Hayaven backwards: on the meaning of meanings

Feb 18th 2009

Not long ago, a reader wrote to me about a name she saw in the newspaper that gave her pause: Nevayah.

For those of you new to the baby naming wars, the name Nevaeh is a one-of a kind phenomenon.  It was dreamed up by one prominent parent in 2001, based on an anagram -- it's "heaven" backwards.  The idea caught on like wildfire, so that today it ranks #31 among all U.S. girls' names, ahead of the likes of Katherine and Jessica.  The anagrammatic origin was the key to its appeal.  As I wrote in my book, many parents see it as "a loving secret message to a child."

But when the 2006 baby name statistics were released, I noticed something surprising.  The name Neveah -- note the spelling -- also cracked the top-1000 list.  In 2007, it moved up 100 points higher.  Haeven backwards?  What's the idea?

Some of those alleged Neveahs are likely to be transcription errors.  The -aeh ending is non-standard in English, and somewhere in the data-entry process someone could have easily transposed it to the more familiar -eah, as in Leah.  But I suspected that a large number of the Neveahs were real, and that the transposition was done by the parents, intentionally.  They saw that the -aeh ending was awkward, so they "corrected" it to something more familiar.

Since then, a rising tide of creative respellings supports that belief.  Not only are little Neveahs on the upswing, but so are Niveahs, Naveyahs and Nevayahs.  There's little chance that Nevayah is a mere transcription error (or that the parents think the world beyond is "hayaven").  Rather, those parents did what so many contemporary parents do: they looked at a popular name and decided to personalize it to make their child's name unique.

But there's a big, big difference between Nevayah and, say, Maddasyn.  Nevaeh's spelling is its meaning.  Respell it, and it means nothing!  Which makes it...just like every other name.

Nevayah and friends are the ultimate demonstration of how names have a life far beyond their literal origins.  This has been true for time immemorial.  You may be able to trace a name back to its Old English meaning, but even back when Old English was New many of the familiar roots (Eg, Ethel, Bert, Dred, etc.) had become standardized as name elements. They were recombined at will, regardless of meaning.  Yep, 12th-century parents were already doing their own version of mashups like Gracelyn and McKayleigh.

As soon as a word becomes a name, it takes on a new meaning.  It is a social construction, shaped by the people who bear it.  Which is why traditional name dictionaries, fascinating as they are, tell us only a small piece of the story.


By J&H's mom (not verified)
February 23, 2009 12:53 AM

Zoerhenne-Interesting point!
There is a little girl named Bryce in Henry's preschool. I've never liked it on boys, but it's really cute on her.

For the record, I'm not endorsing Cohen.
Honestly, it just isn't my style, and as I am a person who cares deeply about language, I like to think I would have researched it had it been one that I was considering.

My point, though, was that many parents, maybe even most, don't think about meaning, much less origin. I'm not sure I'm ready to make a blanket statement about all of these folks because their naming habits are different than mine. Maybe naming books should really begin with a List of Things to Think About!

I'd love to hear Laura's take on the subject.

February 23, 2009 1:02 AM

Miriam, sarah smile and others-Question:
Just to play the other side, what if I was thinking of naming my child Cohen because of the sound? So to be thorough I look it up and the book I have says it's from Cody or a surname turned first name but gives no other education on the matter. If I am not among the religious or know no one who is Jewish, then am I still using the name in ignorance? In summary, how much background research should prospective parents do on potential names?

By Coll
February 23, 2009 2:02 AM

zoerhenne, I think if parents who know nothing about the cultural and historical significance of the name Cohen choose it for their children then they are, by definition, ignorant: uninformed, uneducated, unaware. Ignorant doesn't actually mean "intolerant" or "prejudiced" in the way we often colloquially use it.

I find it difficult to believe someone would think of the name Cohen without knowing at least that it is frequently a surname. I've known many people with the last name Cohen. I've never met a single one with the first name Cohen. But I've also always lived in areas with substantial Jewish populations, had Jewish friends all my life, and am now married to a Jewish man, so I'm likely not your test case.

If it were more a matter of me deciding that I liked the sound combination Gogaga (for example) and giving it to my child without knowing that Gogaga has some special significance in, let's say, ancient Finnish culture, I think that would be excusable. We can't be expected to know all the possible connotations in every language of any conceivable combination of sounds.

But I just did a quick google search for "name Cohen" and the very first hit was a link to an entry in the Jewish Encyclopedia online explaining the significance of the title. There's really no excuse for not knowing.

So this is my standard for behavior in this situation: if you're considering a name that you know little about, that you think you made up, or that you've only just learned the existence of, google it.

February 23, 2009 2:35 AM

I think Zoerhenne makes a good point.

As I've mentioned before in other discussions, I am from an area of the country with no significant Jewish influence. I've learned a lot reading all of your comments on the name Cohen, and prior to reading your comments, I did not realize that using the name Cohen would be considered disrespectful.

So, as Coll suggested, I put myself in the place of an expectant mother who likes the sound of the name Cohen and wants to make sure there aren't any hidden meanings or associations that would make this a less than favorable name.

So I google "Cohen" and I get a lot of hits about Leonard Cohen and Sacha Baron Cohen. If I google "name Cohen," I do see the Jewish Encyclopedia reference that Coll noted. So I read this and learn about the history of the name, but even after reading the article, I wouldn't necessarily realize that mis-appropriating this name would be considered disrespectful. I read the next 4-5 entries and get some baby name meaning sites with various meanings and some mothers discussing using the name (in the first 10 or so comments I read, none that suggested this would be a bad idea).

So I guess my point is that if you are unfamiliar with Jewish culture, even if you do a bit of research on the internet on the name Cohen, I wouldn't have known the very vehement reaction this could create. I understand the points that everyone is making and I'm certainly not advocating the use of the name after discovering all of this, but be careful to judge because I don't think it is that easy to find this information on the internet. Learning that the name Cohen "indicates a family claiming descent from Aaron, the high priest" (from the Jewish Encyclopedia) isn't the same as learning that use of the name would be highly disrespectful to those of that descent. Perhaps this person thinks it would be similar to calling a daughter Princess or a son King.

As our discussions on this blog have recently revealed, there is soooo much misinformation out there on name meanings, and without Miriam's background, it can be hard to distinguish the good from the bad information.

By sarah smile (not verified)
February 23, 2009 3:19 AM

Zoerhenne, I think Coll is right that I would probably consider that ignorant, but also recognize that ignorant does not mean intolerant. Compared to Miriam I am ignorant myself about Jewish naming practices, and I am certainly ignorant about those of many other cultures. So I'm really not trying to slam well-intentioned parents.

In these days of merging cultures and creative naming, it's easy enough to stumble upon a combination of sounds that you like without ever realizing it has meaning to some. And Miriam's example of Elisa/Alisa/Aliza is a great example of how one name can have multiple different histories.

I do think there is a limit to how far afield you can be expected to research. If I pick a name I like that has a strong connotation in some remote part of the globe, I can probably be forgiven for not considering that. If you live in an area with limited Jewish influence, and your child named Cohen grows up in that area, it may never be an issue for him. But there are enough Jews in the US that I would be nervous about making that assumption, knowing that baby Cohen could easily grow up and decide to move to NYC.

I guess my thought is: I'm not sure google makes it clear that the name could be offensive, but I think it does make it clear that the name is Jewish in origin. And if I were going to choose a name of Islamic origin, for example, I would make a point of running it by someone of that background just to make sure it 'worked'. So given that Judaism is a significant minority the US, I guess I would hope that those parents would do the same. Even if you don't know someone personally, you can easily find a Jewish message board (I bet there are even Jewish naming boards), or look up the closest synagogue to you and call or e-mail the rabbi and ask. Wouldn't take more than a few minutes.

