These Names Mean Trouble (Literally!)

Sometimes, despite our best intentions, we choose a name that’s just a – well, not a mistake, exactly. In many ways, it might be a perfectly lovely name. Except for that little black cloud hovering over it.

If you’re aware of the cloud – and by cloud, we mean things like an unsavory meaning or disreputable association – then fine. You’ve consciously considered the down side of the name and chosen to embrace it anyway. That’s cool.

The problem comes in if you pick a name and then find out three months or three years down the road that there’s something wrong with it. Something that makes people look at you – or worse, your child – strangely when the name is announced.

That’s when we call it a mistake.

Baby names that might elicit an Oooooops include:

Brain – No, people are not using this name in honor of an important body part, ala Hart. Brain was, believe it or not, in the Top 1000 for a full QUARTER CENTURY, from 1965 through 1989, as a misspelling of Brian. Yeah: Ooooops!

Brendan and Portia — Revisionists may have assigned the Irish name Brendan the meaning “prince” and the Latin Portia “doorway,” but older sources say Brendan means “stinking hair” and Portia means “pig.” Great names, as long as little Brendan or Portia doesn’t get hold of an old baby name dictionary.

Cecelia and Claudia – Two of the loveliest girls’ names around mean, unfortunately, blind and lame. Doubly not recommended for twins.

Cohen and Jacoby – Two widely-used Jewish surnames becoming popular, oddly enough, as first names for non-Jewish babies. The really astonishing thing is that many parents attracted to Cohen or Jacoby have no idea that they are Jewish surnames; they just see Cohen as a fresh spin on Owen or Cody and Jacoby as a newer form of Jacob. In fact, Cohen is not only one of the three most common Jewish surnames in the U.S., it’s the one most closely identified with Judaism. Cohen also holds a special sacred place in Judaism, as a name reserved for High Priests descended from Aaron.  Many Jews (and non-Jews) find it offensive that those with no connection to the Cohen tradition or authentic right to use the name adopt it as a first name.  And Jacoby, like Jacobi and Jacobs meaning “son of Jacob,” is typically Jewish too — obviously not an ooops in and of itself, only if you’re ignorant of the name’s important connection to its cultural and religious background.

Declan and Dashiell – What’s wrong with Declan and Dashiell, two of the handsomest of the contemporary boys’ names? Nothing, except they have no meaning. Nope, none at all. Which might not matter, until all the other kids are discovering that their names mean “gift of God” or “tall, handsome, strong prince,” while little Dash has to confess that next to his name, where the meaning is supposed to go, is just a big blank.

Delilah and Jezebel – Half a century ago, in more straight-laced times, no parents would have named their daughters Delilah or Jezebel, famous Biblical bad girls. Even Magdalene, as in Mary, was pretty much off the table. Today, it’s okay to name your daughter after an ancient harlot, but you definitely should be aware that you’re doing so.

Dexter – Television’s Dexter has inspired a new fashion for his ancient and attractive name. The problem? He’s a serial killer, albeit a genial one who only kills bad guys. But as a role model for your little namesake? Ooooops.

Mara and Deirdre – Strong and appealing? As names yes, except that these two choices mean bitter and sad. Ooooops. Like Cecelia and Claudia, singly you can maybe get away with them, but as twin names, they’re disaster.

Medea, Ophelia, and Pandora – Ancient names are in style, but beware reviving mythological or literary favorites with having a firm grasp of their backstories. Medea killed her kids (uh-oh), Ophelia killed herself (oh no), and Pandora dang near killed the world (yikes).

Trenton and CamdenTrenton and Camden may be attractive place-names, but have you ever been to Trenton and Camden? Both down-at-the-heels cities in New Jersey? Not attractive places.

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89 Responses to “These Names Mean Trouble (Literally!)”

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Tiana Says:

July 28th, 2011 at 1:02 am

re: Trenton & Camden – I feel the same way about the name Colton, which is a trashbox town here in Southern California.

Carah Says:

July 28th, 2011 at 1:17 am

I had to tell my friend that Koen was a Jewish last name. She had no idea. Funny to me because I research the heck out of any name a looong time before I even name a child.

Jennie Says:

July 28th, 2011 at 1:28 am

These are very interesting! I too find it odd how many people name their kids without having the slightest idea about the history of it.

The only one I disagree with is Ophelia. By the same logic, no one should name their daughters Juliet or Sylvia. I don’t think having a tragic heroine as a namesake is really that bad.

Hippo Says:

July 28th, 2011 at 2:35 am

The funny thing is the Cecelia and Claudia are actually a pretty good twin set.

My problem with Ophelia isn’t that she committed suicide, it’s all the pedophilia jokes. I generally like the name though.

Mara Says:

July 28th, 2011 at 2:42 am

My parents must not have known the “bitter” meaning of my name when I was born, because they keep insisting that it means “of the sea” whenever I tell them that it means “bitter”.

Elea Says:

July 28th, 2011 at 3:37 am

Don’t forget Isla. The name comes from the Scottish island, Islay, but Islay itself means “swelled flanks”.

