Category: invented names
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.
Even if you haven’t read the books, you’ve probably heard of The Hunger Games. The trilogy has topped the bestseller lists, and buzz about the upcoming movie adaptation has been constant for the past few months.
It is the tale of a girl from the wrong side of the tracks who overthrows a cruel and despotic government. Katniss Everdeen becomes the unlikely heroine after she is chosen to fight to the death in a televised game controlled by the all-powerful Capitol. It’s part Greek myth, part reality TV.
Author Suzanne Collins is quite the storyteller, and she’s a masterful namer of characters. Katniss sounds like a smoosh of classics like Katherine and Frances, but the name is borrowed from an edible aquatic plant. Sagittaria, the plant’s Latin name, comes from its arrow-shaped leaves. And wouldn’t you know it? Katniss saves the day through her extraordinary skill with a bow and arrow.
Even if you’re not into sci fi, the series is worth a read for the names alone. In Collins’ post-apocalyptic future, some familiar choices have endured, while other names have been sourced from the past. Many are new, drawn from the changed world in which her characters live. Each of the outlying Districts has a certain specific style.
This list includes minor characters and villains, and they range from the perfectly wearable to the truly out-there.
FELLOW CONTESTANTS & PAST CHAMPIONS
Cato – A willing contestant, from wealthy District 2. In the more affluent Districts, children often train for the Games, hoping for a chance to win riches and glory.
Okay, okay, I know there are people with the surnames Drake and Deacon, Gunner and Ryder, but I don’t think that’s why those names are popular. It’s more that they aren’t conventional first names that’s important, I think, than that they fit any other kind of mold.
In terms of names that convey the new masculine image, the huge surnameish trend is interesting because it makes boys’ names in some ways more formal and traditional than they were before. What sounds more imposing, after all: Jefferson or Jeff? Jacoby or plain old Jake?
It may be the move away from family names – when’s the last time someone you know named their baby a junior? – as well as from religious and ethnic strictures is what makes these new names for boys so appealing to parents. Names like Fletcher and Hayden convey the aura of family lineage and power without any of the nasty obligations: no endless Thanksgiving dinners or visiting Uncle Theodore in the nursing home to make sure you sew up your inheritance.
Rather, you can wear these faux family names as lightly as a Ralph Lauren sweater. And on a similarly shallow note, the surname trend is partly inspired by celebrities and their characters who are often called by their last names: Beckham (a big winner in the 2008 popularity poll), Chandler, and Donovan, for instance.
While these names are all prominent on the 2008 popularity list for boys, many are of course used for girls too. In the past, once a name crossed to the girls’ side, many parents abandoned it for boys, but that’s not happening as much today — a positive development, we think. For a closer look on surname names and gender identity, see our blog on unisex names.
Reid or Reed
Caden, Kaden and bros
Colton and Colten
Reese or Reece (or the Welsh Rhys)
Trip or Tripp
Zayden et al
Tomorrow, new boys’ names imported from around the world.
Names from television and movie Westerns sometimes got a lot more adventurous than Josh and Jesse. In fact, Westerns are responsible for reviving scores of antiquated classics that might otherwise have disappeared completely, along with introducing unconventional animal and word names as firsts. Some Western character names from the classic shows and movies of the 50s and 60s that sound fresh and new, if a bit quirky, today:
The newest Western names draw heavily on the place itself, or on Western-themed words. Some choices that have been used in the post-Bonanza world: