Monday, October 31

Olympic Names IV

Happy Halloween, everyone! I'll be taking a little astronaut candy-collecting this evening, but in the meantime, here are some new lovelies from the list of '08 Olympic athletes.

In birth announcement news, I'm very happy to report that two of my favorite people, who also happen to be one of my favorite couples, had a baby girl on the 29th and named her Georgette Rock. Congratulations, Katie and Val —  and great job naming your new little one.

Caimin (Netherlands) 
Demma (Ethiopia)
Dieudonne (Rwanda)
Garfield (France) 
Itte (Nauru)
Jeroen (Netherlands)
Niksa (Croatia)
Oreydis (Cuba)
Rodion (Netherlands Antilles) 
Roelof (South Africa)
Royston (Netherlands)
Sepp (Belgium)
Taghi (Iran) 
Talant (Kyrgyzstan)
Taras (Ukraine)
Tohouri (Côte d' Ivoire) 
Warwick (Australia)

Agni (Greece)
Aisetta (France)
Aiste (Lithuania)
Apolline (France) 
Celma (São Tomé & Principe)
Ceren (Turkey)
Cleopatre (France)
Dorji (Bhutan)  
Estera (Romania) 
Hidilyn (Philippines)
Jolanta (Latvia
Jucimara (Brazil)
Lieselot (Belgium)
Lisanne (Netherlands)
Lysaira (United States)
Maayan (Israel)
Marcelien (Netherlands)
Meseret (Ethiopia) 
Nienke (Netherlands)
Orlagh (Ireland)
Priska (Switzerland)
Raminta (Lithuania

Thursday, October 27

Panning for Name Gold: 1930

view of the Summer Triangle, including Cygnus, Lyra, Vulpecula, Sagitta, Delphinus and Equulus constellations

uh-oh, hard times are a-coming for the country —  fortunately, people are still using some wicked names for their children. So you know it's gonna be all right.

Aurelius — "Soon you'll be ashes or bones. A mere name at most — and even that is just a sound, an echo." (from Marcus Aurelius' Meditations) I wrote about considering this name for my own child, so you know it's a personal favorite. From the Latin aureus, meaning "golden" or "gilded"
Delphin — speaking of personal favorites, I am a fan of most Delph- names. Delphin is a newer addition to my list, a shorter version of Delphinus, which means "dolphin" and is the name of a small constellation in the northern sky, named by Ptolemy
Ivo — there are a couple different etymologies for this name. It's found as a variant of Ivan, which is the Slavic form of John, and as a name made up of an element meaning "yew," a tree that was considered holy by the ancient Celts. It's also used as a short form of the Bulgarian name Ivaylo. Variant spelling Yvo really sharpens it up
Marius — pretty popular in Denmark and Norway, Marius, like Aurelius and Delphin, is a Latin name that has astronomical connotations — it's the name of a lunar crater near a set of volcanic domes on the moon, called the Marius Hills. I appreciate that it's often listed as a "male form of Maria," since it's rare to hear a name referred to that way. Most often, the male form is considered the more legitimate one, and the female form just an offshoot. Onomastic pet peeve!
Percival — this name was created by 12th-century French writer Chrétien de Troyes and used in his work, "Perceval, le Conte du Graal," which is believed to be the first work to feature a quest for the Holy Grail. de Troyes probably took the name from mythological Welsh hero Peredur, altering it to allude to the French phrase percer val, which means "to pierce the valley"

Aletta — hard to find much on Aletta. My guess is that it's either from Aleida and AleitDutch and low German forms of Adelaide, respectively, or is a variant of Alethea, from the Greek for "truth." There's also the very real possibility that, for the 10 parents using it in 1930, it's a "made-up" name, one formed from popular sound components "Al," and "-etta" 
Deva — Deva's got a lot of history. It refers to supernatural entities in Buddhism and Hinduism, and is the Sanskrit word for "deity" or "god." It can be found in Sri Lankan mythology and the New Age movement, where it refers to any of the spiritual forces or beings behind nature. It's a river in northern Spain and a city in Romania. Very attractive people Vincent Cassel and Monica Bellucci have a daughter named Deva (their younger daughter is Léonie)
Camellia — another lesser-used flower name, Camellia would be a great choice for those looking for an unusual longer form for the nicknames Cam, Mia, or Ellie, or those who like Amelia but worry about its popularity
Jacinta — funny that I had Jacinta lined up for this week, since I just read about an Australian couple using it for their daughter over on Waltzing More Than Matilda. And, it's a form of Hyacinth, which I profiled in my last Panning for Gold post. Variants Jacinthe and Jacinda are equally lovely
Opaline — I love an unusual, old-fashioned "-ine" name. This is a diminutive of Opal, which happens to be October's birthstone. I like that it manages to be quaint-sounding and refined-looking all at once

Tuesday, October 25

Let's Get Married

Gratuitous personal wedding photo

During my senior year of art school, I worked on a thesis show for graduating. I decided to use —  surprise, surprise —  a list of names, specifically the names of couples who took out wedding announcements in the Sunday New York Times. I compiled three years worth of data, and made a show about the intersection of chance and organization, assigning fates to these couples by setting them down in my homemade grid. Art school! Four years of it! 

