Some thoughts on name-changing after immigration

(Note: I’ll be further discussing some of these issues on my main blog in upcoming posts, “A Primer on Anglicizing Names” and “A Primer on De-Judaizing Names.” I also previously discussed the issue of Hebraizing names on my main blog.)

Though most immigrants in the modern era proudly retain their birth names, that wasn’t always the case. Many people felt they had to change their names (first, last, or both) to become “real” Americans, Canadians, Brits, Australians, Israelis, French, etc. By and large, no one questioned this.

Now we know there’s no one “right” way to be a proud, patriotic member of one’s adopted homeland. By trying to whitewash themselves and pretend they never had any other names and ways of life, people lost vital parts of their heritage and identity.

Changing spelling to reflect pronunciation:

I understand why people would want to do this. Certain letters make different sounds in, e.g., English than they do in the native language. For example, the Hungarian surname Kovács might become Kovach, or the Polish surname Adamczak became Adamchak.

Many Hungarian women named Sára (nickname Sári) have likewise changed their names to Shara or Shari, since most non-Magyarphiles don’t know the Hungarian S is pronounced SH.

Many people gave up the idea of anyone properly pronouncing, e.g., W as V, and accepted a linguistically incorrect pronunciation of a name like Janowski or Korošec.

Removing diacritical marks:

This was extraordinarily common, esp. since many people would’ve had no idea how to pronounce characters like Ń, Ž, Č, Ł, Ę, Ñ, Ü, Ø, or Ő. Even if the diacritical mark makes the difference in correct vs. incorrect pronunciation, most people even now see them as a hindrance or annoyance.

Pedant I am, I like seeing diacritical marks in names of foreign origin. It sets the bearer apart, sends the message that s/he cares about his or her ethnic heritage and doesn’t believe in taking the easy way out. A name like Ramón, Yaël, Léa, Gwenaël, Kálmán, or Irène looks so distinctive.

Changing spelling to conform to host nation’s “norms”:

Examples would include the Hungarian Jakab becoming Jacob, Izabella becoming Isabella, the Estonian Eliisabet becoming Elizabeth, or the Polish Zofia becoming Sophia. Before people were used to seeing certain letters or sounds in names, they would’ve stood out like a sore thumb. But today, those native spellings really stand out beautifully from the crowd.

Many Russians and Ukrainians with -skiy names also changed that suffix to -sky, to simplify the spelling. Sometimes, Poles changed -ski to -sky. If they lived in a region with a lot of people of Russian, Ukrainian, Czech, or Slovak descent, it helped them to blend in better.

Dropping sex-based endings of surnames:

Many names in the Slavic languages denote the sex of the bearer. Russian women’s names end in -a after -ov, -(y)ev, or -in, and -skiy becomes -skaya. Likewise, Polish women’s names end in -ska instead of -ski, and Czech women’s names tack on -ová. In Slovak and Czech, -ský becomes -ská.

It just looks wrong to me to see a beautiful Russian or Polish surname without the feminine ending when the bearer is a woman. It’s grammatically incorrect for a woman to have a name like Jaskolski, Kuznetsov, or Borodin.

“Translating” names to that of the host culture:

It wasn’t uncommon for, e.g., Pavlos or Pavel to become Paul, Katarina or Katarzyna to become Catherine, or Ryszard to become Richard. Even a name like Caterina or Nikolay was considered “too foreign” once upon a time.

Surnames could be “translated” too, such as Schmidt becoming Smith or Molnár becoming Miller. Anything suggesting foreign origin was seen as undesirable and suspect.

This frequently happened when people made aliyah (moved to Israel), as discussed in the above-hyperlinked “A Primer on Hebraizing Names.” Many common Jewish surnames were translated into Hebrew, such as Bergman becoming Harari and Rosen becoming Vardi. Those birth surnames smacked of a people without their own country and language.

Choosing entirely new names:

The name Irving was once quite popular among the Jewish community, as an “American” substitute for Isaac, Israel, and Isaiah. Many of the new names chosen have dated rather poorly, though at the time, they were seen as “all-American” and a part of the mainstream onomastic culture.

