By Abigail Cukier
As we all know, choosing a name for your baby can be a daunting task. Many factors come into play – trends, tastes, opinions from relatives. But parents are also often guided by religious or cultural traditions. Here are some naming customs from around the world.
Personally, when naming my own children, we had to be careful not to choose anything too similar to that of a loved one, because for Ashkenazi Jews this goes against tradition. We usually name a baby after a deceased relative. Some will use the full name, while others use just the first letter. For example, I am named after my grandfather, Arthur.
This is to honour loved ones who have died but also to a superstition. The old belief was that there might be a mix-up and the angel of death might take the baby instead of the older relative.
On the other hand, among Sephardic Jews, who originated in Spain or Portugal, it is actually an honour to name a child after a parent or living relative.
Babies usually receive an English and a Hebrew name. Some parents translate the child’s secular name while others choose a separate Hebrew name.
A boy is named on the eighth day after the birth during the bris (ritual circumcision). Loved ones have the honour of carrying the baby and often the grandfather holds him during the ceremony. A girl is named in the synagogue, where the father reads from the Torah (Bible) and the baby and mom are blessed.
A Chinese name has three characters and the first character is the last name. For example, if the father’s last name is Leung, the first character of the child’s name is Leung. Siblings usually share the second character. A child with an English name usually has the Chinese characters as his middle name.
In Islam, babies are most often named after someone of importance in the religion, such as a prophet or messenger. You will often see Muslims with the Arabic names of such significant individuals as Muhammad, Ibrahim (Abraham), Isa (Jesus), Musa (Moses), Fatima (a daughter of Muhammad) or Aisha (a wife of Muhammad).
While there is no compulsory naming ceremony in Islam, it is customary for the child to be named on the seventh day after birth, along with the Aqeeqah, which is a celebration where family and friends thank God for the child’s birth.
Italians usually name their children after their grandparents. That is why you’ll often find “a million Valentinos or Giulios” in one family, says my friend Patricia Tomasi, an Italian-Canadian. She says her in-laws have recycled those names for generations. Babies are also likely to have several middle names to honour requests from both sides of the family.
Naming traditions in Kenya often reflect the time of day, day of the week, the weather and the child’s position in the family.
In the Marigoli tribe, the oldest member of the family performs the naming ceremony. The first-born male is named after the paternal grandfather, while the first-born female is named after the paternal grandmother. After that, it moves to the mother’s family. That person is influential in the child’s life, teaching them values and morals.
In the Hindu religion, the naming ceremony is usually held after the first 10 days of a baby’s delivery. Mother and child are bathed traditionally and prepared for the ceremony. A priest, relatives and friends are invited to bless the child.
The mother wets the baby’s head as a symbol of purification. In some communities, the baby is handed over to the paternal grandmother or father who sits near the priest during the ritual.
A letter of the Sanskrit alphabet associated with the child’s lunar birth sign is chosen, which is believed to be lucky for the baby. The baby receives a name starting with that letter.
A child can be named after the deity of the month in which they were born or the name of the family deity. Some communities name the first child after the paternal grandparent or the father.
Usually, the father whispers the name four times in the right ear of the baby. After the naming, the relatives put a few drops of honey or a pinch of sugar to the baby’s lips.
In Japan, on the baby’s seventh day, family and friends hold a celebratory feast. Japanese girls are usually given names relating to virtues, like being obedient or good. The “ko” often found at the end of girls’ names is a feminine ending and means child. Boys’ names often reflect their position within the family. For example Ichiro means “first son.” Japanese people also put their family name in front of their given name
In Guatemala, about 65 per cent of the population is Mayan. When a Mayan child is born, he is taken to a community elder who consults the Mayan calendar of 260 days. This calendar combines a cycle of 20 named days with another cycle of 13 numbers to produce 260 unique days. The elder considers the energy of the year and of the day. A boy’s name is preceded by the number of the day he is born in and a girl has IX, which means woman or feminine energy.
Everyone loves a freshly hatched word name or a fledgling celebrity baby name, and many of us appreciate names that stem from flowers, trees, and animals. But for the true biophile, the bug-sketching natural philosopher or the biochemistry disciple who chops thale cress in the lab? Here are some worthy tribute names for the lovers of the life sciences.
