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?

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Déjà Vu Blogfest—Renaming Yourself

deja_vu-2016

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?

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?

Predating naming trends

Fewer things put me off to a book, TV show, or movie, even from just reading a blurb or episode synopsis, than seeing an obviously predated naming trend. Sure, there are always outliers in every generation (for example, names like Miranda, Jason, Amanda, and Justin existed long before they became trendy in the last third of the 20th century), but when more than a few of your characters have those names, or the one anachronistic name is more than just an outlier, you really haven’t done your research.

Two big examples I always think of are Kayla and Caitlin. Sure, I can easily picture an older Irishwoman named Caitlin (though the traditional pronunciation is something like Cot-leen or Coyt-leen, not Kate-lynn), or perhaps an older woman named after Caitlin Thomas (Dylan’s wife) or an older woman whose parents were passionate Hibernophiles. It really is a perfectly lovely name, even if it’s not my own personal style.

However, the name Caitlin (with the original spelling) didn’t crack the Top 1000 in the U.S. till 1976. The endless spelling variants, like Katelyn, Caitlyn, Kaitlyn, and Kaitlin, didn’t start cracking the Top 1000 till a bit later. So, yes, unless your character meets one of the three aforementioned conditions, I’m going to call BS, particularly if you’re using a kreatyv spylyng. And while we’re on this subject, I think it’s ridiculous for a certain person in a notorious famewhore family to have chosen a kreatyv spylyng of that name as his new name. Nope, I can’t believe a 65-year-old woman would be named Caitlyn. #sorrynotsorry

And while we’re on this subject, if you’re transitioning, you should certainly choose a new name you love and which feels like your authentic self, but it shouldn’t be something outlandish and kreatyvleigh spelt. That doesn’t mean you’re stuck to the common/popular names of your generation, but it doesn’t mean gravitating towards a name which smacks of Gen Y or the Millennials. It’ll sound like an obvious fake name, just like no one believes porn stars and strippers really have names like Cherry, Destiny, Diamond, Chyna, and Nevaeh-it’s-Heaven-spelt-backwards-TEEHEEHEE!

Kayla/Kaila likewise existed long before it was given to a soap opera character in 1982. It’s a real Yiddish name, though again, not my style. So, again, unless your character is Jewish, her parents had an affinity for Yiddish names, or some similar plausible reason, I won’t hesitate to call BS on a fictional Kayla born before 1982.

It’s obvious writers are going by current Top 100 charts when we compare the charts against the year a character débuted. Yeah, what a shock so many adult or teen characters suddenly had names like Jennifer, Kimberly, Amber, Tiffany, Skye, Madison, Mackenzie, Taylor, and Stephanie around the same time those names began getting popular! What’s so wrong with using them where they feel plausible, on newborn babies and small children?

No, I can’t believe the female lead in your historical novel is named Taylor or Mikayla. Yes, I call BS on your college-aged male romantic lead having a name like Kayden or Braedon. No, I can’t believe the teen girl in your contemporary novel is named Addison or Madison. Yes, even though names like Emma and Liam are of rather old vintage, I’m going to assume you’re only using them because you can’t think outside of current Top 100 names, particularly if most of your other characters’ names are similarly predated or there’s no special reason given for them having outlier names.

And yes, I’m sure someone may claim s/he knew a Caitlin or Caden born before the jump in popularity. We all know outliers. However, that doesn’t mean that one exception you knew Magickally means it’s totally accurate for so many characters to have names that either didn’t exist or were barely heard of when they would’ve been born. Sometimes you have to suck it up and change a character’s name if you want people to take you seriously. I’d have the same comments about, e.g., a contemporary YA gut-loaded with Boomer names like Debbie, Linda, Susan, Patricia, Nancy, and Janet.

You really can never go wrong with names that aren’t tied to one particular era, or which have been most popular in a certain era but have still been steadily used over the ages. When in doubt, check the charts!

Know the naming conventions of the culture you’re writing about

I wrote this for my primary blog on 30 November 2012. This is such a vitally important detail if you’re writing a book or story set in a culture outside of your own. There’s just no excuse for not doing such basic homework, unless you’re extremely young and honestly don’t know any better. And if you’re so attached to a certain outlier name, at least create a plausible reason for it and make it clear that this is an unusual name in that culture.

Welcome to My Magick Theatre

As important as it is to use the right names for your characters, it’s doubly-important to get them right when you’re writing about another culture. You can’t just assume their names can be “translated” into English or that naming conventions are similar.

Apparently I’m old-fashioned for still doing this, but I’ve always called my older characters Mr., Mrs., Miss, and Ms., or their foreign equivalents (Heer, Vrouw, Herr, Frau, Madame, Froi, Fru, etc.). It’s so jarring when I’m reading a book set in another country (either a translation or an English-language book) and see the adult characters called Mr. and Mrs. That takes away so much cultural flavor.

When I began my first Russian novel in early ’93, I didn’t know that the titles Mr. and Mrs. are only very rarely used in Russian. However, I’ve retained these titles as a way to distinguish the younger characters from the older…

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