Friday, November 30, 2012


As I often find myself saying on this blog, here's a name you don't hear every day. The lovely Fenella is an acquired taste, but enchanting once you consider it. Fenella is the (Scottish) Anglicized version of the Gaelic name Fionnuala, meaning "fair shoulder/white shoulder," which has ties to Fiona. I could only find a few namesakes - British actresses Fenella Fielding and Fenella Woolgar, and  radio presenters Fenella Fudge and Fenella Kernebone. Fenella Paton was a British radical who "emphasized with working mothers" and helped push along the birth control movement. In history, Fenella (Finnguala) was the daughter of Cuncar of Angus in the 10th century, and legend has it she was responsible for killing the King of Scots after he killed her son. In mythology she was the daughter of Lir, who was turned into a swan by her step-mother, and wandered for 900 years until the spell was broken. This became the subject of Thomas Moore's "The Song of Fionnuala."

It features in just a few fictional works as well. Fenella Feverfew was the name of a character in The Worst Witch, Fenella Scarborough was a character created by Nancy Werlin, and Diana Wynne Jones used the name in The Time of the Ghost. The Fate of Fenella was also an experimental novel inspired by J. S. Wood that appeared in a weekly magazine, and was written by several different authors. Supposedly, the name was first used with this spelling by Sir Walter Scott in Peveril of the Peak in 1823.

There were no babies born in 2011 named Fenella, nor for the past few years that I've checked. Its cousin Fionnuala, however, had 7 births in 2011, and its other cousin Finola had 9 births. White Pages tells me there are 128 living people named Fenella in the U.S. Choose Finella, Finola, Fionnuala, Finlea, or Finelia, and the meaning will stay the same.

If you're wondering why this name might sound familiar, it might be because of the plant fennel, of which licorice is made. While you ponder that, also consider the nicknames Fen, Ella, Nell, Nellie, Nella and Finn. This is a name I'm very excited to share, and I really love it. I hope someone else will love it enough to use.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Kellan (Kellen)

kellan lutz twilight baby name 

Kellan has been getting some attention as a baby name in the past few years due to the "Twilight" character Emmett Cullen, played by Kellan Lutz, pictured above. (This and Twyla will probably be the only times you'll ever hear me mention anything Twilight related on this blog - or anywhere else for that matter, so I figured I'd better put them close together.) He's had some other good roles other than "Twilight," in the movies "Arena" and "Immortals." There are also 5 American football players named Kellen.

Kellan is a variant of the Gaelic name Kellen, meaning "slender." It currently ranks at #363, and rose quickly over the past few years from it's starting point at #882 in 2007.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Attention Twilight fans: Is Twyla the baby name for you?

Forget Renesme, forget Bella, and pick Twila or Twyla. Twila is the more obvious spelling when "honoring" Twilight, Twyla less obvious and more Twyla Tharp (American dancer and choreographer). Both are English, meaning (obviously) "twilight." It can also be from Old English, meaning "twill," or "two ply, double thread." The name Twyla was used as a character in Zenna Henderson's novel Pilgrimage. It was most popular in 1964 at #751, and only ranked between 1925 and 1965, so consider this a vintage name. Twyla was used 28 times in 2011, and Twila was used 27 times, so each spelling is equal in usage, legitimacy and popularity.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Parents with a sense of humor

A few things have inspired this post. 1) The STFU Parents blog, and some other no longer running blogs dedicated to bad baby names. 2) Reading through the weird names at the bottom of the SSA extended list. 3) Going over odd names in my head. Or rather, names with not-so-great meanings, such as Claudia and Perdita.

Here are some names, how many babies were given the name in 2011, and my commentary. This list could go on for days, so I'll just stick with boys names for now.

Gowtham, 6 - not sure what to make of this, but it seems definitely related to Gotham city
Nation, 11 - skip the fictional city name and go with Nation...after all, your kid IS their own nation
Granite, 6 - they loved their granite counter so much they named their son after it
Cable, 8 - like Granite, they loved their cable TV so much...
Thang, 31 - that thang you do...
Gohan, 17 - this one may not be obvious to some, so look up "Dragon Ball Z"
Gambit, 5 - similar to Gohan, you might need to know about the X-Men to appreciate this
Cape, 6 - instead of naming it Gambit or Gohan, Cape will do just fine, so they can grow up wanting to wear a cape...or they might visit Cape Cod
Trig, 35 - trigonometry was hard, but maybe having Trig as a name will help?
Cartel, 6 - a new spin on profession names, but who wants their kid to run a drug cartel?
Couper, 14 - a cross between Cooper and the French word coup
Cougar, 6 - a nice animal name and all, but I hope his middle name isn't Hunter
Newt, 5 - a name with history, yes, but also the name of a little black salamander
Chaos, 7 - yes, children can be chaotic, but no need to make it their name
Breaker, 10 - just like Chaos, children break stuff, but it isn't their finest quality, so skip it as a name
General, 15 - I'm sure they intended it to be like the military title, not the phrase "in general"
Choice, 6 - kind of like Chance, but it certainly wasn't the baby's choice for a name
Gamble, 6 - like Choice, these parents took a gamble on their son's name, but hopefully their son doesn't pick up a nasty gambling problem later in life
Tuff, 36 - he won't be tough enough unless we name him tough spelled wrong
Clever, 7 - let's hope he's clever enough to own his name, so to speak
Carion, 5 - one less R than carrion, as in "the decaying flesh of dead animals"
Gorge, 6 - another word name gone wrong, "to engorge" means to swell up

And my favorites today: Cristofher, 6, and Christofher, 6. Obviously if you added two spaces it would become "Christ of her/Crist of her."

How about you? Have you seen any name that make you wonder what the parents were thinking, or names that made you laugh?

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Unusual Middle Names for Girls Pt. II

Ever since posting the first list of unusual middle names / unusual combos for girls, I've been getting ideas every day, building up this second list. Once again, these are combinations I love but can't use, so I'm tossing them out into the blogosphere for someone else to snatch up.

Ysela Valentine
Isabella Canary
Aerith Keeley
Benicia Celestina
Emeraude Christa
Ellery Kristen
Ismay Jasmina
Isannah Noelle
Rosella Betony
Gwyneira Weaver
Elspeth Rafaela
Sonia Ondine
Willa Silversnow
Xyla Valkyrie
Polina Eponine
Bellamy Emmanuelle
Andrina Rhiannon
Eowyn Clary
Netanella Tegan
Rosalind Salome
Amoret Freya
Letitia Anchoret
Lionella Felicienne
Arianwen Elena
Raffaela Fifer
Belphoebe Fay

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Ways to get Cammy as a nickname

Camilla (warrior queen of the Volsci)

Friday, November 23, 2012

Ways to get Callie as a nickname

Calendula (botanical name for the English marigold)
Calliandra (a beautiful flower)
Calpurnia (the wife of Julius Caesar)
Calligena (an epithet of Demeter and Gaia)
Calliope (the muse of Epic Poetry, mother of Orpheus)
Caliadne (a nymph who live in the Nile)
Callianassa (a Greek Nereid)

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving Name: Isannah

Isannah (eye-SANN-uh) is my "Thanksgiving name" this year because this Colonial appellation was the name given to one of Paul Revere's daughters, who unfortunately only lived a year. But Paul Revere, who warned the residents of Concord, Massachusetts of the coming British military, was a key part in the American Revolutionary War. His famous alert was recorded in (slightly non-factual) poetic legend by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in "Paul Revere's Ride." Isannah's name was later found in a book by Esther Forbes called Johnny Tremain in 1943, about the American Revolution. Her fictional character meets the historical Paul Revere, and the character Isannah Lapham may have been inspired by Revere's real daughter's name. At least in my mind, Isannah is a patriotic name because of the legacy of her father.

Isannah was not a very uncommon name at the time, as there is record of an Isannah born in 1690 and several more around the birth of Revere's daughter. Isannah may have been one of the first examples of Americans "changing" traditional names. There is a strong possibility Isannah comes from one of the -annah ending names, such as Hannah or Susannah. I'm doubtful that it could be a combination of Isabella and Hannah/Susannah because Isabella and Isabelle not in heavy useage at the time, but it remains a possibility. There is even a possibility it comes from Hosannah. But my best guess, considering Revere's wife was named Sarah, and two other daughters were named Deborah (after Paul's mother) and Sarah (after his wife), is that Isannah was named after his grandfather Isaac Rivoire, but kept the -annah ending like the other two girls. If I'm wrong, Biblical names were big in Colonial America, and nicknames were starting to be (leading up to Mamie, Susie, etc), so Isannah could have just been from Hannah or Susannah after all. But Isaac is Biblical as well, meaning "laughter." Isanna (spelled this way and Isana) is also a Germanic name meaning "a strong-willed woman."

Although Isannah Revere was born in 1772, the government didn't have its Social Security Administration's name records until 1880. A quick look at 1880's charts reveal Isannah had sort of died out, and no girls were given the name. It was still used sparingly, though, as I've found record of an Isannah Winslow born 1838, an Isannah Edwards born 1840, and an Isannah Bertha White born 1861. After Johnny Tremain was released, it doesn't seem like Isannah picked up much more attention. White Pages claims there are only 9 living Isannah's.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


yew tree magick yvonne yvette 

Yvonne (ee-VON) is the medieval French feminine form of Yvon and Yves, from Germanic Ivo, meaning "yew." The meaning is not "archer," it is what archery bows are made of: yew. Yvette also means "yew." Both can have the nicknames Yvie (EE-vee) or Yva (EE-vah). Yew is coniferous, like pine trees, and is known as the tree of mourning and the "tree of resurrection and eternity," symbolizing the Tree of Life. For more information on the tree in legend, please visit The Goddess Tree.

Yvonne is one of many names to travel to England after the Norman Invasion. After a while it was no longer popular, but saw a revival in the 20th century, and it was big with the French Creole community in the south (as evidenced by the Hank Williams song). At first glance it appears vintage, along with twin Yvette, but it is still used sparingly today and may see more use thanks to the vintage trend, the V trend, and the 100 year rule. In 2011 it was given to 127 baby girls, and Yvette to 191 girls. It appeared first in 1892, and last ranked in 2002. It made its way up to #76 in 1937, marking the height of its popularity, then slowly traveled back down into the 200's by 1977. Yvonne was most popular in France in the 1900's when it was a top 10 name, but it is now seldom used. One rare variant is Yvonette.

Yew Yvonne Yvette

List of namesakes, though there are several more:
Yvonne Elliman, 1970s singer
Yvonne Arnaud, French actress
Yvonne Borree, American ballet dancer
Yvonne Ryding, Miss Universe 1984
Yvonne DeCarlo, Canadian actress
Yvonne Chaka Chaka, South African singer
Yvonne Choutou, ballet dancer
Yvonne Craig, ballet dancer and actress
Yvonne Minton, Australian opera singer
Yvonne van Gennip, Dutch speed skater in the Olympics
Yvonne Strahovski, Australian actress

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


humphrey bogart baby name 

Yes, not a name you hear every day, and not a name most parents think to use. In fact, Humphrey (HUM-free) was only given to 6 baby boys in 2011. It wasn't much better in the U.K., where it was only used 13 times in 2011. Rare indeed, yet so familiar. Not to mention intriguing nicknames: Hum, or Free. Many can still recall the charming actor Humphrey Bogart, who was in over 50 movies between 1928 and 1956, a year before he died. (I was shocked to learn my husband had no idea who he was, considering the American Film Institute ranked him the greatest male star in the history of American film.) He is most famous for "Casablanca" (1942) and "Sabrina" (1954). He starred alongside some gorgeous leading ladies, such as Ingrid Bergman, Lauren Bacall (whom he married), Audrey Hepburn and Katherine Hepburn. This cultural icon known for playing hard, yet noble characters would be a great namesake for a baby of film or Broadway buffs, and what's more is that he was born on Christmas day.

This vintage name of Old German origin means "peaceful warrior, peaceful bear" and was popular in medieval times, along with other y-ending names like Jeremy and Geoffrey. Saint Humphrey (Hunfrid) lived in the 800s AD, and the monk turned bishop turned abbot was one of many forced to flee during the Norman invasion, later returning to his place in France to rebuild. The name Humphrey can be found in a few other unexpected places, like on the son of King Henry IV, who became the first Duke of Gloucester, and who was named for his grandfather. There was a jazz musician named Humphrey Lyttleton, and a famous whale called Humphrey the Humpback.

Humphrey last appeared on the U.S. top 1000 in 1894, with no recurrences despite the actor's popularity. In fact, Bogart most likely saved the name from extinction, as it was being forgotten and fading closer to obscurity. Sometimes you can find Humphrey as a surname - it was that of Lyndon Johnson's VP, and Humphrey Bogart got it from his mom's maiden name. Humphries may be the more familiar surname. Humphrey appears in literature as well - Shakespeare's Henry IV, Tobias Smollett's Humphrey Clinker, Ben Jonson's Bartholomew Fair, and the children's book The World According to Humphrey by Betty Birney. He's even mentioned in Harry Potter.

So what do you think? Is Humphrey ready for his vintage revival? Don't let the first four letters influence you too much, as "hump" is said differently than Humphrey, and most are familiar enough with the name to pronounce it correctly as HUM-free. If it bothers you but you do like the name, consider using a legit variant such as Homfrey, Humfrey or Onofre.

Monday, November 19, 2012


Kodak Theatre 

I must admit, Gwyneth Paltrow makes this name seem very usable (although her daughter Apple's name is a different story) and accessible to parents with no Welsh background. Since she's been an A-list celebrity for so long, it's surprising to see that Gwyneth was only given to 259 girls in 2011, ranking low at #978 for the first time back on the charts since the first time it ranked in 2004, when it was also low ranking  - not popular, yet a very familiar rare name. A happy medium. The spelling Gweneth was given to 41 girls in 2011, Gwynneth 10 times, and Gwenneth 9 times.

Gwyneth means "white, fair, happy" in Welsh. A namesake of the 19th century, author Annie Harriet Hughes, who went by the pen name Gwyneth Vaughan, contributed to parents choosing this name. Gwyneth is strongly connected to the Kingdom of Gwynedd, not to be confused with modern Gwynedd in Wales. In the 5th century, early Middle Ages, the Kingdom of Gwynedd formed and the seat of power was in Deganwy Castle. At this time Gwynedd was a surname, and that of one of the kingdom's rulers. The modern city was named after the old kingdom, and this is where you can find Snowdonia National Park, and Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales.

Sunday, November 18, 2012


Dempsey is an Anglicized Irish surname meaning "proud," from "son of Ó Diomasaigh. The family with this name originated in the Kingdom of Uí Failghe. On occassion, this name was simply given as "Proudman" in English. This is not a unisex name.

The title Viscount Clanmalier was created for Terrance O'Dempsey by King James I, and after him there were only two others to hold the title before it was no longer used - Lewis O'Dempsey and Maximilian O'Dempsey. The O'Dempsey family was strong and powerful until the 17th century, or, until the Williamite wars. Several prominent people have bared this surname, including feminist activist Rosemary Dempsey, but two namesakes spring to mind immediately - the actor Patrick Dempsey, proud father of Sullivan and Darby, and Jack Dempsey, the 20th century boxing champ. There are dozens more, however, listed all over the web. Only a small handful feature Dempsey as a given name. In my opinion, Dempsey would make a fine first name for someone from this family tree, especially if it was the mother's maiden name.

In 2011 Dempsey was only given to 67 boys. It first appeared on the charts in 1880 at #579, which would suggest that if these charts had been up years before, it would show Dempsey gaining or continuing popularity until 1880. However, it was on and off the charts for the entire time it ranked, up until 1949, and it hasn't been back since.

Friday, November 16, 2012


I've seen Ismay (iz-may) getting a lot of love online lately, so I thought I'd give you the history. There might be no coincidence that Ismay sounds so close to Esme, meaning "esteemed," although a lot of people like to debate where it came from and how it was used. Some say it's a variant of Ismene, meaning "knowledgeable," or Ismenia, whose origins are equally debatable. Some say it's a Germanic compound name from iron and strength, some say it has Celtic origins, and some say it is a variant (possibly Anglicized) spelling of Esme, which is French. This is evidenced by variant spellings like Esmay. However, the first record of Ismay could be one in Lancashire, England, and the name could predate the Norman conquest in some form.

Ismay can be found as a surname, as is the case with famous British businessman Bruce Ismay, associated with the Titanic, but also as a first name, as in Ismay Thorne, a British children's author, and Ismay Johnston, an New Zealand actress. It was a matronymic surname (the mother's given name passed to the son as his surname) since at least the 16th century, possibly the 13th century (according to K. M. Shear in Llewellyn's Complete Book of Names), and in use in medieval times in England. Variants recorded include Ysmay, Isemay, Isamaya and Ysemay, and it is important to note that different spellings were very common until the English language was standardized. There are records of the name being used in North Wales, and Ismay would mean "lower field" in Welsh. Ismey has also been used in Iceland. The Oxford Dictionary of English Christian Names confirms Ismay and variants were in use in 13th century England. Like Winston, surnames became necessary when the government introduced personal taxation, or the Poll Tax. It can also be found in a couple of books from around the 1980's, such as "What's Bred in the Bone" by Robertson Davies, whose character lived in the 1930's.

White Pages tells us there are 172 people in the U.S. with the first name Ismay, and the most popular decade for the name was 1924. There are also 110 people with Ismay as a last name. In 2011 Ismay was not used, although several similar sounding names were - Ismene, Isatou, Isaura, Islay and of course, Isabella and Esme.

So here's what we know for sure:
Ismay was in use between 1450 and 1650
It has survived until now in both given name and surname form, but is rarely used
It has been used in literature

So, is Ismay an Anglicized  variant of Esme, Ismene, Ismenia, or an original Celtic name? I'm going to guess that a) since it was in use in England, Iceland, and possibly Wales, and b) since I haven't seen records of it in France, and c) since the Poll Tax was in England, that it is not from Ismene (Greek) or Ismagi (Germanic), although names do travel. That leaves two options: from Ismenia, which may or may not be Celtic, or a completely unrelated Celtic name. This post has been updated, since I had to do a little more research.

Thursday, November 15, 2012


the palm leaf william bouguereau 
The Palm Leaf by William-Adolphe Bouguereau

Palmer is an Old English name meaning "palm-bearing pilgrim," which is perfect for babies born around Thanksgiving. Originally a medieval surname, it referred to a Christian pilgrim carrying a palm branch when traveling to a holy shrine, or one who returned with a palm leaf. People still use palm leafs in pilgrimages today. It can still be found as a surname (and city names) today. The meaning has nothing to do with male or female, therefore this can be a unisex name, although Palma, Palmira and Palmina do sound more suitable for girls. Palmer has made appearances in Sense and Sensibility, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, and recent movies.

While Parker is currently the #1 P name for boys and Porter has a modest middle-of-the-charts ranking, Palmer was last seen on the top 1000 in 1955, disappearing after 1949 for 6 years, but it did rank every year since 1880 until then. In 2011 there were 93 boys given this name, and 63 girls. Though this name has a very old history, it has a decidedly modern feel, perfect for use today, and still rare!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012



It seems to me that modern parents in the U.S. only fawn over a select few French names. Noelle, Madeline (Madeleine), Isabelle, Natalie, Sophie, Charlotte, Elle, Claire and Caroline can all be found high on the top 1000, but where are the unique and uncommon French names? Where's Jessamine, Felicienne, Marcheline and Emmanuelle? Where are Corisande, Melusine and Chantal? Where's Ombeline?

Ombeline (ohm-bell-een, om-bell-een) saw no U.S. births in 2011, and remains unheard of here. Similar sounding and sea-sweet Ondine fared only a bit better with 7 births. Ombeline is also connected to water, as Greek philosopher Pliny claimed it was one of the stones that fell from heaven during rain and thunderstorms. Known then as Ombria, the "rain stone," Notia, meaning "south wind," and occasionally the Scirocco-stone, and Brontia, meaning "thunder-stone," even the gemstone is hard to find information on. Ombria was used to prevent offerings from being "burnt away" or eaten after placed on an alter, according to Pliny the Elder, "gemstone philosopher." Ombeline is the French variant of Ombria, transferred to use as a female given name.

A French source claims Ombeline was not used much until the 1980's, any is now given about 150 times a year. It is well liked in France. A possible meaning is "glittering spirit," from the French word for spirit and some Germanic tracings. However, the gem Ombria's etymology has much more in common with the place name Umbria, from Ombrii, meaning "people of the thunderstorms," also according to Pliny. "Of the thunderstorms" or even "thunderstorm" is a simpler way to go, and keeps the connection to the gemstone's meaning and origin. But Umbria is also connected to shadow, as "shadow" is ombre in French and umber/ombra in Latin. Italian folk etymology connects Umbria to ombra, shadow. In Umbria, tall hills and mountains cast shadows. Umber now refers to a shadowy brown color of earth, and earth is another connected word. And yes, umbrella comes from ombra as well.

Saint Ombeline, also known as Holy Ombeline, or Hombeline, only seems to be well known in France. She was a 12th century Cistercian nun (prioress), born 1092 AD in France. She was the sister of Saint Bernard, and was known for giving up a life of frivolous pleasures (and a marriage) for a humble religious life. Oddly, Humbeline is a name sometimes given in her honor. Good luck trying to figure out anything else unless you speak French - U.S. searches turn up next to nothing. Thank you Google translator.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


If you're like me, the first person to come to mind when you see this name is Winston Churchill, and the first place is Winston-Salem. However, there's a lot more to this name than meets the eye. In fact, it was recorded as far back as 1086 AD in the Domesday Book. Winston is of Old English origin, meaning "joy stone, friend stone" from Wynnstan. (source) Wynn was often used solely in female names. Many baby name blogs and websites confuse the meaning of Winston, claiming it means "wine town," which would only be accurate in Suffolk and Durham, England. (source) Wine meant friend in Old English, (which you can find evidence of in The Wife's Lament, one of the first pieces of literature ever) winn meant joy, and stan meant stone, but in Durham and Suffolk, Wine was a personal name. Such is the case with the Isle of Wight, where the personal name was Wynsige, and Glouchestershire, where it was Wynna. To be clear, Wynnstan came first, and Winston was derived from it, so when the spelling evolved some people changed the meaning from "joy stone" to ">insert personal name depending on location< town." Of course, "friend town," "friend stone," or "friend's stone town" would be more appropriate and acceptable, but "joy stone" would still be the true meaning. (source)Why all the confusion? Because surnames became necessary in old England when personal taxation came into play, known as the Poll Tax. (source)

Wynnstan, long forgotten, would almost be guaranteed to come off as trendy or a "youneek" spelling today. In the Middle Ages it was a place name transferred to use as a surname for those with ties to the area. (source) Such was the case for former British prime minister Sir Winston Churchill, who got the name from the father of his ancestor John Winston, the first Duke of Marlborough. It's also the name of an Australian politician, was John Lennon's middle name, and the name of the main character in George Orwell's novel "1984."

The name ranked on the SSA charts every year since 1883, its highest place in 1940 at #311. (source) In 2011 it was #742, but it isn't obvious if the name is going up or down in popularity. It has also been popular in the West Indies and Caribbean. Winn makes for one excellent nickname, and many people see Winston as a courageous and heroic name because of how valiantly Winston Churchill fought in World War II.

Monday, November 12, 2012


phillipa horses 

Is it any coincidence Phillipa and filly have the same sounds? Maybe (since filly comes from Old Norse), but Phillipa does mean "lover of horses" in Greek, composed of philos (friendly love) and hippos (horse). It is the feminine version of Phillip/Philip, brought back to life in the 19th century. However, it seems Phillipa has never charted in the U.S. The strange thing is, everyone around the world was introduced to Pippa Middleton during the royal wedding coverage, and Philippa has been ever fashionable in England, but Phillipa was only used 10 times in 2011 in the U.S., the spelling Philippa used 53 times, Pippa used 69 times, and Felipa 8 times. That's pretty rare for a name everyone was raving about. But chances are these names will be used more in 2012, since the numbers did rise from 2010, when there were only 25 Phillipa's and 16 Pippa's born.

As for pronunciation, fil-LEE-pah is the most common, fil-IPP-ah the second most common, although it seems to make more sense phonetically that the spelling Philippa would make for a fil-IPP-ah pronunciation, and the spelling Phillipa would mean a fil-LEE-pah pronunciation. FILL-ip-ah is the third most common pronunciation. Pippa can be a nickname to either, as well as Flip or Filly/Philly. Pippa Middleton spells her full name Philippa. Both Pippa and Philippa have been used for literary characters: Robert Browning's poems "Pippa's Song" and "Pippa Passes," Libba Bray's character in "A Great and Terrible Beauty," "Pippi Longstocking," and a book by Rebecca Miller that Brad Pitt turned into a movie, "The Private Lives of Pippa Lee." Any spelling with an F - Filippa, Fillipa, Fillia, Fillipina, etc, and the variant Phillipine, Felepita, and Pelipa, are exceptionally rare.


In medieval times, Philip was fairly unisex, so the spelling Phillipa/Philippa, on paper, was used to determine which were female. Philip and Philippa also carried a note of wealth, as one had to be wealthy in order to own a horse or participate in horse related activities, which was true even in ancient Greece. One of the earliest namesakes was Philippa of Hainault (above), the queen consort of King Edward III of England, whose coronation was in 1330. There is some beautiful artwork of her and a story, "The Uncrowned Queen" by Anne O'Brien. She was well loved by her people, known for her kindness and compassion. She was also an excellent leader, serving as regent from time to time. Her name is a perfect example of Phillip being a unisex name at the time, because she was best known as Phillipe, not Phillipa. Fun fact: Chaucer's wife may have been named for Philippa of Hainault. A second medieval namesake was Philippa of Lancaster, queen consort of Portugal. She was born into royalty in England one decade after Philippa of Hainault died. Her marriage to King John I of Portugal secured the Anglo-Portuguese Alliance, and her children became so famous that they were known as the "Illustrious Generation." You can also find the name Philippa on a Duchess and a Countess.

Saint Philippa was martyred and crucified along her her son, Theodore, and others during the reign of Elagabalus, a Roman Emperor from 218 to 222. Blessed Philippa Mareri was strongly influenced by St. Francis and lived as Mother Superior in a covent in Italy. Blessed Philippa de Chantemilan and Blessed Philippa of Gheldre both lived in the late 1400s.

This name could appeal to those who like Lidia, Lydia, Portia, Phoebe, Fiona and the like, while Pippa could appeal to those who like Piper, Pepper, Poppy, or Fifer.

Sunday, November 11, 2012


Topher is a short form of Christopher, Greek, meaning "bearing Christ," which not many people in the U.S. realized could be used as a given name until "That 70's Show" star Topher Grace came along. It is said he didn't like Chris as a nickname and insisted on Topher. There was also a Joss Whedon character named Topher. It is popular to call Christopher's Topher in Denmark. In 2011 only 7 parents chose to name their boys Topher instead of the full name Christopher. As of now, Topher is just beginning to be recognized as a formal given name, but perhaps he'll have a bright future ahead of him.

