Original ways to name a child after someone

While I’m a very strong advocate of giving kids original names you love, and only naming them after someone if you’re truly moved to do so for your own reasons, the pull of culture can be very strong. I know a lot of people in the Jewish community who feel like they HAVE to name their kids after deceased relatives if they’re Ashkenazic, or after living relatives if they’re Sephardic.

Sometimes, that special older relative you want to name your baby after has a name you’re not wild about, a name that’s too common for your liking, or a name that stands out like a sore thumb in the modern era. Here are a few ideas to use a namesake in a roundabout way.

1. Use a similar-sounding name. E.g., Micah instead of Michael, Helena instead of Ellen.

2. Use the middle name instead.

3. Use a variation on the middle name.

4. Think of something that was really important to this person, either a concrete thing or an intangible quality. E.g., if s/he loved donating to charity, you could name your baby Charity or some name that means “charity.” Someone who worked tirelessly for peace organizations could be named Shalom or Miruna.

5. Use another language’s form of the name, or the original form. E.g., since the name Adolf is taboo and even illegal in many countries, you could honor your great-grandpap through the original form Adalwolf. Or if you’re concerned about how trendy Alice is becoming, you could honor your great-grandma through a form like Alisa or Adelina.

6. Find another name with roughly the same meaning as that person’s name. Perhaps you’re not keen on how common David is, or you don’t like the feminized form Davida. In its place, there are a number of other names meaning “beloved,” such as Cara, Carina, Shivali, and Erasmus.

7. Perhaps name the child after someone who was a huge hero and inspiration to that relative.

8. If that person were really proud of being from a certain country, state, province, or city, consider using a symbol of that area which could work as a personal name. E.g., Amethyst for Ontario’s provincial gemstone, Lilac or Rose for New York’s state bush and flower, or Hibernia after the national personification of Ireland.

9. If s/he were Catholic or Eastern Orthodox, use his or her patron saint’s name.

10. Perhaps use a name s/he always wished s/he’d been called instead.

11. If the person had a pen name, consider using that.

12. You could also name the baby after one of that person’s favorite literary characters.

Names to avoid in an Anglophone country

Over the years, I’ve come across names which, let’s be honest, just wouldn’t work in a modern Anglophone country. These names might sound beautiful in their native languages, not even pronounced like they’d be in English, but the spellings or connotations still are what they are. Bullies will find a way to make fun of any name they don’t like, but these names stand out all by themselves.

No offense is intended to people who do have these names! There are plenty of English names which must look or sound funny in other cultures.

1. Semen, the most common Ukrainian form of Simon. I shouldn’t even have to explain why this name is a no-go!

2. Urinboy. I found this while researching my post on Kyrgyz names on my main blog, and at first thought it had to be a joke or vandalism. It really is a legit name.

3. Bích, a female Vietnamese name meaning “bluish-green.” It’s pronounced BEEK, but we all know how everyone will assume it’s pronounced.

4. Dong, a male Chinese name whose meanings include “beam, pillar” and “east.” It’s pronounced DOONG. However, I don’t think the Scottish name Dongal should be avoided. I honestly didn’t realize what the first four letters spell in English until it was pointed out some years after discovering the name.

5. Dũng, a male Vietnamese name meaning “brave.” It’s pronounced like the English word “yum.” If you like the meaning that much, you could use the Chinese and Korean form, Yong, or one of the Japanese forms, Yuu or Isamu.

6. Foka, the Russian form of Phocas/Phokas, which means “a seal” (the animal). I’m not sure where the stress falls, but if it’s on the A, the name would be pronounced Fah-KAH, not FOH-kah.

7. Gaylord. This poor boy would be so bullied.

8. Gay(e). This poor girl would likewise be bullied, though once upon a time, this was a lovely name. We can’t predict how the language will evolve.

9. Osama. I’ve heard this name has been outlawed in some countries, and we can all understand why.

10. Adolf/Adolph. This name is likewise outlawed in many countries with naming laws. If you want to honor a special older relative or friend who was born before the name took on its modern association, what about the original form Adalwolf?

