I thought I invented that name

Jan 27th 2011

A user comment on the Namipedia page for the boy's name Baylen:

"I started playing around with name endings and thought I 'invented' Baylen. Guess not. Two years ago I went to Pensacola, FL for work. There is a street named Baylen as well."

Baylen is the given name of hundreds of American boys, including a son of NFL quarterback Drew Brees. It's also a rare surname, and an occasional alternate spelling of the Arthurian knight Sir Balin (though not "the French version" as another reader wrote on that page). So obviously that mom didn't "invent" the name.

Or did she?

When parents create a name they've never heard out of raw materials, haven't they gone through the process of invention? Does the fact that another family 100 miles (or 100 years) away chose the same name really change that? Or perhaps invention is the wrong concept. Perhaps names are "discovered." After all, there are only so many different short, attractive combinations of sounds and letters.

It's not as if the inventor of a name gets a patent on it. In fact, many names arise independently in multiple languages, and we acknowledge all of those origins as equally valid. Nobody insists that we designate a single culture as the "inventor" of Nina. So does it even matter whether that mom was the inventor of Baylen, or whether it has other, older roots?

In fact, it does matter to many families, a lot. The reason is meanings.

Parents often invent a name themselves, then paradoxically go hunting for its origins. I've mentioned before that I regularly get the question, "I made up this name, can you tell me what it means?" For some of these parents, a traditional origin helps legitimize a name choice, to themselves or to skeptical relatives. To others, a linguistic meaning -- even one discovered after the fact -- has a near-mystical significance, a connection to a child's future character. And still others are simply curious about the name's meaning, even when they've chosen it for meaningful reasons of their own.

Unfortunately, this search for a name's roots sometimes takes you farther from its essence. Consider these comments, from the Kayna page:

"We 'invented' this name by combining the child's grandmonthers names: KAY & NAncy (Kayna). After extensive web searches we have found that it is listed as an Irish / Cornish word meaning 'A saints' name.'"

First off, the parents seem to have taken the dictionary-style definition a little too literally. The "Cornish word meaning 'A saint's name'" is actually a reference to a particular saint venerated in Cornwall: Saint Keyne. The 5th-century St. Keyne (pronounced "Cane") was born in Wales, and her name is believed to come from the Welsh element cein/cain, meaning "beautiful." Keyna is one variant of Keyne, and Kayna could easily be a variant of that.

So after the false step at "Cornish word," you could plausibly say that the name Kayna derives from the Welsh for beautiful. But how can you say that this particular little Kayna has a Welsh name? We know the true source of her name: she was named for her two grandmothers, Kay and Nancy. That's a lovely origin, brimming with family tradition and love. Good Saint Keyne strikes me as a red herring in the search for true meaning.

I don't think that creative namers should have to look to the outside world to define their own creations. Perhaps the wisest perspective I've seen is that of the father of a young Brayson, who filled in the "Meanings and History" section on the Brayson name page:

"The history of the name Brayson is in the making!"



By Sharalyn (not verified)
January 27, 2011 1:20 PM

My mom "made up" my name after hearing it in a dream the night before she went into labor. When it came time for the birth certificate to be filled out, she and my dad had to sit for hours to debate how to spell it since she only heard the name in the dream. :-)

I've only run into 2 others with the same spelling of it. :-)

January 27, 2011 2:24 PM

Wow, Laura, I'm amazed that parents say to you, "I made up this name, can you tell me what it means?" If they made up a word, would they ask someone else what it meant? Mind-blowing. However, I can understand that if they subsequently happened to discover a meaning they might be pleased, as you say.
What an interesting subject, and beautifully explored, as always.

It reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend whose sister had named their baby girl Abri3lla. I asked him whether she had made it up and he immediately said quite vehemently, "Oh no, it means "mother of all nations" in Italian." I didn't say anything to him, but was quietly very skeptical. I did some research myself and discovered that Abraham apparently means "father of a multitude" in Hebrew, and that Abra exists as a female name. In some books, it is therefore extrapolated that Abra means "mother of a multitude", and of course the -ella suffix is typically Italian. I still think it's pushing things quite far to say that it *means* "mother of many nations" in Italian.

