Of Names and Politics: The Palin Story

Sep 3rd 2008

It's an unprecedented event in American political history.  Never before has a vice-presidential selection caused such a stir, such a surprise...with her children's names.

In fact, no naming event has ever filled my inbox with as many reader queries as the unveiling of Sarah Palin--mom to Track, Bristol, Willow, Piper and Trig--as John McCain's running mate.  "Any comment?"  "I've never heard Trig as a name for anything but a math class."  "Is this 'an Alaska thing'?'"

In a way, yes, it is "an Alaska thing."  If you had nothing to go on but the baby names and had to guess about who the parents were, you'd guess that that they lived in an idiosyncratic, sparsely populated region of the country...and that they were conservative Republicans.

When I divided the U.S. map into name style regions, Alaska was a mix of two styles: Frontier and Creative Fringe.  Frontier naming regions include the Mountain West and the Appalachians.  The typical Creative Fringe state is a world unto itself in history and culture, like Hawaii or Utah.  Alaska is a natural blend of the two.

Frontier names, especially for girls, lean toward nature names and androgynous surnames/place names.  That would cover Bristol, Willow and Piper.  Creative Fringe names include new word-based names, elaborate, romantic names, and well, the creative fringe.  Neologisms are rampant, from Nevaeh to Track.

But there's more.  One reader noted, "Palin is an evangelical Christian, yet there is not a biblical name in the bunch."  It's a telling observation.

For the past two decades, a core set of "cultural conservative" opinions has served as a theoretical dividing line between "red" (Republican/conservative) and "blue" (Democratic/liberal) America.  These incude attitudes toward sex roles, the centrality of Christianity in culture, and a social traditionalism focused on patriotism and the family.  If you were to translate that divide into baby names it might place a name like Peter—classic, Christian, masculine—on one side, staring down an androgynous pagan newcomer like Dakota on the other.  In fact, that does describe the political baby name divide quite accurately.  But it describes it backwards.

Characteristic blue state names: Angela, Catherine, Henry, Margaret, Mark, Patrick, Peter and Sophie.

Characteristic red state names: Addison, Ashlyn, Dakota, Gage, Peyton, Reagan, Rylee and Tanner.

Even when biblical names are trendy in conservative, Christian-focused communities, they're typically not the classic names of Christian tradition.  They're Old Testament names that summon up a pioneer style with an exotic flair, often with a modern spelling twist.  Names like Malachi, Levi and Kaleb are hot in Alaska, while names like John and Elizabeth rule in liberal Washington D.C.

Why is it the blue parents who name with red values?  Because in baby naming as in so many parts of life, style, not values, is the guiding light.  The most liberal and conservative parts of the country differ on key style-shaping variables, like income, education level, and the age when women marry and have children.  A community where the typical first-time mother is a 22-year-old high-school grad is going to have a very different style climate from the community where the typical new mom is a 28-year-old with a college degree.  When you factor in the creative-naming effect that comes with remote and ideosyncratic regions, you get a neo-naming explosion.

p.s. If you're interested in regional naming differences, look for much more here soon!


By Jessica (not verified)
September 4, 2008 12:21 PM

Hey. I have one... Charles and Caroline, Michael and Michelle, etc... How about Michael and Michaela. They go by Mikey and Micky. No kidding.

I have been pondering the name Levi since it came up thanks to the current events. What is YOUR gut reaction to it. Biblical, Western, or something else??

By Kate, mom of T, G, and J (not verified)
September 4, 2008 12:55 PM

Miriam -- interesting re: naming choices being affected by baptismal practices! My husband's father was Catholic (infant baptism) and his mother Evangelical (adult baptism). He and his brother were baptized as infants per his dad's tradition ... and have solid, traditional names that are both biblical and Catholic saint names (both first names and middle).

Funnily enough, though his mom is an adult-baptism Evangelical, she does not feel free to name children in creative ways. She wrinkled her nose at a middle name we were considering, which was a combo of her first and middle names, and has made it pretty clear that she thinks a "Christian name" (by which she means a "biblical name" -- Catholic saints don't count) is a necessary component of any child's name (including our children).

