The Meaning Construction Zone

Apr 18th 2012

When people talk about a name's "meaning," they typically mean its linguistic origin or derivation. In some cases the origin is essential to the name's current cultural meaning, as in contemporary word and place names like Destiny and Paris or literary/mythological names like Romeo and Athena. More often, though, the original root has been utterly transformed, or is simply unknown. Even word-based names can quickly take on lives of their own, unmoored from their source words.

In most cases, then, what we call a "meaning" doesn't actually help us understand what the name means to a person who hears it today. Parents may occasionally go hunting for a name with a particular linguistic root. But usually, the "meaning" serves a different purpose. It lets us construct a story -- often after the fact -- to imbue the name with richer connotations.

Here's a lovely example from a recent celebrity baby name report:

NCIS star Michael Weatherly and Bojana Jankovic welcomed their daughter Olivia on Tuesday, but it wasn’t until after they chose her name (Mom picked it out!) that they realized its deeper significance.

“My wife Bojana is Serbian and her name means war or warrior,” Weatherly, 43, tells PEOPLE.

“And when you give someone an olive branch, that’s an offering of peace so Olivia is peace. I think we have a Tolstoy novel going on now: Mother and daughter, war and peace!”

There's the meaning of "meanings" in a nutshell. First, the parents picked an attractive name they liked, based on style. Then after the choice was made, they researched the name's origin and constructed a "deeper significance" that made them love it even more. When their daughter is old enough, they can share with her this charming story of how her name and her mother's are connected.

OK, if you want to get etymologically finicky, Olivia might not actually come from "olive." The name was created by Shakespeare, and while he might have taken it from the Latin for olive, it's also quite likely to be a feminine form of Oliver. And Oliver's ultimate source is unknown, but it's most likely something Germanic like Olaf ("ancestor's descendent") or Alfher ("elf warrior").

But what does it matter? The Weatherly-Jankovic family has settled on what the name means to them. Just like parents who invent creative names then go hunting for meaningful origins, they recognized that the names they give their children are more profound than just strings of letters. They're using etymology as a scaffolding on which to build a meaning that lives up to the name.

Comments

1
By livi (not verified)
April 18, 2012 1:19 PM

Very interesting take on the meaning of names. For both my daughter and my son we have somewhat long stories for how their full names (including 2 middle) came about. The meanings for us are not much about their origin, but how we meandered around and eventually chose the names we did.

2
By D--50Guest (not verified)
April 18, 2012 1:28 PM

Actually, while most people probably give their kids the name Paris after the city or even(shudder) the celebrity, it could also be a mythological name, as Paris, son of Priam, eloped with Hellen thus starting the Trojan War.

3
April 18, 2012 1:36 PM

With our children, we mostly chose names we liked. However, the meanings kind of worked out for us. Our son is something like "brave ruler" "Gift of God". Well he was born 6 wks early and was our first and he definitely tries to rule the house. Our daughter's meaning is "born at Christmas" "born again". Obviously she was born around the holiday. I'm not sure about the other part except she was the second so I guess our joy was "born again". Also she is partly named after a deceased relative so I guess that works too.

4
April 18, 2012 1:39 PM

We've eliminated names based on meanings in the past (We contemplated Katheryn Rochelle for our son if he had been a girl, but couldn't do it--"Pure" "Sheep" and our last name means "Shepherd"... nope, just couldn't do it).

After a 9.5 year gap between kiddos, with losses in between, name meanings took on a whole new purpose to us. Our daughter ended up being named Ev@ngeline K@thryn meaning: "Good news" and "Pure". And she has definitely been pure good news since that positive came up on that pee stick. :-)

Her name took on new meaning when she was born on Easter just before dawn too. :-)

 

 

5
April 18, 2012 1:43 PM

Oddly enough, this article exactly is where I am, right now.

