It’s Hard to Recommend Names To Go With Cheyanne…

cheyanneI used to like the name Cheyenne* a lot. It’s a place name and a Native American tribal name… both very hip, en vogue, cutting edge, etc. The more I grew and learned and witnessed– in terms of our culture and the ways in which we represent ourselves and even appropriate– the less fond I grew for such styles. It started to seem insincere to me, and maybe even rude of me, and so I could no longer really validate my preferences by telling myself how pretty and cute they still were. I couldn’t kid myself by telling myself I was honoring something I didn’t truly understand. The truth is, there was no other reason to keep these types of names on my list, and too many reasons to cross them off. The truth is, they were trendy and had no real connection to me, period.

I now value authenticity. Authentic being-you. Authentic respect for others.

There is so much for me, and for you, to genuinely celebrate! No costumes, no disguises. Choose something with a close personal connection to you when you are naming your baby and it will mean so much more.

The exchange pictured above inspired me to create a new category in the blog– Racism (where I will talk about any cultural faux pas in names, not just limited to racial differences.) Every blog link I am about to share with you now fits the new category.

For further info on this specific topic, read here: The Bastardization of Native American Names

To find out why being honest about names matters, see: Hispanic Baby Name “News” is Ignorant BS

Some brief words on Native American words becoming tweaked names, when we helped a fan here (she had a child named CheyAnne): Cowboy Prairie Style First and Middle Baby Name Combos

Where we urged readers to not take K-K-K lightly: K, K, and Definitely Not K

If you’re one of our long time readers or just an appreciative fan, you respect the fact that we always advocate smart, thoughtful naming, minus the fluff. What I like about the community we share is that you can tell we genuinely, truly love names.  Thanks for joining with us in supporting integrity and education! I look forward to the ways we’ll keep learning together.

(I will discuss the name Cheyenne [the usual “proper” spelling*] more in the upcoming book.)

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Avoiding Punny Names With Surname “Ball”

Fan Question– “Hi! My sister just recommended that I like this page for help. We just found out that we will be having our second boy – yay! Our first son is named Grayson Lionel (last name Ball), he’s 4 (I swear that name wasn’t trendy 4 years ago! Lol) as a nod to his father. My husband’s name is Guy Lionel Ball IV. We broke the tradition but didn’t want to ignore it entirely. We do not call him Gray.

I like semi-unique or old fashioned names, not something they’ll have to explain or spell the rest of their lives! I am not a fan of alliteration and I don’t want another name that ends in -son or -on/en/in necessarily. Our last name poses a unique challenge since it seems super easy to create a distasteful nickname (no Harrison, Chase, etc). I’m at the beginning brainstorming stages and I’m at a loss! I like the name Fletcher because of its occupational meaning (arrow maker) but feel like it needs to be ruled out immediately since the nickname Fletch could easily change to Fetch (fetch the ball!) Other names I’ve toyed w are Julian (Jules), Felix, Emile, Milo. I got nothing as far as middle names. Help!! Please. I’m open to most suggestions!”

Glad you found us, and thank your sister for me. Congratulations on your upcoming addition.

I know, isn’t it always the way that it seems, that we liked a name and used it first?! Unfortunately, thousands of babies were being named Grayson around the time your son was born. I think we just become more aware of names when our own child has it. I know it has happened with each of mine, and I’m a name nerd who prides herself in being very aware. I think they just jump out at us more, like neon signs. It’s because the name is even more special for us once our child takes ownership of it.

You’re right about the challenges your surname faces, so good looking out. I can only imagine what your husband puts up with. I’d love to help you brainstorm some ideas, should be fun.

As far as Fletcher goes, I see where you are concerned, but just insist he go by Fletcher and not Fletch. After all, you have a Grayson and you don’t let anyone call him Gray (which could have been equally problematic). “Fletcher Ball” does sound a bit like “fetch yer ball”, though. For the time being I am going to keep it in the running in case you have a change of heart. It also occurs to me that Milo Ball may sound slightly like “my little ball”. It’s still a handsome name, but you might want to know.

So, without further ado, some considerations…

Tommy Oliver Ball
Rockwell Fabian Ball
Julian Max Ball
Misael Felix Ball (“Max”, possibly)
Derek Atlas Ball
Gavin Boris Ball
Milo Rowan Ball
Efraim Johann Ball
Cyrus Emile Ball
Emile Titus Ball
Charleston Trevor Ball (do not call Charlie unless you are okay with “Charlie Brown” similarity)
Jules Pi Ball
Julian Tanner Ball
Julian Xander Ball
Milo Fletcher Ball
Emil Guyson Ball
Marin Donald Ball
Aidyn Felix Ball
Milo Sylvain Ball
Felix Fletcher Ball
Jules Dunn Ball
Orion Verne Ball
Felix Dennis Ball
Fletcher Helix Ball
Douglas Beau Ball

Pro-tip: avoid names like Luke and Lucien, to get away from a Lucille Ball reference. Emile Ball has that same ring to it.

Other classic, old fashioned names to avoid for puns: Oscar Ball. Richard Ball. (Think about it.)

Some names here are more unusual, some are more classic, and some are trendier and more common. It was fun to play around with, though, and I hope you found something you liked. My readers and I are very curious what you’ll choose, so please do keep us posted!

Narcissistic Names: New Trend, or Imagined Crime?