Elea Says:

July 28th, 2011 at 3:41 am

Oh yes, and Bristol, not only a place name (same pitfalls as Camden) but “bristols” is cockney rhyming slang for ahem… female décolletage.

rachel Says:

July 28th, 2011 at 5:43 am

disagree with Declan! Its of irish decent and means full of goodness.

Sarah Says:

July 28th, 2011 at 5:55 am

Why is naming a child with a Jewish name automatically “trouble?”

Marie Says:

July 28th, 2011 at 6:18 am

Mara – I have been told of the dual meaning bitter/from the sea, for my own name too. Must be a common root. I’ve always thought my parents had made up the “from the sea” bit, but it seems not!
I prefer the sound of Mara to Marie though!

Tara Says:

July 28th, 2011 at 6:47 am

Great blog. I love name meanings and their associations. I think Dexter’s upswing is fascinating, a cool fictional killer is perhaps not the drawback one would expect it to be.

pam Says:

July 28th, 2011 at 7:26 am

Sarah, I think you misunderstand. Of course it’s not automatically trouble to give a child a Jewish name, but to give a child a Jewish surname when you’re not Jewish and have no idea that the name you’re using has a special place in the Jewish culture, as Cohen does, is a mistake.

Kristi Says:

July 28th, 2011 at 8:06 am

My back up for Dashiell having no meaning is one of two things: either take a piece of the name (dash) to instill a meaning (i.e. we chose Dashiell because it’s a dashing name, as are you, son) or give a very meaningful 2nd name. I love Dashiell Everett, and, while Dashiell doesn’t have a meaning, Everett means brave (I’m pretty sure). Honestly, I think you can get away with coming up with a meaning so long as it makes sense. That’s really how language works, isn’t it?

tarynkay Says:

July 28th, 2011 at 8:32 am

Kristi- well, sort of. Everett means “brave wild boar.” So I guess it would depend on your feelings towards pigs and boars. I really don’t know that boys sit around talking about name-meanings so much, so I doubt that it matters, though.

Littlebrownpony Says:

July 28th, 2011 at 8:42 am

Bummer about Cecelia (and Cecilia, I’m assuming.) I still think it’s a beautiful name, though.

Charlottie Says:

July 28th, 2011 at 8:46 am

I actually really like Camden, as long as you’re naming your child after the borough in North London and not NJ (:
Also, The TV series kind of ruined Dexter for me :/
Other names with unfortunate meanings:
Cameron and Calvin : crooked nose and bald. Wouldn’t that be an awful sibset?

klcalder2 Says:

July 28th, 2011 at 9:10 am

@tarynkay: Lol, I suppose there isn’t anything wrong with boars, but I’m sure you’re right about boys and meanings. I can’t imagine they’d be stuck on the meaning of their name. More they’d all be discussing what a bad ass nn Dash is 🙂

pam Says:

July 28th, 2011 at 9:15 am

We’ve always maintained that these root meanings don’t mean that much anymore, and I wouldn’t hesitate to use one of the great names on this list because of the meaning (or lack of one!). I can never remember what my own kids’ names mean and I don’t think they know or care. But I do think you should at least be aware of the history and meaning of a name before you settle on it!

Becky Says:

July 28th, 2011 at 9:28 am

I shudder at the thought of naming a child Trenton or, worse yet, Camden. What, Fallujah was taken?

klcalder2 Says:

July 28th, 2011 at 9:29 am

True, true! Both of my children’s names have multiple meanings, as do so many names it seems.

Speaking of, Cecilia/Cecelia means blind, but doesn’t Celia mean heavenly?

Mcmom Says:

July 28th, 2011 at 9:48 am

Sorry, Pam, but I am echoing Sarah. I do not see the relevance of including Cohen or Jacoby based on their strong links to “Judaism” (as opposed to the eternally popular “Hebrew” names??) The inclusion startled me, the explanation exacerbated my concern, and the surrounding names/commentary reflect drastically different criteria for inclusion. First, how is anyone “Not aware” that the names are affiliated with Judaism (especially considering your primary/target audience), and second, how is that a dark cloud? What would be bad about it?

Leslie Owen Says:

July 28th, 2011 at 10:00 am

It’s Celeste that means heavenly; Celia is an older form of Cecilia. The problem with using Cohen as a first name is that it’s an assumption that Cohen holds no meaning any more; in fact, the Cohenim are still very important in the Jewish religion. The solution is to use the Irish surname Cohan as opposed to Cohen. Dashiell is actually the surname da/de Shiell, which in itself is a misspelling of a French Hugenot surname. I am still searching family records to find out more about this. I’ll let people know when I do.

klcalder2 Says:

July 28th, 2011 at 10:11 am

I found this article about naming a baby Cohen: They actually are talking about a Nameberry post. But like Leslie said, it’s because Cohen (or Kohen) has a very special meaning.

One of the quotes the article pulls from the thread explains it pretty well:
“‘A Cohen is a Jewish priest and a religious name, so… it would pretty much be like a non-Christian person naming their child Jesus, a non-Muslim person naming their child Mohammed, or a non-Catholic person wearing a rosary as jewelry simply because it looks cool,” one poster wrote. “If you’re not Jewish, please be aware that many Jewish people may be understandably offended by a non-Jewish Cohen.'”

