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Showing posts from December, 2017


Tana River, Kenya (source)

Tana can be pronounced TAH-nah or TAN-uh, whichever you prefer. It can be a short form of Tanya or Tatiana in Russian, which comes from the Roman cognomen Tatius and is assumed to mean "from the house of Tatius," however could mean "I arrange" or "founder." It is also an Anglicized spelling of Arabic Thana, meaning "praise." It can even be a nickname for Tiziana, from Titus, Latin meaning "honored."

In the arts Tana is a character in The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black, a reporter in the Superboy comics, and a video game character in Fire Emblem. In real life there is Cayetana "Tana" Ramsey, wife of Gordon Ramsey, Czech actress Tana Ficherova, Thai footballers Tana Sripandum and Tana Chanabut, children's book author Tana Hoban, and Irish novelist Tana French. There's also a Gujarati (Indian) legend about twins Tana and Riri, born around 1564, who commited suicide in refusing to sing…

Alvis & Elvis

Some might expect that the popularity of Elvis would've died down decades after 'The King' made it a household name, but it's still ranking on the top 1000 (although it will only be a year or two before it falls off). That means some parents are still looking for something similar but not as common, and that's where Alvis (AL-viss) comes in. This Scandinavian boy's name meaning "all wise" from the word alwiss is a truer form of Elvis, both likely coming from the same origin.

Alviss was the dwarf who courted Thor's daughter, but Thor was not happy with the arrangement and put a sad end to it. Alvis Darby was an American football player. Alvis Edgar Owens Jr. was the birth name of musician Buck Owens. Hayes Alvis was a jazz musician. Max Alvis was a Major League baseball player. It's also been used in two video games and an anime.

Alvis is really only used in Sweden, Norway and Denmark, where it is not common. While the spelling Alviss has not …


Damiana herb

Damiana (dah-mee-AH-nah) is a girl's baby name meaning "to tame" in Greek, making it the female version of Damian. It was given to 22 girls in 2016, and although it has been used since 1915, the most it was ever given was 33 times in a year, making it very rare. This is a little hard to believe considering the popularity of Damian, which currently sits pretty at #123, with Damien at #279. Damia (DAH-mee-uh) is another girl's option, except she was a Greek nature goddess - a "Hora," which meant a season personified. Damia is used a little bit more, given to 40 girls in 2016, but she's only been used since 1971. In Greek, Damia comes from da, "earth," and maia, "nursing mother." Damia was another name for the goddess Demeter.

Damia is a place in Jordan, the stage name of Marie-Louise Damien, and a 1992 novel by Anne McCaffrey.

Damiana is a plant, Turnera diffusa, with pretty yellow blooms. It is native to Texas, Mexico, C…


Knights of the Round Table

Lucan (LUU-kahn) is a boy's baby name from Arthurian legend. Sir Lucan was a Knight of the Round Table, son of Duke Corneus, brother of Sir Bedivere and cousin of Sir Griflet. He was in charge of the royal court as part of his duties in Camelot. In these stories, Lucan stays by Arthur's side until the very end of their lives, and he was consider endlessly loyal and reliable. Ironically, Arthur Lucan was an English actor (1885 - 1954).

Another namesake was known as Lucan in English, but his full name was Marcus Annaeus Lucanus, grandson of Seneca the Elder. In Latin, Lucan is simply a version of Luke and Lucas, from the Roman cognomen Lucanus. Lucanus means "from Lucania," an ancient Roman city, the name of which derived from Greek loukas, meaning "white," cognate with the Latin word lux, meaning "light." Lucania itself has been used a few times as a girl's baby name, as have the personal names Lucano and Lucana. The…

Chariton & Charis

Charis anius

Chariton (KAR-ih-ton), male, and Charis (KAR-iss), female, both mean "grace" in Greek. It is from these that we get the names Carissa and Charisma, and Haris (not to be confused with Harris).

Chariton of Aphrodisias was a 1st century Greek novelist. Saint Chariton the Confessor was a Christian saint native to Iconium.

Charis is a fictional nation in the Safehold series by David Weber. Charis is a metalmark butterfly genus in the species Riodinini. In Greek mythology, a Charis is one of the Charites - goddesses of grace, beauty, charm and feminine warmth. Charis was given to 70 girls in 2016, slowing down a bit in use since its high of 127 girls in 2006. It has been used in the U.S. since 1924.

Charissa and Carissa are much more well known than Charis, and yet they're still pretty uncommon. If you look at the statistics for Carissa, she shoots straight up from 8 girls in 1053 to 1157 girls given the name in 1992, then straight back down to a mere 126 in 2016.…


Embla and Ask were the first humans created by Odin, Vili, and Ve, three gods in the Old Norse pantheon. Embla was carved from an alder tree and Ask was carved from an ash tree. Their story is found in the Poetic Edda and Prose Edda. Embla (EM-bluh) sounds a bit like the word emblem, giving it a shiny nobility sort of feel. Contrary to popular belief, there is no "blah" sound in it. The last three lettters are like you're going to say "blush." It is used in Norway, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, and Iceland (where it last ranked #7 in 2015). However, there are no U.S. statistics. Most believe her meaning is "elm tree," from Old Norse almr, but no one is quite certain. Another suggested meaning is "vine," and with that meaning the name has been connected to the Persian version of the Adam and Eve story, who were also made from trees. It is very possible that because this mythology is so old, something got lost in translation or throughout the yea…


This Anglo-Saxon place name would also work quite well as a baby name for girls. The English kingdom of Mercia, which was part of a heptarchy during the 8th century, derived from the Old English word merce, meaning "border people," also found as mryce and mierce. It is ultimately from a root word meaning "boundary." The kingdom was independent from the 6th century to the 9th century. Mercia is typically pronounced mer-SEE-uh.

Sometimes this name is found as a variant of Mercy and pronounced mer-SEE-uh, but it may have also been a variant of Marsha and pronounced MER-sha. As for namesakes, Mercia MacDermott was a writer of Bulgarian history, and Mercia Deane-Johns is an Australian actress.

Mercia is a very rare baby name in the U.S. In 2016 it was only given to 5 girls, and although it has been used every now and again since 1918, it has never been given more than 9 times in a year.


Rochester Castle in Kent

Place-name meets preppy bookworm, the Old English name Rochester is a bit of Chester and a bit of a handsome classic like Robert, Rockwell or Roderick. In England, -chester/cester is a suffix meaning "fort, soldier camp." It comes from Latin castrum, dating back to ancient Roman times. Therefore the boy's name Chester means "soldier camp," and Rochester means "stone fortress." It seems like using Rochester is a perfect way to honor a Chester in the family tree, or Chester or Chet could be Rochester's nickname.

Most are familiar with the city of Rochester, NY or Rochester, MI, but there are several more place names in the U.S. and abroad. Namesakes include Rochester Van Jones in "The Jack Benny Program," Rochester Neal of "The Dixie Nightingales" band, musician Rochester Fosgate, and four songs with Rochester in the title. As a surname it is not uncommon. There are also the titles Baron and Earl of Roch…


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 Wellin…

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…