Category: Name Nerds
Question of the Week: How and when did you get interested in names?
When you were little, did you love getting new dolls just so you could name them? Did you create large imaginary elaborately-named families?
As a teen, did you obsess about your future children’s names, writing various possibilities in the margins of your notebooks?
Or was it only until you were actually pregnant, when it became a realistic imperative, that you became hooked on names?
What are the best and coolest unusual girls’ names? By best, we mean those that have deep roots, are attractive, can fit into contemporary life, yet are not on the brink of widespread discovery. And by unusual girls’ names, we mean used for 25 or fewer baby girls last year.
Here are our picks:
To guest blogger Kaitlin (Greyer) and others who share her synesthesia, every name has a distinctive color, shape and texture; a fascinating condition she describes for us here.
It seemed an unlikely place for this to happen.
As I recall, I was fifteen years old – sitting in the booth of a local Burger King with my mother as we picked at our burgers and fries, too hot to really eat anything; it was mid-June or July. I had just begun to dabble in my name obsessions, collecting baby name books when I could find them cheap and carefully recording list after list in blank notebooks. It was no surprise to my mother, then, that the unique name of the clerk – Turquoise – had caught my eye. The sound of this name sent a jolt of crimson color straight to my brain. As we sat in the back of the store, talking quietly, I turned to my mother and said:
“Mom, do you ever, like, see a color in your head when you hear a word or a name?”
She paused. Then: “Yes,” she said. “I named you Kaitlin because it’s bright yellow and it makes me think of sunshine. It’s a happy color; I wanted you to be happy.”
“But Kaitlin isn’t yellow,” protested my fifteen-year-old self. “It’s pale lavender and grey, the color of a pearl.” She nodded. “I guess our colors are different.”
This is how it began. We started with her name, my name, the names of my father, grandmother, grandfather, aunts, uncles, and cousins, comparing our respective colors for each. Mom told me about the colors of her current favorite names and the colors of the names she’d considered for me. It developed into a special connection between us, as well as a sort of game: whenever we checked out at a department store or restaurant, we would make special note of the name tag of the person waiting on us. As soon as they were out of earshot, we’d each blurt out a color. “Jane” was chartreuse or eggplant, “Michael” pumpkin or scarlet. Gradually, we discovered that her colors were just that – colors, as though suspended in water or hanging in the air. My colors, on the other hand, had depth. I have a sense of whether a name moves left or right, up or down in my head, or whether it is static. If the name has a dimension, I can describe that, too: some names, like Ella, are two-dimensional, a sheet of colored paper. Others, such as Oliver, are domed; some are even complete spheres. Most names have a texture, often best compared to fabrics, but Christopher is smooth and shiny like the skin of a fruit, and Lydia is sandy and cratered, akin to the face of the moon.
Although I’ve written ten books and a hundred or more nameberry blogs on the subject, I’m happy to say that I still learn something new about names almost every day. And a lot of it comes from our very own nameberry boards.
Often, as my work day is winding down, I’ll spend some time meandering around different forums, and sometimes will be lucky enough to come upon an exchange that I find particularly enlightening or entertaining. This happened the other night when I encountered this post by Christy from several months ago which I found so sharp and funny that I had a ‘wow!-wish-I-had-thought-of-that’ moment. So, rather than have it moulder in the archives, I thought it deserved to be put out here for everyone to share.
Sure Signs You Are a Name Nerd
You may be a name nerd if . . .
- You are already planning your 2010 SSA Names Release Day party (to be celebrated with your name obsessed friends).
- While flipping through your old daytimer, you find 20 plus lists of names and combos.
- Whenever someone brings up one of your favorite names, you give them a detailed description of the history of its use.
- You dress up as Michael Shackleford for Halloween (as an homage).*
- You write a complete list of your favorite names in calligraphy, frame it, and put it in your bedroom.
- You give people who are not expecting baby name books as gifts. (Always keep a few on hand!)
- You are trying to bring back the name Etheldreda, and take every opportunity to convince people of its antique charm.
- You say the Pledge of Allegiance (U.S.): “With liberty to name your kids anything you want, and justice for all.”
*In case you’re not name-nerdy enough to know this, Michael Shackelford was responsible for creating the Social Security baby name popularity lists.
Of course this inspired a whole bunch of other opinions on the qualifications for name nerdom, such as:
Since there has been so much interest in (and confusion about) the pronunciation of Irish names, we turned to someone with some real expertise–Norah Burch, who runs the long-running website namenerds.com —and who has lived in Ireland and made a study of the Irish Gaelic language.
Irish names seem to be all the rage these days, and one of the most recent trends among Americans with Irish ancestry is using Irish Gaelic names for their kids, rather than the anglicized versions. For example, in the past few years I’ve met little girls with the names Aislinn /ASH-lin; Sorcha /SUR-uh kha/ and Saoirse /SEER-sha. Ditto for Liam and Cillian, which are becoming increasingly popular, as they are fairly easy to pronounce in English. However, Irish is a language all its own, and many names are very difficult to pronounce for foreigners—names like Toirdhealbhach, Maelshechlainn, and Fionnbharr, for example.
When the British took over Ireland, they spelled out names phonetically, and thus the three names above became Turlough, Malachy and Finbar. In Irish they are pronounced something like TUR-uh -lokh, MAIL-ukh-lan and F’YUN-uh-var/. Or, they gave (sometimes puzzling) already-existing English names as “translations” of the Irish names based on sound alone. Thus Sorcha became Sarah, Donnchadh/DUNN-uh-kha became Dionysus, and Feardorcha /far-DUR-uh-kha/ became Frederick.
The problem comes when people take Irish Gaelic names and pronounce them as one would in English. This is how Caitlin became Kate-lynn, when in Irish, it is pronounced more like KOT leen or KOYT leen. It’s difficult to write these out phonetically, because, like other foreign languages, Irish contains sounds that English does not have. To pronounce Caitlin like Katelynn would be a bit like calling a Spanish person named José “Josie.”
Here are some Irish Gaelic names that you may find easy to pronounce (keeping in mind that the letter “r” is rolled much as in Spanish and Italian), given first using the Gaelic alphabet, followed by the authentic pronunciation.
It may be easier for an English-speaking child, however, to just be given the anglicized version when applicable , which is given in parentheses:
Áine /AWN yeh (Anya)
Aoife /EE fa