Animal Names in Disguise

Animal Names in Disguise

Animal names are hot these days: We mean flat-out animal names such as Bear, Fox, and Wren used for children.

But there is also a – well, can we say herd? pack? – of names that are much more subtle about their animal connections.

These names have animal meanings but you’d only know that if you read a name dictionary.  Discovering their secret animal connection is likely to prove delightful for a child given one of these attractive names.

While the list of names with animal meanings is longer than this – here’s a full list of animal names for boys and one of animal names for girls – we’ve picked some of our favorites.

Arthur – bear

This classic Celtic name has, after hitting a low in 2010, turned upward and may be heading back to the Top 20 status it enjoyed a century ago.  Cited as a possibility for the upcoming royal baby, Arthur is a kingly choice with the bonus creative nickname Art.

Auberon – bear

Also spelled Oberon – the spelling Shakespeare used for his king of the fairies – Auberon may also be related to Aubrey.  Perhaps because Aubrey is now the #20 name for girls in the US but has fallen off the Top 1000 for boys, we see the originally male Auberon as working for either gender.

Aviana – bird

This modern variation of the Latin Avis has flown into the Top 1000 on the strength of actress Amy Adams choosing it for her daughter.

Callum – dove

Callum, a Scottish form of the ancient Latin saints’ name Columba, is extremely popular in the UK but newly discovered in the US.   This name with a peaceful meaning may also be spelled Calum.

Destry – war horse

Say Destry and you’re likely to hear the response “rides again.”  This French surname-name, used for the male hero of that Western film, was chosen for their daughter by Kate Capshaw and Steven Spielberg.

Dov – bear

Sounds like one animal but means another: This Hebrew name, popular in Israel, has an outward gentleness and a fierce secret core.

Garcia – bear

The popular Spanish surname Garcia makes a melodic first for a child of either gender.  An ancient surname-turned-first, some sources give the origin of Garcia as Basque and its meaning as “young.”

Jonah or Jonas — dove

The Hebrew and Greek versions, respectively, of the same gentle name, whose most famous bearer was the inspiring Biblical hero who escaped from the belly of the whale.

Leonie — lion

Lion names are among the most fashionable with animal meanings.  While many — Leon, Lionel — are a bit close to the actual animal name for this post, we must mention the lovely Leonie, popular throughout Europe but still a rare delicacy in the US.

Lonan – blackbird

This unusual but accessible Irish name is an original replacement for the ubiquitous Logan.

Lowell – young wolf

The patrician-sounding surname Lowell, which could be an honorific for poet Robert, has a fierce secret meaning.

Madigan – little dog

This unusual Irish surname may be reminiscent of the hugely popular Madison but is much more distinctive and works equally well for children of either gender.

Merle — blackbird

The French Merle fell off the Top 1000 in the US in the 1950s for girls and the 1970s for boys, which may make it a perfect choice for revival by the adventurous parent.  There’s a famous namesake for each gender: country singer Merle Haggard and actress Merle Oberon.

Orson – bear cub

The adorable Orson, which hasn’t been on the Top 1000 since 1901, is already being rediscovered by hip parents such as actress Lauren Ambrose.  Director Orson Welles is an inspirational namesake.

Paloma — dove

The Spanish Paloma is one of those names that’s familiar enough to be easily understood and accepted — it’s been on the US Top 1000 for nearly 20 years — but still unusual enough to be distinctive: It’s barely risen above the Top 700.  And we love the peaceful dove connection.

Phelan — wolf

Another ancient Irish surname with a soft sound and a fierce animal meaning.

Rachel – ewe

Rachel was a Top 25 name for nearly a quarter century, from 1978 until 2001, and now is sliding down the charts.  But its Old Testament significance makes it a classic perennially worthy of consideration.

Rudy – famous wolf

Rudy doesn’t get as much name respect as it deserves, perhaps because Rudolph is so difficult as a long form, or maybe due to its connection to the word “rude,” but we see it as cute and original for either sex – a fresher spin on Jude or Ruby.

Tabitha — gazelle

The Biblical Tabitha may still be a bit too Bewitched for some parents, but we love its combination of softness and strength — and there’s no more appealing animal association than the beautiful, swift gazelle.

Tala — wolf

Tala is a Native American name that’s both simple and stunningly original, a feminine choice with a strong meaning.

About the Author

Pamela Redmond

Pamela Redmond

Pamela Redmond is the cocreator and CEO of Nameberry and Baby Name DNA. The coauthor of ten groundbreaking books on names, Redmond is an internationally-recognized baby name expert, quoted and published widely in such media outlets as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, The Today Show, CNN, and the BBC. She has written about baby names for The Daily Beast, The Huffington Post, and People.

Redmond is also a New York Times bestselling novelist whose books include Younger, the basis for the hit television show, and its sequel, Older. She has three new books in the works.