By Kate, mom of T, G, and J (not verified)
September 4, 2008 12:56 PM

Jessica -- Levi is biblical ... but did you mean, why did his parents choose it? Because they like Biblical names, or because it has a Western feel, etc.?

By Kate, mom of T, G, and J (not verified)
September 4, 2008 12:58 PM

One last comment -- I know siblings Stephen (oldest in the family) and Stephanie (second oldest).

By Carly (not verified)
September 4, 2008 12:59 PM

@Amy3 - for your coworker's baby brother to Charles, I prefer the MN "Emmett" (w/double "T" ending), though I feel the spelling should be however it's been used in her family.

From her FN list I like:
Henry (but NOT the nn Hank) Emmett
Samuel (nn Sam) Emmett

Agree heartily w/ others who've suggested:
Thomas Emmett (nn Tom)

James Emmett (nn Jim)
Tobias Emmett (nn Toby)

Best wishes!

By RB (not verified)
September 4, 2008 12:59 PM

Charles and Caroline...there is a "real life" sibset with these names--in Pride and Prejudice!

I'm really sorry if my speculation on Bristol Palin's name seemed offensive to anyone. I didn't mean it to be so at all. And I certainly didn't mean the name choices I suggested to reflect poorly on the young lady--they were just what came into my head. As I already said, I wish her well, and feel terrible for her getting thrust into the spotlight like this.

By Amy3 (not verified)
September 4, 2008 1:00 PM

Thanks for all the name suggestions for Charlie's new brother. Here is the feedback I have so far:

They aren't crazy about Thaddeus. She says she'll see what her husband thinks of Jasper, a name she hadn't considered. They can't use Roland because her husband wants to name their future dog Roland. They like Oliver, but don't like Ollie for a nn.

She didn't say anything about Thomas so I can't tell what her read on that is.

By Grace (not verified)
September 4, 2008 1:11 PM

To Mari("I don't like the idea of baby names as a commentary on one's social class/education/political affiliation. It justs feels so... wrong and inaccurate.") and others concerned with this:

It's interesting, because there's a chapter in Stephen Levitt's book "Freakonomics" about naming trends and how they relate to social class and education. (I think this book has been mentioned before, since it also predicts the top names for the future--I don't have it with me right now to recall the year)

Though I agree there are certainly exceptions, I think Laura's hit the bullseye! I too have been waiting for someone to address the Palin children! Can't wait for more regional analysis!

By Missy (not verified)
September 4, 2008 1:28 PM

Oh my word! My sister and I were discussing this long before Sarah Palin's kids' names were even known. We noticed how the names in Maine, Montana and Alaska always had a flair to them and because of that I always wanted to move that way. It's like since being cut off from trendy cities, they can do what the heck they want and I love that.

Alaska rules when it comes to baby names.

Because of them my baby list name rocks! My son's name is Izaiah Adrian Rebel and when I have more kids, I'm going in that same vein.

By J&H's mom (not verified)
September 4, 2008 1:37 PM

Hmmm....Our denomination baptizes infants, but there isn't any particular requirement about the child's name.

BTW, my husband, who finds discussing names when we aren't anticipating any additional children very odd, announced out of the blue that he loved the name Mahtilda.
Seizing the moment I said, "And don't you love Piper?"
"Piper," he said, "I love Piper."
So, at least some of the Palin children's names have broad appeal. I'm not even sure I'd consider Willow all that creative-is it more so than Ivy or Lilly?

Amy3-What is your friend's definition of too popular?
Come to think of it, I'd love to do an informal poll on this issue.
I know many of the regular posters to this forum would consider a name in the top 100-or even 1,000, too popular, but I suspect the general population isn't quite as fanatic about it.

