Category: religious names

Baby Name Mary

For the arrival of May, official month of the Virgin Mary, we revisit her name and some of its many variations.

May, as any Catholic schoolchild can tell you, is the official month of the Virgin Mary, Mother of God.  Which might make Mary an appropriate name for a girl born this month, except after a 400 year run, Mary is more than ready for semi-retirement.

The good news is that you can hold onto Mary’s symbolic value by choosing one of her fresh, appealing variations.  And there are literally dozens of them, formal and breezily nicknameish, ultrafemme and down-to-earth.  Some of the options:

MADONNA – There’s only one Madonna – and it’s not the plaster one in the blue alcove at church.  The pop star has all but taken over this formerly holy name and rebranded it with a modern in-your-face sexuality.  Do you dare use it for your child?  Do you want to?  Maybe not yet, but with names like Elvis and Scarlett gaining widespread popularity a generation or two after the fame of their original bearers, we all might end up having grandchildren named Madonna.

MAE and MAY – A mere handful of years ago, Mae was a quintessential old-lady name, barely baby-appropriate, but today it feels as sweetly simple as a warm day in the sun.  Can be a short form for any of the Mary variations and also makes a good middle name.

MAISIEMaisie takes Daisy and raises it one.  An insouciant, charming name, Maisie can be given on its own or can be used as a short form for any of the Mary variations – or even for Margaret.

MAMIEMamie is sassier than either Mae or Maisie, though definitely in the same family.  An old-fashioned nickname that’s enjoying another day in the sun, Mamie was the name of President Eisenhower’s wife and is also the nickname of Meryl Streep’s actress daughter – both mother and daughter are properly named Mary Louise.

MANON – This French diminutive of Marie is very popular in its own right there and would make a distinctive and unusual choice here, but one with some genuine underpinnings.  Parents considering Manon should see the French film, Manon of the Spring.

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Naming Your Easter Baby

Easter Baby Names

It’s time again for our annual Easter basketful of names—those that relate directly to the holiday and relevant biblical personages, Easter nature names and names that suggest rebirth.


EASTER – Less common than Christmas but definitely a holiday name that works in its plain English version.

PARASHA – A Russian girls’ name that means “born on Good Friday.”

PASCAL etc. – There are many attractive versions of this name. The French Pascal, for boys, and Pascale for girls is especially appealing. The Spanish versions are Pascual and Pascuala; Italian is Pasquale.

PASCOE – English twist (Cornish, technically) on the Easter name popular in medieval times. PASCO is another spelling.

SUNDAY – This day name somehow seems best related to the Easter holiday and season.


JAMES, JOHN and PETER – Prayed in the garden with Jesus (but fell asleep)

JOANNA – Lesser known Biblical personage who was one of the women at Jesus’ tomb.

JOSEPH of Arimathea – According to the Bible, wrapped the body of Jesus in a clean shroud and placed it in his own tomb.

Mary MAGDALENE – The prime female figure in the Easter story, she witnessed the crucifixion, accompanied the body to the tomb, and later with the other women discovered the Resurrection. A saint, she is a symbol of penitence. Her name means “from Magdala.”

MARY – Mother of James the Younger and Joseph, accompanied Mary Magdalene in her vigil at the crucifixion and with Jesus’ body.

NICODEMUSSecret follower of Jesus who placed myrrh and aloes in Jesus’ shroud so he could be buried according to Jewish custom.

SALOME – One of the women at the tomb.

SIMON of Cyrene – Helped Jesus carry the cross.

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There are so many unusual, beautiful, intriguing saints’ names that it’s hard to know where to start when considering them as a source for baby names.  The collection that follows are the names of saints with winter feast days, which might be a source of inspiration for choosing the name of your own baby.  There are lots more wonderful choices (and saints) where these came from, but among the most intriguing winter saints’ names are:

AMBROSE – Patron saint of candle makers.

ADELARD — A cousin of Charlemagne who became a monk, a devoted gardener, and eventually a powerful abbot.

ANSKAR – Missionary to Scandinavia in the 9th century who tried to ease the harsh conditions of the Viking slave trade.

APOLLONIA – She had all her teeth knocked out for refusing to renounce her faith, and is now the patron saint of dentists.

BASILISSA – Also known as Basilla, this Roman noblewoman was beheaded for her belief in Christianity.  She is the patron saint of breast-feeding.

