Want to drive the baby-naming public up the wall? Tell them you're naming your daughter Renesmee. Author Stephenie Meyer invented the name for the half-vampire child in her wildly popular Twilight series. In the story it's simply an homage to the child's two grandmothers, Renee and Esmé. To the traditional-minded, though, Renesmee has become a symbol of everything wrong with modern baby naming: It's not a "real name." The author just made it up, then parents followed in imitation of pop culture.
All undeniably true, yet that history itself is surprisingly traditional.
Writers have always made up names, and thank goodness. Our naming culture is much the richer for their inventions. Shakespeare in particular introduced many names we now consider classics, and centuries of writers have followed in his footsteps. Renesmee may or may not end up joining the name canon, but remember that the names below were all just as "made up" once upon a time.
[Note for sticklers: Each of the writers below is credited with using the name inventively -- as a coinage rather than a recycling of a familiar name -- and with introducing the name to the broader culture. Scattered previous examples of usage may exist, since name creativity isn't limited to writers.]
Wendy. Wendy looks like a nickname, and may have occasionally been used as one. But we know it today entirely via Peter Pan. Author J.M. Barrie named his Wendy after a childhood nickname "fwendy-wendy" ("friend").
Cedric. Sir Walter Scott created this name in 1820 for the father of Ivanhoe. He was probably thinking of the actual Saxon name Cerdic. Close enough.
Miranda. Shakespeare took his name-building seriously. The name of The Tempest's heroine tells you she's an object of admiration: Miranda is Latin for admirable, or "to be marvelled at."
Vanessa. If you want an 18th-century Renesmee, here's the name for you. Jonathan Swift wrote the poem "Cadenus and Vanessa" for a woman named Esther Vanhomrigh, and constructed the heroine's name out of bits of Vanhomrigh's first and last.
Coraline. Coraline is the title character of Neil Gaiman's creepy 2002 children's novel, which became a creepily beloved animated film. The name's origin was a simple mistake: Gaiman mistyped Caroline and like the result. Hundreds of girls now receive the name every year.
Evangeline. The poem Evangeline, A Tale of Acadie was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's greatest popular success. If the heroine's name sounds like a saintly French classic, tip your cap to Longfellow.
Amanda. 17th-century writers took a page from Shakespeare's folios, building this name from the Latin for "lovable" on the model of the Bard's creation Miranda. Playwright Colley Cibber is usually given the credit.
Gloria. Gloria is the Latin for "glory," but it owes its life as a women's name to two popular writers of the late 19th century: George Bernard Shaw and E.D.E.N. Southworth. (That's short for Emma Dorothy Eliza Nevitte, thank you very much.)
Dorian. Oscar Wilde's Dorian Gray was a reprobate with a hidden, damning portrait. He's one of literature's most fashionably named heels.
Clarinda. In Edmund Spenser's epic poem The Faerie Queene, Clarinda (also called Clarin) was the duplicitous maidservant to Radigund, Queen of the Amazons. But style talks: it was Clarinda, not Radigund, that caught on as a name.
Cora. James Fenimore Cooper introduced this name in The Last of the Mohicans. It's been speculated that he was inspired by the Ancient Greek Kore ("maiden"), which was a name for Persephone and thus boded ill for poor Cora.
Pamela. Elizabethan poet Sir Philip Sidney introduced this name, though he stressed the middle syllable. The name caught on more (and acquired a new stress pattern) after the 1740 publication of Samuel Richardson's novel Pamela. Even then, it was hardly conventional. Henry Fielding poked fun at Pamela in a novel of his own, writing "a very strange name, Pamela, or Pamela; some pronounced it one way, and some the other."
Fiona. This Scottish and English favorite was invented by 18th-century Scottish poet James Macpherson. The Irish name Fíona may look the same written down, but strangely enough it's completely unrelated.
Jessica. Jessica was the daughter of Shylock in The Merchant of Venice – apparently it was Shakespeare's idea of a typical Jewish name. Speculation is that he based it on Jesca, a spelling of the obscure biblical name Iscah/Yisca that's found in some Bibles of his time.
Lucinda. This romantic extension of Lucia first showed up in Spanish in the form of Don Quixote's Luscinda, then leapt to French as Lucinde thanks to a Molière play. But it was in the English spelling Lucinda that the name became immortal.
Ronia. Swedish Legend Astrid Lindgren, creator of Pippi Longstocking, had another great hit in the 1981 book Ronja Rövardotter ("Ronia the Robber's Daughter"). Ronja has become a modern classic in Northern Europe.
Imogen. Like Coraline, this name was born of a spelling error. The character Imogen in Shakespeare's Cymbeline is based on a legendary Queen Innogen. Shakespeare, or quite likely his printer, read the n's as an m, and a new classic name was born.
The 1960s TV series Star Trek has launched movies, sequels, catchphrases and fan conventions. But baby name trends? Let's take a trip back in the Baby Name Time Machine back to meet the name Nichelle.
The year 1967 is remembered as a cultural powder keg in the United States. The youth counterculture bloomed into the "Summer of Love." The number of U.S. troops in Viet Nam increased, and so did homefront protests against the war. Cities like Detroit and Newark erupted in deadly rioting. Stokely Carmichael published the book Black Power.
Yet even in turbulent times, everyday life can remain surprisingly everyday. The top television series of the year were Bonanza, The Red Skelton Hour and The Andy Griffith Show. The top baby names of the year were Michael and Lisa, for the sixth straight year. But among the fastest-rising names of the year are hints of change.
