A look at some common name roots

For something a bit different, I got the idea to make a list of some common root elements in names. Knowing what these roots mean makes it easier to at least partially decipher a name’s meaning, and gives clues as to its linguistic origin. Another awesome bonus is learning a few words in languages you might never have considered studying!

In the interests of relative brevity, I’ve tried to keep this list to fairly common root elements. There are many more I’ve encountered, but many of them aren’t exactly found in names one commonly runs across in everyday life.

Abd-; Arabic word meaning “servant of.” Examples include Abdullah, Abd Al-Malik, Abd Al-Karim, Abd Al-Latif, and Abd Al-Rashid.

-Anthe-, -Antha-: Greek anthos (flower). Examples include Calanthe, Chrysanthemum, Ianthe, Diantha, Iolanthe, Erianthe, and Rhodanthe.

Av-, Ab-: Hebrew aba (father). Examples include Abner/Avner, Abraham/Avraham, Avniel, Abigail, Avidan, Aviella, Avshalom, Aviram, and Avihu.

(-)Ay-: Turkish word for Moon, and an element found in many other Turkic names (Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Azeri, Uyghur, Turkmeni). Examples include Feray, Aytaç, Aygün, Aysel, Ayberk, Aynabat, Aynur, Gülay, and Tuncay.

-Bert(-): Ancient Germanic beraht (bright). Examples include Albert, Robert, Bertha, Adalbert, Norbert, and Engelbert.

-Bek, -Beg, -Bey, -Boy: A Turkic military title meaning “master, chieftain.” Examples include Aybek, Aslanbek, Islambek, Mayrbek, Zaurbek, and Salambek. A name in this category I strongly recommend against in the Anglophone world is Urinboy!

Diet- (DEET): Ancient Germanic theud (people). Examples include Dietrich, Dietfried, and Dietmar.

-Din: Arabic word for religion and faith. Examples include Shams Al-Din, Ziya Al-Din, Izz Al-Din, Nur Ad-Din, and Salah Al-Din.

-El, -El(l)a, -Elle: Hebrew name for God. Examples include Daniel, Emanuel, Gabrielle, Ariella, and Daniela. Obviously, this only applies to names of Hebrew origin, not names like Isabelle, Arabella, and Ghisolabella.

(-)Fried: Ancient Germanic frid and Old English friþ (peace). Examples include Siegfried, Friedemann, Winifred, Friedrich, Manfred, and Friedhold.

(-)Gol-, (-)Gul-, (-)Gül-: Persian gol (rose, flower). This element is found in many Turkic as well as Persian names. Examples include Golnaz, Golnar, Gülnur, Patigul, and Annagül.

(-)Got-: Ancient Germanic Gott, God. Examples include Gottfried, Traugott, Gottlieb, and Gotthilf.

(-)Hard: Ancient Germanic hard (hardy, brave). Examples include Ekkehard, Leonhard, Richard, Bernard, Gerard, and Sieghard.

(-)Helm: Ancient Germanic word for helmet. Examples include Helmfried, Helmut, Wilhelm, Diethelm, Friedhelm, and Anselm.

(-)Hild-: Ancient Germanic (hild) and Old Norse (hildr) words for battle. Examples include Alfhild, Audhild, Brünhild, Clotilde, Hilda, Hildebrand, and Kriemhild.

Ia-, Io-: Greek ion (violet flower) and iole (violet colour). Examples include Ianthe, Ia, Iolanthe, Ione, and Iolanda.

Ing-, Yng-: After the Germanic god Ing. Examples include Ingrid, Ingo, Ingeborg, and Inga.

Is-: Ancient Germanic word for ice and iron (îs), and Old Norse word for ice (íss). Examples include Isolda, Isbert, Ijsbrand, Ísbjörn, Ísdís, Isfrid, Íshildur, Íslaug, Ismund, and Isulf.

-Khan, -Han: Turkic title meaning “ruler, leader.” Examples include Alikhan, Emirhan, Erhan, Khanpasha, Magomedkhan, Serhan, and Zelimkhan.

