Category: Girl Names
At this time of year, catalogs flood the house every day – the poor mail deliverer! – only to be promptly thrown into the recycling bin.
One of the few exceptions is the Sundance Catalog. It’s not as if I ever order anything from there, though if my husband is reading this, he should know that I’d be very happy to find any of their earrings under the Christmas tree.
It’s more the image and the lifestyle that attract me, at least for the length of time it takes to eat a peanut butter sandwich. Relaxed yet chic, feminine as well as outdoorsy, the Sundance Catalog depicts the kind of woman I’d be if only I spent my time rambling around a ranch rather than typing on a sofa.
What does any of this have to do with baby names? As usual, everything, as the Sundance Catalog includes lots of girls’ names and also nature names that are in keeping with its cosmopolitan Western bourgeois bohemian aesthetic.
Here, for example, are some of the girls’ names Sundance uses for blouses, boots, and bracelets — but that might work just as well for your own little cosmopolitan cowgirl:
A cartoon in a recent New Yorker features a little girl and her mother surveying Halloween costumes in a shop window. “I want to be whichever Disney princess is the most badass,” the girl says.
Badass princess is an image that not only appeals to contemporary little girls but to their parents when choosing a name.
Like the hipster cowboy names we wrote about recently, badass princess names are appealing not so much because of their sound or their style but because of the complicated image they convey. These are girl names that are both decidedly feminine and rooted in tradition, but are not at all conventional or conservative. They’re creative and edgy, but not invented or unorthodox like Blue or Bellamy.
The badass princess names are classy and sassy, cosmopolitan yet earthy, chic but never trying too hard. It’s an image that many an urbane parent can embrace for her daughter, and that a little girl can have fun living up to, in Halloween costume and beyond.
Arrietty Clock is a teenage “borrower” from Mary Norton’s classic children’s fantasy book series, The Borrowers. The borrowers are tiny people who live by “borrowing” everyday items from the Big People they call “human beans.” Because of the spirited Arrietty’s curiosity, she and her family have far more adventurous lives than the average borrower. The borrowers’ names have also been “borrowed,” and used in new ways. Arrietty is reminiscent of the word arietta, meaning “little song, a small aria” in Italian. It is also similar to the name Harriet, and the short form Etty. As Aria and Harriet are quite popular, and Etta very hip, Arrietty is one of those invented names which we are half-surprised wasn’t used before the books’ publication.
In J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic fantasy novel, The Lord of the Rings, Arwen Undómiel is an Elven princess, said to be the most beautiful of the last generation of the High Elves. She is the lover of the hero Aragorn, and because she is an immortal, Arwen must sacrifice a great deal to be with her love. In the Elvish Sindarin language created by Tolkien, Arwen is said to mean “noble maiden.” However, Tolkien did not invent the name itself, which is a modern Welsh name. It may be a feminine form of Arwyn, which I have seen translated as “very fair, greatly blessed, splendid.” In the UK, Arwen began charting around the time The Fellowship of the Ring came out, and is currently #654 and rising.
Bellatrix Lestrange is an evil witch in the Harry Potter series, the Dark Lord Voldemort’s most faithful follower. Bellatrix was born into the Black family, and like all members of that clan, she is named after a star. Bellatrix is the common name of Gamma Orionis, a bright star in the constellation of Orion. Its name is Latin for “female warrior.” Bellatrix Lestrange’s name is apt because she is a skilled warrior for Voldemort, and has won many duels. It sounds very usable, because it has the popular Bella in it, and the -trix from hip Beatrix. However, while the Harry Potter character has raised the name’s profile, it’s also a stumbling block, because the character is evil – and not in a cool “strong yet misunderstood woman” way. Bellatrix is a fanatical racist with a love for murder and torture, and a starstruck Voldie fangirl with an annoying little-girl voice. So on one hand: great name. On the other: horrible association.
The Lorelei is the name of a famous rock on the River Rhine, and also that of a beautiful water sprite or siren associated with the rock, who is supposed to lure men to their doom. The character of the Lorelei comes from a nineteenth century German ballad which poet Heinrich Heine turned into a poem called Die Lorelei, where a golden-haired siren unwittingly distracts men with her beauty so they crash onto the rocks. The poem has often been set to music and is part of German popular culture. The name Lorelei is a combination of German dialect and Celtic, and means “murmuring rock,” and is the name of the alluring blonde in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, played on screen by Marilyn Monroe. The name also features in garrulous gabfest Gilmore Girls, where both mother and teen daughter share the name Lorelei (the younger goes by Rory). Pronounced LOR-uh-lie, it is #531 in the U.S.
Pollyanna Whittier is the title character of the Pollyanna books by Eleanor H. Porter, an eleven-year-old orphan who is sent to live with her Aunt Polly in New England, where her sunny disposition soon teaches her stern relative, and the whole town, how to play the “Glad Game” – where you always look for something to feel glad about. While many are charmed by the heroine’s upbeat view of life, cynics find her too syrupy and her philosophy simplistic. Because of this, the word Pollyanna has entered our language to mean someone optimistic to the point of naiveté. This would be a difficult name to give a child in many ways, but would make a sunshiney middle, and easily shortens to Polly.
Velvet Brown is the heroine of Enid Bagnold’s novel, National Velvet, about a teenager who rides to victory in the brutally difficult Grand National Steeplechase jump race. The story is about the ability of ordinary people to achieve great things – Velvet is a plain, rather sickly girl from a working-class family, and the horse she wins on is a piebald. The movie version chucks most of this inspiring message aside so they can show a radiantly pretty pre-teen Elizabeth Taylor galloping about on a chestnut thoroughbred. Velvet is a fabric that was originally very expensive to make, and therefore associated with nobility and royalty. The word is from Old French, from the Latin for “tuft, down”, because of velvet’s distinctive texture. It has been used as a name since the nineteenth century, and has been given mostly to girls.
This is an adaptation of a blog on Anna Otto’s site Waltzingmorethanmatilda.com. You can see the full, expanded version here. Anna blogs about a wide variety of Australian names, and Aussie name trends, at Waltzing More Than Matilda. Boys’ names will be coming soon.
It happens all the time.
You’re expecting your first – or second, or third – and the perfect name eludes you. There are lots of possibilities and maybes, but none of them are The Name.
And then along comes a movie, a television show, a celebrity, a song, and that’s it. That’s the name.
The numbers tell us that pop culture is a major influence in baby naming. And yet we resist the idea. A name from a Jane Austen novel? Classic, sophisticated. From a soap opera or a Disney Channel series? Sometimes we’re a little dismissive of those choices.
But here’s the thing about names: we can’t consider them until we are aware that they exist.
This week’s names all come from movies and television, books and blogs. You may have heard them before, but seeing them on the screen could make the names feel fresh, interesting, and just right for a daughter.