The Virtue of Random Names

Betsy asked:

Not pregnant right now but I’ve been trying to think up a first name for our future son. We have Meghan Kathleen, Sakura Ashley, Daniel William, and our next daughter will be Zeriah Francine. I want our next son’s middle name to be Edmund. We’ve been naming our kids by doing 1 “random” name that we like and 1 name after a family member; Edmund would be after my Grandpa.

“Sakura” is Japanese for “cherry blossom”. Photo by Midori.

I also don’t want to re-use ANY letters of the alphabet so A, D, E, F, K, M, S, W, and Z aren’t options for beginning letters…also the name “Royce” is a no as it’s my brother’s pick for a name and is therefore not allowed to be used by me per his requests. I love “different” and unique names (this can include unique spellings). Usually I don’t have a problem with names I just can’t think of any that I like coupled with Edmund and his middle name will be Edmund (I lost my Grandpa recently so it’s important to me as my oldest is named after my Grandma) Thanks for any help you can offer!

What a neat mix of names you have. And I love Edmund– it’s on my list, too. And I really dig your appreciation for the random combined with honoring family. That is right up my alley. AND, I’m thrilled that you are so specific about what you want, right down to the letters.

I grew up loving names and loving how my name is a “living history book” for my family but also a twist of my own personal name and wanted to give that to my kids…my daughter, Meghan, would be the only 1 that’d be different as Kathleen came from my Grandma’s middle name and Meghan was her all-time favorite name (and would’ve been her 2nd daughter’s name had she been able to have more) but the others are a totally “random” name that we like coupled with a family name

Some thoughts:

Cole Edmund
Rock Edmund
Javon Edmund
Raleigh Edmund
Nathan Edmund
Tony Edmund
Jayden Edmund
Yeray Edmund
Jahaziel Edmund
Jelani Edmund
Lex Edmund
Hayden Edmund
Louis Edmund
Tinley Edmund
Joplin Edmund

[We typically don’t recommend the rhymes with “ayden” names, but in this case we were testing the waters with Betsy, in case she actually took to them. We considered not recommending them at all, but wanted to be fair for any occasions in which it may not be a terrible choice. If you like these names, we recommend you do some soul searching and choose them only if they mean a lot to you. If you are selecting just because it looks cool to you, please keep searching, as these names are very trendy right now and there are other, “cooler” options out there for you that would be more original.]

Keep us updated!

thanks for the list! lots of good names there going to think on them before I decide

*Betsy assured us that she would let us know what she decides. We’ll update this post when she does!*

UPDATE JULY 1, 2014: I ask you about a year ago for “J” names…we ended up naming our boy Josiah Edmund. He is now 8months old.

How we decided on his name: my great great grandpa Joseph built the house that we are now living in (finally) we want to “honor” him in some way so “joe” became “joe-siah” Josiah… Edmund comes from my grandpa.”

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Now I would like to talk a minute about the virtue of random names. Betsy is an example of a very interesting namer. She had a sort of rule set (not repeating letters in the alphabet for initials; honoring family with one name), and at the same time, she was open to anything. I think when you explore random names, you can challenge yourself to branch out beyond what, for you, are your predictable tastes and typical choices.

Have you ever noticed that you get a little bored of your name list? Feeling uninspired? It would be a little like having a favorite shirt in 10 colors, and wearing only those. After awhile, we no longer surprise ourselves. Sometimes naming loses its spark that way. One way to reawaken that fire is to “try on” random names.

James Cheng / msnbc.com

You can do this by imagining you have a child with a name you normally would never have known or thought twice about. Add the surname, and a first/middle name to pair with it. If you have at least one guaranteed name that means something to you (such as, a middle name that honors family), you’d be surprised what you realize you actually love and find usable.

Example: Deborah is going to name a son. She knows she wants to use her great-grandfather’s name, Walter, as either the first or middle name. The last name will be Crook. She has no idea what to pair Walter with and feels uninspired. She doesn’t want to settle for something she is lukewarm about and doesn’t want to be too boring, and doesn’t necessarily need the name to feel completely traditional.

By trying on random names, Deborah experiments with choices like:

Walter Mario Crook
Pierce Walter Crook
Leonidas Walter Crook
Bradford Walter Crook
Walter Shane Crook

With previous choices on her list that she felt blah about (Michael, James, John, & Robert… with an Aidan thrown in there for kicks), she had never considered Mario, Pierce, Leonidas, Bradford, or Shane. They just were not on her radar. To her, these choices seemed totally random. Without that inspiration and her trying on these unexpected names to see if she like them, she might never have finalized Leonidas as the name.

I think we can push the boundaries even further, though. In making your name lists and looking for fresh baby name combinations, I encourage you to test out random names, from the traditional to the ancient to the bizarre, and see how it feels. See if you can just picture your baby with that name. It’s how hippies wind up with Johnny’s and how traditionalists have Kai’s. It’s very cute and great at making sure our classrooms don’t have 5 children of the same name.

In an effort to keep this concept flowing and to challenge people to branch out, we will occasionally (on our page or blog) be asking people to consider random names and see how they could “fit” with their surnames and other name choices from their list. Let us know what you end up loving or using, or how it inspired you in other ways! Feel free to participate with us.

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.