Laur-: Latin family name Laurus (laurel, the symbol of victory). Examples include Laura, Laurence, Lauren, and Laurel.

Luc-: Latin lux (light). Examples include Lucia, Lucy, Lucius, Lucinda, and Lucilla.

(-)Mir(a): Old Slavic miru (peace, world). Examples include Miroslav, Vladimir, Zvonimira, Tihomir, Vitomir, Radomira, Miruna, Miroslava, Miran, Ljubomir, Krasimir, and Dragomir.

Ny-: Old Norse  (new). Examples include Signy, Dagny, Óðný, Ráðný, Nývarð, Nýbjörg, Ingny, Lingný, and Eirný.

Phil-: Greek philos (friend, lover). Examples include Philip, Philippa, Filomena, Theophil, Philbert, and Philomela.

Sieg-: Ancient Germanic sigu (victory). Examples include Siegmund, Sieglinde, Siegward, and Siegbert.

(-)Slav(a), (-)Sława(a): Old Slavic slava (glory). Examples include Slavomir, Borislava, Bronisława, Desislav, Miloslav, Mstislav, Radoslava, Rostislav, and Vyacheslav.

-Wen, -Wyn: Welsh gwen (white, fair, blessed), gwyn (white, fair), and wyn (white). Male names end in -wyn, and female names end in -wen. Examples include Ceridwen, Bronwen, Arwen, Branwen, Carwyn, Dilwyn, Heddwyn, Caerwyn, and Gwendolyn.

-Ya(h), -Ja(h), -Iah: One of the Hebrew names for God. Examples include Adoniyah, Isaiah, Josiah, Jeremiah, Elijah, Talya, and Hezekiah.


The many forms of Mary, and its plethora of nicknames

The Umileniye (Tenderness) ikon, believed to show Mary at the moment of the Annunciation, before which the popular St. Serafim of Sarov, Russia was fond of praying

Mary, the #1 female name in the U.S. from 1880–1946, #2 from 1947–52, #1 again from 1953–61, #2 again from 1962–65, in the Top 10 until 1971, and in the Top 20 until 1975, now positively feels like a breath of fresh air and an original choice after falling to #127.

This historically most common of all female names, across many languages, likewise was #1 for many years in Canada and other parts of the Anglophone world, but has now either fallen off the charts or diminished greatly in popularity.

Mary is to older generations what Jennifer is to my generation—you’ve known too many to count, since the name was so ubiquitous. (On a side note, I honestly can’t think of a single bad Jennifer I’ve ever known or known of. I have universally good associations with the name.)

This name has such a sweet simplicity, works well on all ages, and isn’t associated with just one type of girl or woman. It’s a truly timeless classic, borne by so many incredible women throughout history. Though I’m not Christian, I also find the image of Mary as a loving, universal mother figure very touching.

Mary Pickford, one of my favourite female actors of the silent era, and one of the most powerful women in Hollywood in her day

Other forms of this venerable name include:

1. Maria is German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Scandinavian, Catalan, Occitan, Dutch, Faroese, Basque, Sardinian, Corsican, Finnish, Romanian, Polish, Greek, Frisian, and English. Nicknames include Mitzi, Mia, Ria, Marita, Maja, Mariele, Meike, Mareike (German); Mariella, Marietta, Mimi (Italian); Mariona, Ona (Catalan); Mariazinha (Portuguese); Marzena, Maja, Marylka, Marika, Mania, Marysia, Marynia (Polish); Majken, Mia, My, Maja, Maiken (Scandinavian); Maike, Mareike (Frisian); Miep, Mies, Mieke, Ria, Mia, Meike, Marita, Mariska, Marike, Maaike, Marieke, Marijke, Mariëlle, Mariëtte (Dutch); Marietta, Marika (Greek); Marjatta, Maritta, Marika, Marita, Maarika, Marjukka, Marjut (Finnish); and Maia (Basque).

The alternate form María is Icelandic (nickname Mæja), Spanish (nicknames Marita, Maritza), and Galician (nickname Maruxa). Mária is Hungarian (nicknames Mariska, Marika, Marietta, Mari, Marica) and Slovak (nicknames Maja, Marika).

