Baby Names Backwards and Inside Out

Playing with letters to get to novel variations of names.

posted by: sanctanomina View all posts by this author

By Kate at Sancta Nomina (Katherine Morna Towne)

I enjoy fun and unusual ways to come up with names. I’ve recently been loving the idea of turning initials into names a la Edie (E.D.), Vienne (V.N.), Essie (S.E.), and Cece (C.C.). I could see it totally working to name a little girl Ivy after Grandpa Isaac Victor (I.V.).

And anagram names! By which I mean the mixing up of the letters of one name to get a different name. Examples include Jason and Sonja, Aaron and Anora, Byron and Robyn, Neil and Elin. I personally love this idea, and think it can sometimes be just the right way to figure out an honor name. Revealingly, the number of hits one gets when googling “anagram names” — both examples and anagram generators — is pretty remarkable (this list is amazing).

But in my experience, one technique for coming up with new names seems to get overlooked, and regarding one particular example of it, obliterated with criticism: backwards naming, specifically the name Nevaeh.

As you know, Nevaeh is “heaven” backwards, and as Linda Rosenkrantz noted in a 2008 post,

Its surge was spurred by one singular event, the announcement by Christian rock star Sonny Sandoval of his baby’s name on MTV in 2000, when he explained that it was “Heaven spelled backwards.”  Sandoval didn’t invent the name–in the previous year there had been eight other baby girls called Nevaeh, but there can be no doubt that his public announcement was what triggered the explosion. By 2001, it had leaped up to #226 on the popularity list, and four years later it entered the Top 100.  On [2007]’s list, it reached #31, obviously striking a chord

I can certainly see its appeal — it’s got a pretty sound, and it’s sort of clever that a good and holy word spelled backwards can make a feasible given name. (In the same vein, I’ve also seen Traeh [“heart” backwards].) But it’s a polarizing name—it seems people either love it or loathe it. I have read some truly hateful things said about the name and anyone who would bestow it on their daughter.

Commentary on Nevaeh, professional and otherwise, almost always includes references to it being “trendy” and “date-stamped,” and while the name itself may be those things, the practice of backward naming is not. I was thinking recently about baseball player Nomar Garciaparra. Nomar is actually his middle name (his first is Anthony), and it’s his father’s name, Ramon, spelled backward. I’ve never once seen any negative commentary about Nomar’s name. That same post by Linda referenced above discussed Leahcim Semaj, a “Jamaican activist, psychologist and radio host whose birth name was Michael James,” and the resulting use of the name “Semaj (James spelled backwards) among Rastafarians.” So there is some precedent for a “backwards name” to be okay, and it’s not an entirely new trend (Garciaparra was born in 1973, and Dr. Semaj in 1951.)

I tried to think of other names that are backwards versions of “normal” names or words, and I remembered one I’d read in The Oxford Dictionary of English Christian Names by E.G. Withycombe: Senga.

Its entry for Senga says, “[T]his name, common in parts of Scotland, is said to be simply a variant of Agnes … obtained by spelling it backwards.” This book was first published in 1945. The Nameberry entry concurs with Withycombe; The Behind the Name entry nods to this traditional understanding of the name, though then says that it’s “more likely derived from Gaelic seang ‘slender.’” But then a commenter on that entry noted, “Whenever I look this up it is only listed as Agnes spelled backwards, it started in Scotland.”

Isn’t all that interesting? I particularly noticed it because, though Agnes is such a traditional, saintly name, until recently it didn’t really sing to modern ears (it’s on its way up! Actors Elisabeth Shue and Jennifer Connelly both named their daughters Agnes, in 2006 and 2011 respectively). Pre-celeb baby Agnes-es, I could totally see parents with a certain taste in names wanting to honor beloved Grandma Agnes but not loving the name Agnes, and then rejoicing when they figured out Senga.

When I brought this up on my blog, the resulting conversation yielded other ideas for or experiences with backwards names—Nella after Mom’s maiden name, for example (love that!), or Harris after the sound of Mom Sarah’s name backwards.

What do you think of the idea of backwards naming? Do Nomar, Leahcim, Semaj, Senga, Nella, and Harris (Haras) seem more doable than Nevaeh, and if so, why? Have you heard of any other names that are names or words spelled backwards?



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About the author


Kate is a writer, lifelong lover of names, wife to a really good man, and mama to their six boys ages 2 to 11. She shares her thoughts on Catholic baby naming at Sancta Nomina.
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17 Responses to “Baby Names Backwards and Inside Out”

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Maura Says:

July 2nd, 2015 at 11:48 pm

No, just no.

