Tuesday, November 29

Panning for Name Gold: 1950

Thora and Steve play Enid and Seymour, in Ghost World

Head for your fallout shelters, it's the 1950s. Here are some names that just barely snuck onto the charts, used less than 10 times in the first year of the decade.

Leonidas — like most "Leo-" names, Leonidas means "lion." I was surprised to find that it broke into the US top 1,000 in 2008, and has stayed on the list ever since (it's currently at #927). I should do a post about Leo itself, but I find its variants so much more interesting. Leonidas has the strongest sound of the bunch, but I'm also drawn to its obscure feminine counterparts, like Léonide, Leonille and Leontine
Merrick — an English surname, Merrick is comprised of Germanic elements which mean "fame" and "power." It may also be connected to Marek, the Polish and Czech form of Mark, which is from the name Mars. I think it's a surname that transitions particularly easily to first-name status
Rafe — Rafe is an alternate spelling of Ralph, reflecting a variant pronunciation that is hardly ever used in the US. (I'm looking at you, Mr Fiennes — PS: the Fiennes family is full of wildly great names.) So, Ralph is derived from Norse elements meaning "counsel" and "wolf," which is pretty wicked. Wolf Counsel. If they were a band, I'd listen to 'em
Selwyn — also spelled Selwin, this name means "friend of the castle." It's a place name in Australia, New Zealand and Canada, and remains quite unusual as both a first and last name
Truitt — I don't know much about Truitt that I can confirm with a cursory Internet search, but what's most important or notable about it is its sound. A sonic combination of True + Wyatt, I often see it grouped with "cowboy" sounding names like Colton, Cooper, Beau, Garrett and Tex, and that's where it may find a niche, I think

Elodie — I mentioned this one when I wrote about choosing my daughter's name. It was a very  serious contender for us, and still holds a special place in my heart. It is a French form of Alodia, which is a name derived from Germanic elements meaning "other" and "riches." Saint Alodia (and her sister, Nunilo) were child martyrs in 9th-century Spain. Though I dismissed the name due to meeting one in real life, Elodie has never been popular in the US, and hasn't appeared in the top 1,000 since 1886. However I wouldn't be surprised if this one is a quick-climber in the coming years, given its popularity with namer-types and its familiar "rhymes with Melody" sound. In France, once-popular Élodie (pronounced with the first syllable "ay") is now at #189, and seems to be falling steadily
Faustine — I first came across Faustine in a book I read elementary school, somewhere, and it's stuck in my mind ever since. Speaking of French popularity, who'd have thought that Faustine is currently more popular than Elodie, and, at #68, is on the rise? It comes from the Roman name Faustus, which means "auspicious," or "lucky," though its  literary ties (Faust is a legendary German character connected to plays by Christopher Marlowe and Goethe) carry a much darker connotation, which isn't a bad thing
Freya — Freya is the goddess of beauty and love in Norse mythology. Extremely popular in England and Scotland, where it's in the top 20, Freya has yet to crack the US charts, though I wouldn't be surprised if it does. Freja Beha Erichsen is a successful fashion model whose name has been used on designer handbags and shoes. Alternate spellings include Freyja and Frea, and masculine form Freyr is pretty cool
Thora — a modern form of an ancient Scandinavian name, Thora is the feminine form of Thor, which means "thunder" (great meaning for a girl)  actress Thora Birch has a younger brother named Bolt
Vivica — Vivica is an alternate spelling of the Swedish name Viveka, which comes from a Frisian name meaning "war," and not from popular, similar-looking Vivian, as you might guess. It's also similar in sound to the Sanskrit male name Vivek, meaning "distinction," which makes for a nice cross-cultural sounding name that is distinctive yet not too weird (and actress Vivica A. Fox helps with the familiarity factor)

Saturday, November 26

Friday Faves

Nevermind that it's early Saturday morning  here's a Friday tune.