Anyway, I still have the list. And a huge part of its appeal, for me, is the idea of a marriage of names. People who love names like to wax poetic about sibling sets — think of these as ... spouse sets. I went through and selected some that stood out as particularly complementary or charmingly mismatched. 

These are male/female couples unless noted, male listed first for clarity's sake.

Alcindor & Nadina 
Alexei & Clara 
Alfred & Fern  
Archibald & Gigi  
Aristotel & Mirela 
Beau & Laurel  
Bridger & McClain  
Cawley & Frances  
Claude & Taffy  
Danton & Zoë 
Duncan & Annesley 
Edith & Thea (both women) 
Efrem & Mumtaz  
Eugene & Savitri  
Felix & Ingrid 
Frederick & Allegra  
Gibson & Colette  
Gus & Wizzie  
Guy & Febbie  
Igor & Sunny
Leo & Molly 
Leon & Marie-Florence 
Luc & Daisy  
Matthias & Susannah  
Nanette & Dee (both women) 
Nicholai & Lara  
Oliver & Britta  
Oliver & Rémie  
Pascal & Margot  
Raoul & Savitha  
Raphael & Claudine  
Ravi & Lakshmi 
Reuben & Katja  
Rocco & Tamala  
Ruye & Marion  
Sebastian & Antje  
Semeon & Sabina
Setti & Tassy 
Sophien & Catherine
Tapio & Laleh  
Tick & Elly  
Tig & Rosanna 
Wallace & Merle  

Monday, October 24

let's talk about: Vera

A scene from Věra Chytilová's film Sedmikrásky (Daisies)
Here's a bit of name prophesying —  keep your eye on Vera. If it seems dusty and awkward, you're probably behind the times already. With all the hallmarks of a name poised for a popularity rise —  pop culture connections (designer Vera Wang, maker of popular floral-patterned handbags Vera Bradley, and actress Vera Farmiga), ends in "A," (like six out of the current top 10 girl names in the US), high on the charts in Europe (in the Netherlands and Sweden) — Vera's ready for her comeback.

Vera was at its most popular in 1919, when it reached #65. It went through a long, slow decline and finally disappeared from the list in 1983. Here's the part that makes me think Vera's up to something —  after a 26-year hiatus from the top 1,000, it suddenly reappeared, in 2009, at #894. And in 2010? It climbed 219 places to its current spot at #675. Very sly, Vera. But I see what you're doing, there.

In English, Vera has two possible pronunciations. "VEER-ə," with a long "E" sound, and "VER-ə," to rhyme with Sarah. While it's impossible to tell which of the pronunciations  is more popular with  modern parents, I think gentler "VER-ə" fits right in with popular throwback names like Sophia, Emma and Ella.

Vera means "faith" in Russian, though it is also connected to the Latin verus, meaning "true," and the Albanian word verë, which means "summer." It is found as a place name around the globe —  in Argentina, Mozambique, Spain, the US and Norway, to name just a few. I can't get enough of its longer, more elaborate variants, like Verusha, Verochka, Veruschka, Verica and Verena. Also nice are Finnish Veera, Ukranian Vira, and simple, Dutch Veer

When the names statistics for 2011 are released next May, Vera's one of the names I'm most excited to check up on. Will it fade back into obscurity, or are the stars aligning to bring Vera into the naming zeitgeist once again? Either way, it's a lovely name and deserving of a closer look.

Thursday, October 20

Olympic Names III

Here are the latest treasures from the list that never stops giving. 

