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
July 24, 2014 03:30 PM

I'm in agreement here.  Perceptions of names are very subjective.  When someone says a name is feisty or spunky (and only names under discussion for girls are ever so described), I interpet ths to mean "I like the name," because for the life of me I can never see exactly what is particularly feisty or spunky about said names.  In many cases the adjective I would use is fusty.  A "strong" name for a girl? Does that mean a name/nickname that is traditionally male and that anything traditionally female is inherently weak?

The same is true of reactions to the sounds of names.  I have seen people say they think Name A sounds harsh, and I look at the name and it's all vowels, nasals and liquids, and I wonder why that sounds harsh.  Voiced stops and fricatives, well, maybe those can be described as sounding "harsh."  But I think that saying a name sounds harsh really means "I don't like the name and I don't like the way it sounds."

I also agree that declining to name a son Ruger or Sig Sauer and a daughter Princess Rainbow or Cinderella does not mean that one is also declining to recognize gender at all.

July 24, 2014 12:09 AM

You are probably right.  That seems more likely, although Iread it otherwise in some gossipy rag or other.

July 24, 2014 12:06 AM
In Response to 3 Baby Bears!

Actually some have suggested bear as a meaning for Arthur, but that's by no means a sure thing. Other possibiliities have also been suggested, but in fact the meaning of Arthur has to be classified as unknown. Nonetheless, the "bear" meaning has been seized upon by some of the more "new-agey" authors of recent Arthurian "fantasies." Oberon/Auberon is derived from the Germanic Alberich which means something like elf-power, which is why Oberon is a good name for the king of the fairies.

The Hebrew 'bear' name is Dov.  It is often combined with the Yiddish "bear" name Ber. so there are many men named Dov Ber, that is, Bear Bear.  Any Germanic name with bern/bjorn as either the head word or base word is a bear name (e.g., Osborn, Berengar, Bjorn).  Arkady is also a bear name derived ultimately from Greek.  I actually do know a man whose real legal birth name is Bearcat, although a bearcat is neither a bear nor a cat.

And then there are notable bears like Yogi, Winnie (and Pooh), and Paddington.

July 23, 2014 11:01 AM

Names like Tal, Gil, and Gal are unisex, but the forms Talia, Gila, and Galit also exist, and they are strictly female names.  It's like Jordan here in the US--unisex--but an unambiguously female name Jordana also exists.  BTW Jordan (Yarden) is also unisex in Hebrew, but Yardena is feminine (the -a is a direction, so the name means "to the Jordan").  Likewise Sharon (for the plain of Sharon) is unisex, but Sharona is feminine.  Another case is Ophrah (what Oprah Winfrey's mother was trying to name her and screwed up).  In the Bible it is a male name (a random person in a list of "begats,"), but it is now a female name, and its meaning is female fawn.  Basically the Hebrew sense of the relationships between grammatical gender, natrual gender, and what we might call social gender is not straigtforward.

July 23, 2014 08:28 AM

Lynette is ultimately derived from Welsh, not French, with the probable meaning of idol or image.  Lynette  and her sister Lyonesse are characters in Arthurian legend.  They appear in the story of Beaumains the Kitchen Knight (which occurs in Malory and elsewhere).  Lyonesse and the Kitchen Knight fall in love, and when he is revealed to be Gareth, Sir Gawain's youngest brother, they marry.  In some versions Lynette marries Gaheris, another of Gawain's brothers.

July 22, 2014 10:04 PM

EVie, I can't really answer your question in the way you posed it, but I can say a few things about gender in Hebrew in general.   First, Hebrew has grammatical gender, and all Hebrew nouns are gendered either masculine or feminine.  However, Hebrew also permits "bare nouns," that is, nouns that are single words, not in the context of a sentence, do not have any indication of gender.  The Hebrew determiner ('ha-', the) is the same for both genders.  Contrast this with German where every noun comes with its der, die, or das attached. Also Modern Hebrew is displaying a significant tendency to shift toward natural gender, just as English shifted from grammatical gender to natural gender.  This makes some sense since Hebrew permits bare nouns, and speakers may not have the correct gender for each noun on the tip of their tongues and thus may default to natural gender (Hebrew conjugated verbs do have gender so the speaker has to make some choice even if he/she doesn't know the correct gender).  Because of the heavy immigration to Israel and the crash courses in Hebrew given to new immigrants, many new Hebrew speakers are likely on shaky ground in terms of grammar.

