Hey Judas

Jan 14th 2010

Is Riley the same name as Ryleigh? What about Emily, Emmalee and Emilia? Ask any mom of a Riley or Emilia, and they'll tell you absolutely not. Small variations in a name can carry big cultural distinctions.

Those variations, by the thousands, are a defining feature of today's name landscape. They're hardly a new phenomenon, though. For a case study of fine -- but important -- name distinctions, let's turn to the most influential naming text around: the Bible.

Allow me to present two classic biblical names. Matityahu is Hebrew meaning "gift of God," with the Greek form Matthaios. Yehuda is Hebrew meaning "praised," with the Greek form Ioudas. Each of the names is borne by multiple biblical men, with three pairs of linked examples.

In the Books of the Maccabees (Bible in some traditions, apocrypha in others), the Jewish priest Matityahu rejects the assimilation demands of the Seleucid Greeks, sparking a war of revolt. One of Matityahu's sons, Yehuda, becomes the leader of the revolt and is one of the Bible's legendary warriors. You may recognize the father-son pair better as Mattathias and Judah Maccabee.

In the Gospels we find multiple accounts of how Jesus selects and trains 12 apostles to spread the good news and establish the church. Among the 12 are Matityahu, Yehuda and Yehuda. You probably know them as Matthew the Evangelist, Jude the Apostle, and Judas Iscariot.

Later, after Judas betrays Jesus, another apostle named Matityahu is chosen to take his place. You probably know him as Matthias the Apostle.

Names can vary among different versions of the Bible, and even from book to book within a single version. (Jude is referred to at times as Thaddeus, Matthew as Levi, etc.) I'll leave it to more qualified biblical scholars to explain how and when Mattathias/Matthew/Matthias and Judah/Jude/Judas diverged. But here's the kicker. It's widely accepted that the distinctions were deliberate choices on the part of translators, with the purpose of clarifying the text.

The translators took advantage of linguistic variations to carve out little arenas of name individuality. As a result, those variants have very different cultural connotations today. Naming a son Judah creates cultural and stylistic links to Judah Maccabee, the Lion of Judah, and the same kind of antique style that separates Jeremiah from Jeremy. Naming a son Jude suggests Jude the Apostle, St. Jude, Jude Law and "Hey Jude." Judas, meanwhile, has become a word meaning "traitor."

The same process happens, albeit on a less dramatic level, with most modern name variations. Ryleigh doesn't summon the same Irish androgyny as Riley. Only Emily connects to the likes of Dickinson, Bronte and Post. If you accept that a name's "meaning" goes beyond its derivation, then the meaning shifts with every variation.


By CGDH (not verified)
January 14, 2010 9:48 PM

I think that modern English-speakers' sense that a variant spelling creates a new name is very much a product of relatively recent orthographic stability. Before 1800, spelling was much more variable (at least in American English), so a single individual might be named "Anna Coolidge" in marriage records, "Anne College" in death records, and "Ann Kooledg" on a gravestone. Today, we make a tremendous distinction between "Ann" (#830 on the charts) and Anna (#26), but colonial-era Americans didn't.

By Qwen (nli) (not verified)
January 14, 2010 9:53 PM

Fascinating! I've always been one who would have said that Riley and Ryleigh were the same dang name with random, variant spellings. But I can definitely see that Riley's parents are aiming for a different style and image than Ryleigh's.

January 14, 2010 10:25 PM

Wow! First of all I must say that I loved the title of this post! I do see spelling variants as totally different things. To me Riley and Ryleigh or Emily and Emmalee are TOTALLY different. I didn't realize all of this about the biblical names though. That's really interesting! Great post!

January 14, 2010 10:27 PM

Also, to repost from the last thread:

@ Mirnada: I agree that a French mn works with Ursula and your ln. I like Claire but I think the names with two syllables work better. I especially like:
Ursula Mireille
Ursula Delphine
Ursula Suzanne
Ursula Felice
Ursula Pascale
Ursula Manon

Then again, I've been taking French for three and a half years in school and am pretty good at pronunciation so.... But Suzanne and some of the others are all pretty well known.

