The View from Abroad: A Look Back at the Future Part 2

Feb 26th 2010

Yesterday I talked about old-fashioned "lady and gentleman" names that were hot in Europe five years ago, and looked at whether U.S. parents had followed in those fashion footsteps. The result was yes and no -- yes for girls, no for boys.

Why the divide? As usual, each name has its own story. Phil is fighting against a middle-aged vibe in the U.S. and doesn't fit the dominant sound patterns of the moment: lots of vowels, -r and -n endings, and high Scrabble-value letters. Yet the European favorites that do fit those patterns fare little better here. Leon, Felix, Simon, Theo and Victor are all much hotter across Europe than in the States.

I think there's a broader pattern underlying the boy-girl difference. Here's the question that leaps out at me: If American parents aren't choosing "international gentleman" names like their European counterparts, what are they naming boys?

I believe the role played by the "gentleman" names in Europe is largely filled by Old Testament names over here. So instead of Leon, Felix and Theo, we have Caleb, Eli and Jonah.

The recent surge in OT names has been much stronger in the U.S. than elsewhere. 17 of the top 50 U.S. boys' names are now from the Old Testament. (That doesn't even count OT/NT crossovers like Michael and Joseph.) There seems almost no limit to the style here, with names like Ezekiel, Nehemiah and three different spellings of Isaiah in the U.S. top 500. And names like Jacob and Ethan, which are runaway hits here, are merely popular in the UK. Where we have a flood of Jakes, they have Jacks.

In the United States, Old Testament boys' names carry special cultural signals. They have a rustic pioneer style, owing to their 18th-19th century American history: Ethan Allen, Eli Whitney, Levi Strauss. That trailblazing aura appeals to a lot of American parents. As a nation, our style leans rugged rather than urbane; no fancy-pants boys' names, thank you very much. In fact, many of the Old Testament names are most popular in the rural, rugged parts of the country that also favor names like Colt and Maverick (two names that are virtually unheard of in Europe).

The Minuteman and Conestoga Wagon imagery doesn't play the same role in the European cultural imagination. Nor do the names play the same role in history -- just try to think of an Englishman named Eli. To European ears, then, Old Testament names tend to sound more esoteric, or more strictly biblical...or more Jewish. More than one American parent of an Old-Testament baby has told me of European friends being confused, or even concerned, that they chose such a Jewish-sounding name.

It's not a hard and fast rule, though. The Old Testament classic Reuben is a hot name across Europe but has gone nowhere in the U.S., despite its fashionable vowels and -n ending. That's a humbling reminder for those of us who seek order in the swirling chaos of name styles. You can have history, sociology and phonology on your side, and still be felled by a simple sandwich.


March 1, 2010 12:42 AM

@ emilyrae: I like Casper too, but I didn't mean that it was popular (I didn't know it wasn't) but more that it had trendy sounds and seemed like a trendy name (reminds me of Connor and Cooper.)

By Eo (not verified)
March 1, 2010 12:49 AM

TamaraR-- Add me to the "Mark" admirers. I also love the association with Mark Twain, and of course the New Testament Mark. It's strong, and has a literary-intellectual flavor for me, thanks to the gents above, and also to polymath (is that the word I want?) Mark Steyn, among many, many writers named Mark...

This was an uncanny topic for Laura to pick. Last week I was just thinking about the names of lawmen of the Old West, and on Wikipedia I found a list of them. They're a nice mix of Old Testament, surname-names and other traditional names. These marshalls, sheriffs or Pinkerton detectives were of varied backgrounds, including Hispanic and Native American. A representative few:

Harry Love
Leander McNelly
William Bartholomew "Bat" Masterson
Elfega Baca
Bass Reeves
Wyatt and Morgan Earp
George Scarborough
Max Ventura
Dallas Stoudenmire

They just seem rugged and romantic to me! But then I'm such a fan of westerns, especially the "dark" or noirish ones like "Shane", "High Noon", etc.

And also apropos of the topic, my favorite iconic TV western is "The Rifleman", whose lead character is "Lucas McCain", a rancher raising his young son "Mark McCain". Lucas's best friend is the town marshall, "Micah Torrance".

Micah is another Biblical name which has had a strong rivulet of fans in this blog...

March 1, 2010 12:49 AM

I have six other siblings besides me. Our names go as follows
-Trent Michael
-Allison Suzanne
-Bethany Lynn
-Amber Rachelle
-Christin Laine
-Benjamin Grant
-Charlize Janelle
I was born in 1989 and never met many allison's in my life. My mom insisted that I could not be called Alli. I only recently realized that my name was pretty popular at that time.