Just how shaky can be illustrated by this research study I found (TOT=tip of the tongue):

Gender in Hebrew
Hebrew includes two grammatical genders – masculine and feminine. Nouns agree within the noun phrase (NP) with adjectives and numbers, and the head noun of the subject NP agrees with verb and adjectival predicates. In addition, pronouns inflect for gender. Most feminine nouns (97% according to Gollan and Frost, 2001) are marked with a suffix (-a, -et or -it), and most masculine nouns are morphologically unmarked. Irregular nouns exist for both genders. In a study of gender in 25 Hebrew-English bilinguals, Gollan and Silverberg (2001) examined explicit guesses about the grammatical gender of Hebrew nouns in TOT states. The gender-guess accuracy was 55%, which on our analysis is not statistically different from chance, and there was no apparent bias for guessing masculine or feminine. Similarly, Silverberg et al. (1999) in a study of picture naming found that native Hebrew speakers in TOT states reported gender correctly only 62% of the time, a level that was not better than in “don’t know” states (also 62%), indicating no knowledge of the gender of the target word in TOT states in a single word production task in Hebrew. The testing protocol produced 211 TOT states and 177 “don’t know” states, thus lack of power is unlikely to have been a problem in this case. In addition, the participants in this study were Hebrew language professors, suggesting that even linguistically sophisticated participants cannot report gender explicitly during a TOT state for a Hebrew target. 

Naama Friedmann1 and Michal Biran1,2 (1Tel Aviv University; 2Loewenstein Hospital Rehabilitation Center)]

This study concludes that where gender is not indicated by an obligatory gendered determiner, speakers do not have a firm grasp  on the correct gender of each noun, even though knowledge of gender is necessary to construct full, grammatically correct sentences. Since names are essentially bare nouns, this conclusion would lead to the idea that Hebrew noun names do not feel explicitly gendered, even though they are.

From this information I am going to guess that the masculine biblical names that have switched to female nouns have done so, because they look/sound feminine to modern Hebrew speakers.  In one case, levana, moon, actually is a feminine noun that was used as a male name in the Bible (a temple servant in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah) and is now a feminine name.
I would compare this phenomenon to English speakers using male biblical names like Elisha and Micah for girls because somehow they look or sound like female names, although historically they are not.  I also suspect that many of the namers do not know the stories of these biblical characters who are most definitely and unambiguously male.

As I said, I know this doesn't answer your question, but perhaps it will be of interest anyway.

July 22, 2014 06:24 PM

The old-school Martha nickname was Patsy, rather than Patty if that helps.

July 22, 2014 05:46 PM

The Hebrew name No'ach is a masculine name, transliterated as Noah, the ark builder.  There is a feminine biblical name Noa (does not end in the -ch sound as in Bach, as the masculine name does).  Noa was the daughter of Zelophehad (now there's an undiscovered gem), and her sisters were Hoglah, Mahlah, Milchah and Tirzah (more undiscovered gems, although Tirzah does get some occasional use.  So Noah and Noa are two entirely different names, not one name used for both genders.

However, in Modern Israeli Hebrew there are a number of names of minor male biblical characters which are now given to females.  Some examples:  Aya (buzzard--not an association I would choose for my kid), Bracha (blessing), Dikla (palm tree?), Elah (pistachio tree), Jarah/Yaara (honeycomb, honeysuckle), Levana (white, moon), Rinnah (singing), Tikvah (hope).  Going in the other direction, Avi was a female biiblical name, and now it's a (very common) male name.

