What makes a name a name?

What makes a name a name?

By Abby Sandel, AppellationMountain

What makes a name real?

To think bigger, what makes a word real?  That’s the question raised by English professor and language historian Anne Curzan in her TED talk.

They’re long-standing questions, but the speed of our modern age means that change happens fast.  Imagine a name like Nevaeh catching on before MTV, or Jayceon before YouTube.

Curzan points out that dictionaries are written by people, people who are listening very carefully to how the general public uses words.  So tweet and defriend make the cut.

The same thing happens with baby name books and websites.  Nevaeh wouldn’t have appeared in the 1980s, but she’s firmly installed today.  And while Jayceon might be too new to appear in print, the fast-rising variant can be found on most of the major baby name sites. English is a living language, so innovation in words is constant, like Curzan’s hangry and adorkable.  One of the names in this week’s list is a daring, creative risk, while others are revivals and possibilities that haven’t quite caught on – yet.

The baby name news story that wrapped it all up for me was the rumor about newborn twin boys named for the Wu-Tang Clan: Raekwon and Ghostface.

Madness, I thought.  Especially Ghostface. Raekwon wasn’t so bad.  At least it was a name, right?

Turns out that Raekwon was a Top 1000 name for boys in the US in the late 1990s, at the height of the Wu-Tang Clan’s popularity.  And while it might have history before the rapper formerly known as Corey Woods became famous, it just wasn’t used in the US.

Happily, the whole thing is a hoax.  But it does show that what makes a name real isn’t always obvious.  Sometimes a decade or two is enough to obscure a name’s origins and make it feel legitimate.

This week’s collection of baby names in the news is quirky, ranging from the classic to the popular to the “wait, that’s not a name” names.

Edelle – Twins named Raekwon and Ghostface may have been a hoax, but another couple really did name their daughter after singer Ed Sheeran.  She’s the couple’s sixth child, but their first daughter.  Edelle Elizabeth Lindsay will answer to Eddie, which isn’t so crazy in our age of Charlie and Frankie.  As for Edelle?  It may be novel, but it wears better than, say, Edwina or Edwardine.  And doesn’t Edelle feel like a cousin to classic Adele?  If you’re naming a daughter after a musician you admire, Edelle is a million trillion times better than Ghostface.  Besides, you can’t go wrong with an -elle name.

Israelle – Speaking of -elle names, Baby Names from the Bible brought up Israelle this week.  Israel is a legitimate Old Testament name that’s seen some use.  Place names are stylish, and many parents look for names with a spiritual tie.  Doesn’t Israelle seem like a logical, feminine spin on an ancient name?  A mere five Israelles were born in 2013, but that’s still an increase.

Denali – If Everest is climbing, how about Denali?  Denali is the indigenous name for Alaska’s Mount McKinley, the highest peak in North America.  Despite an obvious meaning of something like “high place,” the name carries quite a bit of romance and adventure.  It seems like a gender neutral possibility, but the Denali in this Land of Nod blog feature is the firstborn daughter of style blogger extraordinaire Jeran McConnel.

Lilac – Back to question of what makes a name.  Violet is a wildly popular floral choice in a shade of purple.  In the US, Violet has been a Top 100 choice since 2012.  Lavender shares all the same qualities, but was given to just 47 girls in 2013.  And then there’s the similar Lilac, lagging behind them all, given to a mere nine newborns last year.  What explains it?  Hard to say, though Lavender has a minor Harry Potter character boosting her use, and doesn’t the Dowager Countess on Downton Abbey make Violet seem like the feistiest floral ever?  The only Lilac that comes to mind for me is a cat, but Elea found tons of uses at British Baby Names.

AviatrixEven if you’re willing to consider Lilac, chances are that you’ll find Aviatrix much too much.  In a poll at Swistle, a solid two-thirds of voters were against the use of Aviatrix as a given name – and the parents who wrote in acknowledged that they might be taking things too far.  But is Aviatrix really lost in the wild blue yonder?  She sounds like an AvaBeatrix smoosh, especially when you consider Beatrix’s earlier form: Viatrix.

Atalanta – Doomed to be mistaken for Atlanta, Atalanta is actually a great ancient name, worn by a princess who refused to marry unless her prospective groom could best her in a footrace.  She’ll feature in the new reboot of Hercules, due out in July.  The world’s strongest man is played by Dwayne “The RockJohnson, while Norwegian actress Ingrid Bolso Berdal is a very blonde Atalanta.  In the US, Atalanta is rarer than rare – but could she see some use if Hercules proves itself a summer blockbuster?

Enid – While we’re borrowing names from myth and legend, how about Enid?  The Arthurian appellation has been rare in the US in recent years, but this Living with Kids tour on DesignMom featured a young Enid.  Seeing names in posts like this always makes them seem perfectly wearable.  Fans of Sweet Valley High may remember Liz Wakefield’s BFF, Enid Rollins.  Enid shares sounds with the popular Eden, and it’s hard to argue with the name’s meaning: life or spirit.

E**mmaline Constance** – Proof that names do change over time, thanks to Names for Real’s post including Emmaline Constance.  Today this combination feels like an elegant vintage find.  But in the nineteenth century, the most popular spelling for this name? Emeline.  Which just looks wrong to my eye in 2014, and so while Emmaline has recently cracked the US Top 1000, Emeline is far less popular.  Meanwhile, the lovely and underused Constance is great in the middle spot – or the first.

Chloe Sophia – Let’s close with the newest addition to the Trump dynasty, Miss Chloe Sophia, daughter of Donald, Jr. and wife Vanessa.  The couple favors current names, with a healthy dose of family choices sprinkled in – their four older children are daughter Kai Madison, and sons Donald John III, Tristan Milos, and Spencer Frederick.  But while Chloe is a well-established favorite now, she had a long hibernation, unranked from the 1940s into the early 1980s.  Chloe reminds us that names can make a comeback – from Emmaline to maybe even Enid – or come out of nowhere.

What makes a name real?  Is it enough that someone has given the name to a child, or do you have a more specific set of criteria?  And are Aviatrix, Atalanta, and Edelle pure madness, or do they work for a daughter in 2014?