While plenty of people only choose names for their children, pets, and characters because they like the sound or think it’s cool, I’ve long been drawn to the history, culture, and etymologies behind names. I tend to choose meaningful names (both forenames and surnames) for my characters. It’s been years since I chose names from lists in the encyclopedia or the old baby names booklet my mother had when she was pregnant with me.
Some of the reasons I love onomastics include, but aren’t limited to:
1. It reminds me of how the world’s languages (Indo–European or otherwise) are more closely linked than many people assume. For example, the Kazakh name Akhat means “one,” which is very similar to the Hebrew word for one, echad. The spelling of the Etruscan name Egnatius was changed to Ignatius to resemble the Latin word ignis, “fire,” which is likewise very similar to the Sanskrit agni.
2. It helps me with learning other languages. If I’m doing a post about names with a certain meaning, I’ll quickly grow to recognise certain elements. The next time I see those elements, in either a name or a word, I’ll know what part of it means. For example, the Persian element Gol- means “flower” or “rose,” and appears as Gul- in many Georgian, Turkic, and Urdu names, while Ay means “Moon” in the Turkic languages.
3. It says so much about the culture and society those names come from. For example, many Slavic names have meanings relating to love and peace, while many Germanic names relate to war. Some languages, like Chinese, modern Hebrew, and Korean, also have many unisex names, instead of names which are traditionally only for one sex or the other.
4. It’s neat to see how a name is adapted into other languages. Not all languages share the same alphabet and sounds, so they have to substitute others. A B in one language could be a V or P in another; a T could be an F; and a W could be a G or Y.
5. I love seeing how other languages form their nicknames!
6. It shows what kinds of cultural osmosis has taken place in certain languages. For example, while Bosnian is a Slavic language, many of its names are of Arabic, Persian, and Turkic origin. Russian likewise has several very old names which are of Norse origin, like Oleg and Igor.
7. It leads me to discovering a love for names from languages I hadn’t paid much attention to before. While looking up names with a certain meaning, I might find some lovely names from a language I was never particularly interested in before, and will start exploring these names more in-depth. I might want to look up a name from a certain language for a character, and discover so many lovely names to choose from.
8. I like seeing what kinds of names were popular in other eras, and how what’s popular has shifted over time. Names that are now widely considered geriatric were once very trendy and fashionable, while other names have stayed consistently popular over many decades. Some names which are now seen as dated may be more popular in other languages, as people try to copy American culture.
9. It’s neat to see what kinds of invented names exist. In English, well-known invented names include Jessica, Pamela, Vanessa, Wendy, and Miranda. Invented Hungarian names include Csilla, Jolánka, Kincső, Enikő, Tímea, and Tünde.
10. It’s also fascinating to see how surnames are most commonly formed. Once you know the most common suffixes, it’s easy to identify someone’s ancestry or ethnic origin based on the surname.