (I have no idea if these are particularly beautiful or desirable places to live mind you, but we welcome reports if you know them!)
Think about place names as you travel cross country this summer. I urge you to watch for signs at every exit ramp and county line, and please report back any great finds!
Marengo – Alabama
Kenai - Alaska
Gila – Arizona
Searcy - Arkansas
Yuba – California
Chaffee – Colorado
Tolland – Connecticut
Sussex - Delaware
Pasco – Florida
Lowndes - Georgia
Kauai - Hawaii
Bonner – Idaho
Gallatin – Illinois
Boone – Indiana
Adair - Iowa
Sumner - Kansas
Meade – Kentucky
Sabine - Louisiana
Somerset – Maine
Allegany – Maryland
Norfolk – Massachusetts
Ionia – Michigan
Isanti – Minnesota
Calhoun – Mississippi
Mercer – Missouri
Fergus – Montana
Thayer – Nebraska
Storey - Nevada
Merrimack - New Hampshire
Bergen – New Jersey
Socorro – New Mexico
Seneca – New York
Durham – North Carolina
Emmons – North Dakota
Guernsey – Ohio
Sequoyah – Oklahoma
Morrow – Oregon
Cambria – Pennsylvania
Kent – Rhode Island
Calhoun – South Carolina
Sully – South Dakota
Roane – Tennessee
Medina - Texas
Summit - Utah
Caledonia - Vermont
Wythe – Virginia
Whitman – Washington
Mingo - West Virginia
Oneida - Wisconsin
Laramie – Wyoming
Did you use the map as inspiration for your child? Was it a special place to you, or did you just like the sound? Are there any names in your area you’d like to see on a human being?
Image from my home town in Travis County, Texas
September 8th, 2010
We have another mother in need. Here’s a letter from Amy:
We are expecting our second child in late September and do not know the gender.
Our family is an interesting collection. I am very artsy/vintage/quirky and I am a scientist. My husband refers to himself as a geek (there are 2 “ee”‘s in Electrical Engineer, he says), so definitely a sense of humor as well. His name is Beau and is a former hockey player and current sports enthusiast. We also love to travel.
I would like the name to convey personality, a sense of identity and something that will fit throughout their life. Also, something with the potential for a cute nickname when they’re younger and a full name not so cutesy for when they are an adult.
We currently have one girl, about 2 and a half. Her name is Vinetta Pearl (great Aunt was Vinetta, not necessarily intentional to have a family name and Pearl just because we liked it…), so something that would pair nicely would be great, but not a final requirement.
We really love names that have a vintage feel or at least an element of uniqueness. Being an Amy, I was always one of many in a class and really didn’t like that. Now when I say unique, I don’t mean “kreeaytive” just a name that you won’t run into every day. We also like quirky
Some names we considered while pregnant with Vinetta:
Beatrix (but I was afraid of the nn Trixie)
Mathilda (thought Tillie would be a cute nn)
Clementine (however, do NOT like Tina for a nn)
Ingrid (she was Ingrid for about 5 minutes, but I decided I pictured Ingrid as a blonde, which now Vinetta is very blonde
Cecilia (my paternal grandmother Hildur’s middle name)
Ruby (but that was taken out of contention when the nurse mentioned there were 2 other Ruby’s born within a week)
Piper (my husband ultimately said no)
Jasper (but what kind of nickname)
Phineas (my husband said no eventually)
Milo (again with the no from him)
Leo (I love this, he does not)
Names he likes, and I do not:
Maxwell (but I had a dog called Max growing up, so this one doesn’t thrill me)
A couple other names we can’t use due to family members or current pets we have: Alice, Eleanor, Poppy, Daisy and Violet.
We are seriously stuck on boy names. My husband offered up quite a few related to mathematicians, physicists and hockey players, which I immediately eliminated (Euhler is an example…). He does love hockey – the Minnesota Wild, the New Jersey Devils, Minnesota Gophers (college team) are his main favorites. He also loves all things German, whereas I am pretty smitten with all things British. ;-)
Thank you so much, I am really looking forward to hearing some suggestions from everyone.
There are a ton of different directions to go for you guys Amy, and your letter is very exciting. Jasper seems like a real possibility, and as you said, your “leftovers” from naming Vinetta are still delicious!
