Hayaven backwards: on the meaning of meanings

Feb 18th 2009

Not long ago, a reader wrote to me about a name she saw in the newspaper that gave her pause: Nevayah.

For those of you new to the baby naming wars, the name Nevaeh is a one-of a kind phenomenon.  It was dreamed up by one prominent parent in 2001, based on an anagram -- it's "heaven" backwards.  The idea caught on like wildfire, so that today it ranks #31 among all U.S. girls' names, ahead of the likes of Katherine and Jessica.  The anagrammatic origin was the key to its appeal.  As I wrote in my book, many parents see it as "a loving secret message to a child."

But when the 2006 baby name statistics were released, I noticed something surprising.  The name Neveah -- note the spelling -- also cracked the top-1000 list.  In 2007, it moved up 100 points higher.  Haeven backwards?  What's the idea?

Some of those alleged Neveahs are likely to be transcription errors.  The -aeh ending is non-standard in English, and somewhere in the data-entry process someone could have easily transposed it to the more familiar -eah, as in Leah.  But I suspected that a large number of the Neveahs were real, and that the transposition was done by the parents, intentionally.  They saw that the -aeh ending was awkward, so they "corrected" it to something more familiar.

Since then, a rising tide of creative respellings supports that belief.  Not only are little Neveahs on the upswing, but so are Niveahs, Naveyahs and Nevayahs.  There's little chance that Nevayah is a mere transcription error (or that the parents think the world beyond is "hayaven").  Rather, those parents did what so many contemporary parents do: they looked at a popular name and decided to personalize it to make their child's name unique.

But there's a big, big difference between Nevayah and, say, Maddasyn.  Nevaeh's spelling is its meaning.  Respell it, and it means nothing!  Which makes it...just like every other name.

Nevayah and friends are the ultimate demonstration of how names have a life far beyond their literal origins.  This has been true for time immemorial.  You may be able to trace a name back to its Old English meaning, but even back when Old English was New many of the familiar roots (Eg, Ethel, Bert, Dred, etc.) had become standardized as name elements. They were recombined at will, regardless of meaning.  Yep, 12th-century parents were already doing their own version of mashups like Gracelyn and McKayleigh.

As soon as a word becomes a name, it takes on a new meaning.  It is a social construction, shaped by the people who bear it.  Which is why traditional name dictionaries, fascinating as they are, tell us only a small piece of the story.

Comments

151
By Liz & Louka (not verified)
February 20, 2009 10:38 PM

Eo - that penpal website is fascinating. I looked up Croatia (I have Croatian neighbours) and was surprised to see the no 4 boys name is Slobodan. I thought Milošević would have killed that name, but I guess if it was really common anyway, the association wouldn't have been that strong.

152
February 21, 2009 12:20 AM

The family of one of our bloggers was featured in a recent Philadelphia Inquirer online article, "What's new in names?" Laura is quoted too. Nice photo of the Young family, including Phillipa Violet, Romilly Alice and Beatrix Joanna, as they await the birth of their new baby -- Juniper if a girl or possibly Simon, Barnaby or Angus if a boy. Aren't those great names! They call their naming style "unusual classic".

http://www.philly.com/philly/entertainment/20090218_What_s_new_in_names.html

153
February 21, 2009 1:01 AM

Irina is a Russian name, I think, based on a couple of ice skaters with this name.

cool article; i always love hearing laura's insights. also, there was a link to an article about a fashion model named sessilee on the page. interesting names are everywhere!

154
February 21, 2009 1:29 AM

New baby name: my brother and sil have a new baby: S@rala Grace. Twin big sisters are:Caitlyn Elis3 and Al3xandra Christine.

T- love many of the names that have been mentioned... would avoid Penelope or anything else that ends with a long e sound if you are using Marjorie or Dorothy as mns. IMO, the matchy end sounds would be too much.

Prairie Dawn- Here's another vote for Marina Raquel. I think the two names fit together well in sound and style and Marina sounds like it belongs with Lucia.

155
By Chimu (not verified)
February 21, 2009 2:01 AM

T - I love Cordelia!! It is one of my very favourite names. I like some of the suggestions given. My personal favourties (which I don't think have been mentioned yet) for your other daughter would be Juliet, if you don't mind the Shakespeare connection, or maybe Genevieve.