The biggest tv-driven name phenomenon of 1967 was Nichelle, sparked by a lightly watched new science fiction show called "Star Trek." Actress Nichelle Nichols played Lieutenant Uhura, chief communications officer of the 23rd-century starship Enterprise. Star Trek's creators wanted to portray an inclusive future society, and no character represented that vision more boldly than the African-American Lt. Uhura.
From today's perspective, Star Trek's '60s vision of diversity may not look so bold. The bridge of the Starship Enterprise typically held four or five white men, one Asian man, and one black woman -- the sole representative not only of her race, but of the entire female half of humanity. Unlike her male colleagues, Lt. Uhura wore a regulation Starfleet minidress and sheer stockings. Nor was Uhura one of the series' most central characters. She's not immortalized by any catch phrases like "Live long and prosper" or even "He's dead, Jim!" In fact, in the original series she didn't even have a first name.
50 years ago, though, Uhura's very presence on the bridge resounded as a symbol of hope and progress. Nichelle Nichols has told the story of how she had planned to quit Star Trek until Martin Luther King Jr. personally approached her and told her how important her role was. Previously, African-American women on scripted television had been relegated to roles as servants. Uhura was nothing like that. Even in a minidress, the Enterprise's chief communications officer radiated professional pride and dignity.
That image struck a powerful chord. Nichelle was an all-but-unknown name that Ms. Nichols (born Grace) had adopted as her stage name. As soon as she appeared on Star Trek, Nichelle soared into the top 500 girls' names in the United States. That's as heartfelt a tribute as you can find. Nichelle remained popular for the rest of the series' run, and ushered in an era where boys' and girls' names alike were chosen as emblems of ethnic and racial pride.
In the past generation, parents have seized control of baby names. Sure, they've always been in charge of the name on the birth certificate, but now they want more. They want to send their kids off into the world knowing that every teacher, every friend will call them by the exact names that the parents prefer.
It wasn't always this way. Once upon a time, friends and even strangers could casually call a boy named Daniel "Danny" and nobody would think a thing of it. Today, every young Daniel I know goes exclusively by his full name, by his parents' choice.
There's nothing wrong with steering your child away from a nickname you dislike. You chose a name with care and love, so it's natural to ask people to use that name. Yet there are virtues to the wide-open nickname approach, too.
Nicknaming lets kids adjust a name to fit different stages of their lives, or different social situations: Danny to Grandma, Danno to buddies, Daniel at a job interview. An openness to nicknames also puts control of the name in the hands of the person who bears it. That can help offset the fundamental dilemma of baby naming, that we're choosing a name for someone we've never met, not knowing what kind of person they'll grow up to be.
What if you want the gift of a name to be the gift of flexibility? Ironically, it's the most traditional baby names that offer the greatest options for creative personalization. Nicknames for English standards like Mary, Ann and Margaret proliferated back when those names accounted for half of all girls in a typical village. Longer classics like Alexander and Anastasia lend themselves to many options as well.
The names on this list may not seem like creative choices in themselves, but they'll give your children the flexibility to creatively name -- and rename -- themselves.
Names with lots of nickname options:
Alexandra: Alex, Allie, Andra, Lexi, Sandra, Sandy, Sasha, Shura, Xan, Xandra
Anastasia: Ana, Annie, Nastya, Stacy, Stasya, Tasia
Annabelle: Ann, Anna, Annie, Bella, Belle, Ella, Nan, Nell
Charlotte: Charlie, Carly, Lola, Lotta, Lottie, Tottie
Christina: Chris, Chrissy, Christa, Christie, Ina, Kika, Stina, Tina
Eleanor: Ella, Elle, Ellie, Nell, Nellie, Nora
Elizabeth: Bess, Bessie, Beth, Bethan, Betsy, Bette, Betty, Buffy, Eliza, Ella, Ellie, Elsa, Elsie, Libby, Liddy, Lili, Lisa, Lise, Lisette, Liz, Liza, Lizbeth, Lizzie
Evangeline: Angie, Eva, Evie, Gilly, Lina, Vangie
Genevieve: Evie, Gen/Jen, Genie, Genna, Genny, Ginette, Ginny, Viv, Vivi
Katherine: Kat, Kate, Kathy, Katy, Katya, Kay, Kit, Kitty
Margaret: Daisy, Greta, Gretchen, Madge, Maggie, Maisie, Mamie, Margie, May, Meg, Megan, Meta, Peg, Peggy
Mary: Mae, Mamie, May, Mimi, Mitzi, Molly, Polly
Natalia: Nat, Natasha, Talia, Tally, Tasha
Sarah: Sadie, Sal, Sally, Sarita
Susanna: Sookie, Sue, Sukey, Susa, Susie, Suze, Zanna, ZuZu
Veronica: Nikki, Rona, Ronnie, Vera
Wilhelmina: Billie, Mina, Minnie, Vilma, Willa, Willie, Willow, Wilma
Alexander: Al, Alex, Lex, Sander, Sandy, Sasha, Xander, Zander
Charles: Cal, Charlie, Chase, Chaz, Chick, Chip, Chuck
Christopher: Chip, Chris, Kip, Kit, Topher
Edward: Ed, Eddie, Ned, Ted, Teddy
Frederick: Fred, Freddy, Fritz, Rick, Ricky
Henry: Hal, Hank, Harry
Jonathan: Jon, Jonty, Jonny, Than
Lawrence: Larry, Laz, Lon, Loren, Lorne
Nicholas: Cole, Colin, Klaus, Nick, Nico, Nikos
Robert: Bob, Bobby, Dobbin, Hob, Rob, Robbie, Robin
Theodore: Ted, Teddy, Teo, Terry, Theo
William: Bill, Billy, Liam, Will, Wilkie, Willie, Wills, Wim