And if you didn't know the name was Jewish and chose it anyway because you liked the sound, or if you thought you were honoring a Jewish man like Leonard Cohen by choosing the name, than I would respect your intentions. But I would still think the name was bizarre every time I heard it :)

February 23, 2009 9:04 AM

Koen is also a similar sounding/looking short form of Konrad or Conrad, so given the amount of name-mangling and meaning-twisting people go through to get the perfect fit for their baby, I can see how someone who likes the spelling of Cohen would use it if alternate meanings and connections appear debatable. That history lesson was enough to turn me away, (mainly because who would want a name they felt so unwelcome to?) but I don't see how as a general rule it would be any different than calling your baby MacKenzie if you're Italian or something. Every surname is -someone's- claim to their heritage, right?

Does anyone know of any other "taboo" names?

February 23, 2009 9:13 AM

Oh several posts I hadn't read just popped up behind mine which would have summed up my thoughts! This is so interesting, as I'm from outside the States, and Jewish names have always just sounded like nice names to me.

February 23, 2009 10:28 AM

I just wanted to give everyone an update on my baby shower question (#78). I thought about my friends and who they are and I decided to leave the question on the baby quiz. Good decision, the expectant parents got quite a laugh over it!

February 23, 2009 11:10 AM

Thank you Coll, DRDS, sarah smile, and bianca for responding to my post question. I think the bottom line is Google everything! Also, my take on the word ignorant was more of "not knowing because of lack of trying/caring" so I just wondered if I DID try then would it still be considered rude. Again, thank you for your comments.

February 23, 2009 11:29 AM

With about a week to go in February, my monthly analysis is being updated. To date since the beginning of the year, there have been 130 unique names/sp for boys. (i.e. Aiden different from Ayden) For girls there have been 127. I'm sure as the year drags on there will be more repeating names, but anyone want to guess what the top names are so far? I will give you some hints.
1)consider each spelling as a unique name
2)there is a tie for the top with two names at 4 each for boys
3)there is a tie for the top girl name as well with two names having 3 each
4)*for an extra bonus challenge there are also four names with 3 each in second place for boys and eight names with 2 each for the girls
5)Location is PA=Neotraditional/slightly more Dem/high ethnic pop/middle income

Let's have fun.

By bill (not verified)
February 23, 2009 12:02 PM

there are also some non-jewish irish whose last name anglicizes to Cohen. maybe that's the culture they're yoinking.

captcha: Alistair roader

By bill (not verified)
February 23, 2009 12:11 PM

also, i just came across the abominable mn Grayce

February 23, 2009 12:33 PM


The Irish name is, I think, pronounced Ko-han (-han as in handle) or something similar, the 'h' definitely heard. The Jewish title/surname is pronounced in English Ko-en or (perhaps more usually 'cone').

As a thought experiment try imagining non-Muslims disrespecting Islam when naming a child. Say they heard the word 'hajji,' decided it sounded nice and bestowed it on their newborn son. A 'hajji' is someone who has made the pilgrimage to Mecca (the hajj), and that would clearly not be some random person's child. How do you think that would go down with Muslims, remembering what happened when a class of little Muslim children named their collective teddy bear Mohammed after one of the popular children in class?

A point I forgot to mention when we were discussing the Hebrew name Aliza. There is a line of alcoholic beverages named Alizé, and there are people who name their children after alcoholic beverages and beverage brands, including Alizé. That similarity might or might not affect the choice of Aliza, itself a perfectly lovely Hebrew name.

By J repeated (not verified)
February 23, 2009 12:38 PM

Nikki -

Thanks for letting us know how it turned out! I'm glad your friends got a kick out of the name's meaning!

By J&H's mom (not verified)
February 23, 2009 12:49 PM

Zoerhenne-Thank you for the analysis.
I get a particular kick out of it as one set of our in-laws live in Beaver.
They were among the first to offer a tentative endorsement of Henry.