"Mamunia," the title of this Paul McCartney & Wings song, was the name of a house in Lagos, Nigeria, where most of the album Band on the Run was recorded. It's from an Arabic word meaning "safe haven."

the rain comes falling from the sky
to fill the stream that fills the sea 
and that's where life began for you and me 

so the next time you see rain it ain't bad
don't complain, it rains for you
the next time you see LA rain clouds
don't complain, it rains for you and me 

I can totally see this one working as a name  can you?

Wednesday, November 23

A Thanksgiving Name Game

the harbor at Plymouth, Massachusetts, by janhatesmarcia

For those of you about to celebrate the harvest by stuffing your faces (or pondering genocide), I thought a good old-fashioned name game might be a bit of holiday fun.

I've taken the list of pilgrim passengers from the Mayflower, Fortune, Anne and Little James — the first ships bound for Plymouth, Massachusetts  and numbered them. If you pick two numbers, anywhere from 1 to 90, I'll give you a "Pilgrim Name." 

Just leave a comment with your desired numbers and I'll reply with your new name. If you don't celebrate, feel free to play along anyway!

Think of it as my contribution to your Thanksgiving feast. (I'm in charge of bourbon pumpkin cheesecake with pecan gingersnap crust and maple nutmeg cream pie, too.) Wear it proudly, 'cos it's going to be a rough winter. 

Tuesday, November 22

Olympic Names VII

Athif (Maldives) 
Bunting (Cambodia) — aww
Cosmin (Romania) 
Dauda (Nigeria)  
Idulio (Mexico
Izzet (Turkey)
Jussi (Finland
Leos (Czech Republic)
Margus (Estonia) 
Paris (Chile)
Ponloeu (Cambodia)
Promise (Nigeria) — Promise and Bunting!
Quintino (Guinea-Bissau) 
Reto (Switzerland)
Taufik (Indonesia)
Till (Germany)
Vaezi (Iran)
Vegard (Norway)
Visa (Finland)
Zwede (Trinindad & Tobago)

Cvetanka (Bulgaria) 
Flora (United States— her surname is Hyacinth 
Hanae (Japan)
Katinka (Hungary) 
Liezel (United States)
Ludivine (Belgium)
Melek (Turkey)
Olimpiada (Russian Federation)
Orsolya (Hungary) 
Pulum (Korea) 
Sevil (Ukraine)  
Svenja (Germany)
Tawa (Nigeria) 
Vafa (Azerbaijan)
Virgil (St. Kitts & Nevis) — wouldn't expect this one to "go to the girls"
Vitiny (Cambodia)
Xeniya (Kazakhstan) 
Zomilla (Hungary)

Saturday, November 19


Recently, I talked about Haruki Murakami's latest book, 1Q84, mentioning the names of two characters. One, Aomame, appealed to me immediately.

Leave it to Murakami to get to the meaning of a name right away. I started the book this weekend, and on page 4, he writes about the background of the offbeat name:
"'Aomame' was her real name. Her grandfather on her father's side came from some little mountain town or village in Fukushima Prefecture, where there were supposedly a number of people who bore the name, written with exactly the same characters as the word for "green peas" and pronounced with the same four syllables, 'Ah-oh-mah-meh" ...
Telling people her name was always a bother. As soon as the name left her lips, the other person looked puzzled or confused.
'Miss Aomame?'
'Yes. Just like 'green peas'.'"
She goes on:
"Some people would get the name of the plant wrong and call her 'Edamame' or 'Soramame,' whereupon she would gently correct them: 'No, I'm not soybeans or fava beans, just green peas. Pretty close though. Aomame.' How many times in her thirty years had she heard the same remarks, the same feeble jokes about her name? My life might have been totally different if I hadn't been born with this name. If I had had an ordinary name like Sato or Tanaka or Suzuki, I could have lived a slightly more relaxed life or looked at people with somewhat more forgiving eyes. Perhaps."
"Green peas" seems like a perfectly noble meaning, don't you think? And it has such a pleasant look, written in English, and a cheerful sound. Somehow, I'm sure the story I'm about to read will make it even more appealing, annoying as Aomame herself finds it.

