Baby Name Backstories: Hidden meanings and secret significance

Baby Name Backstories: Hidden meanings and secret significance

In this week’s Nameberry 9, Appellation Mountain‘s Abby Sandel talks about names with some personal significance that’s not necessarily obvious on the surface.

Sometimes the craziest name becomes instantly charming the second we learn the backstory.  Meaning matters, and I’m always impressed when parents take the time to seek out names rich with personal significance.

Passing down family names is great, but this idea takes it one step further.  It’s a process of thinking about what’s important to your family.  Favorite places, artists, experiences that signify something about the pregnancy.  Think of Shiloh Nouvel JoliePitt’s middle name, inspired by architect Jean Nouvel, or Zuma Rossdale, possibly a nod to a Malibu beach important to his dad.

Sometimes we see reinventions of loved ones’ names, passing down a nickname or a name that evokes a shared memory, rather than exactly what appeared on your ancestor’s birth certificate.  No one will guess there’s a story behind James, but a choice like Bix?  It’s an invitation to talk about your grandfather’s love of jazz.

Great names can have quirky, unexpected origins, and this week’s nine most newsworthy baby names prove that once again.

Conor – Did you catch Conor Grennan’s piece at The Huffington Post on baby naming rules?  They’re funny – and decent advice, too – but my favorite part of the article came at the very end.  Grennan was born in 1974, “at a time when that name didn’t exist as a first name.”  When young Conor objected to his unusual appellation, his poet father told him the story of the first Conor, a legendary Irish king.  Grennan reports that understanding his parents’ motivation helped – a little.

Tennessee – We’re guessing about the intentions of Reese Witherspoon and Jim Toth, but it seems likely that their new baby boy is named after the state where mom grew up.  With more and more of the Continental U.S. appearing on birth certificates every year, the only question is whetherTennessee is the new Dakota.

Sicily – While we’re talking place names, why hasn’t Sicily caught on?  It’s an Italian heritage nod that sounds just like sweet Cecily.  With families embracing Francesca and Matteo, there are plenty of Italian place names that might work, too.

CharlestonBlake Lively and Ryan Reynolds have just said I do, and now there’s speculation that the couple are expecting.  What’s more, rumor has it that they’ve chosen baby names to reflect the location of their secret wedding.

Carolina – If their boy name is Charleston, then naturally the tabloids are reporting that the logical pick for a daughter is Carolina.  Somehow I doubt this entire tale – but the names are still gorgeous!

Rex Oxton – From Tinsel Town to Toronto, the stories Kristin Rushowy covers about unusual baby names for the Toronto Star are addictive.  A recent installment included big brother Rex Oxton.  His first name came from the family business, while his middle name is a nod to Chinese astrology – Rex was born in the year of the ox.

Ginger OlympiaRex’s little sister is Ginger, her name inspired by the herb that mom relied on to help with both pregnancies.  It is one of the more offbeat explanations I’ve ever heard, but it does make for a distinctive name.  As for Olympia, Ginger was born on the first day of the London Olympics – but the proud parents insist they were just honoring dad’s Greek heritage.

Gigi – Let’s say you’re set on naming a child after beloved Great Grandma Gertrude.  While plenty of granny chic names have made a comeback, Gertrude remains in fashion limbo.  This week, Karen Springen shared their solution.  Their younger daughter is named Gigi, after Gertrude’s nickname.

Vola Snowflake – Think this preference for deeply meaningful names is new?  Not so. Elea shared this find at British Baby Names.  Dad was a gardener, and Vola’s sisters were the botanical Violet and Pyrethrum – a type of daisy.  But Vola Snowflake is the one that captured my imagination.  Was she born during a snowstorm?  Or was dad as fond of the elements as he was of his plants?

Have you used any unusual meaning names?  Are there any that you would consider?  Or does this approach seem too complicated?

About the Author

Linda Rosenkrantz

Linda Rosenkrantz

Linda Rosenkrantz is the co-founder of Nameberry, and co-author with Pamela Redmond of the ten baby naming books acknowledged to have revolutionized American baby naming. You can follow her personally at InstagramTwitter and Facebook. She is also the author of the highly acclaimed New York Review Books Classics novel Talk and a number of other books.