ABC News and Good Morning America recently presented a piece called “Messiah, King Rise in Popularity for Baby Names“. Within, they quote psychologist Jean Twenge, who claims that the numbers prove our culture is on a narcissistic bend. Her outlook is so extreme that I believe that this is all sensationalism meant to stir up publicity for a book she is promoting, because a well-reasoned discussion can easily be had to negate her claims. (For instance, maybe she’s just mad her name is Jean.)

Messiah has been in news recently when a judge ordered a mother to change this name, given to her son. The ruling was of course thrown out (this is America). 811 total children were given this name in the USA in 2012. While Messiah as a name feels somewhat recent and sheds light on our taboos, this style of naming isn’t new. In Latin-influenced cultures, the name Jesus has been used for quite some time, for example. Other names we’ve come to accept include Angel, Heaven, and Salvatore (or, savior). The only thing that makes Messiah so special is people are not used to it yet. To that I say there is a first time for everything.

Yet, the author/psychologist goes on to say:

“The way people parent their kids has shifted. At one time there was the idea that you raise the child with the lesson that the world does not revolve around them and now we raise them that it does. This is witnessed in various ways from singing preschool songs like ‘I am Special’ to dressing up little girls in t-shirts that say ‘Princess.'”

I blame Disney.

Ah, the old school parenting nostalgia. Yes, there was a time you told children they were to be seen and not heard, and kids knew they were not special. This was back when wives stayed in the kitchen and if any of the household stepped out of line, they were beaten. Good times.

What times might these be referencing, exactly? Let’s look at the 1950s. Names in popular use then include dish detergents Dawn (does she think the sun rises on her?), Joy (is she going to think everyone is happy with her?), and other had-the-nerve names like Rex (who does he think he is? a king?) and Max (you mean, like the max or highest level of something?). Yes, the good old days, when kids were taken down a peg. When we had no hopes or dreams for our kids, except that they work at the mill. A nice dream, but our names don’t necessarily reflect that version of history. We’re just so used to them that they seem like conservative, safe choices for us.

And yet… in that golden era of child-rearing, princesses like Snow White, Cinderella, and Aurora (like Dawn, a narcissist) were still teaching little girls that you could be beautiful and kind at the same time. Even worse, they taught that anyone could be special and be a princess. Those stuck up witches!

Twenge’s stance assumes that a name denoting high self-worth will equate to a self-absorbed or even inconsiderate person. Isn’t it possible to be both celebrated as special and someone who cares about others?

All parenting styles have been used throughout time and culture. There were no “good old days” to be nostalgic of. There have always been loving, doting parents as there have also been parents who emphasized obedience and humility above all else. Sometimes there are parenting trends in certain times and places, and that is not constant. Even the Puritans (known for being real killjoys– sorry, Joy), who were masters of Obedience and Humility (real names they bestowed) had occasions to show softer sides. Names like Happy and Trinity were also used. Trinity– there’s a blasphemous, narcissistic name if ever I saw one. This girl doesn’t just think she’s the Messiah, she thinks she’s the whole Holy Trinity!

Or could it be that names like Messiah and Trinity are often done in homage to one’s faith, not in declaration of what one is? And either way, who are we to judge or care? Any faith-related name is a personal matter that every parent has the freedom to express in a country that upholds religious freedom and freedom of speech. If you think your child is the Messiah, who am I to judge?

In fact, another Puritan name, Christmas, was listed in this spin-off by The Stir as an up and coming narcissist name. Christmas may not be a name in popular use, but it’s not new. The article seemed tongue-in-cheek, but the lacking historical perspective of people labeling people in the present as “narcissists” (or worse, condemning our kids to being narcissists over their names) strikes as ignorant. By the way, the French word for

Noël, Noel, Noelle, Noelia, Noella– all names for self-centered jerks?

Christmas, Noël, has been in use for males and females in its various forms for ages (without criticism or spite). Again, a little cultural understanding and perspective on history and language goes a long way.

Back briefly to the subject of parenting, how dare we teach kids to sing songs about being special, or give them shirts that say “Princess”? I think the self-esteem culture is a culture created after years of damaging abuse. Everyone gets a medal, everyone is a winner, anyone can be anything, etc., were ways of combating an excess of “tough love”, or no love. Is uplifting children and giving them hope for their potential wrong? Would we prefer people sing songs about being not good enough in pre-school? Would we rather our kids wear shirts that say “Normal”? Would creating a culture of children who embrace a taught sense of only adequacy be helpful, or would it really just make other people feel more adequate? Let’s be truthful. We are coming out of a recent past where kids felt they had to constantly prove themselves to earn their parents respect and approval. Sometimes that token never came. It made for some seriously damaged adults. It makes sense that a new approach would be attempted in the aftermath.

Is it just me, or do some people in the older generations come off as a bunch of haters regarding baby names (and parenting)? Naming our kids some of these lofty things may not always be my own personal style… I prefer things a little more imaginative than Awesome, and a little less severe sounding than Major. However, if they and other names of this “narcissistic” variety are part of a parenting culture that is expressing its hopes for our children, I would never put that sentiment down.

Let’s take a look at some of the other names Jean Twenge and The Stir picked on, and really think about them:

Princess– It’s a sweet-sounding and -meaning name. Not my style because it is so literal in a common-use way, but we’ve been naming our children after royalty since forever. I don’t suppose using a title instead is terribly different. The problem here is whether or not one has a mental image of a spoiled brat when they hear the name, when it could really be a sweet little girl with loving parents.  It could be a longed-for girl after a string of boys, or an only child after years of infertility. Crying “narcissist” here is more about the psychology of the person judging than the child and parents, I would think.
Prince – This name is not just the name of one of my favorite musical artists (born in that golden era, the 1950s), but this name was also in use 100 years ago in America.

