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.

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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