Prairie Dawn - I love Clementine, not sure about it being trendy? I have seen a couple of celeb babies named Clementine but haven't seen evidence of real world babies getting the name yet. I think it might be too out there to make much impact. All my friends I have mentioned the name to think I'm nuts. For the record I think Maren Raquel has a slightly better flow, but I'm still a Clementine nut, but both are beautiful names.

156
By sarah smile (not verified)
February 21, 2009 4:29 AM

I have a friend who goes by Binya, and he hasn't mentioned any problems with it. I think he does use the full Binyamin professionally, though. It doesn't sound too feminine to me, but maybe that's because I'm used to it.

For the Mar* names, I've seen several mentions of Mary/Marie, which I'm assuming you're not interested in because of their Christian heritage. What about Mariel? That's rather pretty and not too common. Or Margaret? There's also Marlee, but that doesn't seem to fit your taste.

Praire Dawn, I think Maren and Lucia sound perfect together, and that Maren Raquel is a nice combination.

157
By toothfairy (not verified)
February 21, 2009 9:52 AM

Hi, baby namers! I've got a challenge for you: can you think of a palatable way to name a child after St. Ignatius? I think Ignatius is really only possible for the bravest and boldest of baby namers (of which I am not!), especially in small town USA where we live. For those who don't know, Ignatius of Loyola founded the Society of the Jesuits, known best for their contributions to higher education. As a saint, I admire him greatly--but "Ignatius" is just too much for my tastes. I'm open for suggestions as to how to honor this saint in a way that fits a little better with the "Ava, Ella, Aidan, and Jacob" set. Thanks!

158
By Eo (not verified)
February 21, 2009 11:31 AM

toothfairy-- One of my favorite historical figures is the first "important" British architect-- the famous Inigo Jones, who lived from 1573--1652.

The New American Dictionary of First Names, by noted Brit name authorities Leslie Dunkling and William Gosling, says that "Inigo" appears to be an early Spanish or Basque form of Ignatius, via Eneco. Inigo Jones' father, who also bore the name, was a Catholic cloth worker in the vicinity of London, I believe.

Have always loved "Inigo". Of course, it still sounds "exotic" when coupled with the Aidans and Jacobs, but it has a rollicking, friendly appeal and much less a mouthful than "Ignatius", while being essentially the same name.

One thing clouding its potential-- the rise recently of the word "Indigo" as a name. Inigo might be confused with Indigo. You would know whether that would bother you too much...

They have vastly differing styles, of course, with "Indigo" having a "hipnik" flavor, and "Inigo" perhaps belonging, to use a quote from above, in the very, VERY unusual classic or saint's name category! I would go for it, hands down, and I'm not brave and live in an upstate New York village with one McDonald's!

If "Inigo" won't do, here's another possibility: the Celtic name "Innes", meaning "island". Not related to Ignatius, but perhaps an indirect "sound" tribute? Innes has been used as a boy's and occasionally a girl's name in Scotland.

And a VERY indirect "sound" tribute, might be "Angus"!

Anyway, any of these options get you away from the "Ig" sound. I trust you're hoping to avoid the whole "Iggy Pop" type nickname potential?

159
By Eo (not verified)
February 21, 2009 11:45 AM

Another alternative, toothfairy, would be to honor St. Ignatius by giving the name as a middle name, which would then presumably never be shortened or "mutilated". It could sound very distinguished in the middle of a first and last name.

O.K., now I'll go about my Saturday chores...

160
By Livingston 41 (not verified)
February 21, 2009 11:51 AM

When I was a camp counselor in college, we had a kid called Iggy--Ignatius was his given name. He carried Iggy fine, by the end of the week it wasn't strange at all. But now, there might be questions about whether you're big Iggy Pop fans.

You could also call an Ignatius "Ike"--it would blend fine with all the Sams, Jakes, Maxes, etc.

161
February 21, 2009 11:57 AM

toothfairy-Funny enough, Wikipedia has an interesting article about him and therein it states his REAL name was Inigo.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ignatius_Loyola

162
By Prairie Dawn (not verified)
February 21, 2009 12:37 PM

Ooo, I like Ignatius with the nickname Ike. I recently met a little boy named Isaac who went by the nn Ike and it was really cute.