Friday, November 18

Friday Faves

I don't know 'bout you, but the only thing on my mind this sweet fall Friday is Johanna

inside the museums, infinity goes up on trial
voices echo, "this is what salvation must be like after a while"

but Mona Lisa 'musta had the highway blues
you can tell by the way she smiles

see the primitive wallflower freeze
when the jelly-faced women all sneeze

hear the one with the mustache say, "geez
I can't find my knees"

oh, jewels and binoculars hang from the head of the mule
but these visions of Johanna, they make it all seem so cruel

In the last days before my daughter was born, I was driving to art school every day, an hour each way. I tend to circle through albums obsessively, and during that intense time, it was Blonde on Blonde. Ottilie arrived the day after I graduated — and now she recognizes Dylan songs before he even starts singing. (Secret naming plan: if she'd been born on his birthday, May 24th, I would have used Johanna as a middle name.)

Johanna's a form of John, which means "god is gracious." It has a ton of sweet diminutives and variants — Polish Joasia, medieval French Johanne, Scottish Shona or Seonag, Welsh Siwan and Finnish Hannele are just a few.

Thursday, November 17

let's talk about: Salvador

Salvador is a relative newcomer to my list, but it's fast becoming one of my top middle name contenders. It bridges the naming gap between light and strong, carrying with it deep historical and political roots, and balancing a heavy religious meaning with a soft, unusual sound.

Salvador is from the Late Latin name Salvator, which means "saviour." Since the 1920s, it has been a steady presence in the US top 1,000, hovering around the 300-400 mark. It's currently on a bit of a downturn, resting at #459. Its relatively constant level of popularity combined with its familiarity as a word (and a country) means that while a little Salvador won't be one of multiples in his class, his name most likely won't get strange looks, either. 

I like its two most famous associations — surrealist painter Salvador Dalí, and the first democratically elected Marxist president in Latin America, Salvador Allende of Chile (his three daughters have a lovely sibling set — Beatriz, Carmen Paz, and Isabel). Guitarist Carlos Santana has a son named Salvador, and so do Canadian musicians Raine Maida and Chantal Kreviazuk (they have three sons, Rowan, Lucca and Salvador).

Italian form Salvatore is appealing though it lacks the "-or" ending that I'm drawn to. In Spanish, a nickname for Salvador is Chava, but I like good old-fashioned throwback Sal.

A few people have brought up the idea that it might be a little odd to use a name from a culture you're not a part of. I think, for most, this is a personal decision. As a name lover, I would never dream of limiting myself that way. My favorite names come from all over the world, and I love the idea of using Salvador with my husband's surname, which is Japanese. That's when things start to get really interesting in the name universe.

What do you think — are you drawn to names from a certain country or ethnic group, and would you consider using one for your own child? Or do you think it's somehow wrong or insensitive? 

Tuesday, November 15

Olympic Names VI

From Mads to Nami, Dashdavaa to Evdokia, here's the sixth installment of Olympic Names  

Asley (Cuba) 
Breaux (United States)
Dashdavaa (Mongolia) 
Faris (Belgium)  
Franson (Palau
Gable (Botswana)
Harmon (New Zealand— Harmon's so nice, they named him twice (his surname is also Harmon)
Lasha (Georgia)
Luluk (Indonesia) — adorable
Mads (Denmark)
Othmane (Algeria)
Phaisan (Thailand)
Rawle (Guyana) 
Rossano (Italy)
Shalva (Azerbaijan)
Soslan (Russian Federation)
Suren (Ukraine)
Suso (Spain)

Beate (Germany) 
Evdokia (Russian Federation)
Iciar (Spain)
Ilune (Spain) 
Jala (Germany)
Leiliane (Brazil)
Nami (Japan)
Rosibel (Colombia)
Rosselia (Italy) 
Sheena (Barbados) — is a punk rocker, now-eyow-eyow?
Sinan (China)  
Sivan (Israel)
Tobin (United States) 
Wenna (China)
Yoanka (Cuba) 
Zhanna (Belarus)
Zoia (Ukraine) 

