From world-record holders and world leaders to Fantastic Beasts and fantastic journalists, November was a quite month for names in the news. Let’s have a closer look at some of the top names that made the headlines – and their fantastic, world-spanning origins.
After bingeing on turkey this Thanksgiving, many binged on the revival of the Gilmore Girls. Fans were eager to catch up with the always-exciting goings-on of its title women, Rory and Lorelai. On the show, Rory is a nickname for the character’s given name, Lorelai, after her mom. In real life, Rory comes from a Gaelic name that means “red king,” perfect for the character’s fiery wit and strong-willed personality.
Lorelai is variant of Lorelei, a German name featured in legend. As the story goes, Lorelei was a woman who lived high up on a rock along the Rhine River, where she lured passing fishermen with her song…to their deaths! The name itself means, appropriately enough, “luring rock.” Lorelai Gilmore is no siren, of course, but she is an alluring and powerful woman.
Another fictional name made it big last month: Moana, Disney’s latest hit animated film, which follows the journey of a chieftain’s daughter, Moana Waialiki. In Polynesian languages like Maori and Hawaiian, Moana means “ocean,” a name shared by a sea goddess in Pacific Islander myth. “Ocean” is fitting for the plot and setting of the movie, to be sure, but also for its title heroine, whose heart and determination are as big as her namesake.
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson voices Maui, Moana’s chieftain father. Dwayne, apparently, has quite the appealing voice: People magazine named him its 2016 “Sexiest Man Alive.” The name Dwayne is Irish in origin, from a surname based on dubh, “dark,” which also appears in the name of a place far away from Pacific islands: Dublin, Ireland.
November was also a good month for fans of magic: The release of J.K. Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them enchanted Potter-heads at movie theaters worldwide. But do you know what the J.K. actually stands for? Joanne was the author’s given name. It, like Joan, Janet, and Jeanne, are female versions of John, which passed into English from French, Latin, and Greek, all the way back to the Hebrew for “God is gracious.” And Kathleen, a middle name J.K. Rowling chose for herself, traces back to Katherine. The name Katherine has been associated with the Greek word for “pure,” but the deeper etymology of the name is shrouded in mystery – just as J.K. Rowling would have it.
Good news is always tempered with some bad, of course. Last month, we lost trailblazing journalist Gwen Ifill. Gwen, short for Gwendolyn, is a variant of its Welsh origin: Gwendolen. At the root of the name is “shining,” an apt description of the late reporter’s illustrious career and legacy.
Most knew her as Carol Brady, the tireless mother who held The Brady Bunch gang together. Her real name was Florence Henderson. Florence is from the Latin florens, “flourishing,” from the same root that gives English the word “flower.” Henderson had a prosperous career, indeed, and we will remember her work as Carol fondly – even the busy, 1970s, floral-patterned blouses the character loved to wear.
Fidel Castro, who ruled Cuba for nearly 50 years, died at the age of 90 on November 25. Spanish for “faithful,” Fidel goes back to the Latin fideles, with the same meaning. (The English word fidelity also derives from this root.) History will ultimately decide, though, how faithful the divisive Fidel was to his revolutionary causes.
Baseball player Ben Zobrist earned Most Valuable Player for his efforts in helping the Chicago Cubs win the World Series after the team’s legendary 108-year drought. Ben, short for Benjamin, is a biblical name, meaning “son of the right hand” or “son of the south” in Hebrew, and is now the tenth most popular name in the US. Fittingly enough, Ben is just like his name when he steps up to the plate: He a switch-hitter, able to bat either right-handed or as a southpaw, slang for the left hand.
Last but certainly not least is Emma Morano, the world’s oldest person. She turned 117 this November. Emma goes back…way back to a short form of German names like Ermentrude. The “ermen” part means “universal” or “entire” – and this Emma can definitely boast she’s had a very full life. Emma is now the #1 girls’ name in America—as well as in Germany and Norway.