Rosalind (Rosalind Elsie Franklin): Rosalind Franklin was an X-ray crystallographer and unsung hero of molecular biology, and her diffraction patterns gave competitor-colleagues James Watson and Francis Crick crucial insight on the three-dimensional structure of DNA. Her death at age 37 disqualified her for the 1962 Nobel Prize for Medicine. The meaning of Rosalind is as prepossessing as Dr. Franklin’s acclaimed x-ray photographs—“pretty rose”.
Jane (Valerie Jane Morris Goodall): Jane is a true classic, not only in the English-speaking world of names but also in conservation biology. Goodall’s observations on chimpanzee behavior have done much to promote empathy toward animals. The name of the childhood toy chimpanzee that inspired her enthusiasm for animals was Jubilee, and later, one of her favorite female chimps she dubbed Gremlin. Gremlin may not be the next great classic for a baby girl, but other renowned conservationists with classic names will inspire: Helen Beatrix Potter and Rachel Carson.
Dolly (the sheep): Born in the mid-1990’s at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, Dolly the Finn Dorset sheep may have generated the most controversy ever associated with a breast. She was named after Dolly Parton, patron saint of mammary glands (it was a sheep’s mammary gland cell that provided the nucleus used for transfer). Dolly was not the first cloned animal; rather, she was the first mammal to be cloned from a somatic cell of an adult She went on to have six lambs: Bonnie, Sally, Rosie, Lucy, Darcy, and Cotton. The dyed-in-the-wool genetics buff will also love model organism name Thaliana (of Arabidopsis thaliana fame).
Linnea (Carl von Linné, a.k.a. Carl Linnaeus): Linné was a Swedish botanist whose publication Systemae Naturae ultimately established a classification and binomial naming system for over 10,000 species. The twinflower genus Linnaea is named after him, too. The less-common spelling Linnaea is truer to the name’s botanical association and a bit more cumbersome, but Lindy could be a lithe nickname. Some may worry about an association with Linea Nigra, which is a medical term for the dark line that appears on a woman’s belly during pregnancy, but Linnea’s American pronunciation (Li-NAY-uh) distinguishes the two.
Cilia: It may sound silly (pun intended) at first, but this near-homonym of Silje has a similar sound and pleasing quality to Celia. While Silje is Norwegian for “musical” and Celia from the Latin for “heavenly,” Cilia’s literal meanings leave something to be desired (“short, hair-like projections”; the singular cilium is Latin for “eyelash”). The importance of cilia in reproductive biology is huge, though. Without the movement of these organelles in the human fallopian tubes, the fertilized egg might not make its way through to embed in the uterine lining. Naming a twin sister Flagella might be taking things too far…
Eugenie (Eugenie Clark): a tropical ichthyologist with an interest in sharks and poisonous fish. A pioneer of field research via scuba diving, she conducted studies in the Marianas Islands, the Caroline Islands, and other exotic locales. Dr. Clark chronicled her shark-chasing experiences in Lady With a Spear (1951) and lived to be 91. With the popularity of Claire and the cool novelty of Lark, could her surname Clark work on a girl?
Francis (Francis Harry Compton Crick): a science underdog who became a Nobel Laureate. Watson (,James Dewey) and Crick have been household names ever since authoring a 1953 Nature paper that remains a blockbuster. The pair, along with Maurice Wilkins, is credited with deducing the double-helical structure of DNA and elegantly solving a series of long-standing bio-mysteries. However ingenious their interpretations, their discovery would not have been possible without the work of Erwin Chargaff, Rosalind Franklin, Raymond Gosling, Linus Pauling, and others. Francis Sellers Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, is another marquee name in genetics.
Louis (Louis Seymour Bazett Leakey) was a celebrated natural historian and archaeologist who worked at Olduvai Gorge, a major fossil site for remains of early humans. Olduvai could be a good choice for parents who like an Old-Testament-y feel (as with Levi or Obadiah) but are also inspired by the sciences. Olduvai is “Oldupai” (Maasai word for the area’s ubiquitous sisal plant) misspelled. See also: Louis Pasteur, “father of microbiology”.
Finlay (Carlos Finlay): Born Juan Carlos Finlay, he was a Cuban physician-scientist and public health officer who practiced in Havana during the cholera and yellow fever epidemics of the mid-1800’s. With American Drs. Walter Reed, Jesse Lazear, James Carroll, and Aristides Agramonte, Finlay investigated yellow fever (“Yellow Jack”) etiology. His mosquito hypothesis was proven after two decades of work; ultimately, a vaccine was developed. Could Reed, Jesse or Carroll come back for the boys?
