Authentic Ethnic Names, Baked Fresh Every Day!
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?"