Prince was named after his father (his nickname or stage name, actually), partly because he had high hopes for his son.

Sure, the numbers have risen, but then again so has the population.
King – Roy (roi) is a French word for king, no one minds that. Ryan is an Irish word for king (+ “little”), no one minds that. Why is this any different? Because English is your only language? Keep in mind too that King is also a surname, so sometimes people are using the name to honor heritage. Or, maybe the use of the surname King is narcissistic, too? King has been used for well over a century in America.
Beautiful Bella and Belle are pretty well accepted, as is Jolie. Beautiful may seem more literal to us English speakers, and maybe less romantic or poetic, but still? So what? In the 1950s, Linda was very popular, and it essentially means pretty or beautiful. Another one was Donna, a title for lady (think of the Madonna). Similarly, Gorgeous shouldn’t faze me– not on meaning alone.
Amazing Again, so what? 100 years ago we were using names like Fairy, Ivory, and Golden. Fifty years ago we were using Ginger and Cookie. It’s all going to be okay.
Greatness- Big deal, but get this. Only 6 baby boys in 2012 were named Greatness in the USA. Just as many were named Hawkeye, and even more were named Napoleon. This is not an epidemic. But, of course, that doesn’t sell books…
Life- Eve, Vivian, Zoe— accepted girls names which literally mean “life” in their languages. The Stir jokes that this is the next name for narcissists, but how can you have inflated sense of self about being living, full of life, a life-form? Leif— an accepted, traditional boys name which is pronounced “Life” in certain accents. Lif is a legitimate Scandinavian girls name. Are they narcissists, too?
Queen– Guess which one they aren’t complaining about? Queen, and her sisters Queena and Queenie. That’s right, I added this name myself because Queen was actually more popular 100 years ago, and also in the 1950s, than it is today. Those weirdos and their delusions of grandeur! I’m glad we grew out of that era of entitlement we were burdened by for so long.

Twenge goes on:

Too bad the data actually shows that very limited numbers of babies compared against the general populace are a part of this “epidemic”.

“Vanity and grandiosity are two of the subscales for narcissism and we know that the narcissism is related to materialism and an inflated sense of self. So that’s why these names jumped out at me when I began looking at the data,”

But one thing didn’t jump out at her– materialism in our culture sometimes reflects a desire to rise above circumstances. As much as I despise brand names on a baby (like Armani), you have to recognize that a lot of this use comes from the lower classes. It isn’t that they worship material per se, but it’s an aspiration. People in privilege are often ignorant of this naming aspect. They can afford to be traditional or average when name-selecting if they choose, having all other advantages in life. In fact, sticking to tradition can signify a desire to maintain the security of status quo. Less privileged namers may decide to take more of a chance on a name if they feel it sets their child apart, gives them an advantage, or acts as a blessing on or wish for the child. This is partly a study in sociology, not just psychology.

Someone like Kim Kardashian, for example, isn’t naming her child Lexus. Why would she? She could have any car she wants.

Vanity? There’s another Puritan name. In terms of our “inflated sense of self”, is it wrong to call each other great or beautiful? Many of our names mean great or beautiful, literally or subtly. Are we saying we aren’t really great and beautiful, and we are giving our kids more confidence than they’re worth? Are our kids actually Ugly, Plain, or Mediocre?

You may be familiar with the fact that I am very picky and critical when it comes to the topic of baby names, but this is a bully mentality being applied. The misunderstanding here with names lies in the context. To label something as narcissism when it’s really a) not as widespread a problem as it’s made to be and b) more about repairing damage (years of abuse or poverty) is completely backwards and picks on the downtrodden. It favors sticking to the norm and status quo, even if that norm was dismal for many, because it suited the critic better. Narcissism may exist, but what we are witnessing is a trend into loving adoration in order to compensate for and break away from decades/centuries of culturally conditioned self-loathing and oppression. It’s a movement that needs to happen for our culture to thrive.

So is naming a child after yourself narcissistic? Some parents think so, but not Twenge.

“Naming a child after yourself has a number of elements to it. Naming a child Junior or ‘The Third’ is a long tradition and in some ways can be seen

Ah, it’s all starting to come together now.

as communalism, which is in many ways the opposite of narcissism. And

it’s actually the opposite of uniqueness because it means two people have the same name.”

Yes, naming a child after yourself has a number of elements to it. (I fixed that for you.) So basically, Twenge, you are for tradition (even though you ignore our grandiose naming of the past), but more importantly, for not being unique. And, this is a good thing, because when more of us are alike, no one is special. Got it, Jean.

You can read more about how Twenge is “Seeing Narcissists Everywhere” (“Except the One Inside the Mirror”) on this Psycritic post entitled, “What Jean Twenge Gets Wrong About Narcissism“.

When it comes to names, either we’re not narcissistic or we always have been. In any event, this is nothing new. In fact, these naming traditions are older than the profession of psychologist.

Hispanic Baby Name “News” is Ignorant BS

I’m getting tired of web publication sites circulating what is essentially non-news. “Hispanic” names are “on the rise” in the USA, and are “in”– and (gasp) with white parents! I’m going to explain to you why I have a problem with this on many levels.

