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The 2014 Farmers Almanac
Farmers' Almanac

What’s in a (Baby) Name?

What’s in a (Baby) Name?

Rejoice (or not)! The list of 2013’s most popular baby names to date has been released. Monikers like Marnie, Marlowe, Nelly, Mavis, Thor, Severine, Bruce, Wilder, Phaedra, Mingus, Linnea, Finnegan, and Christian, derived mostly from current aspects of popular culture (musicians, movie characters, superheroes, etc.), are this year’s proverbial flavor of the month (err, year). But are you obligated or even compelled to go with the flow?

According to a survey of new moms and dads, choosing an infant name for the next President of the United States, or maybe the child who will one day discover a cure for cancer, is one of the hardest things they’d ever had to do and sometimes even a source of conflict within the relationship. And when well-meaning relatives decide to weigh in with their own agendas, what should be a fun and joyful part of the nine-month odyssey has been known to fast track all the way to stress central.

What’s more, generally names–many derived from Latin, Greek or other sources–carry meaning within them. For example, Beth is from the Hebrew meaning House of God, and Gary, which has German, American, Welsh, Irish, and English derivations and meanings, generally implies one who is modest and brave. So in many cases parents decide to seek inspiration from beyond the way a name looks or sounds, hoping their child will benefit from its provenance and more.

But if you think the road stops at trendy or traditional names, you may want to reconsider.

Loved the names Emily and Joshua for your niece and nephew, or perhaps your first and second-born, but looking for something a little different for the next one? Turning to nature’s forests and flowers, or to the pages of cherished literature, powerful and poetic names abound. Reportedly Shakespeare made up names in his plays (Jessica; Olivia; Miranda), and many authors have followed suit. These include J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame and fortune and Suzanne Collins, who created Katniss–which is actually an edible aquatic plant–for The Hunger Games. Or, pointing your moral compass toward more spiritual nomenclature just may reveal the perfect name for your perfect child-to-be: future winner of 2043’s Academy Award for Best Actress. And who knows–maybe you’ll start your own trend!

From the Garden
Amaranth (girls and boys) — comes from the Greek and means immortal or unfading. In Greek mythology, the amaranth was an eternally-blooming flower.

Aster (girls and boys) — comes from the Greek and means star. It is also popular in Dutch-speaking countries.

Basil (boys) — from the Latin and Arabic meaning kingly, brave, and valiant.

Bryony (girls) — from the Greek means vine and connotes earthy things.

Calla (girls) — from the Greek kallos means beautiful and was taken from its more formal Calla Lily.

Tansy (girls) — from the Greek means immortal. It is a flowering plant in the Astor family, used medicinally in some parts of the world but toxic in large quantities.

From the Forest
Bjork (boys and girls) — from Icelandic for Birch tree

Hadassah (girls) – from the Hebrew for Myrtle tree

Melia (girls)– from the Greek meaning Ash tree

Sylvie (girls) is the French form of Silvia, the feminine form of Silvius, derived from the Latin meaning wood forest

Vidar (boys) — Old Norse for forest warrior

From Literature
Ada — from Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier

Arlie (girls) — from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Last of the Belles

Ashley (girls and boys)–from Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind

Atticus (boys) — from To Kill a Mockingbird

Bianca — from Shakespeare

Buck (boys) – from Call of the Wild by Jack London

Charlotte — from Charlotte’s Web and also author Charlotte Bronte

Colin (boys)–from The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Daisy — from The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Emma – from Jane Austin’s eponymous book

Harper (girls) — first name of Harper Lee who penned To Kill a Mockingbird

Holden (boys) — from J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye

Jo (girls) — given name Josephine, from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Molly — from James Joyce’s Ulysses

Scout (girls)– from To Kill a Mockingbird, made more popular as progeny of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore

Temple — from William Faulkner’s Sanctuary

Names with Spiritual Connotations
Arcadia (girls) — from the Greek meaning unspoiled paradise

Bliss (girls) — English for intense happiness

Bodhi (boys) — Sanskrit for enlightenment or awakening

Dharma (girls) — Sanskrit for truth

Eden (girls) — from the Hebrew meaning place of pleasure or delight

Ever (boys) — English derivation possibly tied to Scandinavian name for wild boar or Hebrew for beyond

Kismet (girls) — origin unclear — meaning fate

Lourdes (girls) — from the Basque — literal translation is craggy slope, also where young girl had vision of Virgin Mother in 1858

Nevaeh (girls) — actually “heaven” backwards

Zen (boys) — from the Japanese meaning a form of Buddhism

Note: names today are often used interchangeably for girls and boys, but where initial gender may have been unclear, it has been indicated.

2 comments

1 valarie elkind { 12.18.13 at 10:26 am }

love to see how names have changed over the years – I have two boys Ian and Zachary, Ian never really caught on here in the states, but it seems like there are a gazilliion Zachs who are the same age as my Zach, but meanwhile it is nowhere on any list anymore. Just find it all interesting, guess names come and go sort of like bell bottom jeans!

2 Aliza { 12.18.13 at 9:15 am }

To my knowledge the name Beth means house in Hebrew. For House of G-d you would use Beth El.
My name is Aliza, pronounced Aleeza, and sometimes written in Eliza. It means joy.
So if your put my name, together with the name of the author, Beth, you get Elizabeth. House of Joy.
Another point about Hebrew meanings. The name Calla is suggested. In Hebrew, Kallah means bride. I think it is said the same way.

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