By Lissa (not verified)
September 4, 2008 1:40 PM

I live in Connecticut, but I like names like Zebediah, Summer, Arrow, Cassius, Ignatius, Isaiah, Phoenix

So what does that say about me?

I'm definitely not the one to name my kids Jack or John or Emily or Christina, but there are nothing wrong with those names.

Just as I wouldn't do made up names like LaQuan and Detricia.

If you had nothing to go on but the baby names -- I want people to think "Hey I'd like to meet this kid's ma!" or "This mother must be off her rocker!" Ha.

By Casey (not verified)
September 4, 2008 1:47 PM

Off topic, but had to share the names of a family of four children. My mother is a teacher in an urban elementary school, and often sees the children of new immigrants. A family of four Vietnamese children have gone through the school. The first two: Tin and Thin (spellings are phonetic -- I know they are wrong, but presumably traditional Vietnamese names). The next child was a boy: Franklin, which also happens to be the name of the elementary school. And the last little girl: Cathy. Presumably, Franklin and Cathy had traditional Vietnamese names at birth, which they dropped for "American" sounding names when they went to school. Such a fascinating illustration of these parents' efforts to assimilate.

By Melanie (not verified)
September 4, 2008 1:53 PM

I'll have to go back and look at the regional map post, I hadn't picked up on the fact that Utah would be one. Actually, my brother and sister-in-law have spent a lot of time living in both Hawaii and Utah and creative fringe does help explain my niece Naliy4h's name to me a little (apparently they took Aaliyah and added the n, the opposite of the chopping the heads trend discussed earlier). Because my husband likes using family names I've gone through the family tree a few time and been struck at how one branch of my family seemed to have names that screamed rural Utah to me. LaVerne, Hyrum, Della, LaRue, etc. I haven't always been sure what was generational and what was regional but I can definitely see how Utah has its own naming trends. Does anyone else have names they've come across that seem to pinpoint a location and not just an era?

By Carly (not verified)
September 4, 2008 1:59 PM

Yes, in general, it's challenging to discuss the social class implications of various names without sounding crass. That said, I think the posters here are unusually thoughtful & nuanced. It's not about casting aspersions at various social groups. It's about sharing useful information, which can be so hard to find IRL, particularly where people may not wish to offend. If someone is considering naming their child X, this is a place where they can go for some honest feedback from a wonderfully diverse group. Thank you, Laura for creating this space & for sharing your insights.

By Brunka de Loof (not verified)
September 4, 2008 2:12 PM

"Does anyone else have names they've come across that seem to pinpoint a location and not just an era?"

There are some very regional Italian names that only survive in certain Italian-American communities--so that, if I hear of a young guy, American-born, called Canio (for one example), it's a good bet they're from Northeastern Pennsylvania. I knew three guys my age and a couple adult men named Canio when I was growing up; it wasn't until I left for college that I realized that wasn't a common name, even among Italian-Americans. It's pronounced CAH-nee-oh there, though real Italians would say a smoother CAH-nyoh.

By Amy3 (not verified)
September 4, 2008 2:13 PM

J&H's mom -- Apparently James and Thomas (suggested earlier) are too common for her. She likes Tobias, suggested by Coll. She still likes Henry.

By Amy3 (not verified)
September 4, 2008 2:18 PM

Oh, sorry! It was Carly who suggested Tobias.

By RobynT (not verified)
September 4, 2008 2:26 PM

awesome post!!

btw i've been realizing that i like the sound of Bristol more than the look. when i hear it on tv, it sounds like Crystal and thus seems less "out there."

i'm thinking that the "blue" naming trends laura describes can be dangerous for liberals/Democrats. republicans like characterizing democrats as blue bloods and these "blue" names do sound quite blue blood to me... i hope this is not too much of a political statement.

i think people are being very respectful! i don't really understand the critique of speculating on what bristol palin will name her kid though.

By yet another Jenny (not verified)
September 4, 2008 3:41 PM

SS Beacon, I'm betting Bristol will name her baby Crystal if is a girl.