Hispanic and Latino names are not a new occurrence in this country. Obviously we are land-connected to Spanish-speaking nations, and there have been Spanish settlements in the US since the 1500s. We have Spanish place names (Florida, California, Montana, Nevada, to name a few), and yet here we are acting amazed that anyone would suddenly favor these choices? Spanish naming is in our blood and history.

Spanish (Caucasian, white, European) colonization of Mexico.

Names with a “Latin” influence are everywhere, too– technically Latin encompasses such a broad range, and is ever-present in the English language. We name our kids Latin-influenced things every day without even realizing it, and certainly without considering it specifically “Hispanic”. Latin itself is/was a language… you can find it in the everyday vocabulary of people who speak English, Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, and more.

(The following images taken from National Geographic’s “The Changing Face of America“, Martin Schoeller. Take note of their ethnicities, how they identify, and their names.)

Harold Fisch, 23, Austin, Texas Self-ID: eastern European, Puerto Rican, Jewish, Texan Census Boxes Checked: other

Daisy Fencl, 3, San Antonio, Texas Parents’ ID for her: Korean and Hispanic Census Boxes Checked: has not yet been counted


Tevah Jones, 22, Grants Pass, Oregon
Self-ID: Trinidadian American/colored
Census Boxes Checked: white/black


“Hispanic” does not mean “non-white”.
“Hispanic is definitely in,” says Belly Ballot editor and Baby Name Expert, Lucie Strachonova.  “We have seen strong indications of white parents selecting Latino baby names…”  Let’s go over what “Hispanic” and “Latino” mean, since sources like Hispanic Business, Latina.com, and Latin Post didn’t seem to question the language of the Press Release.

Hispanic: of or relating to Spain or to Spanish-speaking countries, esp. those of Latin America.
Latino: a Latin American inhabitant of the United States.

Hispanic has always been potentially white– Spain is a European country. Spanish speakers can be any ethnicity. The “especially” in the definition is not a requirement. “Latino” is more understood as what we picture in the Americas– a person with heritage mixed with the native populations and the Spanish (with other stuff, including African, sometimes mixed in with varying amounts). How people identify, though, can be an intensely personal thing and what we can’t do is assert that Hispanic and Latino people are non-white. That’s offensive. These designations are more complex than that.

Neither term refers to race, as a person of Latino or Hispanic origin can be of any race. – Grieco, Elizabeth M.; Rachel C. Cassidy. “Overview of Race and Hispanic Origin: 2000, US Census Bureau

The increase of Spanish names may have more to do with immigration. Here’s a real duh moment… in the USA, we are having a population shift where immigrants from Latin American countries are multiplying, and obviously so are their names. Latin Americans whose families have been in this country for generations are also growing exponentially.

Your sources are full of it. The original story derives from the “experts” at Belly Ballot, the site known for the $5000 Baby Name Contest Hoax they fabricated for publicity.

Their site itself runs on a simple gimmick– create a poll to allow the people in your life to vote on your baby names, and each week the poll with the most votes earns the mom-to-be a prize. Seems like harmless fun, right? Well, sure, it could be. The fact that there is a gimmick is effective in drawing in people, and it could be fun to have others vote on a name, but could be ultimately meaningless if you are not truly invested in the opinions of others ruling your choice.

I decided to give the site a spin, and quickly discovered that my favorite names were not even available on the site, nor could I manually enter my own for loved ones to vote. [To be fair, they only advertise that you can vote on 50,000 top names.] Still, it’s a well designed site with cute, colorful graphics. It attracts people. I’m sure that was the goal they hoped to achieve.

Like most name websites, the generic designations Belly Ballot applies to its names such as “Native American” are not very helpful or informative, considering the vastness of area and language that encompasses. Those are errors by omission. Without language or tribe, how can they be sure their info is accurate? Other unresearched errors on the site would tell you, for example, that the Native American name “Missouri” means “from Missouri”. [For the curious, Missouri is supposedly Miami-Illinois in origin, and means “those who dug out canoes”.] You will find examples like these on most baby names sites, which is Reason #838 why I don’t like most mainstream baby name sites/books. I just want more from my experts.

Who are the experts? Etymologists, onomasticians? Editor Lucie studied English and has been interested in etymology for 3 years. Co-founder Lacey got the idea when she handed out ballots at her baby shower. I do not doubt that baby names are fun or interesting for these entrepreneurs, but they are being quoted as experts in articles dealing with cultural issues. It’s not their fault that baby names are not taken seriously in our society. We treat it like a fun topic, like baby’s first outfit. We tend to forget that baby names are language and heritage, literacy and social studies. Understanding them is understanding ourselves. Conversely, swapping for “misunderstanding” would also be accurate.

Now, the ones reporting what Belly Ballot had to say are all content churners to some extent. You’ll notice that the story is essentially a cut and paste, occasionally with new observations thrown in. See for yourself:

Yes Way, Jose! via Reuters (< who are not responsible for this PRESS RELEASE– a statement created to create buzz and publicity, presumably by Belly Ballot themselves). : “Hispanic is Caliente.” Yes Way, Jose? Caliente? Por favor.
Baby Name Site Claims “Hispanic is Definitely In” – Latina.com. For Fall of 2013, as if we were discussing new fashion color trends. Next Fall, it’ll be Vietnamese names. *eyeroll*
Hispanic Baby Names Gain Popularity – Hispanic Business. To their credit, they did say: “It’s even changing what non-Hispanic whites are naming their children” in their piece, which selectively copied passages from the Press Release.
Latin Baby Names on the Rise for Caucasians via Latin Post: “Does a name really make you more ethnic?” So not only are Latin names not Caucasian, but Caucasians are not ethnic? Excuse me, but Latin names are for everyone, and everyone is “ethnic”– we all have ethnicity. This is the same kind of thinking that talks about something being “skin colored” while only choosing the Apricot crayon from the box.

