Theodora in reverse

U.S. social reformer Dorothea Dix (1802–87), painted 1868 by Samuel Bell Waugh

Dorothea is a palindrome of sorts of Theodora. They both have the same meaning, “gift of God,” and are formed from the same Greek roots, doron (gift) and Theos (God). The only difference is that each name puts the roots in a different order.

Dorothea is used in Greek, English, the Scandinavian languages, German, and Dutch. It gained popularity thanks to two early saints, particularly fourth century martyr Dorothea of Caesarea. This was also the name of Prussia’s patron saint, the 14th century Dorothea of Montau.

U.S. actor Dorothy Gish (1898–1968), younger sister of legendary Lillian Gish

Much more common in the Anglophone world is Dorothy, which was coined in the 16th century. Probably everyone associates this name with the protagonist of The Wizard of Oz. The name entered the U.S. Top 100 in 1890, at #93, and leapt up the chart till entering the Top 10 at #10 in 1904.

Dorothy entered the Top 5 in 1909, and peaked at #2 in 1920, a position it held till 1927. It remained in the Top 10 till 1939, and in the Top 20 till 1945. Dorothy’s final year in the Top 100 was 1961. In 2018, it was #586.

Other forms of this once-ubiquitous name include:

1. Dorotea is Italian, Spanish, Swedish, Galician, and Croatian.

2. Doroteja is Slovenian, Macedonian, Serbian, Latvian, Sorbian, and Croatian. The alternate form Dorotėja is Lithuanian. Nicknames include Dora, Tea, and Teja.

3. Dorottya is Hungarian. Nicknames include Dora, Dorka, and Dorina.

4. Dorothée is French. The nickname is Théa.

5. Doroteia is Portuguese. The Brazilian–Portuguese variant is Dorotéia.

6. Dārta is Latvian.

7. Dörthe is Low German.

8. Darafeya is Belarusian.

9. Dorofeya is Russian.

10. Darata is Lithuanian.

French aristocrat Dorothée de Talleyrand-Périgord (1862–1948), painted 1905 by Philip de László

11. Dorota is Polish, Czech, Slovak, Kashubian, and Lithuanian.

12. Dorote is Georgian.

13. Doroteya is Russian and Bulgarian.

14. Dóróthea, also rendered as Dórothea, is Icelandic.

15. Tiia is Estonian and Finnish.

16. Kōleka is Hawaiian.

17. Dorata is Albanian.

Male forms:

1. Dorotheos is Greek.

2. Dorofey is Russian.

3. Dorotheus is Latin.

4. Doroteo is Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese.

5. Darafey is Belarusian.

Witchy names, Part I

Since the wonderful month of October has begun, I’m featuring Halloween-themed names for the next four weeks. I’ve showcased quite a few Halloweeny names in years past, with meanings related to words like “dust,” “skeleton,” “ghost,” “spider,” and “bat,” but there are some name meanings I didn’t yet spotlight.

Let’s get started with the names of witches from literature and mythology. As always, these names can also be used for pets, dolls, stuffed animals, or fictional characters. Unless otherwise noted, all these names are female.

Acanthis is the Latinized form of the Greek Akanthis (prickly). It’s the name of the thistle finch bird, after a character in Greek mythology. She and her family were turned into animals by Zeus after her brother was eaten by a horse. This name was also used for an old witch by first century BCE Roman poet Propertius.

Aradia may be a Tuscan form of Erodiade, the Italian feminine form of Greek name Heroides (i.e., Herod), which probably means “song of the hero.” In American folklorist Charles Leland’s 1899 book Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches, she’s a regional Italian goddess who gives women the gift of witchcraft.

Brisen is an Arthurian witch. The name may be derived from Old Norse brisinga (glowing, twinkling), which in turn relates to goddess Freya’s famous brísingamen necklace.

Carline means “witch, old woman” in Lowland Scots.

Duessa was created by English poet Edmund Spenser for his 1590 epic poem The Faerie Queene. It may mean “disunity,” “second,” or “duplicitous,” from Latin duo (two) and a feminine suffix. Duessa is an ugly, evil witch allegorically representing Mary, Queen of Scots and the Roman Catholic Church. Not exactly the most positive of these names!