When we visited my grandmother, in December, we let her know that I was expecting and due in June.  She immediately piped up that her mother was born in June.  A month later, we found out it's a girl, so I went back and looked at my great-grandmother's name.  Blanche.  Um, no.  Her middle name, though, was Edith.  Something totally clicked for me, right then.  It wasn't my usual style, at ALL, but for some reason I was going over it in my head, over and over again.  I went and looked up the meaning, since we wanted our girls' names to be virtue names (Elena: light bearer; Sophia: wisdom; etc.) and found out it's Old English.  The first half comes out to prosperous/blessed/happy, and the second half to war/strife.  Depending on how you translate it, it could be anything from victory in battle to a blessing in a time of trial.  Less than two weeks later, my Dad's health suddenly failed and he passed away.  It was his mother that we'd visited a month and a half earlier--Blanche Edith was his grandmother.  As we sat in the hospital with my family, I leaned over to my husband and told him that I wanted Edith to be a front-runner.  There was just too much meaning attached to it, now.  Unfortunately, he's not entirely keen on it, as a first name.  Our other front-runner is Catherine which, like Oliver above, has no known meaning/origin.  The best anyone can do is that it's LINKED to katharos, meaning purity.  I might could do Catherine Edith, if it came down to that.

6
By Angela Dawn (not verified)
April 18, 2012 2:04 PM

My take is that meanings are a bonus, but not a dealbreaker, unless the meaning is public knowledge, e.g. Hope, Faith, etc. 

I hate to see people avoid beautiful names such as Persephone due to a negative meaning. Especially when often, due to translations and transcriptions, actual meaning become uncertain anyway. 

7
By Juli (not verified)
April 18, 2012 4:51 PM

The concept of "name meanings" is a pet peeve of mine. Names don't have meanings, they have derivations or origins. Even a word like "heather" or "ivy" loses its lexical meaning when it's used as a label for a person: you don't expect a Heather to be small and purple, or an Ivy to be creeping and invasive, do you?

8
April 18, 2012 5:44 PM

for me meaning was important enough that it ruled out names. when we were expecting our twins it became a sign ethan mean strong, aiden fire, my grandmother was japanese and in japanese mythology the dragon and phoenix were the perfect pair although the phoenix is usually female it seemed a good fit.our daughter has grandmas fn as a mn and her first name needed to represent both my sil who passed so katey became kay a nn for all k names jennifer and lynn share a meaning depending on the translations so our daughter became kalen the other option was jenns mn was mae which can be a nn for some other names i dont remember anymore but mia was also a nn so we had kamia,  so for us meanings gave us some options when trying to honor relatives.

9
April 18, 2012 8:17 PM

Angela, you read my mind!  I think exactly the same  way.  Not choosing a name because of some possibly negative connotation in the meaning that nobody even knows anyways is silly.  I guess some people are somewhat superstitous about the meanings, but for me its just a positive.  Especially since people tend to bend the meanings/origins of names all the time.

10
April 18, 2012 8:23 PM

And to confirm my idea that the whole meaning thing is flexible anyways, I just googled for the meaning of my son's name (Kevin) and got:  "Handsome beloved" "Beautiful at birth" "Kind, honest, and handsome birth" "Gentle and kind" and "Handsome"  (and that's just the first five entries...)

11
April 18, 2012 9:26 PM

I'm also not big on meanings (or origins, derivations etc). I haven't ever ruled a name out based on meaning and I haven't decided to include a name on potential name list due to meaning. I know for some people though they are important. I do tend to agree with Laura's post though, that often the 'meaning' aspect is applied as a positive spin after the name was already chosen or a front-runner.

Interestingly, after my daughter was born, several people asked what the meaning of her first name and middle names were and was that why we chose them? Apparently, choosing names 'just because you like them' isn't an interesting enough story :)

12
By hyz nli (not verified)
April 18, 2012 10:19 PM

Hmm.  Meanings (and/or strong associations) are important to me--I admit that style does trump meaning, in the sense that even the name with the most awesome meaning will not be considered unless it meets style criteria, and I am willing to give some meaning leeway to a name I love stylewise, but I would and have excluded names for bad meanings.  And when it comes down to the list of finalists in a world of lovely names, the meaning/association will be the thing that pushes one name ahead of the pack for me.  And, having an Ivy, I disagree with the Ivy comment above.  Maybe such word names lose their lexical meaning for some, but I do think of the plant when I think of the name, and my image of it is stately and established (like gracious old ivy covered buildings), vigorous, strong, and persevering (what you might call "creeping and invasive"), evergreen, attractive but not frilly, etc.  In Victorian botanical symbolism, ivy represented fidelity, and that seems fitting to me.  We live in an old Victorian house (with lots of ivy around), and the name was relatively popular in the Victorian era, so maybe it all just fits together.  I also do tend to think of Heather as a soft name, Holly as a bright and jolly name, Daisy and Poppy as bold and cheerful, Lily and Iris as delicate, Rose as pretty and refined, etc.--the actual flowers very much inform my impression of the name.     

