These Names Mean Trouble (Literally!)

July 28, 2011 Pamela Redmond

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.

About the author

Pamela Redmond

Pamela Redmond is the cocreator and CEO of Nameberry. The coauthor of ten bestselling baby name books, Redmond is an internationally-recognized name expert, quoted and published widely in such media outlets as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, The Today Show,, CNN, and the BBC. Redmond is also a New York Times bestselling novelist whose books include Younger, the basis for the hit television show of the same name.

View all of Pamela Redmond's articles


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