Weeding the Namipedia garden

Jul 29th 2009

Over on Twitter (http://twitter.com/BabyNameWizard) I regularly ask followers to act as a "Baby Name Jury." The names on trial stand accused of maybe not deserving a page in Namipedia. I tally the thumbs up and down, and the name page faces its fate.

Before we convene the next Jury, I think a meeting of the Legislature is in order. That is, I'd like your input on the rules and criteria for accepting new names.

Here's the challenge. Community submissions are part of Namipedia's lifeblood. The thousands of new names that users have added make the site vastly richer. I'm thrilled that you can now go to Namipedia to learn about the Albanian name Besnik, or get sibling ideas for Irish Gaelic Aoibheann. And check out the thorough entry for Atreyu, a name that originated in a fantasy novel.

But as the site grows up, the need to weed becomes more urgent. Think about it: every new name added is one that was not popular or notable enough to appear before. So the bigger Namipedia gets, the more obscure the new names inevitably get. (Have you ever picked up one of those books that proudly offer "100,000 names for baby"? It's like reading the phone book...if you live in a city where most people have names like Alykzzandra and Doberman.) To make browsing and searching Namipedia worthwhile, we need to maintain name quality.

The question is, how should we judge quality? Is it about likely appeal to prospective parents? (Namipedia is a baby name encyclopedia, after all.) What about global or historical popularity? Cultural significance? The amount and quality of background information provided? Do we open the doors to any spelling of a popular name, or to any name from the Bible no matter how obscure? Is it enough that a name be used somewhere, even if it sounds bizarre to English speakers?

Here are some sample user submissions. Where do you think Namipedia should draw the line -- and what instructions would you give users when they submit new names?

Kreative spellings: Kelci (F), Azaleaha (F)
Word & place names: Dresden (M), Caress (F)
Biblical obscurities: Hamutal (F), Bashemath (F)
Historical obscurities: Cairbre (M), Mariot (F)
Book, movie and video game characters: Varian (M), Samwise (M)
Invented for style: Jalandra (F), Shannessy (F)
Fringe names, heartfelt commentary: Bobbygene (M), Kyy'Ron (M)

Names of the world, part 2: the contenders

Jul 23rd 2009

I recently listed some of the most localized, unfamiliar names that make top-50 lists in other countries. Few of them are likely to capture the hearts of English-speaking parents. Some are unpronounceable, others simply unfashionable -- too many consonants, or unfortunate connotations (Dorka, Nimrod, Snorri, Odd). Still others are just local versions of familiar favorites, like the Hungarian Dzsenifer. But could some of them make the cross-cultural leap?

In response to the previous post, reader jayel40 wrote...

“What do you think the odds are of people adopting names from other countries and cultures? People love unusual names, but they seem to love unusual AMERICAN names. Take the name Zoran for example. It starts with a Z (very hip and cool), it's two syllables, and it ends with an N. It's also easy to pronounce and very distinctive. But is it too ethnic to join the wave of baby boy names in the US?”

I've gone back to the global rankings and unearthed half a dozen names for boys and girls that have never made the U.S. top 1000, but might have what it takes. See what you think:


Dagny (#66 in Iceland) An unmistakable Nordic classic, but with a sound like a trendy Irish surname.

Elodie (#22 in Quebec) A creative alternative for the Age of Emily, with the bona fides of an old Saint’s name.

Milena (#1 in Armenia) Milena is the feminine counterpart to Milan. It sounds familiar and natural, doesn’t it? But have you ever actually met a Milena? Hmmm.

Mirren (#126 in Scotland) This local form of Marian is a fast riser in Scotland. Some will hear it as an English surname thanks to actress Helen Mirren, but her family created the surname usage by anglicizing their Russian name. Dame Helen was born Ilyena Mironov.

Nika (#4 in Slovenia)
Like its brother Niko, Nika is cute but strong. It stands fine on its own, but can also be short for Nikola or Veronika.

Orla (#53 in Ireland) The one cheat on the list, Orla did make the U.S. charts back in the 19th Century. That makes it both an antique and an undiscovered Celtic name. If you’re daring, spell it Orlaith or Orlagh.


Armen (#10 in Armenia) Traditional and accessible, with clear Armenian heritage. Also consider Arman (#5 in Armenia) and Armin (#82 in Hungary), which have separate derivations.

Birk (#100 in Norway)
A character name from Astrid Lindgren’s beloved adventure Ronia the Robber’s Daughter. Simple and masculine.

Callum (#7 in Scotland) Callum’s already a standard in England and Australia as well as Scotland, what’s holding Americans back?

Emerick (#136 in Quebec) The Breton-styled “-ick” sound is hot in Quebec: Cedric/Cedrick, Loic/Loick, Ludovic and Mederick also make the top 200.

Lander (#52 in Belgium) This one’ almost too easy. Landon meets Xander, right? It would fit in seamlessly. (OK, it’s also a form of Leandro.) Runner Up: Sander, which is hot in Estonia and Norway as well as Belgium.

Tian (#38 in Slovenia) Honestly, I don’t know a lot about this name. But in this land of Ian, Kian, Talan and Teagan, the sound alone should be enough.

A non-excerpt from Baby Name Wizard 2

Jul 17th 2009

As the revised and expanded Baby Name Wizard slowly trickles in to bookstores, I thought I'd share one name spotlight that was cut from the manuscript at the last minute:


Gax (GAKS)
Popularity: Rare
Style: Fanciful and Fantastical
Nicknames: FatMan
Sisters: Moo, Spamela, Beer, Soup, John
Brothers: Flax, Vilx, Clax, Eleanor, Xax
Gax is a name you should not give to your child at all.
It's only in the book because my kids are beside me as
I'm writing and they absolutely insisted.  Keep this in mind,
prospective parents, if you're planning to work from home.