Authentic Ethnic Names, Baked Fresh Every Day!

Aug 13th 2009

Does your family have Scandinavian roots?  Would you like to honor that tradition with your daughter's name?  Here's a great choice to consider:


Ronja is a literary name, the heroine of a novel by a revered Swedish author.  The book and name are both well-known and well-loved throughout Scandinavia; the name is a current top-100 hit in most of the region.  Ronja is the local spelling, Ronia the standard English equivalent.

That's a rock-solid ethnic name, right?  A name distinctive to Scandinavia, with meaningful cultural/literary origins.  Now: does it matter when that literary origin took place?

The book in question is Ronja Rövardotter (Ronia the Robber's Daughter) by children's writer Astrid Lindgren, author of the Pippi Longstocking books.  (Regular readers may recognize this book as the source of another name I described recently, Birk.) Ronja was published in 1981, and a 1984 film version was a huge regional hit.  So the name is the product of one woman's imagination, less than 30 years ago. Doesn't that make it a modern, invented name instead of an authentically ethnic one?

Perhaps the answer is that it's both, modern and "authentic."  After all, the name Wendy was created by J.M.Barrie in Peter Pan. Vanessa was dreamed up by Jonathan Swift for Cadenus and Vanessa.  Great authors enrich their cultures with names as well as ideas, and that's every bit as authentic a process today as in centuries past.

If you look closely, you can see contemporary, authentic names being created all the time. For example, saoirse is the Gaelic word for freedom.  Patriotic Irish parents started using the word as a name in the 20th Century, and it's today it's the 29th most popular girl's name in Ireland.  It's not a traditional given name, but a truly and purely Irish one.

Does it mean anything, then, to talk about "real" or "authentic" names from a particular culture if new authentic names can be created every day?  I think it does mean something.  It means...that it means something.  That the name has cultural meaning and resonance beyond an individual family's choice.  A beloved book by a local literary icon or a term from a cherished linguistic heritage is an emblem of shared meaning, part of an ethnic identity that binds a people together.

In contrast, a baby name invented by one family is about individual rather than collective meaning.  Even if that name grows into broader popularity, it doesn't have the same hold on a culture's shared sense of self and community...for a while, at least.  Individual inventions have to prove themselves.  If an unrooted name manages to stick around long enough, it can create its own roots in the culture in the form of the generations of people who live their lives with that name.  Eventually, its origins may cease to matter.  After all, how many of us hear Vanessa today and think Jonathan Swift, or hear Cheryl and think "creative made-up name?"


By Tau
August 13, 2009 2:00 PM

I'm not sure Barrie actually created the name Wendy; I think it appeared about a century before the Peter Pan story, and only became well-known as a woman's name after Barrie's publication.

I would be interested to know where it first appeared, though.

By PhilippaThe First (not verified)
August 13, 2009 3:26 PM

Ooh, I actually do know an American family with Scandanavian roots who have a 2 year old Rh0n@. And they recently added a son named Th0r5ten, nicknamed Th0r. That's a lot of Scandanavia!

August 13, 2009 3:27 PM

Tau, there may have been occasional men & women known as Wendy before Peter Pan (1904), but it wasn't generally considered a name -- e.g. there are no Wendys in the 1871 or 1891 England census lists. Barrie took it from a baby-talk nickname ("fwendy-wendy") someone called him as a child.

August 13, 2009 5:09 PM

"In contrast, a baby name invented by one family is about individual rather than collective meaning. Even if that name grows into broader popularity, it doesn't have the same hold on a culture's shared sense of self and community...for a while, at least."

Nevaeh springs to mind. I think soon, though, that name is going to leap the pond (if it hasn't already) and will be seen as quintessentially American and of a certain time period.

August 13, 2009 5:09 PM

"In contrast, a baby name invented by one family is about individual rather than collective meaning. Even if that name grows into broader popularity, it doesn't have the same hold on a culture's shared sense of self and community...for a while, at least."

Nevaeh springs to mind. I think soon, though, that name is going to leap the pond (if it hasn't already) and will be seen as quintessentially American and of a certain time period.

By Tau
August 13, 2009 5:13 PM

"Fwendy-wendy" = Wendy
Smiley = Miley (Cyrus)

Do any other names come from baby talk?

By Guest with a question (not verified)
August 13, 2009 5:21 PM

I'm having a baby - YAY!

I need a boy's name that starts with an M. Preferably Mar. But not absolutely necessary. It's for a middle name.

I've already ruled out Matthew and Michael.

I'm considering Marion. Can boys still use it? Ironically, my husband really likes Marion.