163
February 21, 2009 1:11 PM

re: Clementine: I agree that it is too quirky to become too common.

toothfairy: What about something like Egan? Inigo reminds me of Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride. I think a lot of people will think that; it's sort of a fun reference but could get annoying. I think I would expect an Inigo to be Spanish too.

164
By Livingston 41 (not verified)
February 21, 2009 1:46 PM

I agree, if Inigo prompts "My name is Inigo Montoya, prepare to die!" declarations even once a week, it could get seriously annoying. That, and the Indigo confusion.

Re: Clementine--I love the fruit reference too! A cheerful image for a name to conjure. Unless it means people give her a lot of bright orange clothing--that would be pushing it.

165
By Livingston 41 (not verified)
February 21, 2009 1:47 PM

Further on the subject of food names--remember that Spanish for Ignatius is Ignacio, and the nickname for Ignacio is.... Nacho!

166
By JillH (not verified)
February 21, 2009 2:29 PM

Re: Clementine. It definitely seems to be on people's radars lately, but I haven't heard of anyone actually using it.

Re: Inigo. I did immediately think of Inigo Montoya and think most people my age (late 20s) would. However, it is a cool name and although the reference is annoying, I think it makes the name kind of endearing. OTOH, I think Iggy is an awesome nn.

167
By Melissa C (not verified)
February 21, 2009 3:12 PM

Baby Boy born in my neighbourhood named Grayer. Thought that name was different apparently its off of a movie.

Toothfairy: Also thought you could use the n.n. Nash for a boy named Ignatius. It's different and I think would fit in with with Jacob, Aiden, Ella's.

168
By Elaine (not verified)
February 21, 2009 3:52 PM

I have friends who name all their children after saints. The last one born is Nate after St. Ignatius. Don't know what the exact given name is but he is always called Nate. I like it!

I've also heard of "August" after St. Augustine and "Athan" after Athanasius (sp? don't know of he's a saint...sorry).

169
By Zelig (not verified)
February 21, 2009 4:15 PM

Prairie Dawn: how about the nickname Marni for either Marina or Maren?

Almost there!--Marius, for a boy?

170
By bill (not verified)
February 21, 2009 5:06 PM

i think Ignatius is great and would totally use it. maybe Ivan to fit in better with the Aidens, yet with some slavic flavor.

I also like Cordelia & Genevieve.

171
February 21, 2009 5:55 PM

Nacho provided me some inspiration for Ignatius actually. Maybe pull the "nat" out and go with Nathan or Nathaniel? Could even do some anagramming and go with Tag (remember that character on Friends?), Tigan (?), Stan, Gus, Agustin, Austin, Santi (?), Tiago? Okay, I'm really stretching here...

172
By Mirnada (not verified)
February 21, 2009 9:10 PM

These comments have been so interesting to read. I always knew that some name sources were unreliable (too much discrepancy and too many happy/strong meanings), but hadn't really considered how much so. I tended to trust Behind the Name more than others...what do people think of that site as a source...relatively speaking?

It's also pleasantly surprising to me also how many NE's on this post seem somewhat indifferent to meaning. My husband always scoffs at me when I prefer or dislike a name depending on its meaning. He's so extreme, however (his complete stubborn indifference to Ava's popularity, for instance), that I wasn't likely to pay less attention to meanings because of his teasing. I do agree that modern associations should carry more weight than archaic meanings, though.

It's encouraging to let that go a little, to open up the pool of possible names. I'm fond of the name Claudine, for instance. To me, it seems really chic and smart (maybe a little nicer with a slight French accent, though...like so many names...hmmm), but the meaning "lame" definitely gave me pause.

T: I really love Cordelia with Penelope or Rosalind. I agree that first names ending with an E sound might be tough with your chosen middle names, though. Rosalind and Cordelia sound perfect together, to me. It's nice that they're both Shakespeare references, and relatively pleasant ones, too (Lavinia comes to a much too gruesome end for that name to be usable IMO, for instance). I think it's a nice gift to give a child a literary name, too, because they might have a way into literature at an earlier age. That was my experience as a Miranda.