Larson (Gary Larson): Not a formally-trained scientist, but his cartoons of anthropomorphic animals, plants, and insects helped children of the nineties fall in love with biology. A biting louse, S. garylarsoni, was named after him, as were butterfly and beetle species. With names befitting his gawky human characters, Larson’s parents were Verner and Doris.
Gregor (Johann ‘Gregor’ Mendel): botanist, pea plant propagator, and first geneticist. While at St. Thomas’s Abbey, Mendel switched from mouse to plant studies because his watching the animals have sex didn’t fly with his bishop. In this case, abstinence made the heart grow fonder for the name Gregor.
Axel (Axel Gudbrand Blytt): peat bog scientist and correspondent of Darwin’s. He continued his father Matthias Blytt’s botany work at the University of Kristiania (named for King Christian IV) in Oslo, and published Essay on the Immigration of Norwegian Flora in 1876. See also: paradigm shatterer Charles Darwin, his naturalist co-author Alfred Russel Wallace, and the comparative anatomist Thomas Huxley.
by Tara Ryazansky
It seems like I can’t check my email or stand in a grocery store line these days without being bombarded with images of pregnant celebrities. I’m not complaining though. A new pregnancy announcement means we can expect an interesting name announcement to be coming. But instead of waiting around I’ll make another round of predictions myself.
Singer Kelly Clarkson and her new husband are expecting their first child together. Baby will join siblings Savannah and Seth from their dad’s previous relationship. Kelly is already gushing that she has names picked out and hopes to have a girl. Will she share her husband’s love of ‘S’ names?
My guesses: Samuel, Levi, Wyatt, Scarlett, Aubrey, Cassidy
Once Upon A Time co-stars Ginnifer Goodwin and Josh Dallas are expecting their first baby. I hope that whatever they pick is as ethereal and sweet as Ginnifer seems to be. I could see this couple picking something straight out of a fairytale.
My guesses: Miles, Jem, Digby, Fern, Plum, Ione
Former reality TV starlet Kristin Cavallari is going to present a brother or sister to son Camden Cutler. I think that she will go for something stylish and modern.
My guesses: Felix, Cassius, Declan, Sutton, Hadley, Delaney
Comic actor Mike Myers and his wife are expecting their second child. The new baby will join brother, Spike. It seems that the Myers’s approach baby naming with a sense of humor. Spike is zippy and nicknamey, but tough. Maybe they will pick something with a similar style.
My guesses: Axel, Bruno, Iggy, Cher, Rae, Minnie
Drew Barrymore and her husband are expecting a sibling for baby Olive. Olive got her name when the couple read in a pregnancy book that their baby-to-be was the size of an olive. Hopefully they won’t carry that theme too far and name their new baby something like Kumquat. My hunch is that they will pick something nature-inspired and bright—after all she did name her film production company Flower Films. Or maybe a Barrymore family name will appeal to them.
My guesses: Reed, Lionel, Huckleberry, Blythe, Marigold, Dorothy
Actors Emily Blunt and John Krasinski are anticipating their first. This couple strikes me as laid back and cool, which I think will be reflected in their name choice. My hunch is that they will go for something simple and a bit vintage, but familiar and down-to-earth.
My guesses: Simon, Charlie, Oliver, Hazel, Louisa, Violet
Actress Thandie Newton and her British film director husband Ol Parker are expecting their third child. Baby will be joining sisters Ripley and Nico, who were named for the main character in the Alien film franchise and the Velvet Underground singer. Obviously, Thandie has a thing for strong and unusual namesakes. Who will she honor next?
My guesses: Remy, Luca, Rhys, Stella, Liv, Maren
Reality star and Jonas Brother, Kevin Jonas and wife Danielle are pregnant with their first child. Danielle has revealed that she hopes for a girl and plans to use a name that’s “definitely not classic, but nothing too crazy.” She also hinted that the name might honor her Italian heritage.
My guesses: Enzo, Matteo, Leo, Alessandra, Serafina, Natalia
I would love to hear any predictions you might have about what these celebs’ taste in names might result in.
Here in America, we honor the Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, but what of the poor Scots? Their national saint’s celebration, St. Andrew’s Day, is all but ignored. This year it falls on November 30th, and so we thought we would rectify that omission with K.M. Sheard’s selection of some of her favorite uncommon Scottish names.