By another Laura (not verified)
January 14, 2010 11:17 PM

Just today my daughter, Cl@re who is 6, was complaining to my aunt about the "i" people always put in her name. We chose that spelling b/c that is how St. Clare's name is traditionally spelled. I don't mind Claire spelled with an "i" but for me it wouldn't connect her to the saint the way Cl@re without the "i" does.

By Anna S (not verified)
January 14, 2010 11:59 PM

Now this is interesting - we call both of the apostles Judas (Judas Iskariot and Judas Thaddeus). My working theory is that Judas never had the potential to become a name in Scandinavia without (major) modification, thus the need for a distinction between good Judas and bad Judas never arose. Maybe?!

By knp (not verified)
January 15, 2010 12:19 AM

Well, even though i wouldn't go for it, (I might be a bad barometer also not a HUGE fan of Matilda)Ursula might be on the upswing-- there was a character on Bones named Ursula tonight!

By knp (not verified)
January 15, 2010 12:20 AM

by the way, I'm warming to Ursula the more I see/hear it...

By Melbe19 (not verified)
January 15, 2010 12:30 AM

From the previous discussion to the poster whose husband wanted to acknowledge his sister, Lisa Carrie. Namipedia lists Caroline as the original name that Carrie was a nn for. Maybe you could go with Margaux Caroline? Even though it's the name of the magazine, I also really like Marie Claire, esp if the child goes by both names.

By Rjoy (not verified)
January 15, 2010 1:15 AM

This hits home for me as I am a Rebekah not a Rebecca. I know it is odd but I have always felt like they are two different names.

By Alice in Wonderland (not verified)
January 15, 2010 2:40 AM

The title of this post is so relevant to my naming stress! Baby 2, a boy, is due in a week and a half. He'll join big sister Anya, 3-syllable last name: P----Y. We're completely stalled out in our name search, and our big problem is that my husband and I keep nixing each others' suggestions.

Two of our top choices are Jude and Rowan, although I'm a bit concerned that both of these names seem to be rising quickly in popularity. We're also considering H-names to honor a family member, particularly Harrison or Harris (although, for me, these are more viable as middle names).

Any suggestions or ideas?

By Keren not signed in (not verified)
January 15, 2010 3:22 AM

You've made my day - as the mother of a 10-year-old Judah, sometimes known as Jude.(Named after a great-great grandfather, and Judah Maccabee and for Hey Jude which we played when he was born)
The 'Judas' connection has never caused a problem - until he joined Latin club at school. The teacher addresses them by the Latin versions of their names at the club, which would make him Judas. So, at Latin he's known as Tiberius!

January 15, 2010 9:10 AM

There's a boy in Izzy's daycare named Yehuda! His parents are Orthodox Jews. His name tripped a lot of the Hispanic day care workers for awhile, but now they've got it. He's just starting to talk and he calls himself Duda. So cute!

By Eo (not verified)
January 15, 2010 9:41 AM

Alice in Wonderland-- Your two possibles, "Jude" and "Rowan" do go well stylistically with "Anya". You are correct in perceiving a trendy vibe with them.

For "H" names, a decade ago I would have had "Henry" at the very top of my list, but it seems to be headed now for over-use as well.

Since you do seem to have at least some qualms about currently or potentially over-used names, here are a few less frequently-seen "H" possibilities:

Hamish-- derived from Gaelic form of "James". Great for Scotiaphiles!



Hezekiah-- underused Biblical meaning "the Lord has strengthened". And don't worry, it has nice nickname potential!

Holmes-- this is one of my family surnames I wish we had given as a middle to my son. People have used it as a first since the nineteenth century. And Sherlock Holmes is one literary reference I love.


Hugo-- much discussed in previous thread!

By Jillc (not verified)
January 15, 2010 10:10 AM

Great post! As much as I like to combine spellings for research purposes, how a name "looks" is important to me (much like the Theresa/Teresa discussion on the last thread). DD's second fn is Katherine, named after my sister, who is a Kathryn; I liked the name, but preferred the look of the first spelling.