There are other names that I love for style, but their meanings are just kind of unexciting to me, so I can't really grow personally attached to them (e.g. Julian, Henry, Nora).  I also dismiss names with meanings that seem counter to our actual children (such as names meaning fair, blonde, red-headed, ruddy, etc. which don't feel right on our dark-haired, dark-eyed kids).  Anyway, I don't mind people going back and semi-constructing meanings after the fact, as long as they get the facts straight (or recognize the shortcomings of the known etymology of the name)--however it is sparked, I like to see people having an interest in etymology! :)     

13
April 19, 2012 2:24 AM

For some it is important for names to have a specific meaning but then, I agree with Angela who said she hated to see people stay away from lovely names simply because they have a negative meaning to them. My neighbor and her husband named their daughter Mallory (now 3) and she said that she was surprised how many people commented on the negative meaning (unlucky) behind it. Mallory was born a couple of years after they had a son who was stillborn. She said it was the one name they both absolutely loved and when people pointed out the negative meaning for it, (some questioning if they were even tempting fate or not by chosing it) her response was "We've already been unlucky, we both love the name and we don't think it's an unlucky name for our baby." 

I love looking up name meanings but sometimes as with names like Mallory, its best to not fuss over it too much. I remember when a friend of mine named Wayne figured out in school while doing a class project that it meant wagoner/wagon maker and was devastated by how "lame" his name was. :) 

14
By Guest Rachel (not verified)
April 19, 2012 2:59 AM

In an effort to name after our deceased parents in the Jewish tradition, we considered names for our son that started with their initials, but also names that had meanings that matched their lives.  We ended up with the initials matching for the English names and matched meanings for the Hebrew names.  So, our son's Hebrew name is Avid@n Ezr@.  Avid@n means "my father is just" which is for my father who was a civil rights activist and always fought for justice.  Ezra means "help" which we chose to honor my husband's mother who was a therapist.  It's a bit of a stretch, but after so much searching for J and C names to honor them in English, we thought it was a great idea to start with the meanings and use them to honor the personality traits and not just the names of our parents in Hebrew.

15
April 19, 2012 8:00 AM

Guest Rachel-Great idea! 

Juli-I think like others have alluded to, there is a broader definition of the word "meaning" as opposed to the derivation or etymology. I think even though a name may be derived from a word of whatever origin that means "warrior", I might stretch that. To me it might represent the  "fighting spirit" if my little one had struggles. Or it might be because Great grandpa was a hero in past wars and the child was named after him. I certainly wouldn't be using it to mean that I expected my child to be an actual warrior as in Roman times or such. I think "meaning" encompasses the actual origin/derivation of the name AND your own personal responses to the representation of the name from people that you've admired or not depending on the case. 

Another example: Melissa="bee"=girl that bullied me in school=busy, tiny, delicate=annoying insect=grandma's aunt's name 

So I can choose any of those to represent the feeling I associate with that name and name/not name my child Melissa.

16
By UsuallyALurker (not verified)
April 19, 2012 10:30 AM

My son's name is usually said to mean something like "protective helmet" or comprised of elements that mean "need" and "helmet".  I certainly didn't name him this in the hopes that he'd need a lot of head gear.  However, the name (William) has a long history in English, has a number of personal and historic namesakes my husband and I admire, is a family name on both sides and is easy/familiar to both and German speakers (husband is German).  That historical and personal history is what the name "means" to us.  The ancient words it may have been derived from are an interesting sidenote at best.  I think most people naming today name for a more modern or personal "meaning", if they care about any meaning at all.  I know a lot of people who named their child based on sound alone.  Meaning is important to a lot of people-I find this is particularly true in certain cultural or religious traditions, but I think even then sound and personal meaning (like Rachel described above-I love how you picked their Hebrew names) will often still trump strict linguistic meaning.