By K. M. Sheard of Nook of Names
Affrica — The Anglicized form of the Gaelic Oighrig, an ancient name. Its meaning isn’t known for certain, but most agree the most likely source is the Old Irish Aithbhreac. It is found in a number of other forms across the centuries, including Africa, Affreca and Effrick. One bearer was a Viking princess of the Isle of Man, who married John de Courcy, the twelfth-century de facto king of Ulster.
Aldan — The name of the legendary founder of the Scottish Clan Home has two possible origins; it could be the Scots Gaelic form of English Aldwin, “old friend,” or a variation of the Old Norse name Haldane – “half-Dane.”
Archina — The usual feminine form of Archibald; although is a German name in origin, it took strongest root in Scotland. Nowadays, its pet-form Archie is more common, and used across Britain. Archina (a contracted form of the original Archibaldina), however, remains uncommon.
Beathag — diminutive form of Gaelic beatha “life.”
Dolina — A simplified form of Donaldina, the Scottish feminine form of Donald. Its Gaelic forms are Doileag, Doilìona and Doilidh.
Ferelith — An Anglicized form of the Gaelic Forbhlaith, “true sovereignty.” It was the name of one of the two heiresses of an early thirteenth-century Earl of Atholl. Other forms include Forflissa, Fernelith and Forveleth. It does not seem to have survived the Middle Ages, but was re-adopted in the late nineteenth century. The novel Ferelith (1903) by Victor Hay, the 21st Earl of Errol, is probably responsible for making the name a little better known. Errol bestowed the name upon his own daughter a year later—Lady Rosemary Constance Ferelith Hay (1904–44). Lady Anne Ferelith Fenella Bowes-Lyon (1917–80), later Princess Anne of Denmark, was a niece of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.
Fingal — The name in Irish myth of the Scottish giant who built the Giant’s Causeway so he could fight Finn McCool in Ulster, and—after being tricked by Finn’s wife Una—hotfooted it back to Scotland, ripping up the Causeway behind him as he went. He gave his name to Fingal’s Cave, immortalized in Felix Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture (1830) — commonly known just as Fingal’s Cave. In Gaelic, Fingal’s name is Fionnghall — fionn “white” + gall “stranger.”
Islay — a modern Scottish name, taken from the name of the island, known for a single malt whisky produced there. Its Gaelic name is Ìle, although the ultimate origin of the name is uncertain. It may be a combination of the Old Norse name Yula + ey “island.”
Macbeth — Anglicized form of the Scots Gaelic Macbeatha — mac “son” + beatha “life.” Although now regarded as a surname—and forever associated with the infamous Scottish king immortalized by Shakespeare in his eponymous tragedy—Macbeth is actually a traditional personal name.
Morag — Scottish pet-form of Mòr, an ancient Gaelic name, “great.” Morag, is the name of an alleged monster that lives in Loch Morar, first sighted in 1887. There are also the Katie Morag children’s books by Mairi Hedderwick.
Talarican — The name of an eighth-century Pictish bishop and saint, also known as Tarkin and Tarquin. Little is known about him, and the fact that there is more than one well dedicated to him, such as St. Tarkin’s Well at Fordyce, Aberdeenshire, hints there might be more to him than meets the eye.
Vanora — a Scottish form of Gaynor, a form of Guinevere. Vanora’s Grave in Meigle, Scotland, is a grass-covered mound in front of which two carved Pictish stones of Christian date are known to have once stood.
A version of this blog appeared previously at Nook of Names.
Do you have a favorite Scottish names?
Last week marked the 50th anniversary of ‘Doctor Who‘, the highly anticipated special anniversary episode watched by avid fans (or Whovians) worldwide. The show captivated audiences from the start with its’ creativity and imaginative story lines that attracted viewers. The last of his race, the Doctor travels through time and space in his blue police box spaceship the TARDIS , regenerating each time he dies.
He travels with many different companions, many of whom are beloved by fans and have received their own spin-off shows, but the true heart of the show is the Doctor. With each regeneration the Doctor has the same memories but a distinct and different personality, meaning that each actor can put their unique stamp on the role, and all have become household names. If you’re a fan, perhaps you may like to honor your child with the name of your favorite Doctor.