By Amy3
January 15, 2010 10:31 AM

I agree that differing spellings often carry completely different connotations. We knew we were giving our daughter Katherine as a mn after two of her great-grandmothers. My grandmother spelled her name as I did above, and my husband and I assumed his grandmother had too since she was always known as Katie. We found out just before our daughter was born that Katie was really a Catherine, which left us needing to choose a spelling. I like them both, but they feel different to me. Catherine is quieter while Katherine feels more spirited. We ended up with the K spelling.

By Edith Bouvier Beale (not verified)
January 15, 2010 11:06 AM

I like Ursula--it's all Ursula Andress to me--but I just can't get behind Delphine. But I'm really amazed at how often Delphine gets suggested here as a possible first name/middle name. Am I just an oddity in not liking it, or is there a very small but vocal Delphine minority that operates on this board? Maybe it's just the way I pronounce it: del-FEEN, slightly nasaly, and akin to the dated Noreen or Eileen. Is there a more appealing French pronunciation that I'm missing?

January 15, 2010 11:28 AM

i don't love delphine either, if it makes you feel better. i don't strongly dislike it, but i've never been a huge fan of names that end with an /een/ sound. christine, irene, denene, janine, etc. there are exceptions; for example, i thinks sabine is fun. but in general, it's just not a sound that appeals to me.

By Mirnada (not verified)
January 15, 2010 11:39 AM

Alice in Wonderland:

I do know a baby Jude in my circle and have run into a baby Rowan (and I think have heard rumblings about it on this board), but I doubt either will be annoyingly popular. I think they're both great names. Rowan Harris P**** sounds great, I think. Harrison is maybe less ideal with the 3 syllable last name, I think. I did a little search for H names for fun. Some are more out there than others, but you never know...


There's Henry, but that's hugely popular. And then there's Hugo, which has recently been talked about and seems to be very well liked on this board. I just mentioned Hugo to my husband, and he instantly liked it (we couldn't use it I don't think because his surname ends in an "O" sound).

Thanks for the suggestions for Ursula! I like Ursula Lisette and almost can go for Ursula Delphine (I don't know why, but I have a hard time with names that start with D). I think if we had two daughters, we'd probably go with:

Ursula Sabine
Anya Pascale

By Mirnada (not verified)
January 15, 2010 11:53 AM


That's so funny. Christine always seems a little mean to me, while Christina doesn't...Nadine seems dated (1950's) and Janine makes me think of a secretary or something. Don't know why Sabine seems chic to me when the other ones don't.

By EVie
January 15, 2010 12:09 PM

Re: Jude - I met a Scottish female Jude while I was at grad school in the UK, and I seem to remember that in the movie Bridget Jones's Diary one of Bridget's girlfriends was named Jude as well. Do any of the Brits out there know if this is a more androgynous name in the UK, or maybe a popular nn for Judith?

Along the same lines, I always thought of the name Jules as masculine, but in the past few years I've heard it used a lot as a nn for Juliet, Julianne, etc. (eg. Keira Knightley's character in Bend it Like Beckham).

January 15, 2010 12:24 PM

@EVie, I know that there is a Jude Deveureaux, who is a female author.

I think of Jules as a boyish nickname, the Julie I know that goes by Jules is definitely more of a tomboy, much as Keira Knightley's character in BILB was. Maybe "Jules" is a way to "masculinize" ("boy-ize"?) a girly name such as Juliet or Julie.

By another Laura (not verified)
January 15, 2010 12:28 PM

My youngest daughter is named K@th@rine in part after my mom C@therine. I wanted to honor her (and the saint Catherine of Siena would have been a great bonus) but I really wanted to call her Kate (of course we've ended up calling her Katie) and to me there is a world of difference between Kate and Cate. I'm far too traditional in naming to have a Cate.

