Hale and Hardy Names for the New Year: Argo to Zacchaeus
By John Kelly
In the new year, many of us resolve to clean up our diets and shape up our bodies. To help keep you motivated or get you inspired, here are some invigorating baby names whose meanings are all about health and fitness.
Argo was the name of the ship the ancient Greek mythic hero Jason and his companions, the Argonauts, sailed as they quested for the Golden Fleece, a myth also referenced in the award-winning 2012 film of the same name. It means “swift” in ancient Greek, fitting for a ship—and making for a unique mythology-inspired name for a boy, which has never been moored to the popularity charts.
The name Dante immediately calls up the great Italian medieval poet, Dante Alighieri, whose work—and name—are indeed enduring. And literally so, as Dante is a contraction of the Italian Durante, meaning “steadfast” or “enduring.” A classic with modern appeal, Dante has been given in recent years to the children of singers Jordan Knight and Ani DeFranco, and appears in the new Pixar film Coco. Dante came in at #344 in the US for 2016, down a hundred or so spots from its late 1990s peak.
Irish names are perennial favorites in the US. Liam, for instance, was second only to Noah as the most popular male name from 2014 to 2016. But many of us have been scared away by some of the tricky consonant clusters seen in more traditional Irish names—including Domhnall. Pronounced like Donal (like tonal with a D) and source of Donald, Domhnall means “world-mighty.” Rising star Domnhall Gleeson may help put this strong name on the map.
Is Glenda due for a comeback? She hasn’t made the Top 1000 since 1989 after her Top-100 heyday in the 1940s. Old-fashioned, yes, but Glenda is also lyrical—and it’s Welsh, which is always appealing. An etymologically aspirational name, Glenda joins a Welsh root meaning “pure” or “clean” with another meaning “good.”
Warren G. Harding, 29th president of the US, may not get much historical love, but his surname was popular in 1920–21as he assumed the office, cracking the Top 400 those years. We might revisit it as a hardy choice today, sharing its first syllable with the popular Harley, Harlow, and Harper. Harding is an English surname from a German root that means “brave” or “strong.”
Remember how we said we might be ready for full-fledged Irish spelling? Well, Caoilfhionn might be pushing it. Go for it its Anglicized form instead: Keelin. She has shed some letters—quite apt as the name means “slender” and “fair.” Never charting in the US, Keelin is a distinctive offering that has the full baby-name complement: two syllables, begins with a K, ends with an N, has ethnic lineage, and is unusual but approachable. Its more familiar male counterpart, Kellan, was #498 in the US in 2016.
Significant places in our lives can inspire our baby name choice. Perhaps you resided in a life-changing Lancaster? Or perhaps Lancaster has just the original and dramatic flair you’re looking for in a boy’s name? English place-name and famed royal house in the Middle Ages, Lancaster means “Roman fort on the River Lune,” the river name in turn likely meaning “healthy” or “pure.” Inviting slick nicknames like Lance or Caster, Lancaster definitely makes a statement.
It’s hard to compete with Sophia, a Top 10 name in the past decade, but Sophronia delivers similarly dulcet sounds in a novel package. Antique, sophisticated, and with a slight air of mystery, Sophronia comes from the Greek for “sound heart or mind.” You won’t find it anywhere except for a smattering of saints and literary characters. Safronia is a tempting variant.
We think Traynor, an Irish surname literally meaning “strong man,” would positively stand out for a boy or girl. It’s got the stuff: heritage credentials combined with occupational notes (trainer). These confident-sounding two syllables make for an engaging alternative to the trendier likes of Cooper and Harper.
Valerie has been in the Top 200 girl’s names in the US since 1942, peaking at #60 in 1959 and still landing a respectable #160 in 2016—and for good reason. It’s familiar but not commonplace. And it’s interesting without being pretentious. A “strong” choice, too, as she comes from a Latin verb meaning, “to be strong or healthy,” seen also in value, valorous, and valentine.
Walker is on a steady stroll from English surname to popular first name, coming in at #328 in 2016. And yes, Walker means one who walks, but it began as an occupational name in the Middle Ages for someone who trod on wool to help clean and thicken it. These walkers were also called Fullers or Tuckers—also surnames with some first name cred, such as Ashley Fuller Olson of Full House fame.
Zane (#211) and Zander (#261) have emerged as desirable Z names for boys beyond the old usual suspect, Zachary. But Zacchaeus is still under the radar. While it too can be shortened to Zach or Zack, Zacchaeus is actually unrelated, meaning “pure” in Hebrew. A tax collector in the New Testament named Zacchaeus lived up to his name after he gave half his possessions to the poor. It can also be spelled Zaccheus, though the ae does have the venerable, biblical bearing of a Michael or Raphael.