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.

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A name that arose from the earth

Adam Mickiewicz (1798–1855), one of Poland’s great national poets, painted 1828 by Józef Oleszkiewicz

Adam means “man” in Hebrew, and may ultimately derive from the Akkadian word adamu (to make), the Hebrew word adamah (earth), or the almost-identical Hebrew word ‘adam (to be red; i.e., a reference to a ruddy complexion). All these etymologies obviously are very symbolic, given Adam is the name of the first man in the Biblical creation story.

The name is also used in English, German, French, Dutch, Georgian, Arabic, Catalan, Romanian, and the Scandinavian and Slavic languages. The variation Ádám is Hungarian; Ádam is Faroese; and Âdam is Jèrriais.

Adam has long been common in the Jewish world, but it didn’t become popular in Christendom till the Middle Ages. After the Protestant Reformation, it became even more popular. The name has been in the U.S. Top 500 since 1880, and began vaulting up the charts in the 1950s. It went from #428 in 1954 to #71 in 1970. Adam attained its highest rank of #18 in 1983 and 1984.

The name has remained in the Top 100 since. In 2018, it was #78. Adam is also #2 in Belgium, #3 in the Czech Republic (as of 2016), #5 in Hungary and France, #6 in Sweden, #9 in Ireland, #11 in Poland, #16 in Catalonia (as of 2016), #17 in The Netherlands, #18 in Northern Ireland (which hopefully soon will be reunified with the rest of Ireland), #24 in Scotland, #25 in Denmark, #36 in England and Wales, #39 in Israel (as of 2016), #40 in Norway, #41 in Spain, #43 in NSW, Australia, #44 in Slovenia, #50 in Switzerland and Austria, #51 in British Columbia, Canada, #55 in Italy, and #96 in New Zealand.

Adam was the name of one of my great-great-grandfathers, the father of the only great-grandfather I have memories of. Judging from the vintage newspaper stories I’ve found about him, he was quite the local character!

Scottish economist Adam Smith (1723–1790), author of one of the most boring books ever written, The Wealth of Nations

Other forms include:

1. Adamo is Italian.

2. Adán is Spanish.

3. Adão is Portuguese.

4. Ádhamh is Irish.

5. Aatami is Finnish.

6. Adomas is Lithuanian.

7. Akamu is Hawaiian.

8. Aadam is Estonian.

9. Aaden is Somali.

10. Adami is Greenlandic and old-fashioned Georgian.

11. Ādams is Latvian.

12. Adamu is Swahili, Amharic, and Hausa.

13. Adda is Welsh, though I’d avoid this in an Anglophone area. Unfortunately, many boys with names ending in A are teased, and there’s no saving grace of this being a widely-known male name like Nikita or Ilya.

14. Aden is Romansh.

15. Ārama is Maori.

16. Âtame is Greenlandic.

17. Áttán is Sami.

18. Hadam is Sorbian.

19. Jadóm is Kashubian.

20. Odam is Uzbek.

21. Adem is Turkish.

22. Y-adam is a rare Vietnamese form.

Feminine forms:

1. Adamina is English, Polish, and Romani.

2. Adama is Hebrew and English.

3. Adamella is a rare, modern English form. I’m really not keen on this name! Some names don’t naturally lend themselves to feminine versions, and look forced.

4. Adamia is English.

The ultimate Roman name

Prince Roman Petrovich of Russia, 1896–1978. In my alternative history, he marries his second-cousin, Grand Duchess Anastasiya Nikolayevna, and opens a sporting club on his Znamenka estate in Peterhof.

Roman (NOT to be confused with the entirely separate name Ramon) comes from the Latin name Romanus, meaning, quite unsurprisingly, “Roman.” Roman’s ultimate origin is Romulus, the legendary co-founder of Rome.

The name is Russian, Ukrainian, Slovenian, German, Polish, Czech, Slovak, Georgian, Armenian, Romanian, English, Finnish, Scandinavian, Bulgarian, and Croatian. Russian nicknames include Roma, Romik, Romasha, Romulya, and Romashka. The Czech and Slovak nickname is Romuška; Polish nicknames include Romek, Romuś, and Romcio; and Romica is Croatian.

The alternate form Román is Hungarian and Spanish, and Róman is Icelandic. Roman also means “novel” in several of these languages.

The name has become quite trendy in the U.S. in recent years, jumping up the charts quite a bit since 2004. By 2018, it was #85. It was also #75 in England and Wales in 2017, #61 in the Czech Republic in 2016.