By Anonymous (not verified)
January 15, 2010 12:29 PM

This post has given me a lot to think about. I don't think I'd really noticed how subtle the question of when two names are "the same" is. Would you say that the meaning contributed by the spelling is part of the basic meaning of the name, or would you place it in a different tier?

To me, it seems like the difference between denotation and connotation in ordinary words, but it's not quite the same, because the "meaning" of the name isn't the primary denotation; the name denotes people who have it. Knowing that one's name means X in a particular language is sort of extra information. But the nuances contributed by the spelling aren't concrete enough to be the primary meaning.

Thanks for a really thought-provoking post.

January 15, 2010 12:34 PM

Alice in Wonderland:

Here are some other H-names I'd consider:


I think the difference between Jude and Judas is extremely interesting! Would Jude have ever been kept around as a name if there wasn't a Jude Thaddeus? While Judas remains quite tainted for a name (from the last thread, a 2000-year Tiger Woods effect) The English naming of Jude the Apostle has managed to protect Jude. Was Jude still Judas in the Latin translation?

By Lara Jane (not verified)
January 15, 2010 12:42 PM

IDK... I just can't wrap my mind around all of the different spellings for the same name.

Take N'Sync'er Joey Fatone (Fat One, as we like to call him, even though he isn't): His daughters are called Briahna and Kloey. Oh. My. Gaaaah. I want to claw my eyes out when I read those names!

So where do you draw the line between derivative versus kre8tiv?

January 15, 2010 12:58 PM

Lara Jane:

There isn't really a difference between the two, and the names you presented show it. Compare Kloey to Chloë. Chloë has a history behind it, and suggests certain aspects. Kloey, on the other hand, divorces the name from its history, and suggests different qualities.

Certainly, some respellings can cause more or less difference than others. Aidan has Celtic roots that Aydin does not. However, the differences suggested by, say, Jayden and Jaden are far less.

However, changing the spelling of a name does affect its qualities and feel, and that, I believe, is what is important here. As you mentioned, the names Briahna and Kloey cause different feelings than, say, Brianna and Chloë cause. Different feelings, different names.

January 15, 2010 1:23 PM

I agree that Kloey looks harsh to my eyes, but according to a namecandy article from yesterday http://www.namecandy.com/celebrity-baby-names/blog/2010/01/14/new-baby-alert-joey-fatone-welcomes-kloey-alexandra, it's a mash-up of Joey and Kelly, the parents' names.

I have thought about the difference between Jude and Judas before, because I teach 4th and 5th grade Sunday School, and the kids were confused by the book of Jude, asking if it was written by Judas.

And, kind of a digression, but Jesus also had a brother named Judas, according to Matthew 13:55. I always thought the sibset was kinda funny--Jesus, Joseph, James, Judas, and Simon. I feel like Simon is the odd one out!

By Anna S (not verified)
January 15, 2010 1:26 PM


Both Jude and Judas (The Judasses, Iudae??) are Iudas in Latin.

By Anna S (not verified)
January 15, 2010 1:59 PM

Speaking of Kloey - a pet peeve of mine is the C-to-K substitution in names with /Ch/ - like Chloë to Khloë.

Another one is when people use foreign words or names in the wrong context - like naming someone Diem with reference to Carpe diem.

And while I'm at it, orthographically incorrect spelling/pronunciation really bugs me too.

I don't want to make assumptions about the kind of parents choosing such names but secretly (and involuntarily) I wonder about the parents' literacy. Maybe this is related to my complete inability to not spot typos?

January 15, 2010 2:08 PM

I think that our sense that variation in spelling creates new names is an interesting result of the relatively recent trend toward orthographic stability in English. Before 1800, spelling was not stable — your name might be written "Ann Coolidge" in one record, "Anne Colege" in another, and "Anna Couledge" in a third and they would all be considered "correct."

I do a lot of work with colonial American records and always have to decide whether to count names like Esther/Hester, Anne/Anna, Isabel/Isabella as the same name, since records often use them interchangeably. Anyone who has genealogical work has probably run into similar problems.