Yiddish and Hebrew names very welcome!

Thanks... I'm at a loss here.

By Astrid (not verified)
August 13, 2009 5:30 PM

Oh, as an Astrid, I adored all of Lindgren's books. I still shiver at the thought of the harpies in Ronia the Robber's Daughter! I wonder if it would be odd if I, as an Astrid, had a daughter named after a character in an Astrid Lindgren book. Hmmm....something to consider for future children...

PhilippatheFirst, We considered the name Torsten for our oldest son (spelled Tor- not Thor-) but ultimately went with Axel (another Scandinavian name.) My brother is Karsten (another great, underused name, in my opinion), so having a Torsten ultimately felt like too many "ends with -sten" names in one family.

By Guest (not verified)
August 13, 2009 5:30 PM

I thought the Irish name was Saoirse, not Saorise?

"Guest with a Question": Martin? Marlon? Marius?

By Birgitte (not verified)
August 13, 2009 6:16 PM

Actually, Birk is way older than Lindgren's book. And the meaning is birch.

In Scandinavia, naming your daughter Ronja is a bit like naming her Mackenzie here. Mostly done by younger mothers with less than a college education.

Was that too snarky? Sorry...

By Birgitte (not verified)
August 13, 2009 6:16 PM

Actually, Birk is way older than Lindgren's book. And the meaning is birch.

In Scandinavia, naming your daughter Ronja is a bit like naming her Mackenzie here. Mostly done by younger mothers with less than a college education.

Was that too snarky? Sorry...

By jenmn (not verified)
August 13, 2009 6:23 PM

Guest with a question - Mark/Marc, Marco, Markus/Marcus, Martin, Marvin? What first name are you trying to match it with?

August 13, 2009 6:46 PM

#9-I caught that too from PPP's recent dilemna's.

Guest w/?: Marshall/Martin/Marcus

Re Scandinavian names: Grwoing up a new a family with such roots. Dad's name was Trygve. Girls (2) were Nancy and Bridget.

Linnaeus-In reference to the last post, I think of the harder consonant sounds as more masculine. There are categories within that though. It seems the more westerny the name, the more masculine it seems also (although there are exceptions). As noted these classifications are all subjective though. Examples:
In between names-Scott/Mark/Sam/Joe/Nick/Ben
"Soft" names-Don/Cliff/Hugh/Pete/Paul/Theo/Ross

By Anna (not verified)
August 13, 2009 7:11 PM

Thoughts about Ronja from an insider:

It is general knowledge in Scandinavia that Ronja is a "fictional" name invented* by Lindgren but I have never heard anyone comment negatively on that. Somehow, as Laura said, the name just fit right in, especially in Sweden and Norway where its use took off from day one.

In Denmark the name was off to a slower start. I think that had something to do with the general naming trends and a preference for girls names ending in -e at the time. That has since changed and nowadays popular names are names ending in -a as well as Nordic names. And the use of Ronja has skyrocketed...!

Coincidence? Hardly. I think this fits beautifully with Laura's point: Swedish Lindgren invented a name that became an instant hit in Sweden. 15 years later Denmark adopted the name as "Nordic" names became popular in Denmark. And it doesn't matter one bit that the name is an invention - that it is "made in Scandinavia" just makes it even more authentic.

**Lindgren is said to have been inspired by some lakes in northern Sweden with names that end in -ronja. Supposedly this is the word for lake in the language of the indigenous people in northern Sweden, the Sami.

By knp (not verified)
August 13, 2009 7:13 PM

masculinity: So funny on what is a "masculine" name-- example:
I would have put Eric in the "soft" catagory but Hugh, Don, Paul, Ross in the def. masculine catagory.
I totally agree that "western" names scream manliness.
DH and I both agree that 1 syllable boys names tend to be more masculine (and less likely to be taken over by girls). He actually pointed this out to me in a recent conv.!

Birgitte: I don't know too many Mackenzie's but they are all in family's with parents that are doctors and lawyers so I do not have that feeling at all.

Laura: I love this post and think you hit on something with the "collective meaning". I think this is that 'mystery factor' that parents look for when wanting a unique name, but is still accepted collectively.

By sarah smile (not verified)
August 13, 2009 7:15 PM

Some M names guest:


Marcus was the first one that came to my mind, but I see others beat me to it. Meir might be a nice nod to a Mar beginning, also. I think Marion is a bit feminine these days, but for a middle name it might work fine.

By Anna (not verified)
August 13, 2009 7:24 PM

"In Scandinavia, naming your daughter Ronja is a bit like naming her Mackenzie here. Mostly done by younger mothers with less than a college education." (#11)

Disagree with that. Source?

