Category: guest blog
To commemorate the Feast of Purim this weekend and the other major Jewish holidays coming up on the calendar, we turned to Israel-resident Hannah Katsman for an overview of current trends in Israeli baby names.
When Israelis are choosing names for their babies, they tend to focus on meaning as much as the sound of the name. And even though Israel has become more westernized, most parents continue to choose Hebrew names.
It’s true that most traditional biblical names like Rivka (Rebecca) and Moshe (Moses) cannot be considered trendy except in the most religious circles. Yiddish and other ethnic names are out, as are the feminization of biblical names like Israela, Raphaela and Shimona or Simona–though Gavriella is one that is coming back.
The most popular Israeli baby names are short, rarely over two syllables, and they are often unisex.
There are differences among the various Jewish communities in Israel, with some names found only in secular communities and others only in religious ones. Secular Israelis don’t usually give middle names, while religious ones do. They might choose a modern name for the first name, and a more traditional one for the second name, after a relative.
Trends in Israeli baby names include nature, weather words (boy—Sa’ar, storm), and Israeli place names (unisex—Yarden, Jordan). Other popular themes are water (unisex—Agam, lake), light, music (unisex—Tzlil, note), animals, and angels like Uriel. A few biblical names have made a comeback or stayed in style, including Daniel (unisex), Noa (girl), Rachel (girl), and Assaf (boy).
Mermaid names have made it big in recent years. There’s Madison, Darryl Hannah’s character from Splash. Disney christened The Little Mermaid Ariel in 1989, and she and her princess friends are now found on little girls’ gear everywhere you look.
Deema – From the new Nickelodeon series Bubble Guppies, about a group of preschoolers and their adventures with teacher Mr. Grouper
Diana – From 2003 movie Mermaids, about a trio of fish-tailed sisters who set off to avenge the death of their merman father
June – From 2003 movie Mermaids
Molly – Another of the Bubble Guppies
Muirgen – An Irish story says that she was brought from the sea and baptized, and in some tellings, became a saint
Nixie – Yet another name for a water-dwelling spirit
Ondine – A German water sprite who marries a mortal, but never gets her happily ever after. In 2009, Colin Farrell played a fisherman who makes a surprising catch in the movie Ondine; Audrey Hepburn rose to fame playing Ondine on Broadway in 1954.
Oona – Another of the Bubble Guppies
Venus – From 2003 movie Mermaids, and known for posing on a shell in the Botticelli painting
Names That Would Fit a Mermaid
When British Prime Minister David Cameron’s wife Samantha was due to deliver their baby recently, there was a flurry of publicity on both sides of the Atlantic concerning the odds being given by bookmakers on various name possibilities. Since this practice is unknown in the US, we put a shout out for a Britberry to explain it, and ‘Auburn’ answered the call.
On-track betting agencies, or “bookies”, have been around for decades, but it was with the legalisation of high street bookmakers that the industry boomed in the UK. Now, the main betting agencies – William Hill, Ladbrokes, Coral and the Irish Paddy Power – not only take bets on the outcome of sporting events, but also novelty bets on the winners of TV reality shows and, most recently, what name would be given to British PM David Cameron‘s new little girl.
It would take someone with only the most casual of name interests to see that Ladbrokes sorely needs a Nameberry intervention. Its favourites were Lucy, Daisy and Samantha. Lovely names, certainly, but the first two are clearly much too popular for the Camerons, with Lucy at #14 and Daisy at #25 in the UK. The name of their older daughter, Nancy, isn’t rare but is nowhere near that level of popularity. The names the couple chose for their sons Ivan, who died tragically at age six last year, and Arthur Elwen, who goes by his middle name, are downright obscure. As for Samantha, the likelihood of Sam Cam giving her second daughter her name in the first slot, when that passing down of names is fairly rare in Britain anyway, is … well, let’s just say I wouldn’t bet on it.
Certain other companies must have been consulting with Pam and Linda, because William Hill did much better – they gave Florence odds of 16/1: the baby was named Florence Rose Endellion, the last the Arthurian name of the patron saint of the Cornwall village where the child was born. Unfortunately, no bets were placed in her favour, but given their history of comparative accuracy you might want to put your money on Nick Clegg being Flo Cameron’s godfather (odds of 6/1).
Why has this trend of baby name betting sprung up? It’s all about what sells, and celebrity certainly does that. Novelty bets like these attract people who have no interest in more traditional wagers. It’s the same reason that newspapers report the odds so eagerly, too; celebrity babies make good news, but you can’t just publish an article speculating on names with no evidence. It’s beneficial to both parties for the media to quote the betting stores as though they were an authority on etymology. The pinch of salt these articles have to be taken with is indicated by the fact that one newspaper claimed Lucy was #12 on the top baby names of 2009 … even though statistics for the whole year of 2009 haven’t been released by the government yet.
It’s not just names that the bookies are taking an interest in, though – Paddy Powers has novelty bets on the first country to have their head of state confirm that they’ve been in contact with aliens, when the Hadron collider will reach full power and which will be the next volcano to erupt.