By nikki (not verified)
September 4, 2008 3:53 PM

Sarah, I'm surprised you find it so distasteful that we are discussing Bristol Palin's potential baby names. This is, after all, a place to discuss baby names! Within just the last few months, we have discussed what Gwen Stefani and Angenlina Jolie would be naming their children, and no one seemed to think that was distasteful. Just because she is in the unfortunate position of being pregnant at 17 doesn't mean we, as NEs can not have an interest in what name she will choose for her child.

I think this is a great post by Laura. I love thinking of general naming trends. And I must say that among folks I know, the trend is dead-on. All of our more highly educated friends have kids named Andrew, Anna, Kathleen, Colin, Aidan, Sarah, Benjamin. Our other friends, who have maybe a few college courses have kids named Brayden, Christen (yes, spelled like that). Also Reese and Caitlin who are a toss up between those styles, I think :) In fact, Reese and Caitlin's parents' are probably the most religious of the bunch! As far as politically speaking, most (but not all) of our friends lean toward Ron Paul Libertarianism!

By Valerie (not verified)
September 4, 2008 4:01 PM

Personally, my discomfort at the idea of discussing Bristol Palin's baby name comes from the fact that she is not a celebrity who has chosen the spotlight, although she is the daughter of someone who is/has. Bristol hasn't chosen the publicity, and may very well be experiencing the worst week of her life. It just seems too crass to me to treat her situation so lightly.

And by the way, I happen to be an Obama supporter, but I'm keeping any discussion of that away from this blog. It's nice to find a place where we can just talk about names and not politics!

By yet another Jenny (not verified)
September 4, 2008 4:09 PM


We also discuss the names given to children of our in-laws, co-workers, grocery clerks, and neighbors. None of these folks have chosen to be in the "spotlight." We're just talking names here.

Please note we are in no way discussing the circumstances under which Bristol is creating her family. That would be unsuitable for this blog and to my mind just plain inappropriate since she is a young girl

By nikki (not verified)
September 4, 2008 4:22 PM

Maybe I'm being a little thick here, but I'm still a little clueless as to why discussing the potential name is distasteful. It's not like discussing names is something shameful. Can anyone clue me in here?

By Jessica (not verified)
September 4, 2008 4:36 PM

my cousin had a baby boy last night and he needs a name.

Sibs are Calli, Charles (the fifth), Bryce and Braden. No Br- names and no -aiden names.

What would you name a baby *today*!

By Jessica (not verified)
September 4, 2008 4:46 PM

To whomever responded to my query about Levi... I was wondering what YOU think of when you hear it. For example: I am very strong Christian and it is not a *Biblical* name to me as much as *Western*.

About discussing Bristol Palin's baby's name: It must be remembered that it is the name we discuss, not her. Does that help your distaste? ^^ up the way Laura made it clear that she had deleted several comments and I assume will do it again if we get too far off course.

If ever a preggy mama needed grace it would be Bristol. This week.

By Amelia (not verified)
September 4, 2008 4:50 PM

This is off-topic, but related. I live in a blue state area where popular names seem often to be old-fashiony, trendy names like Violet, Stella, Lena etc. Our first daughter is Eliza, and we are looking for names for a new baby girl. We like the classic but not too common feel of Eliza. The names we have been talking about so far are:

Tilly (but don't like how Matilda sounds)
Tallulah (nn Tilly?)

I feel though that we are missing some great names. Any thoughts on these or other ideas. For various alliteration reasons we have eliminated names starting in A or V.

Thank you!

By Carly (not verified)
September 4, 2008 5:10 PM

@Jessica - Congratulations on the birth of your little cousin. Your question "What would you name a baby *today*?" is hard for me to apply to the birth of a child with several older siblings, because I feel there should be some symmetry amongst the names, and also because your cousin and I don't share styles (apart from the name Charles which I like).

Is little Bryce a girl or a boy? A family I know of has four children: Br00k3, Tyl3r, Paig3, & Bryc3 (a girl).