Saturday, November 10, 2012


ellery fashion 
Ellery fashion label

Ellery is unisex due to being a non-occupational surname, from the Latin name Hilary (and Hilary was masculine in medieval times), meaning "cheerful," though there is a slight chance it could mean "alder tree" from Old English (the only credible info to back this up is the Old English word for alder, aler). One of the only well known namesakes is Ellery Queen, the fictional 1930's detective. In fact, this was one of the first times Ellery was ever used as a first name. Back in the day you could find Ellery as a corrupted variant of Eulalie in England, as well as Elaria, often confused with Hilaria. Ellery was a blip on the top 1000 only five times - 1882, 1897, 1904, 1908, and 1959. In 2011 it ranked just outside the top 1000 with only 196 girls born with the name, and 10 boys. (Safe to say the girls have taken over this one, too.) The above picture is from a fashion label named Ellery. Also check out Ellery Sprayberry, a child actress.

Friday, November 9, 2012


Bevan, pronounced BEH-vehn and/or BEH-vahn, is a Welsh name meaning "son of Evan." It can be found as a surname, as in British politician Aneurin Bevan, but also as a first name, as in Ameican musician Bevan Davies. It is not to be confused with the Anglicized Irish girl's name Bevin. While it's probably a little tacky to have a father named Evan and son named Bevan in the same family, it would be lovely to honor a grandpa, uncle or special friend named Evan, especially for those that don't want to deal with the popularity of Evan, which was #40, while Bevan was only used 6 times in 2011. Other than being a type font and foundation, I'm sorry to report there isn't much more on the name.

Thursday, November 8, 2012



Verona is the romantic city in northern Italy, quite possibly best known as being the source of inspiration for Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, The Taming of the Shrew (if in a small way) and The Two Gentlemen of Verona. And while Romeo and Juliet are constantly in use as baby names in America, Verona was used only 29 times in 2011. It ranked from 1880 to 1934, most popular in 1905 and 1906 (when many names containing the letter V were popular), falling off the charts every so often. The meaning of Verona is contested. It could be from the Greek name Veronica, meaning "victory bringer," which would make it just a little bit place name-y. One legend has it that Verona was named for King Theodoric's castle. There are many tales of battle and power connected to Verona since it was an intersection of many cities - when Verona was just forming as a city, several leaders fought on the land and it exchanged hands quite a bit.

Today Verona is a nice tourist attraction, where visitors can find festivals, art (Leonardo da Vinci called it home), music, and operas. The Verona Arena, built by the ancient Romans, is definitely a main stop, and the city's medieval architecture is beautiful. It's a great historical place to name a kid after (bonus if you have sentimental/family ties to the city) and much more sophisticated and historically rich than other place names, such as Dallas, Dakota or Brooklyn. Take it from St. Peter Martyr.

Nicknames can go either way - the feminine Vera, or the tomboy Ronnie. Since I probably won't be covering any more Italian cities-as-names starting with V, at least for a long time, I'll tell you there were 6 baby girls named Venezia, 30 Venice, and 8 Venecia.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012



Gerard is a name you don't hear every day. I'm not entirely sure which category it fits in - vintage? This Old English name has an interesting meaning, "spear brave," partly sharing in the definitely vintage boy's name Gerald, meaning "spear ruler," which was also a 19th century revival name. Both come from Old German origin, but in the late Middle Ages, Gerard was more popular. The Normans introduced the name Gerard to England in the 11th century. "Spear brave" may seem a little obscure, but the meaning can be translated to "brave with the spear." It's common to hear this name in France, where actor Gerard Depardieu is from. The name can also be found on poet Gerard Manley Hopkins and painter Gerardo Richter, although I think most Americans are more familiar with the [very hot] Scottish actor from Hollywood, Gerard Butler (pictured above). There were also a few St. Gerard's, though the most well known, Gerard Majella, is the patron saint of pregnant women, often pictured as a young teen. St. Gerard of Brogne was of Belgian nobility, St. Gerard of Toul was of German nobility, and St. Gerard of Lunel was of French nobility.

Gerry is the most common and obvious nickname, while Geraud, Gerhardt, and Girault are a few variant forms. Herb-Gerard is a plant also known as gout-weed.

Gerard continuously ranked from 1889 until 2000, then once more in 2002 at #999. It ranked mainly between the mid 800s and high 200s, most popular in the 1950s. In 2000 it was #823, and we haven't seen it since. Since it never reached the top 100 and White Pages reports that 38% of all men named Gerard are between the ages of 30 and 54, I do hesitate to label it strictly vintage. It still has quite a bit of charm and sophistication. Being a familiar name, yet off the charts for over a decade, it seems like the perfect unusual find for parents searching for that elusive "everyone knows it, but no one uses it" name. It is also a multi-national name, common for Dutch, French, Irish, Scottish and English speakers, but also for Spanish and Italian speaking countries as Gerardo. The Hungarian form, Gellert, and the Polish form Gerik, are nearly unrecognizable to English speakers. In America today, Gerard remains popular among Roman Catholics.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Barbara Cartland Baby Names

Searching for a particular name which I can't mention, I came across this wonderful blog dedicated to the works of Barbara Cartland's books and cover art. I didn't know who Barbara Cartland was, but I found out she used some awesome and unusual names for her books! Go check it out.

