About Me

Per EVie's suggestion: Here is some information about me: Since personal names currently in use are derived from a multitude of languages and sources, no one can be an expert in all of them. My PhD is in Old and Middle English and Old Icelandic, and I also have had formal training in almost all the Germanic languages (Old and Middle High German, Old Saxon, Gothic, Old Low Franconian, Middle Dutch, Yiddish, Modern German, and Netherlandic/Flemish). In addition I learned Hebrew, Latin, and French before I left high school. Cobbling together my French and Latin, I know something about some of the other Romance languages (including Old French, Anglo-Norman, and Occitan), but I am no expert in Romance philology, although I have had formal training in Germanic philology. So that gives me a better than average background in many of the languages from which our current namestock is derived. However, what I know about Greek and Greek-derived , Balto-Slavic and Celtic names comes from my general knowledge of Indo-European philology, and my general knowledge of Indo-European philology does not really cover names from Sanskrit and other Indian languages and Persian. Knowing Hebrew gives me a bit of insight into cognate Arabic names, but I know nothing about Finno-Ugaric (happily we have our Hungarian sisters for that), Chinese, Japanese, the many indigenous languages of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas.

My Favorite Names

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My Recent Blog Comments
March 26, 2017 11:40 AM

That reminds me of Jonty, which is a traditional nickname for Jonathan that sounds name-y and could be considered mischievous.

March 21, 2017 10:27 PM

The only Alethea (stress on the second syllable) I ever met was  a nun, and that was her name in religion. A similar name which might appeal is Anthea, which comes from a root meaning flower as in chrysanthemum.

March 21, 2017 07:36 PM

My advice is to forget about "meaning" since by and large the so-called meanings are nonsense. Instead perhaps you might want to think about someone or something that is very meaningful to you, and use that as a jumping off place for developing a list of candidates.

March 21, 2017 01:31 PM

As someone who uses a VERY common surname, I heartily agree. I can document all kinds of confusions, some trivial, some significant. E.g., the sale of my son's house was held up due to a lien on a nearby property owned by someone with the same name.

so, say, something like Molly Aoife Sullivan 

March 21, 2017 08:43 AM

I can recommend a series of mysteries featuring an Istanbul detective Inspector Ikmen written by Barbara Nadel. The books all contain a pronunciation guide for the Turkish names.

March 20, 2017 07:03 PM

Ibrahim is Arabic,not Turkish.

March 17, 2017 04:51 PM
In Response to Help with Name Remorse

Col/Colin is the traditional nickname for Nicholas.  Also in Dutch and German: Klaas and Klaus.

March 16, 2017 11:32 PM

So I guessed.

"My faith and culture, does not traditionally give the exact name of the departed loved one, rather, we use the same first letter but a different name." This is in fact not the traditional custom, although many Americans think that the custom is to re-use only the first initial.  That's a very recent innovation.

First of all, Jewish naming traditions are custom (and superstition) but not law.  Ashkenazim name after the deceased, while Sephardim name after the living. Traditionally Jewish naming rules apply only to males.  Females can be named anything.  Only in my lifetime has egalitarianism in the more liberal streams led to new concepts such as naming ceremonies for girls, Bas Mitzvahs, and even female rabbis. That has led parents to name daughters according to the same guidelines used for choosing male names.

Jewish males are given a shem kodesh (holy name) at their circumcision, and this name is used for all ritual purposes.  There about 150 names acceptable for this purpose, mostly biblical. Among the Ashkenazim, the shem kodesh given to the son is the same as the name of the deceased family member who is being honored.  So if deceased grandpa is Dovid Moshe, the baby grandson will be Dovid Moshe.  For thousands of years, Jews who live among non-Jews also give their sons a shem kinui, a name chosen from the surrounding culture.  So Moshe (Moses) is an Egyptian name, but his Hebrew name (shem kodesh) is usually given as Avigdor.  Esther is Persian; Hadasseh is her Hebrew name. The Hellenistic philosopher Philo of Alexandria was Jedidiah.  The Roman historian Yosef ben Matisyahu was Titus Flavius Josephus.  And so on.

Females did not usually have such double names.  They might have biblical names, as I do, or they might have names chosen from the surrounding culture.  For example, there was a medieval English woman named Licorice of Winchester.  Yes, that licorice.  Her life is particularly well documented for the period, not least because she was a murder victim, and the crime remains unsolved.  Just so, Shprintze is the Yiddish form of the Spanish Esperanza, and Yenta the Yiddish form of the French name Gentile. 

There is usually some connection between the shem kodesh and shem kinui, either sound or meaning, but there doesn't have to be.  For example, Yehudah (Judah) is usually paired with a "lion" name because the lion was the heraldic symbol of the tribe of Judah, and Benjamin with a "wolf" name because the wolf was the emblem of the tribe of Benjamin.

So for a modern example, my father was Eliyahu (Elijah)/Edward, and my father having died untimely, my son is also Eliyahu/Edward.  This illustrates the American Jewish practice of linking the two names by first initial.  I don't know why they didn't just use Elijah, but they didn't.  My guess is that it was considered too out of fashion to blend in.

Now my name is just Miriam, but there are Miriams out there my age who are also called Marilyn or some such.  My sister has a Yiddish name Sheine Liebe after our great-grandmother. My parents debated between Suzanne, the initial thing (and ultimate choice), and Bonnie Cheryl.  Sheine Liebe means pretty love, and Bonnie=the Scots word for pretty and Cheryl from the French cherie=darling, beloved.