Eidyia means “to know” or “to see” in Greek, from eidos. She’s the mother of sorceress Medea, and may personify the eye’s magical power. In Greek superstition, the eye was the source of a witch’s supernatural powers, and strengthened by the sun’s beams.

Elphaba is the protagonist of Gregory Maguire’s 1995 novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. It’s derived from LFB, the initials of L. Frank Baum (author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz).

Endora probably derives from the Witch of Endor, whom King Saul consults in the First Book of Samuel. It was used for a character on popular U.S. TV show Bewitched (1964-1972).

Errafaila is a Medieval Basque witch.

Glinda is the Good Witch in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It may be based on modern Welsh name Glenda, composed of elements glân (pure, clean) and da (good).

Heiðr is a unisex name in Norse mythology. Its uses include that of an epithet for good witches.

Jadis is the White Witch in CS. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia series. It may be based on Persian jadu (witch) or French jadis (of old, long ago).

Meroë is a witch in Roman poet Lucius Apuleius’s second century novel The Golden Ass. It’s probably based on the name of an ancient city along the Nile.

Morgause is an Arthurian witch, Queen of the Orkneys, and King Arthur’s halfsister. The earliest form of her name is Orcades, which probably derives from Celtic *forko– (piglet). It may have mutated into Morcades and Morgause through confusion with Morgan.

Nessarose is the Wicked Witch of the East in Wicked.

Pamphile is the feminine form of Greek name Pamphilos (friend of all). Bearers include a legendary woman who invented silk weaving, a respected first century historian, and a witch in The Golden Ass.

Pieta means “witch of the moon” in Old Karelian Finnish.

Proselenos is an elderly witch in Roman writer Petronius’s first century novel The Satyricon. It means “before the Moon” or “older than the Moon” in Greek.

Spīdola is a witch in Latvian national epic Lāčplēsis. She’s enslaved by the Devil, but eventually rescued by hero Koknesis, who becomes her husband.

Sycorax is a powerful witch in Shakespeare’s 1611 play The Tempest. There are several theories about its etymology, including “Scythian raven,” “heartbreaker,” and “pig crow.”

Rokapi (M) is the leader of the kudiani, a mythological Georgian group of witches. Supreme god Ghmerti punished him by chaining him to an underground column, where he ate human hearts brought to him by other kudiani. Rokapi tried to escape every year, but always failed.

Zinta means “witchcraft, magic, charms” in Latvian.

Male names of literary origin, N–Z

American aviation pioneer Orville Wright, 1871–1948

Nemo means “nobody” in Latin. Jules Verne created it for the captain of Nautilus in his 1870 novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.

Nerle is a character in L. Frank Baum’s 1903 novel The Enchanted Island of Yew. It may be based on Merle, a variant of Merrill or Muriel (“pleasant hill” or “bright sea”).

Oberon is the King of the Fairies in Shakespeare’s 1595 play A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s based on Norman French name Auberon, which in turn derives from Ancient Germanic Alberich (elf power).

Orville was coined by 18th century writer Fanny Burney, who may have meant it to mean “golden city” in French.

Othello may be a diminutive of Italian name Otho, of unknown etymology. Shakespeare famously used it as the title character of his 1603 tragedy.

Pantagruel is one of the title characters of 16th century French writer François Rabelais’s The Life of Gargantua and of Pantagruel series. It derives from Greek pantes (all) and Hagarene gruel (thirsty). Pantagruel was born during a great drought. Rabelais invented hundreds of new words in these novels, based on Ancient Greek. Some of them became part of the French language.

Percival was created by 12th century French poet Chrétien de Troyes for Perceval, the Story of the Grail, which follows a Knight of the Round Table. It was probably based on Welsh name Peredur, which may mean “hard spears.” The spelling was possibly changed to resemble Old French percer val (to pierce the valley).

Pirkka was created by Finnish poet Eino Leino for “Orjan Poka. It derives from pirkkalaiset (a Medieval Finnish group who controlled taxation in Lapland).

Radames is a character in the 1871 opera Aida. Since it’s set in Ancient Egypt, librettist Antonio Ghislanzoni may have included the element Ra (Sun) to sound plausibly Egyptian.

Radúz is a rare Czech name which was created by writer Julius Zeyer for his 1898 play Radúz and Mahulena. It derives from rád (glad, happy).

