Baby Names For Dummies®


by Margaret Rose




About the Author

Margaret Rose has a PhD in linguistics and has been researching historic names and naming practices for the last twenty years. In addition to the academic research, she has had the unusual experience of helping hundreds of people choose names — not for their children but for characters they play in historic re-creation groups. She has also been a consultant on historic names for novels and movies (unproduced, alas).



For Seth, because when I was seventeen I promised him my first book — although neither of us would have predicted it would be this one!


Author’s Acknowledgments

The best research is done in the context of a community of researchers who, even if they don’t contribute directly to a work, encourage the interest, sharpen the skills, and keep one honest. In this spirit, I want to give thanks to a long line of “name geeks” in whose company my research has been done, and especially to Sharon, Judy, and Brian. I also want to acknowledge the invaluable data on name popularity provided by the Social Security Administration at:


Publisher’s Acknowledgments

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About This Book

Conventions Used in This Book

How This Book Is Organized

Icons Used in This Book

Part I : Getting Ready to Name Your Baby!

Chapter 1: What’s in a Name?

Making Sure You Understand the Process

Planning the Decision Process

Knowing the Territory

Sharing the Fun

Chapter 2: Considering the Factors in Picking Out a Name

Selecting a Name You Like and Your Child Can Live With

Checking Out Naming Trends

Following the Crowd — or Not

Chapter 3: Putting the Name Together

Building a Name

Picking a Gender-Appropriate Name

Finding out What the Name Means

Listening to How the Name Sounds

Looking at the Name

Making Social Ties

Part II : Finding Names from Religion and Literature

Chapter 4: Searching Scripture: Names from Judaism, Christianity, and Islam

Using Old Testament Names

Resurrecting New Testament Names

Identifying Islamic Names

Chapter 5: Living the Legends: Names from Myth and Saga

Carrying Names Down from Mount Olympus

Naming Northern Heroes

Choosing Celtic Names

Chapter 6: Writing Your Child’s Story: Literary Names from Shakespeare and Others

Arthur and Roland: Names from Great Medieval Literature

Shakespeare and the Romantic Writers

Popular Names from Popular Novels

Part III : Naming through the Ages

Chapter 7: Building Empires: Classical Names

Picking a Name That’s Not All Greek to You

Loving Latin Names

Storming the Gates with Barbarian Names

Chapter 8: Getting Medieval: The Rise of the “Old Standards”

Enduring Through the Ages with Popular Medieval Names

Remembering Forgotten Fashions in Medieval Names

Chapter 9: Naming Revolutions: From the Reformation to the Victorians

Reforming Name Ideas: Protestant Naming Fashions

Going for Baroque: New Patterns in the 17th and 18th Centuries

Romanticizing Victorian Ideas

Chapter 10: Coming Up to Date: Names of the 20th Century

Bringing in the New Century: The First Three Decades

Inventing Nostalgia: Midcentury Names

Exploding Tradition: The ’60s and Their Aftermath

Entering the New Millennium: Names of the ’80s and After

Chapter 11: Designing the Future: Created and Constructed Names

Turning Two Names into One

Making a Point with Initialisms

Putting the Pieces Together for Invented Names

Part IV : Describing the World: Names of Quality, Character, and Location

Chapter 12: Re-using Rubies, Roses, and Robins: Names from the Natural World

Flowers and Gems

Animals and Birds

Finding False Flora and Fauna: Flower and Bird Names That Really Aren’t

Chapter 13: Advertising Attributes

Looking in the Mirror

Acting It Out

Celebrating the Circumstances of Birth

Keeping Occupied

Chapter 14: Moving In: When Place Names and Natural Features Become First Names

Taking a Peek at the Naming Patterns

Taking Your Proper Places

Featuring the Natural World in Names

Chapter 15: Exploring the World of Names

Names from the Americas: Natives and Newcomers

Names from Africa and the Middle East

Names from Asia and the Pacific

Part V : Seeking the Stars: Names from Popular Culture

Chapter 16: Sitcoms, Soaps, and Serials: Names from TV Land

Searching the Early Years

Noting the Neilsen Newcomers

Chapter 17: Tuning In to Musical Names

Getting Down with Singers and Songwriters

Looking at Lyrical Names

Chapter 18: Going Hollywood: Names from Cinema and the Arts

Savoring Names from the Silver Screen

Searching the Back Lot for Actors’ Names

Creating a Stir: Names of Studio Artists

Chapter 19: Playing the Field: Names from the Sports World

Taking the Gold: Athletes with Distinctive Names

Proclaiming Victory: Names that Describe Athletes

Part VI : The Part of Tens

Chapter 20: Ten Practices to Avoid

Start Browsing at the Front of the Alphabet

Don’t Check the Name’s Popularity

Don’t Ask Anyone Else’s Opinion

Don’t Research the Name’s Meaning

Choose a Cute or Funny Name

Choose a Name that Suits a Baby

Wait Until the Last Minute

Pick a Random Foreign Word

Pick a Random English Word

Insist on Calling Your Child by a Version of His Name that He Hates

Chapter 21: Ten Types of Resources to Consider

Resources on Biblical Names

Resources on Saints’ Names

Geographic and Biographic Dictionaries

Reference Works on Surnames

Your Library Genealogy Section

Other Reference Books

The Medieval Names Archive

Social Security Administration Web Site

Web Search Engines

Online Parenting Discussion Groups


Names are a passion of mine: understanding what they mean, where they come from, and how they’re used. Ordinarily this may seem like a rather dry, academic pursuit, but everyone has a name and it seems that everyone is fascinated to find out more about the subject. I have had the good fortune to find many opportunities to share my passion with others, or to use it to guide them in their name choices. This book is yet another chance to do so, and I’m grateful for the opportunity.

About This Book

With all the registering for baby items, buying baby clothes, trying to figure out why it takes an entire afternoon to install the car seat, figuring out how that stroller actually breaks down with one hand (that has to be a myth), deciding between seven shades of what you really think are the same color for the nursery, attending baby showers, opening baby gifts, writing thank-you notes (who said life would be tiring after the baby?), and picking out all the toys and books that promise to make your child the next Nobel prize winner, who has time to sift through an entire phone books’ worth of entries in a baby-names book?

I understand that your time is valuable, so this book gives you the cream of the crop: the best tips on choosing a name, the greatest ways to find inspiration, and the pick of the litter of names that are actually in common use.

If you feel daunted by the whole process, use this book to lead you through a few beginning exercises to get you limbered up. If you already have decided ideas about choosing names, use this book to find some other angles to consider to focus and test those ideas. If you simply want to devour all the possible information on the topic, use this book to find a smorgasbord of ideas and facts to digest.

Conventions Used in This Book

Luckily, you don’t have to read the book cover to cover, if you don’t want to, but you can if you feel so inclined (there are, however, no bonus points or potential for extra-good karma for doing so). Just check out the table of contents in the front of this book to find the section or sections that interest you and read them. Or, if you’re feeling whimsical, just open the book to any section that strikes your fancy and start reading!

To make getting to the information easier, I not only use icons to direct you to particular tips and great pieces of advice (see “Icons Used in This Book,” later in this chapter), I also use the following conventions:

bullet Language: When discussing the history and usage of names, unless otherwise noted, this book refers to usage generally in Europe, more narrowly in the English-speaking world, and most specifically in the United States.

bullet Name popularity: Information on name popularity prior to the 20th century is drawn from many sources, but for information as of 1900, I use the name statistics generously provided by the U.S. Social Security administration, based on the names on applications for Social Security identification numbers. This information covers the 1,000 most popular names for each gender in each decade, or in each year for the last decade. When the discussion of a name mentions it being “on the (popularity) charts,” these lists are what is meant.

bullet All caps: Although all caps usually means that someone is “yelling” at you, I use all caps for each name entry. Plus, if you see an all-caps name within an entry, that’s a signal that you can find an entry for that particular name elsewhere in the book (a handy cross-reference accompanies each all-caps name to make finding the entry even easier).