Arles (Colombia) 
Aurelien (Cameroon)
Berenger (France)
Calo (Brazil) — if Arlo's gaining popularity with boys and girls, why not Calo?
Chakyl (Mozambique)
Cyrille (France)
Gleb (Republic of Moldova)
Itzok (Slovenia)
Jonty (Great Britain) 
Ockert (South Africa)
Rafaa (Tunisia)
Richarno (Mauritius)
Sayon (Liberia) 
Sekou (Côte d' Ivoire)
Selahattin (Turkey)
Taulant (Albania) 
Zvonko (Croatia)

Adelinde (Netherlands)
Almudena (Spain)
Amandine (France)
Asli (Turkey) 
Benedetta (Italy)
Claudirene (Brazil)
Damu (United States)
Gavriella (Cyprus) — I don't like Gabriella/Gabrielle, but find the "V" much more appealing 
Graziane (Brazil) 
Hyera (Korea)
Liljana (Croatia)
Maialen (Spain)
Nandelle (Trinidad & Tobago
Persefoni (Greece)
Rohanee (Australia)
Rosir (Cuba)
Schillonie (Jamaica)
Treniere (United States)
Xiexia (China)

What catches your eye? I'm fond of Aurelien, Selahattin, Taulant, Maialen, Nandelle and Persefoni. How retro-cool is Nandelle?

Wednesday, October 19

let's talk about: Louis

Here comes the sun king

Male/female, introvert/extrovert, left-brained/right-brained, manic/depressive —  to those, I say, whatever. What I'm interested in is your preferred pronunciation of the name Louis. It seems to me there are two types of people in this world: those who like the French pronunciation ("loo-EE") and those who like the English ("LOO-is") —  and never the 'twain shall meet.

Louis comes from Ludwig, a German name meaning "famous warrior." It was first popular with royalty, used on kings and princes from Hungary, Portugal, Spain, Monaco, Bavaria and, most notably, France. It's currently quite popular in France (#4) and Belgium (#5). Louis is #69 on the UK charts, though they seem to prefer the spelling Lewis, which ranks at #27. However, both spellings have lost rank since 2000.

Louis is also losing ground in the US charts, and has been, near-steadily, for the past hundred years or so. It was in the top 20 back in the 1880s and 90s, and though the fall has been slow, it's #343 now and looks like it'll keep dropping. 

Personally, like the two handsome devils above, I much prefer the French pronunciation, and do not get me started on that Lewis spelling. Why put "ew" in the middle of a name where you could have light, airy, rotund "ou"? And "LOO-is" comes off a little whiny and stuffed-up. "Loo-EE", though, he could be a little blond dauphin or a mob boss, a jazz trumpeter or a microbiologist. Louis is an underrated classic, a versatile name that can be sophisticated or  regular-guy (just call him Lou) —  it's a recent addition to my list but one I can see sticking around for a long time to come.

There are plenty of great variations: Ludovic is a favorite (love the nickname Ludo), and French Loïc is interesting. Dutch Lowie seems like a strong contender for a crossover girl name, with its Chloe-Zoe sound similarities, not that I'd encourage it. Alois and Aloysius bring the stodgy-cool vibe, and Italian Alvise looks sharp. Luis cracks the top 100 in the US right now, resting at #78. For girls, classic Louise and her cousin Louisa have plenty of lovely variants themselves — try Loes, Louisette, Lula, Lovisa, Maori Ruiha or Luísa.

Monday, October 17

Panning for Name Gold: 1920

Herbert James Draper's Halcyone

Welcome to the Jazz Age and the roaring 1920s —  let us troll the birth announcement dregs and see what we come up with. 

Ames — generally used as a surname, I like its ambiguity. Some say it's from Amos, a Hebrew name meaning "burden" or, in a nicer interpretation, "carried," and some say it could be from the French noun amie, meaning "friend." To further the mystery, it might be a smooshing (very official word) of Ambrose + Eames. James is such a classic in the English-speaking world, I wonder why shorter, simpler Ames doesn't enjoy a bit more popularity
Crispin — means "curly-haired." A couple fairly well-known actors bear this name: brother of Helena, Crispin Bonham-Carter, and Crispin Glover, whose middle name is Hellion (hey, Helena, Hellion, kinda weird, right?) If you're put off by the word "crisp," I find the Spanish pronunciation much more appealing
Crosby — music fans of all types can appreciate this one. There's (David) Crosby from Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, and Academy Award-winning crooner Bing Crosby. Means "by the cross"
Ingram — I've seen Graham used on a few babies, recently, but I like the masculine gruff of Ingram. It reminds me of Everett or Forrest, names that conjure up images of mountain cabins with big bookshelves. A little naturey, a little literary, with a great meaning ("raven"), too
Soren — I think Soren's on a little bottom-to-top journey. In 1920, it was used on six boys, but since then it made its way to a top 1,000 debut in 2003,  coming in at #957. Though the rise hasn't been steady, it is currently the most popular it's ever been in the US — #726 — and I expect it to climb even higher. Are these parents all fans of philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, or are they drawn to the "two syllables, ends in -N" boy name appeal?