Ruslan is Russian, Chechen, Ingush, Avar, Tatar, Circassian, Ukrainian, Belarusian, Bashkir, Kyrgyz, Kazakh, Uzbek, Armenian, and Ossetian. It was used by great Russian poet Aleksandr Sergeyevich Pushkin for his 1820 work Ruslan and Lyudmila, based on the name of Tatar and Russian folk hero Yeruslan Lazarevich. Its ultimate origin is Tatar name Uruslan, possibly from Turkic arslan (lion).

1887 illustration of Ruslan and Lyudmila

Saridan is a king in the 12th century Georgian epic poem The Knight in the Panther’s Skin, by Shota Rustaveli. It’s unclear which Persian root he based it off of, but possible candidates include srudan (to sing, to recite) and srayidan (to protect). Unlike many other names in the poem, Saridan has never been very common.

Sémaphore means “semaphore” (a visual signalling system) in French, ultimately derived from Ancient Greek roots sema (sign, token, mark) and phero (to carry, to bear). Thus, it roughly means “sign-bearer.” This is the name of a character in Franco–Belgian comic Cubitus. Sémaphore owns canine protagonist Cubitus.

Siyavash is a prince in 11th century Persian epic The Shahnameh. The name means “possessing black stallions” in Avestan.

Tuovi (a unisex name) was invented by Finnish writer Yrjö Sakari Yrjö-Koskinen for his 1859 novel Pohjan-Piltti. It derives from village Tuovila (village of Tove).

Urizen was created by English poet William Blake for the personification of conventional reason and law. It’s a play on “your reason,” and possibly also derived from Greek horizein (horizon).

Vahur means “brave” in Estonian. The name was invented by writer Edward Börnhohe for his 1880 novel Tasuja. I have a character by this name.

Vambola is the title character of a novel by Estonian writer Andres Saal. It may be derived from Varbola Castle or the Old Estonian word vambas (mace).

Siyavash, Copyright Aryzad at Wiki Commons

Winnetou is an Apache chief in several of German novelist Karl May’s books. It may mean “burning water.”

Ylermi is another name created by Eino Leino, for the protagonist of his poem Helkavirsiä I.

Yorick is derived from Danish and Norwegian nickname Jørg (i.e., George). Shakespeare used it for a dead court jester in Hamlet (1600).

Yvain is another creation of Chrétien de Troyes, based on Welsh name Owain (possibly a form of Eugene, “well-born”).

Zalán was created by Hungarian writer Mihály Vörösmarty for his 1823 epic Zalán Futása. The name may come from Hungary’s Zala region, which in turn takes its name from the Zala River.

Zorro means “fox” in Spanish, and became famous as the name of a character created by Johnston McCulley.

Female names of literary origin, G-M

I belatedly realised I left out three names in the first post in this series:

Daiva was created by Lithuanian writer Vydūnas and possibly based on a Sanskrit word meaning “destiny.”

Dalma was created by Hungarian poet Mihály Vörösmarty for his 1825 epic poem Zalán Futása. Though the original Dalma was male, later writers used it for female characters.

Etelka was created by Hungarian writer András Dugonics for the protagonist of his 1788 novel of the same name. It’s derived from male name Etele, which is possibly a form of Attila (little father).

Image of Jessica, from The Graphic Gallery of Shakespeare’s Heroines, 1896, by Luke Fildes

Gloriana is the title character of Edmund Spenser’s 1590 epic poem The Faerie Queene, an allegory of Queen Elizabeth I. It’s an elaborated form of the Latin word gloria (glory).

Grażyna means “beautiful” in Lithuanian. It was created by great Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz for the title character of an 1823 poem.

Gyneth is King Arthur’s daughter in Sir Walter Scott’s 1813 poem The Bridal of Triermain. It’s possibly a variation of Welsh name Gwyneth, either from Gwynedd (the name of a region in Wales, perhaps derived from Old Welsh name Cunedda) or the word gwyn (fair, blessed, white).

Haidee was created by Lord Byron for a character in the 1819 poem Don Juan, possibly derived from Greek word aidoios (reverent, modest).

Imogen is a princess in Shakespeare’s 1609 play Cymbeline, based on legendary character Innogen, which in turn is probably derived from Gaelic inghean (maiden). Her name was misprinted and never corrected.

Janice is an elaborated form of Jane created by Paul Leicester Ford for his 1899 novel Janice Meredith.