There seems to be a C and B pattern in the family, so for the new baby boy how about:


By Carly (not verified)
September 4, 2008 5:15 PM

@Amelia - For a baby sister to your Eliza (that does not begin in A or V):


Best wishes!

By Jessica (not verified)
September 4, 2008 5:16 PM

Bryce is a boy.
I agree about symmetry.
Girls name they like are Brielle and Elaina (maybe different spelling but that is the pronunciation.
Last name begins with K and rhymes with sign. Single syllable.

By Miriam (not verified)
September 4, 2008 6:10 PM

"Does anyone else have names they've come across that seem to pinpoint a location and not just an era?"

Definitely south Louisiana. Don't think you run into too many Theophiles (pronounced Toe-feel) and Alcees elsewhere.

By Jessica (not verified)
September 4, 2008 6:42 PM

Alert: "he" has a name.

Jamon Axel

The explanation was this: Jamon is Hebrew for Right hand of favor. Axel is hebrew for Father of peace.

I would love to hear from some of you who have more knowledge about Hebrew names than I.

By Leslie (not verified)
September 4, 2008 7:03 PM

Hyz, congratulations!!!! Minna Ivy is positively adorable, and I think her name suits her very well. Thanks for posting the pictures- she's quite a little charmer! Best of wishes to you and your family!

By Jessica (not verified)
September 4, 2008 7:05 PM

hyz: She is darling!!! O. wow. I like her name. And "WAY TO GO!" on the labor and pushing. You are the girl! ;) (I am a huge natural birth fan and pushed almost that long with my baby.)

By Miriam (not verified)
September 4, 2008 7:38 PM

"Jamon Axel

The explanation was this: Jamon is Hebrew for Right hand of favor. Axel is hebrew for Father of peace."

Um, not exactly. Axel is a north Germanic name derived from the Hebrew name Avshalom (in English Absalom). Avshalom means father of peace (av=father, shalom=peace). Axel is no more a Hebrew name than James is. James is derived from the Greek form of Ya'akov which is a Hebrew name.

Yamin is the Hebrew word for right (hand)--Yamin Elohim=the right hand of God. I remember learning a little dancing tune when I was a tot that went Yamina yamina, smollah, smollah (right right left left). I don't see anything in Jamon which would indicate favor, but maybe someone else can do better. (My Hebrew dictionary was also destroyed in Katrina, and I haven't replaced it.) If the name Jamon is pronounced like the j in strawberry jam, then Jamon is not Hebrew. As for whether Yamin is a Hebrew name, well, pretty much anything can be a name in Modern Israeli Hebrew naming practices. It is not a traditional Hebrew name like Avraham, Ya'akov, Yitzchok, etc.

Names like John, Mary, Elizabeth, James--and Axel are not Hebrew, although they do have Hebrew antecedents.

Let us just say that most of the online sources for baby names and their meanings are not entirely spot on. If someone happily told an Israeli that they had just given their son the lovely Hebrew name of Axel, the Israeli would say, "What?!"

By Coll (not verified)
September 4, 2008 7:39 PM

hyz, what a cutie! Congratulations. I'm glad you're back.

Amelia, I think the perfect name for Eliza is my (hoped-for) future baby girl's name, Josephine. I love the combination Josephine Eliza, in fact.

Others I like with Eliza (keeping in mind your preferences for Tilly, Ruby, and Olive):


By Miriam (not verified)
September 4, 2008 7:40 PM

Oh and congratulations to the entire Hyz family on its adorable new member.

By Sabrina (not verified)
September 4, 2008 7:49 PM

hyz--Major conratulations! Minna Ivy is an absolutely beautiful name.

Any of our great historians know anything about the names of early New Englanders Increase Mather and Cotton Mather? We're studying them in my history class, and it crossed my mind that someone on here might know the story or where to find it.