17
By UsuallyALurker (not verified)
April 19, 2012 10:32 AM

***to both English and German speakers****

18
By Amy3
April 19, 2012 12:58 PM

We chose mns first as those were family names. With that starting point, we needed fns that sounded good with the middles. That alone diminished the pool. Then we chose names we liked the sound and look of, sometimes they had a greater personal meaning for us and sometimes they didn't. Finding the "meaning" of our daughter's name was positive was definitely a plus and is something we (and she) like a lot, but it wasn't our main goal. I think, like hyz, I might eliminate a name based on a negative meaning, but the style of the name is more important to me.

And, with regard to the story about Mallory above, I'm routinely horrified that people will actually make comments like that to parents. The kid is named, move on.

19
By Juli (not verified)
April 19, 2012 3:30 PM

Clarifying my pet peeve a bit... People commenting here are mostly (all?) "name savvy" enough to know that when a baby name website or book lists Julia with the "meaning" of "youth", you can't take that at face value. But most people take those things literally. ("It was written. It must be true.") It's the sloppiness in terminology and the accompanying inexact thinking that bug me.

I'm not saying that a name's derivation is unimportant or meaningless. After all, if etymology had been the only consideration, our boy name would've been Desiderius Theodore. (We mostly mentioned it to scare people, I think, but the thought behind it was genuine: our darling daughter really is a much-desired gift of God.)

20
By EVie
April 19, 2012 4:00 PM

zoerhenne, I think that's a really nicely nuanced way of looking at it. Origin/derivation is a fact; meaning is more of a construction that we build around a name (sometimes taking the facts into account, sometimes not).

I think the differing interpretations of Ivy above is a good example. As far as derivation goes, it comes from the Old English word ifig, which probably comes from a West Germanic word *ibakhs of unknown original meaning. That's more or less factual. But whether you interpret Ivy as "meaning" creeping and invasive or as stately and gracious is totally subjective. 

I'm fascinated by etymology, so I tend to pay a lot of attention to origins and derivations, but more out of curiosity—I wouldn't rule out names for a negative root word, mainly because most names with negative roots are so far removed from their origins that it's effectively irrelevant. Language evolves, and meanings shift. Case in point: the word tsar (or czar) comes from the name Caesar, which probably derives from a Latin word meaning "hairy." But if you look up tsar in the dictionary, nowhere does it mention "hairy"; in mine, it says "an emperor of Russia before 1917," and that is what everyone will think of when they hear the word. The original root of tsar is irrelevant to its meaning today.

The exception for me is names that still have a very apparent meaning in a language I speak. Mallory is actually one of those names. I speak French, and every time I hear Mallory all I hear is malheur ("sadness," or "bad luck"). I think that's something to be aware of with names that are still closely connected to their language of origin—the meaning might not be apparent to you, but to a speaker of the language it will sound like you named your kid Sadnessa (or something like that). For names that come from languages like Latin or ancient Greek, though, which nobody speaks anymore, I don't think it matters a bit that Cecilia comes from caecus meaning "blind" or Claudia comes from claudus meaning "lame." It's just trivia.

21
April 19, 2012 4:32 PM

Juli-I was trying to clarify to make sure I understood you. I agree that you cannot take everything on the internet or in books always at face value.

Good point about the language base EVie. I think it does matter quite a bit if you are a speaker of a foreign language or reside in another country other than the US. It's too bad that Mallory and Claudia get a bad rap as I think they are pretty names. I don't so much like the "aw" sound but the look of it is nice.

Sadnessa is an interesting name. Maybe transform it to just Sanessa which rhymes with Janessa. However, then you would have to break it down with the root being Sane. How about adly/Sadlee/Sadlie/Sadleigh LOL?! 

22
By trot (not verified)
April 19, 2012 7:54 PM

I've recently found this blog and I'm addicted, both to the posts and the comments.  Never knew there were so many people who knew so much about names, it's so fascinating!

When I was pregnant with my son, we found out there were only a few names we could agree to keep on the list for consideration.  One of the names we briefly were kicking around was Blaise - we did not go with it, one because I know people would spell it Blaze and two because the name is supposed to mean "limping" or "crippled" and though I don't care much about name meanings, that was so specifically negative that it kind of ruined it for me.  I still really like the name though (maybe for a future mn?) and wondered what you all thought about it.

