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.

The many forms of Hercules

Though many people would consider Hercules to be too pompous, pretentious, and over the top for real-life usage, there are quite a few different forms of the name. Perhaps they might work well on a fictional character or pet, or one of the foreign versions might sound a bit less strange in the Anglophone world. It’s also just neat to see how names morph into other forms in different languages.

1. Hercules, the most familiar form in the Anglophone world, is actually the Latinized form of the Greek original. Though I normally prefer the authentic Greek spellings, this is one I’m too used to seeing in its historically Latinized form. The variation Hércules is Brazilian–Portuguese.

2. Herakles is the Greek original, and means “glory of Hera.” The meaning is kind of ironic, given how much Hera hated him!

3. Herakleios is an elaborated Greek form.

4. Heraclius is the Latinized form of Herakleios. Two early saints and a 7th century Byzantine emperor bore this name.

5. Erekle is the historic Georgian form. Two kings from the Bagrationi Dynasty had this name.

6. Irakli is the modern Georgian form.

7. Irakliy is Russian.

8. Heraclio is Spanish. The variation Heráclio is Brazilian–Portuguese.

9. Iraklis is the modern Greek form.

10. Ercole is Italian.

11. Ercwlff is Welsh.

12. Hercule is French, and well-known as the name of detective Poirot in Agatha Christie’s mystery series.

13. Erco is Romansh, a Romance language spoken in southeastern Switzerland.

14. Gerakl is an alternate Russian form.

15. Herakliu is Albanian.

16. Herkules is Polish.

17. Iorcall is Scottish, in use since the Renaissance.

18. Heraklo is Croatian.

19. Herkül is Turkish.

20. Herculina is a feminine Latin form.

21. Eraclio is an alternate Italian form.

22. Heraklije is an alternate Croatian form.

Voluptas, Vervactor, Viduus, Viriplaca, Verminus, Venilia, Vagitanus, Vitumnus, and Volutina

Since no one in Greek mythology has a name starting with V, either in the original Greek or in one of the Latinized forms historically used, I decided to use Roman mythology for the V day. My original plan had been to use Roman names for the letters missing from Greek, but there are also certain letters not used in Latin.

I also couldn’t find much substantial information on any of the Roman V deities I tracked down, so I decided to feature a bunch of stubs today. Because I’m very superstitious about lucky vs. unlucky numbers and dates, I had to make it nine instead of leaving it at eight. As irrational as I know this is, I always try to avoid the number eight!

Voluptas, etched by Daniel Hopfer

Voluptas, or Volupia, is the daughter of Cupid (Eros) and Psyche, and the goddess of sensual pleasures. Her Greek name is Hedone, which means “pleasure.” It’s the root of the English word “hedonism.” Likewise, Voluptas also means “pleasure” or “bliss,” and is the origin of the English word “voluptuous.”

Vervactor is one of the twelve helper gods of the goddess Ceres, overseeing each step of the grain cycle. He’s the first one up, the god who plows. A priest would invoke the help of these twelve gods, asking for Divine help and protection every step of the way. Vervactor derives from vervago, “to break up,” and vervactum, “fallow ground.”

Viduus is the god who separates the body and soul after Death. The name means “void, bereft,” and is the source of the English words “widow” and “widower.” Interestingly, “widower” is one of the few words whose masculine form is piggybacked off the original feminine form, not the other way around (e.g., actor vs. actress, usher vs. usherette). While I normally avoid using suffixes denoting sex, “widower” is one of those words which still seems to require it.

Viriplaca is the goddess who soothes men’s anger. This was used as one of Juno’s added names, when she was invoked as a goddess to restore peace between a married couple. There was a sanctuary to her on Palatine Hill in Rome, where women went to pour out their hearts when their husbands had wronged them. Viriplaca derives from vir, “man,” and placare, “to appease.”

Verminus is the god who protects cattle from disease, and is possibly taken from the Indigetes, a conquered Iberian people. There were several altars to him in the Roman Empire. His name either derives from vermine, “gripe,” or vermino, “to have worms.” Related words include vermis (worm) and verminosus (wormy). You can guess where the English word “worm” came from!

Venilia is a goddess of the winds and sea, though according to Ovid and Virgil, she was a nymph and the wife of Janus or Faunus. A mountain on Venus is named for her. The name might be related to ventosus, “windy.”

Vagitanus (or Vaticanus) is the goddess who presides over a baby’s first cry and opens their mouths for this purpose. The name derives from vagitus, “crying, wailing, squalling.”

Vitumnus is the god who enables the quickening (the first fetal movements in utero). Some sources believe this is an aspect of Jove (Jupiter) instead of a separate deity. The name derives from vita, “life.”

Volutina is the goddess who causes envelopes (i.e., leaf sheaves) to form. The name is derived from involumenta, “swaddling,” and voluto, “to roll.”

Quiritis and Quirinus

The Quirinus section of this post is edited from last year’s A to Z post, since it’s hard to find significant deities whose names start with Q. Quetzalcoatl was out of the question, since my intent was to focus on deities who aren’t super-well-known.

Juno, by Jacques Louis Dubois

Quiritis is a Sabine goddess of motherhood, often associated with protection. I can imagine many a woman praying to her in the throes of childbirth, or for help and guidance with learning how to be a mother.

Quiritis is believed to be derived from the Sabine word quiris (spear, lance). She’s often depicted holding that weapon, presumably to defend someone or something. Perhaps because of this, she came to be associated with Juno (Iuno), the Roman equivalent of Hera. Juno is also frequently depicted holding a spear or lance, something which came from the earlier Quiritis.

Roman marriages traditionally included a ritual wherein the bride’s hair was cut or parted by a spear. Some scholars believe this was the influence of Quiritis and Juno’s association with marriage.

Juno was frequently worshipped under the name Juno Quiritis or Juno Curitis, and Juno Quiritis is said to be the only deity worshipped by all thirty curiae (military and political divisions) established by Romulus. By Campus Martius, an area of great religious, political, and military training importance, there was a temple to Juno Quiritis.

The Shepherd Faustulus Bringing Romulus and Remus to His Wife, by Nicolas Mignard, 1654

Quirinus is an alternate name for Romulus. Together with his twin brother Remus, he founded Rome. Later on, Quirinus/Romulus was elevated to deity status. Sources differ on whether the Roman god Quirinus is or isn’t one and the same as Romulus.

There are many versions of the twins’ origins, ancestry, and childhood, but all versions have a servant who can’t bring himself to murder the babies, and instead puts them in a basket on the banks of the Tiber River. The river floods and carries the twins downstream, unhurt. Tiberinus, a river god, makes the basket catch on the roots of a fig tree, and a wolf named Lupa discovers them and serves as their wetnurse. Picus, a woodpecker, feeds them.

The twins grew up as shepherds following their discovery by Faustulus, who took them to his hut and raised them with his wife Acca Larentia. The rest is history.

Quirinus came to stand for the Divine personification of the Roman people.

Quirinus is possibly derived from the Sabine word quiris (spear, lance). Other forms include Quirino (Italian, Portuguese, Spanish), Quirin (German), Quirijn (Dutch), Corin (French), Kyrinos (Greek), Kvirinas (Lithuanian), Kvirinus (Faroese), Kvirin (Russian, Bulgarian, Macedonian, Ukrainian, Croatian), and Kwiryn (Polish). A Dutch feminine form is Quirine.