2. Marie is French and Czech. The Czech name pronounces the last two letters separately instead of as one. Nicknames include Marise, Manon, Marielle, Mariette, Marion (French) and Maja, Marika, Madlenka, Maruška, Mařenka, Majka, Máňa, Mánička, Márinka (Czech).

The awesome Queen Marie of Romania

3. Mariya is Russian, Bulgarian, and Ukrainian. Nicknames include Manya, Masha, Marusya, Manyechka, Manyenka, Marusha, and Mashenka.

4. Mari is Breton, Welsh, Finnish, Estonian, and Scandinavian. Estonian nicknames include Maarika, Marika, and Mare.

5. Miriam is the original Hebrew form.

6. Mirjam is Hungarian, Dutch, German, Slovenian, Estonian, and Finnish. Nicknames include Miri (Hungarian) and Jaana, Mirja (Finnish).

7. Mariam is Armenian and Georgian.

8. Maryam is Arabic and Persian.

9. Mariami is Georgian.

10. Maryya is Belarusian.

Empress Maria Theresa

11, Meryem is Uyghur and Turkish.

12. Maryamu is Hausa, a Chadic language spoken in much of Western Africa.

13. Marja is Sorbian, Finnish, and Dutch. The alternate form Márjá is Sami.

14. Marija is Latvian, Lithuanian, Slovenian, Serbian, Macedonian, and Croatian. Nicknames include Mojca, Marica, Maja, Maša, and Mare.

15. Mele is Hawaiian and Samoan.

16. Mere is Maori.

17. Moirrey is Manx.

18. Màiri is Scottish.

19. Mair is Welsh.

20. Máire is Irish. Nicknames include Máirin and Mairenn.

Grand Duchess Mariya Nikolayevna of Russia, third daughter of Tsar Nicholas II and Empress Aleksandra

21. Miren is Basque.

22. Maarja is Estonian.

23. Malia is Hawaiian.

24. Mirjami is Finnish.

25. Marij is West Frisian and Dutch.

26. Miriama is Fijian and Maori.

27. Mareia is Romansh.

28. Mariamu is Swahili.

29. Maryat is Chechen.

30. Maryja is Vilamovian.

All about the name John

In honour of John Lennon’s 37th Jahrzeit (death anniversary), I felt it would be fitting to do a post about this most historically common of all male names, in just about every single language.

John comes from the Hebrew Yochanan, which means “God is gracious.” Its massive popularity over the ages originated thanks to John the Baptist and John the Apostle (traditionally-attributed author of the fourth Gospel and Book of Revelations).

Initially, the name was more common among Eastern Christians in the Byzantine Empire, but it took off like wildfire in the West after the First Crusade. It was particularly popular in England, where roughly a fifth of all boys received this name during the Late Middle Ages.

U.S. President John Quincy Adams, 11 July 1767–23 February 1848

Over the centuries, the name John, in all its linguistic variations, has been borne by countless writers, musicians, artists, scientists, philosophers, emperors, kings, popes, military leaders, politicians, and countless other types of people.

John was #1 in the U.S. from 1880–1923, and remained in the Top 5 until 1972. It was in the Top 10 until 1986, and the Top 20 until 2008. As of 2016, it was #28, a rank it previously held in 2012. The name has never charted any lower than this, though it feels like a breath of fresh air and original choice these days.

English poet John Keats, as painted by William Hilton, Halloween 1795–23 February 1821

Though it’s been a good many years since John was as common and popular as it once was, its continued presence in the Top 30 is a credit to its enduring appeal. It also still enjoys respectable popularity in Ireland (#28), Northern Ireland (#44), Scotland (#56), Canada (also #56), New Zealand (#85), Sweden (#87), Australia (#97), and England and Wales (#120).

John also used to be very popular in Norway, with a high rank of #10 in 1947. It fluctuated in popularity over the years, fell off the Top 100 in 2003, came back the next year, and then fell off again.

