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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Name Geek Victory

Allow me a moment to brag here. Just another day in the life of Name Geek Victory.

I was doing some research for my book, specifically on Yucatec Mayan baby names. I came across some interesting info which seemed to point to the word “shark” deriving from a Yucatec word, “xoc“. However, most dictionaries hold that the origin is “unknown”.

This seems odd to me, when you think about it.

  1. We started using the word “shark” in English right around the time Europeans were arriving on the shores of the Americas (1500s). Specifically, there seems to be a connection to the period in the 1560s when John Hawkins arrived in the Caribbean. The English were using “sharke” by 1569.
  2. Although sharks exist all over the world, the European lifestyle and climate did not allow as much exposure to them as compared with people in Central America.  For the English, this would be a unique experience and discovery. The Maya lived in a region with more exposure to and awareness of these creatures, and naturally, they could feasibly introduce the word to these visitors.
  3. Think of an English accent. We could imagine the possibility that the way they pronounced “shark” (with a nearly absent “r”, audibly) is the same way the natives would say their own word, xoc (sounds like “shock”, or maybe “shoke”). It makes sense that the English would spell it this way when lifting the word. It would also differentiate it from slight-homophone, “shock”.
  4. The meaning of “xoc” is actually “shark”. Coincidence? I think not!

Historically, culturally, and linguistically, it makes total sense. So I mentioned it to my favorite online etymology source, Etymonline.

xocThe bottom portion is after our conversation. The site owner added the theory to the etymology for “shark”! I know not everyone can appreciate me geeking out over this, but trust me… it felt like just another great day and job well done in the world of language. For little old me, anyway. I think maybe what made it such a big deal is that I actually respect them (in a world full of bad sources), and they considered my info. I thought the info was pretty damn good, but still, it was great to feel like I had added or contributed somehow.

Baby names are just one form of expression of language. The study of names is a study in cultures and languages. This is why I examine them so closely and take them seriously. They are just one aspect, one facet, but are used for identity… they can come from anywhere and mean anything, and they deserve my respect.

So, I was thrilled that a source that I love so much followed up on my info and added it. Etymonline also happens to be one of many reliable sources I use in my upcoming book. You can find them in the list with other references once the book is finally out. 😉

In the spirit of fairness, arguments against this theory can be found here.