And @Leslie Owen: thanks for the bit about Celeste vs. Celia!

Kitty Says:

July 28th, 2011 at 10:22 am

I think another addition to this list should be Priscilla, meaning “ancient”… I had a friend named this once, and she was rather upset when I told her the meaning.
Personally, I don’t judge a name based on meaning. My name’s meaning, especially, even though it’s nothing bad, is somewhat annoying; Caitlin = pure. Up until I was about eleven I didn’t even know what pure meant, and all through middle and high school my friends have said, “Pure? You’re not pure…” So, honestly, I think meaning is overrated.

C in DC Says:

July 28th, 2011 at 10:46 am

Cohen isn’t exclusively a Jewish name. It also has Irish roots.

agirlinred Says:

July 28th, 2011 at 11:20 am

Bewitching Names did a profile on the name Jezebel which I thought was interesting…

Mary Kathryn Chenoweth Says:

July 28th, 2011 at 11:22 am

Trenton is one of my favorite boy names, it’s number 5 on my top 10. Nothing could deter me from naming my son this, not even a gross New Jersey city.

Lola Says:

July 28th, 2011 at 11:43 am

What, Jemima & Rufus don’t have unsavory associations too? Be still my heart! 😀
Cecilia, Claudia, Pandora, Portia & Ophelia don’t seem so horrible to me, although I’d probably use the latter three as middles only, just in case. Declan doesn’t bother me at all.

SJ Says:

July 28th, 2011 at 11:48 am

I would like to weigh in on the Cohen/Jacoby issue. I have a friend who just had twin boys named Jacorey and Jacoby . She is not jewish and lives where there would not be any jewish influences or cutlture making her aware of jewish surnames. I do think what you have been exposed to culturally makes you more aware – but in light of boys names be given to girls and creative spellings taking over – what is inherently wrong with what might be a jewish surname being bestowed upon a non-jewish baby?

There are loads of non-irish babies with irish names. I just don’t see the difference and I really don’t think what a name means matters at all. All your friends and co-workers – you hear their names and immediately run to google what their name means? No, you just know their name and use it. I have found that a name meaning only comes into play when the parent is trying to convince you of the name choice. With my tongue in my cheek – “But it means heavenly light” or what have you – the name is still “Brunhilda Snogswat”. This is the sort of thing I have come across when it comes to name meanings – otherwise – don’t see it as an issue at all. Cecelia and Claudia are good names (at least I think so) and until this article I had no idea what they meant.

Madi Says:

July 28th, 2011 at 12:08 pm

I know a girl named Gabrielle, but on her birth certificate it says “Fabrielle” because the nurse made a typing mistake.

Alexia Mae Says:

July 28th, 2011 at 12:13 pm

GREAT article!

punkprincessphd Says:

July 28th, 2011 at 12:51 pm

Ok, on the “Irishness” of Cohen: the most common forms of the surname in Ireland are Cowan (as in the former Taoiseach Brian Cowan) and Cowen. Some pronounce these as “Co-en” but the majority as “COW-en”. Just because a name appears to be a cognate of another, doesn’t mean they are etymologically or even phonetically related.

And, more to the point on Cohen: if the culture from which you are appropriating the name finds it insulting or *inappropriate*, that’s their right. Use the name or don’t, but be aware that it may be seen as insensitive to those who have roots in that culture. When members of the dissident republican Continuity IRA compliment you on naming your daughter Saoirse, don’t be surprized.

Pam Says:

July 28th, 2011 at 12:54 pm

Great points, punkprincess. Saoirse nearly made it onto this list!

Snoopy Says:

July 28th, 2011 at 1:28 pm

Maybe this name was left off the list due to it’s obvious bad-boy association, but Cain (and various spellings) seems to be growing in popularity. Albeit Kane has some great/positive meanings (beautiful, golden, warrior). And in Hawaiian mythology Kane (pronounced Kah-ney) was the highest of the 4 major Hawaiian deities known as God of procreation/fertility. So while Cain took away life in the bible, Kane gave life in Hawaiian mythology. I love the name Kane, but unfortunately no matter the spelling if it’s pronounced like Cain, some people go straight to the killer association (ugggg!).

tavn Says:

July 28th, 2011 at 1:30 pm

What about the Camden in London? That’s what I always think of when I hear Camden. There’s a neighborhood near where I live called Camden and it’s a very rich neighborhood, so for me, Camden is not a trashy kind of name.

Oph Says:

July 28th, 2011 at 1:31 pm

I don’t think Ophelia is a bad name, though I am obviously biased. It means helper, and in Hamlet she didn’t kill herself. From what I understand she fell in and drowned. Just thought I would clear that up…plus I haven’t heard any jokes referring to the name.

Interesting list though!

Leslie Owen Says:

July 28th, 2011 at 3:15 pm

Point in case, about offending with names: my son has a theatre associate who has named herself Shekhinah. She called herself this because her particular Christian evangelical sect has a “mission” in Israel and feels very close to Israel. Yet, as a conservative Jew, I am offended, not pleased, that she’s honouring Judaism with her name because in my culture, you don’t speak or write the names of G-d, and her name is the feminine attribute of G-d. In other words, when appropriating someone else’s faith or culture, research it first.