Maura Says:

July 2nd, 2015 at 11:49 pm

The only name I would spell backward is Anna

brianerose Says:

July 3rd, 2015 at 8:03 am

I think this is a creative and fun way to honor someone 😀

New Nameberry post! | Sancta Nomina Says:

July 3rd, 2015 at 9:27 am

[…] I have a new article up at Nameberry today!: Baby Names Backwards and Inside Out. […]

Essa Says:

July 3rd, 2015 at 9:32 am

I go by Essa as my initials used to be S.R. Essa came because it’s more relaxed than Essar.

AldabellaxWulfe Says:

July 3rd, 2015 at 7:01 pm

No. There’s nothing ‘clever’ about taking a word – especially a sacred and holy word, and spelling it backwards. Originally, naming a child Heaven was often thought to be tacky and rather chavvy but, in my opinion, misspelling it makes it even worse. And just because others have misspelled/spelled names backwards before doesn’t make the practice any more intelligent or acceptable.

With literally trillions of names in our world today that are exotic, obscure, charming, radiant, cultural and all around awe-inspiring, I cannot fathom the reason as to why any parent would think it cute, cool, original or appropriate to butcher the spelling of a name or word and then saddle it on a child. Although, we all know that the IQ levels of certain countries are on the decline… so perhaps that may be a contributing factor.

Happy Independence Day!! And a question | Sancta Nomina Says:

July 4th, 2015 at 9:02 am

[…] my very first negative comment!! Not here (as if! You all are so wonderful <3) — over on my Nameberry post. In one few-sentence comment, (1) choosing names like the ones I’d written about was […]

goddess_patreice Says:

July 4th, 2015 at 3:25 pm

Love this post! I use to explore names/words and see what it would look like being spelled backwards, and if then could it be used as a name. You definitely need to be patient. I gave up very easily but found a few I think could be used as a name…

Anubis – Sibuna
Esme – Emse
Alexis – Sixela

My favorite are Sibuna and Emse!

geeknamezyo Says:

July 4th, 2015 at 9:38 pm

Interesting. I don’t know about backwards–I think very few names actually sound good that way–but I love anagram naming! I plan to use Dean or Aden to honor my grandmother, Edna.

emily_rose Says:

July 4th, 2015 at 10:29 pm

I’ve always thought it’d be cool to have twins who’s names were backwards of each other like:


triss Says:

July 5th, 2015 at 12:20 am

There’s the sad story of a teenager, Rehtaeh Parsons, who died in 2013. I thought perhaps her mother was named Heather but apparently not.
When my daughter Alexis was six years old, we called her Sixela a lot. My husband loves to call people by their name said backwards and sometimes says our surname backwards. But that’s all in fun; I wouldn’t actually use those names on birth certificates.

medfordkung Says:

July 5th, 2015 at 7:53 am

My childhood nickname, my initials, L.C., honored my grandmother Elsie. I always loved how unusual it was. Of course, Elsie has picked up enormous naming steam since then.

vintageluvs Says:

July 5th, 2015 at 3:56 pm

My great-grandfather’s name was Leon, and I think either using Leon or Noel would be a great way to honor him. I’ve tried do this with names honoring people I love, it didn’t turn out as well. Floyd, spelled backwards, is a trainwreck – Dyoldf. Ward spelled backwards is kind of cool – Draw. But I wouldn’t use either one. I wouldn’t use any name starting with a “J”. Spelling Edna, one of my great-grandmothers, backwards would be Ande, which is pretty cool because my name is ANDREA. Susannah becomes Hannasus. As for the initials, I’m not quite sure what to think. My mother is JM, so Jam, which I guess you could make an argument for Jamie. “W”-beginning names don’t work, and I have lots of those in my family. Cool idea, but I don’t think it will become a regular practice.

sanctanomina Says:

July 7th, 2015 at 9:54 am

Thanks for all your feedback everyone! I loved so many of your ideas!

mymel0dy Says:

July 7th, 2015 at 11:18 am

I think the big difference, at least for me, is that when I look at Nevaeh I see heaven backwards. When I looking at Nomar, Nella, Senga, I don’t automatically see Roman, Allen, and Agnes. I just see names that are a bit different.

My own name gets written backwards from time to time or even said backwards, because of the spelling. My name is Arika (same name as Erika/Erica, just with an A) but because Akira is a common Japanese name people so often mistake my A-R-I-K-A for A-K-I-R-A. To be honest of the misspellings I get Akira is my favorite, because I think it is a very cool name.

jennelyse Says:

July 11th, 2015 at 11:32 pm

I want to name my next child after my uncle IRA, and considered ARI as an option for a boy (but we are having a girl and haven’t figured out the name yet).

Reclaim the name | Sancta Nomina Says:

December 11th, 2015 at 3:12 pm

[…] any of you have names to add? I’m thinking more like traditional, established names (not Nevaeh-type names) that regularly receive a negative reaction, whether on name boards or in real life, rather than […]

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