Halcyon — in Greek myth, Alcyone was turned into a bird (the name means "kingfisher") after throwing herself into the sea out of grief. I like the phrase "halcyon days," and the connection to astronomy — Halcyon is the brightest star in the Pleiades. I think it would make a smashing middle name for a girl
Ismay — I first heard this name when I went through my brief "shipwreck phase" in 3rd or 4th grade, thanks to this guy. He was quite a controversial figure after the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 — do you think his surname stuck with parents naming their daughters 8 years later? It stuck with me ...
Maris — taken from the Latin title of the Virgin Mary, "stella maris," or "star of the sea." I think girl names ending in "S" really stand out
Svea — Mother Svea is the female personification of Sweden, usually depicted as a fierce warrior holding a shield and standing beside a lion. It was popular in Sweden in the first half of the 20th century and still ranks pretty high up on the charts, currently sitting at #72
Vesper — from Hesperus, who in Greek mythology was the evening star (Venus) and son of the goddess of dawn. I think of recent Bond girl Vesper Lynd (wait a minute, Crispin Bonham-Carter was in Casino Royale. What does this all mean? Naming kismet abounds ...)

Friday, October 14

That One Time I Named a Human

Over at the message boards -- where I've been a member for 12.5 years and currently act as a member advisor -- we've been discussing name regret. Inspired by this recent article, members have been sharing their own stories of naming regret and satisfaction. 

In 2007, my fiance and I got a cat. We'd been told it was a boy cat, so we named him Huckleberry. Months later, we discovered she was actually a girl. The name didn't change, but I have to say it doesn't seem to suit her very well, anymore. We wind up calling her "the cat," or, more frequently, "Kibbens," instead. 

Before I named a human, I worried that the name I'd someday choose for my child would be a name that would eventually bore, embarrass or annoy me. Mostly, I worried that, like Huckleberry, it wouldn't be the right one.

Strangely, when I found out I was pregnant in the fall of 2008, names got pushed to the backburner. I was never shy about bringing up names with my friends or my husband (or complete strangers ...) but in the face of such a serious life-changing situation, I wasn't entirely focused on them. 

At some point I looked at my long lists and began to consider the ones I could envision on an actual child of mine. Luckily, my husband, as a non-namer and a thoughtful partner, basically ceded all naming rights to me. Of course I would never have chosen something he hated, but he's a smart guy and realized that I knew and cared more about naming than he did. 

According to my lists, these were the boy name contenders:


Quite early on, the boy name race narrowed down to two -- Marlon and Aurelius. I was more attached to Marlon, though I liked Aurelius' wow-factor. For the middle name, I liked Caspar or Casper, though I could never decide on a favorite spelling. 

We didn't know if it would be a boy or a girl, and I didn't want to settle on a name until after we met the baby, but if we'd had a boy, he most likely would have been Marlon Caspar

Marlon is still my favorite boy name, but I have many new favorites that would be serious contenders if I were to name another child. Also, it sort of feels like Marlon's moment has passed, for us. We had a daughter, but Marlon feels like "her" name, like if biology had decided she should be a boy, she would have been Marlon. I can see it feeling wrong to use it for someone else.

Here are the girl names that were on my early lists:


Elodie, Esme and Delphi were strong contenders. I worried about the popularity of Elodie after meeting a couple little ones, and Esme went off the table as soon as I realized it was a character from the Twilight series. I was sad to see them go, but my top two were the only ones I was truly drawn to. 

Delphi, with its fresh, energetic sound and its mystical history, was popular with most people we mentioned it to. I kept our other top choice closer, maybe because it was, by far, the newest to my list. 
I'd added it during the '08 summer Olympics. My husband and I were watching the games, and one of the athletes was a woman named Otylia. I said it out loud (like any name nerd would) and my husband said, "Hey, I like that." 

Encouraged by his rare response to what is, by now, mostly just an unconscious tic, I went on. I remembered a different form of Otylia, one I'd seen in a couple birth announcements. "What about Ottilie?" I asked. "Yep. Write that one down," he said, and that was that. It was instantly his favorite name, and shot to the top of my list. 

A month or so later, I was pregnant, and I couldn't help but wonder if Ottilie'd jumped out when it did as an omen. Like the universe was saying, Ottilie is coming.

When I was around 19 weeks pregnant, I visited my parents' home for the holidays. One afternoon I grabbed a book off the shelf and sat down to read. The book was Breakfast at Tiffany's, by Truman Capote. I finished it in one sitting and was happy to see there were some short stories included in the back. I began to read the first one, "House of Flowers." Guess what the main character's name happened to be? 

