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Backwards Names Have Hidden Meaning

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Backwards names are fun and playful, and they’re also genuine baby names. Would you consider using one… or more?

Think of a name spelled backwards, and you might well think of Nevaeh. Whether you love it or not, it’s one of the great success stories of the last twenty years. It was single-handedly launched in 2000, when singer Sonny Sandoval introduced his baby daughter on MTV, explaining that her name was “Heaven spelled backwards”. The following year, it shot up in the US charts from virtually nowhere to number 226, and it’s been in the Top 100 since 2005, peaking at number 25 in 2010.

It also gave rise to dozens of soundalike names, from Naveya to Levaeh, which show that Nevaeh’s appeal is as much in its sound as its spelling.

But back to the backwards names. If you love playing with words, you might enjoy the challenge of finding a name that sounds good and has a hidden meaning. Let’s explore names that are reverse spellings of words, other names, or even themselves.

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Backwards names from pop culture

Dnegel — Made headlines in Malta when a mother used it for her son and defended it against bullies.

EnolaSherlock Holmes’s younger sister was on our screens last year in a Netflix movie based on Nancy Springer’s novels. It’s the mirror image of “alone”, which could suggest independence and uniqueness.

Lanesra — Fans of the English football (soccer) team Arsenal have used this name over the years. Sometimes with their partner in on the secret, sometimes not.

Leafar —Celebrity tattoo artist Kat Von D’s son is named after his dad’s pseudonym, Leafar Seyer. Dad’s birth name is Rafael Reyes.

Neleh — This name saw a tiny spike of use in 2002, thanks to a reality show contestant named after her grandmother Helen.

Nomar — Baseball player Nomar Garciaparra was named after his dad, Ramon.

Semaj — This James-flip has been given to hundreds of boys and girls. A big inspiration is the Jamaican psychologist and motivational speaker Leahcim Semaj, whose birth name was Michael James.

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Backwards name pairs

Some pairs of names are each other, spelled backwards. They tend to be fairly simple names, with two syllables and without clusters of consonants or vowels. Many have A as a first/last letter: it’s just so frequent in both positions.

The very best duos are ones where both names are well-known names and don’t sound similar. (Many a name-lover has had a lightbulb moment about Aidan and Nadia.)

If you’re thinking of using them for siblings, especially twins, they work best when:

a) They don’t sound too similar. Adela and Aleda are both lovely, but as sisters? Confusingly close, for most families. Names with different first/last letters are more distinctive.

b) They’re balanced in style and familiarity — otherwise the lesser-known one risks feeling contrived, or like an afterthought to their sibling’s name.

c) You’d like them both even if they weren’t anagrams. If you’re lukewarm on Noel and only considering it because it goes with Leon, or if you like Issac and Cassi but prefer the spellings Isaac and Cassie, then it may be time to forget the pattern.

But if the name is for one child, to honor someone else, these rules don’t apply so much. By reversing the honoree’s name, you could even create something new, like Nomar or Neleh. Or Nosila? Einra? Yelner? Oznek? The only limit is your ability to pronounce it.

Here are more pairs of names that work both ways. (Thanks to this list at Roses and Cellar Doors and this one at Ren’s Baby Names for extra inspiration!)

  • Adel / Leda

  • Agnes / Senga

  • Aidan / Nadia

  • Allen / Nella

  • Alon / Nola

  • Amir / Rima

  • Arden / Nedra

  • Aron / Nora

  • Ari / Ira

  • Avon / Nova

  • Axel / Lexa*

  • Cam / Mac

  • Diaz / Zaid

  • Ellen / Nelle

  • Etan / Nate

  • Hakim / Mikah

  • Halil / Lilah

  • Heaven / Nevaeh

  • Iris / Siri

  • Ivar / Ravi

  • Leon / Noel

  • Miles / Selim

  • Nero / Oren

  • Meg / Gem

  • *Axel and Lexa are (two of the anagrammic Vaneeno siblings)

    We should also give a special mention to pairs of names that are made of the same elements, reversed. Such as:

    Anne-Marie and MarianneDorothea and TheodoraElijah and JoelHarold and Walter

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    Names that are words backwards

    Or ananyms, to use a technical term. Some of these names are deliberate backwards spellings, others are just happy coincidences. (Or neutral coincidences, depending on how you feel about limes.) Can you think of any more?

    EmilEvanLegna — Not just a backwards spelling, but also means “wood” in Italian.LiamNacirema — This patriotic choice made the US charts once, with 5 girls in 2009.NevarNeveRafaRiaTessaTraeh — For example, vlogger Traeh Nykia.Wolf

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    Palindrome names

    This special category of names reads the same both ways — perfect if you want to have fun with spelling, or just as a little Easter egg when your kid tries writing their name backwards and realizes. You probably know about Hannah and Otto, but there are many more options. For even more palindrome names, check out this excellent list by reader ThatsAmore.

  • Ada

  • Alula

  • Ana

  • Anna

  • Asa

  • Ava

  • Aviva

  • Aya

  • Aziza

  • Bob

  • Elle

  • Eve

  • Habibah

  • Halah

  • Izzi

  • Laval

  • Mim

  • Nan

  • Natan

  • Neven

  • Non

  • Odo

  • Pip

  • Reinier

  • Renner

  • Viv

  • About the Author

    Clare Green

    Clare has been writing for Nameberry since 2015, covering everything from the next high-rising names to how to choose a multilingual name, and keeping up-to-date with international baby name rankings. She has a background in linguistics and librarianship, and lives in England with her husband and toddler. You can follow everything she reads about names on Twitter or Scoop.it, or reach her at clare@nameberry.com

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