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

No favorite names yet.

My Recent Blog Comments
April 27, 2016 12:35 AM
In Response to Favorite "W" Name?

Add Wulfstan to the pack.

April 26, 2016 09:12 AM
In Response to Sister for Emilia?

There was a time in the not too distant past when Spanish names were mainstream popular.  Regardless of background people used names like Rita, Anita, Inez, Dolores/Lola, Juanita, Mercedes, Rosa and so on.  A blonde Anita would have raised no eyebrows.  Natural blondes do crop up in Spain, genetic reminders of the Vandals who once had a kingdom there before moving on to North Africa and out of history.  I know a young blonde Mercedes, but in that case I think the name reflects the car rather more than the Virgin Mary.  In short I wouldn't worry about a blonde with a Spanish given name, any more than I would be concerned about a blonde with a Spanish surname.

April 25, 2016 05:00 PM

Heidi, Sabine, Marlene, Beatrix, Dagmar, Greta/Gretchen, Hilde, Inge/Ingrid, Ilse, Karen, Kristin, Mathilde, Romy

April 23, 2016 05:44 PM

My son's name is trochaic trimeter, and most on here consider that unappealingly choppy.  Not that I cared whatsoever about the meter.  My son was named after his two deceased grandfathers, and that was that.  My own maiden name was a double dactyl, and I seriously doubt that my parents gave that the slightest thought.

April 23, 2016 09:36 AM

The appendices are the very best part of LOTR.  Of course, it appeals on other levels (elves! orcs!), or it wouldn't have become so popular.  But if it were not rooted in a sophisticated grasp of language/philology and enriched by a foundation of medieval literature and illustrative of a theory of story-telling as sub-creation, imitative on a human level of Divine Creation, as writing it would be little better than the scads of copycats it spawned--which generally range from mediocre to terrible. Tolkien infused LOTR with his immense scholarship, and that is what elevates it above its imitators.  That's why LOTR has inspired works of serious literary criticism beyond "companions" that tell the reader that the dwarves' names are taken from the Old Icelandic Dvergatal, and its imitators haven't,  but as an "epic for England," Tolkien's aim, it ain't a prose Homer.

BTW doesn't Banazir bring to mind Benazir Bhutto?

April 22, 2016 10:56 PM
In Response to "unique" Names


April 22, 2016 06:24 PM

Tolkien was a grat philologist, and his writing is full of philological jokes.  Frankly I don't know why those who don't get the jokes bother with LOTR, et al. Otherwise his works of fiction are not that well written--and I have published scholarly articles on Tolkien and taught college courses on his works.

For those who would like to learn more about Tolkien's use of philology and medieval literature, there are numerous books explicating it, some very good (and generally written by people I know) and some not worth reading.  Tolkien's act of sub-creation is rooted in philology:  In the beginning was the Word.

BTW never mind the scare quotes and "purported."  Samwise is a normal Old English word for half-wit.  Naming a child Samwise is analogous to naming him Dimbulb.  No, Sam Gamgee is not a halfwit, and hobbits are not to be dismissed because of their stature and cozy homebodiness (see Hamfast 'homebody' ).  The irony is intended.

April 22, 2016 01:25 PM

I would expect that many of Clinton's donors are coming through Emily's List which would account in part for the overwhelming preponderance of feminine names.

Another place to look for names as a clue to election demographics:

The names with the highest median contributions ($1000+): Avram, Chaim, Chana, Dov, Judah, Mayer, Mendel, Mordechai, Moshe, Rivka, Shlomo, Shoshana, Yehudah plus a couple of what I think are Indian names.  No need to wonder why Cruz and Kasich were desperately rolling out matzah before the NY primary and why the only district Cruz won was the District containing Borough Park in Brooklyn and the Upper West Side in Manhattan, talk about gerrymandering, diluting the votes of the staunch liberals of the UWS with those of the extremely conservative chasidic population in Borough Park.  The two neighborhoods are not contiguous, being on opposite sides of the East River (and the UWS is not even on the west bank of the East River) and by all the districting rules should not be in the same district.

April 22, 2016 08:30 AM

Listen to your wife--she's a wise woman.  Children look up the meanings of their names, and I personally wouldn't want to be the one to explain to my son why I named him "half-wit."

April 22, 2016 12:51 AM

Please not Samwise.  It is an Old English word that literally means half-wit.  Please don't give your son a name that is the equivalent of stupid.

April 21, 2016 04:13 PM

Got me right!

