Good Names with Bad, Bad Meanings

December 5, 2012 Pamela Redmond

A visitor to our forums posed this question to the Berries: Would you give your child a name, a wonderful name that you truly love, if it had a negative meaning? How meaningful is the root meaning of a name, anyway?

The name in question was Kennedy, a name that has so much going for it: illustrious relatives, a stylish surname feel, a rhythmic sound, and growing popularity.

Some websites will try to tell you that Kennedy means “royal” or “loving” but it doesn’t.  It means “misshapen head.”  And that is the problem.

Or it’s the problem when, in fourth grade, the teacher decides to have the class do oral reports on their names: Where they came from, what they mean.  And poor “misshapen head” is forced to announce her name’s unfortunate meaning in front of the whole class.

A negative meaning may also cut deep when you’re searching a book or website for a name for your child and discover your own name has a less-than-savory meaning.

But beyond that momentary kick to the psychic shins, does a name’s meaning carry any deeper power?

A 1999 study suggested that negative initials like P.I.G. or A.S.S. could actually shorten people’s lifespans, but a 2005 study contradicted that evidence, saying that the messages behind initials had no effect on how long people lived.   But it seems likely that the initials A.S.S. would make life just a little bit less pleasant.

The question remains: Do you avoid a name you love because of a negative meaning?  If Kennedy is your first choice, if you love the name above all others, then go ahead and when that fourth grade report rears its, uh, misshapen head, steer your child to the name resource (not, alas, Nameberry) that lists its meaning as “royal.”

Here, some otherwise good names with bad, bad meanings:


Cecilia — blind

Claudia – lame

Deirdre – sorrowful

Emily – rival

Kennedy – misshapen head

Leah — weary

Lola – lady of sorrows

Mallory – unlucky

Mara — bitter

Portia – pig

Persephone – bringing death

Saskia — knife

Sloane — raider


Blaise — lisp, stutter

Byron — barn for cows

Calvin — bald

Cameron – crooked nose

Campbell – crooked mouth

Cessair – sorrow, affliction

Gideon – having a stump for a hand

Huxley – inhospitable place

Jabez – borne in pain

Jacob and James — supplanter

What do you think?  Would you choose a name with a negative meaning?  Or are these ancient meanings meaningless in the modern world?

About the author

Pamela Redmond

Pamela Redmond is the cocreator and CEO of Nameberry. The coauthor of ten bestselling baby name books, Redmond is an internationally-recognized 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. Redmond is also a New York Times bestselling novelist whose books include Younger, the basis for the hit television show, and its new sequel, Older.

View all of Pamela Redmond's articles


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