By Annee (not verified)
January 15, 2010 2:11 PM

I like Judah better than Jude for the very reason you gave of its rising popularity. I also really love the Irish Name Eamon(n) which is the equivalent of Edmund. Good luck!

By Annee (not verified)
January 15, 2010 2:15 PM

Oh, is someone suggesting Hugo as a first name? Yes! I love this name (my grandfather's) and am so pleased to see it pop up now and then in the discussions.

January 15, 2010 2:18 PM

@Anna S--ha, I also have a complete inability to not spot typos. My latest pet peeve is how everyone seems to suddenly think that an apostrophe is necessary for pluralization in English...as in "I miss my friend's" or "I want new CD's". ACK!

By Annee (not verified)
January 15, 2010 2:21 PM

Re: Katherine/Catherine/Katharine

I think many, many Kate's & Katie's are Catherines, Catherine being the more traditional Catholic spelling, and back in the day it didn't much occur to parents to spell it Cate/Catie (sorry, it just looks wrong to me too!). The Katies I grew up were pretty much divided between Catherines and Kathleens, although I suppose one of them could have been a Caitlin (the earliest one I found born in Minnesota was in 1959).

By Qwen (nli) (not verified)
January 15, 2010 2:38 PM

@Alice in Wonderland – Oh my goodness, a week and a half to go, how exciting! FWIW, I LOVE the name Jude, it was on our boy list at one point (but my husband arbitrarily vetoed it with a lot of other perfectly lovely names). While it IS on the rise, it’s still not uber popular. It's SSA rank last year was 224 and according to Name Voyager there were less than 500 babies per every million born named Jude in 2008. I like the suggestion of Jude Harris P—Y.
Meanwhile if you're going to pick Rowan (which is also very nice and ranked in the 300s), I like Harrison as a middle name. I think the repeated “n” sounds at the end of each name sounds very put together. Good luck! I’m sure whatever you pick will be wonderful.

By Qwen (nli) (not verified)
January 15, 2010 2:41 PM

And RIGHT after two people mentioned typos I write 'it's' in place of 'its'... :(

By Sukey (not verified)
January 15, 2010 3:09 PM

I think Emilia and Emily are different names. But what about Emilia vs. Amelia? They sound the same, but give off a totally different vibe and, I think, have different roots. Emilia seems more Spanish or Italian to me whereas Amelia seems more English or Germanic. I happen to love both but think it would depend on your last name which way to go.

By ClaireP (not verified)
January 15, 2010 4:08 PM

"I always thought the sibset was kinda funny--Jesus, Joseph, James, Judas, and Simon. I feel like Simon is the odd one out!"

What I understand is that, at the time of Jesus's birth, there was a "back to Jewish roots" naming culture, in response to the Roman occupation. Jesus is a variant of Joshua; Joseph is, well, Joseph; James is a variant of Jacob; Judas has been well-covered in this post; Simon is a form of Simeon, the second son of Leah and Jacob.

Contrast this to the biblical characters of Esther (named for the Babylonian goddess Ishtar), and Mordecai (named for the Babylonian god Marduk) - these are assimilationist names.

Mary (= Miriam), Joseph, and the people around them were making political statements with their naming choices, rather like black Americans who might choose an African name to show pride in their heritage.

January 15, 2010 4:14 PM

wow, clairep, that's totally fascinating.

January 15, 2010 4:15 PM

Off topic, but there's a little quiz/game going on on the NameCandy.com celebrity baby names blog at http://www.namecandy.com/celebrity-baby-names/blog/2010/01/14/new-baby-alert-jillian-barberie-reynolds-welcomes-rocco-rio-plu

I am completely stumped and it's driving me crazy... if you know the answer, can you please post in comments over there (or here if that's easier)


January 15, 2010 4:30 PM

Anonymous, post 23, I agree with you. This post is very thought-provoking! I have always considered names spelled differently to be different names; Laura articulated some reasons for that very nicely.