Let’s start with your husband. I scoured rosters from his various teams for great names, searched the history books for the math people. Without regard to how they play or how their theories evolved, here’s what I turned up:
Ada- Ada Lovelace
Blaise- Blaise Pascal
Cedric- Cedric Villani- 2010 Field’s Medalist
Edward- Edward Witten
Isaac- Isaac Newton
Jules- Jules Henri Poincaré
Leon- Leohnard Euler; in lieu of Euler
Pascal- Blaise Pascal; also Pascal Dupuis from Minnesota Wild Players
Rozsa- Rozsa Peter
Kellen- Kellen Briggs
Nico- Nico Sacchetti
Seth- Seth Helgeson
Minnesota Wild Players
Mattias- Mattias Weinhandl
Roman- Roman Simicek
Sebastien / Sebastian- Sebastien Bordeleau
Sylvain / Sylvan- Sylvain Blouin
New Jersey Devils
Anders- Anders Carlsson
Murray- Murray Brumwell
Pascal (again!)- Pascal Rheaume
Reid- Reid Simpson
Others that remind me of your lists in one way or another. Not all are easily nickname-able, but see what you think:
Joachim- Joe, Joey
Readers, is there anything here that you absolutely love? What do you suggest for Amy’s child?
April 20th, 2010
As promised, part II of IV from early 2010 Le Figaro birth announcements in France.
These lists overall are quite different from the country at large, intentionally so. French schools are not exactly teeming with Télémaques and Théotimes. Use with caution: not for amateurs.
August 9th, 2009
One of my very favorite recent discoveries has to be the birth announcements in Paris’ Le Figaro. The form is as follows: the grandparents, probably a Duc and Duchesse or Baron et Victomtesse, et cetera, announce the birth using the first name only of the child. If other names are posted, there is a comma between each of the names as per rules of French punctuation. In most cases, siblings’ names are listed as are those of the cousins! Feast your eyes on some of these broods.
Always one for the undiscovered gem, but these families take to new heights with their ancient Greek variants. Seems to be a game of one-upsmanship I’d say. Still, some to add to the repetoire.
Arwen, Marie, Victoria
Blanche (Hervé, Constance, Romain)
Célia (Chloé / Carole, Raphël, et Julien)
Domitille (Benoît, Augustin, Xavier)
Félicité (Antoine et Gaspard)
Hermine (Sosthène & Célestin)
Julie, Marina, Sixtine (Mathieu, Marine et Valentin)
Louise (Mina, Noë et Hanna)
Louise (Marie, Eugénie et Charles)
Victoria (Arthur et Alexandre)
Aymeric (Clemence, Capucine, Domitille)
Charles (Victor and Capucine)
Charles (Alexandre, Roman et Margaux)
Charles (Solène, Alexia et Albane)
Joseph (Alizée, de Théodore, Oscar et Melchior; cousins Antoine, Marguerite, Charles et Gabrielle / Caroline et Margot / Astrid, Pierre-François, Iris, Olympe et Panxika / Marc et Aurore)
Mahaut (Rémi et Thomas)
Martin (Clemence, Jeanne, & Blanche; cousins Augustin, Diane, Thomas / Celestine & Grace)
Martin (Elise et Thibault)
Théophile (Louise, Léopold et Anatole)
Above: Clothing by Oeuf
June 26th, 2009
There’s something in the water.
While I’ve had my eye on Bernard and Rosemary, other unlikely candidates such as Lois, Calvin, June and Theodore are popping up on baby name message boards with some frequency. SJP chose Marion Loretta for one of her girls, and Appellation Mountain coincidentally featured Clyde, Marjorie, and Florence in the past three days. Fellow blogger Onomastitrix calls her daughter Bonnie, among other things. What do all these have in common, you ask?
They were all top picks in the 1950s.
Most will likely find these names tired. Mother or even grandmother names, they’ve past their prime, hit middle age, and are for all intents and purposes, not ready for a comeback just yet. However, they do have that coveted element of surprise. They avert current conventions of “old-lady-chic” or newly coined cutesy names.
The boys’ list represents a kind of geek chic. The girls have rather a kitsch quality.
Below are some possibilities from the top 200 in 1950. Their rank then and now are follow in parenthesis. Maybe you can just honor your mother directly without altering it from Mary to Maren.