King John of England, 24 December 1166–19 October 1216, painted by Matthew Paris

Other forms of the name include:

1. Ivan is Russian, Ukrainian, Bulgarian, Macedonian, Slovenian, Czech, Slovak, Serbian, Croatian, Belarusian, Bosnian, Italian, Norwegian, Danish, and Swedish. The variation Iván is Spanish and Hungarian. The proper pronunciation, Ee-VAHN, is so beautiful, but the Anglo EYE-vinn just throws this gorgeous name away.

Nicknames include Vanya, Vanyechka, Vanyushka, Vanyusha, Vanyushechka, and Ivanko (Russian); Ivo, Vancho, Yanko (Bulgarian); Ivica, Ivo (Serbian and Croatian); and Vančo, Ivo (Macedonian).

Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev, my fourth-favourite writer, 28 October/9 November 1818–3 September 1883

2. Ioann is the older Russian form.

3. Iwan is Polish and Welsh. The Polish one pronounces the W like a V.

4. Ivane is Georgian. The nickname is Vano.

5. Ioane is the older Georgian form.

6. Giannis is modern Greek.

7. Giovanni is Italian. Nicknames include Gianni, Gian, Vanni, and Giannino.

8. Gjon is Albanian.

9. Ion is Romanian and Basque. Romanian nicknames include Iancu, Ionuţ, Ionel, and Nelu.

10. Jon is Basque and Scandinavian. The variation Jón is Icelandic and Faroese. This is #4 in Iceland.

11. Ioan is Welsh and Romanian.

12. Joan is Catalan and Occitan.

13. Ganix is Basque.

14. João is Portuguese. This name is #2 in Portugal.

15. Yoan is Bulgarian.

Giovanni Boccaccio, author of The Decameron, 16 June 1313–21 December 1375, engraved 1822 by Raffaello Sanzio Morghen in the style of Vincenzo Gozzini

16. Jowan is Cornish.

17. Yahya is Persian, Arabic, and Turkish.

18. Janusz is Polish. One of the nicknames is Janek.

19. Johan is Dutch and Scandinavian. Nicknames include Hans, Hannes, Janne (Swedish); Hanke, Hanne, Hannes, Hans, Joop, Jo (Dutch); Jannik, Jannick, Hans (Danish); and Hans (Norwegian).

20. Jens is Scandinavian.

21. Jan is Scandinavian, Dutch, Catalan, Czech, Slovenian, German, and Polish. The variation Ján is Slovak, with the nickname Janko.

22. Yann is Breton, with the nickname Yannig.

23. Johann is German, with the familiar nickname Hans. The variation Jóhann is Icelandic.

24. Johannes is German, Dutch, Scandinavian, Estonian, and Finnish. The variant Jóhannes is Icelandic and Faroese.

25. Juhan is Estonian. The alternate form Juhán is Northern Sami.

German scientist and mathematician Johannes Kepler, 27 December 1571–15 November 1630

26. Juanne is Sardinian.

27. Giuanne is also Sardinian.

28. Yohanes is Indonesian.

29. Hovhannes is Armenian. Nicknames include Hovik and Hovo.

30. Ohannes is also Armenian.

31. Ghjuvan is Corsican.

32. Ean is Manx.

33. Juan is Spanish and Manx, with different pronunciations.

34. Xuan is Asturian.

35. Jaan is Estonian.

German composer Johann Sebastian Bach, 21/31 March 1685–28 July 1750, painted by Elias Gottlob Haussmann

36. Jean is French.

37. János is Hungarian, with nicknames including Jani and Jancsi.

38. Juhana is Finnish, with nicknames including Juho, Juha, Jussi, Jukka, Hannes, and Hannu.

39. Janne is also Finnish.

40. Joni is Finnish and Fijian.

41. Jani is also Finnish.

42. Juhani is another Finnish form.

43. Jouni is also Finnish.

44. Johano is Esperanto, with the nickname Joĉjo.

45. Yan is Belarusian.

French philosopher and writer Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 28 June 1712–2 July 1778, painted by Maurice Quentin de La Tour