A small sampling:

Monday, November 5, 2012

A New Generation of Mom Names

Taking names from the top of the SSA charts between 1975 and 1985, here are my nominations for today's "mom names."


Do you have a "mom name?" Which of these do you think are timeless classics and not mom names?

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Popular & Dated vs Popular & Timeless

We're all familiar with names that are dated. For some, it might be Tammy, Donna and Lynn. For others, Tiffany, Kim or Tracy. But how popular were those names, are how did they become "dated?" My theory is that the names with the least amount of historical background, meaning and legitimacy, which rushed to the top of the charts, were the ones now considered dated. (Although sometimes pop culture ruins a popular name, and some just fall out of favor because they're tired.) On the other hand, those which are deemed traditional, with a long history of use and a rich background, might have been at the top of the charts for a long time without ever being considered dated - the "timeless classics." Here's five of each...

Timeless Classics

Catherine & Katherine - This Greek name is backed by saints, queens, royalty and literary figures up the wazoo and has been popular since the Dark Ages. The spelling with a C is currently resting at #161 and has never fallen below its 2010 ranking of #193. Catherine's highest ranking was #18 in both 1917 and 1914. Katherine with a K is currently at #61, never falling below #105, and its highest spot being #25 in 1991. Being a modest name, it didn't rush its way to the top, nor will it rush down.

Maria, Marie & Mary - These names are used in so many languages, across so many cultures and time periods, its impossible to be dated. From Biblical Mary to Marie Antoinette, this name has been popular for so long and has so many namesakes. Maria has only been used as a spoken given name since the 18th century, Mary since the 12th century, Marie before that, and Miriam/Miryam as the original. Maria ranked at #92 in 2011, Marie at #599 and Mary at #112. They've always ranked, and always ranked high. Mary was even #1 from 1880 to 1946, and then again from 1953 to 1961. I believe that was the longest run in the #1 spot ever.

Isabella & Isabelle - Isabella ranked from 1880 to 1894 in the 200s, into the 300s from 1896 to 1915, then the 400s from 1916 to 1925, working its way down to #996 in 1948, only reappearing in 1990 at #892, coming back with a vengeance until landing at #1 in 2010. The name has several queens, princesses and literary characters to back it up. I think it will stay at the top for quite a while to make up for all those years missing from the charts, and will always be viewed as a timeless classic, unlike Madison, a name traditionally used for boys that had a female takeover due to the movie "Splash." Eventually (say, ten years from now) Madison will be considered dated.

Elizabeth - This Hebrew name derived from Elisheva, meaning "my God is a vow," also has many namesakes, including Queen Elizabeth, and many international variants adding to its historical legitimacy. It can be found in the Old Testament, the New Testament, a 12th century saint and an empress of Russia. Currently at #11, it's been hovering around that spot since the 70s. It has always ranked, starting at #4, never falling below #26.

Anna & Anne - Anne is currently at #953, Anna at #38. From ancient Roman times and the goddess Anna Perenna, to the more modern Anne Frank, this name has a long history. You can find Anna as a prophetess in the Bible and possibly the mother of the Virgin Mary, two queens, and on today's A-list actresses. Anna has never fallen below #106 (it was #2 from 1880 to 1899), and Anne reached its lowest position ever in 2010 at #608. Other variants have also been very popular.

Unfashionable and Out of Date

Donna - Known for being a 60s and 70s name, that is when it was most popular. Donna was born into the world as a title, not a name, from domina, meaning "lady" (in the context of "master"). From Roman domina, the hereditary title, it transferred to the Donna of the 60s, an iconic woman. Donna dropped of the charts last year, last ranking at #984 in 2010, but it had been dying down from #6 in 1963. Before that, it quickly rose to the top of the charts from #403 in 1880 (and I can only assume it had been rising before that). My guess is that Donna didn't have as much substance as names like Katherine and Mary to continue being popular, and so much use in the 60s deemed it "dated."

Tracy - If you were looking at a chart of Mary and Tracy side-by-side, you'd see that Mary has a constant line shooting across the top, while Tracy jetted all the way up and then right back down. Tracy, Gaelic meaning "warlike" and a personal name derived from the place name Thracius, was originally used for boys. It was a blip on the charts for girls in 1884 & 1885, 1889 and 1890, 1896 and 1898. It didn't reappear for girls until 1942 after a Katherine Hepburn movie, when it went from #924 up to #10 in 1970. It proceeded to fall straight down until #974 in 2004, never to be seen again. It was the same story for the boys.

Tammy - Tammy has a similar story to Tracy, showing the same up-down pattern. As a nickname for Tamsin, meaning "twin," and Tamara, meaning "palm tree," it appeared low in 1947 at #957, then shot up to #8 from 1966 to 1970, then it shot back down to #840 in 1998, never to be seen again. Had it been Tamsin or Tamara and not a nickname, I think it would have had better luck. Tamara has a much, much slower up-down pattern, slowly rising from #878 in 1939 (possibly due to the Polish art deco painter Tamara de Lempicka) to #63 in 1974, then slowly falling to #908 in 2009, leaving room for a comeback.

Lisa - the Simpsons character probably affected Lisa a little bit, but I have a feeling that, like Tammy, its fall had more to do with being a short form of the timeless classic Elizabeth. Although Lisa shot up the charts, it took more time to fall down. It started at #957 in 1937, appearing suddenly for the first time, reached #1 from 1962 to 1969, then worked its way down to #703 in 2011. While it is still on the charts, it will continue to drop, albeit slowly.

