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Good Names with Bad, Bad Meanings

November 23, 2020 Emma Waterhouse
names with bad meanings

Names with bad meanings: what’s your take?

Some of the most popular baby names of the moment have unfortunate meanings that might just give new parents pause for thought.

For example, longtime Top 20 favorite Emily (and its stylish variant Emilia) mean “rival”, from the Latin aemulus. Kennedy means “misshapen head”, while Cameron means “crooked nose”. And Calvin may be one of the coolest classic boy names of the moment, but its meaning is decidedly less appealing: “bald”.

Do Bad Name Meanings Matter?

We recently stumbled across a discussion from our Forums about the importance of name meanings, both good and bad.

Berry @lucyxo asks:

Do you think it’s important to consider meaning when naming a child? I’ve heard plenty of people say you shouldn’t give your child a name with a bad meaning, but do you think it really matters?

Beyond that awkward moment in fourth grade when Kennedy’s teacher decides, as a “fun” activity, to have the whole class do oral reports on the meaning and origin of their names, does a negative meaning carry any deeper power?

Or, like @beynotce, do you feel that personal meaning trumps literal meaning of a name?

I feel strongly that the meaning the parents intend when they choose a name overrides the linguistic history of the name… For example, my middle name, Rae, is typically seen as a derivation of Rachel, which means “ewe.” However, my grandmother chose it as an alternate spelling of the word “ray,” as in a ray of light. So to me, my middle name means “ray of light.”

Over to you! Tell us what you think below.

40 Good Names With Bad Meanings

There are plenty of popular and stylish names with less-than-appealing meanings, which would suggest that most parents either don’t care or aren’t aware of the negative connotations.

Even James and Mary – two of the most popular baby names of all time in the US – are usually said to mean “supplanter” and “bitter”, respectively. (Although the true meaning of Mary is up for debate.)

Here is a selection of good names with bad, bad meanings.

Disclaimer: a few of these names’ meanings are not known for certain – Deirdre and Persephone, for example – but they are given with their most commonly ascribed meanings.

Girl Names

Acantha: thorn, prickle

Aphra: dust

Bronagh: sorrow

Campbell: crooked mouth

Cecily: blind

Cornelia: horn

Deirdre: sorrowful

Emilia: rival

Etain: jealousy

Kennedy: misshapen head

Lilith: night monster

Lyssa: fury

Malala: sad, grieved

Mallory: unlucky

Mara: bitter

Persephone: bringer of death

Portia: pig

Rue: regret

Saskia: knife

Sloane: raider

Boy Names

Abaddon: destruction

Ares: bane, ruin

Blaise: lisping

Brennan: wet or tearful

Byron: place of the cow sheds

Calvin: bald

Cameron: crooked nose

Casimir: destroyer of peace

Claude: limping

Colby: coal town

Damian: subdue

Eztli: blood

Gideon: feller, destroyer

Gulliver: glutton

Huxley: place of scorn

Jabez: bringer of pain

James: supplanter

Soren: stern

Tristan: sad

Viggo: war

Discover many more unfortunate name meanings in our list of names that mean trouble (literally!)

Or, if positive meanings are more your thing, you can find 200+ of the best names with great meanings here.

About the author

Emma Waterhouse

Emma Waterhouse — better known as @katinka around these parts — joined the team in 2017, writing about everything from where to find a cool vintage boy name to why some names become popular memes. As Nameberry's head moderator, she also helps to keep our active Forums community ticking. A linguist by background, Emma speaks six languages and lives in England's smallest county with her husband and three young children. You can reach her at emma@nameberry.com.

View all of Emma Waterhouse's articles

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