Monday, January 30

let's talk about: Edith

Two girls and their props: Edith Piaf and Edith Head

"In reality they all lived in a kind of hieroglyphic world, where the real thing was never said or done or even thought, but only represented by a set of arbitrary signs."
~ from The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

Like the rest of the bourgie-TV-watching world, I've been enjoying Downton Abbey lately. I'm afraid I can't even say I liked it before it started getting brought up at every dinner party ever, but I was really just too busy being cool to notice. For reals. So busy.

Anyway there are three sisters in the show and they all have nice names. Mary's, well, Mary, so it's not that interesting, Sybil is really great and stylish and I only like it spelled Sibyl, and then there's Edith. A grand old name with a sweet hipster-ready nickname (Sedgwick fans probably dig Downton, right?) that happens to be totally accessible and usable today.

It brings to mind a great troupe of wonderfully talented and interesting women. There's French singer Édith Piaf (born Édith Giovanna Gassion), Academy Award-winning costume designer Edith Head (she's Edith Claire) and writer Edith Wharton. Edie Sedgwick did a lot to give the name a chic, sophisticated, dramatic girl vibe, and the nickname "Edie" is certainly charming enough.

Edith is derived from an Old English name containing elements meaning "riches/blessed" and "war." It is used regularly in some Scandinavian countries including Sweden, where it's in the top 100. In 2010, Edith was at #820 in the States, 22 spaces up from its 2009 position. I'll be interested to see where it lands for 2011, since pre-09 it had been in a straight-up downward spiral since the 1880s (it was once in the top 30). It seems to have had a few years of regaining a teensy bit of lost popularity, so it's hard to predict where Edith will wind up, though if it manages to stay in the top 1,000 for a bit longer, I think it'll stay there for quite some time, and probably enjoy a real resurgence.

I usually stick to the oldest spelling when it comes to names, but I have to admit I'm won over by alternate spelling Edythe. Some other nice forms are Edita, Danish Ditte, Italian Editta, Finnish Eedit, Hebrew Idit and Tongan Iteti.

Friday, January 27

Friday Faves

Arthur's a name-creep — it was at the top of my list for a while, then dropped off entirely, and now is working its way back into my naming favor. In the US, Arthur's currently at its lowest point in popularity since 1880. It once ranked as high as #14 (its 2010-equivalent would be Andrew) but now sits at #389 — higher than I expected, but it's not looking too good. 

I'd like to see it used more. It has strong literary ties — fans of Arthurian legend are responsible for its first burst of popularity — and great nickname opportunities, including Art, Archie and Artie. It has many lovely variants, like Dutch Tuur, Finnish Arttu, Lithuanian Artūras, Scottish Artair and Spanish Arturo. Wouldn't Turo make a cool nickname?

Then there's this song by ridiculously great band The Kinks, which spells out Arthur as a plain, simple man. And maybe he is, but the name has depth created by centuries of regular use, famous bearers who've served it well, and just the right amount of dust to keep things interesting.

all the way he was overtaken
by the people who make the big decisions
but he tried and he tried for a better life
and a way to improve his own condition

don't you know it, don't you know it
you can cry, cry all night 
but it won't make it right
don't you know it, don't you know it

Arthur, we know and we sympathize
don't you know it, don't you know it
Arthur, we like you and want to help you
somebody loves you, don't you know it?

Thursday, January 26

Rare Dutch Girls: Part Two

Volendam, the Netherlands, 1925 by janwillemsen on Flickr

Here's a new group of rare Dutch girl names. I'm working on the boy names now and they are seriously tripping me out. So far, I've seen Broadcast, Blitz, Bramble and Buick  and those are only from the Bs.