23
April 19, 2012 11:27 PM

I have so much to say on this topic, but many of you eloquent posters before me have expressed feelings similar to my own, so I'll try to focus. I think that there are two types of "meaning" that a name may have: straight(ish) etymology and referrential. Yes, etymologically, some names basically *are* the words that inspired them, (Dawn and Dolores come to mind,) while others convey the meaning via more removed paths. Referrentially, a flower might have been given a Latin name based on some attribute, but when someone gives that name to a child, the intended "meaning" is almost certainly the flower reference. The referrential meanings have been well-covered above so I'll keep myself from writing an essay on that matter.

 

This post comes at an oddly approprite time, as my friend and I are in the middle of correcting our first-ever Wikipedia post, after I discovered a huge (and hilarious) error in the background of the given name Jacob.

It read:  It is a speaking name, referring to the circumstances of Jacob's birth, meaning "baby-hands" (from the Hebrew root עקבʿqb "hand") since he held on to the hand of his twin brother Esau inside Rebekah's womb.

There are just so many things wrong with this explanation, and it shows that, yes, while "meaning" is a fluid concept when it comes to names, you can push that too far and end up in in gibberishville.

Now, do I think that the plethora of parents who bestowed the name Jacob on their babies were moved by the meaning of following or heels? No. Maybe some were probably moved by the story about strength and asserting oneself or by the biblical personality. Or maybe they were honouring a beloved relative. Or maybe they thought, "Hey, Jacob sounds like a guy I'd like to know. Let's name him that." Or "Oh! If we name him Jacob then we cal call him Jake. Jake's a cool name."

 

When names come from nouns, it is also easier to directly access their definitions (I guess definition vs. meaning is really the distinction that we're making here, eh?) and translate into different languages, etc. For example, my sister's Hebrew name is the Hebrew translation of my mom's great aunt's Yiddish name, which means deer. But she wasn't named for the etymology, she was named for the wonderful woman who never had any children of her own, whose name happened to mean deer. On the other hand, my sister *does* take pride in the origin of her English name, appreciating that a Greek goddess associated with the moon is a fantastic connection for a night owl, insomniac.

Do I care that my name is derived from Katherine and might have something to do with purity? No, not really - but it's certainly nicer than if it had been derived from blind hunchback. Does it mean something to me that my personality is often compared to the great-grandmother after whom my Hebrew name was given - a woman who is remembered for being incredibly sweet and loving? You'd better believe it!

 

Finally, Guest Rachel - I absolutely adore that approach to selecting Hebrew names! My family doesn't really stick to matching the English and Hebrew names. Mentally going through the list of my cousins, sister, and me, I see that some of the initials match but most don't. Our parents focused on meaningful familial connections for the Hebrew names and chose English names based on sound. If they happened to like names that aligned in both langages, all the better, but that wasn't a requirement, and that's the approach that I'm planning to take, too. Your post really inspired me and has given me a lot to thing about... Especially since my husband converted to Judaism, so his family members didn't have Hebrew/Yiddish names to work from. Thanks!

24
By William 1 (not verified)
April 20, 2012 12:54 AM

I'd admit the name's "meaning" won't mean much to most people the child comes across in their lives, as some posters have alluded to.  But I find the meaning important and personal, something to be shared and appreciated primarily within our family.  So meaning was important to us when choosing names.

Also, a name is an opportunity to be aspirational for our child.  Choosing a name solely on sound seemed would've seemed like a missed opportunity to us.

25
By Guest Rachel (not verified)
April 20, 2012 2:25 AM

We didn't know what my husband's mother's Hebrew name was or even if she had one which is one of the reasons we focused on the personality trait thing.  Since we did that for her, we decided to keep it "fair" and do it for my dad as well.  I love that we honored them in this way.  It's worked out really well.  I think you're right that this would work perfectly for your husband's Hebrew-name-free family.

26
By Guest Rachel (not verified)
April 20, 2012 3:17 AM

Whoops!  That last comment was directed to Karyn (but the rest of you can feel free to read it!)

