Baby Names: Often Deeper Than First Glance (Guest Post by Matt)

The following is a guest post from one of our fans– a man, a father, and lover of language. Check out his intricate explanation of his daughters’ names, and also his solid appreciation of our page.

My wife & I … share [with you] an affinity for the roots and value of good names.

My wife and I just had twin girls last month, and naming was very important to us (and more complicated for not knowing the genders pre-birth). I’m a linguist; she’s a librarian. With the odd surname, we both wanted names that wouldn’t make people raise an eyebrow, since they’ll have to spell or pronounce the surname to everyone all the time.

We ended up with Amelia Katherine and Heather Laurea.

(Backstory: Our original path got us to Heather Laurea and Katherine Linnea, cross-matching meanings with each other as you’ll see, but we also have a niece with the first name Linnea, so we decided we’d avoid it if we found a good alternative.)

Amelia: traditionally “work” or “rival” Ugh.

My wife’s name is Amy, and the “-elia” part references the name אֱלִיָּהוּ Elijah, meaning “my god is YHWH”. Our hebraic spelling, אַמאֱלִיָּה, makes that a little more explicit than English.

Katherine: debatably from “each”, “torture”, or “pure” Meh.
Our Katherine is coming from the Hebrew also: כתר [k-th-r], meaning “crown”, plus the letter nun representing “the Messiah”. There is also a trace of Greek ‘εκατερος (hekateros) “each of the two”.

Heather: Of course, it’s a beautiful flower, but it’s also a transliteration of the Ancient Egyptian word for twins. (And the determinative glyph at the end of the name will be two girls kneeling toward each other holding flowers.)

Would be something similar to this.

Would be something similar to this.

heather
Laurea: This combines the “crown” meaning found in our Katherine and the floral meaning found in Heather, and it just sounds and feels better than Laura, Laurel, and other related names. Although I saw that you had a great description of the name in one of your blog posts, we’re adding that the final syllable [-yah] be the same as the final syllable in Nehemiah, et al; the name of God.

Hence:
Amelia Katherine – “Amy’s god is YHWH”; “crown of the Messiah” (“each of the two”)
Heather Laurea – “One of twins” (flower), (floral) “crown of God”

Anyway, this is just a fan letter of appreciation. Thanks for your etymological integrity!

Matt

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With some knowledge of names and language, you can see how traditional baby names with old roots can have multiple meanings, including very deep and very personal[ized] ones. It can go beyond expectation! Research everything intensely before you select it for your child, and you can even get inventive with it. The popular can be far more exotic and poetic than you’ve imagined.

For more on Ancient Egyptian glyphs and transliteration, see An Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyph Dictionary, Volume I and Volume II.

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When Names You Love Mean Bad Things

Which names do you love, but can’t fight how you feel about a

“bad” meaning?

Judy asked:

What happens when you’re not keen on a name meaning? I’m not set on a girl’s name, but like Cecelia. From what I find, it means, “blind.” I’m just not diggin’ it. How does one reconcile this? New name? Bend the meaning a little (like, I could say I hoped she would be blind to differences or blind to obstacles that hold one back or blind to colors that keep people apart, etc). Thoughts?

For me, it is sometimes a deal-breaker. A name is like a wish you make for your child, and it’s one of the first gifts you give to them. Children do often embody their names, so if something is too negative I might strike it off my list. The same way you feel about Cecelia brings to mind the feelings I have for Claudia (“lame”). Geraldine on our page recently disliked the suggestion we gave of Maeve (“intoxicating”, by most counts), feeling it was too negative.

There are a few ways to reconcile this, in my mind.
1. Strike the name off your list.
2. Pair it with a name that gives the total meaning something beautiful or easier to appreciate. Remember, names are like poetry… and you are the poet.

Name Alchemy: when life gives you lemons, make lemonade, lemon water, or anything you can imagine.

3. Find out more about the name. I recommend doing this anyway, for any name you are serious about choosing or keeping on your list. Names often have surprising histories, including meanings that seemed negative, only to find in context, they are beautiful. Of course, the reverse is often true, which is why I recommend researching even the most pleasant of names before definitively using it on your child.

So, let’s see these in action for a moment.

Let’s take Cecelia. Obviously, the first thing you could do is strike it off your list, if you felt so inclined. That’s suggestion Number 1 in action.

The next option is a little like your idea, Judy, of “bending” the meaning a little (which honestly may not be much of a stretch, anyway). It wouldn’t really be too difficult to give a positive spin to “blind”, as you suggested, and it can be even more descriptive when you factor in a middle-name meaning to go with it. Angel, a fan on our page, suggested adding a meaning that would make a phrase you love, such as “love is blind” or “justice is blind”. Those are positives, or can be in many ways. You could literally combine Love or Justice with Cecelia in a first and middle baby name combo, or you could do something figurative or symbolic. You could create a name that signifies miracles by combining Raphaelle (“healed by God”) with Cecelia, and suddenly you have the blind being healed by God. Cecelia Raphaelle just became your “name alchemy”.

St. Cecilia in Pre-Raphaelite art. Painting by John Waterhouse.

Of course, you can always find out more. Most sources indicate Cecelia (or more usually spelled Cecilia) is from the Latin root caecus, for blind. This is then sometimes romanticized to mean “the way for the blind”. However, could this be true? Wikipedia claims that Cecilia is an altered form more closely related to French and archaic French words céscelisme and céciaelism (respectively), which actually mean “one of the shining light” or “one of the world”. I’m having trouble confirming this (French scholars, I could use you right now!), but if this is true, it would make a lot of sense– Cecilia wouldn’t mean “blind”, it would mean “showing the way to the blind”. She would be like a shining light to help people see. Hypothetically. Just looking at the root words, it definitely seems to contain “cecil” (blind) and “ism” (the way of). Seems legit?

I couldn’t verify Wiki’s info this time, but if it isn’t accurate, it’s a great bluff.

Barring that, let me tell you that the Latin “caecus” doesn’t just mean “blind”, it means “hidden”. You could most certainly take “hidden” to be an alternate interpretation of Cecilia.  This is how you can research the names more to discover the meanings are more than what they appear.

Cecilia: “hidden”. Names can literally or figuratively have hidden meanings.