Gabby Says:

July 28th, 2011 at 3:37 pm

Actually, Camden is a lovely town in South Carolina. It’s known as the “Steeplechase capital of the world”. I know several Camdens and not one of their moms named them after anything in New Jersey. Ditto for the 1 Trenton.

Perhaps more research was needed before you say a name is trouble?

Leslie Owen Says:

July 28th, 2011 at 3:42 pm

Dashiell’s etymology comes from de Chiel or de Chielle, via Scotland to the US. There is a village in Normandy called Wanchielle, which had a large Huguenot population. Wanchielle could easily have become de Wanchielle or de Chielle, eventually evolving into Dashiell. Perhaps it would have been easier had everyone called my cousin Sam!

These Names Mean Trouble (Literally!) – Baby Name Blog – Nameberry | Hawaiian History Says:

July 28th, 2011 at 4:04 pm

[…] took away life in the bible, Kane gave life in Hawaiian mythology. … … View post: These Names Mean Trouble (Literally!) – Baby Name Blog – Nameberry ← Honolulu Eat the Street Food Truck Rally for Hawaiian […]

Sassy Says:

July 28th, 2011 at 4:40 pm

What about Kennedy? It means misshapen head, not the nicest association.

As for people commenting on Cohen, I’ve seen it on these message boards telling people not to use it because of what it means in the Jewish culture and how it could potentially offend people.

@SJ-I know not everyone is like me but I do look up my coworkers names to see what they mean or if someone comes into the office with an interesting name I’ll look up it’s meaning as well. I’m not going to judge you on your name or it’s meaning but I do find it interesting.

Andrea Says:

July 28th, 2011 at 4:59 pm

I honestly think people need to get over the Dexter association, it’s a TV show not a real serial killer! I like the name Dexter and people say it sounds nerdy sometimes (Dexter’s Laboratory) or reminds them of the serial killer. I doubt very much if I name my kid Dexter he will become either because of him name!

Art Says:

July 28th, 2011 at 5:01 pm

Another Jew (and not even a religious one!) who agrees that Cohen is trouble. (Jacoby not so much—I don’t really see an issue with that one.) It’s not just because it’s a Jewish name, but because Cohen has a very specific meaning in Judaism—the name is reserved for descendants of the priestly caste who are directly related to Aaron. Religious Jews find it extremely offensive for others to co-opt that meaning and use it. (Basically, they see it as someone taking on an identity that is not rightfully his and pretending to be part of this lineage.) I’m not sure there really is a good naming analogy for other faiths, since plenty of Muslim families name children Mohammed and Latino Christians use Jesus. In contrast, other Jews don’t use Cohen if they’re not part of the line, so it’s not a name where it’s okay if you’re Jewish but not if you aren’t. In this case, it’s even less okay for Jews to use it!

Does it bother me personally? No, not really, because I know a lot of people don’t have a clue and don’t research names very extensively. But I’m definitely not willing to risk that my child won’t be bothered by having a controversial name—at some point he’s going to look up the meaning and find himself in the middle of the fray, or perhaps he’ll meet someone Jewish who does care (if the rationale for using it is that you don’t know any Jews—and I’ve seen that a lot on the naming sites!) There are also some great alternatives—you could use Owen or Rowan, or you could use similar-but-pronounced-a-bit-differently names like the Irish Cowan or the Dutch Coen. Why borrow trouble if you don’t have to?

Taibhse Says:

July 28th, 2011 at 5:14 pm

I agree, what’s the difference between non jewish parents picking jewish surnames, with no knowledge of the meanings behind the names, and people picking Irish surnames as first names, which you frequently have on name lists. Here in Ireland people just wouldn’t use those names as first names. Also Saoirse means freedom, whats your point?

moxielove Says:

July 28th, 2011 at 5:54 pm

I completely agree with the posters who say “Go ahead and name your kid Cohen if you want, but you should at least KNOW what you are doing”.

On that note, and following up on a suggestion from Snoopy, if you slap a Hawaiian name on your kid and have no association with Hawaii, please be aware of IT’S cultural significance as well. You may not care, and that is entirely your right, but you should know that certain names in Hawaiian culture are very special, and it’s appropriate to seek the advice of a kapuna before attaching it to your child to make sure it’s “OK”. And frankly, attaching it to a non-Hawaiian child is almost never “OK” to the segment of the population that cares.

Ie. don’t go naming your kid after one of the 4 major Hawaiian gods.

My friend is TTC and met a hungarian bartender with the name Attila. She said What a great name! I’ll add it to my list of boy’s names, and I warned her she may want to think twice — she had never heard of Attila the Hun, but I told her most other folks would have.

M Says:

July 28th, 2011 at 6:25 pm

On the jewish names thing – regardless of anyone being aware or offended I think Jewish surnames just sound silly as first names. People need to remember that children grow up and lots of them move to major cities where there actually are jewish people.