11. Titty. There’s a reason this is no longer a nickname for Letitia!

12. Tit. Pronounced TEET (still awful in English!), this is the Russian form of Titus.

13. Arseman. This was the name of a female character on the early Nineties Nickelodeon show Fifteen, as well as the real-life name of the young lady who played her. Given what “arse” means in the U.K., Ireland, and Australia, this is a no-go!

14. Arsen, a male Armenian name derived from the Greek Arsenios. It sounds like “arson,” and it’s also only two letters shy of “arsenic.” I personally wouldn’t use this name or any of the other forms of it, particularly if I lived in a place where “arse” is the spelling for one’s rear end.

15. Hardman, the Old Germanic form of Hartmann (brave man).

16. Jerker, a Swedish form of Erik. The J is pronounced like a Y, but the spelling in English is what it is. Another form of this name is Jerk.

17. Harm, a Dutch and Frisian nickname for Herman.

18. Violâte, a Jèrriais name which seems to be a form of the Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish Violante, which may in turn be derived from Yolanda. Both Violâte and Violante are too close to the word “violent,” and it’s obvious what Violâte spells in English. The similar-looking Violet, however, has never conveyed that connotation for me.

Are there any other names you’d add to this list?

Ten reasons I love onomastics

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.

Thoughts on naming flow

While I don’t think all parts of a name have to exactly “match,” there’s a lot to be said for a name flowing well together. Balance is so important, as is having the same general style. Here are some examples of names which flow well, some of them taken from my own characters. I’ll also be giving examples of names which I feel don’t flow so well.

1. The same amount of syllables in both names. This gives such a perfect balance and harmony to a name. Neither first nor middle name is overloaded or underloaded. For example:

Ernestine Zénobie
Emeline Rosalie
Adicia Éloïse
Thomas Albert
Carlos Ghislain
Maxwell Stanley

2. Pairing a one-syllable forename with a longer middle name. Having both names be short seems too staccato and abrupt to me. A multisyllabic middle name feels like such a perfect complement to a short and sweet first name. For example:

Eve Anastasia
Bruce Gabriel
George Reginald
Skye Leonarda
Grace Roxana
Bram Achilles

3. On the flip side, pairing a very long forename (three syllables or more) with a one-syllable middle name. For example:

Anastasia Maeve
Graciela Niamh (NEEV)
Zacharias Quinn
Vyacheslav Paul
Neonila Sage
Giovanni York

4. The 2+3 or 3+2 combo has a really great balance. Though one name is slightly longer or shorter than the other, these combos tend to flows very well. Examples:

Dafna Zehava
Quintessa Malka
Yehudah Barak
Pamelia Zera
Winston Tzuriel
Roger Elisha

5. Mileage may vary, but I feel like it’s too much of a mouthful to have two polysyllabic names in a row. There are so many lovely names with three or more syllables, but when both parts of a name are that long, it feels like neither is able to shine the way it deserves. Examples:

Aphrodite Ghisolabella
Benvolio Agamemnon
Oceana Anastasia
Octavia Victoriana
Ferdinand Mandarias
Algernon Giorgio

6. Mileage again may vary, but I’m not keen on names that seem to run into one another as a single long name when said out loud. This usually happens when the first name ends in the same sound the middle name starts with. Examples:

Isabelle Leah
Liam Ammiel
Rachel Ella
Achilles Lester
Roxana Annabelle
Tamar Mara
Oskar Arnold

7. It might sound cute, cool, or funny at first, but names meant as phrases can quickly wear out. Some can work beautifully, but others sound kind of corny and silly. I’m more likely to give them a pass if they sound original, and like they might have deeper meaning to the parents. Examples:

Vienna Dawn (Love this!)
Odessa Rose (Nice!)
Caledonia Winter (Lovely!)
April May June (Nope!)
Prairie Meadow (Not a fan!)
Summer Rain (Corny!)
Winter Snow (Corny!)
Happy Destiny (Nope!)
Forrest Cloud (Nope!)