 

27
By hyz
April 20, 2012 11:14 AM

William, I like the way you put that.  It's not necessarily about what others see at all--it's about what it means to the family.  And whether you draw that aspirational meaning from the origin of the word, or a prior bearer of the name, or some other aspect which is important to you, I do feel like it gives the name a deeper personal significance than if it just "sounds pretty" or whatever.  For us, we didn't have a family member or whatever that we wanted to name directly after, to give such a strong homage to one person (although I could see using some as middle names), and we are not particularly religious, so we looked for names that reflected our personal values and heritage in one way or another, and of course which also reflected our style preferences as well. 

28
April 20, 2012 11:58 AM

Amazing post! Meanings often get morphed today and overlooked. It's amazing that there is a revival in looking for meanings behind names in an age that often chooses names based on their sound or popularity. Once again...amazing post!

29
By Kate, mom of T,G,J,X,T (not verified)
April 20, 2012 4:04 PM

I've never really been interested in the meanings ascribed to names except after the fact, like Laura pointed out. Our second son is G@briel, a name I've always loved, and one which my husband absolutely did not care for. For months I worked on trying to win him over, and one of the things that worked was telling him that the name means (depending on who you consult) "strong man of God." Given that my husband's hesitancy was due to his fear that the name wasn't "masculine" enough, "strong man of God" was just what he needed to hear!

30
By D--50Guest (not verified)
April 20, 2012 6:51 PM

And, if you believe Wikipedia, Paris was originally a word for 'backpack'!  Hilarious example of how names' meanings and significance change and accrue.  Oh that fashionable place/celebrity name Backpack!  It has a certain je ne sais quoi, don't you think?

31
By EVie
April 21, 2012 1:29 AM

trot - If you want a more in-depth discussion of Blaise, I would post a question to the forums, since they seem to be generating a lot of conversation. But since you posted here, I'll answer: Firstly, I hope you don't let a thousands-of-years-old, no-longer-relevant derivation stop you from using Blaise, if you love the name otherwise. And secondly, the "limping" or "crippled" meaning that you found doesn't seem right to me. Blaise comes from the Latin name Blasius, which *may* come from the Latin word blaesus, which means "lisping, mumbling, speaking indistinctly." That derivation is not 100% certain, though (as you can see, the vowels in the name are different from the supposed root). It's possible that Blasius is a Latinization of a different Greek name (though I can't find info on what). Alternatively, you could consider Blaise as an English surname instead of a Latin given name, in which case it probably comes from Old English blæse, meaning "torch, firebrand" (source: Oxford Dictionary of English Surnames). 

D--50Guest - Um... not sure where you're finding that on Wikipedia, but that doesn't sound right to me. Maybe you're joking? If so, it's true that Wikipedia sometimes has misinformation, and you should always check it against other sources (I have my trusty Latin dictionary beside me now). However, I find both Wikipedia and Wiktionary to be more nuanced and reliable with regards to name meanings than the vast majority of baby name sites and books out there. 

32
April 21, 2012 5:43 PM

I couldn't agree more with Laura and the thoughtful commenters here that "meaning" encompasses so much more than etymology: cultural patterns of usage through time and around the globe, historical and family namesakes, and our own personal perspectives on tradition and creativity all shape what a name "means," collectively and individually. Etymology can certainly be fun to explore; like other aspects of naming, it opens interesting windows on language, culture and history. But it's only part of the story, and not necessarily the most relevant or interesting part!

One of my favorite examples is Coretta. The etymological derivation rather turns me off: it's derived from Kore, the Greek word for "maiden," i.e. an unimaginative label for a girl and a somewhat silly one for a woman. Then you add on the dimunitive ending to make it even more unserious and cutesy. (On the other hand, it does have an attractive sound, feminine but still snappy.) But the reference to Mrs. Scott King trumps all of this for me. If I ever name a daughter Coretta, it will "mean" courage, strength, vision, dignity, perseverance, justice.

Personally, I am more apt to care about etymology in choosing or rejecting a name when that name is unfamiliar, to me or others. Lacking many other layers of context to provide meaning, I like there to be "more there there" than just a pretty sound. If my husband (from India) and I go with Sanskrit names for our eventual kids, I will care very much what they mean. The kids would very likely be explaining their names' "meanings" all through their lives, and I'd want that story to reinforce our hopes and values for them. At the same time, I'll certainly be ruling out some names with perfectly lovely meanings - e.g. Harsh = "joy" - for style reasons.