A bit like saying that because Charles comes from Carl, originally meaning a man (in fact a kind of manservant), then Charlotte means 'womanly'.

Incidentally, this friend then had a baby named Ari3lla, much to his sister's chagrin. He insists that it had been his favorite name for years. The cousins are a year apart, and both families seem to be coping ok!

By Tom Smith (not verified)
January 27, 2011 2:27 PM

Your post is rocking and knowledgeable… I really appreciate the way you write . I would like to read more from you.

By Jillc (not verified)
January 27, 2011 4:59 PM

I was reminded just how many "invented" names are out there recently: our local radio station is having a baby contest and there are some fascinating names in there, either "invented" or traditional with "invented" spelling. A few standouts:
Payson (girl)
Bryson (3)
Kenley (2)
Braylon (2)

Other interesting finds:
2 Bentleys
2 Paisleys (although one is with a 'z')
girls Charli, Elliott, and Codi
1 Cohen
1 Briar Rose

By Aybee (not verified)
January 27, 2011 6:11 PM

When I was about 10, and writing stories for class, I thought I invented two names for my boy protagonists: Braden and Kyler.
I thought I made them up, and that they were so totally unique (and so did my teacher)! What a difference a few decades make...

January 27, 2011 6:27 PM

I have to laugh because I read Neil Gaiman's blog and he sometimes answers questions to fans. One of them asked how he came up with the name Coraline. He said that he thought he made the name up, but after the book was published he found an antique peice of sheet music that was about a dead girl named Coraline (only it was pronounced "cor-a-"LEEN" in order to ryhme with "queen.") And I thought, "Man I feel you. Happens to me all the time."

Still haven't seen a Pasheta though. I invented that when I was a girl. It's a combination Priscilla and Bastet. No, I wasn't popular in school! Why did you ask?

By alr as guest (not verified)
January 27, 2011 6:36 PM

Cousins Abri3lla and Ari3lla? Ack. Don't care how long I'd loved the name, I would've found another. I assume they have different last names at least - can you imagine if they didn't?

By Mel B (not verified)
January 27, 2011 7:26 PM

My daughter's name is Aubrielle, which I invented, but then discovered (online) that others had invented it before me. :-) Oh well; I still think it's pretty and relatively unique, but not too "out-there."

By Guest3 (not verified)
January 27, 2011 9:07 PM

Jillc- where do you live?

January 27, 2011 9:28 PM

Oh, that reminds me, when I was a kid, I 'invented' the name Melina Sarcophagus for a character in a story. I found out only a few years ago that Melina is a real name (Greek) and I actually think the last name fits really well, as it is also of Greek origin (I knew the last name was a word, BTW.).

alr- I agree, personally, I wouldn't have used a name so close to the name of my sister's child. It actually came up originally when the sister was pregnant, and I think they just both got stubborn. They do have different last names and live in different states.... and everyone gets along really well, which is really the most important thing.

By Panya (not verified)
January 27, 2011 10:02 PM

I thought I made up the name Dannika, pronounced DAH-nik-uh, after hearing the name Danka in Schindler's List and combining it with Annika. As an adult I learned of the Slavic name Danika/Danica. Initially I was excited because of the lovely meaning, but then learned that almost everyone in the U.S. pronounces it as DAN-ik-uh. I really dislike that, and wouldn't be able to handle my daughter being called that constantly.

By Jllm (not verified)
January 27, 2011 10:19 PM

Some of the most "meaningful" names are those that are created by mashing family names together--a "gentrifying" or "revamping" of family tradition, if you will.

My husband's sister was named in this fashion. They took the -lyn of his grandmother-Ev3lyn and the "Kr1st@" of another grandmother. This made Kr1st@lyn.

By Hera
January 27, 2011 10:52 PM

In science and math, many important discoveries and inventions have been made by different people in different parts of the world within only a few days, weeks, or months from each other. Almost like the knowledge we had leading up to those discoveries made it impossible not to invent the lightbulb, map DNA, etc.

I like to think that way about names. If someone invents a name, they still invented it even if they find out later it already existed. Like Laura said, you can't put a patent on the name like Edison did with the lightbulb.