Re: Levi--My automatic reactions are, in order:
1. Biblical
2. Blue jeans
3. Western guy

Amelia--I like Ruby best. Good luck! Other suggestions (came up with this list before readin other posts, so I may be repeating, sorry):

Eo, thanks--I agree with you and the other poster, the K/K--Katya/Kitty thing was too much. I also think the K[vowel]t[second syllable] thing has soemthing to do with it. Thanks for sharing!

PS I'm going back to posting as Harriet...'ve decided that I like that name better.

By megan (not verified)
September 4, 2008 7:51 PM

my parents, both conservative republicans, belong to a conservative church that always announces the names of new babies in its newsletter and i was always perplexed by the palin-like name phenomena. this makes more sense to me now.

as for me, a 32 y/o, married, liberal, intellectual mother of penelope mae, 4, my own selfish reason for posting is because we just found out we are pregnant again and are looking for good sibling names for penelope mae.

my husband, a scientist, loves 'edison' for a boy - which i dont hate - but worry it will get lost in the sea of contemporary -en names - even if we would be using it in honor of thomas edison. i love the name bruno - but my husband does not care for it. any other boy suggestions?

we havent talked a lot about girl names, but i love:


...but like i said we havent done a lot of thinking there...

anyway - any ideas? penelope mae is 4 and so thrilled to have a sister or brother - we plan to only have the two children.

thanks in advance!

By J&H's mom (not verified)
September 4, 2008 8:12 PM

hyz-What a beauty, and she looks so smart, too!
Is she going by Minna or Ivy?
Thank you so much for posting-there was some concern about you!

Jessica-Zachary, Tate, Carson, Connor, Colby, Blaine, Xander, Nicholas, Tyler, Rylan

I can't explain why all of those seem to work and most aren't to my taste, but there you go!

By Amelia (not verified)
September 4, 2008 8:14 PM

Thanks for the suggestions so far for Eliza's sister.

Philippa is a name I like particularly because I like the nickname Pippa. However, I have never met anyone with the English version of this name (have met a Felipa), so I am wondering how it is pronounced generally - PHIL-i-pa or phi-LEEP-a?


By Harriet (aka Sabrina) (not verified)
September 4, 2008 8:19 PM

PS So at lunch today, I and a group of other 11th-grade girls discussed Sarah Palin's kids names. We're nerdy, politically liberal kids in the Northeast US; spectrum of socially liberal to conservative; spectrum of qualifying-for-food-stamps to upper-crust; white, Asian, and I think one Latina. The *general* consensus is:

Track: Weird, kinda mean--what if he turned out to stink at running or hated it?

Bristol: Slightly weird, but pretty.

Willow: Didn't really come up...not so novel I guess.

Piper: Cute, kind of random among the siblings.

Trig: Math class. Also kind of weird, what if he hated/was bad at math?

By Jessica (not verified)
September 4, 2008 8:29 PM

Miriam: Thank you for clearing that up for me. I knew you would come through. :)

Sabrina: I missed seeing the name Harriet. Welcome Back ;)

Amelia: I love the suggestion of Josephine. My understanding is PHIL-i-pa. I find it hard to roll out but I love the look of it.

J&H's mom: did you see the official name^^?

By Elizabeth T. (not verified)
September 4, 2008 8:31 PM

Hyz, I'm thrilled for you! Ivy is precious. You're biased, but not blind! It seems amazing to read about the birth of this child since I've been thinking about her name since the days when you were just naming rabbits. :),

By RobynT (not verified)
September 4, 2008 8:48 PM

hyz: congrats!! and thanks for posting photos! she is so cute!! and i am increasingly baby-obsessed; i guess my clock is ticking!

megan: i have heard of a penelope whose sister is named sabine. it's actually a very sad story (http://news.cnet.com/James-Kim-found-deceased/2100-1028_3-6141498.html). maybe you remember it from the news a few years back but besides the family's story sticking with me, the girls' names did too.

btw, i can't believe i forgot to tell you all. in class the other day (i teach freshman composition) we were discussing some readings and some students said they wondered what race the person they were reading about was. i asked what they thought and they said they thought she was white. when i asked what about the reading told them this, an (african american male) student pointed out that her name was sally. this cracked me up and i got to share my baby name trivia knowledge that there are in fact lists of top caucasian names, top african american names, and top crossover names. it also got me thinking on developing a course around names. ooh...