Anne (84, 499)
Barbara (4, 758)
Belinda (174, 747)
Betty (26, NR)
Beverly (31, NR)
Bonnie (33, NR)
Carmen (186, 262)
Claudia (126, 417)
Constance (85, NR)
Dolores (139, NR)
Diana (47, 137)
Dorothy (35, NR)
Edith (150, 806)
Eileen (91, 760)
Esther (162, 274)
Florence (190, NR)
Glenda (87, NR)
Gloria (31, 431)
Gwendolyn (113, 586)
Irene (92, 636)
Jacqueline (55, 152)
June (137, 863)
Lois (83, NR)
Loretta (120, NR)
Louise (109, NR)
Lucille (180, 615)
Marianne (192, NR)
Marion (198, NR)
Marjorie (121, NR)
Martha (32, 617)
Mary (2, 97)
Nancy (6, 379)
Paula (54, 681)
Priscilla (169, 416)
Regina (143, 688)
Roberta (96, NR)
Rosemary (101, 754)
Sally (78, NR)
Shirley (19, 911)
Susan (5, 712)
Vivian (138, 207)
Yolanda (179, NR)
Albert (55, 372)
Alfred (96, 787)
Arthur (46, 363)
Bernard (109, 940)
Bruce (26, 476)
Calvin (105, 228)
Clarence (95, 938)
Claude (177, NR)
Clyde (136, NR)
Frank (29, 278)
Frederick (75, 523)
George (20, 153)
Gilbert (144, 728)
Gordon (108, 946)
Gregory (25, 236)
Guy (179, NR)
Harold (45, 737)
Harvey (147, NR)
Howard (63, 903)
Jerome (103, 616)
Johnny (50, 246)
Kenneth (15, 136)
Kent (182, NR)
Lawrence (33, 427)
Leon (119, 502)
Lloyd (107, NR)
Louis (67, 351)
Paul (18, 155)
Philip (53, 378)
Ralph (52, 868)
Randolph (162, NR)
Raymond (31, 215)
Rex (196, 799)
Roger (27, 463)
Roy (51, 497)
Theodore (99, 297)
Timothy (32, 108)
Vernon (134, NR)
Wallace (198, NR)
Walter (40, 393)
Above: The Cygnet, a children’s replica of the 1958 Swan Chair by Arne Jacobsen
June 1st, 2009
What do you do when all your neighbors turn to longtime loves Oliver and Henry?
Go a little dustier, of course.
It’s old news that when not opting for Zaphyn or Bandit, celebrities embrace this type of name in droves. And for good reason. They sound fresh and charming, and are worthy of revival. Who wouldn’t just melt at a meeting a pint-sized Winifred?
Even Jake and Olivia sounded fuddy duddy not long ago.
Agatha (Thomas Gibson)
Agnes (Elisabeth Shue & David Guggenheim)
Dorothea, Dorothy (Tyler Florence has a Dorothy)
Hazel (Julia Roberts)
Honor (Jessica Alba)
Ingrid (Gordon Lightfoot)
Mabel (Chad Lowe, Tracey Ullman)
Maud (Judd Apatow)
Olive (Sacha Baron Cohen & Isla Fisher)
Ruth (Eric Clapton)
Theodora (Keith Richards)
Ursula (Plum Sykes)
Zelda (Robin Williams)
Archibald (Amy Poehler)
Bruno (Nigella Lawson)
Chester (Tom Hanks & Rita Wilson)
Ignatius (Cate Blanchett, Julianne Nicholson)
Louis (Mel Gibson, Ozzy Osbourne)
Lucian (Steve Buscemi)
Perry, Peter, Piers (Mikhail Baryshnikov, Meredith Baxter & David Birney, Kirk Douglas, and Sally Field are parents of Peters)
Rufus (James Taylor)
Above: Iris Apfel, proud possessor of a pleasantly old-lady-chic name.
May 6th, 2009
February 24th, 2009
NOTE: This post is also airing today at the fabulous nameberry! Thanks so much to Pam and Linda for having me guest post again. Special thanks also to Christopher Porché West for his generosity in allowing me to use this portrait of the beautiful Keisha.
Today it seems only appropriate to focus on baby names that hail from the Louisiana Bayou. It’s Fat Tuesday, and these names are rich indeed.
An inspiration for everything from vampires to voodoo, zydeco to the Krewe of Zulu– Louisiana has been a colorful melting pot of divergent cultures for centuries. Cajuns from Canada, Creoles and others of Haitian, African, Italian, Spanish, or Native American descent, all come together to form a mélange of backgrounds, and in point of fact, names. Most share a history of French language and Catholicism, even if it’s not by blood. While these may not be the choices in use today in the Bayou, they have been culled from historical documents, maps, and folklore from the late 18th to the early 20th centuries. The majority are either French proper, or my favorite, Frenchified. Still more trace their roots to Classical Greco-Roman civilization, deep Southern culture, or are somewhere farther afield and include a curious preponderance of the letter Z.
So come on. Allez-y! Chew on these names (and some maque choux), prepare to bare all for those beads, and laissez les bon temps roulez!