My dh nixes most every name I suggest and while we aren't expecting I can't wait to have kids! He comes from a big wrestling family and wants "tough" names for his boys. *Hoping we have boys*


For girls we have just two
Brooklyn and Ryland...

March 1, 2010 12:57 AM

a rose.
oh, yes, i see. i think i'm the odd one out though on my associations with casper. while i see that there are similarities between it and connor and cooper, it doesn't at all have a surname vibe to me, and it doesn't remind me of them. it seems a lot quirkier to me than any of those (but that could be a natural consequence of it being much less common). as a side note, my own associations are the ghost and one of the three magi.

By TamaraR (not verified)
March 1, 2010 1:06 AM

Thanks to everyone for the comments on Mark! That's a relief, I'm glad it doesn't come across as too stale. I'd forgotten about Mark Twain, that's a nice thought.

By SSA rankings it peaked in 50s-60s, but it sounds from everyone here like it tends more towards a 70s-80s era if any, which makes me more comfortable with it then.

I like the other options you mentioned and had to smile at the overlap with our list. Mark Elliott is the top contender right now, and Erik and Stephen are two of the maybes. (the other maybes are Thomas, Edward and Simon, but those 3 carry big warning signs for me due to various associations)

Anne with an E:
There definitely won't be a sibling Matthew or Luke, but dad is John. I didn't think a father/son combo of John/Mark would bring that up too strongly, but maybe that's wishful thinking.

By TamaraR (not verified)
March 1, 2010 1:14 AM

PS, @Eo
Fun list! Had to look up Elfego Baca, never had heard that first name before, so had fun reading up on Elfego and Elfega....
Interesting story of Baca.

By sarah smile (not verified)
March 1, 2010 1:23 AM


I had a Hebrew school teacher who went by Ruti (ROO-tee). I think that would be a great Hebrew nickname for a girl named Ruth. Would that appeal to you at all?

About Ari:

As others have said, it is a Hebrew boy's name meaning lion, in addition to being a nickname for girls. I think of it as a separate name from Ariel, although of course they have the same root. To me it fits in with all of the other modern Israeli nature names. I know several men with the full name Ari - I've always liked it.

By Mirnada (not verified)
March 1, 2010 1:40 AM

Re: Casper. I've always had an odd fondness for the French version, Gaspard, but it's a little tough pronunciation-wise to use in the US.

Re: Mark. I grew up with two Marks in elementary school, so it does feel more 70's-80's to me, too. I prefer Marc myself, but I have an odd thing about names with K in them, and Mark Twain IS a great namesake.

By emily today (not verified)
March 1, 2010 2:29 AM


Noa was huge among my friends (almost all Jewish) for quite a few years - but in the past couple of years it seems to be replaced by Nava. I have known of 4 or 5 baby Navas, almost all under 2.

Is nobody else disturbed by the apparent antisemitism of some of these European parents in Laura's post?

By guest (not verified)
March 1, 2010 3:40 AM

I don't think it is antisemitism in parents not choosing names for their own kids that 'read' Jewish- Some people don't feel comfortable appropriating another culture's practices and traditions just because it sounds nice: I am a suburban Sydney girl, protestant, and I simply don't gravitate toward names outside my own cultural reference group- Kai is too Hawaaiian, Declan is too Irish, Dominic too Catholic, Wyatt too cowboy-ish. Names announce to the world our identity and our heritage, and it is not antisemitic to choose names that fit your own identity.
Susan (the most overused name of the '60s)

March 1, 2010 3:58 AM

Coming into the conversation now, so I don't know what's been said yet, but I do have a question for all of you:

What do you think of the name Sula? Personally, I love the name for its sound, style, and meaning (peace), but I worry about the association with the novel by Toni Morrison. I've read it and rather liked it, and I think Sula is a very strong and admirable character, but I don't know how comfortable I am with people assuming that I LOVE that book just because I named my daughter Sula. Also, I've seen some sites that claim the name is Icelandic, some that it comes from Latin, etc, so I don't really know its roots. Does anyone have more information? Has anyone seen it used in real life? Do you think that the book has made it a "black" name? (As in, would you be surprised to find it on a white child?)

