A fellow berry recently mentioned that Coraline wasn’t accidentally invented by Neil Gaiman for his story. In fact, as thetxbelle pointed out, Coraline peaked in France in 1996 – about half a dozen years before Gaiman reversed two letters in Caroline to name his literary heroine.
It happens more often that you might think. Parents believe they’ve created Aidric by combining parts of different names, only to stumble on a ninth-century saint by the same name.
The two celebrity births to make baby name news this week fit that pattern. They seem stunningly original and terribly familiar all at once.
If mix and match baby names isn’t your style, there are a few other appellations grabbing headlines this week, thanks to the impending Oscars, Grammys, and a few literary classics, too.
This week’s nine newsiest baby names go from the modern to the medieval and everywhere in between:
Exton Elias – Since Robert Downey, Jr.’s firstborn was named Indio, we were expecting something wildly inventive from the actor and his wife Susan. Instead, the couple settled on Exton, a place name that has never been on the baby naming map, but feels an awful like Jaxon, Axton, Maddox, and a bunch of other just-add-x baby names in favor in recent years. If his first name fell short, his middle name is rich with meaning. Robert Downey, Sr. was born Robert Elias, the son of Russian immigrants.
Never mind the number nine. Last week’s news was abuzz with reports that baby number seven billion had joined the world on Monday. The exact calculation is imprecise, so a number of newborns were dubbed Baby Seven Bil. (Presumably some bear the name William, but I’ve yet to hear of one called Seven.)
So here’s the question: in a world of seven billion and counting, is any name really strange? A few weeks ago, a back-to-school ad showed lunchboxes and assorted school supplies bearing names like Ethan and Emma and Grace, but also Gigi and Miko and Cairo. Even the most ordinary classroom is home to some pretty extraordinarily unusual names.
This week’s list is a nod to the tremendous diversity out there in Namelandia. It gives us pause – how do you pronounce Saiorse? Is Ellington a boy or a girl? But it also creates space to use nearly any name under the sun.
Wednesday, May 25 is a big day for the small screen. After twenty-five years as the reigning queen of daytime television, Oprah Winfrey will broadcast her last show. She’s not headed from retirement – far from it. Ms. Winfrey commands a media empire, from her own television network to magazines to Harpo Productions, responsible for everything from feature films to satellite radio shows.
The story about her given name is well known. Born in rural Mississippi, her aunt chose the name Orpah from the Book of Ruth, and that’s the name recorded on her birth certificate. But Orpah never really stuck, and family and friends morphed the Biblical obscurity into a whole new name, destined for greatness.
Oprah isn’t the only name formed by a happy accident. Sometimes they’re actual errors made by the officials responsible for issuing birth certificates. Basketball player Antawn Jamison was supposed to be named Antwan – the phonetic spelling of Antoine – but his parents decided they liked the mistake.
Invented baby names get a bad rap, but there are a surprising number of mistakes, flukes, and misinterpretations that have led to some well-established names.
Annabel – She first appears in medieval Scotland. Amabel, Mabel, and other names based on Amabilis – an early saint’s name from the Latin for lovable – were common. Annabel appears to be either an error in recording, or possibly a sign that creative baby namers have been at work for centuries.
Aveline – Parents are rediscovering her as something of an Ava–Adeline smoosh, but she was used in medieval England, either from the Germanic element avi – desired, or possibly from the Latin avis – bird. She’s also the forerunner of Evelyn.
Imogen – William Shakespeare’s Cymbeline is loosely based on a real-life king of the Britons. King Cymbeline has a daughter called Imogen – except that Shakespeare almost certainly called her Innogen, from a Gaelic word for maiden. Despite references to Innogen in the Bard’s notes, Imogen is used almost exclusively today.
Jade – She’s an ornamental stone and a popular choice for daughters in recent decades. The Spanish name was originally piedra de ijada – stone of the flank. It was thought that jade could cure ailments of the kidneys. In French, piedra de ijada became l’ejade, and the English interpreted it as le jade. Jade has been the English name for the stone since the 1600s.