By Navii (not verified)
January 28, 2011 12:03 AM

DELILAH's nickname LILAH (meaning weak or impoverished in Hebrew) is easily accepted as different from LYLA. If I named my daughter LILAH & she asked what it meant, I'd only tell her of euphemism of it's Hebrew meaning.

LYLA itself has too completely different origins, meaning "divine play" in Sanskrit, and "dark-haired beauty" in Persian, but it seems a lot harder to separate the two. If I was to name my daughter LYLA, I'd probably tell her it meant both.

Also, I disagree with Valerie (on many points) and "air as guest".

By EVie
January 28, 2011 12:47 AM

Valerie - I think Melina Sarcophagus is a great character name! She would be an excellent fit in a Harry Potter-type fantasy world, or some kind of Tomb Raider-type adventure (I have not seen or played Tomb Raider, but if it's at all what I'm imagining...)

Regarding "invented" names, this is a constant struggle in writing fantasy fiction. I generally don't use invented character names, as I mentioned on the last thread, but I do invent place names to the best of my ability, and I'm always worrying about discovering that my "invented" place name is actually a real place or name that has some totally different associations. This happens more frequently than I like. There really is nothing new under the sun...

By Anon (not verified)
January 28, 2011 2:40 AM

While Melina Sarcophagus is really melodic, it only conjures up images of corpses for me since a sarcophagus is basically a casket and it's tossed around in the study of ancient art like the word "the". It also means "flesh-eating". Perhaps a name suitable for a zombie.

By jenne (not verified)
January 28, 2011 3:26 AM

What's with the "leetspeak" spellings, e.g. Aubri3lla/Kr1st@?

Is that some kind of commenting thing? I'm assuming those aren't the actual spellings?

By goodspella (not verified)
January 28, 2011 10:28 AM

I believe the spellings protect (to some degree) against google searches etc, which is only fair when discussing sensitive topics like real names.

I have a friend with three children, the youngest of whom is named Patrizi0, known as Tr3ats. Or Tr1z. I like the fact that a nn can have more than one 'correct' spelling and we don't mind too much when our dd's nn Lily is spelt Lilly. It's only a nn. And she does spell my name mumy at the moment...

January 28, 2011 11:21 AM

Found this article from Nancy's Baby Name Blog while browsing around today. SO I copied it. This is what she wrote:
This paragraph about Ingrid Bergman’s first baby, Friedel Pia (b. 1938), appeared in a newspaper from the mid-1940s:

NAMING THE BABY: The name of Ingrid Bergman’s daughter is Pia. The P is the first initial of her father’s name which is Peter, second is from her mother’s, Ingrid, and the A is from her papa’s middle name which is Aaron. Quite an unusual method of child naming. If I had been named that way my first name would be CLM. How about you?

The details aren’t quite right — Pia is the middle name, and dad’s name is actually Petter Aron — but the formula is correct. And I do like the question.

What would your name have been if your parents had used the Ingrid Bergman formula?

Even better, if you plug your initials and your partner’s initials into that formula, what’s the result? Is it a usable baby name?

I thought it would be a fun game considering the thread topic. Mine would be C.J.

By ajg (not verified)
January 28, 2011 11:43 AM

The formula actually works for my husband and me. If we used it, we'd have a little Jan. Interesting idea.
I did know a girl in college with a mash-up of her parent's names. She was Ell@ry, from Ell3n and G@ry.

By EVie
January 28, 2011 1:27 PM

The initials formula seems to only work if you have some vowels in there—but not too many. I would be Tdc, which definitely doesn't work, but my own child would be Aee (!) However, if we changed the formula to be my first initial-my middle initial-DH's first OR middle initial, we would end up with Eva or Eve. I like both of those, so something to think about! And for my own name, if it were Dad's first initial-Mom's middle initial-Mom's first initial, I could have been Ted, which would be fine if I were male.

By Amy3
January 28, 2011 2:14 PM

Using my parents' initials, I'd be Tja (t'zha?). My daughter would be Jab. Oof! Those are also the only "usable" combinations. When I change it around, it only gets worse. When it works, though, it could be sweet.

By Guestlady (not verified)
January 28, 2011 4:09 PM

My son would be "Jaw". Um, not so great.