Some of these names aren’t even solely “Hispanic”. If we look at some of the links mentioned, they go on to list names such as Maria, Isabella, Ernesto. All of these names have been in our country for quite some time. But are these uniquely “Hispanic” names? No. I’ll grant you that some of them we can almost guarantee are coming from Hispanic influence or sources. However, Maria is used in other languages and cultures, including German and Italian; Ernesto and Isabella are also associated with Italy. Then there’s the fact that Isabella is on the decline, but has been in the top 3 for girls names for 6 years, and tends to not strike white parents as being a “Hispanic” name when chosen. When I think of Isabella, by the way, I think of Queen Isabella of Spain, who I can only assume was white (I never met the lady). Perhaps you might be thinking of Twilight‘s Bella (Isabella), who was also presumed Caucasian.

These names they used as examples aren’t even on the rise. We just touched on this with Isabella, above. There’s more. Maria has dropped ranking by almost 10 spots in the past 2 years. It was way more popular in the 1950s through 1990s in the United States, than it is today. (Source: Social Security Administration). Same with Ernesto. It’s dropped at least 50 spots in rank in the past 2 years, and enjoyed mucho mas popularity in the 1970s-1990s. Their info on “rising Hispanic names” is totally bunk. Our human population may be rising, but the name ranks are not.

Non-Hispanic people choosing Spanish names to “fit in” is the exception, not the rule. The info being spread quotes white parents who are supposedly trying to “give their kids an advantage” by choosing Hispanic names, and then goes on to interview a white supremacist (???) who discusses how unfortunate it is that white people are not preserving their heritage. Whoa… back the truck up. Does this strike anyone else as subtle propaganda? If not, it’s a very, very unfortunate accident.

The slant I see is one which convinces white parents that they are now the minority and need to be concerned with the uncomfortable changes they now face in the United States. Let’s say I’m incorrect there, and that was not the intent. The cultural shift they credit for the popularity of certain names is still untrue. Caucasians who are not Hispanic are not naming their kids Juan, Pablo, and Ana Maria to blend. No, I don’t have stats on this– it’s just common sense. I’m not saying it isn’t occurring, period, just that this would be the rarer explanation for what we are seeing.

For one, common Hispanic names are still associated in American minds with brown skin and menial labor. Non-Hispanic American parents are much more likely to name their children Apple or Zuma (Gwyneth Paltrow and Gwen Stefani’s kids) than Jose, because names are about hopes, dreams, and aspirations. Opportunity. With that in mind, consider this:  many Hispanic folks here are here because this is supposed to be a land of opportunity. So, I would say it is Hispanic parents who are giving children more “white” names, not the reverse. This is a generalization and may vary based on your community, but I feel the country overall reflects this.

Still, that didn’t stop mom Shaina from giving her daughter the “Hispanic” name Isabella, to give her the edge. Shaina (from the press release and “articles” above) laments that although she was a good student, there was less opportunity for her, and that part-Hispanic Isabella will have an increased edge in proving her ethnic identity with her name. I hate to break it to you, but Isabella is going to be lost in a sea of Isabella Smiths, Isabella Joneses, and Isabella Browns. No one is going to think, “Ah! The name! This proves she is Hispanic! Give that girl her scholarship!” Isabella is the #3 girl’s name in the United States. In recent years it enjoyed some quality time as #1. It is used popularly by citizens regardless of race. If Isabella has any advantages from her name, it will be because her mother chose something more popular than her own name was. Isabella is decidedly normal. This neutralizes her. Isabella works because it is safe. Tens of thousands of Isabellas are born in America, yearly.

On my page, one mother (funnily, named Sierra– which is Spanish) expressed concern that she felt Hispanic names were sort of off-limits for her. Even though there were some she liked, she felt it somehow would seem odd for her to choose since her family has no Hispanic heritage that she knows of, whatsoever. I think her opinion is a lot more indicative of the non-Hispanic white majority’s. I do understand her choice, and I respect her doing what feels natural and comfortable. It’s important that parents feel able to connect to a name. If others feel free to branch out, I respect that too.

How do they even know it’s the white parents they are seeing the increase with? Belly Ballot claims that they specifically see Caucasians using Hispanic names at an increasing rate. Are they discovering this data through only their own website? Are they conducting polls asking people what their racial identities are when they favor certain names? Why are we focused so heavily on white people using Latin names, and other racial identities (such as black) are not even mentioned? The origin of this info is never clarified fully in the articles, and my guess is that it’s all assumed.

These issues are racist at worst and culturally oblivious at best. I am very disappointed with how much this has been circulated on the internet by people presenting this as “news”, “fact”, “truth”, or “expert opinion”. Perpetuating this garbage and fluff journalism may be provocative and give people something to talk about, produce readership, but at what cost? We are using erroneous terminology, misinforming and misleading the public, and actually increasing feelings of divide and racism amongst the people. When it comes to baby names and the internet, we have enough of that type of junk already.