By Amy3 (not verified)
September 4, 2008 8:53 PM

hyz -- Congratulations on Ivy! She is beautiful!

Amelia -- I'll second the suggestion of Josephine for Eliza's sister. I think that's a great name with lots of nice nn possibilities.

I also would pronounce Philippa PHIL-ip-a. BTW, I met my first Pippa IRL this past weekend. She was in her 30s probably and completely charming, as I'd expect a Pippa to be.

megan -- We had a mom of a Penelope here recently who named one of Penelope's sisters Delphine, which is so close to Delphina I was struck. I would also suggest Beatrix here. Love that name!

Re: Levi, it has a much more Western feel to me than a biblical one.

I finally have my daughter's 2nd grade class list (we're in NYC):


Elias (pron EE-lee-us)

By sushi (not verified)
September 4, 2008 9:26 PM

Penelope's sisters for me would be my favorite off-the-beaten-track names, like Iris, Louisa, Harriet, Astrid, Rowena, Flora, Cleo, Glenna, Melisande, Bronwen, Agatha....

Eliza's sisters might be some of the same names?

Axel as Hebrew--yeah, that kind of explanation always cracks me up. I've had a few friends try these kind of "origins" on me, and it takes ever fiber of my being to keep from saying "No, Madison is *not* Gaelic for 'precious angel,' you ninny, think about it--does it even look or sound like a Gaelic word to you?" (That's a made up example, but you all can fill in with a million examples, I'm sure.)

Axel as Hebrew, though--huh. Can these Bible readers think of any other Hebrew names that have an X in them? I'd think that would be a big flashing clue it might have a very different history!

By Miriam (not verified)
September 4, 2008 9:39 PM

Re Penelope--

The only Penelope (Penny) I know is my age (meaning not at all young), and her (slightly younger) sister is named Jessica. They are from England. At the time they were born and named, Jessica was not the common name it has since become. At the time, both names were "literary"--Homer and Shakespeare. Well, they still are, but I don't think people automatically connect Jessica with the Merchant of Venice any more.

If you like the idea of hooking Homer up with Shakespeare, other possibilities are Miranda, Imogen, Cordelia, Portia, Perdita (might not like the alliteration of the P- names), Nerissa, Marina, Hermione (endings too similar?), Beatrice, Helena, Adriana, Bianca. I think I particularly like Imogen and Nerissa. Ethel-Mae notwithstanding, I doubt that there will be a plethora of Nerissas in any kindergarten.

By sushi (not verified)
September 4, 2008 10:01 PM

Oooh, but a trend alert--Miley Cyrus is voicing a character named "Penny" in an animated movie called "Bolt" this holiday season--about a dog named Bolt looking for his human friend Penny, it seems, and vice versa. Could give the name a little bump, especially in combination with Penny on LOST and Penelope Cruz and a few other pop-culture references....

By Philippa (not verified)
September 4, 2008 10:02 PM


It is indeed pronounced PHIL-i-pa, but I do get the mispronunciation phi-LEE-pa quite often. That, and Phi-LIP-a, which I *hate* and really can't quite understand.

I like my name and generally go by the full moniker, although it varies in social circles (Philippa, Philly, Pip, Pippa). Pippa's curently only really for family, but I do want to bring it back. It seemed too "litle-girlish" when I was a teen/20-something, but now that I'm in my thirties I actually have fallen in love with it again.I just feel weird changing it with my existing social network - like it would sound fake rolling off my friends' tongues. Maybe if I ever move...

By Aybee (not verified)
September 4, 2008 10:14 PM


Other options for Penelope sisters:

More Penelope brothers:

Hope that helps!