Good Names with Bad, Bad Meanings
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
What do you think? Would you choose a name with a negative meaning? Or are these ancient meanings meaningless in the modern world?
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on December 6th, 2012 at 1:08 am
Meaning isn’t super important to me but it’s important enough that I would avoid a name w. a “bad” meaning. I will admit that I LOL’d a little when I read what Gideon means. I guess I’ll be scratching that one off the list!
on December 6th, 2012 at 1:50 am
If I loved a name, I would use it regardless of the meaning. Most people go through their lives never knowing the meaning of their name anyways. I love Leah, and I don’t really see how “weary” is that bad of a meaning, haha.
on December 6th, 2012 at 1:51 am
Meaning is actually fairly important to me. Like oh so many, I didn’t really have the easiest time growing up. I wasn’t super popular because I just couldn’t get behind doing things because another kid thought I should and then I was also the weird foreign kid who didn’t speak the language properly. water under the bridge…. but, I took a lot of comfort knowing that my mom had named me colorful little fish who is full of wisdom and defends/helps mankind. It often gave me the feeling like a higher-power had a plan for me and that because of my name I should know I could get through anything.
So to me it is really important that the overall name has a strong meaning. (it being in the correct order isn’t so much, but the overall meaning is).
on December 6th, 2012 at 3:23 am
I used to like the name Cecilia until I found out it’s meaning.
on December 6th, 2012 at 4:33 am
Only really an issue if it means something bad in another, still used, language. My dad went to school in Greece with someone from another country whose name translated to “Pubic Hair” in Greek.
Would hate to name my child something that inspired laughter every time he met someone bilingual. None of the names above seem to fall into that category.
on December 6th, 2012 at 4:55 am
These kind of name meanings have absolutely zero significance to me. I’ll admit, I do like some names better if I know what they mean in another language (Lior means “my light” in Hebrew, very sweet). Unless a name will cause snickering while traveling abroad, I’ll name them something I just like – even if it archaically translates to “doughy-faced bird lady.” I’m down.
on December 6th, 2012 at 6:40 am
Name meanings are important to me if they remain relevant today. For example the name ‘Naomi’ meaning pleasant. Anyone familiar with the biblical story of Naomi would know the meaning of the name and thus to my mind it is relevant. Benjamin is another good example of a meaning that has passed into popular folklore and thus known and relevant today.
I have to take issue with some of the above though as they only tell half of the story. Dolores, Lola and Deidre may mean ‘sorrow’ but they refer to Our Lady of the Sorrows and thus have a very positive meaning in a religious context. Mary, Miriam and Mara are the same, they may mean bitter but again have a wider meaning. My own son is James (supplanter/usurper) but when read in context ((Jacob supplanted Esau in the biblical story) the word itself is symbolic of a greater good and not a negative omen.
All of my children have been named with the meaning of their names taken into consideration but in the context of the religious story the meaning has come from.
on December 6th, 2012 at 6:43 am
My daughter’s name is Emily, which has two different meanings: “rival” or “hard-working.” Emily loves the “hard-working” meaning, and it suits her perfectly!
on December 6th, 2012 at 7:27 am
I think I said this in the thread in question: I love the name Callisto for a girl, but the story behind her Greek Mythology namesake is that she was raped by Zeus and then punished by Athena by being turned in to a bear. Imagine finding that out as a child! BUT, I do LOVE the name…it doesn’t have a bad meaning.
on December 6th, 2012 at 7:38 am
I would never ever pick a name with a bad meaning, ever. Meaning is more important than the name itself imho, I chose the names I chose because of what they meant. Most ppl I know with kids don’t even know what they’re kids names mean, that’s so bizarre to me!!!
on December 6th, 2012 at 7:47 am
It depends on what the name was. I love Saskia, for example, and I don’t think ‘knife’ is that bad a meaning. In fact, I think it sort of makes it interesting. And Persephone – another name I love – means ‘bringing death’, which obviously sounds like quite a dark meaning. However, the rich origins of the name override the meaning, and the meaning even adds to it’s mythological feel, if you get what I mean.
