The many forms of Sophia

British novelist Sophia Lee, 1750–1824

Sophia, which means “wisdom” in Greek, has been extraordinarily popular over the last 15-20 years, after decades of being unfashionable and considered geriatric. In 1997, it shot into the U.S. Top 100, at #94, up from #124 the previous year. It continued rocketing upwards, reaching #1 from 2011–13. In 2017, it was down to #5.

It’s also #3 in Canada; #5 in Austria; #10 in Northern Ireland; #11 in England and Wales; #15 in Australia; #17 in Switzerland and Scotland; #18 in Ireland; #23 in New Zealand; #42 in The Netherlands; #54 in Belgium; and #90 in Norway.

Saint Sophia with her daughters Faith, Hope, and Love

Sofia, which is modern Greek, Italian, Catalan, Romanian, Slovak, Estonian, Finnish, Portuguese, Scandinavian, and German, has also been enjoying great popularity. It entered the U.S. Top 100 in 2003, at #97, and shot up to its peak of #12 in 2014. In 2017, it was #15.

It’s also #1 in Italy, Galicia, and Chile; #2 in Spain (as Sofía) and Finland; #3 in Switzerland and Denmark; #8 in Belgium and Portugal; #12 in Catalonia; #19 in Norway; #31 in England and Wales; #32 in France; #37 in Canada; #38 in Australia; #42 in Austria; #43 in Scotland and Ireland; #44 in The Netherlands; #45 in Sweden; #50 in Northern Ireland; #61 in New Zealand; and #97 in the Czech Republic.

Regent Sofya Alekseyevna of Russia (1657–1704), Peter the Great’s older halfsister, who would’ve been an excellent empress in her own right

Sophie, which is French, Dutch, English, and German, has also been experiencing great popularity. It entered the U.S. top 100 in 2007, at #82, and attained its highest rank of #51 in 2011. In 2017, it was #106.

It’s also #1 in The Netherlands; #4 in Scotland; #5 in Ireland; #6 in Northern Ireland; #8 in Austria; #9 in New Zealand; #11 in Australia; #16 in England and Wales; #23 in Canada; and #25 in Switzerland.

Heroic Sophie Scholl (1921–43) of the anti-Nazi White Rose group

Other forms of the name include:

1. Zofia is Polish, and my favourite spelling. The Z just gives it so much character, zing, and personality. I loved this name from the first time I saw it. The nickname is Zosia (ZO-sha). Its Slovak form is Žofia (Zho-fee-yah).

2. Sofya is Russian. Its base nickname is the familiar Sonya.

3. Sofiya is Ukrainian, Russian, and Bulgarian.

4. Sofija is Serbian, Macedonian, Latvian, Lithuanian, and Croatian.

5. Soffia is Welsh. The variation Soffía is Icelandic.

6. Zsófia is Hungarian.

7. Sofie is Czech, Dutch, German, and Danish. The last two letters are pronounced separately in Czech and Danish, not as one.

8. Žofie is also Czech, with the same pronunciation rules.

9. Sopio is Georgian. Another Georgian form is Sopia.

10. Kopi is Hawaiian. A rarer Hawaiian variation is Kopaea.

Polish writer Zofia Nałkowska, 1884–1954

11. Sovaia is Fijian.

12. Suvfia is Greenlandic.

13. Zofija is Slovenian and Lithuanian.

14. Sufia is Arabic.

15. Soffá is Sami. Another Sami form is Sofe.

16. Sofio is Esperanto. Traditional (as it were) female names in Esperanto end in O, despite that being seen as the mark of a male name in other languages.

17. Suffía is Faroese.

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The various forms of Daphne and Laura (and other laurel names)

Pauline as Daphne Fleeing from Apollo, ca. 1810, Robert Lefèvre

Daphne is a naiad in Greek mythology, a female nymph presiding over bodies of water such as lakes, fountains, springs, and brooks. She’s variously cited as the daughter of river god Peneus (Peneios) and nymph Creusa, or Ladon and Gaia.

Versions of Daphne’s story vary, but they all have the crux of Apollo falling in unrequited love with her after a curse from Eros (Cupid). As Apollo chased her, Daphne begged her father to save her, and she was turned into a laurel tree in the nick of time. Laurels thus became sacred to Apollo.

Daphne is also used in English and Dutch. The variation Daphné is French. Other forms include:

1. Daphnée is French.

2. Dafni is modern Greek.

3. Dafina is Macedonian and Albanian.

4. Dafne is Italian.

5. Daffni is Welsh.

6. Dapine is Georgian.

7. Dafna is Hebrew. I chose this as the last part of my Hebrew name (Chana Esther Dafna) for numerous reasons, all of them relating to how it means “laurel.” Primary among those reasons is honouring Stan Laurel, my humble way of saying thank you for how watching Laurel and Hardy on AMC got me through one of the darkest, most depressing periods of my life.

8. Defne is Turkish.

Laura Bridgman (1829–1889), America’s first blind-deaf person to get a full education and become a celebrity, fifty years before Helen Keller

Laura, which comes from the Latin name Laurus, is English, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Scandinavian, Romanian, Finnish, German, Dutch, Estonian, Hungarian, Slovenian, Polish, and Croatian.