Hope you enjoy these — 

Annewil — this and Willien (mentioned below) are so much sharper than Willa or Willow, I feel
Idyl — why not!
Jacomine — new Jac- names are always intriguing, and you know I love an "-ine" ending
Maelief — so charming
Phillou — this one totally gets me 

Tuesday, January 24

Elemental Names: Helium

Periodic  Table, found via UNIFORM on Tumblr

Helium takes its name from the Greek god Helios, son of Hyperion and Theia, who drove a sun-bearing chariot across the sky each day. Helios means "sun," and is the root source of the feminine name Helene, which has many sunny variants that would make great homages to the second element on the periodic table —  Scandinavian form Elin has been in the news thanks to Tiger Woods' Swedish ex-wife, Alyona is a softer Russian diminutive of Yelena, Romanian Lenuța ("le-NOOT-sah") is intriguing and fun to say, and nickname-of-a-nickname Nella is a good alternative to uber-popular Ella. There's also cool Hungarian Ilonka, retro sweetheart Elaine and German short form Leni.

The formal discovery of Helium was made in 1895 by well-named Swedish chemists Per Teodor Cleve and Nils Abraham Langlet, though it was first detected in 1868 by French astronomer Pierre "Jules" César Janssen, who observed a yellow spectral line signature in the sunlight during a solar eclipse. English scientist and astronomer Joseph "Norman" Lockyer shares this credit and is responsible for Helium's name — let's all be glad he was a classical namer and not a narcissist — or we'd all be filling birthday balloons with Lockyerium.

There are many names with sunny meanings —  Japanese Youko/Yoko can be written with the characters for either "sunlight" or "ocean" combined with the suffix "-ko," meaning "child." Haru is a Japanese male name that can be written with the character for "sunlight," and Haruki adds the suffix "-ki," which can mean "to shine/radiance" or "life." Heulwen ("sunlight") and Tesni ("warmth of the sun") are pretty, feminine Welsh names, and Solveig ("sun strength") and Sunniva ("sun gift") are Norwegian. I love the look of variant Synnøve, too.

Names with a plain "sun" meaning include French Soleil, Lithuanian Saulė, masculine Ravi (a Hindu god of the sun) and Croatian Sunčana. Speaking of other sun gods and goddesses, Arinna was a Hittite sun goddess, and Surya (also called Aruna) is the Hindu equivalent of Greek Helios. Étaín (also found as Éadaoinis the name of a sun goddess and heroine of Irish myth, and let's not forget the French sun-king name Louis, which I've previously featured.

Monday, January 23

Panning for Name Gold: 1980

Here are 10 names to ponder, taken from the bottom of the popularity charts in 1980.

Amory — I've liked this name since reading it in F. Scott Fitzgerald's debut novel, This Side of Paradise. The main character, Amory Blaine, is a lovelorn college student, totally self-absorbed except when it comes to pretty, stuck-up debutantes. It embodies a "literary/unusual" style that I see more and more of in the naming world — under-heard classics ready for comebacks. I pronounce it with a long "A" (AY-mer-ee) but have heard it pronounced with the "am" sound at the beginning, too
Elston — the name of a small village in Nottinghamshire, England. Elston was originally named Elveston, for an early leader named Elva, the Anglicanized form of Irish name Ailbhe, meaning "white"
Fenton — also a place name (it means "marsh town"), there are cities/towns called Fenton in Canada, the US and Britain. More common as a surname, I think Fenton could appeal to those looking for a trendy-sounding name that has actual history. The "-ton" ending makes it accessible and familiar
Severin — German and Scandinavian form of Severinus, from the Roman family name Severus, meaning "stern," Severin makes a chic and striking boy name. I can't hear it without singing, "I am tired/ I am weary/ I could sleep for a thousand years"
Shem — Biblical Noah (of Ark fame) had 3 sons, and the best-named one was Shem. His name means "name" (that's so meta) and I think it's perfect for people looking for something Biblical but not too common