Bill-Interesting points, as always. I have a hard time with such thought experiments as a life long mainstream protestant, because there are so few parallels for me. I'm not, for example, the least bit offended by children named Trinity or Kyrie or Bishop.
I understand it's not at all the same, btw; I'm just trying to explain (though not defend) why the thought experiment is hard for some.

February 23, 2009 12:55 PM

J&H-Glad you liked the analysis. Did you take a guess at what the tied names for number 1 could be? There are no Henry's at all yet LOL.

February 23, 2009 1:11 PM

J&H - Yeah, Dugan does remind me of the Duggars to an extent. Although I think after hearing it attached to a child it'd work fine. One of the potential spellings of Dugan is Duggan, but because of the Duggar family I think I'd stay with one D.

zoerhenne - I had a lot of names on my list, didn't I?! Well, by husband and I decided that the first name will be directly related to Donald, my dad, and the middle name would be a direct link to his family (maternal side) - many of the middle names I had listed before were just names that fit my rules WRT sounds, number of syllables, etc. So, we're down to James (or maybe Jack), and Elliot as mns. We'll probably use Tucker as a second middle.

February 23, 2009 2:47 PM

(Sorry have not read all comments.)

re: Cohen: As others have said, meaning is definitely important when it comes down to offense. I'm not sure how much research parents should be expected to do though. Is it fair if you take the name Cohen from your family tree without knowing that it is inappropriate? I think it might be. (I do think it would be strange for someone not of Jewish ancestry to use this name.) Also in response to other people's comments, I spent most of my life in a place with virtually no Jewish population, but I *do* know that it is commonly a surname.

1 Uppy Ear: I also think the double D in Alddon would be difficult. If you're going with one-letter off anyway, though, you might also consider Dalton. I think Aldon Elliot is great!

Names I feel are not mine to use:
I like middle-eastern sounds like Amira, but I don't think it's mind to use. I like Bison for sound and the animal connection, but it's too fake Indian for me.

By Cathie (not verified)
February 23, 2009 3:32 PM

Hm, the discussion about Cohen as a name is so interesting! I'm not sure how I feel about it... I guess if most Jewish people know about the association and most would be offended, that would make it "off limits" to me. But if it's more of a minority of folks, I think that makes it more fair game, because then it has taken on more of a cultural meaning as "just" a last name (even though for one group it has a specific meaning). Kind of an association tipping point, KWIM? I guess a person using it might still find out about that aspect of the name but think of it as just one piece of background info.

Also, this may sound ignorant, but can't non-Jewish families carry the last name Cohen? Since Jewishness is matrilinial (right?) and last names in our culture are patrilinial, someone's great-grandfather could be Jewish with the last name Cohen but married a gentile and then all descendents would be non-Jewish...making it "just" their last name. In that case Cohen could be just another surname name that honors a mom's side of the family.

We do have Christian neighbors with the last name Cohen... but I'm not sure if it's the Irish version or not... I wonder if it would be a faux-pas to ask, now that I know so much about the name!

I love the education I get on this board!

February 23, 2009 3:59 PM

Former Senator Cohen of Maine of Maine is not Jewish, for the reason Cathie cites. I also once had a colleague Cohen who wasn't Jewish--again the Cohen was on the father's side and the mother was not Jewish. Jews do not normally use last names as first names (I know a few who use them as middle names) and normally renew the first names of older family members (either departed as the Ashkenazim do or living in the Sephardic tradition), hence I would be surprised to learn of Jews taking the Cohen surname from their family tree and using it as a first name. I don't know what non-Jews who have the name Cohen as a family surname would do about using it as a first name. My guess is that if they have the surname Cohen somewhere in their family tree, they would know its significance and not use it, but I don't really know.

By Melissa C (not verified)
February 23, 2009 5:50 PM

1 Uppy Ear:

I was just watching a movie last name and I was thinking about your naming choices and wanting to honour your dad Donald. I thought of the name Docker... not sure if its your style.. its definately different but I thought it could still fit in well. I thought Docker could be a mixture of Donald and Tucker put together! What do you think???