It’s been an English name since the 13th century, and was extremely popular in the U.S. until it began a rapid decline in the late 19th century. Laura was #17 in 1880, and stayed in the Top 100 till 1934, sinking in popularity a little bit more almost every year. It was Top 100 again from 1945–2001, attaining its highest rank of #10 in 1969. In 2017, it was #340.

Laura has greater popularity in Europe. It’s #6 in Austria; #11 in Denmark; #12 in Switzerland; #13 in Portugal; #14 in Hungary; #16 in the Czech Republic and Poland; #22 in Galicia; #31 in Spain; #37 in Belgium; #40 in Slovenia; #47 in Catalonia; #58 in Italy; #63 in Ireland; #78 in Bosnia; #101 in The Netherlands; and #104 in France.

Laura de Noves (1310–1348), Petrarch’s great muse and unrequited love, similar to Dante’s love for Beatrice

Other forms of Laura include:

1. Lára is Icelandic (and not to be confused with the Russian Lara, a nickname for Larisa).

2. Laure is French.

3. Lavra is Slovenian.

4. Lowri is Welsh.

5. Laoura is modern Greek.

6. Lâvara is Greenlandic.

7. Lora is English and Italian.

8. Loretta is English and Italian.

9. Lauretta is Italian. This is the name of one of the members of the brigata, the ten storytellers, in The Decameron.

10. Laurette is French.

American actor Loretta Young (1913–2000) with Lon Chaney, Sr.

 Other laurel-related names:

1. Kelila, or Kelilah, means “crown of laurel” in Hebrew.

2. Lalela means “laurel” in Hawaiian.

3. Lovorka means “laurel tree” in Croatian.

Holly and ivy names

In the spirit of the holiday season, here are some names meaning “holly” and “ivy.” The English names Holly and Ivy are obviously by far the best-known, but sometimes one wants a less-common variation. For those wondering, holly and hollyhock aren’t one and the same, though there are many names whose meanings relate to hollyhock.

This list also includes other languages’ words for “holly” and “ivy” (provided they sounded enough like realistic names), in which case I grouped them according to which sex I felt they’d best work with. As always, some of these names may be better-suited to pets or fictional characters than real-life children!

Unisex:

Leslie, or Lesley, comes from a Scottish surname derived from a place name whose ultimate origin was probably the Gaelic phrase leas celyn, “garden of holly.”

Female:

Celynwen means “white/blessed/fair holly” in Welsh. This is a rare name.

Hali is the Hawaiian form of Holly.

Ashe means “holly” in Albanian.

Zelenika means “holly” in Bosnian, Bulgarian, Serbian, and Croatian.

Cesmína (Tses-MEEN-ah) means “holly” in Czech.

Prinari means “holly” in Greek (though it sounds very Sanskrit/Hindi to me).

Borostyán is a rare Hungarian name formed of the words for “amber” and “ivy.”

Edera means “ivy” in Italian, and is also a rare Maltese, Albanian, and Romanian name.

Heura means “ivy” in Catalan. This is a modern, rare name.

Hièrru means “ivy” in Jèrriais

Yedra is a rare Spanish name meaning “ivy.”

Tsutako can mean “ivy child” in Japanese. It was most popular in the first half of the 20th century, and is very rare today.

Lierre means “ivy” in French.

Hedera means “ivy” in Latin.

Male:

Celyn means “holly” in Welsh.

Quillan comes from an Irish surname derived from Gaelic Mac Uighilín (son of Hugeulin) or Mac Cuilinn, the latter of which is a patronymical form of a name derived from cuileann (holly).

Prinos means “holly” in Greek.

Azevinho means “holly” in Portuguese.

Järnek means “holly” in Swedish.

Korymbos means “ivy berries” in Greek, after the demigod of ivy fruit.

Thyrsos was a Greek wand or staff wreathed in ivy and vine-leaves, topped by a pinecone. It was frequently used by devotees of Dionysus.

Muratti means “ivy” in Finnish.

Names starting in Rh

Though names starting in Rh aren’t quite as unusual as those starting in Ps and Pt, that’s still not exactly the most common starting syllable. Most of these names are Greek and Welsh.

Female:

Rheia (Latinized Rhea) was the mother of Zeus, Hera, Hestia, Demeter, Hades, and Poseidon. It possibly is derived from the root era (ground) or rheo (to flow).

Rhian means “maiden” in Welsh, from rhiain. Alternate forms are Rhianu and Rhianydd; an elaborated form is Rhianedd (maidens).

Rhiannon is a well-known Welsh name probably derived from Old Celtic Rigantona (great queen). She may have been a Celtic goddess of the Moon and fertility.

Rhoda is an English name derived from the Greek word rhodon (rose). Though it’s found in the Bible, it only came into known English usage in the 17th century.

Rhona is a Scottish name, possibly derived from the Hebridean island Rona. It means “rough island” in Gaelic.

Rhonda either comes from the name of the Rhondda Valley of South Wales (and thus means “noisy”), or was intended to mean “good spear,” from Welsh roots rhon (spear) and da (good).

Rhonwen means “fair hair” or “fair spear” in Welsh, from elements rhon (spear) or rhawn (hair), and gwen (blessed, fair, white). I love this name, and used it on an unplanned secondary character loosely based after a friend from the second of my three high schools.

Rhosyn is a rare, modern Welsh name meaning “rose.”

Rhagnell was a mythical Welsh princess.

Rhanis was one of the sixty Oceanid Nymphs who formed the core of Artemis’s retinue. It means “raindrop” in Ancient Greek.

Rhema is a rare American name, taken from a Greek word meaning “that which is spoken” and referring to the Christian concept rhematos Christou, “the word of Christ.”

Rheta means “speaker” in Greek.

Rhiainfellt means “lightning maiden” in Welsh, from the word rhiain (maiden) and Celtic roots *rgan– (queen) and mellt (lightning). She was a 7th century queen of Northumbria.

Rhianwen means “fair maiden” or “blessed maiden” in Welsh, from roots rhiain and gwen.

Rhodanthe means “rose flower” in Greek, from roots rhodon and anthos.

Rhodd means “gift” in Welsh.

Rhodope means “rosy-faced, rosy” in Greek, from rhodopos. In Greek mythology, she was the wife of King Haemos of Thrace.

Rhoeo means “stream, flow” in Ancient Greece, from root rhoe. She was impregnated by Apollo, and in a story very similar to that of Danäe and Perseus, her father put her in a chest and sent her out to sea.

Rhadine was the star-crossed lover of Leontichos in Greek mythology. Their love was the subject of a now-lost poem, quoted and given a synopsis by historian Strabo.

Rhoswen means “beautiful rose” in Welsh, from roots rhos and gwen.

Male:

Rheinallt is the Welsh form of Reynold, which is derived from the Germanic Raginald and the roots ragin (advice) and wald (rule).

Rhisiart is the Welsh form of Richard, which means “brave power” and derives from Germanic roots ric (rule, power) and hard (brave, hardy).

Rhett comes from a surname Anglicized from the Dutch de Raedt. Its root is raet (advice, counsel). Anyone who doesn’t live under a rock knows the most famous bearer is Rhett Butler of Gone with the Wind!

Rhodri comes from the Welsh roots rhod (wheel) and rhi (king). A 9th century king had this name.

Rhydderch means “reddish-brown” in Welsh, and is also used as a Welsh form of Roderick (famous power). The latter derives from Germanic roots hrod (fame) and ric (power).

Rhys means “enthusiasm” in Welsh.

Rhadamanthos (Rhadamanthys) may be derived from rhadamnos (branch) and anthos (blossom), or from Rho-t-Amenti (King of Amenti, the realm of the dead), an epithet of the Egyptian god Osiris. In Greek mythology, he was a son of Zeus and Europa, brother of King Minos of Crete, and a judge of the underworld. His name is the origin of the English adjective “rhadamanthine,” inflexibly just or severe.

The Latinized form is Rhadamanthus, and the French form is Rhadamanthe.

Rhain means “stretched-out” or “stiff” in Welsh. This was the name of a son of legendary 5th century King Brychan Brycheiniog, and by a 9th century king of Dyfed.

Rhetorios means “public speaker, orator” in Greek. The Latinized form is Rhetorius. This is obviously the root of “rhetoric.”

Rhidian is possibly a Welsh form of the Irish name Ruadhán, a diminutive of Ruadh (red).

Rhion is both a masculine form of Rhian and a modern form of Ryan (little king).

Rhiwallon is the Welsh form of Old Celtic *Rigovellaunos, which possibly means “lord-ruler” or “most kingly.”

Rhoys is the Welsh form of Roy, which also derives from Ruadh.

The Ws of Medieval names

Female:

Warina (English): Feminine form of Ancient Germanic name Warin (protect, guard).

Wulfhild (Scandinavian, German): “Wolf battle,” from Ancient Germanic roots wulf and hild.

Wulfrun (English)

Wulfwynn (English)

Wymarda (English)

Male:

Waldeko (Baltic, Livonian)

Waleran (English, Flemish, French): Derived from Ancient Germanic name Walderam, with Gothic roots valdan (to reign) and hraban or hramn (raven). In the case of the English name, it may also be a form of Valerian (to be strong), from Latin root valere.

Walraven (Flemish)

Waste (Swedish): Nickname for names ending in -vast (firmly, fast), from Old Norse root fast. Obviously a name to be avoided in the Anglophone world!

Witoslav (Czech): “To rule in glory,” from roots wit and slava.

Wolfstan, Wolstan (English): Derived from Anglo–Saxon name Wulfstan (wolf stone), with roots wulf and stan.

Wortwin (German): From Old High German roots wort (word) and wini (friend).

Woru (Welsh)

Wrath (English): Referred to the wrath of God.

Wybert (English): Derived from Old English name Wigberht (bright battle), with roots wig (battle) and beorht (bright).

Wymond (English): Derived from Old English name Wigmund, with roots wig and mund (protector).