And, I know it’s not quite the same, but I think the name Lucifer would be lovely, if it wasn’t, y’know, Satan. So I wouldn’t use that, but I’d definitely consider Saskia and Persephone. I think associations with a particular name would affect it more than it’s literal meaning – which, I’m guessing, is how a few names probably got their meanings in the first place.
on December 6th, 2012 at 8:23 am
My name is Mary, which means bitter. Sure, it was a disappointment to discover that in a baby names book as a kid. But I’m pretty sure nobody has ever associated my name with that meaning. Mother of Jesus? Maybe. Lamb-owner? For sure. But not bitter.
on December 6th, 2012 at 8:28 am
Whenever someone gets down on made-up names as not being as good as real names because they don’t have meaning, I just think of names like these. Most people are happy to use a name with a negative meaning because we don’t know most of those meanings any more! They’re just not culturally relevant. I would use any of these if they had personal meaning to me. Often names like these have interesting stories behind them, so you can always spin the story into something more positive if your child has that name report, or is too young to grasp it all, then fill them in when they’re older.
One you forgot is Lorelei. One of the most beautiful names ever, in my book, but she did threw herself off a cliff when her lover didn’t return and became a siren luring sailors to their death. But you could always tell a daughter it means mermaid! 😉
on December 6th, 2012 at 8:33 am
Mary, I laughed out loud when I read “lamb-owner,” thanks for that. And Linelei, I’ve been wanting to write about names with distressing stories behind them — Lorelei is a perfect example.
on December 6th, 2012 at 8:41 am
I’d use a name anyway even if it had negative meaning. My name is Marissa which most sites say means “sea of bitterness”, and me and my family would joke about it but it never truly bothered me. Though, sea of bitterness is a little less offensive than “Persephone: bringing death” and such.
I think being truly in love with a name is what matters most 🙂 though I’d definitely try to veer away from unfortunate initials 😉
on December 6th, 2012 at 8:51 am
Most people don’t know name meanings and I usually many don’t care. Only people who are really into names seem to care. I remember not caring until I got a candle that had my name and meaning on it when I was in middle school. It was nice and cool, but it didn’t affect me. So it would have to be a pretty bad meaning like serial killer or have a really bad connotation like Lucifer of Hitler for me not to use it.
on December 6th, 2012 at 9:20 am
Mary also may mean “love” and has an earliest origin from Egypt.
on December 6th, 2012 at 9:40 am
I’m using Persephone. “Phone” in Greek means “speech sound” (in words such as “homophone” and “telephone”). And the “perse” part–which the word means “dark blue” in English–comes from the Greek word Persikos–“a Persian.” So Persephone doesn’t have to have such a violent meaning–it can also mean “Persian sound” or “Persian speaker.” I think that meaning you have up there just comes strictly from her sad mythology and not the actual root words Persephone is made up of.
She’s also the Goddess of spring growth so I don’t find her name negative at all.
Aside from that, I don’t think the supposed negative meaning of a name should influence your decision to use it. If you go far enough back in a names history, you’ll find alternate meaning that don’t stem from a more modern understanding of things (not for all names, but some) and for the ones you can’t, love and a very good reason for using it should be enough.
on December 6th, 2012 at 9:47 am
Do teachers really have kids do reports on their name origins? I didn’t have to do that growing up, and with as many people with invented names, what would they even say? “My mom liked the sound of these letters together. That’s the origin.”
on December 6th, 2012 at 10:27 am
Yes, I would choose a name with a somewhat negative meaning if 1) I loved the name, AND 2) its meaning was not obvious or widely known. Like I would never choose Rogue or Rebel, Sin or Manson; but I would choose something like Kennedy, which has no real association now to its little-known meaning. I also never had to write a report on my name’s origin, and neither have my two children!
on December 6th, 2012 at 10:34 am
I was the ne who posted in the forums about the name Kennedy and its awful meaning. I love this name and wanted it so badly for my daughter…until I found out the meaning. Its still a name I love and one I’ll probably never use.
on December 6th, 2012 at 10:43 am
I got really dissapointed when I found out Persephone (one of my favourite names) had a horrible meaning.
on December 6th, 2012 at 11:14 am
Most people don’t know and probably don’t care about the meanings of names. It’s only us name-obsessed (whether we’re parents or not) that want to know everything, from meaning to history of usage to where it falls on the popularity lists.