Other forms of Roman include:

1. Romà is Catalan.

2. Romão is Portuguese.

3. Romanos is Greek.

4. Romāns is Latvian.

5. Romano is Italian.

6. Romain is French.

7. Raman is Belarusian.

8. Råmman is Skolt Sami.

9. Ǎraman is Chuvash.

10. Romaani is Finnish.

11. Romanas is Lithuanian.

12. Romanoz is Georgian.

13. Romanozi is an older, rare Georgian form.

14. Römu is Swiss–German.

Feminine forms:

1. Romana is Italian, Czech, Slovak, Slovenian, Polish, Latin, Dutch, Serbian, Swedish, Bulgarian, Romanian, German, English, and Croatian. The alternate form Romána is Hungarian.

2. Romaine is French.

3. Romena is modern Lithuanian.

4. Romane is an alternate French form.

Birth order names

I’ve always loved birth order names like Quintina and Octavia, though most people no longer have such large families, nor do they use birth order names very often in most cultures. For whatever reason, Quint- names seem the most common.

Unless otherwise noted, names ending in A and E are feminine; names ending in O, U, and consonants are masculine. U means “unisex.”

First:

Abaka means “firstborn” in Akan.

Adi (M) is Indonesian.

Baako (U) means “firstborn child” in Akan.

Berko means “firstborn” in Akan.

Eka (U) means “first, one” in Indonesian.

Ensio is Finnish.

İlkın is Azeri and Turkish.

Mosi (M) is Swahili.

Parvan is Bulgarian.

Prim is Russian, Bulgarian, and Macedonian.

Prima is Italian and Latin.

Primiano is Italian and Spanish.

Primien is French.

Primo is Italian.

Primož is Slovenian.

Primula means “very first” in Latin.

Primus is Latin.

Proteus is Greek.

Una is Latin. I love this name for an only child.

Second:

Duri (U) means “two” in Korean.

Dwi (U) means “two, second” in Indonesian.

Secunda/Secundus is Latin.

Segunda/Segundo is Spanish, Portuguese, and Galician.

Third:

Fereydoun is Persian.

Kunto (F) means “third child” in Akan. For obvious reasons, I would NOT recommend this in an Anglophone country!

Tercera/Tercero is Spanish.

Tércia/Tércio is Portuguese.

Tertia/Tertius is Latin.

Terza/Terzo is Italian.

Tri (U) means “three, third” in Indonesian.

Fourth:

Anan (U) means “fourth-born child” in Akan.

Catur means “fourth child” in Indonesian.

Raabi’a is Arabic.

Pompey is Latin, probably derived from a Sabellic word meaning “four.”

Quadrado is Portuguese.

Quadrat is French.

Quadrato is Italian.

Quadressa may very well be my own invention!

Quarta is Latin.

Quartilla is Latin.

Quartino is Italian.

Quarto is Italian.

Quartus is Latin.

Fifth:

Enu (U) means “fifth-born child” in Akan.

Quentin is English and French.

Quincia is Spanish and English. The alternate form Quincià is Catalan.

Quinciana/Quinciano is Spanish.

Quincio is Spanish. The alternate form Quíncio is Portuguese.

Quinta is Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Latin, Dutch, and English.

Quintana is English.

Quintavia might be my own invention too!

Quintessa is English.

Quintí (M) is Catalan.

Quintia is Latin and Dutch.

Quintiaan is Dutch.

Quintian is German and English.

Quintien/Quintienne is French.

Quintil is Occitan, French, and Catalan.

Quintila/Quintilo is Spanish and Portuguese.

Quintilio is Spanish and Italian.

Quintilla is Italian, English, Dutch, Afrikaans, and Latin.

Quintillia is English.

Quintillo is Italian.

Quintillu is Sardinian.

Quintijn is Dutch.

Quintina is Latin and English.

Quintinien is French.

Quintinu is Corsican.

Quinto is Italian.

Quintu is Corsican and Sicilian.

Quintus is Latin.

Quinzia/Quinzio is Italian.

Sixth:

Nsia (U) means “sixth-born child” in Akan.

Sesta/Sesto is Italian.

Sextus/Sixta is Latin.

Sixte (M) is French.

Sixtina is Latin, German, Dutch, and Latin American–Spanish.

Sixtine is French.

Sixto is Spanish.

Sixtus is Latin, though it’s truly derived from the Greek name Xystos (polished, scraped). It’s additionally considered to mean “sixth” because it was borne by the sixth pope after St. Peter.