Making money aside, several things imply that the betting agencies just like a bit of a giggle over their novelty bets – odds of 500/1 that the panda born recently on a Chinese reserve will be named Paddy Power suggest they don’t take themselves too seriously. If you fancy a high risk flutter such as that, you could also bet on odds of 1000/1 that baby Florence will grow up to lead the Labour party (imagine those dinner table debates), and before the release of the iPad you might have considered the 100/1 possibility that it would be called ‘iCan’t believe it’s not a newspaper.’
‘Auburn‘ is a British teen who enjoys linguistics, and by extension is a devoted name lover. She is also passionate about film, theatre and literature, and finds all three to be worthy sources of name inspiration.
AND PLEASE NOTE THAT AS OF TODAY THERE IS A BRAND NEW FORUM ON THE MESSAGE BOARDS ESPECIALLY RESERVED FOR WRITERS WHO WANT TO TALK ABOUT NAMES!
Elisabeth Wilborn, creator of one of our absolute favorite blogs, You Can’t Call It “It,” introduces us to the wide world of great Italian girls’ names beyond Isabella. Elisabeth, a writer, artist, and mom, lives in Brooklyn, New York.
You don’t have to be Italian to fawn all over Isabella.
She’s lyrical, historical, and even practical with nicknames Bella and Izzy at the ready. It’s no surprise that she and cohorts Olivia and Sophia would be storming up the charts, now assuming spots 1, 3, and 4. But are these the only options for little girls if you want to honor your Italian heritage?
Let’s take a look at what people are choosing in New Jersey. As housewife fame has evidenced, they’re heavy on Italian pride.
Top picks for the state include:
Adriana (#64), Adrianna (#95), Angelina (#30), Ariana (#46), Arianna (#43),
Gabriella (12), Gianna (#11), Julia (#19- Giulia in Italy), Isabella (#1), Juliana (#49), Julianna (#63), Maria (#65), Natalia (#72), Olivia (#2), Sophia (#3), Valentina (#92), Victoria (#22- Vittoria in Italy).
Italian-American mothers often lament that all the good names are taken by their family and friends.
I assure you the options are vast!
If you’ll be summering with Nonna in Toscana, you may want a choice that is both well loved there and reads undeniably Italian here (rankings are from Italy in 2008): Alessia (#8), Chiara (#5), Federica (#21), Francesca (#9), Giada
(#13), Giorgia (#6), Ludovica (#27), Ilaria (#25), Vittoria (#26).
Italy also has a few popular names that wouldn’t necessarily scream Carbonara: Alice (#10), Anna (#11), Beatrice (#18), Elisa (#12), Emma (#14), Greta (#14), Marta (#29), Martina (#3), Matilde (#15), Nicole (#30), Noemi (#19), Sara (#4). Note Alice and Beatrice are pronounced ah-LEE-che and be-ah-TREE-che.
A triumvirate of recent Cosimas, Claudia Schiffer’s child, Sofia Coppola’s baby, and a Windsor 22nd in line to the throne, remind us that there are still other genuine Italian names to cull from the history books. Some are quite antique, but just as we have “old lady chic” here, so too do they in Italy.
I urge you to take a chance on an ancient beauty:
They snap, crackle, and pop—which is one reason why alliterative names are so widely used for the characters in children’s stories—from nursery rhymes like ‘Wee Willie Winkie’ to picture books like Mike Mulligan’s Steam Shovel to Young Adult book characters like Harry Potter‘s Luna Lovegood.
Here, the distinguished name scholars Don and Alleen Nilsen present some of the many examples of alliteration, consonance, rhyming and other wordplay they have found in the names of kid-lit characters.
We were just pondering The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss, Leo the Late Bloomer by Robert Kraus, The Tale of Benjamin Bunny by Beatrix Potter, Peter Pan by James Barrie, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, and Maniac McGee by Jerry Spinelli and we were wondering how often authors repeat the sounds of their vowels and consonants in their character names.
We soon thought about Lewis Carroll’s Pig and Pepper, his Frog and the Footman, and his Tweedledum and Tweedledee, and this led our thoughts to The White Knight and Humpty Dumpty two more characters from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Then we thought of a set of characters in Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth that includes The Duke of Definition, the Minister of Meaning, the Earl of Essence, and the Count of Connotation.
The protagonist in Yann Martel’s The Life of Pi is Piscine Patel. His name is shortened to Pi Patel, and he has to explain to people that pi is 3.14 as he draws a large circle and slices it in two with a diameter to evoke a basic lesson of geometry.
In Sherman Alexie’s The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, there is a John-John. In Cynthia Kadohata’s Weedflower there is a Takao who goes by the nickname of “Tak-Tak.” In Robert Cormier’s After the First Death there is a General named Mark Marchand, and in his The Chocolate War, there is Larry LaSalle who changes his name to “Lieutenant Laurence LaSalle” when he becomes famous. In Polly Horvath’s The Canning Season, there is a character named Aunt Pen Pen, and one named Ratchet Ratchet Clark.
In Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, the only girl in the Salamander Army is named Petra Arkanian, but she is called Baby Butt and Petra the Poet by her friends and in the Lemony Snicket books, two of the guardians of the Baudelaire children are named Montgomery Montgomery, and Dewey Denouement.