By Tirzah, not logged in (not verified)
August 13, 2009 7:29 PM

Baby talk names- I forget which celeb named his son Peanut after the "in the womb" nickname.

By chrispy (not verified)
August 13, 2009 7:33 PM

I knew a Ronia who was Lebanese.

And Marion was John Wayne's birth name, wasn't it?

August 13, 2009 8:24 PM

Way overdue birth announcement:

Mark Joseph LN, April 15th, brother to Timothy Joseph (AKA Timmy)

Thanks to the many who helped us from Samuel to Mark. (Oddly, just as Mark Twain did.) And we can now officially give away our girl name, Jane Emilia, to a family that needs a girl name! We're done!

To Guest that wants an Mar name: Mark is increasingly growing on me because of the crispness of the sound amid the Aiden sound alike names.

I agree with the posters that Nevaeh is making the leap to "real name".

By aepd (not verified)
August 13, 2009 8:24 PM

Does anyone have a good source for the origin and historical use for Marion and Marian? It is my aunt's first name, and she has always wanted to know a bit more.

August 13, 2009 8:57 PM


For a Yiddish or Hebrew Mar- name, I think Mordechai (or Mordecai) comes the closest. It's also got lots of cool-factor. Marion is a fine name, too--indeed, that was John Wayne's name.

Now I gotta ask: What makes a name "westerny"?

August 13, 2009 9:40 PM

I was thinking more of the names Laura puts in the Frontier catagory in her Namemapper feature. Names that are popular in say Wyoming and Montana but not in say California/Connecticut or any Southern or Mexican "fringe" state. Examples:
Dakota-first used in Wyoming (92)+ Montana(97) in the 1990's.
Clint-First seen in 1970 Wyoming(76)+ Utah(95)
Luke-more popular in Frontier and Midwestern states in the 1980's
Following this logic, Ross should also be a "westerny" name.
Again, remember it is still a subjective thing! I'm sure many of you can give examples that DO NOT fit this portrait.

By valvh (not verified)
August 13, 2009 10:24 PM

We named our now 7yr-old Martin, I love the name, there aren't too many kids with his name around, but it is easy to spell and also fairly masculine. I like classic names.

my suggestions;

August 13, 2009 10:34 PM

linnaeus, as far as westerny names go, i also am mostly going by laura's catagories in BNW (and my own opinions). she refers to "wyatt" as a wild west throwback and i tend to agree.

By PunkPrincessPhd (not logged in) (not verified)
August 13, 2009 11:21 PM

Re: Saoirse (yes, this is the correct spelling :)

I tend to make a distinction between "invented" names and word/virtue names, in the sense that there is a long, established tradition of using virtues, words, and personality traits as names across a variety of cultures (indeed, isn't that what first-names, by nature, are intended for?).

There is a difference, in my mind, between "Miley" and "Mercy" for example, and this extends to Saoirse - I don't see it as very far from "Freedom" or "Liberty" as equivalents in the American tradition.

By PhilippaThe First (not verified)
August 13, 2009 11:24 PM

I was referencing a Rh0n@ pronounced ROW-na. But now I'm thinking Ronia/Ronja might be pronounced more like RON-ya. Clarification?

August 13, 2009 11:49 PM

Barrie did not invent the name Wendy at all. He is to credit for making it as popular as is was, but it was already a name.
There are records of people being given this name in the 1880s in the U.S.

It also did appear as a boy's name in the 1881 in England.

August 13, 2009 11:54 PM

as someone said before, i believe the name wendy was occasionally encountered, but only rarely. personally, i'd be willing to give him credit for inventing it, as it seems close enough to me. he'd almost certainly never heard it on an actual person before, and it is due to him that it achieved widespread usage.

August 14, 2009 12:04 AM

Thanks for catching the Saoirse typo! That's one problem with a blog full of names, spell check is useless. :-P

As for Barrie not "inventing" Wendy because you can find Wendys born before 1904, I think the question is what "inventing" a name means. Barrie came up with a name that was unknown to him and 99% of the populace and didn't even have a gender assignment, and established it as a girlish standard. To me, that counts. (P.S. -- I suspect the 19th-century Wendys are rarer than you think. If you look closer at those English census listings, you'll find that almost all are transcription errors for names like Henry.)

August 14, 2009 12:40 AM

Guest with a question: how about removing the "n" at the end of Marion, and making it Mario? That is unequivocally male.

I do have a cousin in Germany named Marion, who is male. But the potential for teasing for a boy, even though it's a middle name, might be there. Would he hate having that name? Your call.

August 14, 2009 2:24 AM

Philippathe1st -

Ronia the Robber's daughter is one of my favourite films ever! It was shown on SBS about a gazillion years ago and my mum had the foresight to tape it. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find a DVD with English subtitles.

Anyway, yes, it's pronounced RON-ya. With a slight roll of the R. And Birk is BEERK. There are plenty of good names in that book - Ronia's mother is called Lovis, I wonder how that does in the Swedish name charts?

By Anna (not verified)
August 14, 2009 3:33 AM

Clemency -

Lindgren didn't invent Lovis, the name existed already in the 18th century. It is very rare nowadays, though. Lovis is perhaps derived from Louise via Lovise or Lovisa, which are old Scandinavian spellings of Louise. Both Lovisa and Louise have been popular in Sweden recently but their rise began before the book.

Generally speaking, are fictional mothers a source of inspiration for names for children? If we consider invented or very, very rare names, and a story with some reasonable parallels to the real world - will the story not label the name as a mother's name? Particularly if the fictional mother is a secondary character or we only meet her after she has become a mother? Or does it mainly have to do with age?

August 14, 2009 8:22 AM

Back to the original post, I see Ronia/Ronja as an equivalent to Sonia/Sonja and thus would pronounce it with a sound that is somewhere between Ron-ya and Rown-ya. It's not bad but I prefer the S if I had o pick between the two.

Also, I'm equating this post with the discussions we've had in the past about the invented name Renesmee. Wonder what the future will bring for that? I doubt it will get as widespread use as Wendy but who knows.

By mekiki (not verified)
August 14, 2009 8:40 AM

Okay, about the MacKenzie lack of education thing. I was reading what people were saying (and whether or not it was snarky. I guess it was, but it made a good point. And my comment might be snarky too.) and thinking about who would use that that name. Maybe not people lacking education, but people lacking confidence in their own decisions, or people who don't really think about or care about names and what they symbolize. Right now I'm equating that type of person to the kind of person who has someone else pick out the art on his or her walls. I remember being in a meeting a few years ago. We were waiting for someone before things got rolling, and two people were talking about art. I guess one had just moved and wanted some art for her walls, and was asking the other (who was considered artsy) for ideas or to pick the stuff for her. To me, that's just amazing (in a bad way), that someone would have someone pick something for you like art. Does that make any sense?

By the other Amber (not verified)
August 14, 2009 8:55 AM

Guest with a Question - Congratulations! The first Mar- name I thought of was Mario. I think Marion's still useable as a boy's name, especially if it's pronounced in a way to make the o clear. DH knew a Marion as a kid, and it never struck him as feminine, but that may be dependant on the boy and on those around him (DH is quite accepting, being a military child). It's acceptance as a masculine name will largely depend on the area he's in. Personally, I think Marion is fine as a middle name.

By doahleigh (not verified)
August 14, 2009 9:21 AM

My good friend named her daughter Ronia after this book. She's not at all Scandinavian though! My friend is white American (with no Scandinavian roots that I know of) and the child's father is Filipino. She's an adorable girl though and the name fits her perfectly.

August 14, 2009 10:20 AM

OK, about "the Mackenzie thing"--I am having a hard time with the idea that it is OK to make assumptions about the "kind of person" who would use a certain name. I realize there is statistical data that does show certain trends, but there seems to be quite a lot of judgment tied in when people are talking about those trends. I think that most people, whether they name their child Astrid or Madison or Nevaeh, are giving their child a label they have an emotional connection to; something that conjures up images of the kind of person they want their child to be and the kind of life they want them to live. For example, Makenzie could strike a parent as a bold, confident, spunky sounding name--traits they would like their daughter to have. It might remind of someone they know. Whatever the reason, I am sure people do not just randomly pick names because someone they know used the same name. I'm sure parents who name their kids Emily and Jacob thought long and hard about their decision, and chose those names for their own personal reasons. There, I just had to get that off my chest. And no, my kid is not named Mackenzie :)

By sarah smile (not verified)
August 14, 2009 11:36 AM

What about Marlon as an alternative to Marion? Very similar, but without the gender issue. Or Myron?

By meppie (not verified)
August 14, 2009 12:35 PM

Landry, I respectfully disagree that assumptions can't be made about the parents. Names move up, down, and sideways through the socio-economic strata, and while you wouldn't be right 100% of the time, names are often indicative of the parents' position on the social ladder. It is interesting and fun to watch the evolution of name use (as the Freakonomics guys did), and does not have to be judgmental at all.

Guest - I vote for Marcus. My first name is Marcie and I always loved the Warlike/Mars etymology of names beginning with Mar-.

