Confession time: I am a name nerd.
I find names to be fascinating – always have. And ever since I discovered the website Behind the Name so many years back, it’s only escalated from there.
What exactly do I find so fascinating about the subject of names? Maybe it’s because of what they are, a person’s name. What they go by for the rest of their lives, essentially making up a huge part of a person’s identity. And the fact that a big part of being a parent is bestowing this onto a child, having to pick something that they’re going to be known as forever (unless they change it for whatever reason), intrigues me. Basically, the child is at the whim of the parents – so they better not screw it up.
But how does that parent suddenly arrive at that name? What is it about it that makes them think, “Ooooo, I love this name – it’s the one”? Surfing through the name websites, as I am wont to do, I’ve realized that they’ve come from a number of sources. Maybe it’s a family name that they’re attached to, or one that’s been passed down, like an heirloom (interesting how names can work like that). Maybe they read it in a book – after The Hunger Games came out, I noticed that Katniss was frequently looked at on Nameberry (whether or not it was actually used, though, I’m not sure. I hope not). Or maybe they simply heard it in passing and fell in love with it. That’s happened to me a number of times, hearing a name and latching onto it, throwing it into the name pile.
Now, obviously I am not a parent. But I am a writer/creator, and one of the biggest parts of character creating is giving them a name. Once that name is there, it’s suddenly like, “Holy crap, they’re that much more alive. They actually have a name.” Curious to see if that’s the same with parents naming a child – like, “Whoa, we’re having a baby.” Also wonder if it’s the same when they’ve settled on a name, but the idea wanders across if they should change it. I’ve had moments where I’ve sat back and thought, “Maybe I should change the name. Does it fit?” But in the end, I realize that there’s not much I can do about it. It is that character’s name. And I can’t just magically hand them a different one. Last names I think you change a bit more easily. First names, no. They’re definitely an Emily or a Lex or a Jake. No bones about it.
Another part of names that I like are the meanings behind them and where exactly they came from. After all, they have to have started somewhere, right? For example, let’s use my own name, David Andrew. According to Behind the Name, David appears to be derived from the hebrew word for “beloved.” Meanwhile, Andrew comes from the Greek word for “man.” So together, my name essentially means “Beloved man.” Which, hey, isn’t too bad, right? Not sure if my parents were aware of that, but still cool. See what I mean though? All names have some meaning behind them, dating back to who knows when. It can be a specific word, as seen here with David, or it can be derived from a place name, like Ashley, which denotes an ash tree grove or clearing. Sometimes it can come into play when someone’s settling on a name (“What do you mean ‘Molly’ means ‘bitter’?!”). Other times, people are just like, “Whatever. I still really like the sound of Molly.”
There are also the popularity of names which I really enjoy. I just like to see what names are attracting parents’ attention. I know that Emma, Isabella, Sophia, Olivia, and Ava are super popular for girls right now, as well as Noah, Mason, Jackson, Jacob, and Liam are for boys (note: this is not in any order, these are just the same names that I’ve seen on numerous Top 10 lists). This pretty much leads me to believe that there is a third class out there with three girls who have to be Emma B., Emma D., and Emma L. Or something like that. One of the perils of deciding to go along this route, I think. Never really had that problem myself being Drew – on the rare occasion I ended up in a class with another Drew, it was like, “WHAT. WHAT IS HAPPENING. WHO ARE YOU. IMPOSTER.” Cue Donald Sutherland ala Invasion of the Body Snatchers scream.
This does lead to the topic of naming trends over the years. What names were popular when and such. Right now, older names are making a comeback. Names like Charlotte and Penelope are climbing the charts – both names that I never knew growing up. All through school, I had Kellys, Megans, Hannahs, Sarahs, a whole slew of Katies/Katherines, but never any Charlottes or Penelopes. I have had discussions with my mom about this, what names were popular when she was growing up. She has told me that her classes were filled with people named Sandy or Karen or Denise, alongside Lisa and Diane – names that I have never heard on anyone my age. Or any little ones as well. If you know of a little Karen, please let me know. I’d be really intrigued. Interestingly enough, my mom is Audrey, a name which I know is currently on trend. I think she maybe knew one other person with that name growing up, as did I. But now I think it’s blowing up.
Side note: I do realize that I’ve spent a lot of time talking about girls’ names as opposed to boys’ names. But boys’ names have a tendency to stay more or less the same over the years, with exceptions of newer names like Jayden, Aiden, Cayden (names I personally don’t like). But you still have your requisite Christophers and Michaels, so there’s that. Maybe girls’ names are just more interesting as well. Hmm.
Interesting to see what names aren’t exactly in use anymore. There was the Jennifer juggernaut that exploded during a good portion of the 20th century. Nowadays, though, I’ve yet to see a little Jenny running around. Or an Ashley, going back to that name. Really big name from about the mid-eighties through the nineties. Now, not so much. My mom has mentioned that she never knew an Ashley growing up. So, it sort of just appeared, then disappeared. Also interesting to see what names were just outside of my parents’ own generation, like Patricia, my grandma’s name. Apparently, they were a few years too late to have people in their age group with that name.