46. Yann is Breton and French.

47. Jovan is Macedonian and Serbian.

48. Xoán is Galician.

49. Jóannes is Faroese.

50. Keoni is Hawaiian.

51. Jānis is Latvian.

52. Jonas is Lithuanian.

53. Sjang is Limburgish.

54. Sjeng is also Limburgish.

55. Chuan is Aragonese.

Spanish artist Joan Miró, 20 April 1893–25 December 1983

56. Gensch is Sorbian.

57. Ghjuvanni is Corsican.

58. Gian is Romansh and Swiss–German.

59. Gioann is Piedmontese.

60. Ġwann is Maltese.

61. Hoani is Maori.

62. Hone is also Maori.

63. Jardani is Caló Romany.

64. Jeian is Filipino.

65. Sione is Tongan.

Romanian writer Ion Creangă, 1837/39–31 December 1889

66. Tihoti is Tahitian.

67. Xán is Galician.

68. Yehya is Uyghur.

69. Yohana is Swahili.

70. Yohannes is Amharic.

71. Jaqiya is Kazakh.

72. Iefan is Welsh. The more familiar Anglicization is Evan.

73. Ifan is also Welsh, with the nickname Ianto.

74. Ioannis is modern Greek.

75. Eoin is Scottish and Irish.

Polish sci-fi writer Janusz Andrzej Zajgel, 15 August 1938–19 July 1985

76. Seán is Irish.

77. Iain is Scottish.

78. Ian is also Scottish.

79. Siôn is Welsh.

80. Yoann is Breton and French.

81. Giuàn is Lombard.

82. Giuvanni is Sicilian.

83. Yovaan is Tamil.

84. Hankin is a Medieval English nickname.

85. Jankin is another Medieval English nickname.

86. Jackin is a variation of Jankin, and the origin of the nickname Jack.

The many forms of Jonathan

Jonathan is a timeless classic, a name which doesn’t belong to any one particular era or type of fellow. It’s been on the Top 1000 since 1880, though only began its slow but steady rise to greater popularity in 1927. It went from #596 to the Top 20 in the 1980s. To date, its highest rank has been #15 in 1988. In 2016, it was #56.

The name is also fairly popular in Mexico (#27), Austria (#39), Denmark (#47), Switzerland (#59), Norway (#63), Sweden (#76), Canada (#98), and Australia (also #98).

The original form of the name was the Hebrew Yehonatan, later contracted to the modern form Yonatan. It means “God has given.” Most people are familiar with the story of David and Jonathan’s deep friendship in the Bible, and the persistent rumour that they may have been more than just friends.

In the Anglophone world, Jonathan didn’t become widely used till the Protestant Reformation. This spelling is also used in German, the Scandinavian languages, French, and Dutch.

Other forms include:

1. Jonatan is Scandinavian, German, Dutch, Spanish, and Czech. The variant form Jónatan is Icelandic, and Jonatán is Hungarian and a rare Czech variant.

2. Gionata is Italian.

3. Jônatas is Portuguese. The alternate form Jonatás is Spanish, and Jónatas is another Portuguese form.

4. Ionatán is Irish. The alternate form Ionatan is Romanian.

5. Joonatan is Finnish.

6. Gionatan is Italian.

7. Hovnatan is Armenian.

8. Ionafan is Russian. As much as I adore Russian names, I’ve never been a fan of the ones where the English TH sound is replaced by F, nor of names where the English J is replaced by IO or IYO. It just has an unflattering sound to my ears.

9. Ionatani is Georgian.

10. Ionathan is Greek.

11. Ionakana is Hawaiian.

12. Jonatanas is Lithuanian.

13. Honatana is Maori.

14. Joatan is Portuguese.

15. Jonatã is also Portuguese.

16. Jonatão is Portuguese too.

17. Ionatana is Samoan.

18. Sonatane is Tongan.

19. Jonty is a British nickname.

20. Yoni is a very common, popular Hebrew nickname.

The many forms of Gabriel and Gabriella

Gabriel entered the U.S. Top 100 in 1976, at #81, and stayed near the lower reaches of the chart till falling out in 1988. It re-entered at #82 in 1991, and began steadily climbing up the charts. Its highest position to date has been #21, in 2010. As of 2016, it was #25.