Easter —  from the name of the holiday, which comes from the Germanic pagan goddess of the spring, Ēostre (also called Ostara). Eostre is from a Proto-Indo-European root meaning "to shine." As far as holiday-names go, I think Easter is sweetest
Fleur — this group of girl names feels very "springtime" to me. Fleur is the French word for "flower," and it ranks in the top 40s of Belgium and the Netherlands, and in the 400s in France. I like a lot of its variants, including Welsh Fflur, Dutch Floortje, English Floella, cute nickname Florrie, and masculine Florian
Jonquil — see, it's a theme! Jonquil is an unusual flower name, from the Latin iuncus, meaning "reed." I like alternate spelling Jonquille, as well as possible nicknames Joni or Quil
Oona — variant of Úna, meaning "lamb," I think this one has comeback written all over it. I've met two young Oonas and both wore their names with sass and sweetness. Oona O'Neill was the daughter of playwright Eugene O'Neill and writer Agnes Boulton — she dated Orson Welles and JD Salinger before meeting Charlie Chaplin, whom she married before she turned 18, despite the fact that her parents disapproved of their 36-year age difference. Charlie and Oona were married for 35 years and had 8 children: Geraldine, Michael, Josephine, Victoria, Eugene, Jane, Annette & Christopher
Philomena — from the Greek philos, meaning "friend" and menos, meaning "strength." The name of a matryred  4th-century princess saint whose bones were discovered in the Catacombs of Priscilla in 1802. I like French form Philomène just as much

Wednesday, January 18

Rare Dutch Girls: Part One

Amsterdam, 1900 by janwillemsen on Flickr
My recent post on early medieval names from the Netherlands and Flanders got me interested in what modern Dutch parents are choosing for their children. A little searching around led me to the list of names used on Dutch babies for 2011 — it's a great collection (full of surprises, too — Jayden's in the top 10!) and gets particularly interesting towards the bottom. 

These names were used on only one baby in 2011, so they're as rare as it gets. The list is very long (and much longer for girls than for boys), so I've chosen ones that appealed to my taste, stood out for some reason, or that I thought might have some chance of use in English-speaking countries. Enjoy!

Anne-Phine — there are lots of lovely "Josephine" variants 
Catalana — perfect for Jordan Catalano-obsessors 
Leonieke — always looking for new Leo-names 

Monday, January 16

Elemental Names: Hydrogen

Periodic  Table, found via UNIFORM on Tumblr

Though I often look to nature and astronomy to find new, unusual names, I don't generally think of chemistry as a potential name-mining zone. I love the order and simple beauty of the periodic table, though, and thanks to a suggestion from my husband, have decided to take a look at it as a possible source for names. 

Up first — Hydrogen

In Greek, hydrogen means "water former." Some names with aquatic meanings are Damla (a Turkish name with a great meaning: "water drop"), Dalit ("to draw water" in Hebrew, particularly appropriate), Enki (the Sumerian god of water and wisdom, and keeper of the divine laws), Neith (Greek form of an Egyptian girls' name meaning "water") and Chinese unisex name Shui, which means "water" (the term feng shui translates to "wind-water"). Another interesting one is Finnish Virva, which is from the word virvatuli, meaning "will o' the wisp," which appears in Finnish folklore as a ball of light that floats over water.

Hydrogen is the lightest element, and Vayu is the name of the Hindu god of the air and wind. Another name for him is AnilAnila is the very pretty feminine form. Ilma is a Finnish name meaning "air." Ilma comes from Ilmatar, who in Finnish mythology was an androgynous goddess of the heavens, and the mother of Ilmarinen, the creator of the sky. Ilmari is the short masculine form of his name.

Qi or Chi is an ancient Chinese concept, defined as a life force or spiritual energy that is part of every living thing, literally translated as "air" or "breath." I've seen Chi used as a middle name before, and it always surprises me. In ancient Sumer, Enlil was the god of air, and in ancient Egypt, he was called Shu. Shu's husband was the goddess of moisture, Tefnut, which makes for a rather clunky name, but I love the idea of air and moisture getting paired up — perfect for hydrogen. In Greek mythology, Aether was the personification of the bright, upper air of the sky, the substance of light. It means "pure, fresh air" or "clear sky" and is where we get the English word ether.

Hydrogen is the most abundant chemical element in the universe, found in stars and gas giant planets. The gas giants are also referred to as Jovian planets — the word refers to the planet Jupiter, but I've always though Jovian could make an attractive name.

