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Category: guest blogger

African Names: A report from Kenya

africa

Kayla Lyn Bronder, as a volunteer Public Health Officer at the St. Camillus Hospital in Karango, Kenya, had the opportunity to closely observe the baby naming practices of the Luo culture, and we appreciate her sharing them with us. During her eight month stint, Kayla developed the Nyatike Jigger Eradication Campaign to assist those in the community affected by the parasitic flea known as a Jigger.  For more information on the project, visit her blog: kaylainkenya.blogspot.comKayla will be returning to Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans in July.

In Luo culture, the naming of a child is an important and yet strangely flexible process. Unlike American parents, Luo parents often wait days or even weeks before naming their baby. And while the first name is a traditionally Christian or “Western” name, the second name usually indicates the time, weather, or conditions of the child’s birth. Finally, the father’s name (in our context, the last name) is often overlooked and only used for official documents.

For example, a little boy born at noon time could be named something like Michael (Christian name) Ochieng (O for a boy, -chieng for “noon time”).

A baby girl born while it is raining could be named Vivianne (Western name) Akoth (A for a girl, -koth for rain)

My Luo name is Adhiambo. A for a girl, -dhiambo because I was born in the late afternoon.

The majority of children are named along those lines: Don, Tony, Stephan, Joseph, Mercy, Faith, Camilla, Fenny, followed by Oluoch, Oriri, Odhiambo, Akinyi, Apiyo, Adongo, and so on and so forth.

Occasionally parents feel inspired by athletes, musicians, or world leaders and name their children Clinton, Reagan, and countless Barack Obamas, and right alongside our great American presidents are their beautiful wives Hillary and Michelle. I haven’t met too many Georges or Lauras, but I try not to read too much into that.

Unfortunately, some parents make drastically horrible decisions when it comes to naming their children. My (least) favorites have included Violence, Morphine, and Dotcom. Thankfully for Luo children, they mostly go by their Luo names, so they need not dwell on the cruel miscalculations of their families.

The final interesting realization I’ve come to concerning the Luo child naming process is the powerful flexibility of the whole ordeal. With hundreds of babies born at home each day in impoverished conditions, the practices of birth certificates, embroidered baby blankets, birth announcements, etc. remain foreign oddities. So a baby’s name often evolves and changes until something sticks.

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posted by: Nephele View all posts by this author
Jewish baby names

By Nephele

Yiddish names have a rich history, rooted in an older generation of Jewish people belonging to the Ashkenazic (from Germany and Eastern Europe) community. The Yiddish language evolved during medieval times from High German (influenced by Hebrew and some eastern European languages), and the word “Yiddish” itself literally means “Jewish.” Genealogists familiar with old U.S. Federal Census records will have noticed many a census record where the census taker recorded an immigrant’s language as being “Jewish” when it more properly should have been recorded as “Yiddish.”

While many fondly associate Yiddish names with their beloved grandparents and great-grandparents, Yiddish is nonetheless making a comeback. California‘s San Francisco Bay area is home to Der Bay, a widely circulated Anglo-Yiddish newsletter of events, and such movies as Fiddler on the Roof and the animated An American Tail (both featuring Yiddish-named characters) are fondly familiar to mainstream America.

Accounting for the many spelling variations of Yiddish names is the fact that Yiddish is a language written in Hebrew letters, which then may be transliterated into the letters of the Roman alphabet for English language readers and speakers. In Yiddish names, “creative spellings” (a frequent complaint on Internet baby name discussion boards) are not only common, but necessary!

Here are some Yiddish names (with their variations) worth considering:

GIRLS

BIELKA, BIELKE — “beautiful, white.”

BLIMA, BLUMA — “flower.”

BREINDEL –”brunette.”

CHANI– derived from Chanah, Hannah, mother of the prophet Samuel in the Bible.

CHAVA, CHAVELE, KHAVA, KHAVE – “life,” the name of Adam‘s wife (known as Eve in English).

DAVRUSHA –“ form of Deborah, the Biblical prophetess and judge.

FREIDEL– “joy.”

GOLDA, GOLDE — “gold.”

HINDA, HINDE –  “hind, doe.”

HODEL — form of Hadassah, the Hebrew name of the heroine Esther in the Bible.

KAILA, KAYLA, KEILA –  possibly from the Hebrew Kelila: “crown.”

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Continuing her exploration of motion picture award names,  one of our favorite guest bloggers, Abby Sandel, creator of the popular site Appellation Mountain , looks beyond Hollywood to find some interesting names associated with winners at Cannes, Berlin and Britain award ceremonies.

Marquee-worthy baby names are all the rage, with choices ranging from the Top Ten Ava to surnames like Harlow.  Searching past Academy Award winners can provide inspiration for baby names, from the glamorous to the unusual.

But what about all those other Award shows?  Oscar may be king in the US, but elsewhere, actors and directors compete for Goyas, Bears, BAFTAs, Ariels and, of course, the prestigious Palme d’Or at Cannes.

The following names are culled from award winners from across the globe, but proceed with caution.  Just like not every Oscar-winning character makes for a worthy name sake, that remains true for this list.

GIRLS

ALIDA:              1960’s award-winning French film The Long Absence was one of many starring roles for Italian actress Alida Valli.  She often was billed by her surname as VALLI.

CALYPSO:          Neither an actress nor a character, the Calypso was the name of the ship used by Jacques Cousteau in the celebrated 1956 The Silent World, a documentary and early work by famed director Louis Malle.

CANDELARIA:      The first Mexican film to achieve widespread international acclaim, Maria Candelaria starred Dolores del Río, the first Latin American actress to make it big in Hollywood.  The movie was released in 1943, but wasn’t screened at Cannes until post-World War II.