bullet Index: The index is your friend! I arrange the entries of names by topic (each chapter covers a different topic) and then alphabetically in each chapter. So, if you’re looking for particular names, or if you want to quickly browse through the names listed in this book, flip back to the index.

bullet Gender: After each name listed in the book, you see an (f), indicating a name primarily used for girls, an (m), indicating a name primarily used for boys, or (f, m), indicating a name used for both genders.

bullet Boldface: When reading through a name’s entry, any name that you see in boldface represents a shortened version or variant of the name being discussed.

bullet Name origin: Many people are looking for an Irish, Arabic, Latin, or some other specific origin when choosing a name for their children. If this describes you, you simply have to look at the very beginning of the name entry (okay, after the name itself and gender symbol) to see from what origin the name derives. Sometimes you may just see a “?” which means the origin is unknown; however, if you see a question mark following the origin (as in “Gaelic?”), this means that the origin may be as listed but is uncertain.

How This Book Is Organized

This book is organized in parts, with several chapters in each part, exploring some particular theme. Here is a brief tour of the contents.

Part I: Getting Ready to Name Your Baby!

While this book, as a whole, is about what to name your baby, Part I covers how to name your baby. There is a whole range of factors to consider, and while you may not consider all of them important, trying them on for size can help you find the preferences and styles that fit your needs best. Read this section — more than anything else, it’s what makes this book different from the next one on the shelf.

Part II: Finding Names from Religion and Literature

Whether I take names from the books of the great religions, or from novels, plays, and poetry, these names come with detailed and fascinating stories attached. One of the definitions of literature is that it endures across time, and for this reason literary names have been a way to bridge the centuries, reviving classic names again and again.

Part III: Naming through the Ages

If you hear the name Jennifer, Emily, or Heather, you’ll immediately have an idea of when that person was born. And although you may be wrong in individual cases, the fact remains that naming fashions have changed over time, and that particular names are characteristic of particular eras. This section takes a brief tour through the centuries, examining names that were popular in various eras.

Part IV: Describing the World: Names of Quality, Character, and Location

At some point in life, everyone will ask, “What does my name mean?” With only a few exceptions, if you dig far enough back, every name means something. The chapters in this section explore some of the common types of meaning that have produced names, from virtues and descriptions, to locations and forces of nature. Meaning can also come from the associations a name brings, and this section covers names associated with particular cultures.

Part V: Seeking the Stars: Names from Popular Culture

Name fashions arise from the names we hear, and those names that more people hear are more likely to become fashionable. So it isn’t surprising that TV and film stars, characters on the big or small screens, and nationally known sports heroes have had a disproportionate influence on which names become popular. Even popular songs have produced fashionable names.

Part VI: The Part of Tens

This section presents additional resources and reviews as well as some important considerations in choosing a name.

Icons Used in This Book

Throughout this book, you’ll see icons that easily flag you toward particular facts or useful information that you need.


To quickly find great pieces of advice, look for this icon.


Although you can’t possibly remember everything you read in this book, this icon points out particular paragraphs that you won’t want to forget!


Whenever you see this icon, you can either skip the technical or historical info found in that paragraph, or you can just read right through it for some great enlightenment.

Part I

Getting Ready to Name Your Baby!

In this part . . .

While this book, as a whole, is about what to name your baby, Part I covers how to name your baby. There is a whole range of factors to consider, and while you may not consider all of them important, trying them on for size can help you find the preferences and styles that fit your needs best. Read this section — more than anything else, it’s what makes this book different from the next one on the shelf.

Chapter 1

What’s in a Name?