Sunday, November 13

Fellow Scorpios

I'm gonna eat you

I have something in common with the people on this list -- today is our birthday. Enjoy this list of mysterious Scorpios as I sip champagne and try not to think about my rapidly-disappearing youth.

twins Amalie Auguste and Elisabeth Ludovika of Bavaria (1801, queens of Saxony and Prussia, respectively) 
Amory Lovins (1947, American environmentalist and author)
Ariadna Tyrkova-Williams (1869, Russian feminist)
Asdrúbal Cabrera (1985, Venezuelan baseball player) 
Saint Augustine of Hippo (354, North African theologian)
Ayaan Hirsi Ali (1969, Dutch author)
Bertel Thorvaldsen (1768, Danish sculptor)
Buck O'Neil (1911, American baseball player)
Cyril Lucaris (1572, Greek theologian) 
Dack Rambo (1941, American actor)
Dorothea Erxleben (1715, first female medical doctor)
Esaias Tegnér (1782, Swedish writer and professor)
Hermione Baddeley (1906, English actress) 
Idris Muhammad (1939, American jazz drummer)
Iskander Mirza (1899, first president of Pakistan)
Ivica Dragutinović (1975, Serbian footballer) 
Kumi Koda (1982, Japanese singer)
Leon Leonwood "L.L." Bean (1872, American inventor) 
Motoo Kimura (1924, Japanese geneticist)
Quim (1975, Portuguese footballer)
Rivkah (1981, American cartoonist) 
Samkon Gado (1982, Nigerian American football player)
Teodora Ungureanu (1960, Romanian gymnast)
Toy Caldwell (1947, American guitarist)
Whoopi Goldberg (1955, American comedienne)

Friday, November 11

Friday Faves

the gloaming (blue nights), in the Scottish highlands, by Drew Withington

As far as numbers go, it's pretty hard to beat 11.11.11. A few eleven-related names are on my mind today. 

The 11th moon of Jupiter is Himalia, named for a favorite nymph of Zeus. In the Basque language, the word for eleven is Hamaika, which also means "infinite." In blackjack, an Ace card can function as either a 1 or an 11, depending on which is more advantageous for the player. A straight translation yields some interesting name prospects — Elf (Danish/German), Ellefu (Icelandic), Elleve (Norwegian), Elva (Swedish) and Onze (French/Portuguese). 

My birthday is this Sunday, and my lovely husband bought me an early present — three books I've been dying to read. One is Haruki Murakami's latest, 1Q84. Murakami pays great attention to the names he chooses for his characters, and a glance at the inside cover reveals two very interesting ones — a girl named Aomame, and a man named Tengo. In Joan Didion's Blue Nights, she writes about the death of her only daughter, Quintana Roo, named for the Mexican state on the eastern part of the Yucatán peninsula. Margaret Atwood's In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination should be an interesting read. She is the author of one of my favorite works of science fiction, Oryx and Crake. The Oryx in the title takes her name from the African antelope, and Crake takes his from the name of a small bird. I love finding names in literature — a great character can make me love a name I never thought to consider. 

There were many great suggestions for the names of the two mystery colors featured in my Polished Jewels post. My favorites were Night's Altum, Midwinter Names' Zelda, and Dearest's Lumina

Mer de Noms and Waltzing More than Matilda guessed correctly! The green polish is actually named Apple, a choice that is obviously obvious. The pearly white color is named Celeste, whose "heavenly" meaning isn't too far off from the "light" meaning of Lumina. Thank you to everyone who played along!

