Sunday, 30 November 2014

Naming Baby (Her)

I admit I roll my eyes, even cringe at times when I hear some of the names given to babies. I know I'm not alone. Personally I think parents should think of the school years of the child - recently heard a mother calling her daughter Ocean and my first thought was "does she make her feel sick". Recently a storyline in The Archers saw a character toying with the idea of naming her new baby Mowgli and, following the voiced disapproval of both grandmothers, resorted in a naming ceremony dubbing it Mungo - which still didn't go down particularly well.

Of course this will have been true of every generation. I used to work with a woman named Gay. Once popular (for both males and females) it is easy to see why a young baby would not be named such in the modern age. Today there is a whole generation of young ladies known as Kylie, a name which became commonplace when their mothers' were glued to the actress (later singer) appearing in Neighbours. Such is nothing new for earlier the name of Tracy did not become popular until the big screen successes of actor Spencer Tracy.

Whilst I would be associated with place names, there are other proper nouns of interest to me. Over the years my research has uncovered details of the origins of personal names. Many have fallen out of use but may well return one day. There has always been those who use a relevant surname as a christian name - ironically some of the earliest surnames are adaptations of christian names - but it those which have some etymological interest which attract me. Some will have been insults, others whimsical, and even a few complimentary.

Beginning with the female names I offer a list of examples in alphabetical order.

ANDREA would seem to be a quite normal name. It comes from the Greek and means 'manly', something which would not bother Andreas in Italy, Romania and Albania where Andrea is a male name.

BARBARA comes from the Greek and is the female version of 'barbarous' and hence means literally 'barbarous woman', although this should be understood as 'foreign woman' as, to the Greeks, anyone not a Greek was a barbarian.

CECILIA and CHLOE are two seemingly inoffensive names, these mean 'blind' and 'green' respectively. Incidentally for those who think CHELSEA is a good idea, they might like to know it means 'landing place for chalk'.)

DEBORAH would seem innoccuous enough, until we learn it is from the Hebrew for 'bee'. I also noted DELILAH meant 'flirtatious', prompting me to think "Why, why, why Delilah".

ELEANOR means 'pity'. Judging by the lyric to Eleanor Rigby, I think Sir Paul may have known the origin.

FAYE or FAY means 'fairy' (I instantly thought she would be good for washing dishes).

GEORGINA is clearly the female equivalent of George. The female form thus means 'earth woman' as in 'woman of the soil' rather than in the sense of a deity.

HAILEY actually began as a place name and effectively means 'woodland clearing, woodland clearing'.

IO is increasing in popularity, probably as a result of the space programme with this being a moon of Jupiter. Unfortunately this came from the Greek for the girl loved by Zeus but loathed by Hera, thus the god turned her into a heifer to protect her from his jealous wife, and the name does mean 'heifer'.

JADE and the name conjures up images of the stone. However it was also once used to refer to 'a woman regarded as disreputable or shrewish'.

KLAUDIA or CLAUDIA comes from a term meaning 'lame'. Incidentally those who named their daughters Kylie all those years ago may not have known it meant 'boomerang' while another modern offering Kia means 'go well'.

LEA and LEIA have several sources but the earliest is probably Hebrew meaning 'cow' (I wonder if George Lucas was aware of this?). Incidentally the increasingly popular Leena (probably only a variant spelling of Lena) comes from the Arabic for 'palm tree'.

MATILDA and a name which fell out of favour in 15th-century England as it was more often used as a euphemism for a prostitute. Of course this had been forgotten by the time it returned, maybe as a result of the song Waltzing Matilda.

NINA is most often a shortened form of many other names. However it is also a Quechua word meaning 'fire' (inspired by a passing fire engine at the time of birth and/or conception?)

OPHELIA is ultimately from the Greek meaning 'help'. Possibly worth mentioning that Oprah was not her given name, she was named Orpah which was constantly mispronounced and stuck - it means 'back of the neck'. (Parents who could see far into the future, apparently.)

PHILIPPA, clearly the feminine form of Philip, is of Greek origin and means 'lover of horses'. (Not even tempted.)

QUEENIE and only because it was the only one I could find and with obvious meaning. (All I can hear is the ending of Now I'm Here.)

REBECCA or RACHEL, both biblical names and from Hebrew meaning 'tie' and 'ewe' respectively. Here 'tie' is used in the sense of 'married to or associated with', although the literal meaning would have been 'cattle stall'.

SHANIA, increasing in popularity through singer Shania Twain, it comes from Native American meaning 'I am coming'. Saffron, another of increasing popularity, comes from a word meaning 'yellow'. (Jaundiced, perhaps?)

TALLULAH, the most famous being actress Tallulah Bankhead who popularised the name, comes from a Native American word meaning 'terrible'. (Never saw her act.)

ULRICA began as a female Scandinavian name meaning 'wolf power'. I have no idea what a female wolf is called. Nor do I know what a 'female bear cub' is called other than it is the meaning of the name URSULA.

VANESSA is really a cheat as there is little to choose from. It is quite interesting as it was created by writer Jonathan Swift, a pet name coined for his friend Esther Vanhomrigh and pieced to together from both her names. (Incidentally ESTHER is a Persian name meaning 'star'.)

WENDY is, like VANESSA, a created name and much more recently. First appearing in the 1904 play Peter Pan by J M Barrie, it was adapted from his childhood nickname of 'Fwendy-Wendy'. Hence perhaps it could be said to mean 'friend'.

XENA has been popularised by the television warrior princess. However her name comes from the Greek meaning 'stranger, foreigner'.

YVETTE is the feminine form of YVES, a French name and thus meaning 'the female tree tree'.

ZIA is thought to come from the Arabic for 'splendour' but in Italian zia does mean 'aunt'.

To address any suggestion of sexism I shall cover male names next time.

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