Jessica was created by Shakespeare for Shylock’s apostate daughter in The Merchant of Venice (1596), probably based on Biblical name Yiskah (to behold).

Jolánka is the protagonist of Hungarian writer András Dugonics’s 1803 novel Jólánka, Etelkának Leánya. It may have come from jóleán (good girl) or Yolanda (violet).

Juliet is an Anglicized form of respectively French and Italian nicknames Juliette and Giulietta. It was first used in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (1596).

Kinscő was created by Hungarian writer Mór Jokai in 1872’s The Novel of the Next Century, derived from kincs (treasure).

Lalage is a character in one of Roman poet Horace’s odes, derived from Greek lalageo (to prattle, babble).

Lalla is the protagonist of Thomas Moore’s 1817 poem Lalla Rookh, derived from Persian laleh (tulip).

Layla means “night” in Arabic, and was used in 7th century romantic poems. The variation Leila was used in several of Lord Byron’s poems.

Loredana is a character in French writer George Sand’s 1833 novel Mattea, possibly based on Venetian surname Loredan and ultimately place name Loreo.

Lorna was created by R.D. Blackmore for his 1869 novel Lorna Doone, based on Scottish place name Lorne and possibly ultimately legendary king Loarn mac Eirc of Dál Riata.

Lucasta was created by poet Richard Lovelace for a 1649 poetry collection of the same name, dedicated to his love Lucasta, Lucy Sacheverel. He nicknamed her lux casta (pure light).

Lucinda was created by Miguel Cervantes for a character in 1605’s Don Quixote, an elaboration of Lucia, ultimately derived from Latin lux (light).

Magnhild derives from Old Norse magn (strong, mighty) and hildr (battle). This is the title character of Norwegian writer Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson’s 1877 novel.

Malvina was created by 18th century poet James MacPherson for his Ossian poems, possibly intended to mean “smooth brow” in Gaelic.

Mahulena was created by Czech writer Julius Zeyer for his 1898 play Radúz and Mahulena, possibly derived from Magdalena.

Miranda, from The Graphic Gallery of Shakespeare’s Heroines

Mavis was first used as a personal name in a character in British writer Marie Corelli’s 1895 novel The Sorrows of Satan. It comes from a bird also known as a song thrush, ultimately from Old French mauvis (unknown etymology).

Melantha may be a portmanteau of Mel (from names such as Melissa and Melanie) and suffix antha, from Greek anthos (flower). John Dryden used it for a character in his 1672 play Marriage à la Mode.

Mélisande is the French form of Millicent (strong work), used in Maurice Maeterlinck’s 1893 play Pelléas et Mélisande.

Minea was created by Finnish writer Mika Waltari for his 1945 hist-fic The Egyptian, possibly based on Greek name Minos (king).

Miranda was created by Shakespeare for the protagonist of The Tempest (1611), derived from Latin mirandus (wonderful, admirable).

Mirèio is an Occitan name first used by French writer Frédéric Mistral in the 1859 poem of the same name, possibly derived from Occitan mirar (to admire).

Moema means “lies” in Tupí, an indigenous Brazilian language. Poet Santa Rita Durão used it in his 1781 poem Caramuru.

Myra was created by 17th century poet Sir Fulke Greville, 1st Baron Brooke, possibly based on Latin myrra (myrrh), or an anagram of Mary. This is also the name of an ancient city of Anatolia.

Names symbolic of short life

Content Warning: This post is about names befitting stillborns, infants with very short lives, and miscarriages.

I know this is a depressing, macabre topic no one should ever have to deal with, but fetal and neonatal deaths are an unavoidable fact of life. And as always, these names can also be used for fictional characters. I’ve used some of them for my own characters.

Though traditional Jewish Law dictates stillborns and infants who live less than 30 days shouldn’t be named or have Kaddish recited for them, I find it very meaningful to give such a child a simple but symbolic name. When I asked one of my rabbis about this, he said he’d never tell grieving parents not to say Kaddish for their dear baby, no matter what custom dictates.

Other traditions have different outlooks, and individuals of any faith or culture should make their own decisions. God forbid this should ever happen to me if I’m blessed with biological children before time runs out, but if it did, I’d opt against the name I’d previously chosen and instead use one of the following names, with the understanding this child would never be called that. A name that might seem corny or pretentious on a living child is transformed into something haunting and beautiful on one who was born asleep or barely lived.