Shortening names or putting Anglo twists on them:

This happened both for Anglicization in general and de-Judaization in particular. For example, Garfinkel became Garfield, Rosenkrantz became Rose, Nielsen became Nelson, Feuerstein became Firestone, de Jong became DeYoung, Eisenhauer became Eisenhower.

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I’m glad more people now see the beauty in names from a wide variety of cultures, instead of seeing them as an ugly, embarrassing, foreign burden to be shed. Not everyone needs to have names like John and Mary Smith, just as not everyone has to abandon native cuisine, culture, language (as long as one learns the host language), and religion.

Pearly names (including the many forms of Margaret)

Pearl used to be quite a popular name in the U.S. In 1880, it was #47, and it remained in the Top 100 until 1926. Its highest rank was #24, in 1889, 1890, and 1900. It sank lower and lower, until it fell off the charts in 1977, In 1979, it returned, but fell off again in 1987. It returned briefly in 2007, and then returned yet again in 2009. In 2016, it was #567, and has been pulling up quite a bit in rank each year.

Margaret means “pearl,” from the Greek margarites, which in turn is probably ultimately derived from the Sanskrit manyari. Historically, the name has been enormously popular. From 1880–1930 alone, it was in the Top 5, and it was Top 10 from 1931–39. It was Top 20 from 1940–51, and then gradually began sinking. In 1976, it left the Top 100, though it returned from 1982–89. In 2016, it was #139.

Here, then, are both the many forms of Margaret and names whose meanings relate to the word “pearl.”

Unisex:

Alnilam means “string of pearls” in Arabic. This is the name of one of the stars in Orion.

Dar means “mother-of-pearl” in Hawaiian.

Durdana is Arabic and Urdu.

Hae-Ju can mean “ocean pearl” in Korean.

Hyeon-Ju, or Ju-Hyeon, can mean “virtuous/worthy/able pearl” in Korean.

Poema means “pearl of the deep seas” in Tahitian.

Yao can mean “mother-of-pearl” in Chinese.

Yong-Ju can mean “dragon pearl” in Korean.

Female:

Bermet is Kyrgyz.

Bisera is Bulgarian and Macedonian.

Bitxilore is Basque.

Châu is Vietnamese.

Darya means “pearl of God” in Hebrew. This isn’t to be confused with the Persian or Russian name. All three have different etymologies.

Dordana is Urdu.

Durar means “pearls” in Arabic.

Durdona is Uzbek.

Durrah is a rare Arabic name meaning “large pearl.”

Enku is Amharic.

Gohar is Persian.

Gyöngyi is Hungarian. The letter GY is sort of pronounced like a soft, quick D followed by a Y, the way people in certain parts of the English-speaking world pronounce the first syllable of “due” and “during.”

Gyöngyvér means “sister of pearl” in Hungarian.

Gyöngyvirág means “pearl flower” in Hungarian, and refers to the lily-of-the-valley.

Helmi is Finnish.

Hessa is Arabic.

Inci is Turkish.

Inju is Kazakh.

Inthurat is Thai.

Jinju is Korean.

Jua can mean “second pearl,” “apricot pearl,” or “Asia pearl” in Japanese.

Jumana is Arabic.

Krõõt is Estonian.

Leimoni means “pearl lei” or “pearl child” in Hawaiian.

Lulu is Arabic, and not to be confused with the (mostly) English and German nickname.

Maarit is Finnish.

Maighread is Scottish. The nickname is Maisie.

Mairéad is Irish. Without an accent mark, this is also a Scottish variation.

Makaleka is Hawaiian.

Mākere is Maori.

Makereta is Fijian.

Malghalara is Pashto.

Małgorzata is Polish, with the nicknames Marzena, Gosia, and Małgosia.

Marc’harid is Breton.

Maret is Estonian.

Margaid is Manx.

Margalit, or Margalita, is Hebrew.

Margareeta is Finnish.