8. While I don’t feel one NEEDS to stay within one’s own culture for names (as long as one respects the other culture), it can feel jarring if the first and middle names are from drastically different languages. Examples:

Hideyo Sebastiano
Zeuxippe Arundhati
Arjuna Guillaume
Elikapeka Yeong-Hui
Avishai Chukwuemeka
Ingrid Scheherazade

9. If multiple middle names are used, it flows best if they’re all about the same length. Catholics get a second middle name upon Confirmation, but sometimes multiple middle names are given at birth, for various reasons. Perhaps the parents know they’re only going to have one child, and so only have one chance to use all the name they love most. Perhaps this is their only child of a certain sex, and they know they won’t be having more kids. The child may have had a very rocky start, and so merits an additional name with very special meaning. Or maybe it’s just family tradition or personal preference.


Chana Esther Dafna (my own Hebrew name)
Alice Louise Julia
Micah Robert Jonas
Philip Roger David
John Paul Anthony
Livia Aurora Daphne

Déjà Vu Blogfest—Renaming Yourself


DL Hammons is once again holding his annual Déjà Vu blogfest, wherein participants revisit a post from the past year which didn’t get the audience one expected, or that one wishes to run again. I chose a post I originally published on 9 March 2016, “Renaming Yourself.”

Adopting a new name is a very serious decision, not one to be treated flippantly or rushed into. And while everyone has the right to rename oneself as one chooses, there are some factors to consider if one wants to choose a realistic, appropriate, lesser-used name.

Reasons for changing a name include:

Converting to a new religion, or becoming religious in one’s pre-existing faith
You just don’t like your birth name, and aren’t interested in just switching to your middle name
You’re moving to another country and want a name reflecting your new language and culture
You want a complete break with your old life
You have to go into hiding
You want a name more closely reflecting your ethnicity or culture
You want to honor a deceased loved one
You’re trying to make some kind of political statement
You want to live as the opposite sex

Some things to consider when making such a monumental decision:

1. How common/popular/unusual/trendy is it? If you really want to avoid a name that’s overly popular, try looking in the lower reaches of the Top 1000, or among names that haven’t charted. If you want a name that’s been steadily popular for generations, don’t look for names at the bottom of the chart.

2. Is it plausible for someone of your age? It’s pretty damn obvious a name was chosen in adulthood or adolescence when no one of that age has such a name (coughbrucejennercough). If you never heard a name like Kayden or Nevaeh-it’s-Heaven-spelt-backwards-TEEHEEHEE! until very recently, why would you think it sounds realistic and believable on an adult, or even a teenager? Sure there are always outliers, but there’s a big difference between, say, a 66-year-old Jennifer and a 66-year-old Caitlyn. One name existed and wasn’t completely unheard-of; the other name didn’t appear until 1983. Even the traditional spelling Caitlin only began charting in 1976.

3. How common is it in your community? If you’re taking a religious name, would you really prefer to be yet another Chaya Mushka, Mary Margaret, Francis Xavier, or Menachem Mendel, or would you prefer a more distinctive name like Esther Zahava, Naomi Raizel, Jerome Zachariah, or Omri Daniel?

4. How well will it age? Let’s be honest, some names date quickly, while others stand the test of time. A name that sounds cute today may sound incredibly babyish past childhood, while other names immediately call attention to one’s generation. A name like Julia or David could belong to someone of any age, whereas names like Beulah and Milton conjure up images of elderly folks.

5. Do you like the meaning?

6. Is it something your friends and relatives can get used to calling you, and is it a name most of them like?

7. Does it match your personality and appearance? Some names work best on certain kinds of personalities, while other names seem to work best with certain physical features.

8. How long have you liked the name? If you’ve only liked this name for a short while, the love affair might not last. It’s the same way with how you’re more likely to be happy with a tattoo or piercing long-term if you’ve wanted and thought about it for a really, really long time and didn’t just get it on some youthful whim.

9. Do you like the nicknames, or would you prefer no nicknames?

10. Does it flow well with your surname and middle name?

11. Is it fairly easy to pronounce? Do you mind going by a nickname if some people find it too hard to pronounce?

12. Is it easy to learn how to spell?

13. Is this a name you’re choosing for yourself, or because someone else is pressuring you to choose this name?