March 1, 2010 11:09 AM

I agree with Susan (post 110) - I doubt it's antisemitism so much as the fact that "Jewish" names haven't been assimilated into the...not default, precisely...but the 'common' naming pool. I'm sure most people take something similar into consideration when they name their children. Elizabeth can be anyone. Esperanza, Hisako, and Siobhan say something different about their bearers.

In America, the many of the Old Testament names have been absorbed by the common naming pool, and that hasn't happened with the same names to the same degree in Europe.

March 1, 2010 11:13 AM

@TamaraR--I think John and Mark are much less matchy (in spite of the Biblical character John Mark!) Matt and Mark I don't like because of the two Ms, and Mark and Luke are too matchy for me since they both end in k.

I mean obviously there's still a book-of-the-Bible vibe by having a John and Mark in the same family, but since they don't share any sounds in common I don't think they're too matchy.

March 1, 2010 12:19 PM

I love Mark; but I'm clearly biased as that's the name of my 4 year old who is a younger brother to a Paul - yes, both New Testament writers but hopefully they don't sound too matchy.

March 1, 2010 12:37 PM

TamaraR-LOL that is funny that we picked many of the same names. I also put Thomas, Edward, and Simon in a different category as the others. Thomas and Edward are more British/classic and Simon is more bookish/on the up+coming. Mark Elliot sounds lovely and would'nt worry about a John in the family. As someone else said, I'd worry more about a Lucas/Luke.

Re Hill3l-I would also comment that it is unusual. I've never heard of it before at all so wouldn't recognize it as "Jewish" or anything else for that matter.

Re Sula-It makes me think of Nadya Sulaman. Actually I think the surname has an E rather than an A but to me it is more of the schwa sound and therefore is the same. Toni Morrison is a great writer but haven't read that story.

Re Caspar-I say the "AR" sound a bit different than the "ER" sound. It sounds very Russian to me. It does trigger the ghost association but I think I could get past that. Cooper is cute (I knew a little boy with this name) but has a totally different western vibe to it than Caspar.

Re Ari-I don't know much about Jewish names but I do recognize this one. I would not use it as a nn for Arianna because it is it's own name.

emily today-As others have stated, I don't think it's so much that people are against Jewish names but are unfamiliar with them.

March 1, 2010 12:38 PM

Sula screams Toni Morrison to me. I'm a huge fan of hers, having written my dissertation on one of her books, but I'd shy away from it unless you're prepared to talk about the book a LOT over the next eighteen years. Of course, most people won't have read it, but I know for sure that I'd comment on it if I were to meet your child.

By EVie
March 1, 2010 12:45 PM

re: Mark & John - this may be getting overly academic, but the other thing is that, while Mark and John are both Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke tend to be grouped together as the Synoptic Gospels:

In short, these three gospels tend to parallel each other very closely, and most modern NT scholars believe that Matthew and Luke borrowed from Mark plus another lost source referred to as "Q". The Gospel of John, on the other hand, is unrelated. So, even in terms of the Gospels, I would regard Mark with Matthew or Luke as much more matchy than with John.

re: Dahlia - Interesting fact - the name of the flower came from the name of an 18th-century botanist named Anders Dahl. So, there are two separate and equally correct etymologies for this name - the Hebrew name Dalia/Dahlia and the name of the flower.

Jane m.o.5 - do you pronounce Juliet with the emphasis on the first syllable, or the last? (I've heard it both ways, though more commonly the last). I feel like that might determine whether Violet is too matchy - first syllable yes, last no. I love Violet, though. Not a huge fan of Lou, but then, I don't like nicknames as given names, even in the middle slot. For the best compromise between matching and including Lou, I would vote for Louisa Violet nn Lou. I'm also not a huge fan of double-barrelled names, but if you want to use Violet Lou as the call name, I would vote for Violet Louisa or Violet Lucia.

By hyz (nli) (not verified)
March 1, 2010 1:36 PM

EVie, I was just going to chime in with the Anders Dahl origin of Dahlia, but you beat me to it. I never knew that it had a parallel hebrew origin. One baby name site also suggests that: "it is of Swedish and Scandinavian origin, and its meaning is 'valley'." Google translator tells me that "valley" in Swedish is "dal", so I guess this is also plausible. Anyway, one name, three nice meanings--that might bump it up a few spots on my list.... :)

Casper is definitely the ghost to me, and I was interested to see A Rose (who's a bit younger) say the same thing. I think this may be a somewhat iconic name in English now, so that even if you've never seen the cartoon, Casper=ghost the same way that Mickey=mouse or Lassie=dog. I like the sound of it, but I just couldn't do it.