January 28, 2011 6:12 PM

Mine would be GSF, and me and my husband's child would be CMT. We're not country music lovers :)

My problem with mashing up the parent's names (I'm not talking about grandparents, uncles, etc) is, what if you have another kid? Maybe it's fine if you only want the one and want to live in a G@ry, Ell3n, Ell@ry world (for example), but what if you have another? You never know.

It's been discussed here many times the possible favoritism and subsequent jealousy that could from the tradition of naming one child after a parent (eg Darryl Sr. and Darryl Jr.). Parent-only mashups seem like an amplification of this. For most couples you only have one shot: Ell3n and G@ry - what else is there besides Ell@ry? Enga?

Elizabeth and William however might be able to squeeze out more than one name: Elliam, Bethwill, Thiam, Lizawill, Eliziam, Liziam, Bethil, Elwill...

May 3, 2013 11:38 PM

My mom thought she invented my name when I was born. I have never met anyone else that spelled AND pronounced it the same way. I would be Wpg using the Ingrid Bergmen formula.

By ajg (not verified)
January 28, 2011 8:04 PM

Well, that could be a fun game. From Ell3n and G@ry I can get Gael, Aren, Ryelle, Enry (this one makes me giggle... but hey, it could be a name!), Aryell, Glen, and Ryen. I wouldn't use them, but then, I wouldn't use Ell@ry either--although it worked quite well on her.

I'd love to hear from someone who grew up with a sibling named for a parent. Did you feel jealous? Did you feel it made your sibling more important or special? I've heard the concern, but I've never heard anyone's actual experience with the matter. In my own family, one of my sisters (I have a lot of them) is named for my paternal grandmother. She is the only one named directly after someone in the family, but I don't remember ever feeling hurt or resentful about it. But then, a grandparent may be a bit of a different matter from a parent. I did think she was lucky getting the most interesting name in the family, though.

By kaly (not verified)
January 29, 2011 1:18 AM

There have been LOTS of names that I have "invented" over the years that I later found out were not new names. And a few that, as far as I know, are still not on the charts...

Ones that were not new included:
Kaylynn (I made this up from my first name, which starts with a K, and my middle name, which is Lynn)
Zalia (ZAH-leah)
Zennia (ZEN-ee-ah)
Forestina (For-es-TEE-na)
Kacia (KAH-sha)
Sullivan (I knew this was a last name, but I thought I was the only one clever enough to think of using a last name as a first name... lol!)
Becket (boy) or Beckett (girl)
Oriannna (or-ee-AH-nah)

Ones that I don't think are used (though I am probably wrong...):
Cleyetta (Klee-ET-ah)
Zildjian (knew this was a brand of drums, but I thought I "invented" it as a name)

On another note, I have known several people whose names were a mash-up of their parent's or other relative's names:
Lynden (female, parents Lynda and Dennis)
Brynn (parents Lynn and Brad)
Marya (MAHR-ee-ah - named for Grandma Martha and a family surname, Yates)
Maren (MAIR-en - after mom and Grandpa - Mary and Enzo)

January 29, 2011 10:27 AM

ajg, my younger brother's name is a short, contracted form of my father's unused first name (my father goes by his middle name instead). It was never a big deal to me or my non-family-named youngest brother. Everyone has family-inspired middle names, to start with, but I think the fact that it's not exactly the same name and that it's also not the name my father uses helped make it not-so-obvious. In fact, I don't think my parents ever MENTIONED it to us as kids, so I think I might not have known for quite a while, since the long name to shortened form transition isn't super-obvious.

So, all in all, my experience suggests that it is not super-traumatic for the other kids who are not named after the parents, at least if it's a more subtle homage and there's not a huge production made of the fact.

By Barnacle (not verified)
January 29, 2011 11:03 AM

Hi, all--
I hope you will bear with me as I fret over a name for a baby boy for the next few months. We've been going back and forth between a couple names, but the other day we realized we both really like the name Ira. (We are looking for a name that would suit a sweet boy.) I was surprised to find it has fallen into general disuse. What do you guys think of it? Also, while my husband has some Jewish ancestry, we are not Jewish. Would Ira seem weird on a kid who is not Jewish? Or does it seem like other Hebrew names that are more widely used?