In its plasma state, hydrogen gives off a purple color. Sigal is a feminine Hebrew name meaning "purple." Names meaning "violet" include Yolanda-variant Iolanthe, first used by Gilbert & Sullivan in an 1882 comic opera, and Calfuray, a feminine Mapuche name.

And on a totally different note: here's a great sermon given by a Nobel Prize-winning nonviolent civil rights activist who shares a name with a 16th-century German protestant reformer. Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. day!

Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. 

Say that I was a drum major for peace. 

I was a drum major for righteousness. 

And all of the other shallow things will not matter. I won't have any money to leave behind. I won't have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. 

And that's all I want to say.

Tuesday, January 10

Sad-Eyed Naming of the Low Lands

misty, placid creatures in the Dutch countryside, by Herm_B on Flickr

I came across a fabulous onomastic niche recently — Names in the Low Lands before 1150 is a wealth of data compiled on names used in the Netherlands and Flanders in early medieval times. Before you're off to peruse the lists yourself, here are the ones that caught my eye. 

Folquin — romantic, could be called Quin, sounds like "falcon" 
Raingod — would make a killer surname 
Saxamer — another lovely sound 
Wolfrer — this is a new-to-me "wolf" name 

Duvin — I'm (mis)-pronouncing this one with a French "-vin," and I like it 
Lievilt — girl names ending in "T" are so unusual
Volcent — something about this appeals to me. Like an evil twin to Millicent, maybe? 

So many of them seem like they'd be right at home in a science fiction novel. I love these little time-travelers —  they're so old and unfamiliar, yet they're comprised of elements that still hold meaning. It's a nice connection to our (human) past.

A little Eponymia-update: to the right, you'll notice a link to my Twitter feed. I'll be using it to post names I hear when out and about here in LA. I almost always hear something worth mentioning!

Thursday, January 5


These are some of the more interesting combos I found while looking over a list of the people my grandfather graduated college with (in June, 1956) — 

Albert Lowell 
Arthur Albert Emil 
Burney John 
Coldevin Bruce 
Dimmitt Otto 
Everett Armistead 
Garland Wilson 
Henry de Forest
Horace Cecil 
Julius Lobe 
Kohen Ellis 
Louis Wilmer 
Mayes Ervin 
Murff Franklin 
Odus Edgar 
Oliver Price 
Otis Thornton 
Porter King
Sigsby Keefer 
Tesson Joseph 
Urvine Ellsworth 
Van Bryan

Alma Louise 
Annot Faye 
Genevieve Pyle 
Hazel Leah 
Jane McIver 
June Anita
Leona Emilene 
Marienne Adele 
Marion Rozzelle 
Mildred Maxine
Nancy Corinne
Sybil Dingle

Some interesting ones, right? A lot of people had surnames as their middles -- especially the women. There was a girl named Louette, too, and I really like that. 

Wednesday, January 4

Panning for Name Gold: 1970

I've looked at the lists for every decade from 1880 to 1960 so far, staring at the bottom of the naming ocean as it slowly shifts from old-fashioned, to dated, to modern and back again. It's surprised me how little the lists really change. From 1880 to 1950 many of the same names appeared — even the unusual names I've been featuring in these posts often appear for decades and decades as regular, if rarely-used, characters. 

But looking at the lists for 1960 and 1970, I saw a larger picture start to develop. I was struck by how many "new" names I was seeing. Compared to previous decades, the lists were very different. Though I totally haven't attempted to quantify this (I don't have that much time on my hands), if I had to guess, I'd say the biggest change in the list happened between '60 and '70. 

One thing I love about names is how they often reflect what's happening in a particular place. Looking at the 1970 list, I could read in it new references to Eastern religions and philosophies, African tribal cultures, mythology, nature, pop culture and music. Perhaps I'll take a closer look and investigate further, but for now, here are 10 that stood out.