Margareta is German, Scandinavian, Romanian, Slovenian, Dutch, Finnish, and Croatian. The variation Margaréta is Slovak and Hungarian. German nicknames include Greta, Grete, Gretchen, Gretel, and Meta; Swedish nicknames are Meta, Märta, and Greta; Norwegian nicknames are Mette, Meta, Grete, and Grethe; Danish nicknames are Merete, Mette, Meta, Grethe, and Grete; Dutch nicknames are Griet, Greet, Grietje, and Greetje; and Finnish nicknames include Reeta and Reetta.

Margarete is German.

Margaretha is Dutch and German.

Margarethe is German and Danish.

Margareto is Esperanto.

Margaretta is an English variation.

Margarida is Catalan, Portuguese, Occitan, and Galician.

Margarit, Markarid, or Margarid, is Armenian.

Margarita is Russian, Bulgarian, Spanish, Scandinavian, Greek, and Lithuanian.

Marged is Welsh, with the nickname Mared.

Margherita is Italian.

Margit is Hungarian, German, Estonian, and Scandinavian.

Margita is Slovak.

Margreet is Limburgish and Dutch.

Margrét is Icelandic. The nickname is Gréta.

Margrethe is Norwegian and Danish.

Margriet is Dutch.

Margrieta is Latvian and Dutch.

Margrit is German.

Marguerite is French. Nicknames include Margaux and Margot.

Marharyta is Ukrainian.

Marhata is Sorbian.

Marit, or Marita, is Norwegian and Swedish.

Marjan is Kazakh.

Marjeta is Slovenian.

MarjorieMargery, or Marjory, is Medieval English.

Markéta is Czech and Slovak.

Marketta is Finnish.

Mèrdgitte is Jèrriais.

Mererid is Welsh.

Merit is Swedish.

Momi is Hawaiian.

Momilani means “heavenly pearl,” “royal pearl,” “noble pearl,” and “spiritual pearl” in Hawaiian.

Morî is Kurdish.

Morvarid is Persian.

Mukda is Thai.

Penina is Hebrew.

Perla is Italian and Spanish.

Perle is French and Yiddish.

Perlezenn is Breton.

Poerani means “divine pearl” or “heavenly pearl” in Tahitian.

Poerava means “black pearl” in Tahitian.

Retha is Afrikaans.

Sadaf means “mother-of-pearl, seashell” in Arabic.

Sadap means “mother-of-pearl” in Turkmeni.

Shinju is Japanese.

Male:

Akinci means “white pearl” in Turkish.

Akincibay means “white pearl lord” in Turkish.

Xhevahir means “pearl, jewel, diamond, gem, precious stone” in Albanian. XH is pronounced like the J in Jupiter.

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?

The many forms of Jerome

In honor of the 65th Jahrzeit (death anniversary) of the legendary comedian Curly Howard (Jerome Lester Horwitz; Hebrew name Yehudah Leib ben Shlomo Natan HaLevi), I decided to present the name Jerome in all its forms today. I really, really love this name, both because of Curly and the awesome Saint Jerome.

saint-jerome

Saint Jerome (né Eusebius Hieronymous Sophronius) was a man of letters, and a very popular patron saint of writers. He’s also the patron saint of librarians, Biblical scholars, archaeologists, archivists, translators, libraries, schoolchildren, and students. Many writers choose him as their patron saint because they feel he understands them at a deeper level, with that common bond. (You can read more about him at his Find A Grave memorial, which I wrote the bio for.)

One of my characters, a radical priest from Kassel, Germany, Father Rudi, names his church after Saint Jerome, since he relates so strongly to his love of learning, knowledge, and the written word.

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Most Stooges fans name Curly as their favorite, and it’s really easy to see his appeal. He was one of the greatest physical comedians of all time, and seemed like a really kind, sweet person in private life. He didn’t deserve to die so young, and to be forced to work through deteriorating health until he finally had a major stroke during the filming of Half-Wits Holiday. When I found out Curly had a real-life limp, I no longer felt ashamed and upset about my own limp. He’s my limping hero.

After his major stroke, frequent director Jules White was visiting him at home, and Curly got really pensive and sad for a moment. He broke the silence by asking, “I’ll never be able to make children laugh again, will I, Jules?” He must be happy, in the other world, to know he’ll make children laugh for eternity.