GERTRUDE:         1946’s La Symphonie Pastorale is a French film based on a novel.  Gertrude is a blind orphan adopted by a pastor.  Both her foster father and stepbrother fall for her.  Drama follows.  The luminous Michèle Morgan starred as Gertrude – and would later lose out on the starring role in Casablanca.

KESA:               Japan’s first post-war international hit was 1953’s Gate of Hell.  The story of a samurai and Lady Kesa, the woman he rescues propelled Machiko Ky? to stardom.  She went on to work with Akira Kurosawa and Kenji Mizoguchi.

LILIA:                Mexican actress Lilia Prado graduated from beauty contests to the big screen.  Nominated for Ariel awards, she worked with Luis Buñuel on three different films.

LISBETH:           Danish actress Lisbeth Movin starred in 1945 war drama The Red Meadows. Decades later, she has a small role in 1987’s Academy Award-winning Babette’s Feast.

LUCIENNE:        Not an actor at all, but the jeweler who designed the original Palme d’Or award for the Cannes Film Festival.

MAGALI:            Turkish-French actress Magali Noël was best known for her work with Italian director Federico Fellini, including appearing as Fanny in 1960’s legendary La dolce vita.  She also scored early French rock’n’roll hits as a singer in the 1950s.

MARPESSA:        Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the part-Filipino, part-African-American Marpessa Dawn starred as Eurydice in 1959’s Black Orpheus.

MAI:                 Swedish actress Mai Zetterling starred in Ingmar Bergman’s 1944 Torment.

SERAFINA:          Decades before Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner chose Seraphina for their second daughter, French director Marcel Camus made Black Orpheus in Brazil in 1959.  A truly international production that would garner recognition at Cannes as well as an Academy Award and a BAFTA, Serafina was one of the characters.

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International Baby Names

To commemorate the Chinese New Year, which launches the Year of the Tiger on February 14th, today’s guest blogger Michael, aka Mai-kuh, a keen first-hand observer of Chinese culture, reflects on some of the idiosyncracies of international name exchange.

Several years ago, I visited a Chinese friend, Wu, who was completing a business degree in Virginia. We had originally met almost ten years prior in China, when we studied together during my college semester abroad in a city near Shanghai. Even as a college student in China, Wu had been something of an addict when it came to American popular culture, casually sprinkling his English conversation with slang expressions picked up from counterfeit DVDs of Friends. But I was still shocked when, visiting Wu in his Virginia dorm room, he proudly showed me a picture of his newborn son back in Shanghai.

“He’s so cute!”, I gushed. “What’s his name?”

Larry.”

Larry? Short for Lawrence?”

“No, just Larry. Well, he has a Chinese name of course,” Wu quickly explained, “but I decided to make Larry his English name. It’s handsome, don’t you think?”

Whatever your particular feelings about the merits of the name Larry for a Chinese infant, Wu’s story captures something of the capricious way that people in mainland China often choose their English names, should they decide they need one. And these days, many Chinese in large cities — even if they don’t ever plan to leave China — decide to pick a Western “nickname” for ease of doing business with foreigners, for fun, or to be fashionable.

A Chinese student in Beijing or Shanghai might choose his or her English name in high school or college (and presumably, Larry will have the freedom someday to change to a new English name if he so chooses). When I spent a summer working at a financial firm in Shanghai, it was mandatory for all Chinese employees to use their English names — even in conversation with their Chinese coworkers. The only “Claude” I’ve ever known was a 22 year-old Shanghai native in the cubicle next door.

The process by which Chinese parents name their children is anything but simple. Chinese given names are generally chosen for meaning, sometimes with the consultation of a naming expert who ensures the name is auspicious according to Chinese astrology.

By contrast, the process of a young Chinese student choosing his or her own English name is an exercise in fun and cultural freedom. Chinese shares few linguistic similarities with English, so the typical Chinese name has few built-in clues to suggest its English equivalent. Unlike an “Alexandrei” from Moscow who might use the English name “Alex,” Zhang from Beijing is under no obligation to chose “Johnny” as the closest approximation.

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frenchname3

To check out the latest trends in French baby names, we turned to a true expert, Stéphanie Rapoport, creator of the popular site meilleursprénoms.com and author of L’Officiel des Prénoms 2010.  For anyone conversant in French, the site is filled with interesting lists, charts and analysis on French baby names.

And for those whose high school French is as shaky as mine, we asked Stéphanie to give us a recap, which she’s been kind enough to do:

Baby names in France have never been shorter: exit Sébastien, Alexandre, Frédéric, Caroline, Nathalie, Angélique—the popular names of the 1980’s.  Emma, Léa, Clara now take the limelight as the most popular feminine names, while Lucas, Enzo and Nathan dominate the masculine ranking tables.

As a result, diminutives such as Lou, Tom, Théo and Alex are doing wonders.  Few analysts would have predicted such a phenomenon in a culture which used to disdain diminutives as merely “half names.

Ending sounds are also shaping to a large extent what becomes trendy and what does not.  Fashionable feminine names tend to end in the vowel ‘a’ (Emma, Sara, Léa, Clara, Lola, Éva, Louna and Lina being in the forefront).  Then there’s the explosion caused by Lilou, a new name which has led to the discovery of Louane and renewed interest in hyphenated names such as Lou-Anne.  For boys, names with ‘eo’ vowel juxtapositions abound, as in Léo, Théo, Mathéo, also o-endings (Hugo, Enzo) and names ending in ‘an’—Nathan, Ethan, Kylian, Evan, Esteban.

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