Inspired by the "Meaning Constuction" post on the blog

I actually have been a lurker for a very long time, but now that the forums are available, I wanted to start a thread about this particular post.


I think that there is a real disconnect a lot of times with baby name books that don't take into account "modern" or even "literary" associations.  For instance, I was thumbing through one recently that offered Vashti as a name, but didn't reference the Biblical Vashti and her story. 

I can think of others as well - names where their official etymological meanings really don't have any impact next to the meanings they've acquired through being associated with specific individuals, or even with a change in culture.  It almost seems disengenuous to me to have "meanings" as the only option - I would love to see a baby name book with a decent list of "possible associations" for each name.


For instance, a name like Kirk would reference not only Scottish origins and churches, but also people - real people like Kirk Cameron, and fictional people like Captain Kirk

Or a name like Vashti!  Would it kill the baby name book people to include a short sentence - "Old Testament Biblical figure: killed by her husband for not showing off for his company."  How hard is that?


Or a name like Willow or River or Qynesha or Jakadence - a symbol or notation could alert people that this name is one that figures into popular stereotypes for a particular culture (Hippie and American Black, respectively) that the reader may be unaware of.


Or a name like Nimrod.  I've seen this name in several naming books.  I don't care how great a historic meaning that name has - in modern American culture, "nimrod" (at least for a while - it's starting to fade now) has a very specific meaning as an insult.  That's important information to convey to parents or name enthusiasts, just as much as the etymological background.

Anyone else think about names like that, or am I the only weird one?  :)


April 21, 2012 9:40 PM

thats why i use two books for names the first i found twelve years ago a world of baby names it gave meanings and origins and endless names but it was lacking something so that when i became pregnant with my twins seven years ago i went looking for another book and found baby name wizard it had name snap shots so when i looked up dylan in wbn it said son of the sea, welsh name, in bnw it said celtic, the ens, literary artistic, bob dylan, dylan thomas and luke perrys dylan.  

April 21, 2012 10:35 PM


I don't know - I mean, look at Hannah on the website for an example (I don't have my book with me at the moment.)  So, there's the name, the "naming fashions" that it falls under, the siblings, and then a great intro section explaining the style.  That's all great, but what if I just got here from... oh, I dunno - Mongolia, and I don't know American culture very well.  Or what if I just don't FOLLOW popular culture.  Wouldn't it be nice to know about that really obscure Disney show about Hannah Montana?  There's also the Biblical Hannah, and Darryl Hannah, and I'm sure lots of Hannahs in popular culture that I'm not immediately remembering.  


I think what I'm getting at is that it would be interesting to have a baby name book that gets through all of the typical naming info really quick, and then delves deeply into the popular and culturally-specific implications of the name - WHO the Person On the Street, who isn't a naming nerd, thinks about immediately when they hear a name.   

I would LOVE a book like that.  In fact, I don't even think I'd mind if that book only had a couple of hundred or so names in it, as long as the information behind them was specific and comprehensive.


I think that BNW does a really awesome job of establishing WHAT people think of when they hear names (which is awesome, and way more than any other naming book I've read (and I've read a lot) has ever attempted) but I really am interested in the WHO as well, because I do think that it makes an impact.  Think of a perfectly lovely name like Adolph.  Generations of families are either going to be avoiding this name totally, or picking it with the specific intent of rehabilitating it.  That's an extreme example, but it's the kind of thing I'm talking about.  For a less-obvious example, a friend of mine has stricken Piper from her list, because a recent controversial political figure has a Piper as a child.  These things matter to people, and I would ADORE to see them addressed directly.  

I just don't know if anyone else does - because no one's done it yet!  It just seems such an obvious association to me, to know about pop-culture namesakes or shout-outs in culture (books, songs, characters in TV shows), but I feel like I'm the only one who cares.  So I figured here - where people are exceptionally aware of the styles and feelings and associations of names - would be a good place to find out if I'm the only one who wants that sort of information in a naming book.

I also put it out here, because I think BNW has a head start, due to Laura's bang-up job sorting out all of the social implications.  Again, don't get me wrong - I adore my BNW!  I just feel very alone in my naming obsessions sometimes.  :)


ETA - wanted to address that I know there are lots of specific name associations in BNW - just not for every name, and not always all of the possibilities.  What I'm thinking about has the focus as providing the namesakes and events associated with ALL the names listed, and making it clear if there is a name that doesn't have any fame associated with it at all yet.  That, I don't think exists yet.