Hillel is definitely primarily the college campus organization to me, although I think I've heard of guys my age named Hillel, so I don't find it odd or anything.

Regarding Sula, beyond the Toni Morrison novel which is definitely my first association, it made me think of the name Shulamith, and I wondered if they were related. I found this blurb on it:

"The girl's name Shulamith \sh(u)-lami-th,
shul(a)-mith\ is of Hebrew origin, and its meaning is 'peace'. Composer Shulamit Ran; writer Shulamith Firestone.
Shulamith has 4 variant forms: Shula, Shulamit, Sula and Sulamith."

So there you go, maybe that's your answer....

March 1, 2010 1:46 PM

"In America, the many of the Old Testament names have been absorbed by the common naming pool, and that hasn't happened with the same names to the same degree in Europe."

In a twist on this observation, my name is Miriam which is very common in the Netherlands where I used to spend a lot of time. I was repeatedly asked there how I came to have a Dutch name. Well, um, no, it's not Dutch. Because of Dutch tolerance, Jews have had a significant impact on Dutch culture. Colloquial Netherlandish has many Yiddish loan words, Spinoza is as much a cultural icon as Erasmus, and names from Hebrew scripture (like Jacob and Joseph) are very common. For reasons I never quite understood, when Dutch men and women turn fifty there is a big celebration, and they are likened to Abraham and Sarah (there are even Abraham and Sarah greeting cards).

As for anti-Semitism is Europe, sadly it still exists, and anti-Semitic incidents like cemetery vandalism and worse have been increasing. I would not be so quick to absolve remarks about names being too "Jewish" as simply a matter of avoiding cultural misappropriation. Although I am 100% Ashkenazic Jew, I have very light skin and eyes and an unusually tiny straight nose; that is to say, I look like a generic Northern European and have been mistaken for Irish, Dutch, Austrian, even Estonian (whatever Estonians are supposed to look like). As such, some people in Europe have assumed that I share their cultural 'values' and have treated me to a lot of comments about Jews that I really didn't want to hear.

OTOH given the annihilation of European Jewry in the last century, in some parts of Europe where Jews once made up a significant percentage of the population, today Jews are rarer than platypuses. As an acquaintance once put it, "The old synagogues still stand, but the Jews are all gone." Hence younger Europeans may be genuinely unfamiliar with Jewish names and other customs.

March 1, 2010 6:39 PM

TamaraR - It's probably a clear result of me overthinking names but I'm cautious with using mn beginning with E. Often the mn is reduced to a middle initial - bills, credit cards, resumes, etc. To me Mark E. lastname reads like Marky. Does that make sense? It's probably more noticable with a girl - as in Grace E. lastname. Anyway, just something to consider.

March 1, 2010 7:22 PM

re. Casper: I actually haven't ever seen Casper (show or movie), but like hyz said Casper=ghost. That being said I do like the name.

@ Miriam: I find that so interesting about Jewish names in the Netherlands. I know three Jews from Europe (as in born in Europe) and they were all British, their names were Elizabeth, Emily, and Gemma, so not particularly Jewish. Does anyone know if Jewish names are common amongst Jews in Europe? If Jews aren't using OT names that would make them be even less common (and people more unfamiliar with them, as Miriam said.)

March 1, 2010 7:35 PM

Interesting discussion, which I'm going to interrupt for a moment just to say: the violent storm that hit South-West Europe is named Xynthia. Does anyone know if that is an established name or was a meteorologist just being kr8ive?

By tikicatt (not verified)
March 1, 2010 8:00 PM

So does anyone remember this dialogue from the movie "A Sure Thing"?
Lady in Car: What are you gonna name it?
Alison Bradbury: What?
Lady in Car: The baby.
Alison Bradbury:Oh, the baby. Well, if it's a girl, Cynthia, and if it's a boy, Elliot.
Lady in Car: Those are lovely names.
Walter (Gib) Gibson: Elliot? You're gonna name the kid Elliot? No, you can't name the kid Elliot. Elliot is a fat kid with glasses who eats paste. You're not gonna name the kid Elliot. You gotta give him a real name. Give him a name. Like Nick.
Alison Bradbury: Nick?
Walter (Gib) Gibson: Yeah, Nick. Nick's a real name. Nick's your buddy. Nick's the kind of guy you can trust, the kind of guy you can drink a beer with, the kind of guy who doesn't mind if you puke in his car, Nick!

