How Much Does a Name’s Meaning Really Mean??

For some parents, a name’s literal meaning is one of the most significant factors in making their choice, specifically seeking out a name that denotes a quality like strength or calm or beauty or intelligence.  But the fact of the matter is that these desirable attributes are attached to only one segment of the name bank.  A large proportion of names are based on biblical character references or the arcane workings of the medieval feudal system or geographical features of an early bearer’s locale.  And so you find Avery meaning ‘ruler of the elves,’ Carson meaning ‘son of the marsh dwellers,’ Benjamin ‘son of the right hand’ and Brandon ‘broom-covered hill’–none of which has much relevence to a 21st century baby.

And then there are those with out-and-out derogatory meanings, such as Cameron (crooked nose), Campbell (crooked mouth), Portia (pig), Kennedy (misshapen head), Gulliver (glutton), Calvin (bald), Mallory (unlucky), and Miriam (bitter).  These extreme examples are the real litmus test as to feelings about whether names are destiny or self-fulfilling prophesies, and also whether you think a child might feel resentful about such a choice (“Did your really think I was gonna have a crooked mouth?”).  But judging by the widespread popularity of some of these names, these considerations have been by and large disregarded.

We have always thought  that, in making a choice,  the contemporary image of a name far outweighs its literal meaning, so that supposedly ‘unlucky’ Mallory trumps ‘gentle strength’ Mildred.  In fact, for a long time Pam and I  skirted the issue entirely.  In our ‘Beyond Jennifer & Jason‘ and ‘Cool Names’ books, which deal with style and trends and naming issues, there were no textbook meanings of names at all.  We finally surrendered to the requests of some of our readers when we compiled ‘The Baby Name Bible,’ with its 50,000+ names and their meanings–a gargantuan task, by the way.

So, how important is a name’s literal meaning to you?  We’d love to hear your comments on the subject below, or on the message boards.

About the Author

Linda Rosenkrantz

Linda Rosenkrantz

Linda Rosenkrantz is the co-founder of Nameberry, and co-author with Pamela Redmond of the ten baby naming books acknowledged to have revolutionized American baby naming. You can follow her personally at InstagramTwitter and Facebook. She is also the author of the highly acclaimed New York Review Books Classics novel Talk and a number of other books.