My closest encounters to what children are being named these days is at the library, working in the kids’ section. I’ve heard names that I grew up with, like Samantha and Michael, of course. And then there are the newer names, like Hunter, Jackson, Adelaide, and Leo. The strangest one by far was one where I had to stop what I was doing to process that I just heard some mom call their daughter Antigone. Seriously. Antigone. There are vintage names, and then there’s that.
People can have some really strong reactions to names, as I’ve come to discover reading comments on name websites. Like borderline vitriol. I remember looking up the name Annie, once, and just reading this one comment which railed into the name, calling it way too cutesy and just plain stupid and you should never use it as a name. I had sit back and think, “Really? But it’s Annie.” Obviously, this being the Internet, other people had to jump in and take that person to task. Now that I think about it, I think that that commenter’s name was Annie. Might’ve said something about them, to be honest. But yeah. People can just really hate a name. The sound of it, the spelling, the meaning – Iris had a bunch of comments of people saying that naming a child this would be like naming a child Nostril. Again, a bit much for me. Or if it has a kreatyve spelling, I know people rail into that. I kinda have to agree. Like, Mia works just as well as Meigha. Why complicate it? Or just attempting to make up a name that makes no sense. We’ve all heard the La-a pronounced Ladasha story, right? Is that even true, I don’t even know. But there are some names out there that just make you shake your head. Or want to shake the parent and say, “ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR DAMN MIND?!” Looking at you, Kim Kardashian. North West, please.
People could also have bad connotations with certain names as well. They knew somebody back in the day with that name who was a massive bully/jerk/all around nasty person that just spoiled the name completely. I know I certainly have a couple that spring to mind, like Courtney or John. Just people who pop up whenever I think of that name. And not people I necessarily want to think of. Just saying.
There are also names that just cannot be used, period. For huge, social implicative reasons or otherwise. For example, you can’t name a kid Adolf/Adolph anymore because duh. And there’s the fairly recent example of Isis. I remember reading a few years back that Isis was this glamorous, sleek name that would work perfectly. Now it’s got this giant “NO NO NO NO” stamped across. Because obviously.
There are also the guilty pleasure names – names that you secretly love, but would be hesitant to actually use. For me, that’s Hestia. Would work for a book character. In real life, I’d have to seriously think about. Or any Irish name outside of Ireland. I love names like Siobhan and Aoife. They have a certain magic to them that conjures up a lovely image of green. But to get people to pronounce them correctly would be a chore and a half. Sooooo, maybe not? Really, a lot can be taken into consideration when naming a child.
The topic of name stealing has popped up a lot in regards to baby naming. Somebody brings up a name that they’re definitely thinking about using, only for someone else to use it first. For me, that all depends on what the name is. If it’s something like Wolfgang, then maybe yes, that person has some explaining to do. If it’s something like William, however – I mean, come on. It’s William. Not the world’s most uncommon name. Any thoughts on this would be welcome.
By the way, thinking about William, I’m certain that people don’t use certain nicknames when it comes to names like this. I’m fairly there aren’t any little Bills running around. They’re probably all Wills or Liams. Just thinking out loud, here.
It’s obvious that people have a list of names that they love. And I am no exception. I have compiled a list of names that I just find to be amazing or intriguing, in some way or another. And maybe if I ever did decide to have kids, they would end up with one of these names. Like, if I had a girl, she’d would more than likely be Samantha. I have always loved that name (I blame American Girl for that). She’s followed up by Veronica, Willa (yes), Miranda and – I’m not kidding – Theodora. If it was a boy, he’d be Luke. Other guy names I love are George, Zane, Cole, and Edgar. I think this does show my own personal preference when it comes to names. For boys I like darker, short and solid names. Girls I like to have a bit more intricacy to them, something that swoops up and around and lends itself to nicknames, something that runs in my family.
My own name, as stated before, is David Andrew, Drew for short. Named after two of my dad’s favorite biblical characters. I’ve never been David, though, always Drew. Which has been something that’s been a bit hard to explain to people. In class, whenever a teacher asked for what we liked to be called, I’d always say, “Drew.” Which would lead to questions like, “Why are you Drew if your name is David?” Or if they heard my middle name being Andrew, “Your name is Drew Andrew?!” Which, no. I did for a while claim that I was called Drew because I like to draw (I was seven, mind you. SEVEN). Anyway, I do like being Drew – fits me quite well, I’d say. More so that David. Not that I dislike David, but again, felt more like a Drew. Of course, there were moments where I’d wimp out on correcting someone about my name (10th grade gym). Or when teachers wanted to call me *sigh* Dave. No, Drew please. If you’re going to call me by a nickname, call me by the right one, please.
Some people are really against nicknames, by the way. Like super against it. My family is not one of them. I’m Drew, my dad is Mike, and my brother is Buster (real name Michael)- a nickname my parents swore he’d outgrow. 26 years later and nope.
Names. Fascinating, aren’t they? I just thought I’d take a moment to discuss something that I have a personal interest in. Something that I’ve been delving into for a long time now. And it really goes beyond what they appear on the surface. It’s been diving into history and meanings, the ebb and flow of a name’s longevity and what makes people love something versus hate it with a passion.
Maybe it’s me being a writer. Maybe I’m just kinda weird. But hey, it’s a hobby. And there is so much more I could talk about.
Seriously, though, if you do know a child named Karen, let me know. I’d be genuinely interested.