By EVie
February 23, 2009 6:43 PM

This is sort of off-topic and I'm not sure if anyone is still reading this thread, but Miriam's reference to Alizé made me think of something interesting I read recently - according to Wikipedia, the word "alizé" refers to a particular trade wind that blows in Africa and the Caribbean November-February (from the article on "trade winds"). If it weren't for that liquor (which is probably named after the same), I feel like this could be a really beautiful name for Caribbean-origin parents who want to evoke their homeland. Would you think of people who used the name differently if you knew that were the inspiration, and not the liquor?

February 23, 2009 9:45 PM

I'll take a stab at your challenge, Zoerhenne.

Michael (latter two not very original!)

Nevaeh (just to tie in with the thread)

By Melissa C (not verified)
February 23, 2009 10:08 PM

Here's my guess...
- Nicholas


February 24, 2009 12:00 AM

re: name knowledge: i think this is also why it's important to test out a name on other family members, friends, etc. there's something to going with what you like and not wanting others' opinions to ruin it for you, but, there's the flip side too.

i like sarah smile's idea about running a name by someone from the culture of origin.

February 24, 2009 12:36 AM

Aww Uppy Ear, you're taking all my fun away LOL! I liked doing your spreadsheet and name combos. But if you insist then I think I like Aldon James better than Aldon Elliott. Also, I hadn't before thought this way, but Aldon James makes my mouth say it like "Awwwl-don" and Aldon Elliott(sp) makes my mouth think "Al-don"
So I don't know if someone mispronouncing it "Al-don" would bother you or not. I don't know if in that case the double D might help.

Melissa C + Elizabeth T-
Thanks for playing along! Here are the results:
Nevaeh=0 we have Nylah and Nayana though

Nicholas=2 and also Nicolas=1
Jayden=0 although there is Jameson=1
Jack=0 although there is Jackson=2 as above
Isabella=1 plus Isabel and Izabella
So good job on picking some of the runner-ups. The top names I have for the year so far are:
Mason=4 and Xavier=4
Joseph=3; Michael=3; Nathan=3; Noah=3
Ava=3; Brooke=3
Brianna=2; Calleigh=2; Emily=2; Emma=2
Jennifer=2; Lillian=2; Sierra=2; Sophia=2

Although I had stated above that I was counting each spelling as a unique name, if you combined the sp for Aiden you get=4 and Addison(combined sp) would=3.

February 24, 2009 12:58 AM

Slight adjustment on the names results posted above.
Kassidy=2 also and Noah=4 now
So three boys names are tied for first place and still 2 for girls.

Additionally, we had a Tannis(g) pop up. Someone ought to refer the parents to our earlier discussion around the new year and also to our recent discussions of Cohen. Unless, of course this was a way to bestow a tribute to a Thomas on a girl. In that case it is beautiful.

February 24, 2009 6:13 AM

Here's what Namipedia had to say about Cohen:

"Surnames of the British Isles are a hot American name style. Surnames of Jewish tradition are not...except this one. Cohen is a surprising hit name, propelled by its simple, trendy sound (and by comedian Sacha Baron Cohen). Ironically, religious Jews consider Cohen inappropriate as a baby name; it's a title of the ancient priests of Israel and their descendents. Cowan is an unrelated Celtic surname."

-- From "A World of Baby Names" by Teresa Norman; a source for baby name meanings, and for Namipedia, that I personally feel is more trustworthy than the rest of the lot because she comes to so many of the same conclusions as Miriam.

Yes, Cohen is totally inappropriate as a baby name, as are Jemima (US), Sambo, Shylock, Adolph Hitler, etc.

By Guest (not verified)
February 24, 2009 9:41 AM

Your comment about Bison being too fake Native American made me think of the names Cheyenne & Dakota. Much like Miriam's displeasure at people using Cohen, many Native Americans are offended by the use of these as given names. I would never use Cheyenne or Dakota (or Cohen) for this reason, but I can also see how some less informed parents would think of these only as place names.