William Hartnell (1963-1966)
His Doctor was an “amiable-yet-tetchy patriarch”. William is an enduring classic – and very popular, currently #5 in the U.S. Meaning ‘resolute protection’, there are plenty of Williams (and Wills) to inspire parents. Hartnell however has never charted so would be very distinctive, and comes with great short form Hart.
Patrick Troughton (1966-1969)
Thanks to St Patrick‘s day, Patrick has a rather Irish feel. It has never fallen out of the top 200 in the U.S and has the benefit of feeling equal parts friendly and warm and preppy and noble. Patrick Troughton’s portrayal of the Doctor was as an endearing “cosmic hobo” type.
Jon Pertwee (1970-1974)
During Jons’ stint as Doctor the character was exiled to Earth. His scientifically minded Doctor has been described as “an active crusader with a penchant for action and fancy clothes”. The name Jon is much less popular than Jonathan or the traditional spelling John, but feels like a sleeker and more modern choice.
Tom Baker is one of the more beloved actors to play the Doctor – his trademark long striped scarf is iconic among Whovians. He was often brooding and aloof but had an eccentric style and whimsical charm. Tom is a short, friendly feeling name which consistently ranked in the top 200 in the U.S until 1969, when it began to fall rapidly. Longer form Thomas has never been out of the top 100 though. Surname/occupational name Baker feels more current, but is much less popular.
Peter Davison embodied a more vulnerable, reserved Doctor. The name Peter means ‘rock’ and is currently at its lowest ebb in the U.S, ranked at #205 in 2012. Peter is nonetheless an enduring classic and will likely remain in popular use for years to come. While Peter has been in regular use for centuries, surname Davison (meaning David‘s son) first appeared on the SSA charts in 1980 and is rarely used.
No relation to Tom, this Baker‘s Doctor was flamboyant, brash and overbearing. Colin is a short form of Nicholas and an Irish name meaning ‘pup’, and has a steady history of use, slowly climbing for a number of years. Irish actor Colin Farrell has likely been the biggest positive influence in recent years.
Sylvester McCoy was initially comedic, but became one of the darkest and most manipulative of the Doctors. The name Sylvester tends to bring to mind whiskers and tweety birds or the muscled action hero, both at odds with a name meaning ‘wood or forest’. It has been falling in popularity, eclipsed by the fast rising McCoy in 2010. This Irish name meaning ‘fire’ is currently benefiting from a love of all names Mc, and the positive association with the phrase “the real McCoy”.
Paul McGann (1996)
Another Mc name, although lacking the panache that McCoy has. While McGann is not a likely name choice, Paul has been in use since ancient times. It means ‘small’ but the number of influential Pauls to look up to is anything but. While Paul has never been in the top ten on the boys SSA list, it has also never been out of the top 200 – yet. This Doctor was debonair, with an enthusiasm that hid an old soul.
Christopher Eccleston (2005)
Christopher Eccleston was chosen to bring the Doctor back to television screens in 2005. He embodied an intense yet enigmatic leather-jacket-wearing Doctor. The name Christopher is another well loved classic. In the U.S, he was a top ten name for four decades. The variety of possible nicknames help to keep Christopher feeling current – Chris being a classic choice, Topher a modern one and Kit and Kip funky ones.
David Tennant (2005-2010)
David Tennant tops the polls as viewers favorite Doctor, his charismatic, witty and light-hearted portrayal causing his Doctor to be voted the “coolest character on UK television”. Tennant has the makings of a good modern hero name, but as a word name it’s meaning will probably mean it’s most often used in the middle position. David however suffers no such problem. A Hebrew name meaning ‘beloved’, David has long been a popular choice.
On this list of popular, classic boys names, Matthew (or Matt) can certainly hold his own. Almost everyone knows a Matt – he’s familiar and likable, like an old friend. Smith has a different feel, a little more mature, preppy and serious. Actor Matt Smith has brought a youthful exuberance to the role – and made bow ties cool.
Peter Capaldi (2014)
We’re yet to see what fresh spin this Peter will bring to the role. Maybe in the next few years we’ll start to see the name Capaldi in birth announcements if he does the role justice.
Who is your favorite Doctor, and would you honor him in your child’s name?
Brooke Cussans – better known on the Nameberry forums as bluejuniper – is based in Melbourne, Australia and is the author of name blog Baby Name Pondering. She especially loves rare and unusual names.