So speaking of names that will get you beat up - Oliver (sorry but true), Leo, Milo, Hugo, Oscar, Felix, Neil, Sidney, Louis and Charles.

Mothers who name their sons one of these have the admiration of Mothers who have sons with husband approved names of Nick, Jake, Sam, Mike, Steve and so on.

From infant to age 5 these lovely soft names are fine. Enroll them in sports and watch the husband coaches kinda curl their lips when they call out Elliot or Felix, unless your kid with the brawniest one on the field. That is why nicknames were invents - Elliot James then becomes EJ - way cool! Felix - Fudge - Oscar - Oz! These guys are the stars of the soccer team!

By tikicatt (not verified)
March 1, 2010 8:01 PM

So does anyone remember this dialogue from the movie "A Sure Thing"?
Lady in Car: What are you gonna name it?
Alison Bradbury: What?
Lady in Car: The baby.
Alison Bradbury:Oh, the baby. Well, if it's a girl, Cynthia, and if it's a boy, Elliot.
Lady in Car: Those are lovely names.
Walter (Gib) Gibson: Elliot? You're gonna name the kid Elliot? No, you can't name the kid Elliot. Elliot is a fat kid with glasses who eats paste. You're not gonna name the kid Elliot. You gotta give him a real name. Give him a name. Like Nick.
Alison Bradbury: Nick?
Walter (Gib) Gibson: Yeah, Nick. Nick's a real name. Nick's your buddy. Nick's the kind of guy you can trust, the kind of guy you can drink a beer with, the kind of guy who doesn't mind if you puke in his car, Nick!

So speaking of names that will get you beat up - Oliver (sorry but true), Leo, Milo, Hugo, Oscar, Felix, Neil, Sidney, Louis and Charles.

Mothers who name their sons one of these have the admiration of Mothers who have sons with husband approved names of Nick, Jake, Sam, Mike, Steve and so on.

From infant to age 5 these lovely soft names are fine. Enroll them in sports and watch the husband coaches kinda curl their lips when they call out Elliot or Felix, unless your kid with the brawniest one on the field. That is why nicknames were invents - Elliot James then becomes EJ - way cool! Felix - Fudge - Oscar - Oz! These guys are the stars of the soccer team!

March 1, 2010 8:08 PM

A Rose--

As you probably know, observant (and even not very observant)Jews often have two names. One is their real name used for all religious purposes which in the case of males must be chosen from a list of about 150 'kosher' names, most, but not all, of which are biblical. (Hillel, Akiva, and even Alexander are kosher but not biblical.) The other is their civil name used in non-religious contexts. It doesn't matter what names are given to females, but many also have two names, one Hebrew, Aramaic, or in the case of Ashkenazis, Yiddish, and one for civil, non-Jewish contexts which is chosen from names used in the surrounding non-Jewish culture, hence Elizabeth (which is actually an anglicized Hebrew name), Emily, and Gemma.

As to whether Jews in Europe use names from the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), of course they do, although they may also use other names which would be the only ones non-Jews would know. The sorry fact is that Hitler largely succeeded in his aim to make Europe 'judenrein.' Countries like Poland which once had millions of Jews now have at best a few hundred. There are still a few pockets of Jews left in Europe though. Antwerp, for example, has a sizable population of ultra-Orthodox Jews anchored in the diamond trade. Ultra-Orthodox Jews generally use only kosher names. They have little need for civil names since they are socially isolated by choice from the population at large.

Hitler was not able to destroy the Jews of England. They range from ultra-Orthodox to secular, and those who interact with the cummunity at large are likely to have two names, one kosher and one not. Take for example the Milibrand brothers, both members of Parliament and both serving in the current Cabinet. They are the sons of Polish Jewish immigrants, The elder brother is David Wright Milibrand, and the younger is Edward Samuel Milibrand. Their father Ralph Milibrand was a Marxist intellectual, and the brothers are completely secular as far as I know. However, Ralph Milibrand's father was named Samuel, and clearly the younger brother was named for his deceased grandfather, a naming tradition so entrenched in Ashkenazic culture that it is observed even by a Marxist parent. So both brothers have one biblical name and one English (Anglo-Saxon) name.

March 1, 2010 8:12 PM

@tikicatt - Are you being serious or is that sarcasm? I know plenty of boys/men with the names from the "beat up" category who don't have those problems.