I'm really enjoying everyone's stories about what names "mean" in their families! Lots of inspiration here for a namer-to-be ...

33
By JulieHGU (not verified)
April 21, 2012 7:52 PM

We have similar stories for all three of our kids' names, but it is most true for our third child. I was 6 months pregnant when my husband left for a 6-month deployment (the first we've been through). We knew we were expecting a boy, and when the name we thought we'd picked didn't feel "right" to me, DH suggested the name "Peter," (mostly after a very good friend of ours). I immediately felt like it was the correct name for this baby, and then looked it up to discover that it means "Rock" (which I later remembered that I already knew). Truly, that pregnancy was what kept me calm and focused during his deployment (it got me through days when the older two kids were pushing every button and testing every limit). And, as it turns out, he is a very solid little boy, to boot. He is a Peter through and through. And his middle name, David, is beloved, which is always true. So we laugh and say that he is our "Beloved Rock."

34
April 21, 2012 9:04 PM

I took the suggestion and created a thread about this post in the Forums - in the Names and Society Subforum.

 

Just wanted to let people know - if you're interested, feel free to chime in over there also!

35
By D--50Guest (not verified)
April 21, 2012 11:23 PM

EVie,

 

That would be a pretty random joke.  Check out the Wikipedia entry for 'Paris (mythology)'.  Paris is Greek, not Latin.  Apparently at some point in Paris' childhood he was smuggled somewhere in a backpack,hence the name.

36
By D--50Guest (not verified)
April 22, 2012 10:00 AM

Googling a bit more, I find that the etymological link between Paris and the ancient Greek word for 'backpack' is common but disputed. Scholar Odyssey Belchevsky (great name!) argues that Paris is more likely an epithet meaning, roughly, 'adulterer' in a Macedonian language! 

37
By EVie
April 23, 2012 5:05 PM

D--50Guest - ah, I see where you found that now. Sorry, sometimes it's hard to tell whether a post is meant to be sarcastic or not. Thanks for that Odyssey Belchevsky tip (yes, that's a fabulous name!)—I found the article and his interpretation makes a lot more sense to me. I'm not very well versed in ancient Greek, but something about the backpack explanation just seemed off (maybe because the word "backpack" itself is a 20th-century coinage). This seems like a good illustration of what I said above about fact-checking things on Wikipedia ;) (Also, sorry for my confusing parenthetical above—I meant that I was checking my Latin dictionary on the Blaise/blaesus issue, not Paris, which I know is Greek). 

It's probably also worth noting that Paris the city has a totally different etymology. It comes from the name of a tribe who lived in the area, the Parisii, whose name came from a Celtic word meaning either "the working people" or "the craftsmen" (and on this one Wikipedia has a source cited, so I think it's legit). Today, I would assume that a boy named Paris was named for the Greek, but a girl for the city. So your original point about the irony of a celebrity-heiress with a name that means "the working people" still holds!

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By tonyag79 (not verified)
April 23, 2012 6:18 PM

While name "meanings" have not been as important to me as name associations, I do remember a friend from high school that was very affronted that her parents didn't care enough to give her a personal name. All she got was the feminized version of her older brothers name. I think that her belief in this did affect her sense of family and self esteem. She had a lot of relationship problems with her family and others. Her low self esteem has caused her to make poor descions.  I don't think her poblems resulted from her name, but her feelings about her parents and their view of her did. Sometimes labels do harm, so maybe names can too.

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April 23, 2012 7:59 PM

This is an interesting discussion (both the blog itself and the following comments)! Sometimes it's a case of finding a personal connection to a name you already love. Sometimes, as in my case, it's trying to find a connection to a name that a spouse loves. This happened with both my sons.

Over a month or so, I sold my older son's name (Sebastian) to my husband by saying it would "honor" both our mothers (they share the same beginning sound) and telling him the story of St. Sebastian, though we aren't religious.

Our youngest (Alexander) has a name my husband picked, but I've never been a fan (mostly because I've known many and didn't want him to be one of many in his school). I bargained for most of the alternatives, but the hubby wasn't buying (though would have gone with my choice had I stuck to it). Instead, I went searching for a backstory to help me connect to the name which included notable people in history, our family tree, the name's derivational meaning and a roundabout connection to my eldest's name (plus picking a nickname). In this way, I was won over.

