Saturday, February 9, 2013

Are Alexandra and Andrea Offensive to Women?

The potential problem I'm talking about is the Greek -andro element, which means "man." It can be seen in people names, medical terms and plant terms. Andrea and Alexandra are two popular baby names used that fit this description. (I would include Andromeda and Andromache in this, but they are extremely rare.)

I don't know if Americans were once highly interested in the meaning and origins of names and then became disinterested over time, or if only a small percentage were and still are interested. Early in our recording of name statistics, parents were naming their children largely based on tradition, religious beliefs and honoring family, so I don't think the meanings of Alexandra and Andrea were deal-breakers. How is it possible to find the logic behind every female ever named Alexandra, for example? It is nearly impossible to say with any certainty that X percent of people named Alexandra, or Andrea, had parents that knew -andra meant "man" and how that knowledge affected their ultimate decision.

Not to mention, what does this information mean to anyone now? Does anyone care that Alexandra means "defender of man/defending men?" Or that Andrea means "manly?" Since I've seen Andrea's meaning discussed on occasion, and noted that some find her meaning displeasing, even a deal-breaker, I believe meaning is important in today's culture, and someone out there cares. When faced with a decision between Andrea or Cassandra, which means "shining upon man," which would most parents today choose?

I know that Andrea meaning "manly" would be a turnoff for me when choosing a name, no matter what my reasoning or beliefs were, just as a name meaning "sickly," "mean," or "ugly" would be a turnoff. But personally, I could take Alexandra to not mean one single man, but mankind. Maybe if someone I dearly loved was named Andre or Alexander, the meaning of the feminine variants would be much less noteworthy to me. I wonder if Alexandra's past and present popularity (historical namesakes and a current rank at #76) negate the meaning. She is considered a timeless classic. Andrea, which is not far behind at #81, is not exactly considered a timeless classic, but she has been quite popular. And Cassandra, which has a more pleasant meaning, ranks much lower at #411.

So I ask, are the names Alexandra and Andrea offensive to women, and would the meanings of Alexandra and Andrea deter you from using them?

10 comments:

  1. I'm not actually that keen on female names based on male names (or male ones based on female ones).

    It does seem a bit of a puzzle having a girl's name like Andrea or Charlotte that means "man"; I have seen some websites say that because thye have been feminised, they now mean "womanly, woman" (???!).

    I think Alexandra actually came before Alexander though - it's an epithet of the goddess Hera.

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  2. Oh, and congratulations on the new site - I love the title!

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  3. To me "defender of man" means "defender of manKIND" and I have a feeling it is meant to have this meaning. Man after all does have 2 meanings. Man and mankind.

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    1. In the Greek roots, there is a distinction. Andros is "man", as in someone with a penis. Anthros is mankind, humanity, etc.

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  4. Not sure how giving a female a name that means "man" is any different (or more offensive) than giving a female a name that ends in "son" like Madison.

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  5. My name is Andrea. I recall reading somewhere when I was a child that it meant "having attributes of a man." It doesn't seem negative at all to me. I actually quite like the meaning of my name because I take it to mean that I can be strong enough to hang with or even overcome the men in my life. I think it helps that I am quite petite and feminine looking though; even if my name means "manly" I certainly don't look it! :)

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  6. Hi! Good topic. I personally don't like names that are used on girls but have strictly masculine meanings (this includes "-son" names).

    However, in the case of Alexandra, I feel it is commonly misunderstood. The Greek root in the first part of the name actually can be translated to more like "to ward off". The implication actually seems to be one who wards off (bad) men. Somewhere along the way it became more romanticized to "defender of man", or even "defender of mankind" (which would definitely be incorrect). Apparently there is also the possibility that Alexandra was in use before Alexander, which is a prospect I find very interesting!

    Curious where you get your meaning for Cassandra, though? It's one of my favorites and the meaning can be mysterious and highly disputed.

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  7. Like many names from the Middle Ages, Alexander may have actually been unisex (like Phillip). The name is from Alexandros, or alexo aner, meaning "defending men." (Source: Behind the Name, OED) I can quote K.M. Sheard on this as a non-internet source. You are right that "to ward off" was an alternate interpretation from which we get "defend." I've also seen Alexandra listed as an alternate name for Hera, and thus originally a female name. In fact, when looking at the information for Cassandra on thinkbabynames.com, it says as much. This is also one of the sources that lists Cassandra's meaning as "shining upon man." (Babynamespedia and Behind the Name are other sources, with the etymology as kekasmai, meaning "shining." The OED suggests the etymology is Proto Indo European (s)kand.)

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  8. i take it as man = mankind. up until recently he, him, & man were all the 'defaults' if you didnt know the gender of something.

    but in this age of physical men who are inside a women thats a lesbian - they are creating new terms such as zhe/ze so 'no one gets offended' if you call them a he and he doesnt feel thats what he should be called.

    its really gotten ridiculous. i believe the city of Seattle has had to change all signs and forms that use words like postman - spending thousands of tax payer dollars - to post 'person'.

    again to stop offending people....

    they are still working to find a 'neutral' word for 'manhole' covers....

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