Category: baby name origins
By K. M Sheard of Nook of Names
I have been musing about names which, on the surface, appear to be straightforward adoptions of English words, but are, in fact — in origin at least — entirely unrelated. The most popular name of this kind currently in use is Lily.
Lily — now almost exclusively associated with the flower (so much so that the Wikipedia entry entirely fails to mention its original roots) — actually arose in the Middle Ages as a short-form of Elizabeth — Lylie. This quickly developed its own pet-form — Lillian/Lilian, which has been treated as a name in its own right since at least the 16th Century. It didn’t see much use, though, until the latter 19th Century, when it rapidly became one of the most popular girls’ names across the English-speaking world. And, inevitably, it was usually shortened to Lily. Lily was also very popular in its own right in the early 1900s in the UK; in the US, however — where short and pet-forms often seem to be shunned in favour of the full form — Lily remained relatively rare.
Wednesday, May 25 is a big day for the small screen. After twenty-five years as the reigning queen of daytime television, Oprah Winfrey will broadcast her last show. She’s not headed from retirement – far from it. Ms. Winfrey commands a media empire, from her own television network to magazines to Harpo Productions, responsible for everything from feature films to satellite radio shows.
The story about her given name is well known. Born in rural Mississippi, her aunt chose the name Orpah from the Book of Ruth, and that’s the name recorded on her birth certificate. But Orpah never really stuck, and family and friends morphed the Biblical obscurity into a whole new name, destined for greatness.
Oprah isn’t the only name formed by a happy accident. Sometimes they’re actual errors made by the officials responsible for issuing birth certificates. Basketball player Antawn Jamison was supposed to be named Antwan – the phonetic spelling of Antoine – but his parents decided they liked the mistake.
Invented baby names get a bad rap, but there are a surprising number of mistakes, flukes, and misinterpretations that have led to some well-established names.
Annabel – She first appears in medieval Scotland. Amabel, Mabel, and other names based on Amabilis – an early saint’s name from the Latin for lovable – were common. Annabel appears to be either an error in recording, or possibly a sign that creative baby namers have been at work for centuries.
Aveline – Parents are rediscovering her as something of an Ava-Adeline smoosh, but she was used in medieval England, either from the Germanic element avi – desired, or possibly from the Latin avis – bird. She’s also the forerunner of Evelyn.
Imogen – William Shakespeare’s Cymbeline is loosely based on a real-life king of the Britons. King Cymbeline has a daughter called Imogen – except that Shakespeare almost certainly called her Innogen, from a Gaelic word for maiden. Despite references to Innogen in the Bard’s notes, Imogen is used almost exclusively today.
Jade – She’s an ornamental stone and a popular choice for daughters in recent decades. The Spanish name was originally piedra de ijada – stone of the flank. It was thought that jade could cure ailments of the kidneys. In French, piedra de ijada became l’ejade, and the English interpreted it as le jade. Jade has been the English name for the stone since the 1600s.