Thursday, March 29, 2012


It's amazing how many ways a new name can come about. While diminutives becoming names in their own right is something we're all familiar with (Kate, Jack, Mia, Liam), I was surprised to find out how many names were originally descriptive nicknames. As you can imagine, most were originally surnames, but a few were first given in honor of a single famous individual.
I'm leaving out nicknames derived from places/nationalities (done that already), those derived from animals (way too many), and those derived from hair/eye/skin color (again, too many, and they've mostly been covered already, too).
It's also worth noting that English often has a tendency towards sarcastic nicknames--"Tiny" for a big fellow, "Happy" for a rather dour person, "Einstein" for a slow thinker, etc. 

  • Algernon (AL-jer-non, English)--from French, "mustached". Originally given in honor of Sir William de Percy, a friend of King William the Conquerer. 
  • Augustus (aw-GUS-tus, Latin)--"great, venerable". Originally given in honor of Octavian, the first Roman emperor. Modern forms include August & Austin.
  • Barrett (BAIR-ret, English)--"dispute"; nickname for an argumentative person.
  • Blythe (BLITHE, English)--"cheery"
  • Braden (BRAY-den, English, or BRAH-dan, Irish)--from Irish, "son of the salmon". Probably originally a nickname for a clever person--in the legend of Finn McCool [Fionn mac Cumhaill], Finn gains great wisdom after eating a magic salmon.
  • Buck (BUCK, English)--"male [esp. of deer]"
  • Cade (KAYD, English)--"round"
  • Cameron (KAM-er-on, English, Scottish)--from Gaelic, "crooked nose"
  • Cassidy (KAS-sid-ee, English)--from Gaelic Caiside, "curly-haired"
  • Chase (CHAYSE, English)--nickname for a hunter
  • Courtney (KORT-nee, English)--from French, "short nose"
  • Crispin (KRIS-pin, Latin)--"curly-haired"
  • Curtis (KUR-tis, English)--from French, "polite, refined"
  • Devin (DEV-in, English)--from French, "divine, holy" [can also be a variant of Devon, a locational surname]
  • Felix (FEE-liks, FEH-liks, Latin)--"lucky"
  • Gale (GAYL, English)--"cheery, jovial"
  • Gemma (JEM-mah, Italian)--"jewel"
  • Giselle (jih-ZEL or zhih-ZEL, English, French)--from Germanic, "pledge, hostage". Likely arose from the medieval practice of sending noble children to be fostered in foreign courts, ensuring good relations between their peoples.
  • Grant (GRANT, English, Scottish)--from French, "tall, grand"
  • Hoyt (HOYT, English)--"stick", nickname for a very thin person.
  • Kaloyan (kahl-oy-ahn, Bulgarian)--from Greek kalos Ioannes, "handsome John". Originally given in honor of Emperor John II of Bulgaria. 
  • Kennedy (KEN-ed-ee, English)--from Irish Cinnéde, "misshapen head"
  • Leroy (LEE-roy, English)--from French, "the king"
  • Lloyd (LOYD, English, Welsh)--from Welsh, "grey"
  • Lucasta (loo-CAHS-tah, English)--from Latin lux casta ("pure light"). Writer Richard Lovelace's nickname for his love, Lucy, for whom he penned many poems.
  • Mallory (MAL-lor-ee, English)--from French, "unlucky"
  • Paul (PAWL, English)--from Latin Paulus "small" or "humble"
  • Seeley (SEEL-ee, English)--"happy, fortunate"
  • Talmadge (TAL-madj, English)--from French, "knapsack"; a nickname for someone who often wore a knapsack, like a peddler or soldier.
  • Terrell (TEHR-rel, ter-REL, English)--from French, "puller"; a nickname for a stubborn person.
  • Trey (TRAY, English)--"third"
  • Truman (TROO-man, English)--"trustworthy man"
  • Tyson (TYE-son, English)--from French tison, "firebrand"; a nickname for an argumentative person. [can also be a patronymic, "Dennis' son"]
  • Vaughn (VAWN, English, Welsh)--from Welsh, "little"
  • Wiley (WYE-lee, English)--"tricky" [can also be a locational surname]

Monday, March 26, 2012

Same Name?!--Madeline

Madeline is an interesting case. Most girls' names are either relatively stable (ex: Elizabeth), out-of-style after reigning for decades (ex: Mary), on-the-comeback/back-in-style (ex: Ava), or new (ex: Kaylee).
Madeline, however, was pretty darned popular through the turn of the century and several decades after, only to take an odd tanking in the 70s & 80s.. It shot right back up less than a decade later, and landed back on top, bringing variants Madeleine & Madelyn along with it.
So, chances are you know a few Madelines. Probably not your own age, but aunts, grandmas, even great-grandmas, as well as some little ones, too.