BAVO —  Nobleman who gave away all his money and became a hermit.  He is the patron saint of the Netherlands.

CAIAN – A Welsh saint who was said to be the son or grandson of a king.

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Behind the Namer

Historic Names

Today’s guest blogger, Mike Campbell, creator of the popular, authoritative and highly respected site, explains what he continues to find intriguing about the subject of names.

My website started as a simple experiment, turned into a hobby, and then morphed into a full-blown obsession.  It is a bit of a “lonely” obsession; none of my offline friends share my passion for the subject.  I often neglect bringing it up, since the usual reaction I get when someone first learns that I run a website about names is a blank stare, followed by “oh, like for babies?”  I hate that.  Names aren’t just for babies.  In fact I had little interest in babies before I had one of my own a couple of years ago.

So why am I so fascinated by names?   Since you’re reading this blog chances are you have at least a passing interest in the subject yourself, so maybe you’ve been posed with the same question. Personally, I don’t have an easy answer since names have so many interesting facets, but what follow are five features of onomastics that keep me intrigued.


The subject is universal, and by that I mean it touches every person. All of us have a name. All of us use names on a daily basis. Most parents have had to dwell for at least a while on a suitable name for their child. This is not quantum physics, it’s accessible, relevant, and fun.

Names provide a snapshot of culture. Meanings of names can reveal the values of the time, from pious Hebrew names to warlike and proud Germanic names. Many people find history dry, but I eat the subject up, and names can provide some fascinating insights.  A neat  example of this occurs after the onset of the Roman Christian period, when the somewhat functional and restrictive Classical praenomina start to lose ground to more gracious offerings such as Amatus “beloved,” Benedictus “blessed” and Clemens “merciful”.

Names connect us to the divine. So many names reference gods and goddesses. The Hebrew god Yahweh, whose name was at times considered blasphemous even to be spoken, appears in dozens of common names of today, such as Joshua and John. Allah is referenced in  Abdullah, as well as many other names that combine Abdul,  “servant of …” with one of his titles.  In names coming from the ancient GrecoRoman world, Marcus and Martina both refer to the war god Mars, Denis ultimately comes from wine god Dionysus, and even the name of my daughter Isidora derives from the Egyptian goddess Isis. Numerous other examples can also be found in Phoenician names (Hannibal references  the god Ba’al), Egyptian names (Tutankhamun references Amun), Hindu names and Norse names.

Names link us to historical giants. Thus, the dim-witted Homer Simpson shares a name with a lion of Greek poetry. The Xanders of the world can look to Alexander the Great, Chucks to Charlemagne, and Eleanors to Eleanor of Aquitaine. The simple fact that  names are shared means most of us have a namesake of note.

The subject is dynamic, new trends are always emerging. Multicultural influences, creative spellings, and the ever-pervasive sway of popular culture means that the “pool” of names has changed noticeably even from when I was a child.. For this I’m thankful, since it keeps the subject fresh, alive, and something that will always enthuse me.

Mike Campbell, who lives in Victoria, British Columbia, and is the father of a two-year-old daughter, launched his site in 1996, seeing the subject of names as combining his interests in history and language.

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A Dozen Neglected Biblical Boys’ Names

In the most recent list of Most Popular Boys ‘ Names, all five of the top five names came from the Good Book, accounting for well over 100,000 of the boy babies born in the US.  Obviously, many parents–whether for religious reasons or not–continue to be attracted to names with this strong traditional base.  But why, we ask, be limited to the same relatively small group of biblical choices, when there are loads of other more unusual options out there?  Why not Joab or Joah instead of Noah?  Beniah rather than Benjamin?  Jemuel in place of Samuel?

Many of these now obscure names were quite commonly used by the Puritan Colonists, especially in New England, until the middle of the 19th century when Old Testament names fell out of favor.  Most of the names listed below are hardly heard today, with only one of them–Asa–even appearing in the current Top 1000, but they are all possible alternatives to those standards that are given to thousands of babies each year.

ABIJAH — The name of Samuel‘s second son would make a perfect substitute for the Top 25 Elijah.

ABSALOM — A literary as well as biblical name, used by Chaucer (for the jolly clerk in The Miller‘s Tale, Dryden, Faulkner–and currently as a comic book character.

ADLAI —  Associated with with several generations of the Stevenson family, which produced a Vice-President and a UN representative named Adlai, it can be pronounced either ad-LAY or as-LYE.

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