When Matthew McConaughey chose the name Levi for his son, he was, in a subtle way, naming the baby after himself. How so? Because in the New Testament, Matthew and Levi are two names for the same person.
There are many other such pairs of names with close connections that aren’t immediately evident, whether they be different ethnic versions of the same name, double identities for the same person, having historic or literary ties, or as sharers of linguistic elements. Being aware of this can be a useful tool for baby namers seeking not-too-obviously linked twin or sibling names or, like McConaughey, another less egoey version of your or your spouse’s name.
And of course it could also come in handy when looking for a more modern substitute namesake for a fustily-named family member. As much as you may have adored your Grandpa Roland, for example, you still might prefer the more dashing Orlando for your baby boy.
Here are a few examples, though of course there are countless other ethnic-switching possibilities out there:
If you look at the Top 1000 (actually 2000) baby names on the latest Social Security list, you’ll find a rich mix of names with English and Irish and Latin and African roots, but only the sparsest sprinkling of names from the Scandinavian cultures. Aside from Eric and Erica–the only Norse names that have ever really caught on in this country–you have to look pretty far down the list to find a handful of others–Kai, Axel, Annika, Gunnar, Ingrid, Soren–some of them representing just a few hundred babies.
Which means that there’s a whole constellation of names waiting to be discovered–including Norse mythological names. Granted, not all of them would appeal to the American ear, some of them displaying their ungainly Germanic roots (Wigburg, anyone?), others offering pronunciation challenges (similar to that posed by Matt Lauer’s son’s Dutch name Thijs, pronounced Tice), or containing too many accents, or being just generally awkward, like Ansgar or Ragnild. That said, there are still many gems to be uncovered.
Though there are some names or variations found only in either Norway or Sweden or Denmark (Finland is a whole other story), the majority–many of them, such as Gunnar, coming from ancient Norse legend–can be found throughout Scandinavia. Strict traditional patterns of nomenclature–the first son being named for his paternal grandfather, etc–and laws restricting name choices have kept the supply pretty limited, but of late these have relaxed somewhat, and non-traditional names have been working their way in.
When it comes to the most popular names, there is some overlap among the three countries. In 2006-07, the top names in Sweden were William, Lukas and Elias, and Wilma, Maja and Ella; in Norway they were Jonas, Mathias and Magnus, and Thea, Emma and Julie; while in Denmark the top three were Lucas, Mikkel and Magnus, and Sofie, Laura, and Freja. Here are some other choices to consider; those starred are current favorites.