Freckles Says:

July 28th, 2011 at 6:30 pm

I’m totally with Art. I’m jewish and would never use Cohen because it would be totally sacrilegious. Only those who are descended from the priestly line are allowed to claim this name, and even so, it’s only applied as a surname, not as a first name. If people want to use it, then that’s their right, but I do hope the research the name and know it’s history.

As for Camden, I’m from New York City, so the name is strongly associated with the less-than-savory town in NJ. Of course, if you’re not from the northeast/mid-atlantic area, you probably don’t have this association, but still it’s good for parents to know it exists.

Gabby Says:

July 28th, 2011 at 6:59 pm

Another comment on the Trenton/Camden issue, comparing naming a baby Trenton “or worse Camden” to naming a child Fallujah as a previous poster did, is down right offensive. Too many of our soldiers lately have lost their lives or been severely wounded in Fallujah. I’m sure hearing that name in a competely inappropriate way could be very painful to service men and women’s family members.

Snoopy Says:

July 28th, 2011 at 7:04 pm

Moxielove, I agree that some people may find it offensive to use a traditional Hawaiian name on a non-Hawaiian child. But I would say in the case of the name Kane, since it has other origins (Celtic, Welsh, Japanese), I think it’s totally acceptable unless you solely chose it based on the Hawaiian connection and used the Kah-neh pronunciation. More than anything with this name I would be more concerned about the Cain/killer association than being offensive to the Hawaiian culture.

But I do think you have a good point that certain religions and cultures hold some names as sacred and every parent should do their due diligence to research the meanings/history of a name prior to bestowing it on their child.

klcalder2 Says:

July 28th, 2011 at 7:19 pm

I think some are missing the point that Cohen isn’t just a Jewish surname. It has a religious significance that makes it very odd for a non-Jewish person to use the name. It is Hebrew for priest. If it were just another surname, I doubt it would be this much of a hot topic.

@Andrea: LOVE Dexter! I can totally get over the TV character association because I think the name is fantastic.

penguin Says:

July 28th, 2011 at 7:42 pm

Declan is from the Irish Deaglan, which does have a meaning. From an Irish naming site: Deaglan “deck + lan” –
From dag “good” and lan “full” suggesting “full of goodness.”

Jenny Says:

July 28th, 2011 at 8:18 pm

Mara is a form of Mary, Marie and Maria etc.. and they all mean Bitter, but all have strong biblical ties. That Mara’s or Maryam most likely name also meant bitter. Mar means Sea and Meredith has a sea related meaning.

Jenny Says:

July 28th, 2011 at 8:19 pm

Mara is a form of Mary, Marie and Maria etc.. and they all mean Bitter, but all have strong biblical ties. That Mara’s or Maryam most likely name also meant bitter. Mar means Sea and Meredith has a sea related meaning.

As for Cohen I think the author was just telling people to be aware that they were using a name as common as Smith in some communities as a first name.

Nook of Names Says:

July 28th, 2011 at 8:50 pm

I do agree that it’s important to uncover all the layers of a name before using it, and to think twice about those with less than pleasant meanings and associations before using.

However, I’m not sure I agree with all your examples!

As others have said, Declan is Irish, the name of a 5th C saint, and the most likely meaning is ‘full of goodness’.

Deirdre doesn’t actually mean ‘sorrow’. She is ‘Deirdre of the Sorrows’. The meaning of her name is very uncertain, but the ‘sorrow’ theory is not rooted in any actual linguistic facts. It could be Old Irish der ‘daughter’ + dér ‘tear’ or (the theory I favor) deir ‘says’ + draoi ‘(the) Druid’ – since her undeniably sad tale stemmed from a prophecy made by a druid.

And as Charlotte mentioned, Camden (the original Camden) is the name of a very trendy London (England) borough. Emma Thompson went to the Camden School for Girls, which gives you an idea of the nature of the place.

As for the piggy/boar names – not all cultures in all times have had such downers on the animals. To the Celts pigs and boars were highly regarded, the latter being particularly associated with royalty, strength and power.

I also heartily agree with Bewitching’s take on Jezebel. Delilah, Medea, Ophelia and Pandora could also be viewed through a different, feminist lens too, if desired.

And I just want to add that Celia is NOT an older form of Cecilia. This is a common misconception, as in modern use, it is often been treated as a truncated form. Celia’s roots, however, lie with Caelius, an entirely separate Roman name to Caecilius. Caelius derives from Latin caelum ‘sky’ (and ‘chisel’).

Magpie Says:

July 28th, 2011 at 9:55 pm

I have gripes with a couple of these claims, most of them have been brought up already but you have Brendan backwards. Brendan dose mean “prince” (sorta it’s the Latinized form of Bréanainn which is an Irish borrowing of a Welsh word) However when some people tried to find a purely Irish meaning for it they ended up with the “smelly hair” meaning.