By Guest-2011 (not verified)
January 29, 2011 12:35 PM

This remings me on the discussion about the name of the german singer Menowin. When the singer and the name became famous, it was readily analysed as an old german two-part name (Meno from magin, strength; Win meaning friend).

However, Menowin's father declared that he made up the name to sound like (Yehudi) Menuhin.

By Guest - I love words (not verified)
January 29, 2011 1:02 PM

Playing the initial mash-up game, I would be Rjc, so um, maybe not so much. My child, however, would be Ace, which is not terrible, though not my style.

I think of Ira as a 75 year old Jewish man, so I have trouble picturing a little Ira who is not Jewish. I also imagine that it would only take meeting one little Ira to change that perception.

Family names are super-common on my dad's side of the family. There are lots of Jrs and same name as grandpas and that like. Most often the son/grandson goes by a different nickname or middle name. AFAIK, no one has had a major problem with it. In fact, had either my sister or I been a boy, we would have been a Jr.

January 29, 2011 1:55 PM

Barnacle: I think that Ira would be adorable on a little boy.

January 29, 2011 8:52 PM

As far as the family name situation, my brother is a III (third) and I have a mn of my deceased aunt. I didn't care one way or another what my brother's name was but thought it special to have that mn. However, when I got married to a Jr we decided that if we had a boy he would NOT be a Jr or have any names from my family. I was sick of hearing the same name on everyone with no individualism.

As far as the initial game, I agree that it might work better with a few more letters.

By Amy3
January 29, 2011 3:18 PM

@Barnacle, I really like Ira and could totally see it on a little kid, but I also know Solomons and Ezras so it seems like it would fit right in with that. While I wouldn't be surprised at a Jewish Ira, I wouldn't assume that every Ira was Jewish. How Jewish it reads will also depend on the ln he'll be using, though.

By justpupsfornow (not verified)
January 29, 2011 4:06 PM

@kaly - Having been a name enthusiast for some time now I'm so excited to be 16 weeks pregnant and only 2 away from our gender u/s where we'll find out if we have a son who'll be named Beckett, or a daughter, Bryn. Just found it that we've been sitting on these names for years (each has a personal/sentimental meaning in addition to liking their origins) and found it funny that both names were on you list though your spellings were different!

@jenne - if someone already explained I must've glanced over it but ppl throw #s and symbols in to name spellings so they're not searchable, especailly when they're trying to protect identities of newborns and others they know!

January 29, 2011 5:41 PM

kaly: i have seen a Zildjian in the birth announcements. i remember because i knew of the drum brand. Unless it was another drum brand... i thought it was pretty cool though: good sounds and sort of like an insider meaning.

Barnacle: I love Ira for a boy! I think because -a names for boys are pretty rare. I guess I would probably first assume that an Ira was Jewish...

By EVie
January 29, 2011 6:04 PM

I have mixed feelings about the whole Jr. thing. On the one hand, I do kind of like it when it gets into the numerals, like the Theodore Roosevelts (I think the youngest is Theodore Roosevelt V, recently married but with no kids yet). Call me a snob, but I love how aristocratic it sounds. On the other hand, it can easily come across as pretentious if you aren't from an old family (and sometimes even if you are). But as much as I like the look and sound of the numerals, I really dislike the affix Jr. It feels somehow emasculating to me... perhaps because it makes the name sound like a child's name, no matter what the age. I much prefer Theodore Roosevelt II to Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.

Moreover—my FIL is a Jr. and I find it incredibly annoying to have to specify whether I mean him or his father every time I use his name. (It doesn't help that the name is basically un-nicknameable.) He chose not to continue the pattern with his son (my DH), so I assume he doesn't care for it either. I would consider continuing with a III if I liked the name, but I don't, plus if it is already annoying with two of them, then three would make me pull my hair out. I would, however, name a son after my father, who is deceased, so there wouldn't be any confusion there.

January 29, 2011 8:53 PM

I have realized that I made an error in my comment above and have since corrected it. It now reads: My brother is a III (third). Thanks Evie for helping me realize this with your comment. Your statement about the annoyance of keeping them all straight was part of the reason we didnt continue the trend. Ours was not a very nickname-able name either.

By Guest -Robin (not verified)
January 29, 2011 8:59 PM

I know of junior who have gotten into trouble, or, more specifically, gotten dad into trouble during those semi-independent years where the son was still using his parent's credit card.