I’d rather give my future children names that I love, and not just because they have a pretty meaning.
on December 6th, 2012 at 11:38 am
The Irish name Bronagh means sorrow, and it is wildly popular in Northern Ireland. The meaning doesn’t seem to have held it back at all. Similarly, Cecilia, Deirdre, Claudia, etc have all been extensively used without causing major psychological trauma to their bearers.
Also: the name Cessair is female.
on December 6th, 2012 at 11:55 am
The greek myth of Persephone is such a cool story! You could totally tell your daughter the story and steer clear of the meaning.
on December 6th, 2012 at 12:17 pm
“Do teachers really have kids do reports on their name origins?”
No, they generally don’t. And even if they did the student could choose a more favorable meaning from the several meanings offered for each name. Such as “royal” or “loving” for Kennedy.
on December 6th, 2012 at 1:46 pm
Though I agree with the people above who point out that, depending on where you look, names have very different meanings and as long as it doesn’t mean something awful in a language the child might encounter, meanings seem unimportant, I have to admit I crossed Calvin off my list because it meant bald.
on December 6th, 2012 at 1:49 pm
I think a names connotations are more important than the meaning, I would use Cecilia despite the fact that it means blind but if it was used to imply something bad or inappropriate in a culture I probably wouldn’t.
Alexia Mae Said
on December 6th, 2012 at 2:13 pm
Meanings are important to me. But I also like to make a bad meaning good with the use of a middle name. Something like Claudia Rafaela, which would mean “Lame God Has Healed”. Or Saskia Verity, “Knife of Truth”.
on December 6th, 2012 at 2:19 pm
I have to second what mmljar1 said. the name Dolores and it’s nickname Lola is not negative at all. The child is not going to be a Lady of Sorrow but rather her name honors The Lady of Sorrow – Jesus’s mother – who shared in her son’s sorrow.
on December 6th, 2012 at 2:35 pm
I liked Gulliver, until I saw it means glutton…
on December 6th, 2012 at 2:46 pm
I don’t find meaning super important and I would still use a name with an unpleasant meaning if I truly loved it.
From this list I truly adore Cecilia, Claudia, Lola, Persephone, Saskia and James.
on December 6th, 2012 at 3:21 pm
Leah actually means Weary meadow, and my name spelt the different way means meadow… i believe it even says that on nameberry lol. Cecelia was my confirmation name, although i don’t like the meaning she is the Saint of Music 🙂
on December 6th, 2012 at 3:23 pm
Meanings are important to me, but as an evangelical, I tend to spiritualize the meaning if possible. For example, let’s take James, my long-time favorite for boys. The meaning is disappointing unless I relate it to Christ’s substitutionary death, or His dying in our stead – His supplanting us in death. Similarly, I am able to like the meaning of Emily, “rival” or “striving to excel”, when viewed in the context of I Corinthians 9:24-27. Paul exhorts the Christian to “Run in such a way that you might win,” referring to a life of spiritual obedience. I have been able to transform a number of negative meanings in this manner, and often pray for people according to my spiritualized version of the meanings of their names.
on December 6th, 2012 at 6:06 pm
Mary is my first name and Kathryn is my middle name, therefore the meaning of my names together is “Bitter Pure”. I’ve always hated the name Mary, but it’s my Grandmother’s first name. I feel I should keep the tradition going, so I was thinking of naming my daughter Maura, which is the Irish variation of Mary. I don’t know if I want to force another horrible meaning name on my child, or go with something safer.
on December 6th, 2012 at 7:26 pm
I can’t say I was thrilled when in second grade we looked up name meanings and I found out Rebecca meant “to bind”! I was jealous of Sarah “princess” etc etc etc… but I can’t say it has bothered me much. Although, I do love the name Cecilia (and Cecily) but the meaning “blind” worries me, after having pretty poor eyesight myself, and being terrified of being blind 🙁 I don’t think I could do that.
on December 7th, 2012 at 9:24 pm
My name is Jamie – a derivative of Jacob and James – so it shares their meaning. Even as a name nerd, I was never too bothered by it.
on December 8th, 2012 at 12:29 am
Saskia meaning knife makes me like it better! It really just went from feeling fuzzy & cute to sharp & silvery!
