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?

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12 Responses to “Baby Name Backstories: Hidden meanings and secret significance”

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Haili73 Says:

October 1st, 2012 at 12:29 am

In my novel, I named my character Halyn Mugarson. She didn’t have a middle name; but she gave herself one. (Ilori, after a term of endearment that means ‘treasure’)
Halyn’s biggest struggle was her self-esteem. She felt like she was worthless and unimportant. In the story, Halyn’s mother wanted to name her Lyn, and her dad wanted to name her Hal if she was a boy. They compromised. Halyn’s dad ran off 3 years after her birth, and when he returned, he made her feel like nothing.

Ironically, Mugarson, the name her father gives her, is from the name Muga, which means “nothing” and that is what her father makes her feel like.

Halyn means “special, unlike any other”

(and yes, I go into a lot of planning when naming my characters. Though the Mugarson thing was an accident with how that related to her father…)

Katja Says:

October 1st, 2012 at 1:22 am

Sicily sounds like Cicely, not Cecily.

peach Says:

October 1st, 2012 at 1:40 am

I like this method of name meanings a lot and plan to use it for my childrens’ names. Part of my middle name has the meaning Peach which was inspired by a brilliant peach tree in the back yard of the house where I was born in high summer peach season. It is something special in a hidden sort of way that makes my name special.

Samantha-Bianca Says:

October 1st, 2012 at 5:50 am

This is one of the reasons I love the name Ursula: it means Little Bear.

And for the longest time I’vve loved the surname Falkenrath because it means Falcon Wrangler. Coolest name ever!!

And I like the idea of giving future children two middle names – one of a family member, like my brother, Timothy or Grandmother Joan; and one of a literary character or author.
For example, I love the name Archer Timothy Conan. (Conan for Arthur Conan Doyle).
AND, Ursula Joan Adler (Adler for Irene Adler, a character from Sherlock Holmes). LOVE LOVE LOVE.

jroflo Says:

October 1st, 2012 at 5:51 am

I absolutely adore this method of selecting names, and I’m glad to see a post about it. Often, choosing a name linked to something special to you, such as an interest, a meaningful place, a real-life or literary hero, etc. offers something more touching and unexpected than simply reusing your name or the name of a beloved relative. Rather than repeating a few family names over and over, this is a great way to make sure every child (even if you have lots) has a special name with a unique connection to his or her family. And I know that our loved ones would be just as honored to have a grandchild who shares the name of their birthplace or a hero or a favorite book character or who has a name related to their hobby or special passion as they would to have a grandchild with their exact name.

aunt_ning Says:

October 1st, 2012 at 6:50 am

This is why I love the name Julie. At first glance it just seems a simple name, but to me it is actually a complex name. My Nanas first name and my sisters middle name is Jewel, and my mothers middle name is Lee. So together they make Julie! I also love Josephine nn Josie, my Great Aunt Joanne went by Josie her whole life as a nick name. It would be a great way to honor her with out naming a baby Joanne.

skizzo Says:

October 1st, 2012 at 7:01 am

This is the best way to pass on a child a name that has a special meaning to you (if that is one of your requirements). Instead of slapping daddy or grandpa’s name on the child, you pass on a name that is special to YOU, that isn’t overly common, that isn’t shared by anyone else in the family. The kid gets his own identity, and his own name means something to you.

I’m also in the Tennessee “love” camp. I think she made a great choice.

Dauntless Says:

October 1st, 2012 at 11:05 am

I chose my daughter’s name because it was the name of characters in two novels that I read with my mom as a teen. To me it was a subtle way of honouring my mom and the time we spent together sharing a story.

amcook Says:

October 1st, 2012 at 11:44 am

I love this idea and have been struggling to find a middle name for our next baby that honors my husbands side of the family but that I actually like. I am going to do some digging and see what I can come up with as a way to honor my father in law without necessarily using his name.

mmroo Says:

October 1st, 2012 at 7:54 pm

I really want our children to have at least a first or middle name that has some meaning. My husband and I were really stuck on this and I had been trying to tell him we could probably come up with something outside of our family trees. Thanks to this post, I think we just decided on the perfect middle name!

Taz Says:

October 1st, 2012 at 9:47 pm

I feel like the names I’m drawn to are ones that are meaningful to me in one way or another. We went with Leonie Ida-Simone. Ida is my husbands beloved deceased grandma, Simon was my artistic creative cousin who died young…Leonie connects to lion. My grandmother is a Leo & lions were ny husband’s childhood favorite. Also in the running were Marigold (my grandma is Mary), Joan (saintly & literary & musical connections galore) Claudette (Colette’s Claudine was a favorite of mine, Veronica nn Vinca (religious & botanical connections & the nn is a Colette character as well) Bernadette (saintly & means bear which I have a special connection to) Beatrice (a favorite aunt) and Teal (my own initials are TL and again an animal name) I understand picking a name that just sounds good, but there are so many that sound good & have meaning too!

GrecianErn Says:

January 2nd, 2013 at 12:06 pm

I’m all about family names for middle names… but I once worked with a woman who had the most unconventional way of naming her children, and 5 years later, it’s stuck with me:

Hayden – after the Star Wars movie star that she had a celebrity crush on.
Tysen – after the brand of chicken nuggets that she craved throughout her pregnancy.
Aaliyah – after the musician who tragically died.
Caspian – after the 2nd Chronicles of Narnia movie, supposedly chosen by her children.

To each their own I guess… and she’ll have references when they ask about their names.

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