By Mirnada (not verified)
March 1, 2010 8:40 PM

I love the sound of Mark Elliot.

Miriam: thanks for that post. Well put. I'm very drawn to many Jewish names, but always felt a little unsure about using them, since I wasn't brought up Jewish myself. But my father's family is Jewish, and I always regretted the loss of that culture in my upbringing. I do feel inclined to use a Jewish name for a lot of the reasons you describe - to honor that heritage and not have it disappear.

March 1, 2010 8:55 PM

A Rose- I once dated a British Jew (his family was actually South African) and all the names in his family were non-Jewish names (Sean, Robin, Kate, Pam, Harry, Brooke) and I remember introducing him to my mother and her being perturbed because upon hearing his name she thought he wasn't Jewish. There is actually a sizable modern-orthodox community in London and those who are usually have, like Miriam said, a kosher and a non-kosher name, the people I met there were often confused as to why I didn't have a "non-kosher" name and was just Rivky or Becky.

tikicatt- I hope your being sarcastic. Though my children have OT names they are not the run-of-the-mill Jacob, Joshua, David and I would hope that even though their names are less common they won't be perceived as "soft". Would you consider a name like Eli or Payton or Derek "soft" because they aren't Steve or Nick or Joe, because those men are professional athletes and seem to be pretty confident in themselves and their names.

March 1, 2010 9:51 PM

ditto everyone else. the name doesn't make the person; the person makes the name.

miriam & becky,
thanks for the interesting information.

March 1, 2010 9:44 PM

@ Miriam and Becky: Thanks so much for the info!

March 1, 2010 9:47 PM

Came across this site today:
i thought you all might be interested in the "hipster" names that have been assigned to the puppies. i'm guessing that these are names the site author creates, names that s/he sees as "hipster" but i don't know for sure.

Casper vs. Cooper and Connor: I think Caspar is a German name right? So even though it has some of the same sounds, different roots? (Is Connor Irish? Now that I think of it, I'm not sure where these names come from...) It also seems like Casper could be less surname-y.

Clementine: I probably would assume Sula's parents were huge fans of the book. It's just one of those names with one strong association. Depending on the circles you travel in, not everyone will have this association though.

March 1, 2010 11:00 PM

tikicatt-FWIW, I thought your post was funny. I DO remember that scene from the movie "The Sure Thing" now that you quote it. I love Daphne Zuniga (especially her cool name) and also am extremely fond of John Cusack.

For the others-someone correct me if I missed something, but I didn't see where tikicatt was making a commentary about the names and saying SHE/HE thought they were names for kids that would "make them get beat up". I believed she/he was just quoting the movie. Also, even though I find the movie lines funny, I still like the name Elliott and would totally use it if I had the need to. Further thinking reminds me of this assocaition which I had forgotten earlier-Elliott Yamin former contestant on American Idol.

By Kanadiana (not verified)
March 1, 2010 11:15 PM

"In the United States, Old Testament boys' names carry special cultural signals. They have a rustic pioneer style, owing to their 18th-19th century American history: Ethan Allen, Eli Whitney, Levi Strauss. That trailblazing aura appeals to a lot of American parents. "

This is interesting insight.

I'm a Canadian mom of an Elijah. When we were coming up with a list, I liked the name Josiah but just couldn't use it because it kind of had the feel of the paragraph above. To me, that is a turn off, because while objectively I think "Josiah" is a beautiful name, it also brings to mind a strict old pioneer man with a grey goatee. And that put it right off the list.
For some reason, many other OT names that I like don't have that same feel to me, like Elijah. Even though I've heard it used for years, we chose it because of the wonderful meaning, and also because we loved the sound of it, and, it felt fresh somehow.

By TamaraR (not verified)
March 2, 2010 12:39 AM

Sorry to bag so many responses into one post, but here goes...

Anne with an E: Yeah, my main drawbacks to Mark Elliott have to do with initials, both the Markie (Mark E.) and how it spells out w/ last name, but... of all complaints, it's on the minimal side for me. I like the sound of Mark followed by a vowel more than another consonant, and my back up preferences are Mark A-names. I actually like Mark Averham just for the sound, but think that will get vetoed.

Valerie: Maybe Xynthia is more common in Europe? I looked up European naming systems and wikipedia says that "In November 2002 the "Adopt-a-Vortex" scheme was started, which allows members of the public to buy names that will then be assigned to storms during each year." IF that's true (and I'm not taking the time to check out if that's a joke or not, though that's my first thought), then who knows, maybe someone paid for 'Xynthia'?

I agree with what RobynT wrote - it will be a major association for some people, and other people will have no clue about the book.
I haven't met anyone with that name, but it's a lovely name and meaning.

Miriam and Becky, thanks for your posts.

By Eo (not verified)
March 2, 2010 9:17 AM

emily today-- Like you, I DID find the reactions of the European friends somewhat cringe-making, especially that they would be "concerned" about names sounding Jewish.

Why should they be "concerned"? It's true that certain cultures (Puritans, pre-twentieth century Scots and Welsh, Jews, Americans and others in the anglosphere, etc.) have drawn more heavily on Hebrew names than others.

But even the most provincial, implacably secular individual must acknowledge the huge, formative role Jews and the Bible have played in Western culture-- why wouldn't people naturally draw on all that when considering names?

I care not a whit whether people consider my name preferences "too" Jewish, traditional, medieval, quirky, Celt-o-centric, or whatever.

I would be deeply "concerned" however should they strike anyone as too "hipnik", ha.

By Bue nli (not verified)
March 2, 2010 9:19 AM

My German and French Jewish ancestors seemed to stop using explicitly Jewish names at some point in the 19th century. When you go far back in our family tree you get entries like "Reichel genommen Friederike" and "Schewa genommen Sophie" ("Schewa but called Sophie") but in the 1800s everyone was called things like Wolf, Ida, Helene and Emil. It's an interesting transition.

March 2, 2010 12:58 PM

As I was falling asleep last night I was fascinating about the freedom of being able to pick two names for a baby - a "religious" one and more a "cultural" one. I've picked all my baby names within the parameter of using a prominent Catholic saint - the idea being to give my children both a role model, a sense of Catholic identity, and an intercessor in Heaven. The only down side being that there are some lovely names that I won't use b/c there not saint names. On the girl sides its Maeve, Corrine, Fern, Brynn, Celine, and even Eve which we discussed earlier. On the boys side there are fewer definately Miles and some of the surname turn first names. I remember Becky posting about some non-Jewish names that she liked so I don't think I'm alone.

March 2, 2010 1:40 PM

another Laura- I completely understand that, and you're right that I often do post about non-Jewish names I love. I feel like I have an obligation to my heritage and to my family to use Jewish names and honor my relatives. That being said there are names I adore for their sounds, literary and historical connections and tons of other reasons. I have thing for names with antique charm, such as Beatrice, Josephine, Helen and Edith for girls and british names for boys, such as Phinneas, Benedict, Dashiell, Pierce, etc. (When we were posting lists of our favorite names I had two, one of Jewish names, one of other names). There are hebrew names I love too, which is why I don't have a problem using them, I just sometimes feel more limited. In the end though I'm glad that I gave my sons hebrew names though because when they ask me where their name came from I can tell them the stories about the biblical characters with their names and tons of anecdotes about the men they are named for. Luckily we are a family with lots of pets (dog, cat, multiple fish, a turtle) so I get to use my favorites on those creatures.

March 2, 2010 3:05 PM

Just received my newsletter in my inbox. I particularly noticed the new names added to Namipedia this time around. Sarabella and Embla caught my eye. I hope I'm not hurting anyone's feelings, but they both sound a little off to me.
Sarabella, while pretty and a good compromise of the two names the poster liked (I looked it up) reminds me too much of the word for part of the brain: cerebellum. I guess if it were Sarah Isabella LN or there was some other name to break it up it might be better for me.
Embla is also a sound-alike to me and reminds me of Emblem. Neither one is bad necessarily, just odd to my ears. (Not that any of it matters truly though-I don't NEED to like them)

By JenB (not verified)
March 2, 2010 3:54 PM

My son, Theo, is almost 7 years old (we are from Minnesota) and we received a lot of raised eyebrows when we names him this. I have run across one other little boy named Theo since then. Now we get a lot of compliments on this name. I am very happy it didn't catch on in the U. S. My husband is Greek and it fits well with our Greek last name (not to mention that is it Greek) and with my liking for old-fashioned names.

By Nick (not verified)
March 2, 2010 5:21 PM

Let me propose that the supposedly paradoxical unpopularity of the Biblical, Reuben" may stem from the fact that it's TOO Biblical: I think most Americans would think of it as a stereotypically Jewish name. Worse still, it's also the name of a sandwich, opening the poor boy up to mocking jokes. I mean, imagine if a kid's initials were, "BLT"!