Annie Bond Says:

July 28th, 2011 at 10:18 pm

Actually, Dashiell has its origins in the French da Shiell, meaning ‘page boy’.

punkprincessphd Says:

July 29th, 2011 at 11:14 am

@Taibhse: In Northern Ireland, Saoirse is strongly associated not only with a republican ideology, but more frequently with dissident republicanism – i.e. as the name of the RIRA/Republican Sinn Fein newspaper. It connotes a specifically republican form of irredentism in the North. Fine, in the Republic of Ireland its associations are more firmly linked to the nationalist movement from 1912-1922. But the “troubling” aspect of the name concerns which “freedom” one is referring to: freedom for the 26 counties, for a united Ireland, for a united socialist Ireland, for a united Ireland achieved by violence, etc. As I said, in the North the predominant association tends to be with the latter. Also, if I were to enroll my daughter Saoirse in a Protestant (public) school in Ballymena, the name would get a very different reaction to that of a Catholic school in Fermanagh or Derry.

Leslie Owen Says:

July 29th, 2011 at 12:00 pm

@annie — where did you get page boy out of da Shiel/da Chielle? I’d be interested to know.

Tarat3232 Says:

July 29th, 2011 at 2:03 pm

The “Why not Fallujah” comment was intended to point out that both Trenton and Camden have been the sight of major battles in American history. Not disrespectful as much of this commentary has been. People should have the consideration to research names and their meanings because it is important to be an informed citizen of the world. Yet, people commenting on this article seem to think that they can name their kids whatever they want. Yet the kids have to live with these names and the baggage that comes with said names.

moxielove Says:

July 29th, 2011 at 6:12 pm

I just want to say that this is BY FAR my favorite discussion on this blog page. I think it really illustrates the power a name can have, how different people can perceive it, and the gulf between history and the moment.

All reasons why I — and I’m sure most of you — LOVE names!

Julie Says:

July 30th, 2011 at 2:12 am

I just want to point out to the posters who think the Dutch Coen/Koen would be an acceptable alternative to Cohen. In Dutch it’s pronounce with one syllable: like “coon” in raccoon, instead of 2 syllables like Cohen.

In other words, it’s pronounced just like the racial slur.

Julie Says:

July 30th, 2011 at 2:40 am

In a similar vein… I was wondering about Bodhi. I’m not that familiar with Buddhism, other than it’s the state of enlightenment that leads to nirvana.

Would naming a non-Buddhist child Bodhi, be offensive in a similar way to naming a child Cohen? Or would just be odd — like naming a Agnostic child Evangeline?

katialoves Says:

July 31st, 2011 at 1:34 am

so sacha baron cohen is in this special lineage? no wonder he is so awesome!

katialoves Says:

July 31st, 2011 at 1:44 am

i’d predict that buddhist people would be ok with bodhi. i have many buddhist friends (mostly who grew up buddhist) and have also taken a university course and my whole degree was in asian studies. plus i ‘like’ dalai lama on facebook so i get words of wisdom from him sometimes! (im not buddhist)
in any case, buddhist people dont seem to get angry, defensive, or fearful of blasphemy in the way that people of christianity, judaism, and islam do sometimes, in response to outsiders actions or comments about their religion. a baby being named ‘bodhi’ would be a very petty reason to get angry and getting excited about that would be going against buddhist principles.

correct me if im wrong!

*person* Says:

August 1st, 2011 at 3:37 pm

Naming your child Adolphe (or Adolf, or Adolf, or Adolph) Lovely name, too bad the most famous Adolphe tried to take over the world once.

Nyx Says:

August 2nd, 2011 at 1:35 pm


When doing my own brief research, I’ve found that Mara, by itself is thought to mean “bitter” in Hebrew and was adopted by Naomi in the Old Testament (“Later, she called herself Mara, or “bitter” (Ruth 1:20-21), she said to the women on Bethlehem, “Do not call me Naomi call me Mara (מרה), for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me,” referring to the death of her husband (Elimelech) and her two sons (Mahlon and Chilion)” [ taken from: ].

However, Mara can also be seen as a variant of Maria/Marie/Mary. This name has a lot of debate over the meaning. Possible meanings include: “sea of bitterness”, “rebelliousness”, “wished for child”, “beloved” or “love”.

Finally, some might use Mara as a diminutive of Maris, which has the meaning: “of the sea”.

Now, I’m not sure how old you are, but chances are good that finding the meanings of names wasn’t as easy for your parents as it is for you. I know that it wasn’t even something my parents considered (nor did my husbands, who named their son Michael and their daughter Michelle!). They more then likely came across some of the info above which assumed that Mara wasn’t a stand-alone name but a variant/diminutive of another name and used that meaning.

Nyx Says:

August 2nd, 2011 at 7:52 pm

I’m surprised Rhys didn’t make the list… A name that means “enthusiasm”/”fiery, zealous” on a boy makes me wonder if you are setting him up for an ADHD diagnosis…

To all of the Rhys name-lovers out there, please don’t take this wrong. I actually love the name… but have always felt the meaning of basically RAMBUNCTIOUS was funny for a boy. I love the combo Isaac Rhys because I love the meanings [“He Laughs” with “Enthusiasm”].

kelloggs Says:

August 4th, 2011 at 12:34 am

In the United States, Coen will be pronounced Ko-en, because Americans are familiar with the directors the Coen brothers, not the “proper,” “racist” Dutch pronunciation.

And it’s a perfect alternative for people who love the sound of the name, and don’t know the historical meaning behind it.

On another note, just for good measure, I chose to name my daughter Delilah precisely because of her history (and because it’s a beautiful name, of course).