By J&H's mom (not verified)
February 24, 2009 11:15 AM

Zoerhenne-I was pretty sure it would have been Aidan if you were combining spellings.

I'm sort of pleased not to see Jack and Henry, even though I've reconciled myself to their popularity.

Xavier is interesting.

How would everyone say this?

There is a Xander in Jack's class, and I've seen several polls on others sites with things like Zara and Zophia (!)

I'm wondering if X and Z could be the new A!

It's sort of the obvious, "We want something differnt route," no?

Of course, the other one I'm seeing gobs of is Ayla (the new Isla).

February 24, 2009 12:38 PM

Zoerhenne- How interesting! 2 Kassidys with a "K"?? How odd. Mason I'm not surprised, of the 3 newish babies at work one of them is a Mason. Kids under 5 here include:
Mason (as noted above)
Irene and Aurora
Amber (7 months)
Alexis (under 1)
Sophie (3) and Avery (1)
Naomi (were considering D3laney I think for a boy for their next, but I got the impression that had changed now that they're actually pregnant)
This is in MA.

February 24, 2009 12:40 PM

Oh I knew I had another question- J&H's mom I would say Xavier ex-avier or ex-zavier, however I'm not sure that's correct...anyone? I'd say Xander "zander" so that seems to conflict...

February 24, 2009 12:45 PM

@J&H's Mom - I'd pronounce Xavier like "ZAYVE- yur" - or to put it another way, like the word "savior" with a "z" sound.

Edit: Namipedia suggests that both pronunciations are used: "ZAY-vyer, and/or ehk-SAY-vyer"

By Amy3
February 24, 2009 1:21 PM

I say zay-vyer. Someone corrected me once (because I used to say ex-zay-vyer) by asking if I say ex-zylophone. That makes sense to me.

By GirlRandolph (not verified)
February 24, 2009 1:27 PM

RE: Cohen

I thought no Jew would name a child Cohen. But I was at synagogue a few weeks ago and there was a little boy named -> Cohen. To my mind, it's completely inappropriate. But clearly his parents didn't agree.

I don't really know if they are Jewish. I'm making an assumption based on the location. I don't know the family. I still think it is more likely than not that the little boy is Jewish.

February 24, 2009 2:37 PM

"But I was at synagogue a few weeks ago and there was a little boy named -> Cohen. To my mind, it's completely inappropriate. But clearly his parents didn't agree."

I could see Cohen as a middle name for a Jewish child, if Cohen was the mother's or grandmother's maiden name. This is not a particularly typical Jewish naming pattern, but I do know several Jewish men/boys who have a family surname (although not Cohen) as a middle name. I could also see it as a way to memorialize a whole family that was annihilated during the Holocaust when too many family members were lost to be recalled individually.

In any case, little Cohen, if he comes from a family that is at least little observant (and appearance at synagogue would suggest that), must also have a legal Hebrew name for religious rites (circumcision, being called to the Torah, marriage, divorce, burial, etc.), and the rules for what constitutes a legal Hebrew name are both complicated and stringent. Here is a discussion of what constitutes a legal Hebrew name, just to give an idea of how complicated the naming rules are (warning: this is difficult to follow even if one has some background knowledge in the field). http://www.jewishgen.org/databases/GivenNames/hebnames.htm

In any case, Cohen is not a legal Hebrew given name.

February 24, 2009 2:42 PM

Amy3-That is funny how you were corrected. I think it's an individual preference. One of those -Line or Lynn- things like for Madeline/Caroline, etc. But I like JennyL3igh do when I reading it say ex-say-vee-ur in my head. I think some may even be the Spanish pron of Hah-vee-ay too.

J&H's mom-I am surprised there are not more Jack's around. It seems like it would fit the area. Not so much with Henry though.

JennyL3igh-Yes it was Kassidy with a K! There is also 1 with a C.