Calixto — Spanish and Portuguese form of a Latin name (Callistus) derived from Greek, meaning "most beautiful." You generally hear more about the feminine forms of this name — Calista, for instance, or intriguing Calixta — but I like the "Calix-" sound on a boy best. Other nice forms include French Calixte and alternate spelling Calisto
Clive — an Old English name meaning "cliff." I appreciate the snappy sound and shortness of this one. It's masculine without sounding ridiculously dude-ish, and it could definitely ride the trendy-train to hipsterville, no problem
Jolyon — a medieval form of Julian, Jolyon is one that appeals to me because of its slightly-awkward look. Still regularly (though it's rare) used in Britain, author John Galworthy used it in his The Forsyte Saga, where Jolyon is a cousin of the main character, Soames
Quint — a numerical prefix meaning "five," Quint would suit a fifth-born child particularly well, though I think it's perfectly usable on a firstborn, too. It even has shark-hunting (a character in Jaws) and evil-robot (the Mega Man games) connotations — what's not to like?
Sylvan — derived from the Latin silva, meaning "wood." Silvans, forest-dwelling deities, spirits or elves, appear in CS Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia and JRR Tolkien's Middle-earth books, as well as in many other fantasy novels and games. Though Sylvia and Sylvie are more popular forms, I think Sylvan's really pretty cool. I have a vague memory of Strokes guitarist Nick Valensi having a son named Silvan with his wife, Amanda de Cadenet (Silvan's twin sister is Ella and his half-sister is nicely-named Atlanta)

Anouk — I chose these names back when I started the blog last September, and it's funny how names I chose (and forgot about) 4 months ago have already shown up here. I mentioned Anouk last Friday. Since then, I was reminded of where I first came across the name — it was used in the movie Chocolat, as the name of Juliette Binoche's little daughter. I think more Anouck Lepere and  Anouk Aimée now, but if Anouk seems weird, hearing it on a cute kid for 2 hours might convert you 
Delta — the fourth letter of the Greek alphabet (Δ), a "delta" is also the term for an island formed at the mouth of a river. It's more Delta Burke than Delta Goodrem here in the US, but I am really digging it lately. Just let it sit for a few days, it'll grow on you
Ianthe — "The chains of earth's immurement/ Fell from Ianthe's spirit;/ They shrank and brake like bandages of straw/ Beneath a wakened giant's strength./ She knew her glorious change, And felt in apprehension uncontrolled." (from Percy Bysshe Shelley's "Queen Mab") A personal favorite, Ianthe is Greek, means "violet flower," and was the name of a mythological ocean nymph. Popular with poets, apparently — Lord Byron and Walter Savage Landor both used the name to refer to their unattainable lady-loves
Ilse — German and Dutch diminutive of Elisabeth, Ilse is perhaps my favorite form of the name. Casablanca really made me love it and I think it's chic and sophisticated. Ranks in the top 100 for Netherlands
Lucienne — feminine form of Lucien, I like that this can sound either sweetly Southern or totally Frenchy. I've seen Vivienne around, and Lucy's always a popular classic, so this also feels like a bit of a mash-up of two lovely choices. I'm surprised I haven't seen it used yet

Sunday, January 1

Natural History Names

Zuni Pueblo, 1873 byTimothy H. O'Sullivan

Jotted down between bug inspecting and dinosaur petting, these names were found on a recent  trip to the Natural History Museum — 

Mimus — from the scientific name of the Northern Mockingbird
Olivella — a name-smush I can totally see working, a combination of Olive + Ella, I found this in a collection of seashells. It's also the name of a village in Catalonia
Ovis — from the scientific name of the Dall's sheep
Semele — another one taken from the shell section, Semele was also the mother of Dionysus in Greek mythology. The name is derived from a Proto-Indo-European root meaning "earth"
Skolai — the name of an alpine pass in the Wrangell Mountains of southeastern Alaska
Velero — taken from a species of sea snail, this is the Spanish word for "sailboat"
Violacea — shells again. This one was named for its resemblance to violet flowers
Zuni — from the name of a tribe of Pueblo Native Americans. This particular exhibit focused on their beautiful, netsuke-like fetish carvings