Claire Says:

August 5th, 2011 at 2:58 pm

I consider the book “Irish Names and Surnames” by Rev. Patrick Woulfe to be the best reference for Irish names. He began collecting them in an attempt to preserve the Irish language and I’m sure glad he did. In any event, Rev. Woulfe doesn’t list a meaning for Declan, though he listed meaning for other names when one could be known. While I’m guessing Declan had a meaning at some point, I’d venture to say it is lost to us. The listing for Declan states the following: “the name of the patron of Ardmore, where his feast is kept on 24 July; a rather common name in Co. Waterford. Lat. Declanus”

rainboweyes Says:

August 24th, 2011 at 5:47 pm

I AM jewish from both side (these days there are a lot of half and half) but i am full bread! I actually AM a Kohain, (כֹּהֵן) , though my last name is NOT, my ancestors where from that “tribe” if you will. Though the spelling of that is different from the surname spelled “Cohen”. Which i believe, is the spelling of the popular first name now and the talk of is it offensive or not??. I also, from my other side (mother) am a Levi. In a broader sense, since Aaron was a descendant of the Tribe of Levi, Kohanim are sometimes titled Levites, by direct patrilineal descent. However, not all Levites are Kohanim.
The name Levi is also popular, i dont hear anyone EVER saying THAT is offensive. Why is that? Why would one name, that is really only a translation of the real name (KOHANIM) be offensive, and not Levi, which basically, is the same thing? A religious family dynasty. If you will

Trendy Baby Name: Cohen Says:

September 22nd, 2011 at 1:59 pm

[…] turns out that this couple anticipated a trend. Two major baby name websites—Nameberry and Appellation Mountain—have discussed Cohen, which ranked 360 in the United States in 2010. It […]

HarryPotter77 Says:

December 28th, 2011 at 2:24 pm

I knew twins that were Klaudia and Kledia, i thought those names were beautiful!

HarryPotter77 Says:

December 28th, 2011 at 2:25 pm

Medea, Ophelia, and Pandora, i would never name anyone those names. Well maybe Medea, but really???

arunciblespoon Says:

May 14th, 2012 at 4:42 pm

In Arabic Mara means woman, perhaps this meaning could be used instead of bitter.

Mare on the other hand is latin for sea, which is where the from the sea connection probably came from.

salemnov20 Says:

July 4th, 2012 at 1:57 pm

Well, I think that the name “Courtney” should be in the list too. Yes yes, it means “from the court” or “courageous” but if you take the french translation from it, you will see it means “Short Nose”…

Court means short, and Nez, means nose.

And if that weren’t bad enough. My french cousins used to call me “crotte de nez” meaning Bogey. So all in all I am called short nose and sometimes called snotty nose.


Manor Says:

July 14th, 2012 at 12:25 pm

I don’t really buy into all of these issues. My name means “ill-fated, unfortunate, unlucky,” and I have never been particularly bothered by it. Name meanings are something you talk about in class, and everybody is jealous of the people that have the “cool” meanings. Mine was considered a “cool” meaning when I was in school.

Mara_lyn86 Says:

July 25th, 2012 at 1:41 am

I would still use Cecelia, Claudia, Deirdre and Ophelia. I assumed that Deirdre has an unknown meaning but that her story involved her being forced to marry someone she did not love and her lover was killed. I think she threw herself from a chariot and died. So I can see why people get the meaning sad, but she is a strong tragic character that was supposed to be the most beautiful woman in Ireland.
And why would Ophelia be a bad namesake? I think Ophelia from Hamlet was also a tragic character who did not kill herself. I think she fell into the water and drowned. I could be mistake though.
And too me Medea is not association with the character who killed her kids, but instead with the Tyler Perry character which isn’t a good association to me.
And about the Cohen topic, I never knew about it until I joined nameberry. The name doesn’t sound good to me anyway.

willow_cougar Says:

October 16th, 2012 at 2:20 pm

Brendan is an excellent name for a child who is a member of a family that is athletic. I named my son Brendan 35 years ago, and the only trouble he has had is that people he meets call him Brandon. He is well known in the Sacramento community of creating a chain of stores specializing in skating and boarding sports. He lettered in track and cross country sports when he was in high school. The name comes from the ancient Olympics referring to the runner with the flaming Olympic torch. Of course the runner’s hair was smelling of sweat, dust and natual body oils.

athena Says:

November 9th, 2012 at 12:45 pm

My sister is naming her baby girl Cohen Delilah. She knows all about the history of the names but she doesn’t care, she likes the sound of them.
Name meanings are obsolete. Lots of people name their children after religious figures (Mary, Jesus, Peter(which also means something else…), David) Even non-religious people. Most people who name their baby Henry don’t want the child to be king or “ruler of he house”

K_Elisabeth Says:

November 26th, 2012 at 8:59 pm

Why do people actually bother putting that much meaning into their kid’s names? All it does is irritate or embarrass the kid when they grow up (not in all cases though), that their parents gave them a name “rich in meaning”. Which doesn’t fit. This is especially obvious with celebrities who decide to give their kids ridiculous “original” names.