By BubamaraMama (not verified)
March 2, 2010 6:22 PM

@ TamaraR
Mark is a great little boy's name these days. No one is really using it that I know of (I live in the coastal South of the US) but everyone is familiar with it (my ideal). There are many older Marks, but not many young ones.
It's classic, Biblical, easy to spell and prounounce, cross cultural (my husband is European) win win! Try it, you'll like it.
...not that I'm biased ;D
My little Mark was born Christmas 2008 and his brother James was born fall 2006....
New baby coming in May, we'll see! I know I'll be posting for ideas soon, as i'm a "keeper" but want to bounce ideas off of other name-aware people!

By BubamaraMama (not verified)
March 2, 2010 7:34 PM

@ TamaraR
again, sorry!
I think the Marks I do know are all middle aged men, so 50-60's is probably right. I can't think of any my age (35). Then again, everything is local, right? :D Isn't that why L.W. has the NameMapper...heh.
My boys both have double initials for first and middle names-J.J.U. and M.M.U. They each have a family name included. Mark's middle name is my (Mc) maiden name. Dont' know if you've considered going that route, as another poster pointed out with the vowel mn you could get that extra syllable.

@ zoerhenne & TamaraR
Our lists match pretty well too!

"Erik and Stephen the other maybes are Thomas, Edward and Simon,
There definitely won't be a sibling Matthew or Luke, but dad is John. "

I have a James, so it's a little NT around here, although not really my intention.
However, I like your lists too! ..except my sister's son is John; Matthew is soo matchy with Mark and comes with the NN Matt which i just don't like the sound of; and Luke is matchy but also so similar in sound/length, i don't think we'll use it either. Still like Erik (my husband is from Europe so that would be the spelling) and I actually wanted to name Mark Stephen, but my husband didn't like it.

The only warning I'd give on a one syllable name is that people, even you, are going to stretch it into two (or more) somehow, at least at times. A NN, adding a "y" or diminutive on the end, or "baby" in front...yeah, whether you want it or not. We've started calling Mark Marko or Markic' sometimes to combat the "Baby Mark" he was aquiring from friends and friends' children, lol. :D

March 2, 2010 8:18 PM

BubamaraMama-I couldn't help but take a run through Nymbler since I am a "searcher" LOL! Some classic, easy to spell and pronounce names are the following (not sure so much about Biblical connections):


By AndreaJ (not verified)
March 2, 2010 8:37 PM

I'd guess family names probably play a role there as well. Americans are more likely to have a great-grandfather named something Biblical than in England. Biblical names tended to be used more by the very rural and the lower classes there in the 19th century and appeared somewhat comical to the middle and upperclass Brit. THEIR great-grandfathers were named Felix or Algernon or Sebastian or Bertie or the like. One of MY great-great grandfathers was named Isaac (no, he wasn't Jewish and neither am I) and another was named Timothy. If I go back far enough I find some really obscure Biblical names among my ancestors (Shubael was a many times great-grandfather who fought in the Revolutionary War) and weird Puritan names like Wait and Experience. Not a Felix or Bertie in the lot going back 400 years.

March 2, 2010 11:19 PM

BubamaraMama - there some truth with the stretching of the one-syllable. We've done it with our Paul and Mark but its exclusively in the home. We call our boys Pauly and Marky but no one at school does. It's pretty sweet to hear their baby sisters saying it. Clare's name is nearly impossible to stretch although I have on those particularly silly occasions called her Clarabelle. So some names are even more nickname proof than others.

By sarah smile (not verified)
March 3, 2010 1:29 AM

Speaking of ancestor names, I have one I've always wondered about. Has anyone ever heard the name Zelique before? The ending sounds almost French to me, but he was born around 1920 in the US, of Eastern European Jewish descent. He went by Zeke, but apparently wasn't an Ezekiel as I always assumed.

By Eo (not verified)
March 3, 2010 1:57 AM

sarah smile-- I'm thinking of Woody Allen's hapless character, "Zelig"... Wonder if it's related to "Zelique"?

By ECmummy (not verified)
March 3, 2010 4:45 AM

Some names just have a different cultural context and with Europe being more secular,can see why OT names just aren't that popular. Speaking of name context, the name Jemima shows up a lot in England for girls while Americans would never adopt that name because of slavery connotations here.