Almost There: I love the name Talia...wanted to put it on our list, but my husband wouldn't go for it. I also like the modern Israeli name Ronen for a boy (I asked about it on here earlier). Would be nice in a Jewish family, I think.

Toothfairy: I love Inigo, (despite the Princess Bride association) and was just about to jump and put it on our list...when I realized it rhymed in an awful sing-song way with my husband's last name...Oh well. I guess the Indigo mishearings might get annoying, too. I think Nate is a great new derivation, personally.

173
By toothfairy (not verified)
February 21, 2009 9:19 PM

Wow, thanks everyone for the Ignatius help! We already have an "Isaac" at our house, so the Ike nickname wouldn't work for us, but I had never thought of it as a nickname for Ignatius, too.

I do like Nate as a shortened version nickname.

Iggy would be cute on a little kid, but it's harder for me to picture it on an adult man. Thanks a ton, all!

174
February 21, 2009 10:57 PM

T - I also think Cordelia is great, and second some of the suggestions already given, like Josephine, Rosalind, Cecily, and especially Imogen. What about Florence, or Isobel with a less frilly spelling?

175
February 22, 2009 12:59 AM

T: bianca's suggestion of Florence made me think of Flora. I think a 2-syllable -a name is much less matchy with Cordelia than a 3-syllable or longer. And Flora is shorter, thus somewhat simpler (again to avoid matchiness) but still pretty (rather than plain, imho). also seems a little more youthful than Florence, or would fit in better with classmates' names or something.

176
February 22, 2009 11:53 AM

Names in my local listings:
JAHSIAH: I see this as Josiah but with the spelling to get the Rastafari name for God in there.

URIAH: Wouldn't have thought this could come back, but I guess with the -iah popularity.

MYLA

AIWA: Wonder if this is after the electronics co

TRAVIS: Been so long since I've seen this at first I thought it was a creative spelling.

OREN

ZABRE

JULIOUS

MADDEX/ANSEN: E is the new O

LYBERTI

177
February 22, 2009 11:55 AM

Just came across the Celtic name Iagan - a possibility to honour St. Ignatius? It's got all the right letters, and the -n ending to fit with more current names, but I doubt it's a related name.

178
February 22, 2009 12:03 PM

T: I still think you should use Marjorie and Dorothy as first names rather than middle names. Imho, they are less "out there" than Cordelia and Penelope or others that have been suggested. I like Marjorie nn Jorie. I might not even think Cora was that strange but Cordelia seems a bit out-of-the-ordinary for me. Dorothy to me would suggest she was named after someone which would also be okay. BTW another name that might fit your style is Prudence.

179
February 22, 2009 12:09 PM

RobynT-LOL on the Travis thing! I almost thought the same. I really like that name but it's been a while since I've seen it on a small one.
Btw, I looked at the penpal list-my favorite names from the 70's that I've been dying to see used more frequently are hiding out in Australia. I think I need to move LOL!

Also, hope Louise you are doing well!

180
February 22, 2009 1:11 PM

re: Cordelia: a friend of mine was also considering the name, also inspired by Anne of Green Gables I think. I think she was turned off by the nn Cordy but I gave her some other suggestions (inspired by you all!). Not sure if she will actually use it but she did recently find out she is pregnant.

181
February 22, 2009 7:49 PM

Regarding the discussion of Marjorie and Dorothy, grandmothers' names to be used as middle names for Cordelia and her twin sister: I think Dorothy is fine for a middle name, but I wonder if a girl born in 2009 would be happy about having it as a first name, as has been suggested. I have a friend Dorothy (born in the 1940s) who has never liked her name and eventually asked others to call her "Dot". Another friend named Dorothy (born in the 1960s) never acknowledges her given name and is always "Dottie".

Marjorie sounds outdated to me too, but I think it has more appeal as a first name, with some good nn possibilities.

Having the twins each have a grandmother's name as her mn is a lovely idea. I think Cordelia pairs better with Marjorie.

182
By Coll
February 22, 2009 1:47 PM

I LOVE the combo Charlotte Louise (if you haven't already definitively decided on it). It was the first one on the list that stuck out to me, and I'm not surprised that it's the dominant favorite on this board.