Ira is a name I hear occasionally in the NE, both Jewish and Gentile, so I can think of several of different ages. I think of it as an unusual, but not out there, nice steady sort of name.

I've only invented one name that I am proud of, but don't think that I could ever use it on a child, even though it is close to my heart. What do you all think? Ypherai or Ipherai.

By Jllm (not verified)
January 29, 2011 10:48 PM

Creating a Junior has never bothered me as much as it would have my baby boomer parents. I don't associate a "Jr." with a toeing the line, bowing to the man lifestyle the way I've heard those of my parents' generation do. (I've always assumed that protest was generational...of a certain era that likes to "stick it to the man.")

Ironically, one thing of which I'm not necessarily proud, is that I do feel aversion to the idea of mashing DH and mine name together for a child. For some reason, a Jr. feels organic (a time-honored traditional way to preserve family history) whereas a mash-up of both of one's parents names feels a bit kitsch to me. Again, I'm embarrassed by the double standard in my perception, but I have to admit that it is there.

That being said, I do see some sense in "gentrifying" family names at times, especially when the family member being honored hates their own name. :) Awkward, to say the least. My mother and grandmother hate their names. Neither is my favorite, but I feel funny "gentrifying" these names. However, I know my mother would be more pleased if I could find a way to name a child after her without having to resort to her real name--Cynthi@. Now there's a pickle...

By EVie
January 30, 2011 1:37 AM

Jllm - hmm, your Cynthia pickle is an interesting one. The first thing that came to mind for me was Diana, because Cynthia is another name for the Greek goddess Artemis, and Diana is the Roman version of that same goddess. Or you could use Artemis itself, if you were feeling daring. Another possibility is Delia (for the island of Delos, because Artemis was born on Mouth Cynthus on Delos—hence the name Cynthia). There are a number of other Greek names that are sometimes associated with Artemis, including Selena, Phoebe and Amarynthia, as well as other associations like the moon (Luna) and the lyre (Lyra)—take a look at this Wikipedia article for an overview: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artemis

By Guest here (not verified)
January 30, 2011 6:32 AM

In Elizabeth Gaskell's 'Wives and Daugters', one of the characters is called Hyacinth, with her daughter named after her, Cynthia. While Hyacinth may not be a name you might want to use, maybe you could search for a similar name?

January 30, 2011 10:27 AM

I like the idea of a junior, as long as there were different nicknames they could use and I liked the name anyway.

January 30, 2011 11:47 AM

Jllm-I like all the suggestions you've been given. I also thought that Thea might be an option for you.

By billl (not verified)
January 30, 2011 12:26 PM

To clarify, Zildjian makes cymbals, not drums. According to wikipedia, the founder was given the last name, which means cymbal maker/seller.

My first instinct for a named-after-Cynthia was Hyacinth. How about Sylvia (sound match)?

By Jllm (not verified)
January 30, 2011 6:29 PM

Wow, this is quite helpful. I like Diana. I also could see Delia, Sylvia, or Selena. Hmm. I wonder what DH will say...

Thank you!

By alr as guest (not verified)
January 30, 2011 6:48 PM

Ira is Jewish to me, but like a previous poster said, it would likely only take one little Ira to break that stereotype. I think it's a great combination of classic, underused, and "in style" with the -a ending. I can picture a 2 year old Ira, a 22 year old Ira, a 42 year old Ira - it ages well I think. Great find!

By Beth the original (not verified)
January 30, 2011 7:21 PM

Jllm -- I am totally with you on the kitsch factor. My partner and I laughed and laughed when our mash-up names turned out to be Jacquebeth and Elizaline. Turns out people do a lot worse.

But you know me. A name has to have been used for a couple of centuries before I would use it. I also used to enjoy giving cats frumpy old names like Samantha, Grace, and Cornelia, before those names became fashionable!

January 30, 2011 7:59 PM

My cousin Cynthia and her husband Jim had a daughter named J@cinthe, the French version of Hyacinth and also a kind of mash-up, I guess!

By Barnacle (not verified)
January 31, 2011 12:18 AM

Thanks for all the feedback on Ira, everyone. Any thoughts on how it stacks up against Oscar?