So, let us say, there is a great-grandma named Liebe/Libby. What to name the baby great-granddaughter?  Well, it could be Liebe/Libby, just like ggrandma. Or just Liebe given that parents these days often want names that stand out, rather than blend in. Or just Libby for parents who want to downplay the eastern European past. Or behindthename can be consulted for the long list of L names, and a favorite selected (Liebe/Lexi or just Lexi or Louise or Lily or whatever).  Or it could be Liebe/Amanda or Liebe/Ahava or Carys or Charity or any other "love" name.

Thus, Jewish naming tradition allows for a lot more options than just repeating the initial, and there is no prohibition against giving a child the same name as the deceased elder. (There is a prohibition by tradition of marrying a woman with the same name as one's mother though.) The shared name is supposed to create a mystical bond between ancestor and child: the ancestor is the model for the child, and the child's achievements redound to the credit of the ancestor.

Oh, and my support goes to Marina, Maya being somewhat ambiguous in pronunciation.

March 16, 2017 03:15 PM

Out of curiosity what is your faith/culture?

March 16, 2017 09:45 AM

The ultra-Orthodox do not embrace many of the modern reproductive technologies. Their way of dealing with identified genetic problems is simply marry someone else. Members in the more liberal streams and secular Jews use mainstream testing services which provide complete information and if a problem is identified, they can choose among any available strategies.

The ultra-Orthodox practice arranged marriage. That is why the testing service only turns thumbs down on the coupling. It doesn't report who is a carrier of what. If that news came out, the entire family of siblings would be unmarriageable. And having the marriage nixed is not a big emotional deal, because the couple hardly know each other. They will have met only a few times in a public place like a hotel lobby.

Israel otoh provides reproductive technologies to those who need them for whatever reason.

And I would say all Ashkenazic Jews are terrified of Tay-Sachs and the lesser known genetic diseases, hence the universal attention paid to avoiding them.

March 15, 2017 09:20 PM

Re genetic testing in the Orthodox Jewish community: this is true. However, they test not just for Tay-Sachs, but also for a number of other genetic conditions found in the Ashkenazic community. Couples are never told the results of the tests, just that the match is ok or should not go forward. Oddly a couple of my acquaintance, one Ashkenazic and one Cajun, both tested positive for Tay-Sachs, after she was already pregnant. Happily the child was fine. The Cajun community also carries Tay-Sachs.

March 15, 2017 09:37 AM

You posted your initial inquiry in the wrong forum. Since these names are for fictional characters, the post should have been posted in the writer's forum. Then people would have known how to respond most helpfully from the beginning.

March 14, 2017 07:56 PM

That was my first thought too.

March 14, 2017 07:54 PM

Occasionally names are in an oblique case. Offhand I can think of Phyllida, which is an oblique case of Phyllis.

March 14, 2017 09:21 AM

The Bible requires levirate marriage when a man leaves a childless widow. For a really ick story of the pitfalls of levirate marriage, look up Tamar and Judah. One of the other actors in this nasty little drama, Onan, came up recently in another thread. For a modern day version of a quasi-levirate relationship, see the Biden family. I say quasi because the widow has children (and the brother is already married). 

March 11, 2017 06:16 PM

Another rarely heard biblical name that might have potential: Jerah.  I had a colleague with that name.

March 10, 2017 11:53 PM

Well. that's a treasure trove of underused biblical names....Of that lot I have run across the following names in use: Joel, Azariah, Gershon, Abdi, Asaph, Zechariah, and Uzziel.


March 10, 2017 08:31 PM

I would be interested to know exactly where in the Bible is Eden used as a masculine personal name. I am only aware of Gan Eden, the Garden of Eden in Genesis.

March 9, 2017 06:41 PM

My father was called Elly by his family of origin as a nickname for Eliyahu (Elijah).  His civil name was Edward, and he was called Ed/Eddie by colleagues and acquaintances and a nickname derived from our surname by my mother.


To the extent they are historical, the events described in Exodus most likely took place sometime in the period of 1400-1200 BCE.  Pharaohs advanced as possible candidates for the pharaoh of the exodus include Thutmose III and Ramses III.  The names Moses and Miriam are believed to be from Egyptian roots, Moses and Thutmose sharing a root.  Both Exodus and the Book of Ruth are believed to date from the Babylonian exile, roughly a thousand years  later than the date of the events depicted in Exodus.  By the time that these texts were written down, any knowledge that these names were derived from the Egyptian language was long lost.  In fact Jewish tradition specifically gives the enslaved Hebrews credit for retaining their original names and not taking Egyptian names. Hence the false etymology developed because by the time of the Exile the name Miriam was believed to derive from the Hebrew root meaning bitter, cf. with maror, the bitter herbs of the Passover seder plate (today usually represented by horseradish or lettuce). Hence the use of Mara in Ruth is either an adjectival noun as Karyn suggested, or it is basically an allegorical name based on a false etymology.

A more recent example of the allegorical use of a name based on a false etymology is Tristan.  In medieval literature the romance hero Tristan is described as sad, based on the French word triste.  In fact Tristan is a Pictish name Drustan, probably from a root meaning riot, disruption, nothing to do with sadness.  Another example: Rosamund, which is falsely etymologized as rose of the world, when in fact it is a Germanic bithematic name derived from words for horse and hand, protection.