Just pick a name that they won’t be mercilessly teased about, or that people find easy to mispronounce/spell. Not that people don’t manage to do that even with the simplest names, but why not make life less difficult (this is speaking from experience, and I am thankful my parents did not hyphonate their surnames to form mine, my first and middle name are irritating enough).

As for the thing with Irish vs. Jewish origins. The Irish are mostly Christian and Christianity comes from Judaism. There, problem of origins solved (Unless you think the name has celtic origins which is another matter altogether).
And all I knew of Cohen before now was that it belonged to “Cohen the Barbarian” a character from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series (the character itself is a parody of Conan the Barbarian).

Big_E Says:

December 10th, 2012 at 12:51 pm

I know some people do not understand why Jews would be offended (or at least taken aback) by someone naming their child Cohen or Kohen. But if you’re Catholic, would you be taken aback by someone naming their child Pope or Cardinal? What if the baseball player Tommy John had instead been named Pope? Pope John? Pitchers would have Pope John surgery. Or if the actor Dorian Gregory had been Pope Gregory? That might have been awkward for him appearing on a show (“Charmed”) which dealt with witches. Anyway, that’s my 2-cents on the Cohen as a first name issue.

MomOfADeclan Says:

December 18th, 2012 at 12:37 pm

This just infuriated me… Maybe you should attempt to do some research. Declan means Full of Goodness. Oh, and by the way.. try looking up the Irish Saint Declan. Wake up.

capturedcastle Says:

December 31st, 2012 at 12:45 pm

Wow there’s a lot of vitriol in this thread! My question is about Mallory. I think it’s a beautiful name, and it has good associations for me as I had a dear childhood friend who I have since lost touch with named Mallory (I was such a fan of Mallory that I named a doll after her as well!). And Mal is cool nickname for a girl. But it means “unlucky.” Could I do that to a daughter?? I haven’t decided yet…

a1981sweetheart Says:

February 28th, 2013 at 11:23 am

I don’t think people should be offended by someone naming their child ANYTHING. What’s in a meaning? As long as you raise your child right and teach them right and wrong, in the end, it really doesn’t matter. As far as the Jewish thing…. Naming someone after someone else is an honor so smile and say “Thank you”. I agree it should be researched and you should do it out of honoring someone if you are going to do that but really it’s a name. As long as you like it, who cares what the rest of the world thinks????? People spend waaay too much time thinking about what offends other people and really if my name offends you, get over it or go away, it isn’t going to change….

wolfecrr Says:

April 16th, 2013 at 12:08 pm

Cohen is also an Irish surname!!! I realize it’s much more common as a jewish surname, but the fact remains that Cohen also originated in Ireland and usually has no connection to the Jewish name when found there. Those of you who are appauled by the use of Cohen need to do your research. How can it be offensive if it has multiple origins? It’s a great name with a rich, multi-cultural history.

mowen Says:

May 23rd, 2013 at 10:21 am

I don’t agree with the “unsavory place names” at the end. We named our daughter Camden (after Camden Town, London – also not the nicest part of London, but it is a unique and interesting place and also holds some special significance to my husband and I). I did have a few people question the Camden, New Jersey association, but not many. It was mostly folks from the East Coast (we live in Seattle). There are also several other Camden cities in the US and elsewhere that are nice – Camden, Maine sounds like a pleasant place, for instance. Here’s the important part, though: For any of these names, once people know your child the association goes away. My daughter is just Camden, not Camden-named-after-Camden-Town-London or Camden-not-the-town-in-New-Jersey. I seriously doubt anyone in my circle ever thinks about Camden, NJ anymore. By the way, I have a friend whose son is named Trenton. I never assumed she named him after Trenton, NJ – why would you? It’s still a nice name.

eaa18 Says:

May 28th, 2013 at 10:24 am

I really enjoyed reading this first of all. My sons name is Kohen. No, I am not Jewish, in fact I do not practice any religion. I did not go in search of a Jewish name. I did research it and know the meaning before picking it, but up until now I was unaware of the fact that it would offend people in the Jewish community. I think that people who would be offended by a childs name are insecure. I did not name my child this to go out of my way and offend people. I feel like anyone has the right to name their child anything they want without being criticized. It does not bother me in the least if someone names their child Jesus, or God or Buddha, or Rock or Car or Flag or WHATEVER! If you like the name and it stands out for whatever reason to you, then you should use it! If I lived my life trying to avoid doing or saying something that offended someone in the world, what kind of life would i be living? I respect that everyone has an opionion, but your culture does not own a name, and it is not your choice on who can use it and who cannot. I gave my son the name simply because my fiance and I liked the sound of it and chose to spell it with a K instead of a C because we liked that better. When I look at my son I know that the meaning of his name does not define who he is. I know now that I couldnt have chosen a better name for him, because I cannot see him with any other name. My child is one of a kind, and no matter what anyone names their child it is not the meaning of their name that makes them who they are. Lets start looking past names and get to know these people for who they are.

What's in a Name? 7 Tips for Finding Character Names – ANGELIQUE L’AMOUR Says:

March 7th, 2018 at 9:48 am

[…] Here is an article on names with negative meanings […]

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