Original Greek form: Magdalene [Μαγδαληνή] (mag-dah-len-eh)
Latin form: Magdalena (mahg-dah-LEN-ah)
French form: Madeleine (mah-deh-LEHN)

Modern forms:
  • Madaléin (MAH-da-layn)--Irish
  • Magali (mah-gah-LEE)--Provençal. Also spelled Magalie and Magaly.
  • Magdolna (MAHG-dohl-nah)--Hungarian
  • Mahulena (mah-hul-EHN-ah)--Czech
  • Maialen (mye-ah-len)--Basque
  • Malena (mah-LEHN-ah)--Swedish, Spanish
  • Malin (MAH-lin)--Scandinavian, Finnish
  • Matleena (MAHT-leh-nah)--Finnish

Friday, March 23, 2012

Botanical Madness

Plant-names were all in vogue about 100 years ago, and are definitely making a comeback now. Lily and Rose have of course been popular for a while, but names like LianaSageJuniper and Magnolia are becoming more normal, too.
So, in a different sort of post today, here're botanical names that aren't really used in the U.S. (at least on people), but could be, in my silly, nerdy opinion. I'd love to put in pictures of each, but that takes a lot of room! You'll have to settle for links. :)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Random Fact of the Day:

The Irish name Caitlín has two forms in the US. The original import usually had its spelling changed to reflect pronunciation, and became Kathleen--Caitlín in Ireland is pronounced "kaht-leen" or "koyth-leen". Around 1980 or, U.S. parents began, either purposely or ignorantly, to use the Irish spelling, but not the Irish pronunciation. Thus, the Caitlyn/Kaitlin/Katelyn craze began.
Other names that have been (or are being) imported in mispronounced form include
Tegan (U.S.: "TEE-gan"; trad.: "TEG-an"),
Carys (U.S.: "CAIR-is"; trad.: "CAHR-is"),
Aislinn (U.S.: "ACE-lin" or "ICE-lin"; trad.: "ASH-leen"),
Anneliese (U.S.: "an-nah-LEES"; trad.: "ahn-nah-LEE-zah"),
Gianna (U.S.: "jee-AHN-nah; trad.: "JAHN-nah")
Giovanni (U.S.: "jee-oh-VAH-nee"'; trad: "joh-VAH-nee")
and Dylan (U.S.: "DIL-an"; trad.: "DUL-an").

*This phenomenon is different from regional/linguistic variants that develop over time (ex. Andrea as "AN-dree-ah" or "awn-DRAY-ah"); or simplifications/adaptations for sounds that don't exist in another language (ex. Mary/Maria becoming Malia in Hawaiian).

Monday, March 19, 2012

Too Many Variants!

After doing my "No Alternates Allowed" posts, for some masochistic reason, I decided to look for names with tons of different variants in use, using the spellings recorded with the SSA. If you don't want to have to spell your child's name every time you introduce them, avoid these! (and yes, these really hurt to compile)
Here are the names from the top 200 for boys and top 100 for girls, with at least 20 different spellings in use.

  • 55 spellings--Kaden
  • 46 spellings--Giovanni
  • 46 spellings--Jayden
  • 42 spellings--Aiden
  • 31 spellings--Isaac
  • 31 spellings--Zachary
  • 30 spellings--Caleb
  • 30 spellings--Cason
  • 29 spellings--Cameron
  • 29 spellings--Isaiah
  • 29 spellings--Nicholas
  • 26 spellings--Brayden
  • 25 spellings--Jaylen
  • 25 spellings--Braylon
  • 24 spellings--Damian
  • 24 spellings--Elijah
  • 24 spellings--Zayden
  • 23 spellings--Aaron
  • 21 spellings--Jeremiah
  • 20 spellings--Jonathan
  • 20 spellings--Xavier

