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Ondine and Undine

These watery baby girl names are almost the same, but Undine is a mythology word-name referring to the spirit of the waters, meaning "little wave" in Latin, first called so by Paracelsus in the 16th century, and Ondine is the same etymology but used in French.

The defining characteristic of an undine is that she lacks a soul, but can gain one through marriage of love. These water spirits have been written about through the ages, sometimes called mermaids and other times water nymphs.

Ondine appears in poem, plays, novels, songs, films, ballet and piano pieces. Undine appears in art, poems, novels, operas, piano and a silent film, as well as being an asteroid. It is also a popular name in comics and video games.

Undine first popped into the SSA in 1912, and hasn't been seen since 1935. Undina is even more rare, never appearing in the data. Ondine jumped in later, in 1961, and is still used. In 2016 it was given to 13 girls, and Ondina was seen only once, in 1968, when it…
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Rodion, a musician from Rome (pic source)
A Slavic boy's name of Greek origin, Rodion (ROW-dee-on except for Russia, where it is ROD-ee-own) sounds a bit like a high-fashion design house, a bit like a type of metal or element, and a lot like it has a deep history. Rodion comes from Herodion, Herod, Heroides, meaning "hero's song." A few rulers of ancient Judea were named Herod, at least one of whom was also known by Rodion, and there's Saint Herodion of Patras, a Holy Apostle, who has been known as Rodion.

There are several Russian, Croatian, Austrian, Hungarian, Ukrainian, Antillean and Romanian namesakes, and at least one fictional character - the protagonist of Crime and Punishment by world-renowned author Fyodor Dostoyevsky. However, the name has only been seen in U.S. data twice. It was given to 6 boys in 2009 and 5 in 2011. Rodya is a Russian variant.

Gennara & Gennaro

Gennara (jen-NAR-uh) is the Italian word and name meaning "January." In Latin the meaning was "devoted to Janus." Gennaro (jen-NAH-row), the male version, was on the SSA top 1000 twice - once in 1911 and then in 1913. Gennara has no SSA data, but the other spelling option Genara was used a handful of times - four separate years, no more than 11 times in a year. Jenara is the Spanish form.

There is a Saint Gennara and a Saint Gennaro. Gennara of Albitina may have been two women with the same name, martyred at the same time. Saint Gennaro, also known as Saint Januarius I of Benevento, was the patron saint of Naples, Italy, martyred in the 4th century. There was also Blessed Gennaro Sarnelli.

There was royalty with the name Gennaro as well - Prince Gennaro Carlo Francesco of Naples and Sicily, who was the son of Ferdinand IV, and Prince Gennaro Maria Immacolata Luigi, also known as Prince Januarius, the Count of Caltagirone and Prince of Bourbon-Two Sicilies who died …


9th century apse mosaic of Saints Valerian and Cecilia
Valerian (vul-AYR-ee-en) is a boy's name you might think is a little bit more popular than it really is, thanks to the recent movie Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (originally the comic Valerian and Laureline). But there were none (or less than five boys given the name per year) since 2010. Before then it was not given to more than 17 boys in any year since 1880, when the SSA records begin. Female counterpart Valeriana (and her French form Valériane), however, had been much more rare - only used 5 times in 1999 and 6 in 2016. Valerian means "strong" in Latin.

Valerian sounded familiar before the movie, however, because of the flowering plant of the same name, used in sleep tea and as a medicinal herb since ancient Roman and Greek times.

Valerian was the name of a 3rd century Roman emperor and his grandson, the Roman Caesar Valerian II. Namesakes also include, but are not limited to, an 8th Duke of Wellingto…

New Nature Baby Names

Unless noted, none of these names were used by either gender in 2016. All listed would be considered rare.
Ambrette Anise - 13 girls Bay - 33 girls, 8 boys Basil - 22 girls, 60 boys
Betony Birch - 11 boys
Blossom - 40 girls
Briony - 6 girls Caraway
Catkin Cedar - 40 girls, 132 boys
Celandine Chamomile
Cherry - 40 girls
Chervil Chicory Clary - 11 girls
Cloud - 31 boys
Corbeau Cypress - 43 girls, 64 boys
Damiana - 22 girls Davana
Delta - 39 girls
Flower - 5 girls
Henna - 27 girls
Jessamine - 11 girls
Lilac - 17 girls
Lotus - 88 girls
Neroli Onycha Palmarosa
Petal - 5 girls
Prairie - 16 girls
Sunflower - 7 girls
Tannen - 6 boys
Tarragon Thistle
Tonquin Valerian - (6 Valeriana)
Valley - 15 girls

Eugene & Eugenie

Napoleon III, Eugenie, and their Son for Adoption Siamese Ambassadors, by Jean-Leon Gerome

Eugene is a boy's baby name of Greek origin, coming from the word eugenes, meaning "well-born," as in "noble." In my little corner of the world this name was regarded the same way the character Eustace acted in C. S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia - a bit of a dweeb, a dated name, and very annoying. But there is always more to a person than meets the eye, and name judgement can be unnecessarily harsh. That is why I was thrilled to hear the love interest's real name in Disney's Tangled (2010) animated film: he goes by Flynn Rider, but he reveals his birth name Eugene. He expressed a sort of embarrasement that his name was Eugene, much the same way actor Jim Carrey did when revealing his middle name was Eugene.