Seventh:

Nsonowa (U) means “seventh-born child” in Akan.

Septima is Latin. The rare alternate form Septíma is Icelandic.

Septime is French.

Septimia is Romanian.

Septimio is Spanish and Portuguese.

Septimus is Latin.

Settima/Settimo is Italian.

Eighth:

Awotwi (U) means “eighth-born child” in Akan.

Octaaf is Dutch and Flemish.

Octave (M) is French.

Octavi (M) is Catalan.

Octavia is Latin, Spanish, and English. The alternate form Octávia is Portuguese, and Octàvia is Catalan and Occitan. I adore this name!

Octavian is Romanian.

Octaviana is Latin and Spanish.

Octaviano is Spanish.

Octavianus is Latin.

Octavie is French and Luxembourgish.

Octavien/Octavienne is French.

Octavio is Spanish. The alternate form Octávio is Portuguese.

Octavius is Latin.

Oktáv is Hungarian.

Oktavia is German. The alternate form Oktávia is Hungarian, and Oktavía is Icelandic.

Oktávián is Hungarian.

Oktavianas is Lithuanian.

Oktavijan is Croatian.

Oktavije is Bosnian, Serbian, and Croatian.

Oktavijus is Lithuanian.

Oktavíus is Icelandic.

Oktaviy is Russian, Bulgarian, and Ukrainian.

Oktaviya is Russian, Bulgarian, and Ukrainian.

Oktawia/Oktawius is Polish.

Otávia/Otávio is Brazilian–Portuguese.

Ottavia, Ottaviana, Ottaviano, and Ottavio are Italian.

Ninth:

Nkruma (U) means “ninth-born child” in Akan.

Nona is Latin and English.

Nonius/Nonia is Latin.

Noniana/Noniano is Italian.

Nonio is Spanish and Italian.

Nonus is Latin.

Novena is Spanish.

Nuno is Portuguese and Spanish. The alternate form Nuño is Medieval Spanish.

Tenth:

Decia is Italian.

Decima is Latin. If you’re wondering, the word “decimate” indeed comes from the Latin word for “ten.” When Romans killed their enemies, they put them in a line and beheaded every tenth one.

Decimo is Italian. The alternate form Décimo is Spanish and Portuguese.

Decimus is Latin.

Décio is Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese.

Eleventh:

Dubaku (U) means “eleventh-born child” in Akan.

Duku (U) means “eleventh-born” in Akan.

Miscellaneous:

Achan means “female child in the first pair of twins” in Dinka.

Afafa means “the first child of the second husband” in Ewe.

Aino (F) means “the only one” in Finnish.

Akpan means “firstborn son” in Ibibio.

Alaba means “second child after twins” in Yoruba.

Babirye (F) means “first of twins” in Luganda.

Buyon is the traditional Batonu name for a fourth-born daughter.

Gorou means “five son” in Japanese, traditionally given to fifth sons.

Hachirou means “eight son” in Japanese, traditionally given to eighth sons.

Ichirou means “one son” in Japanese, traditionally given to firstborn sons.

Isingoma (M) means “first of twins” in Luganda.

Jirou means “two son” in Japanese, traditionally given to secondborn sons.

Juurou means “ten son” in Japanese, traditionally given to tenth sons.

Kato (M) means “second of twins” in Luganda.

Kurou means “nine son” in Japanese, traditionally given to ninth sons.

Nakato (M) means “second of twins” in Luganda.

Prvul means “firstborn son” in Vlach.

Rokurou means “six son” in Japanese, traditionally given to sixth sons.

Saburo means “three son” in Japanese, traditionally given to third sons.

Shirou means “four son” in Japanese, traditionally given to fourth sons.

Wasswa (M) means “first of twins” in Luganda.

Winona means “firstborn daughter” in Dakota.

Xwm (SIM) means “second son” in Hmong.

Jane isn’t so plain

U.S. reformer Jane Addams, 1860–1935

Jane, like its male counterpart John, is a timeless, universal mainstay. It’s the Middle English form of the Old French Jehanne, which in turn derives from the Latin Iohannes and Greek Ioannes, ultimately derived from the Hebrew Yochanan (God is  gracious).

The name was #98 in the U.S. in 1880, and stayed near the bottom of the Top 100 and just outside of it for the remainder of the 19th century. Jane went up and down until 1909, when it rose from #130 to #116. The name proceeded to jump up the charts to the Top 50, attaining its highest rank of #35 in 1946. Its last year in the Top 100 was 1965. In 2019, it was #291.