I started a similar thread about the name Claudette or Claudia. Oh how I love those names! I’m on the fence about it. I love them but I love plenty of other names with more positive meaning!
on December 8th, 2012 at 9:09 am
Growing up I had a foreign kid at my school with a name pronounced pan-dousche. I think if I was planning on moving to a different country, I’d make sure my kid’s name was…well entirely appropriate in that country. Thankfully he didn’t get too much heat about it.
on December 12th, 2012 at 8:26 pm
Meaning is kind of important. The meaning of Joel turns me off, even though I love the name. But with a name like Huxley, I would still use it because my one of my favorite scientists (Neuroscience) is Sir Andrew Huxley.
on December 17th, 2012 at 4:56 am
Meaning, and history, are both very important to me. I love love love Claudia and Deirdre but both are off the name list due to their meanings.
Names meaning blind or lame or mis-shapen just seem like very bad omens to settle a kid with.
However Saskia remains at the very top of my list — the meaning “knife” doesn’t bother me. A knife is a tool as much as a weapon, and I like the idea of “sharpness”. I feel very differently toward the meaning of “knife” than I would to “gun” which in my mind is solely a weapon for killing.
Basically, meaning absolutely would eliminate a name for me but I disagree with your assessment that all the names on the list have “bad, bad meaning” — something born in pain can become beautiful and strong.
on December 17th, 2012 at 4:57 am
But I want to add that I agree with CassieCake – sometimes “meaningful” can trump “meaning”
on December 18th, 2012 at 4:26 pm
I used to love the name Lila until I found out it means night or seductress. Which is sad because I think it’s the perfect name 🙁
on December 26th, 2012 at 6:37 pm
Meh. Meaning hasn’t really been important to me since I first read that my own name (Brittanny) means “from Britain.” How boring! That, and most names have religious meanings, and I’m not a Christian.
However, a name’s connotations can be off-putting, even to me. The names Magdalen and Lucifer are generally found to be negative and even offensive to some (mostly Christians), but I just think they SOUND lovely. Would I ever name my daughter or son either of these names? Probably not – because of the way others would react.
on January 8th, 2013 at 5:37 pm
Meaning is important to me, especially the first names. The middle names can be a more relaxed/random meaning, or a family name, or a name you just love. But no horrible meanings whatsoever, although it depends what you class as horrible. Saskia is fine to me, even meaning knife, I think it’s very dark and mysterious and strong. Any name meaning lame, bald, blind or deaf are not for me. Although names that mean Leader of the blind, seems religious, sort of like defender of mankind, shepherd to the flock sort of vibe, so that can’t be all bad. I think Lila is lovely, and the meaning night is fine to me. Very mysterious and magical.
on January 9th, 2013 at 9:37 pm
My name is Cecilia and I don’t mind the meaning. No one has ever teased me about my names. In fact I’ve gotten lots of compliments.
on February 7th, 2013 at 5:19 pm
Why is Saskia on here? How is “knife” negative? Mankind would not have gotten far without knives.
on February 25th, 2013 at 11:28 pm
As a 4th grade teacher, I have had students interview their parents/guardians about their name meanings and significance. For some, it is empowering to learn the origins and familial ties to their names. Most kids like names that are meaningful and tie them to their family’s culture, religion or history.
on March 8th, 2013 at 2:18 am
As far as I’m concerned, meaning doesn’t matter at all! Of course, it’s preferable for a name to have a delightful meaning, but, if not, then I wouldn’t be fussed. For example, I still adore the name Cecilia, even thought it means blind.
on January 11th, 2014 at 10:55 am
The only “bad” meaning see is Persephone’s. I seriously find it kind of sad that some of these like blind for Cecilia are considered bad.
on January 11th, 2014 at 10:58 am
Meaning is somewhat important to me. My name (Sara) means God’s princess, which I loved as a child. We ended up choosing our daughter’s name based on meaning after she was born. We were between two names (Juliana :youthful; and Madeline: high tower), and she ended up in the NICU because of some breathing difficulties. She looked so strong and spunky laying there in the NICU that Madeline seemed a more fitting name (I associate a high tower with strength). I have never been able to consider Cecelia bc of its meaning, though I think it’s perfectly pretty and would love to meet a baby of this name. Also I love the name Mary; I would still consider it for a future daughter though, despite it’s meaning.
on January 11th, 2014 at 11:00 am
I will add too, that “blind” isn’t such a “bad” meaning, except for the connotations I have with the character Cecil from the book A Room with a View. That is probably more why I couldn’t do Cecelia, but it all has to do with Cecil being figuratively blind in the book….one of the hazards of literary nerdiness. 🙂
on February 6th, 2014 at 11:42 am
Mary’s meaning of “bitter” refers to the loss of her son, that situation, not that she was bitter.
on February 6th, 2014 at 12:02 pm
Many of these names have abbreviated meanings. One must look into the stories behind the “original” bearer of each name. Deirdre’s sorrows are pre-Christian, and relate to wars being fought over her beauty and her being forced to marry a conqueror. (See the Ulster cycle, probably the most important pre-Xian Irish epic.)