The name is also rather popular in France (#1), Switzerland (#4), Romania (#4), Belgium (#11), Portugal (#11), Croatia (#19), Chile (#19), Galicia (#25), Canada (#27), Italy (#27), Mexico (#35), Iceland (#37), Austria (#38), Spain (#39), Sweden (#42), Poland (#46), Norway (#47), Catalonia (#55), Slovenia (#66), England and Wales (#67), Australia (#78), New Zealand (#89), and the Czech Republic (#92).

This spelling is used in English, French, Finnish, the Scandinavian languages, Slovak, Czech, German, Georgian, Portuguese, Romanian, and Spanish. The alternate form Gabriël is Dutch, Gábriel is Hungarian, and Gabríel is Icelandic.

Gabrielle, one of the feminine forms, is English and French. In France, it’s #74, and in the U.S., it’s fallen to #225, after peaking at #46 in 1999. The alternate form Gabriëlle is Dutch.

Gabriella is English, Hungarian, Swedish, and Italian. In the U.S., it’s #61, down from a peak of #33 from 2009–11. The alternate form Gabriëlla is Dutch, and Gabríella is Icelandic.

Gabriela is Polish, Bulgarian, Slovak, Czech, German, Spanish, Romanian, Portuguese, and Croatian. It’s #8 in Romania, #19 in Poland, #29 in Portugal, #30 in the Czech Republic, #36 in Croatia, #50 in Mexico, #56 in Chile, #73 in Spain, and #252 in the U.S. The alternate form Gabríela is Icelandic.

Other forms include:


1. Gabriels is Latvian.

2. Gabrielius is Lithuanian.

3. Gavriel is the original Hebrew. It means “God is my strong man.”

4. Gavrel is Yiddish.

5. Gavriil is Russian.

6. Gavril is Macedonian, Bulgarian, and Romanian.

7. Gavrail is Bulgarian.

8. Gábor is Hungarian.

9. Gavrilo is Serbian. This form was famously borne by Gavrilo Princip, who assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand and started the First World War.

10. Gabrijel is Slovenian and Croatian.

11. Havryyil is Ukrainian.

12. Kaapo is Finnish. An alternate form is Kaappo.

13. Kaapro is also Finnish.

14. Gabriele is Italian.

15. Jabril is Arabic.

16. Jibril is also Arabic.

17. Dzhabrail is Chechen.

18. Cabbrieli is Sicilian.

19. Djibril is Western African.

20. Džibril is Bosnian.

21. Cebraîl is Kurdish.

22. Cəbrayil is Azeri.

23. Crabiele is Sardinian.

24. Gabirel is Basque.

25. Gabrielo is Esperanto.

26. Gābriyēl is Telugu.

27. Kapriel is Armenian.

28. Gabriyel is also Armenian.

29. Gaibrial is Irish.

30. Gavrylo is Ukrainian.

31. Gēbriyal is Kannadan.

32. Gēbriyala is Hindi and Gujarati.

33. Habryyel is Belarusian.

34. Haŭryil is also Belarusian.

35. Jebreil is Persian.

36. Jiboraeel is Bengali.

37. Jibriil is Somali.

38. Kapeliela is Hawaiian.

39. Kâpriale is Greenlandic.

40. Kēpriyal is Tamil.

41. Xhebraili is Albanian. The XH sound is pronounced like the J in Jupiter.

42. Zibrail is Sylheti.

43. Cebrail is Turkish.


1. Gavriela, or Gavriella, is Hebrew.

2. Gavrilla is an alternate Hebrew form.

3. Gavrela is Yiddish.

4. Havyryyila is Ukrainian.

5. Kaapriella is Finnish.

6. Gabrielė is Lithuanian.

7. Gabriele is German.

8. Gabrijela is Croatian.

9. Gavrila is Romanian. An alternate form is Gavrilă.