Jerome is the English form of the original Greek Hieronymos, which means “sacred name.” It derives from hieros (sacred) and onoma (name). The name really came into prominence during the Middle Ages, particularly France and Italy, in honor of Saint Jerome. It appeared in England in the 12th century.

Other forms of the name:

1. Jérôme is French.

2. Jeroen is Dutch.

3. Hieronymus is a longer Dutch form.

4. Jeronymus is yet a third Dutch form.

5. Girolamo is Italian.

6. Gerolamo is an alternate Italian form.

7. Jerónimo is Spanish and Portuguese.

8. Gerónimo is an alternate Spanish form.

9. Jerônimo is Brazilian–Portuguese.

10. Geròni is Gascon.

11. Ġlormu is Maltese.

12. Hieronim is Polish and Slovak.

13. Ieróim is Irish.

14. Iyeronim is Russian and Ukrainian.

15. Ieronim is Romanian.

16. Ieronymos is modern Greek.

17. Jarolím is Slovenian.

18. Jaronas is Romansh, a Romance language primarily spoken in southeastern Switzerland.

19. Jeromos is Hungarian.

20. Jeronim is Croatian and Albanian. The Croatian nickname form is Jerko.

21. Jeroni is Catalan.

22. Jeronimas is Lithuanian.

22. Jeroným is Czech.

23. Jeroom is a rare, outdated Dutch and Flemish form.

24. Jiròni is Occitan.

25. Sierôm is Welsh.

26. Xerome is Galician.

27. Yeronim is Bulgarian.

28. Zirominu is Sardinian.

29. Giròlamu is Sicilian.

30. Jerom is Breton.

31. Hieronīms is Latvian.

32. Hieronimo is Esperanto.

Wenceslaus and Wren

W

King Wenceslaus II of Poland and Bohemia (27 September 1271–21 June 1305), drawn by Aleksander Lesser

Wenceslaus is the English and Latinized form of Veceslav, a Czech and Slovakian name which means “more glory.” The modern, contracted form is Václav, with a variant of Věnceslav. The Polish form is Wacław (older form Więcesław), the Bulgarian form is Ventseslav, the Russian and Ukrainian form is Vyacheslav, the Spanish form is Venceslás, the Italian form is Venceslao, the Romanian form is Veaceslav, the Hungarian form is Vencel, and the German form is Wenzeslaus (older form Wenzel).

Wenceslaus is mentioned in a bad light in Canto VII of Purgatorio, and held up as an example of a crappy king in Canto XIX of Paradiso. He was still alive during Dante’s otherworldly journey in 1300, though had passed on by the time Dante actually began writing his beautiful poem.

Wenceslaus, part of the Přemyslid Dynasty, was the fourth and youngest legitimate child of King Ottokar II, and the only surviving son. His mother was Queen Kunigunda, who was part of Russia’s Ryurikovich Dynasty on her father’s side. Shortly before his seventh birthday, his father passed away. Before Wenceslaus was old enough to rule in his own right, Margate Otto V of Brandenburg–Salzwedel and then his stepfather Záviš of Falkenštejn governed the kingdom.

At age thirteen, on 24 January 1285, Wenceslaus married Judith of Habsburg, daughter of King Rudolf I of Germany, to whom he’d become betrothed in 1276. In 1290, Wenceslaus had his stepfather beheaded for supposed treason and took the throne in his own right.

Under his rule, the empire expanded from the Baltic Sea to the Danube, important cities such as Plzeň were founded, the penny of Prague currency was created, Bohemia became Europe’s largest producer of silver, and the crowns of Bohemia, Poland, and Hungary were won. There was also great urban development, and he planned to build Central Europe’s first university.

Wren is obviously after the English word for the small songbird, derived from the Old English wrenna. I’m quite partial to Nature names, as long as they’re not too outlandish. Bird names as people names are kind of hit-or-miss, but I’ve always really liked the name Wren. It’s so sweet and simple, though perhaps works better as a middle name.