Dawn - This name also shot straight up and straight down. It has a simple meaning, "sunrise," but no well known namesakes, no literary usage, no historical use. It appeared in 1915 at #855, went up to #14 in 1971 (being labeled a "hippy" name), and fell back down to #913 in 2000 just as quickly as it came. Its popularity could have been influenced by opera singer Dawn Upshaw, and its also possible that with no continuing namesakes the name fell out of favor. Aurora, on the other hand, which means "dawn," dates back at least 1500 years, was the name of a goddess, was used by famous 19th century poets, and has a Disney princess to boot. Aurora has always been on the charts and steadily climbing. It reached #183 last year, its highest place yet, but the recent shootings in Aurora, CO may determine if it continues its path.

I hope you enjoyed my research into the world of dated vs classic names, and I'd love to hear more nominations for both categories.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Interview with Brian

Brian Boru comic by Damien Goodfellow

What is your name? Brian
Do you have any nicknames? Gav, Gavino, and Bri-guy from gaming and from friends
What is your ethnic background? Caucasian
What decade were you born in? 70's
How did you get your name? No idea
How did you feel about your name growing up? Loved it
How do you feel about your name now? I still like it, for the most part
What are some names of your family members? Dennis, Jan, Grace, Philip, Angeline
If you have any kids, what are their name(s)? Daughter Katlynn, name chosen by wife, and the name fits her perfectly. I would name a boy Gavin.
What is the name of your best friend? Joe
What are some common names for your age group? Toby, Greg, Dennis, Gavin, Malakai
If you had to give yourself a new first name, what would it be? McLovin' or Sir Lancelot
Are there any personal stories about your name? Not that I can think of
Are people ever confused about your name? No, but sometimes it comes out "brain."
Would you suggest someone give your name to a new baby? A baby named Brian would be the most optimistic and positive person looking for the brightest side of life. And spell Brian with an "i," not a "y!"
Of the kids you've met most recently, which are your favorites and least favorites? Hanna, which I don't like because it reminds me of Hannah Montana. I love the name Drake.

I enjoy getting name insights from guys, because as we all know, men's and women's brains are wired differently, especially when it comes to baby names.

Brian is of Celtic origin, meaning "strength," and Irish Gaelic origin meaning "high, noble." There is debate as to which meaning is more accurate. It's been a perennial favorite since the Middle Ages until recently, and has had a slew of namesakes over the past several decades. It ranked at #122 in 2011, declining from its #8 spot in 1970, which rose to that position from 1925, when it appeared as #870 for the first time since records starting being kept by the SSA in 1880. It ranked at #81 in Ireland in 2011. 

One of the first and most influential namesakes was Brian Boru, a warrior of the 10th century who became the last high king of Ireland and a national hero after defeating an army of invading Vikings. The Brian Boru Harp, a symbol of Irish unity, is currently on display at Trinity College in Dublin - and although it was made a couple centuries after Boru died, it is still connected to him on the Coat of Arms of Ireland and the O'Brian family Coat of Arms. There is also the Rock of Cashel, the castle of the High Kings, which Boru owned/ruled at one time. Boru was not the first to have this name, as it was introduced to Ireland after the Norman Conquest by Breton settlers. Lastly, there is the Blessed Brian Lacey, a saint martyred in London in 1591 for his religion.

Brian was one of the first Irish imports to become popular in America, although the pronunciation was "Americanized," and its now giving up its throne to Aidan. Bryant is a lesser known form of Brian for boys, and Briana a popular variant for girls. And as always, there's the uncanny urge to spell all names with a Y, so Bryan has been popular as well.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Unusual Middle Names for Baby Girls

The following are first and middle name combos that I've had on my list titled "name combos I love but can't use." I figure, if I put them on here then they might have the chance to get used. Enjoy.

Sophie Claret
Elena Zanzibel
Eliska Starling
Lavinia Nightingale
Alannah Dragonfly
Fiona Tabby
Matilda Plum
Dacia Linden
Marion Blackbird
Rosamund Winter
Amber Mandolin
Coralia Willow
Verona Calico
Sable Valentine
Ambrosia Maple
Fay Lavender
Pomelina Snow
Wilhelmina Snow
Willa Belle
Ophelia Sapphire
Leocadia Pearl
Tamsin Quill
Oriana Maiden
Betony Oriole
Meredith Tatum
Lluvia Savvy
Umbrielle Swan
Gwendolen Fable
Marina Pearl
Porsha Lillith
Portia Tanith

Thursday, November 1, 2012

These baby names aren't so bad

I was reading a post I did last October, Intentionally or Creatively Misspelling Names, but I had some recent insight into this topic again and decided to do a sort of update. What I'm about to say goes against my usual beliefs and advice. I do not usually recommend invented names, invented spellings or smushing two names together. However, as I said in last year's post, in the case of smushing for the sake of family, I say "do what you have to do." Just keep in mind, you can put one family name in the first spot and one in the middle.

Mom is Jennifer, mother in law is Vanessa? Jenessa!
Grandma Mary and dear friend Elizabeth? Mariella!
Grandpa Adrian and father Harvey? Hadrian!

However, please note that sometimes you may think you're creating a new name and it is actually a legit old name (Hadrian, for example, is an ancient legit name Adrian came from) and sometimes a smush is not a good idea. For example Jeff and Mark... Jemarco? Not so nice.

My advice is to keep it simple and understandable. Rosetta + Pontia = Rosettia, could be lovely. However, Rosetta + Pontia = Pontetta, lots of confusion.