For the mom of twins, including Cordelia, I like many of your options, including Henrietta, Imogen, Josephine, and Eleanor. What about Gwendolyn as another choice? It matches in style with Cordelia but doesn't end in "a" and has a different number of syllables. Corrie and Gwennie or Delia and Gwen are cute nn pairs, as well. Gwendolyn also sounds well with either Dorothy or Marjorie as a middle name.

Finally, Marina Raquel is sophisticated and stunning. I favor the nickname Mari (pronounced MAH-ree) with Lulu.

183
By Prairie Dawn (not verified)
February 22, 2009 2:17 PM

T: I like the suggestion of Flora to go with Cordelia. This name would have been on my short list if my dh hadn't vetoed it immediately. It's only drawback in my mind is a lack of good nn's-- I'm not crazy about Flo or Flor. Perhaps there are other nn possibilities?

Speaking of nn's... If we went with Maren, the nn would more than likely be Mare, which I love. For Marina, I like Mina or Mira, rather than Mari or Marni, as others have suggested. Thoughts?

184
By veldaverda 2 (not verified)
February 22, 2009 3:21 PM

Heard an interesting juxtaposition of names on a two year old yesterday, Cohen M*ntoya. I remember from past comments that this name given as a first name is generally frowned upon because of the strong cultural, historical and religious aspects regarding the usage of this name.(indicates ancestors were priests in the Temple of Jereseulm) I wanted so badly to inquire on why they choose this name. However, I was afraid they would cite being former fans of The OC (former teenage soap opera on Fox.

Given that some of us NE aren't that interested in the precise meaning of a name, I'm wondering if Cohen some how different and if so how?

185
By Amy3
February 22, 2009 3:41 PM

Prairie Dawn -- I've liked Mina for the longest time so definitely think that would be a great nn for Marina.

186
February 22, 2009 5:12 PM

Prairie Dawn, I have a one-year-old granddaughter called Mira, full name Miranda. I can see how Mira would work for Marina too, although I personally prefer Marina without a nn. I don't think every name needs an 'official' nickname (although every child should have his/her own 'pet name(s)' within the family). I think Mina is cute as a pet name for Marina. I have an older granddaughter with a rhyming name - Catrina. When she was very young, she was called Catrina, but by school age she was called Catie most of the time, and as a young adult she's Cate -- sometimes wishing we had all stayed with calling her Catrina. Likewise, why shorten/change Marina -- it's such a pretty name as is.

187
February 22, 2009 5:23 PM

"Given that some of us NE aren't that interested in the precise meaning of a name, I'm wondering if Cohen some how different and if so how?"

First of all, Cohen is not a name, it is an hereditary title that goes back thousands of years. During all that time, men who were entitled to that designation by virtue of their birth were styled Avraham ha-Kohan or Moshe ha-Kohan. A couple of centuries ago when European Jews were forced to take surnames, some, not all, of the Kohanim (who were already called fn plus ha-Kohan) simply took Cohen or one of its variants (including Katz) as their mandatory surname. Studies of the Y-chromosome have demonstrated that the claims of modern Kohanim to this ancient lineage are accurate. Thus Cohen, either as a surname or a title, belongs only to those who have inherited it. Anyone else who randomly chooses to use this as a given name because they like the sound or they watched the OC has usurped an ancient privilege to which they are not entitled. In my view this is beyond disrespectful. (Disclaimer: the men in my father's family--including my father--were Kohanim, although our surname is not Cohen or any of its variants.)

Thus to me, the use of Cohen by those who are not entitled to it is a whole different matter from parents who choose to use names like Claudia or Cecilia without concern for the fact that these names originated from words with not so nice meanings. And to my knowledge Roman lineages like the Julii are no longer intact and around to complain about people naming their children Julia or Julius.

But the Kohanim are very much alive and proud of their heritage and do not like to see their priestly title bandied about by people who do not respect it and who are not entitled to use it. If baby Montoya's mother's maiden name were Cohen or her father was a Kohan, IMO that would be marginally acceptable, although still inappropriate because the title of Kohan belongs in the male line only. I would certainly not name a child Cohen to indicate that my father was a Kohan. That's just not the way it works.