(And also, I don’t care what color you are, pick whatever name you want. I only ask that you research it and make sure you understand it beforehand.)

The Mystery of Saffron

A friend of mine recently had a baby girl and named her Saffron. It got me thinking… what does it really mean?

Of course we know that it relates to a spice, a plant, a color. When people choose the name they love it for those virtues alone. It makes us think of exotic places and scents. Spice colors evoke the same kind of rich imagery that jewel tones do. A lot of us feel really drawn by that. And Saffron, like many associated names, gives us a warm feeling. However, I wanted to dig deeper.

Most sources acknowledge the ancient roots Saffron has. We have to, since most of us associate the spice with locales like India. One of my favorite online etymology sources traces:

saffron:  c.1200, from Old French safran (12c.), from Medieval Latin safranum (cf. Italian zafferano, Spanish azafran), ultimately from Arabic za’faran, of unknown origin.

I was thinking how unfortunate it would be if we truly could not trace Arabic za’faran beyond this. These old languages have so many scholars who can interpret them accurately from ancient days and archaic usage… did truly no one know where “saffron” came from?

But, yes, safran was one incarnation, and reminded me of the surname Safran. It saw use in various European cultures, because it was an “occupational name for a spicer or a nickname for someone with reddish yellow hair” (-Oxford). That makes perfect sense, actually, since Saffron’s mommy has red hair. Saffron’s brother looks reddish-blond, himself. In this sense, Saffron would be a fresh choice in place of Ginger. I digress– I still did not have an answer to my question on its origin.

This Persian site, which sells saffron, describes a fascinating history of its use. One thing they said which I think is interesting to note:

Most English sources have known saffron coined from word entitled “Al-Safran” and Arabic term. But, accuracy of this subject seems strange, for, saffron dates back over 10,000 years and it is aboriginal plant of Alborz mountain range and Central Asia. As a matter of fact, rhythm of this word is not Arabic and principally, most names which are ended in Arabic language to “AN”, have Farsi root like Mehrjan, Jaljalan, etc.

Next I did what any serious researcher does– I hit Wikipedia. Their etymology on the plant’s page stated:

The ultimate origin of the English word saffron is, like that of the cultivated saffron clone itself, of somewhat uncertain origin. It immediately stems from the Latin word safranum via the 12th-century Old French term safran. Safranum derives from the Persian intercessor زعفران, or za’ferân. Old Persian is the first language in which the use of saffron in cooking is recorded, with references dating back thousands of years.

A-ha! Now we were getting somewhere. (Thanks again, Wikipedia.) Okay, so a citation was still needed on that, and Wiki has a bad reputation for being unreliable, but now I had a lead.

To follow up on that lead, I used An Etymological Dictionary of Persian, English and other Indo-European Languages. The entry there for za’faran states:

saffron, a plant with purple flowers and orange stigmas... "za'faran" 
is from Persian "zar-paran: with gold petals".

This was the “eureka” moment I was looking for– descriptive translation to explain the root word(s) of “saffron”. I knew it couldn’t be a mystery. And what a lovely meaning– “with gold petals”!

Indeed, Persian root “zar” [ زد ] does mean “gold” (as well as silver, wealth, money, riches, ornamentation– basically, valuable). I’m already familiar with this through my onomastic studies. I was having a hard time verifying that faran or paran [عفران] referred to petals, however.

When I cross-referenced it against other Persian names (such as Niloufar and Nilipar— both meaning “blue petal”), you can see confirmation in faran/paran referring to petals. The “nil-” prefix refers to azure, deep blue, or indigo. It is shortened from Sanskrit “nilah“, meaning “dark blue” (-Etymonline). Nilah is related to the root word for lilac.  [Many baby name sites say Niloufar and Nilipar mean “water lily”, but this flower was just what the names were in reference to. Reason #19,843 why I still trust Wikipedia more than almost any baby name website!]

When it comes to baby names, you heard it here first. At the time of publication, no other baby name source breaks Saffron down. If you choose to copy me, I’d better get credit!

It can be said with some level of reliable certainty that Saffron means “with gold petals”.

The Bastardization of Native American Names

On our page, after the Thanksgiving holiday, we asked our page with much hesitation what their favorite Native American names were. I did specifically ask people to be careful, and keep respect for authenticity. Our friend Hazel said:

Kai – Navaho; willow tree
Kaya – Hopi; my elder sister
Luna – Zuni, Span; the moon
Lusita – Zuni, Span; bringer of light
Malila – Miwok; salmon going fast up a rippling stream
Mika – Ponka; the knowing racoon
Nascha – Navaho; owl
Nita – Choctaw; bear
Nova – Hopi; chasing a butterfly

. . . So many more but don’t have time I’m not American, these are from a book, so cannot verify myself.

Luna and Lusita are definitely not Native American, but maybe used by the population due to Spanish influence. Kaya does not mean elder sister in Hopi. The Malila thing is so ridiculous I can’t believe it. The Miwok word for salmon is ko-sum, btw. Mika does come from Ponca & related languages but only means “raccoon”… “knowing” is a romanticism. Ne-ahs-jah is the Navajo word for owl (close…). Nova is the Hopi word for “food”. These were made up by white people.


Nita is Choctaw for bear, so that was right. Kʼai is Navajo for willow (close enough?).