Wednesday, November 9

Panning for Name Gold: 1940

Sagittarius, from Johann Bayer's Uranometria
Archer — Archer, like previously-featured Zina, is a name from the science fiction catalogue of writer Philip K. Dick. He used it in The Transmigration of Timothy Archer. Its meaning is quite literal (it's an occupational surname, after all) but I wonder if Dick chose it for its various mythical connotations. The Archer is another name for the constellation Sagittarius, who is often represented as an arrow-and-bow carrying centaur, whose bow points toward the star Antares, "the heart of the scorpion" 
Axel — Axel was much less popular in 1940 than it is today. It fell out of the top 1,000 back in 1916, then reappeared in 1989 (I wonder how much of that is owed to Mr Axl Rose) and has been climbing the chart pretty steadily ever since. In 2010 it's listed at #187, a big jump up from its place in 2009, at #264. Axel also ranks in Belgium, Chile, the Netherlands, Sweden and France, where it's way up there at #28. It's the Danish form of Hebrew name Absalom, which means "my father is peace"
Cassius — the meaning isn't the best ("empty," or "vain") but there are many redeeming things about this name. It makes me think of Muhammad Ali, whose original name was Cassius (he was named for his father, who was named for American abolitionist Cassius Clay) and ancient Rome, where the gens Cassia were a noble family. Cassius peeked into the top 1,000 in 2008 when it ranked #944, though it hasn't appeared on the '09 or '10 lists. Pronounce it with three syllables, "KAS-ee-əs" or two "KASH-əs"
Cosimo — meaning "order" or "decency," Cosimo is an Italian variant of Greek name Cosmas. Saints (and brothers) Cosmas and Damian are the patron saints of physicians. A famous bearer of the name Cosimo was Cosimo Medici, a rich man and patron of the Renaissance in 15th-century Florence. I like English form Cosmo and Romanian Cosmin, too
Shepherd — occupational surnames have an easy time transitioning to the first-name position, as they're already recognizable and a good way to honor a family member (I'm Rowan, which was my maternal grandmother's maiden name). Shepherd refers to a sheep-herder, of course, and I think the nickname Shep is super hip

Britta — a variant of the Swedish name Birgitta, which is a form of the Irish name Brighid, which means "exalted one." Its similarity in look and sound to now-dated Brittany is both a plus (familiarity) and a negative (it may come off as made-up to a names-layman) but I'd love to see it used more often
Gala — I may have been subconsciously choosing names of people I've actually known. I knew a Britta in high school, and a Gala in college. Gala means "calm," though most people are probably familiar with it as a kind of apple, or as a word referring to a festive occasion 
Honora — a variant of Honoria, which comes from a Latin name meaning, obviously, "honor." You could get the nickname Nora pretty easily from this one, and it sounds a little less like a word and more like a proper name than celebrity-babyname Honor
Isaura — from a Latin name meaning "from Isauria," which was a region in what is now modern-day Turkey. Male form Isaurus sounds a little dinosaur-ish, but Isaura has a lovely sound and look, and is a great alternative to popular Isabella
Lucilla — mentioned in my post on Lucia, Lucilla is a Latin diminutive of Lucia, and was the name of a 3rd-century martyr. Wickedly-named Annia Aurelia Galeria Lucilla (she went by Lucilla) was second daughter of Marcus Aurelius. Her twin brother, Gemellus Lucillae, died when they were two, and her children were named Plautia, Aurelia Lucilla, Lucius Verus and Pompeianus — phew!

Monday, November 7

Polished Jewels

Top, L-R: Bijou, Ibiza, Jolene, Lael, Mieko
Bottom, L-R: Minka, Romy, Tao, Tosca

Just as surely as I know the sky is blue and the sun is really old and really hot, I know I'm not the only weirdo who daydreams about naming nail polishes. Now, I'd be perfectly happy coming up with cutesy things like "I'm Not Really a Waitress," or "Chinchilly," but the Zoya brand has gone a step beyond, venturing into pure onomast territory by assigning real, usable names to each of its polishes. 