In This Chapter

bullet Ensuring you have the right frame of mind

bullet Discovering the decision process

bullet Checking out the territory

bullet Enjoying the naming process

So why do people make such a fuss about choosing the right name? After all, it’s just a label. Life would be so much simpler if we were all assigned unique ID numbers at birth, right? Despite the occasional oddity who may legally change his name to “789223,” we have a strong sense that names are more than just an arbitrary “handle” for identifying and addressing people. Across the scope of time and space, names have been used for description, to identify a person’s place in society, to shape a person’s life and character, even sometimes as a type of magic charm to bless or protect the bearer.

Okay, so you thought parenting was going to be tough, and now you may think choosing a name will be even tougher. Well, don’t worry. I’ve broken down some general ideas on choosing names in this chapter so you can get warmed up for your quest for the name.

Making Sure You Understand the Process

When you distract yourself from the serious terrors of parenting with the less daunting task of choosing the exactly right name for your child, it can be useful to keep in mind two opposing principles:

bullet You can’t win: No matter what name you pick, there’s a 50-50 chance that your child will hate it at some point. The child given a dignified traditional name will bewail the cultural straitjacket you’ve imposed on him and declare that henceforth he will only answer to “Sablewolf.” The child with the imaginative colorful name will be permanently scarred by having to constantly correct people’s pronunciation and spelling. The name carefully chosen to have only positive associations will appear in next year’s hit sitcom for the obnoxious buffoon. And your favorite nickname for your child will pop up in the next generation’s slang with a really unfortunate meaning. You can’t win. Don’t sweat it.

bullet This isn’t about you: As a friend of mine is fond of pointing out, children are named when they’re very small and unable to defend themselves. You see your child’s name as an opportunity for creative expression, but she’s going to have to wear it. This isn’t going to be a fancy holiday outfit that the kid only has to squirm through a few parties in — it’s going to be her second skin. Pick the name the way you would a special gift: something the receiver can use and make their own, not something meant to look pretty on a shelf but totally impractical in everyday life.

Planning the Decision Process

Because you are reading this book, I assume that you’re interested in putting some thought into the decision process. (Either that, or you simply enjoy reading name books.) The key factor is not to leave things until the last minute. Very few people have their greatest creativity under pressure — the rest of us do better when we have some breathing space for our brainstorming. When you think you’ve found the name, allow some time for it to grow on you or to grow stale. If you’re tired of a name before the baby comes, then it probably wasn’t the perfect name after all. Give yourself a chance to bounce your ideas off other people.

Knowing the Territory

Names don’t exist in a vacuum. Much of your and your child’s experience depends not simply on the choice of name, but on how that name fits into present and past naming cultures. As a foretaste, Figure 1-1 shows the top-ten most popular names for boys and girls for each decade of the last century. Notice that it isn’t simply the individual names that change in position, but the overall nature of the popular names may change dramatically over time.

Figure 1-1: A chart showing the top-ten boys’ and girls’ names over the last century.

Figure 1-1: A chart showing the top-ten boys’ and girls’ names over the last century.

Exploring ideas of naming

Across the ages, names have been chosen by many different methods. Your name may indicate your place in the family. It may give other circumstances of birth, such as the day of the week or some special holiday. There may be a traditional formula that assigns each child the name of a particular relative. Some cultures give you a “baby name” to start with and then an adult name when you grow into it. In other cultures you may change your name to commemorate a notable event in your life, or to change your luck. It’s not uncommon in some cultures to have multiple names used for different purposes — we do this informally in America, but in other cultures the names may be very different from each other but all have legal status.

Sharing the Fun

Some of you may be looking forward to raising a child on your own, but most will be sharing the experience with a partner. And if you’re fortunate, your child’s life will also be full of relatives and friends who have a stake in seeing him grow up happy.

Remember to share the fun of choosing a name with the other key people in your child’s life. This isn’t to say that you need to try to please everyone, but try to show that you value their opinions. If it seems like one parent feels much more strongly about names, the other parent may bow out of the process to avoid conflict and feel left out. Always leave room for negotiation. If it’s absolutely imperative that your first son be named after your father, suggest that your partner choose a diminutive of the name for everyday. If you’re dead set against a particular type of name, try to explain why, rather than making it sound arbitrary.