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The question of the week: How would you go about honoring a namesake?

In choosing a name, there’s nothing more meaningful than paying tribute to a beloved family member, ancestor or friend.  Namesake names can connect your child to her heritage, and convey the essence of a loved one, bestowing their most admirable qualities on your child.  Personal heroes of the past or present can form the basis of worthy namesake names as well.

Would you approach this by:

  • Using the name verbatim as a first name?
  • Modernizing or modifying it in some way?  Changing Mildred to Millicent of Millie, for example?  Finding another name with a similar meaning?
  • Using it as a middle name?
  • Considering the honoree’s middle or last name if you didn’t love their first?
  • Would you ever consider making your son a Junior or a II or a III?
  • Would you use the name of an ancestor you never knew?
  • Would you consider the name of a personal hero?

So have you honored a namesake in your child’s name–or would you in the future?

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Antiquarian Names: Colonial craftsmen names

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For a number of years, when I wasn’t writing about names, I was writing about antiques and collectibles for a syndicated newspaper column.  But of course when I was thinking about antiques, I was still also thinking about names.

Looking at the field of antique furniture, for example, I found that when it came to early British cabinetmakers, the names were relatively unexciting.  George Hepplewhite. Robert Adams. Thomas Chippendale. Thomas Sheraton.  Nothing too juicy there.

But with the Early American cabinetmakers and clockmakers it was quite a different story.  Lots of antiquated Biblical names, more than one Chauncey, Ebenezer and Lemuel, a few virtue names rarely heard in modern times (Prudent, Noble), a couple of Latinate names and a Greek god—in other words a variegated picture of American Colonial and Federal era nomenclature:

Some prime examples:

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4ofjuly2

With apologies to our dear Britberries, today we honor some of the heroes in the struggle of the US to gain its independence from the mother country, along with some of the more interestingly named Signers of the Declaration of Independence.

REVOLUTIONARY PERIOD HEROES

AARON Burr—fought in the War for Independence before he served as Vice President and fought his famous duel

ALEXANDER Hamilton—served as aide-de-camp to General George Washington during the Revolutionary War, before his later accomplishments

ANTHONY Wayne – won major recognition for bravery as a general in the American Revolution, also known as (oops!) “Mad” Anthony Wayne

ARTEMAS Ward —  an important general in the war and a Congressman from Massachusetts

AUSTIN Dabney – a slave who became a private in the Georgia militia and fought the British

BETSY (Elizabeth) Ross—even though she well might not have made the first American flag

CASIMIR Pulaski – Polish-born “Father of the American Cavalry” under Washington

CRISPUS Attucks – a fugitive slave who became the first casualty of the Revolution when he was shot and killed in the Boston Massacre

DEBORAH Sampson — first known woman to impersonate a man in order to join the army and take part in combat

EBENEZER Learned – a brigadier general in the Continental Army

ENOCH Poor –another brigadier general, called by Washington “an officer of distinguished merit”

ESEK Hopkins – a Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Navy during the war

ETHAN Allen – war hero who formed the Green Mountain Boys and was responsible for the capture of Fort Ticonderoga

EVAN Shelby, Jr – a Revolutionary War militia leader

HAYM Salomon – Polish-born Jewish immigrant who played a key role in financing the Revolution

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FATHER’S DAY NAMES: Celebrity Dads

elizabeth taylor father

Once more this year we commemorate Father’s Day with a list of some notable names of the paternal parents of celebrities of various times and places, with some truly unusual examples, as in Archulus (Truman Capote) and Belmont (Humphrey Bogart). As with the moms we displayed on Mother’s Day, it turns out that quite a  number of past (and a few present) notables have had Dads with interesting, and sometimes surprising, names.  Here are some examples to prove the point:

ABRAHAMBOB DYLAN

ALFRED –  JOHN LENNON

ALLAN HERMAN MELVILLE

ANDREJ –   ANDY WARHOL

ANDREW –   ROY ROGERS

ARCHULUS —  TRUMAN CAPOTE

AUGUSTINE —  GEORGE WASHINGTON

BAILEYRAY CHARLES, MAYA ANGELOU

BELMONT —  HUMPHREY BOGART

CASSIUS —  MOHAMMED ALI

CLARENCE –   ERNEST HEMINGWAY

CLYDE JOHN WAYNE

CORNELIUS —  TENNESSEE WILLIAMS

DELBERT —    GENE AUTRY

ELIAS —   WALT DISNEY, CARY GRANT

EMILE –   HENRI MATISSE

ERNEST–   ROBERT RAUSCHENBERG

FERNANDO —  LUCIANO PAVAROTTI

FRANCIS —   ELIZABETH TAYLOR (shown)

FRASERMICHELLE OBAMA

GADLA –   NELSON MANDELA

GERARD —  LAURENCE OLIVIER

GERRIT –   REMBRANDT VAN RIJN

GUSTAV —   ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER

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Baby Name Patrick: The name of the day

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This year for St. Patrick’s Day, instead of the usual long list of Irish choices, we thought we’d take a deeper look at the namesake name itself.

You may or may not know this, but the patron saint whose name became almost synonymous with Ireland was neither Irish nor born with the name Patrick.  He was in fact a fourth century Briton christened Sucat.  His dramatic story includes being kidnapped as a boy by pirates and taken to Ireland at the age of 16, where he worked as a slave shepherd for six years.  When he eventually escaped, he trained as a priest, probably in France, determined to return to Ireland to convert the pagan population. It was after he was ordained that he changed his name to Patrick, Latin for ‘nobleman.’

He went to Tara, the seat of the Irish kings and pagan Druid priests, whom he debated and overcame, supposedly plucking a shamrock from the ground and using its three leaves to explain the Trinity to the kings.  He then traveled the country making further converts until, by the time of his death in 463, most of Ireland had been converted to Christianity.

But instead of his name spreading as well, the opposite happened: the names Patrick and the Irish form Pádraig were held in such high esteem that they were not used as first names until the 17th century (this was not true in Scotland, where is it was common in early times).  But by the 19th century, Patrick was so widespread that it came to be considered a generic Irish name.

This was true in America as well, as it was especially associated with the Irish immigrants who arrived in great numbers from 1840 through the early years of the 20th century.  Flashing forward to today, where does Patrick stand?

Well, it’s still in the Top 20 in Ireland (#19), but in the U.S. it currently ranks #127, the lowest it’s been since 1928, having dropped out of the Top 100 six years ago.  (Its highpoint was the mid-1960s Pat Boone era, when it reached the Top 30.)  Its steady fall is surprising in view of the  hunky namesakes it’s had over the past few decades—Patrick Swayze dirty danced in 1987 and Patrick Dempsey became McDreamy in 2005.  Plus there are any number of notable football and basketball heroes for inspiration, and of course the towering historical figure, Patrick Henry.

Most contemporary Patricks are called Patrick, as old nicknames like the unisex Pat (thank SNL for that) and Patsy and the Irish Paddy have faded, not to mention the occasionally used Rick.  We think that, taken in full, Patrick has not only regained some of its old energy and spunk, but is beginning to embody its definition– and is also sounding patrician.

And in addition to the original Latin Patricus (also used by the Dutch) and authentic Gaelic Pádraig and Páraic, other attractive international  versions abound—the French Patrice (though Patrick is heard there as well), the Italian Patrizio and Spanish Patricio, the Polish Patek and the Slavic Patrik—all worthy of consideration.

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