  • 90 spellings--Arianna (I assume that in this case, so many exist to clarify pronunciation)
  • 79 spellings--Kaylee
  • 73 spellings--Makayla
  • 72 spellings--Aaliyah
  • 69 spellings--Jocelyn
  • 67 spellings--Kaelyn
  • 56 spellings--Madelyn (another with pronunciation variants)
  • 50 spellings--Malia
  • 47 spellings--Giselle
  • 45 spellings--Brianna
  • 42 spellings--Jacqueline
  • 41 spellings--Mackenzie
  • 40 spellings--Abigail
  • 40 spellings--Hailey
  • 40 spellings--Riley
  • 39 spellings--Amaya
  • 39 spellings--Liliana
  • 38 spellings--Aniyah
  • 38 spellings--Kaitlyn
  • 35 spellings--Elena
  • 34 spellings--Jaelyn
  • 33 spellings--Amelia
  • 33 spellings--Kennedy
  • 31 spellings--Addison
  • 31 spellings--Kylie
  • 30 spellings--Juliana
  • 30 spellings--Nevaeh
  • 29 spellings--Cadence
  • 29 spellings--Chloe
  • 29 spellings--Emily
  • 28 spellings--Madison
  • 28 spellings--Peyton
  • 27 spellings--Adriana
  • 27 spellings--Lillian
  • 27 spellings--Reagan
  • 26 spellings--Adalyn
  • 26 spellings--Natalie
  • 25 spellings--Isabella
  • 22 spellings--Bailey
  • 22 spellings--Olivia
  • 21 spellings--Gianna
  • 21 spellings--Jasmine
  • 20 spellings--Aubrey
  • 20 spellings--Avery
  • 20 spellings--Destiny

Friday, March 16, 2012

Irish Invasion!

Happy St. Paddy's Day!
Instead of listing tons of Irish names, which can already be found all over the internet, in varying degrees of accuracy, I've decided to focus on Irish names that already made it into everyday American usage.
For some reason, Irish names seem to hold a special fascination in the baby-naming world, and it's nothing new! Every generation has its imports, and I'd wager that Sean & Caitlin got just as many strange looks a few short decades ago as Declan & Aisling do today.
(yes, most of these names have existed for hundreds of years; this is when they gained widespread modern use in the U.S.)

Muriel (Muirgel)
Duane (via surname, Ó Dubhán)

Kathleen (Caitlín)
Eileen (Eibhlín)
Maureen (Máirín)
Myrna (Muirne)
Sheila (Síle)
Neil (Niall)

Colleen (not a name in Ireland, just a word, cáilín)
Kevin (Caoimhín)
Sean (Seán)
Kelly (Ceallach)
Tyrone (an Irish county, not usually a name)
Kerry (another Irish county)
Shane (Seán)
Shannon (yet another place-name, this time a river)

Ryan (via surname, Ó Riáin)
Casey (via surname, Ó Cathasaigh)
Erin (poetic name for Ireland, Eireann)
Bridget (Brighid)
Tara (another place-name, Teamhair)
Cody (via surname, Mac Oda)
Caitlin (Caitlín)

Connor (Conchobhar)
Brendan (Breandán)
Colin (Coilean)
Riley (via surname, Ó Reilly)
Cassidy (via surname, Ó Caiside)
Aidan (Aodhán)
Brayden (via surname, Ó Bradáin)
Brady (via surname, Ó Brádaigh)
Nolan (via surname, Ó Nualláin)
Donovan (via surname, Ó Donndubháin)
Kennedy (via surname, Ó Cinnede)

Special mention goes to Patrick & Molly--although they are generally held as the epitome of all things Irish, both were actually used in English first!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Usual Nickname, Unexpected Name--Nell

With all the names that Nell is historically short for, it's surprising it's not more popular. The usual suspects include Helen, Eleanor, & Ellen, although any English name with a prominent 'el' sound is possible. Of course, it's not the most intuitive nickname in modern English.
Nell came about either as a rhyming nickname for Ell, or through the habit of calling loved ones 'Mine ____'. For instance, 'Mine Ellen' turned eventually into 'My Nell'. Most likely, both factors contributed.