“Saskia” is a very interesting northern European name, and the “knife” meaning is probably connected to the Slavic meaning, “protector of mankind.” Perhaps if Saskia is protecting someone from you, “knife” would be a pejorative. One famous Saskia was Rembrandt’s wife. Considering he sold her grave, (after she died), maybe the negative aspect of the name only applies to the one man. 😉
Persephone was an ancient pre-Greek vegetation goddess. For the Greeks, she was the daughter of Demeter, (both pre-dating Zeus), who was both Queen of the underworld and goddess of corn. If one considers the ancientness of Persephone’s worship, by agriculturalists, death was not negative: plants die, but seeds are harvested, planted–underground–and then reborn each spring as new plants. Consider the “negative” meaning of her name wasn’t given by those who respected her. I agree with Dantea. 🙂
on March 27th, 2014 at 3:45 pm
I think the meaning of a name is very important. An older generation might not have thought it was as significant, but people now Google everything – especially their names. It will take your child 10 seconds to find out every possible meaning for his/her name. And your child will be the one that decides if the meaning is acceptable or not.
I used to love the name Amelia, until I found out it is the medical term for “congenital absence of an arm or leg”. That negative meaning overshadows the other positive meaning (industrious) and associations (Earhart).
- What Might You REALLY Be Naming the Next Generation? Said on April 6th, 2014 at 12:14 am
on June 17th, 2014 at 5:31 pm
None of these names I like enough to use, except Persephone.
And I would definitely use it.
Hell, I would love to have a little Wednesday Addams for a daughter, so “bringing death” is a perfectly fine meaning for me!
on October 24th, 2014 at 10:01 am
I would definitely use most of these. For example, Kennedy is more associated with the President than with a misshapen head. When I think of Portia, I think of Shakespeare not a pig.
The meaning of many names are not commonly known. However there are names that have meaning or associations that could never be used.
on October 24th, 2014 at 10:07 am
December 18th, 2012 at 4:26 pm
I used to love the name Lila until I found out it means night or seductress. Which is sad because I think it’s the perfect name.
That is only one meaning. It has many, many beautiful meanings. My daughter almost used it. She was stopped by the people saying layla or Lola too often when she wanted Lila.
http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/1549146/lila ” In the devotional sects, lila has other and more particular meanings. In the Shakta traditions, lila is generally understood as a certain sweet and playful goodness that characterizes a universe whose essential nature is Shakti (the powerful, energetic principle).”
In various cultures it means purple or violet.
One of the things that drew us to the name was its lovely meaning.
on October 24th, 2014 at 12:32 pm
haha cmarygo. I would prefer a name with a nice meaning, especially if it’s important to me or relates to me in some way, but I wouldn’t disregard a name for its meaning if I really like it. So many people are named Emily, but I never knew that that was one of its meaning. I would tease my sister about Mary (her middle) meaning bitter…then again all my name means usually is “from Denmark”….nothing too fun or interesting…Gideon is a little hard to bestow on a little one, but I still really like the name. It’s something I would take into account, but not the end all, and I agree that unless it translates oddly, most people don’t know or care the meaning these days (except for nameberrys;))
on October 31st, 2014 at 10:40 am
I have seen so many contradictory name meanings, sometimes even on the same site, that I take meanings with a huge grain of salt. I’m much more concerned with negative modern connotations, and words that may have a negative meaning in a foreign language.
Even a “good” meaning may be completely irrelevant or innapropriate to the person given the name. Case in point, I’m an atheist named Lisa, which means pledged to god.
on October 21st, 2019 at 9:31 pm
Sloane is a Celtic name (male or female) meaning Warrior. It’s a GOOD meaning. Nowhere have I ever heard it as “raider”.
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