188
February 22, 2009 6:21 PM

WRT anagram names - We're considering an anagram name :-) Alddon = Donald. We may drop the extra "D" though, haven't decided. Any opinions either way? My thoughts are that it'd be nice to have a direct anagram to honor my father, but yet wonder if the extra D would complicate things. However, other names have double letters: Mine (Allison), and Addison are two I can think of. Whatcha think?

So, back to my name saga. Considering:

Aldon James Tucker LN
Dugan Elliot LN

I'm thinking we're down to those two as first names. What do you think of:

Aldon Elliot Tucker LN? Or just Aldon Elliot LN? I'm not sure if I like 2 names starting with vowel sounds, but they are different sounds...do ya'll think it sounds ok? I like Elliot as a better MN than James, because it has a double family connection via sound - my grandmother is Elza and my husband's grandmother was Eleanor.

T- I LOVE Cordelia! I think Penelope, Persephone, and Gwendolyn are good twin names, too.

Re: Ignatius - I also like Iagan.

LOVE Marina Raquel! I think they sound really great together and don't seem two different styles.

New Babies:
Sus@nnah Grace Marie LN (sib Maria)
Amir@ Lillian@ Sky George (sib Arturo)

It seems I'm seeing more double middle names. Not something I've been familiar with, but have a few friends who have done so, often to honor family members.

189
By Livingston 41 (not verified)
February 22, 2009 6:30 PM

Seems like we're talking about two different kinds of caring about meaning:

1. Caring what the name means etymologically (which we've discussed in this thread--some do, some don't, it's a personal choice).

2. Caring what the name means culturally to other people. I'd put into this category a name like Cohen. Choosing a name that will read as wildly inappropriate to a large group of people is just a bad idea--it's not about "not caring what the word means," it's about being either ignorant or insensitive to the hurt or offense you may cause others.

190
By Livingston 41 (not verified)
February 22, 2009 6:36 PM

re: Aldon/Alddon -- Yeah, I'd drop the second D. I'm picturing teenagers discovering "Double-D" as a crude nickname for him... but also, "dd" in Welsh names is pronounced "th," (Gruffudd = Griffith, for example), so the name looks like it might be "AlTHon" in that tradition.

"Aldon" makes a very nice tribute name for Donald.

191
By Liz & Louka (not verified)
February 22, 2009 7:08 PM

Miriam, I can see what you're saying, but is it very different from using a title like "King" or "Earl" for a child's name?

192
February 22, 2009 7:18 PM

Uppy Ear-I've been wondering where you had gone to. I hope everything is well. Regarding your choices listed above I think Aldon James Tucker LN works well. Aldon Elliott while different is not flowing as well for me. Dugan did not make my final cut LOL. Is Donovan out? Because other choices I came up with from before are:
Donovan James Tucker
Donovan James Aldon
Donovan James Gregory
Donovan James Oliver
Donovan James Patrick
Donovan Tucker Reid
Donovan Aldon Graham
Donovan Aldon Jeffery
Let me know what you think.

193
February 22, 2009 9:21 PM

zoerhenne - Yeah, I'm still reading a lot, just not able to do as much typing lately! So I'm here...

Yup, Donovan is out. I don't like the possibility of Don as a nn and husband doesn't like it with our last name.

In addition, I'm starting to get so tired of telling people that Trip isn't Trip's real name and going through the explanation over and over and over. To me, he's Trip and not Robert, so it's hard when we're at an official place or I need to fill out official paperwork. So, although I like the possibility of having a nn we can use as a family, I really want a name that I like as-is, so he can always go by that. Aldon is one of those names I like. Same with Dugan. I also still like Dunn as a fn, but just can't seem to find a mn that works well.

194
By Amy3
February 22, 2009 9:39 PM

1 Uppy Ear -- I definitely think you should use only one D in Aldon. It's nice name, but it looks strange imo with the double Ds. I may be in the minority, but I think Aldon Eliot (think this is the spelling you're using) sound fine together. And it's not as if you're going to be calling him by both names regularly, I don't imagine.

195
By Amy3
February 22, 2009 9:43 PM

1 Uppy Ear -- Just looked back and see it's Aldon Elliot Tucker LN you're considering. I like these 3 together.

Livingston 41 -- ITA with your assessment about a lack of interest in a name's meaning falling into 2 quite separate camps, and Cohen is the perfect name with which to illustrate the 2nd camp.