April 21, 2016 03:40 PM
In Response to A travelling baby name

Pilar is a Marian epithet (Maria del Pilar) which makes it very far from a boys' name.  Pilar (pee-LAHR) does mean 'pillar' and refers to a vision of the Virgin Mary who appeared standing atop a pillar.  Pilar is one of a number of names taken from epithets of the Virgin Mary, including Dolores (Maria de los Dolores 'Mary of Sorrows') and Mercedes (Maria de los Mercedes 'Mary of Mercies').  It's a common name in Spanish-speaking cultures, but quite unusual among English speakers.  I doubt that it would raise any eyebrows in my grandson's kindergarten in Nevada.

April 20, 2016 05:49 PM

Well, David, Thomas, Simon, Solomon, Elliott, Austin, James, Jonas, Raymond, Paul, Louis and a host of other given names of long standing are also used as last names, so by that token almost everything sounds like a law firm.  To me the law firm sound kicks in when the first and middle names are occupational surnames, topographical names and so forth which do not have an established history of use as given names, that is, did not originate as given names, e.g., Mason Atwater Smith.

April 20, 2016 05:36 PM

Recent songs seem to feature words like titanium, radioactive, skyscraper, and chandelier, rather than feminine names, for whatever that says about contemporary culture. 

April 20, 2016 05:32 PM

Actually this is the quote: "choose a first name that's an actual given name, not a last-name-turned-first name." And the example of the possibily problematic choice was Asher--which is indeed an actual given name, not a last name turned first.  And Bennett is a medieval variation of Benedict, existing from before last names became universal.

My take on the original question: if people are naming children London and Brooklyn and Camden, I see no problem with Cambridge as a middle name, especially when there is such a nice sentiment attached to the choice.

April 20, 2016 04:16 PM

Excuse me, but Asher is a given name dating back thousands of years.

April 19, 2016 03:58 PM

I don't know what sounds you like, other than 1-2 syllables, so I will list some short-ish Old English words which strike me as possibly name-y.  Maybe I'll strike lucky.

Astronomy words:

mona 'moon' (in Old English, mona is a masculine noun, but as a modern name it is likely to be confused with the feminine name Mona, one of those names that has multiple origins/derivations in a variety of languages)  note: sunne 'sun' is a feminine noun and steorra is the basic word for star, but maybe not so good as a modern name

tungol 'star' 'planet'

wolcen 'sky' 'cloud' (modern English 'welkin')

rodor 'sky' 'heaven'

Dain--a Norse constellation 'the Deer' made up of Vega and the four stars of Lyra


Because of the metrical requirements of alliterative poetry, there are many words for warrior/man, starting with a vareity of sounds

 cemp (sometimes used in modern times as a name, usually spelled Kemp), ealdor/aldor 'leader', eorl/earl, frea (but may be confused with Freya), rinc, thegn/thane, weard/ward, sedge (original spelling secg)

other possibilities:

rand 'shield', gar 'spear', ord 'point (of a spear)' 'source', wuldor 'glory', sith 'journey' (but sounds star war-ish), frith 'peace', holt 'wood' 'forest', hengest 'stallion', stan 'stone', tir 'glory'

For a representative list of Anglo-Saxon names, see behindthename: http://www.behindthename.com/names/usage/anglo-saxon


My personal recommendations from this list: rodor, Dain, Kemp, rinc, thane, rand, holt

April 19, 2016 08:49 AM

Are you interested in Old English names or in Old English words that could be used as names?  My PhD is in Old English, so I might be able to come up with some suggestions.

April 18, 2016 11:40 AM
In Response to Name help

I think that switching from Sayer back to the original Thayer is definitely the right choice.  I am personally not enthusiastic about Breccon, but I like all the others.  Then the choice becomes whether you want a Celtic vibe or a Germanic vibe.  Of the Celtic names, my own favorite is Eamon (and I keep wondering why Eamon has taken off as the fresher Aidan), but they are all fine.  Lucubratrix has made me a Rupert convert, so that's a fine choice if you want to steer away from the Celtic.

Of the girl names, I am all for Payson Claire, because Payson is a family surname.  My second favorite is Arden, but paired with one of the other middle name possibilities (Claire, Rose, Grace) to avoid the cosmetics issue.

April 18, 2016 09:30 AM
In Response to Name help

You might not "get upset about what people who don't know her think she is," but she might find that a lifetime of mistaken gender gets old.  Plenty of people who don't know her will be categorizing her based on her name alone.  I went to school with a girl named Gene, and she was always having to straighten out gender confusion, ranging from being enrolled in the boys' gym class to dealing with a draft board who thought she had failed to register as required by law.  A feminine middle name will give her the option of reducing her masculine name to an initial and using her middle name as her call name, thus avoiding the confusion, if she so chooses.  If you give her a completely masculine name like August Elliott, people will think she is a boy (and eventually a man), but not "for some reason," but rather because that is what her name betokens.   And, she, not you, will have to deal with the consequences of dealing with that confusion for a very long time.