Unless otherwise noted, all names ending in vowels are female, and all names ending in consonants are male.

Amala means “pure, clean” in Sanskrit.

Angel is rather self-explanatory.

Atropos (F) was the oldest the Three Fates, the one who cut the thread. Her Roman version was Morta.

Bedisa means “fate” in Georgian.

Blessing is self-explanatory.

Bracha means “blessing” in Hebrew. The male form is Baruch.

Clotho was one of the Three Fates, the one who spins the thread of Life. Her Roman version was Nona.

Dalisay (F) means “pure” in Tagalog.

Destiny is self-explanatory. This name has such a different image when used on a stillborn or someone who died in early infancy.

Faith is self-explanatory.

Glenda was created in the 20th century from Welsh elements glan (clean, pure) and da (good).

Heimarmene was the Greek goddess of the Fate of the Universe. The name may be derived from the verb meiresthai (to receive as one’s lot), from which the word moira (destiny, fate) also derives.

Hypnos was the Greek god of sleep, described as very kind, gentle, and calm. His Roman version was Somnus.

Inmaculada means “immaculate” in Spanish, after the Immaculate Conception. Other forms include Imaculada (Portuguese), Immaculata (Irish), Immacolata (Italian), and Immaculada (Catalan)

Innocent derives from the Latin Innocentius, ultimately from innocens (innocent). Other forms include Innocenzo (Italian), Innokentiy (Russian), Inocencio (Spanish), Innocenty (Polish), Innozenz (German), Inocentas (Lithuanian), Innocenz (German), Inocent (Croatian), and Inocenţiu (Romanian).

Female forms are Innokentiya (Russian, Bulgarian), Iñoskentze (Basque), Innocentia (Latin), Innocència (Catalan), Innocenta (Polish), Inocencia (Spanish, Portuguese), and Innocentja (Polish).

Juvenal means “youthful” in Latin, from original form Iuvenalis.

Kader (F) means “destiny, fate” in Turkish.

Kiyoshi (M) means “pure” in Japanese.

Lachesis (F) was one of the Three Fates, the one responsible for measuring the thread and determining length of life. Her Roman counterpart is Decima.

Memoria means “memory” in Italian.

Mneme means “memory” in Greek. She was one of the original Three Muses.

Mnemosyne was the Greek goddess of remembrance. Other forms include Mnemosina (Russian, Macedonian, Serbian, Tatar, Ukrainian, Azeri, Basque), Mnemosine (Italian, Portuguese), Mnémoszüné (Hungarian), Mnemozina (Bulgarian, Bosnian, Croatian), Mnemósine (Spanish, Asturian, Catalan), Mnemozino (Esperanto), Mnemasina (Belarusian), Mnēmosine (Latvian), Mnemosinė (Lithuanian), Mnemosin (Piedmontese), and Mnemosune (Afrikaans).

Neshama means “soul” in Hebrew. A diminutive form is Neshamaleh.

Oroitz means “memory” in Basque.

Peace is self-explanatory.

Pepromene was the Greek goddess of one’s individual fate. The name may derive from the verb peprosthai (to be fated, finished, fulfilled) or the noun pepratosthai (finite).

Qismat means “fate” in Arabic. This name is female in Sanskrit (Qismet) and Turkish (Kismet).

Remember, Remembrance. Though these were unisex names in Puritan times, Remember in particular has always sounded more feminine to me.

Safi (M) means “pure” in Arabic. The feminine forms are Safiya, Safiyyah (Arabic) and Safiye (Turkish).

Shalom means “peace” in Hebrew. This is a unisex name.

Syntyche means “common fate” in Greek.

Tahira means “pure, chaste, virtuous” in Arabic. In Turkish, it’s spelt Tahire. The male Arabic and Turkish form is Tahir.

Thuần means “pure, simple, clean” in Vietnamese.

Zachriel, Zechariel, Zachariel is the archangel who leads souls to judgment in Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.

Zaha means “pure, innocent, fresh, clean, clear” in Hebrew.

Zakiyya, Zakiya, Zakiah means “pure” in Arabic. The male form is Zaki. In Tatar and Bashkir, it’s spelt Zäki. The Hebrew form is Zakkai, Zakai, Zakay.