Here are a few — 

Bijou — it's the French word for "jewel." Belongs to actress/daughter of famous people Bijou Phillips, whose middle name is Lilly, and who has a brother named Tamerlane. I get a real moneyed-bohemian vibe from this one

Ibiza — the name of a Spanish island in the Mediterranean. Ibiza is full of interesting names —  it was originally called Ibossim by Phoenician settlers, the Romans called it Ebusus, and its name in Catalan is Eivissa. One of its largest cities is named after Saint Eulalia (Eulària in Catalan) and its highest point is a mountain called Sa Talaia. Talaia means "watchtower"

Jolene — a name created in the 20th century by combining elements "Jo-" and "-lene." I am fond of Dutch version Jolijn, though I have a total soft spot for good old retro Jolene, thanks to the brilliant Dolly Parton song

Lael —  a masculine Hebrew name meaning "of God," found in the Old Testament and more commonly used on girls. I like that it's bound by those Ls on each end and has a little criss-cross "ae" in the middle. A woman named Lael Brainard is currently the Under Secretary of the Treasury for International Affairs (felt I should mention that to offset all the Hollywood namedropping in this post)

Mieko — a Japanese name that may be written with the characters for "beauty" and "blessing," and the suffix "-ko," which means "child." So, Mieko could mean "child blessed with beauty." I am drawn to similar Maeko, meaning "truth child." I think "-ko" names are considered old-fashioned in modern-day Japan, but I like many of them

Minka — belongs to actress Minka Kelly. It's her given name, but I think it makes a fun nickname for striking longer forms Jasminka and Yasminka. It's a feminine form of the Frisian name Meine, which is from a Germanic element meaning "strength"

Romy — a diminutive of "Rose-" names Rosemarie and Rosemary. Sofia Coppola has daughters Romy and Cosima, who have the utterly fantastic surname Mars. It's popular with celebrities, apparently — Matt Lauer has a daughter named Romy, and the daughter of Gabriel Byrne and Ellen Barkin is named Romy Marion

Tao — the word tao means "nature," and in Taoism, it refers to the "way," or "path." Tao is a metaphysical concept originating with Chinese philosopher Lao-Tsu, emphasizing the relationship between humanity and the cosmos. I've seen it used as a male name, but I think it works just as well for girls

Tosca — most familiar as the title of the Puccini opera, which was based on French playwright Victorien Sardou's play, La Tosca. In the opera, the main character's full name is Floria Tosca. She is a famous soprano, of course, and on opening night in 1900, she was played by wickedly-named Hariclea Darclée

I love seeing which name Zoya's chosen for each color. It seems a near-synesthetic pursuit. The color must influence the name choice, on some level, don't you think? I mean, look at the perfect bubblegum Parton-pink of Jolene, shown above. That's a great color/name match. Some fall flat, though — I don't think steely grey conveys the depth and nature of Tao, and the dark Ibiza blue seems a little heavy for a popular summer holiday destination.

Just for fun, I've picked two colors for readers to name. What would you choose for these shades? 

I'll reveal their Zoya-names later this week!

Sunday, November 6

Olympic Names V

Here's your fifth helping of Olympic names —  there's gotta be something for everyone in this bunch.

Alodin (Jamaica) 
Amro (Egypt)
Antti (Finland) — nobody does cute boy names like the Finnish do cute boy names
Cleveland (Guyana)  
Colomba (France this name (it means "dove") has been used on men and women historically
Driss (Egypt)
Leonid (Russian Federation)
Loris (Italy)
Orinoco (New Zealand) — named for the river, I wonder?
Oskari (Finland)
Procopio (Mexico)
Rovshan (Azerbaijan)
Tonu (Estonia) 
Tulop (Palau)
Urby (Netherlands)

Ahamada (Comoros) 
Ai (Japan)  my all-time favorite Japanese girl name
Anda (Latvia)
Cornelia (Switzerland) 
Dalixia (Cuba)
Dedeh (Indonesia)
Delloreen (Jamaica)
Ethiene (Brazil)
Haiat (Egypt) 
Inna (Bulgaria)
Jael (Spain) — means "mountain goat," can't beat that 
Leyre (Spain)
Lotte (Denmark) 
Neli (Romania)
Nilla (Sweden) 
Onome (Nigeria)
Perdita (Canada) 
Pia (Germany)
Sultana (Canada)
Sylvianne (France)

What catches your eye on this rainy, hour-missing Sunday morning?