While Flynn went from almost rare and 81 boys given the name in 2010, to 212 the next year and still rising, Rider only went up a little bit and came back d…


Sveva della Gherardesca

With Italy releasing some name popularity statistics recently, I couldn't help but notice a girl's name that looks very Scandinavian, but isn't. Unique to Italy's top 100 and unheard of in the U.S., Sveva (SVAY-vah) could be a German import, meaning "Swabian," from the archaic word Svebia and referring to a historical region in southwestern Germany, but the modern Italian word for Swabian is 'sveva,' at least according to Google translate. You can trace Swabia to Suebi, all the way back to Proto-Slavic or Indo-European swe, meaning "one's own [people]." It is a very ancient people (with the coolest coat of arms).

This name reminds me of other place/people names, such as Sabine, Roxelana and Sarazine, which I recently researched. Sveva ranked #61 in Italy in 2015 with the name given to 659 girls total, and that number dropped a bit to 546 girls in 2016. The only use it ever saw in the U.S. was 5 times in 2005.

It …


Carew Castle
This Welsh boy's name meaning "fort near/on a slope" or "fort on the water" came from a place name in Wales which later became a castle. Locally it is pronounced the same as Carey, but others do pronounce it CAYR-ew.  It is cognate with the Cornish word kerrow, meaning "fort" as well, but it is also listed as meaning "chariot" or "run" in Latin. Crew seems to be a variant of this origin.

Carew as a surname has famous namesakes that include Nobel prize winner John Carew Eccles, Baseball Hall of Fame member Rod Carew, and poet/author and diplomat Thomas Carew. In literature there is the character Mad Carew in The Green Eye of the Yellow God by Milton Hayes.

I find this an interesting surname alternative for Andrew, which is eternally popular (#34 last year). It could honor an Andrew in the family tree with its spelling, or a Carey. It has no U.S. data, making it extremely rare.


The Damsel of the Sanct Grael by Dante Gabriel Rosetti
Heliabel is a name taken from King Arthur chivalric romances outside of the Vulgate cycle. In The Evolution of Arthurian Romances by James Douglas Bruce, he claims Heliabel, alternatively spelled Helizabel, was a corruption of Elizabeth. If this is the case, it might not be wrong to assume the pronunciation is hel-LY-za-bell. That does not mean Heliabel is pronounced hel-LY-uh-bel, because pronouncing it hel-LEE-uh-bell seems more intuitive, and there are rumors that this spelling was influenced by Greek helios, meaning "sun." Bruce says these are "obviously mere corruptions" of Elizabeth because in other versions the character King Pelles's daughter is named Elizabeth after John the Baptist's mother. Elisabel was found as a variant of Elizabeth in medieval French. In a review written for an article by Ferdinand Lot, found in Romantic Review, Volume 10, it says that Heliabel lost her virginity to Lance…


Adopt a snowy owl

Here's another could-be name - one that exists as a word, but not as a name in the U.S. Sova (SO-vah) means "owl" in Czech, Slovenian, Slovakian, Bosnian and Croatian. This feminine noun comes from Proto-Slavic sova.
"Little owl" is cute as a nickname, but short and elegant Sova really brings something special to the table as a given name. In the U.S. this has not been used as a name more than 4 times in any given year, leaving us no SSA data. It does not appear on recent popularity charts in the countries in which it means "owl."

Could-be names ending in -fera

Apis mellifera, aka Western Honey Bee

The suffix -fera for girls and -fer for boys (as in Lucifer) is a New Latin nomitive neuter plural meaning "bearing." Some examples of plant and animal related words with the suffix -fera are as follows:

Caelifera, "heaven-supporting," which is a taxonomic suborder of grasshopper
Ensifera, "sword-bearing," which is a genus of hummingbird
Indigofera, "bearing indigo," a genus of beans
Loricifera, "breastplate bearer," marine animals with a protective casing
Porifera,"pore-bearing," sea sponges
Mangifera, "mango-bearing," the mango tree
Stolonifera, "branch-bearing," types of sea coral
Rotifera, "wheel-bearing," a phylum organism

There are other words ending in -fer, such as bellifer, "making war," and mellifer, "carrying honey," where the word could be used in the feminine sense, so I will put an asterisk next to those. Following the above…

The baby name Celandine may sound a bit like celery, but it is a perennial wildflower herb known as Chelidonium. In that category are greater celandine, belonging to the poppy family, and lesser celandine, belonging to the buttercup family. The name celandine derives from Latin word celidonia, therefore Celandine and Chelidonium have cognate etymologies, both ultimately coming from Greek chelidon, meaning "swallow." This plant is native to Northern Africa, Western Asia, and Europe. In North America it is considered invasive. It is pronounced sel-an-DEEN.

This plant has uses in herbalism, known as far back as Pliny the Elder's time, when it was considered detoxifying, used to relieve toothaches, and clear the eyes. Pliny connected the herb to the swallow bird using it for eye film, and that may be where the name came from, but it was also widely believed that the herb flowered at the same time the swallows came out in spring. Today we still us…


Sixten Jernberg

Sixten is an Old Norse boy's name meaning "victory stone," composed of the elements sigr and steinn. A longer form was Siegstein. This name was #39 for boys in Sweden in 2016. Famous namesakes include Swedish lieutenant Sixten Sparre born in 1854, Swedish conductor Sixten Ehrling, inventor of pointcytology Sixten Franzen, Danish artist Sixten Kai Nielsen, Estonian orienteer Sixten Sild, and many athletes, such as Swedish cross-country skier Sixten Jernberg, who won 15 Olympic medals. Sixten can also be found as a surname, as is the case for composer Fredrik Sixten and priest Sven Sixten. The form Sixtens appears in the Dictionary of Medieval Names from European Sources (DMNES), dating to 1377.

 The unrelated name Sixtus, meaning "sixth born" in Latin, was the name of five popes, two of whom became a saint. For the first (oldest) three, the spelling used was Xystus, dating to the 2nd century. As Xystus it may have meant "scraped, polished&q…