Ottilie is coming.

There was still the matter of a middle name. I thought it would be Lucia, Estella, or Johanna. One night towards the end of my pregnancy the name Valentine came to me -- it was not on any list I'd ever made. I said it out loud in front of my husband, and he asked, "What?" 

I said it again, "Ottilie Valentine?" I remember getting goosebumps.

"Oh, that's good," he said. "That's really good." 

When we finally met her, there was no question. It was her name. 

That was almost 2.5 years ago and I have no name regret. I don't imagine I ever will. I think that was my peak naming performance. I can't believe I was so relaxed about it. I have no idea how to top myself. My current favorite girl names pale in comparison.

Some of that, I'm sure, is because it's not just a combo, anymore. It's a human. A silly, smart, unique little human. Maybe I'd feel this way about any name that became hers. 

It sounds silly, but I feel that if you let it, if you're open to it, the right name will find the right person. It hardly matters what the name turns out to be, but I believe naming someone is an honor, one that requires effort and thought.

More thought, less regret, I bet. 

Ottilie Valentine
who named all her stuffed animals "Poopy"

Wednesday, October 12

Olympic Names: Doubles Edition

One thing I noticed as I got to know this list was the fairly common use of double first names. I don't personally know anyone with a double first name, but as a name lover, the idea does appeal to me. Balance becomes very important when considering a hyphenated first name. The name shouldn't seem too heavily-weighted on one end, or too mismatched. When done correctly, the result can be a memorable, unique name with meaning and style. 

Here are some of my favorites from the list of Olympic athletes —

Aiverou-Thierry-Edouard (Burkina Faso) — the elusive triple first name
Arni-Mar (Iceland)
Brice-Vivien (Cameroon)
Bruno-Flavien (Central African Republic)
Damian-Ariel (Argentina)
Deressa-Chimsa (Ethiopia)
Edward-Henry (Panama)
Elvis-Vereance (Bahamas)
Grace-Yannick (Congo) — I wonder if, in the Congo, Grace is more common as a male name
Hector-Rafael (Mexico)
Kouassi-Olivier (Côte d' Ivoire)
Lahoussine-Xavier (France)
Laszlo-Zsolt (Hungary) — love that back-to-back "SZ/ZS"
Levente-Andrei (Romania)
Narcisse-Odilon (Cameroon)
Omar-Juma (United Arab Emirates) — nice symmetry here, and easy to say
Rasmus-Nicholai-Quist (Denmark) — another 3-parter. It's like spotting a unicorn
Ruben-Bertrand (Cameroon)
Shepherd-Kofi (Bahamas)
Sorel-Arthur (Bahamas)
Suleiman-Wanjau (Kenya)
Thamer-Kamal (Qatar)
Victor-Sebastian (Argentina) — Argentinians are very good at handsome male double names 

Affoue-Amandine (Côte d' Ivoire)
Berit-Annika (Germany)
Binta-Zahra (Senegal)
Bombo-Madalena (Angola) — so fun to say. Sounds like a dance
Celeste-Mar (Venezuela)
Clara-Susana (Spain)
Delphine-Bertille (Cameroon)
Djehi-Natacha-Sandrine (Côte d' Ivoire) — and three names for the lady
Erdenet-Od (Mongolia) — love the science-fiction vibe to  this one, very Ursula K. LeGuin
Izra-Hanie (Malaysia)
Lena-Frier (Denmark)
Louise-Mai (Denmark)
Matilde-Antonio (Angola
Monika-Devi (India)
Nazli-Ege (Turkey)
Nina-Franziska (Germany)
Ophelie-Cyrielle (France)
Raja-Amira (Algeria)
Rila-Rosa (Bahamas)
Rose-Pascale (Cameroon)
Sirkka-Liisa (Estonia)
Sule-Utura (Ethiopia
Thorey-Edda (Iceland)

I have a little surprise for last. This name is the only name from the entire Olympic roster that I've thought of fondly on a regular basis since the first read. It's my favorite name on the whole list, for many, many reasons, though it should be obvious. It's genius, it never fails to make me smile. 

It belongs to this guy:

he's from Ghana, land of amazing names.
he's a boxer.
and his name is ... 

Prince-Octopus Dzanie

oh, to be Prince-Octopus! I love that he isn't King-Octopus. That's the best part. 

I know everyone will totally adore P-O as much as I do, but other than that, is there anything else that stands out to you? How do you feel about double first names? Too much, or a great opportunity?