Which comes first, the origin or the name?
I field questions about baby names every day. They run the gamut from the profound to the silly, the deeply personal to the can-you-settle-this-bet. The variety is boundless, but one familiar question comes up again and again:
I made up this name for my child, can you tell me what it means?
On its face, this might seem like one of the silly questions. If you created the name yourself then surely you know where it came from. It's a new twist on a popular name, or a combination of your grandparents' names, or the catchiest arrangement you could make out of your Scrabble rack. That's its origin and thus its meaning, right? But the fact that this question is asked so often suggests there's more to it. Think of it as a call for connection in an era of extreme individuality in baby naming. We all want to go out on a limb, but with the comfort of knowing the tree's roots are still down there somewhere keeping us grounded. So parents choose a name first, then hit the books to reassure themselves that the name is "real."
Perhaps the greatest beneficiary of this post-hoc search for meaning is Jaden. Jaden is a biblical name. Don't take my word for it, look it up in an online name dictionary. You'll learn that Jaden is a Hebrew name meaning "God has heard," from Nehemiah 3:7. Granted, the Biblical version is Jadon and it isn't pronounced to rhyme with Aidan, but close enough:
Next to them repairs were made by Melatiah the Gibeonite and Jadon the Meronothite--the men of Gibeon and of Mizpah--who were under the jurisdiction of the governor of the province Beyond the River. (Ne 3:7)
Nehemiah 3, if you're curious, chronicles the vast construction project of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. You read of the many men (and a few unnamed women) who replaced bolts, rehung doors and repaired roofs. In fact, it may be illuminating to see the full range of names mentioned in this chapter. Due to space concerns, I'll limit myself to the first half, verses 1 to 16:
A fashion goldmine this is not. As recently as 15 years ago, when the revival of Old Testament names like Ethan and Hannah was already in full swing, not one of the dozens of names in Nehemiah 3 cracked the top 1000. Even the best known of the names, Uriah (familiar through a different character in the book of Samuel), was a relic. But Aidan and rhyming names like Hayden and Braden were rising fast. A few Jaydens and Jadens -- not Jadons -- crept in around 1994. Then in 1998 Will and Jada Pinkett Smith named their baby boy Jaden. Open the floodgates! Overnight, Jaden was red-hot in every imaginable spelling, just like Aidan, Hayden and Braden. And parents of Jadens, Jaydons and Jaidens were explaining to friends that they chose it because it's a biblical name.
Are those parents wrong? Delusional? Not really. If they cite the biblical connection, I assume it's legitimately important to them. It may not be the real reason behind the choice, but it's a lasting justification. Knowing a biblical Jadon is out there gives parents a reassuring glimpse of the roots of a tree of fashion that we're climbing dizzyingly higher every day. Thousands of years after his first job, Jadon the Meronothite is performing another round of maintenance work: helping parents stay happy with the name they chose.