196
By J&H's mom (not verified)
February 22, 2009 9:53 PM

I vote for Aldon-one D

Dugan reminds me much too much of the Duggar family-but that's probably the influence of this blog!

Love Marina and Mina.
I will say that similar names are quite in style around here. Little adoptees, in particular, seem to frequently be Mayas, Mias, or something of that sort.

I know we've discussed Cohen before.
I know of a couple boys with the name.

I agree it demonstrates a certain level of ignorance, but I'm tempted to see it as sort of a limited world view, rather than a lack of concern for others.
Many people live in communities with virtually no Jewish population, and I think it's entirely possible that a family could stumble upon Cohen in a baby name book and not give it a second thought.

I think we had a similar conversation about Jemima.

I also know of a boy named Zion. Again, a provocative choice I wouldn't make myself, but I know to his mom it was "Just a name."

I suppose this subject might be a bit much for Laura's opening column!

197
February 22, 2009 10:29 PM

J&H's mom-With regard to Zion, I think of it as a place name and just that. I'm not religious so the biblical meaning only vaguely comes into play. On top of that, my dh and I met while traveling out west to the National Parks. We visited places like Zion NP, Bryce NP, and the Grand Canyon amongst others. Bryce was mentioned as a possible boy name but vetoed by hubby. I don't think we considered Zion but if we had it would've been for that reason. So even though it might have looked out of place, it would have had special meaning for us.

198
February 22, 2009 10:48 PM

Uppy Ear-It's good to hear you are doing well. I'm sorry about all the trouble with Trip but can certainly understand why you don't want to go through with Donovan. The mn you had mentioned previously were:
Scott;Christopher;Jeffery;Reid;Alexander;Gregory;Maxwell;James;Jamison;Oliver;Tucker;Elliott
So matching them with Dugan, Dunn or Aldon
Dugan Elliott James
Dugan Tucker Elliott
Dugan Maxwell Tucker
Dugan Tucker Gregory
Dugan Oliver James

Dunn Alexander Maxwell
Dunn Gregory Reid
Dunn Gregory James

Aldon Christopher Reid
Aldon James Elliott
Aldon James Tucker
Aldon Gregory Elliott
Aldon Oliver James

199
By sarah smile (not verified)
February 22, 2009 11:16 PM

About Cohen - I am sure that most parents choosing it aren't trying to be offensive, and I would certainly assume their intentions were good unless I had reason to think otherwise. However, the fact that a name demonstrates ignorance rather than lack of concern doesn't seem like much of an endorsement, does it?

I guess I see that as one difference from King/Earl - that Cohen belongs to a specific heritage that the namers (I assume) aren't a part of and don't fully understand. Although to be fair, I don't like royalty names either, for similar reasons. But at least those parents are making a conscious choice to use a name with that history, and one to which their children are as (non)entitled as any other.

Another difference is that at least in the US, there is no longer a royal system and so there are no current Kings or Earls to object. Kohan is not just a historical title - even today there are specific roles in Jewish observance that only they can perform. In most communities their role is much smaller than in historical times, but it still exists. I'd be curious about the usage of King, Earl, Princess, etc in the UK, where those roles do still have some function.

Anyway, I'm not quite as offended as Miriam by the very concept, but why would you choose a name for your child that so many people would find offensive and that you yourself have no connection to? At least with a name like Zion (or even Adolf Hitler) which will be offensive to some people, it might also be personally meaningful to the family that chose it - ie, they might name a child Zion because of their beliefs, not in ignorance of what that means to others.

And what is Cohen doing in a baby book, anyway? Even among those who can legitimately claim the title it is a surname, not a first name.

200
February 22, 2009 11:56 PM

Just out of curiosity, I did a quick google search on using Cohen as a first name. There are numerous discussions on varioius baby naming sites posing the question "I'm thinkng of naming my boy Cohen". "What do you think?"

Most of the response is positve and along the lines of ooh how unusual,creative or I named my son that. To my relief, there are some posters who understand the significance of the name and try to discourage the use.

I also ran across an origin and meaning website that claimed Cohen was a form of Cody and it was of American origin. I think that proves the previous misgivings many had over the accuracies found in many printed and website sources on name meanings.