  • Antonella (an-toh-NEL-lah, Italian)--feminine form of Anthony.
  • Daniella (dan-YEL-lah, English)
  • Finella (fin-EL-lah, Irish)--Anglicized from Fionnuala.
  • Ionela (yoh-NEL-lah, Romanian)--feminine form of John.
  • Kornelia (kor-NEL-yah, German)
  • Marianela (mahr-ee-an-EL-ah, Spanish)
  • Narelle (nah-REL, English)
  • Nedelya (ned-EHL-yah, Bulgarian)
  • Nelda (NEL-dah, English)--feminine of Neil
  • Nelinha (nel-EEN-yah, Portuguese)
  • Nephele (NEF-el-ee, Greek)
  • Ninel (neen-YEL, Russian)
  • Noella (noh-EHL-lah, French)--"Christmas"
  • Ornella (or-NEL-lah, Italian)
  • Penelope (pen-EL-oh-pee, English)--from Greek, "weaver"
  • Peronel (PEHR-oh-nel, English)--form of Petronilla. Other forms include Petronel, Petronella, & Pernel.
  • Prunella (proo-NEL-lah, English)--from Latin, "plum"
  • Sanela (sah-NEH-lah, Croatian)--from Latin, "healthy"

Friday, March 9, 2012

Weathering the Weather

I admit, sometimes I come across fun new names, and have to come up with a way to work them into a post (without being ridiculously obvious, of course). So, we'll say these names are in honor of this unusual winter.
I covered rain & other bad-weather names pretty well in the Hurricane Names post, so here're (mostly) happy meteorological names.

  • Edur (ED-oor, Basque)--"snow"
  • Elio (EL-yoh, Italian)--from Latin Aelius, "sun"
  • Frediano (fred-YAH-noh, Italian)--"cold"
  • Pyry (PÜ-rü, Finnish [ü is roughly between the English 'ih' & 'uh'] )--"snowstorm"
  • Ravi (rah-VEE, Indian [Hindi])--"sun"
  • Ryo (ryoh, Japanese)--"cool, refreshing" [can also mean "reality"]
  • Sorin (soh-REEN, Romanian)--"sun"

  • Bora (BOH-rah, Albanian)--"snow"
  • Edurne (eh-DOOR-nay, Basque)--"snow"
  • Eira (AY-rah or EYE-rah, Welsh)--"snow"
  • Fanna (FAHN-nah, Swedish)--from Old Norse, "snowdrift"
  • Haizea (eye-ZAY-ah, Basque)--"wind"
  • Heulwen (HAYL-wen, Welsh)--"sunshine"
  • Kasumi (kah-soo-mee, Japanese)--"misty"
  • Lumi (LOO-mee, Finnish)--"snow"
  • Nasim (nah-seem, Arabic)--"breeze"
  • Soleil (soh-LAY, French)--"sun"
  • Sorina (soh-REEN-nah, Romanian)--"sun"
  • Sunčana (SOON-chah-nah, Croatian)--"sunny"
  • Terhi (TEHR-hee, Finnish)--"mist"
  • Tesni (TES-nee, Welsh)--"warming sunshine"
  • Yuki (yoo-kee, Japanese)--"snow" [can also mean "happiness"]

  • Haru (hah-roo, Japanese)--"sunlight" [can also mean "spring"]
  • Makani (mah-kah-nee, Hawaiian)--"wind"
  • Noe (noh-ay, Hawaiian)--"mist"
  • Xue (shooeh, Chinese)--"snow" [can also mean "learning"]

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Same Name?!--Mary

I admit, I've been putting this one off for a while--Mary is easily one of the most widespread & translated names of all time!
Often held up as the prime example of a "boring" name, it's still surprisingly common for new babes. Spin-offs Mariah, Maria, MaiaMia, & Malia are more popular in the U.S., but there's still even more versions ready for use!