Baby name books or sites in general do not respect Native languages (or anything non-Euro, for that matter), so this is what I cautioned about.
Don’t trust those.

Usually I hesitate to bring up Native American names here, and this is why. I truly love real Native American names, but so much misinformation is out there that if the topic comes up, I’m going to have to make some corrections. We just had Thanksgiving in the States, so I wanted to suck it up and do it, but what a dishonor we are still doing to the people with the BS that gets circulated. No offense, but I’m kind of glad Hazel ran out of time– less work for me!

Please remember that usually Native American words are longer than English words, so if something has some long elaborate meaning, it would take a lot more syllables than 2 or 3 to express that thought.

Most baby name books you really can’t trust, in varying degrees. Some are 75% garbage, some are only 5% untrue. I’d recommend mine, but it hasn’t been published yet! Mine isn’t really a dictionary per se, either… but I digress. Before you choose a Native American name, do a little legwork and find out about the language you are taking from– make sure via cross referencing that you have an authentic name/word with correct pronunciations and respect for the culture and their language. If you can’t do that, honestly a Native name should not even appeal to you at all. And don’t pick one because you “are” “Native American” unless you’ve confirmed via DNA test or were raised in Native culture, since family legend has us all part Cherokee princess.

Meaning Unknown: Can I Make One Up?

Books and sites may occasionally be honest and tell you that they have no idea what your baby’s name means. The dreaded word “unknown” has irked many a reader and parent alike.

If you don’t know what your baby’s name means, can you make a meaning up?  Yes, and no. First, try to find a way to be sure that it’s a true mystery before assigning your own meaning. If you’re not sure where to start, start by taking a stab at the language of origin. Research the root words and try to connect the dots (I’ll illustrate in a second). However, if you’ve made up a name on your own and it is completely original, not being taken from pieces of any other words you are being influenced by, feel free to give it any meaning you want! One of my favorites on my list I have given the meaning of “universal portal”. I know, it’s kind of geeky. But to me, it’s got such an ULTIMATE feeling to it, which is what I was going for. Most other names are subtle, and I wanted to go beyond.

After all, it’s not every day you get to invent a word or a name.

Hazel tree dispersing seeds.

The fan question and conversation that inspired this post and will illustrate an example of finding the roots is below (this occurred on our page; visit us)–

Chelsea: I’ve looked up my daughters name and it says meaning unknown could there be a way of making a meaning?
Elizabeth: I bet there could!!! But out of curiosity, what is your daughter’s name?
Chelsea: Haisley
Elizabeth: Seems like a mash-up of Hayden and Paisley. However, the dictionary of American names from Oxford IS able to trace it. It’s from England and Northern Ireland, and it apparently means “hazel meadow“.

You see, Haisley happens to be a form of Hazley which is derived from Heasley, which also has been spelled Haseley… phew… Anyhow, these are all words derived from the English language. Hæsel is equal to ‘hazel’, and ley or leah (as any Ashley or Hayley may be able to tell you) means ‘wood’, ‘clearing’, ‘glade’, or ‘meadow’. These are surnames, and would have been given to someone who lived in or by the hazel meadow or hazel wood.

So, if you were trying to figure this out for yourself (for example), you might start off by guessing that Haisley appears to be an English word. From there, you might try to break the word apart. What does the suffix “-ley” mean? What are other English names that contain “-ley” endings? What do those names mean? What might/must the “hais” part be referring to? Luckily in English, this can sometimes be pretty straightforward. Other languages may be trickier.

While it may be more fun to invent a meaning to a unique name, unless you are completely inventing one yourself free of outside influence, you might be disappointed to discover that the job has already been filled.

Why did other sources tell Chelsea the meaning was unknown? While I am overjoyed they didn’t take it upon themselves to invent a meaning (this would be commonplace), you can still file this under Reason #1 I don’t like most baby name books and sites.

“Which Baby Name Sources Can You Trust?”

 

None?  >:)

No, if I can be serious for a moment… I haven’t found even 1 place that is good all the time for all variety of names. Read the comments section from this blog post to understand how I feel about that.

Believe it or not, your name is not Ancient Welsh for “elven lullaby“.

I think that what you need to look for is that they (the source) are treating names like words and like language, and not like “baby names”. As soon as something is treated like merely “baby names” they have lost seriousness on the topic. If they list a continent but not a language (“African”, “Native American”), don’t trust them. Overly romanticized or long meanings for what appear to be simple names? Doubt them. When you see multiple meanings for something, try to figure out on a root-word level if any of it makes sense. That would involve studying the language and determining if there is any possible way that somebody else’s meaning makes sense. A source has to be of reference-level quality, like a dictionary, to be taken seriously.

For example, words and even some proper names/place names can be examined at this etymology dictionary online.

Another source is Ancestry.com, because in their learning center, you can enter a surname and it takes its info from the Oxford Dictionary of names. Formerly they had a first name and surname field; recently they’ve done away with the first name entry, which I feel was a huge loss and big mistake. I wrote to them about it and they acted like they didn’t know what I was talking about, but that’s customer service for you. If you feel it was a loss, too, drop them a line and maybe they’ll listen to a bunch of us rather than just one mad name freak.