Modern Israeli Hebrew has a large number of genuinely unisex names.  These are words which do not have any history as given names.  For the most part, they are nature words, virtues, and a few place names--deliberately short and easy to pronounce in a variety of languages: Tal (dew), Gil (joy), Tom (purity, perfection), Yam (sea), Rimmon (pomegranate), Sapir (sapphire/lapis lazuli), Eden (pleasure), Gal (wave), etc.

Likewise, for genuinely unisex names I would select nouns (again nature, virtues, or place names) that have little, or better no, history as given names, but do have a certain "namey-ness" or surnames from your own family tree that do not have general use as given names.  As soon as recent name "adoptions" go into general use, they begin to tilt male or female.  When I was young, Kelly still had a definite surname feel and was male as often as not.  Now it's a given name almost exclusively female and no longer has that surname vibe, although obviously people still know the Kelly surname.

July 22, 2014 04:49 PM

EVie, I don't know of any Germanic bithematic names that are neuter.  For those who are unfamiliar with how Germanic bithematic names work, they are two-element compounds which take their gender from the second component.  So, hild is a feminine noun meaning battle, and thus Brynhild is a name given to females, but Hildebrand is a masculine name because brand is a masculine noun meaning sword.


My overwhelming association with Anzio is the WWII battle, not really something I would want to recall with a son's name.

July 21, 2014 10:14 PM

I am confused.  You say that (I think) that male and female gendered surnames are not compatible with Western civilizations, but the Slavic languages all have gendered surnames.  English has gendered surnames:  Baxter, Webster, and Brewster are all gendered feminine, while Baker, Weaver, and Brewer are all masculine.  It is conceivable to me that a male could have Baxter, Webster or Brewster as a given name.  I just don't quite understand your point.

July 21, 2014 03:31 PM

I knew a Dutchman named Joan.  He was old enough to have been a slave laborer for the Nazis during WWII.  Here in the US he used the name John because there was too much confusion using Joan in an anglophone context.  The male (Catalan/Occitan) name is pronounced with two syllables  .  There is also the Welsh male name Ioan, which like Joan, is a form of John.

July 21, 2014 03:20 PM

More than 60 years ago, I attended a YWCA overnight camp, where all the staff members had camp names.  The only one I remember was Crafty, because she decided that I, about 7 years old or so, was the ideal confidante for her marital problems.  I'm sure I gave wise and insightful advice--not.

July 21, 2014 09:07 AM

Not necessarily.  There are several traditional pronunciations. 

July 20, 2014 03:17 PM

The traditional nickname for Eleanor is Nell/Nellie/Nelly.  Other Luc- names: Lucille, Lucia, Lucinda, Luce, Lucasta, Lucie, Lucette, Lucilla, Lucienne, Lucina.

July 19, 2014 04:31 PM

Some Modern Hebrew names (non-biblical, non-religious):

Adina (gentle, delicate, tender), Aviva (spring), Aliza (merry, joyful), Ayala/Ayelet (doe), Gila (joy), Ilana (tree), Levana (moon, white), Liora (light), Shani (scarlet), Shifra (beauty, grace), Shira (song), Sima (treasure), Varda/Vered (rose), Yaffa (beautiful), Zehava (gold), Ziva (light)


July 19, 2014 02:47 PM

I do know any adorable little boy (toddler age) named Quinn, so male Quinns are still out there.


Talia is a very popular Modern Hebrew name, and it means dew.  It is also a nickname for Natalia in various languages and a variant of Thalia.  Waistline need not enter the picture, unless you plan to live in Russia or among Russian speakers.

July 19, 2014 02:39 PM

I had a colleague Seraphia(S'RAY-fee-ah), and uncommon variant of Seraphina. Also Sybella, Alaia (a Basque name), Celestina, Cerise, Cybele

July 19, 2014 02:30 PM

Perhaps Anthea, Xanthe, Roxana, Letitia, Rowena, Carys, Callisto (names suggested on the basis of meaning and compatibility with Evander)