My favorite names from literature (though they weren't created by the author):

Ichabod - Wikipedia says it is derived from the same name as Jacob



Minerva McGonagall

By Jessi Ronan's Mum (not verified)
August 14, 2009 1:40 PM

Landry,meppie and Birgitte very interesting. No judgement on my part just curiousity what would my kids name say about me.He is 3 years old living in Canada and is named Ronan,If the question was posed to my mother in law she would say it says I am difficult.But she hates his name so we wont go with that.
I am always trying to get a feel for names what "the lable" is, might be implied with a name. I am usually clear on what the moms age would be other then that I have no idea how they are perceived,always interested in others opions and what they take from a name.

August 14, 2009 1:52 PM

jessi ronan's mum,
to be honest, i wonder if our opinions here on the blog aren't skewed, just a bit. on the last post, someone remarked that they thought the names charlotte and olivia as a sibset sounded like the parents were "trying too hard." i'm not trying to criticize this person (sorry--i can't remember who said it at the moment!) because i understood their reasoning, but that's *here.* people here might perceive the sibset as...trying to follow trends too closely? or trying too hard to sound sweet and old fashioned? however, i have a feeling that the average person outside this blog would simply say that sisters named olivia and charlotte were lovely names that they liked very much.
all that in preface to say that our label for a "ronan" may be very different from the average person's (or maybe they aren't--i could be wrong). that being said, i'm...not sure what i would assume about a ronan's parents. possibly that you had irish roots, but not necessarily. i guess i would just think you were a little off the beaten path (in a good way).

August 14, 2009 2:02 PM

just to be clear, i include myself in that. i am as guilty as anyone, if not more so, than being heavily biased regarding names.

By QSRTP (not verified)
August 14, 2009 2:02 PM

Ok, so what are the thoughts on giving a child a name that has strong biblical roots, when the parents aren't very religious? We are thinking of Malachi for a middle name, as we really like the way it sounds with the first name we've picked and our last name, but we don't want to offend anyone if they ask us about why we chose it and we say "we just really liked the sound, and the way it flowed with our names," with no reference to it's religious background.

Any suggestions for a similar sounding/feeling name? His first name will start with an F and our last name is To**k - with the t and o pronounced as "toe".

August 14, 2009 2:29 PM

does anyone know if there is there a masculine form of catherine/katherine/kathryn?

By Anna (not verified)
August 14, 2009 4:10 PM

"... I respectfully disagree that assumptions can't be made about the parents. Names move up, down, and sideways through the socio-economic strata, and while you wouldn't be right 100% of the time, names are often indicative of the parents' position on the social ladder." (meppie #40)

While I absolutely agree with this, I think the adjectives thrown at parents of Mackenzies (and Ronjas) were unsubstantiated. Take a look at the Namemapper-timeline for Mackenzie: The name is used throughout the US, practically evenly distributed among states of different political and economical standings. Poster #11 is entitled to her opinion, of course, but there is no basis in the statistics for the generalisation she made.

August 14, 2009 4:15 PM

sorry to ask another question so quickly, but my friend is thinking about naming his daughter valecia. does anyone know anything about this name/have any thoughts on it? how would you pronounce this?

By meppie (not verified)
August 14, 2009 4:17 PM

Jessi Ronan's Mom - A dear family friend of ours is named Ronan. He's 30 and pleasantly surprised that his name is being picked up by more and more parents.

Emilyrae - Good observation. I was the one who said "trying too hard." I tried to soften my words by putting it in quotes b/c I didn't want to offend, but you're right: it's probably only true *here*.

QSRTP - Go for it! I doubt it would offend anyone, though some people may assume it's a religious name so I wouldn't be surprised if you field those kinds of questions.

Another "M" biblical name is Mahlon, pronounced May-lun. It lacks the hard sounds of Malachi, but fits nicely into current trends without being common.

I'm biased about Mahlon - it's my grandfather's name, my father's name, my brother's middle name, my son's middle name, and the middle name of a slew of cousins. One of my girl cousins is even named Mahlon, pronounced May-Lynn. Plus, you get the super cool nickname Mack.

By Anna (not verified)
August 14, 2009 4:20 PM

PhilippaThe First, Zoerhenne - I pronounce Ronja as Run-ya with a short 'o', not long as in Rown-ya.

By Anna (not verified)
August 14, 2009 4:29 PM


Valecia - the first thing that comes to mind is the city of Valencia in Spain, so I see Valencia-without-the-n. I have never heard Valecia before and, to me, the name look a bit made-up. But I could probably get used to it, there isn't anything inherently awful about Valecia.