Jean, a Middle English variation of Jehanne, was common in Medieval Scotland and England, then fell from popularity till the 19th century. In the U.S., it was Top 100 from 1906–64, with the highest rank of #12 in 1926 and 1928–29. It fell off the chart in 1995.

Joanna is English and Polish, and became common in the Anglophone world in the 19th century. Its highest U.S. rank was #88 in 1984.

Joan Crawford, née Lucille Fay LeSueur (1904–1977), with Lon Chaney, Sr., in The Unknown (1927)

Joan is a Middle English form of the Old French Johanne, and was the most common English feminine form of John till the 17th century, when Jane rose to the fore. It skyrocketed to popularity in the U.S. in the 1920s, jumping from #127 in 1922 to #5 by 1931–33. Joan stayed in the Top 10 till 1938, and slowly descended the chart. Its final Top 100 year was 1964. In 1993, it fell off the Top 1000.

Other forms include:

1. Johanna is German, Dutch, Scandinavian, English, Hungarian, Estonian, and Finnish. The variant Jóhanna is Icelandic.

2. Jeanne is French and English, and of course the name of one of France’s most beloved native daughters and sheroes, Jeanne d’Arc (Joan of Arc).

3. Jana is Czech, Slovak, Catalan, Dutch, German, Slovenian, Georgian, and English.

4. Johanne is Danish, Norwegian, and French.

5. Joanne is English and French. It was Top 100 in the U.S. from 1930–60, with its highest rank of #48 in 1942.

6. Joana is Portuguese and Catalan.

7. Ioanna is Greek, Georgian, Ukrainian, and old-fashioned Russian.

8. Ioana is Romanian.

9. Yoana is Bulgarian.

10. Ivana is Macedonian, Serbian, Czech, Slovak, Slovenian, Bulgarian, and Croatian.

Jeanne d’Arc, painted by Harold Piffard

11. Jone is Basque.

12. Yanna is Breton and Greek.

13. Jóna is Faroese and Icelandic.

14. Ivanna is Ukrainian.

15. Juana is Spanish.

16. Yana is Russian, Bulgarian, and Ukrainian.

17. Janka is Sorbian.

18. Xoana is Galician.

19. Zhanna is Russian.

20. Giovanna is Italian.

Queen Juana the Mad of Castille (1473–1555), painted between 1496–1500 by Juan de Flandes

21. Giuanna is Sardinian.

22. Gianna is modern Greek, and an Italian nickname for Giovanna.

23. Janina is Lithuanian, Polish, German, Finnish, and Swedish.

24. Janna is Swedish, Dutch, Finnish, and English.

25. Ghjuvanna is Corsican.

26. Siân is Welsh. Nicknames are Siana and Siani.

27. Siwan is also Welsh.

28. Seonag is Scottish. Nicknames include Seona and Seònaid.

29. Siobhán is Irish.

30. Síne is also Irish.

German opera singer Johanna Gadski, 1872–1932

31. Sinéad is another Irish form.

32. Jovana is Serbian and Macedonian.

33. Janessa is English.

34. Janelle is English.

35. Jeannette is French, Dutch, and English.

36. Jeannine is French and English.

37. Janine is English, German, Dutch, and French.

38. Žanna is Latvian.

39. Žaneta is Czech, Slovak, and Lithuanian.

40. Teasag is Scottish.

Soviet actor Yanina Zheymo, 1909–87

41. Jenny/Jennie began as a Middle English nickname for Jane, though eventually became used as a full name in its own right and a nickname for Jennifer.

42. Yanina is Russian, Bulgarian, and Spanish.

43. Hēni is Maori.

44. Jâne is Greenlandic. Unlike the English form, this has two syllables.

45. Janissa is English.

46. Seini is Tongan.

47. Hoana is Maori.

48. Joane is Gascon.

49. Ivanija is Vlach, a variation of Romanian spoken in Serbia.

50. Jaanika is Estonian and Finnish.

Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind, née Johanna (1820–87), painted 1845 by J.L. Asher

51. Jânotte is Norman.

52. Ohanna is Armenian. I have a character by this name, one of the orphanage girls in my Russian historicals.

53. Hovhanna is also Armenian.

54. Yohana is Amharic and Indonesian.

55. Yuwana is Arabic.

56. Yochana, or Yochanah, is Hebrew.