For all-here are some other names I've run across in these announcements. J+H's mom, I don't see a Z thing so much as I see a J thing here.
There are 27 unique J names for boys given and 10 for girls. Z names are:
Boys=Zachery, Zakiah, and Zion(LOL forgot this was here)
Girls=Zariah, Zavie, Zorimar
Also, have an A thing with 19 for boys and 20 for girls including Avery, Alina, Adelina, Aliyana, and Alayna.

February 24, 2009 3:24 PM

I know that it's come up, especially after the octuplets, but when did the -iah ending become so popular? Zariah, Zakiah? I'm not sure there's a reason, I just didn't see it coming. The -en's make sense to me, but this ending surprises me (not that I don't see the appeal soundwise, I do).

By HMF (not verified)
February 24, 2009 3:31 PM

Names spotted in a recent New York Times article about parents in the Financial District (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/22/realestate/22cov.html):

Luke (4 mos.)
Henry (3 mos.)
Oliver (5 yrs.)
Cobi (presumably short for Jacob, 7 yrs.)
Quinn (boy, 1 yr.)
Caleb (7 mos.)

Yep, no surprises here!

February 24, 2009 4:07 PM

Hi there - name ideas for little ala Boo MAR -


Genevra Ilys - (I love you so)=Ilys


Manoj Larsden Eli

(I am concerned about using Eli for first name, with last name sounding so similar - Eli AlaBooMAR) JMO

Hope you are doing well, and I suggest, if you have a lap top in the hospital - check out www.nameberry.com as well.

All the best! Hennessee from Canada

February 24, 2009 4:31 PM

I assumed that the -iah ending was coming from the new school of popular biblical names with a long 'i' or -ah/-iah endings - like Isaiah, Micah, Levi, or Elijah, and ones like Jedediah, Zachariah or Zephaniah. Maybe the endings are catching on faster than some of the names?

February 24, 2009 7:04 PM

re: Kassidy: I work with an undergraduate with this name (and spelling). His last name also starts with a K--not sure if parents wanted KK?

re: pronunciation and being corrected: Not sure if I shared this before, but one of my profs is named Rhea and I always pronounced it Ray-a, because I thought it was a nicer sound than Ree-a. But she corrected me: it's Ree-a, for her at least.

re: -iah: Maybe it's partly to do with how -a is usually a girls' ending, but -iah is a way to get the -a for boys (Jeremiah, etc.)?

February 25, 2009 1:06 AM

I think the -iah sound is a result of a few things at play. JMO of course. Here are my theories:
1)it's just a pleasing sound-nothing else
2)it's a common ending in biblical names and therefore fits some naming trends
3)it's a natural evolution
For instance take the popular name of a while back Kayla(pron KAY-lah) well you could of course spell it a few other ways to make it fresh or different for YOUR kid OR.. you could change the vowel sounds and get Kyla or Kaylie and I think that then morphed into Kyliah or Kayleah or whatever.
Morphing is what names do-I think its cool although there are certain rules to follow which of course leads right back to the original post by Laura. Is Hayaven too strange or is it just a morph?

By Easternbetty (not verified)
February 26, 2009 12:13 AM

Hello, Name Enthusiast friends!

Sorry for my absence; why must work and family and special event obligations get in the way of the true business of life, NAMES?

Thanks for the shout-outs, Eo and Elizabeth T. They are much appreciated.


The posters who have said you have a rich variety of crossover Ethiopian-Western names were correct. You don't need to pick a solely Ethiopian name unless you want to do so. It's interesting that so many people have been talking about the name "Maren" because Maren/Meren is a fairly common girls' nickname in Ethiopia!

I'm sorry, I can't find your post amongst the hundreds on this thread; did you say you were adopting a little girl or boy?