Acadia- The word Cajun itself has its origins in Acadian
Avoyelles- This Cajun Parish might be picked up as a first name, piggybacking on the current Ava and Ellie love
Bernadette- A much beloved Catholic saint, and one of the prettiest songs in the native New Orleans Neville Brothers repertoire
Delphine- While Delphine is a lovely and lilting name, Delphine LaLaurie was a famous socialite and sadist who tortured her slaves
Dixie- Used to refer to the South at large, this may have originated in New Orleans on the ten dollar bill, upon which a local bank printed “dix”, the French for ten
Eugenie- Napoleon’s first love
Evangeline- An epic poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow recalling the 1755 deportation of Acadian Canadians to the newly Spanish Louisiana
Hiawatha- Another tale regaled by Longfellow, Hiawatha may not have been from the Bayou, but she had namesakes here
Josephine- Napoleon’s (second) love
Magnolia- The state flower of Louisiana
Mahalia- Mahalia Jackson is a gospel and blues singer from the area, with a name worth borrowing
Marie- Marie Laveau was a reknowned Voodoo Queen who was visited by slaves and owners alike
Ola, Olla Mae, Olima
Sabine- The Sabine River runs through in Louisiana
Tammany- Parish north of New Orleans
Zenobia (also spotted a Senobia)
Amos- Amos Moses is a song by Jerry Reed about a fictional one armed alligator hunting cajun man
Beau, Beauregard- Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard was the most famous Civil War soldier from New Orleans and fought in the Battle of Shiloh; his ghost is said to roam the streets of New Orleans whispering “Shiloh”, which means “place of peace”
Bernard- Parish east of New Orleans
Charles- Geographically, Charles is everywhere, from a street in NOLA to the western city of Lake Charles to St. Charles Parish in the east
Dagobert- Pere Dagobert was a well-respected 18th century priest who is still said to be heard singing “Kyrie” while keeping a watchful eye over the city of New Orleans.
Gustave- Though 2008′s Hurricane Gustav may have dampened enthusiasm for this one
Jean-Baptiste- Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville founded Nouvelle-Orleans in 1718
Landry- St. Landry Parish is home to many a Cajun
LeRoy- Leroy is originally from “le roi” or, “the king”
Louis -Louis Armstrong and Louis Prima are both Louisiana natives
Philippe- The city was named for Philippe II, Duc d’Orleans
Pierre- Pierre Augustin Charles Bourguignon Derbigny was among Louisiana’s creole governors
Theodore, Theodule, Theophile, Theophilus
Images Above: 1. Keisha, by Christopher Porché West 2. View & Perspective of New Orleans, 1726. Ink and watercolor by Jean-Pierre Lassus
January 24th, 2009
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
This dream became a reality for many on Tuesday, January 20, 2009, just one day after the commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. day. Barack Obama is now the first African-American president. He is a man who dared to dream beyond all likelihood of what was possible. He is a man who had the audacity to hope. Regardless of your political leanings, most of us are pleased to sea a tide changing in one of America’s darkest alleys of history.
The very act of having a child represents hope for a better future. We can all come together in the hopes and dreams for our children. Perhaps having the meaning of that sentiment as part of their name will serve as a gentle reminder of what their parents knew was possible, and how much they are loved.
Aisling- Irish Gaelic for “dream” or “vision.” Pronounced ASH-ling.
Alice- From Adelaide, “noble and kind.” Inspired by the famous young dreamer in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland
Amala- Arabic, “hope and aspiration”
Asha- Sanskrit for “desire, will, hope”
Aurora- Latin, “dawn”- Disney’s name for Sleeping Beauty
Esperanza- Spanish, “hope”
Hope- English, “hope.” ;-)
Maya- Sanskrit, “dream, illusion”
Mizuki- Japanese, “beautiful moon” or “congratulations and hope”
Nadezhda, Nadia- Russian, “hope”
Pandora- Greek, “All gifts”- In mythology when Pandora opened the box, all her worldly gifts flew away but one remained: hope.
Raja- Arabic, “hope”
Rêve, Reverie- French for “dream”, though not used as names there
Shpresa- Albanian, “hope”
Swapna- Sanskrit, “sleep, dream”
Tikva- Hebrew, “hope”
Amal- Arabic, “hope and aspiration”
Amets- Basque, “dream”
Anthony- Etruscan origin, “of inestimable worth.” St. Anthony was reknowned for his vivid dreams. Cognates get more interesting: Antoine, Anton, Antonin, Antonio, Antony
Arman- Persian, “dream”
Ayumu- Japanese, “dream/vision” + “walk”
Caedmon- Old English, unknown meaning. 7th century poet who known to receive inspiration through his dreams.
Elpis, Elpidios- Ancient Greek, “hope”
Endymion- Greek, “to dive into, to enter.” In Greek mythology, Endymion wanted eternal life so that he could spend it with the goddess Selene. Instead, Zeus granted him eternal sleep.
Imeda- Georgian, “hope”
Itxaro- Basque, “hope”
Kazuki-Japanese, “one hope” or “radiant hope”
Morpheus- Greek god of dreams
Omid- Persian, “hope”
Samai- Khmer, “daydreamer”
Sigmund- German, “victory + protector.” Sigmund Freud wrote The Interpretation of Dreams in a plight to better understand the unconscious.
Svajone- Lithuanian, “dream”
Swapan- Sanskrit, “dreaming, sleeping”; Swapnil is “dreamlike”
Toivo- Finnish, “hope”
Umut- Turkey, “hope”
Image above by René Magritte