Believe it or not, I consider Wikipedia to be a far better source than most name books and sites. I was just talking to a fan privately today; we were discussing the varied meanings given to the name Miriam. “Baby Center said…”  Oh man, don’t get me started on Baby Center. But when she said, “Wikipedia said…” I had to admit that they had a pretty firm grasp on several of the possibilities for interpreting Miriam. And, they didn’t definitively declare any of them right or wrong. As much of a joking point as Wikipedia is when it comes to doing “real research”, they are doing a much better job in the world of baby names than most who solely discuss baby names! Pretty sad, huh? Wiki is worth a look. Doesn’t mean they’re always right, but they often do okay.

[For the curious, this is a snippet from what I had to say on Miriam:

“Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
Horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.” -the song of Miriam, Exodus.
Painting is The Song of Miriam (Miriam right), by William Gale

My feeling is based on the combination of mar (מַר — means “a drop”) and yam (ים — means “sea”). The word מִרְיָם is the Hebrew way of writing Miriam. You can see those elements within it, but other interpretations seem to fit too… so I wouldn’t consider all others necessarily wrong.]

When it comes to trusting the accuracy of a source, whether you are trying to nail down a meaning or other nugget of info, I tend to not just take anyone’s word for it. I basically have to look at the name as a word within its language, which means cross-referencing a few times over, and making an educated guess or statement based on multiple sources of scholarly info. If you’re going to use a name and you are serious about wanting to know what it means, you’ll have to do the same for it.

And of course, you could always buy my book which comes out soon– this summer. 🙂

Do My Z Names Mean What I Think They Do?

Colleen:  Well I believed the baby name books on my first four kids and now im worried they dont really mean what I think they mean. Thanks for that! 😛 I have a Zaynah, Zeke, Zoey, Zachary.

Elizabeth: What do you think they mean… ?

Colleen: Beautiful, god given strength, life, god remembers

Elizabeth: Yeah, that’s mostly accurate.

Zaynah is an Arabic name, ضایٔنه , and refers to beauty or beautiful. I’ve seen other sources suggest it is related to a word that simply means “good”.

Zeke is a short form of Ezekiel. Ezekiel means “strength of God” (or similar), but in shortening it to Zeke, you removed the root word for “God”. So, Zeke means only “strength“. The “God given” would be totally implied, as it is no longer in the name at all.

Ancient names with religious background are very special and beloved, but over the millennia they have undergone transformations which may, in essence, alter their meanings.

Zoey definitely means life.

Zachary can definitely be interpreted to mean God remembers.

I’d say you did pretty good, and the name books didn’t steer you too wrong this time. 😉 Name books will often lazily conclude that a shortened version of a name means the exact same thing as the original, but in many names such as Hebrew ones, where the root words can clearly be divided and meaning determined, it should be expressed how the compound is altered.

“You mean THIS is what our ancestors lived in???”

Think of compound words in our own language… take treehouse. Say your kids decided to call it “house” for short, instead of treehouse. If a dictionary 200 years in the future tells you that “house” means the same as “treehouse”, how accurate would you consider that? Not very, right? File this under Reason #3 why I’m not too fond of most baby name books.

If you have questions about the accuracy of interpretation of your kids’ names, ask Elizabeth!

UPDATE May 2013:  Colleen welcomed a son– Zander!

Silas: What Does it REALLY Mean?

File this under reason #58 to not believe anything you read on cutesy Baby Name websites.

On our page discussing names, we were recommending names to a fan. One of our fans innocently adds Silas to the list of considerations, adding that it would work well for the OP, because it means “third”, and this was to be her third child.

I was intrigued why she thought this (“where did you hear that?”, a common question I believe I will be asking often enough), and she informed me that a baby name site told her that. Figures.

Could she have been thinking of Birth Village? Here was the user contributed (!) meaning they ascribed to dear old Silas:

The baby boy or baby girl name Silas comes from the Biblical word which means, “three, or the third.” Biblical word which means, “three, or the third.”

That was taken directly from the entry for Silas without additional editing on my part. If you want something user-submitted to tell you about your name, you might be better off visiting Urban Dictionary. Tee hee.

Now, it just so happens that there is a very similar word in Hebrew to Silas, and it does mean third. From ancient-hebrew.org:

As an example the Hebrew word for “three” is “shelosh”, and the Hebrew word for “third” is “sheliyshiy”.

It would be easy to see why “sheliyshiy” could seem connected to or related to Silas. However, there is already a Hebrew baby name that seems to cover this meaning– Shilshah, which does indeed specifically refer to a third son.

Most sources out there (yes, even the fluff sources) will tell you that Silas stems from the same Latin and Greek roots that “silvan” does, which definitely gives it a meaning of “woody” or “of the forest”. But, there is still a chance that this is wrong and that Silas and Shilshah are related, right?

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep. -Robert Frost

I asked my favorite Hebrew/Biblical baby name expert (and all around brilliant guy), Arie, about this. This man is a scholarly genius when it comes to understanding the complexity and poetry behind Biblical names, words, and meanings.  Here’s what he said:

You are correct. The name Silas is short for Silvanus (like Bill is short for William), and both mean forest(ed). And you’re also correct about the Hebrew word for three, which is shalosh. The word for third generation is shilesh, which comes very close to the name Silas.

Names in the New Testament are not as often descriptive of the name-bearer as in the Old Testament. I doubt very much that there is something profoundly “third” about Silas. But maybe I’m wrong.

Most sources, from the fluffy and superficial books and sites, to reliable resources such as Biblical study books, genius Hebrew language students, and reference/dictionary sources seem to agree that Silas has to do with the forest, and not birth order.

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