Ethiopia and Egypt do indeed have an indigenous tradition of (Coptic) Orthodox Christianity that long pre-dates Europeans' adoption of the religion. There are thousands of Coptic saints (both Egyptian and Ethiopian; there are some spelling differences, but they are largely the same names) to choose from! If I were you and knew my child was of Christian heritage, I would do a google search for "Coptic church" and "Ethiopian Coptic Church" and "Ethiopian Orthodox church," get telephone numbers, and call their office to ask them if they have any church bulletins, church Yellow Pages, or other resources that would list names of parishioners.

Now, I have no way of knowing if your child comes from the Muslim minority or from one of the tribes that name tribal rather than Christian names. Could you find that information out? In several countries of the Horn and East and North Africa, relgion is akin to an ethnic identity. So, if you gave a Muslim-born child a Christian-only name or vice-versa, it would be a major faux-pas, similar to naming a Vietnamese-born child a Thai name, simply because they are both Southeast Asian countries.

So, let me know what you find out (or know) about your child's background--and congratulations!

Also, to answer your question, I'm personally fond of the "cross-over" approach that hyz (a poster here) took to her biological child, who is of both European and Korean ancestry. They named the child Ivy Minna, the latter name being an alternate spelling of the popular Korean name Min-Ha or Min-nah (sic?).

As someone from an immigrant non-Western background that is not well-represented in the West (though not adopted), I can tell you that everyone goes through their own "identity issues" differently. Some totally reject all that is Western and long to return to their indigenous roots, and others do the exact opposite and long for fully Western names like Ashley and Tiffany (er, well, I guess nowadays that would be Caitlin and Jayden).

Because you have no idea which way your child's identity issues will play out (and she'll most likely have some, no matter how hard you try to prevent them), the "cross-over" seems like the best of both worlds/best bet to me.

Put yourself in you child's shoes.

If you were named Imogen or Charlotte and, as a young adult, you wanted to visit Ethiopia and feel like you had some connection there, how would you feel?


If you were named Adey or Yetenayat but as an adult you felt it beneficial to have a Western name (whether for employment or personal purposes), how would you feel?

Better to allow for all options, IMO.

(I also disagree with the mentioned idea that the child should be named something "African-American." First off, there's no more "an" African-American standard than there is a single European-American one! Secondly, although some West and Central African immigrants may share some ancestry with native Black Americans, even these immigrant communities are very distinct from the latter, both ethnically, culturally, and often linguistically. This goes triple for the Horn countries, which have a their own distinct ethnic groups and culture--unique even within Africa (with some relation to Egypt/some parts of the Sudan). So, even if you could arrive at a single definition of "native African-American naming style" (which would be impossible, given the tremendous richness and internal diversity of this 400-year old community), it would be, again, a major faux-pas that would, I believe, be very disorienting for the child).

See? This is what happens when I "drop in for a quick comment on BNW." Back to work, now.

By Amy3
February 26, 2009 9:17 AM

Welcome back, Easternbetty! It's great to see you again.

By Easternbetty (not verified)
February 26, 2009 3:26 PM

Oh, thank you, Amy3!

By lotty (not verified)
March 23, 2009 5:07 PM

My sister's husband's name is Kevin. His mother said it's because it rhymes with heaven. My sister likes to point out that his middle name is Del and that rhymes with hell!

By Guest (not verified)
March 29, 2009 1:25 PM

Hi everyone,
I named my daughter Neleh. Yes, after Neleh Dennis on Survivor. The name sounds beautiful to me as well as unique. Also, my mom and my mother in law r both named Helen, but it was too old to name my daughter, so it worked out perfectly for me. And yes ppl have a problem pronouncing it but we just correct them. Unique spellings and pronouciations for names r beautiful! Keep up the good work ladies!!!

May 12, 2009 8:11 PM

Of all the websites I've gone to to look up the meanings of my babies names I loved babyhold.com it gave like a million different meanings of the names depending on the origin of it. I think the meaning is half of why I chose all of my kids names.

By New blood tests (not verified)
August 27, 2009 6:21 AM

Yes this is a problem like if we write Ruby or rooby the pronunciation will be different