Original Hebrew form: Miryam [מִרְיָם] (meer-YAHM)
Latin transliteration: Maria (mah-REE-ah)

Modern forms:
  • Maia (MY-ah)--Basque
  • Maike (MY-keh)--Frisian
  • Mair (MIRE)--Welsh
  • Maire (MOI-rah)--Irish. Anglicized as Moira or Maura.
  • Majken (MY-kyen)--Swedish
  • Malia (mah-lee-ah)--Hawaiian
  • Mareike (mah-RYE-keh)--German, Dutch
  • Mariam (MAIR-ee-am)--Greek
  • Marian (MAIR-ee-an)--English
  • Mariel (MAIR-ee-el)--English
  • Marietta (mahr-ee-ET-tah)--Italian
  • Marika (MAH-ree-kah)--Estonian, Greek, Hungarian, Polish
  • Marike (MAH-ree-keh)--Dutch
  • Mariska (mah-REESH-kah)--Hungarian
  • Maritta (mah-REET-tah)--Finnish
  • Marjatta (mahr-YAHT-tah)--Finnish
  • Maryla (mahr-IL-lah)--Polish
  • Maryse (mah-REESE)--French
  • Maureen (maw-REEN)--Irish. Anglicized from Maírín.
  • Meike (MYE-keh)--German
  • Meryem (MEHR-ee-em)--Turkish
  • Mirele (MEE-reh-leh)--Yiddish
  • Miren (MEER-en)--Basque
  • Moirrey (MUR-ra or MOHR-reh)--Manx
  • Molly (MOL-lee)--English

Monday, March 5, 2012

Random Fact of the Day:

The term nickname came from the wrong division of the phrase an ekename. Eke is an Old English suffix/word meaning "additional". A few other common English words came about this way, such as:
apron (a napron"small tablecloth" --> an apron),
newt (an ewt, "lizard" --> a newt),
umpire (a naumpere"arbiter" --> an aumpire),
ammunition (French la munition, "weaponry" --> l'amunition),
lone (al one, "completely one" --> a lone [one used to rhyme with cone, bone, loan, etc])
Ned (mine Ed --> my Ned)
Nan (mine Ann --> my Ann)

Friday, March 2, 2012

Sound-alikes Will Get You

Everyone knows that Aidan sound-alikes are one of the biggest trends in boys' names right now: 97117 boys with names that rhymed with Aidan were registered with the SSA in 2010. That's 4.77% of all baby boys. To put that into perspective, at Jennifer's peak in 1974, it was given to 4.09 % of baby girls. So, if you had 7 Jennifers in your class in high school, chances are your son with have 7 or 8 '_ayden's.

I was fascinated that there's not a similar trend for girls, but then I realized just how many ay/ee/i-lyn/lee/la names there are right now. It's a more subtle trend, to be sure, but still--they all kind of run together.
(I wonder why long A/E/I's are so fascinating, but not long O's & U's.)

This is a pretty rough count, as many names are open for interpretation (for instance, the lovely Ayla is pronounced "ay-lah" in English, but "eye-lah" in Turkish--I counted it with the '__ayla's for this), and people can take great liberties with the letter Y (is Nyla "nye-lah", "nil-ah", or "nee-lah"?--I counted it with the '__eye-la's).
If I really had no clue, I left it out.

So, the number of girls in 2010 with names ending in...

__aylee: 38984 (inclusions for good merit: Ainsley, Paisley)
__aylyn: 28122 (inclusion for good merit: Kaitlyn)
__ayla: 36680
Total: 103786

__eely: 730
__eelyn: 325
__eela: 7272
Total: 8327

__eye-ley: 25750
__eye-lyn: 1724
__eye-la: 15741
__eye-a: 28475 (included because 'eye-ah' is also a very popular construction, and can blend with the 'eye-la's.)
Total: 71690
(as an aside, I really wish English had one simple letter or digraph to represent the 'eye' sound. Would make things so much easier!)

Total 'A/E/I-lee's: 63704
Total 'A/E/I-lyn's: 19150
Total 'A/E/I-la's and 'I-ah's: 88168

Total number of girls in the Mila/Maya/Miley/Kaylee/Kyla/Keely/Kayla/Kaylyn/Breelyn/Brilyn miasma: 183803--9.46% of girls born in 2010. That's over twice as common as Jennifer in 1974, and doesn't even take into account any short-vowel sound-alikes, like Kinley, Callie, or Ansley!

I see often "I wanted an uncommon name because I had a common name growing up, and hated going by an initial!".
Well, I imagine this sort of thing happening in classroom in the 70s & 80s:
"Jennifer, can you come here please? Oh--Jennifer S, not Jennifer J. Sorry; Jennifer Anne Smith, not Jennifer Marie Smith."
How is that worse than:
"Braylee, can you come here, please? Oh--Braylee, not Bailey. No--Braylee, not Braylyn. Sorry; Braylee, not Raylee!" ?