Funnily enough, though I was worried about Alexander being one of many in his class, I haven't met another one in our area. However, Sebastian shares his name with another boy in his grade, and I know 5 more ranging in age from 2 to 7. So the name that is less common nationally, is more popularly locally. But they both work globally, so I guess it goes either way.

 

 

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By meJen (not verified)
April 24, 2012 12:59 PM

I sometimes wish our Henry were a bit less of a "Home Ruler!"  ;)

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By Stephanie R (not verified)
April 26, 2012 1:32 PM

Name meanings, I think are very important, but should not be the only consideration, as many have stated above.  One of the reasons I loved Aviana as much as I did was because it included "Ann" inside of it- which is mine, my mom's and my grandma's middle name.  Also an Aunt's and a cousin's and it goes back even further than that.  I have seen 2 meanings for it.  If you take it from it's latin roots it just means "like a bird" which is nice, but not super exciting.  However, as a combination of "Via" and "Ann" it means "the way of grace" or something along those lines- which is absolutely beautiful.  Since one of the reasons I liked the name so much (outside of the fact that it sounded like Briana without being Briana, which I knew 4 or 5 growing up) was that it contained "Ann" that is the meaning I choose to tell people first when the ask (and they always do because the name is so unusual).

With Ilyra, our second, we heard it on Van Helsing first and loved the sound first, but we spelled it differently, so I don't really know what that one means.  I would assume because it contains "lyre" that it has something to do with music or harps.  Which I also like a lot, but that is just guessing :)  But meanings add another element of fun in the naming game. 

I do appreciate that names take on other meanings as time goes on and different associations become predominant in the conversation about the names.  Coretta was a great example in a previous post.  I would add Ariel.  Not sure I would associate Ariel with being lion hearted or whatever it originally meant.  I would associate it with mermaids!  Which are totally awesome, and the baby would have to have red hair with the name Ariel in my mind now.  It seems silly, but I know a lot of people who feel the same way :)   

42
By You can call me D (not verified)
April 30, 2012 11:10 PM

There's a very interesting article ruminating on names' 'meaning' and connotation--in this case, last names, in the NYTimes: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/04/29/whats-in-a-name-part-1/?hp

It looks to be part of a series.  

 

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By hurricane_ck (not verified)
May 8, 2012 2:33 PM

The meaning was somewhat important to me. My boyfriend and I are both atheists, so when naming our son, I was reeeally determined to avoid names with religious meanings, and also anything that was in the Bible, whether the meaning was religious or not. That was a challenge! It worked out, though.

I've always found the meaning or derivation of my name to be disappointing, but at least it doesn't mean "tub o lard" or "the one with the broken nose" or something. And it's spelled properly, so there's that!

44
By Ressa (not verified)
May 14, 2012 2:01 PM

I have never used meaning to pick my children's names but it was interesting to learn them after the fact.

Aaron Christopher (based on the meaning found in 2002 when he was born) means "Enlightened" "Christ-Bearer"

Isaiah James means "Salvation  By God" "Supplanter" (Unsure of what Supplanter itself means though)

When I picked my first childs name is was because I loved the name itself (Aaron Christopher). Later, I was thinking of my son's name and his cousins and made a very odd observation, all the kids from me and my siblings had "a" names. Aaron (my son obviously), Alexzander (My sisters son), Allyssa, Avin, and Autumn (my brothers children). This was not planned at all never dicussed and I was the first to notice the family trend. When I became pregnant with my second child, I intentionally wanted to give the child an "a" name also (seemed it would be fitting concidering). I hoped that I would have a daughter and choose AnnaLeigh Belle (which I think is a beautiful name though others disagee) for her name. It turned out I was pregnant with a second son but could not think of a single "a" name that i liked for a boy beyond Aaron (already used that on lol). I wrote down a list of names while my dad (son's father is not involved in our lives) wrote down a second one. We then took each others list and mark the names in order of the ones we liked best. From that list we compared the two and the top five from each list were looked over and found that two names were on both lists and sound great together thus we got Isaiah James for my second son.

45
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