April 21, 2012 10:48 PM

I think that with the slow pace of the book publishing industry and the length of time between editions of a book, it would be very difficult to keep up with the fast-paced nature of popular culture. However, the internet is an ideal forum for keeping up with the times and the creation of the online Namipedia was largely for the purposes that you've outlined. In Namipedia, people can say who and what a name brings to mind, what it's like to live with a name, etc.

You are most definitely not the only one who is interested in such things!

April 22, 2012 6:13 AM

A good book that tried to address this sort of issue was First Names First by Leslie Dunkling.  It doesn't have so much about the connotations of individual names, but it's really good on naming trends in different cultures/times/parts of society.

Unfortunately, it was written in the 1970s.  Does anyone know any more recent books that might be helpful?

April 22, 2012 11:37 AM

November-I suggest that some rainy Sunday afternoon when you have a bit of free time, you take a wander through the Namipedia part of this website. It lists names, meaning, pronunciations (if tricky), sibling possibilities and then personal experiences as well. You are allowed to contribute to this and I encourage you to do so. Add meaningful references as needed that you are aware of. I'm sure Laura takes from this site to add to her book so maybe the NEXT edition of BNW will have more of these references.

But, in a fast paced world, these references shift quickly. Plus, you have generational influences. Take the VD example that has come up recently. Some know this reference well but others are not familiar with it at all and know of STD. STD is not an automatic thought for the VD generation. There are also regional and country specific associations to think of as well. Although Adolf was Hitler's first name, with the spelling of Adolph there was a steak seasoning. How many people upon "hearing" Adolph would think steak seasoning?

April 22, 2012 8:35 PM

Yes, and STDs are now called STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections) among most in the public health field! You're right, cultural references shift rapidly.


No book could possibly pick up on everything, but I think Namipedia can. It can give a parent looking at a name like Trayvon (for example) a snapshot of what the name signifies today, and a warning that the significance of this particular name is shifting quickly. A book just can't keep pace. Not that I'm recommending eschewing books, because I LOVE my books! But I think that for the kind of depth and up-to-the minute references you're talking about, a well-managed Website is the way to go. BNW has it all!

April 22, 2012 12:08 PM

I agree with Karyn and zoerhenne: exactly this interest is the impetus behind Namipedia (on this site), and, especially if you are interested in very current pop culture associations, it is the kind of project much better suited to the internet than traditional book publishing. Is Namipedia complete? Of course not - like any wiki, it's as good as its contributors make it with the time and knowledge available to them. If the page for Hannah is missing Hannah Montana, by all means add it! Of course, the challenge with a name like Hannah that has so many namesakes is that the relative importance of each is going to change over time, as well as from person to person. I'm pretty much out of the pop culture loop, so Hannah Montana was never a strong association for me, and in a few decades it may not be for anyone anymore. Absolutely include her, just keep in mind that when perusing a list of historical and fictional Hannahs, there's still another step to sort out which are well known, and well-known to whom (and in the end, which ones matter to you).

No single source is going to have everything a namer or name enthusiast might want. In my case, I'm interested in Indian, especially Sanskrit, names, and Namipedia has few and mostly short entries in this category; plus, it doesn't include the Devanagari spellings (which help me with pronunciation), so I have to look elsewhere for those. I don't see myself as enough of an "expert" on Indian names to add much to Namipedia in that area nor do I see much point in duplicating the effort of the many (admittedly mostly inferior) Indian name sites out there. When it comes time to name my kids, I'll have to cobble together knowledge from various sites and I'll rely heavily on my husband and other Indian friends and family to help me navigate a still-less-familiar namescape. (Frustrating, since so far none of them have revealed themselves to be name enthusiasts!) Likewise, parents from Mongolia shouldn't be counting on one name book or site to tell them everything they might want to know, and hopefully they'll ask around, especially if they're not confident. After all, how Hannah or any other name comes across in their immediate community is more important than how it comes across to the collection of folks who read a name site on the internet, or who were polled for a book published ?? years ago.

That said, I agree that a book like you describe would definitely be a fun read, and I suspect there'd be a market for it if you or anyone else is up to the challenge of writing one! It would be so easy to pick an unusual, stylish name like Vashti and only later discover the backstory - I worry about this sort of thing too!