Category: name meanings

Vivacious Names

Linda wrote last week on the question of whether a name’s meaning still means anything.  Maybe not so much, and yet several of today’s most stylish names mean “life”.  Eve and Eva, Aisha and Zoe, Liv and all forms of Vivian share the life-affirming meaning.

Even if parents aren’t searching for a name with a specific meaning, the fact that an attractive name carries an equally attractive meaning can only be a plus.  Beautiful, strong, graceful, intelligent, star: These are all great meanings that may support the appeal of a name.  But life may be the most powerful meaning of all.

If you like the life-affirming meaning and want a name a little further off the beaten track, here’s a short list of other options:











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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.

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