“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. 🙂