By another Laura (not verified)
January 15, 2010 4:55 PM

Annee - It hadn't occured to me to name her Catherine and spell her nickname Kate. Where were you last year???...too late now I guess. =)

January 15, 2010 5:15 PM

Keren- I thought you'd enjoy this post, with a son named Judah!

So, Latin club, eh? I'm intrigued....I suppose Molly could be Molly- Mary- Maria
and Alfie could be Alfredus. But what does the teacher call the kids with names like Kiley or Braden?

By EVie
January 15, 2010 5:21 PM

Re: Emilia vs. Amelia - Emilia is derived from the Latin Aemilius/Aemilia, a Roman family name. According to the Oxford Dictionary of First Names, Amelia's roots are unclear, but it is probably a result of confusion between Emilia and Amalia (a German name meaning something related to work, labor). Amelia appears to have shown up starting in the 18th century. Just think - the 18th century's version of a kreative mash-up! And today nobody looks twice.

I do have to say though - I pronounce Emilia and Amelia differently. Emilia begins with an "eh" sound, as in "eggplant," while Amelia begins with an "uh" sound - though I guess if you say them fast enough the differences diminish.

By Anna S (not verified)
January 15, 2010 6:11 PM

Sukey -

I think all names in the Emily, Emilie, Amelie, Amelia, Amalia... family are variations of something that was once the same name. Differences in spelling and pronunciations have split the common ancestor into what are now individual but still related names. Some variations may also have blended back into each other. The pronunciation of a/e and e/ie/ia in the various European languages is so fluent that it is hard to track down which is which when and where.

To reverse the original question - is the same name the same name in different languages? Are Emilie (English, /EM-i-lee/) and Emilie (Swedish, /eh-MEE-li'eh/) the same? What about when the sound is the same but the pronunciation is changed to accord with different languages? What about a name that is pronounced exactly the same, has the same spelling, but has different connotations in two countries/cities/families? ...phew!? We may just have to declare all names unique ;-)

By cileag (not verified)
January 15, 2010 6:21 PM

Alice in Wonderland-

I had Jude and Rowan on my list for our baby born in October (who ended up being a Phoebe). Since then, I've noticed both names rising in popularity quite a bit and I think they were on the future top ten list too--I can't find the link though via google, anyone know what I mean?

Other names I was considering since we have similar style I think were Soren and Graham.

By Keren not signed in (not verified)
January 15, 2010 6:33 PM

Cileag - My children are Phoebe and Judah (Jude for short) Never come across anyone else before who's come near to that combination.

Jude was more female than male in the UK a few years ago - now it's a name for women over 40 (short for Judith or Judy) and boys under ten.

Valerie - Latin club, I imagine the non-translatable ones get names like Julius or Octavian. I'm trying to thing who goes..Hector and Antonia are definitely two kids in the class..

By Aziraphale (not verified)
January 15, 2010 6:37 PM

Hosea? I don't know. It sounds a lot like the quintessential Canadian put-down, "hoser." (No one actually uses that anymore, but still). Heath, Hunter and Haydn seem too trendy to me, and it's hard not to think of ice cream when you hear Hagen. I think Harris is a good choice, though.

January 15, 2010 7:09 PM

Very interesting post and conversation! I agree with others that have said that the variant spellings of names give off different vibes to each other. Either through the perceived creativity of the parents, the history of the name or the association that variation brings up. Where I think it does matter is how much the name 'blends in' in the playground or social group. Ryleigh and Riley and Chloe and Kloey are going to sound exactly the same when yelled across the playground or called out on the school roll. We only 'get' the associations when we see the name written. This happens less often than names are spoken. So when people are looking for something less popular they should probably look at the combined rankings for alternate spelling and pronunciations to gauge how popular a name really is.

"Jude was more female than male in the UK a few years ago - now it's a name for women over 40 (short for Judith or Judy) and boys under ten." I agree with this statement for Australia. I know quite a few middle aged women who go by Jude but are actually Judith. Jude is not uncommon in the young boy set.

@Alice in Wonderland - I prefer Rowan over Jude but both are good strong names and go well with Anya.