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Name Sage: Reinventing Bernice

January 19, 2016 Abby Sandel

Kelsey writes:

We have Penelope June and Malcolm Redding, and we’re expecting our third! My wonderful grandmother died a few days after I found out I was pregnant and we’d love to honor her if this baby is a girl. Her name was Bernice Vera.

My problems: our last name begins with an S and ends with a Z so I tend to steer very clear of first or middle names ending in S. Also, I like Bernice but I’m not sure that I love it.

What options do you see here? I know sometimes people honor relatives with a similar name. Do any stick out to you? Does Bernice S****z run together too much and sound muddy? Should we just put Vera as a middle name and call it good? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

The Name Sage replies:

Bernice was big in the 1910s and 20s. Conventional wisdom holds that it takes about a century for a name to fall out of fashion and feel fresh again. So if you named your daughter Bernice in 2016, you might be exactly ahead of the curve.

Or not. There’s just no way to say when a vintage name will be ready for revival.

The good news is that I think you can easily reinvent your grandmother’s name into something that feels more current. Both Bernice and Vera are chock full of possibilities for new names.

Since your older children are Penelope and Malcolm, I’m guessing that you like longer names, and prefer something a little bit vintage. Let’s see if we can match that style.

Bernice is a shortened form of Berenice, which comes from the Greek Berenike or Pherenike. Another form of the name? Veronica.

The spelling of Veronica was also influenced by the Latin phrase meaning true image – which is a religious concept, but also a lovely thought for a child named after a grandparent. But it gets even better, because the Latin phrase is vera icon.

Veronica wraps up your grandmother’s first and middle names into one neat package. It sidesteps the tricky S and Z sounds in your surname. Plus, Penelope, Malcolm, and Veronica sound like siblings.

But let’s keep looking, because there are plenty of other options.

Vera – You’ve mentioned using Vera as a middle name. That’s definitely a possibility, but Vera is a girl’s name on the upswing. If Veronica doesn’t appeal, would you consider Vera as your daughter’s first name? Vera Bernice is lovely, but Vera works with a great many middles. The name means faith in Russian, but it’s also associated with the Latin word meaning truth.

Verity – For something a little more offbeat, you could transform Vera into Verity, which comes directly from the Latin word. Another option along these lines is Alethea, which means truth in Greek. It’s rare, but could fit right in with girls named Amelia and Olivia.

Victoria – Let’s go back to Pherenike for a minute. Nike was the goddess of victory long before she became associated with all things sports, and Pherenike means “bringing victory.” Victoria is a regal possibility that’s close to cousin to Bernice.

Bea – Another thought might be to use just Bea, or even Bee. I think it would be an interesting middle option with almost any first name: Victoria Bea, Alethea Bea. I took the idea from actress Bea Arthur, born Bernice Frankel. Of course, some families choose honor names based on the first initial or sound only, so Beatrix might be an honor name for Bernice, too.

Bernadette – Despite sharing the same few letters, Bernadette and Bernice aren’t related. Bernadette is the feminine form of Bernard, which comes from the Germanic elements bear and brave. Bernadette has been in style limbo since the 1960s, but lately this name is attracting more positive attention. It has a clunky-cool vibe that might work well with siblings Penelope and Malcolm.

Seraphina – I’ll admit that Seraphina is a big stretch. Bernice doesn’t mean fiery, but it’s easy to hear burn in the first syllable of the name. Seraphina is Latin, from a Hebrew term in the Bible meaning fiery. It’s not a common name, though it’s been used more since Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck gave the name to their second daughter in 2009.

Overall, my favorite is still Veronica, maybe even with the middle name Bea. But I think there are plenty of options to honor your beloved grandmother, while choosing a name that feels brand new for your daughter.

Readers, what do you think? Would you use Bernice, Vera, or one of these reinventions? Or are there more ways to reinvent the names that I’ve missed?

About the author

Abby

Abby Sandel is nameberry's Senior Editor and resident Name Sage. Look for her baby name news round-ups every Monday, and her Name Sage columns on Wednesdays. Abby is the creator of the baby name blog Appellation Mountain and mom to Alex and Clio. For a chance to have your questions answered, contact Abby at namesage@nameberry.com.

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