Ever wonder what the most popular and unpopular baby names are? And how certain people and places got their names? Or are you just looking for guidance in choosing your child’s name? ALL THOSE WONDERFUL NAMES is an amusing exploration of names, familiar words, phrases, and the stories behind their origins. From the common to the confounding, this book has it all. Hear the true stories behind the naming of tropical storms, cars, fictitious characters, major league baseball teams, and more. Find out the real names of celebrities, such as Elton John, Cher, Rip Torn, Cary Grant, Liberace, and Conway Twitty. Discover counties, towns, and cities with strange names like Difficult, Tennessee; Jiggs, Nevada; Virgin, Utah; and Bosom, Wyoming. Learn unusual names for newborns—and perhaps the origin of your own surname as well.
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About the Author
J.N. Hook has authored and co-authored more than thirty textbooks on the English language. A former professor of English at the University of Illinois, Professor Hook’s first book for the general public was the critically acclaimed THE GRAND PANJANDRUM, a study of rare, useful, and delightful words.
Read an Excerpt
All Those Wonderful Names
By J.N. Hook
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1991 J.N. Hook
All rights reserved.
Choosing Names For Girls Ballad of Beautiful Names
Emily, Rachel, Bernadette,
Ellen, Astrid, Fawn,
Cecilia, Tamar, Christabel,
Lolita, Inez, Dawn.
Marguerite, Rita, Angeline,
Keiko, Moira, Mae,
Corinne, Denise, May-Ree-Lynn,
Mahalia, Pauline, Faye.
Heidi, Haidee, Isabel,
Kathryn, Lucette, or Joy
(In Heaven yclept Euphrosyne).
Thank God you're not a boy.
Women Who Get into the Who's Whos
You hold your newborn daughter in your arms for the first time. Perhaps her father stands beside your hospital bed. You brush your lips across the baby's forehead and gaze adoringly, wonderingly, at her.
You say, "I wonder what she'll be like, what she'll become.
Will she be a great actress, dancer, teacher, politician, business person, industrial tycoon? Maybe she'll get into Who's Who."
"Maybe," your husband agrees. "A person doesn't have to be in Who's Who to be great, though. I'm not in it, and you're not, but you're great anyhow."
"I wonder if a girl's name helps to get her in or keep her out?"
"Probably not. It might be fun to browse in Who's Who in the library and see whether any first names keep popping up over and over. Does an unusual name help, or are Who's Who names like everybody else's?"
If you ever did look in Who's Who in the United States, Who's Who in Canada, or the British Who's Who, representative samplings of the names would look something like the following three lists. For each list, pages in a Who's Who were selected randomly, and women's names were recorded to a total of 250. (Men's names exceed women's by about 11 or 12 to 1, but that one-sided ratio is declining.)
Women listed in a 1989 or 1990 Who's Who were born, on average, in the 1930s. At that time, almost all the names on the previous list were also among the 50 most popular in the United States, with Mary, Barbara, Linda, Ruth, and Patricia ranking especially high.
But women with less popular birth names of that period certainly have not been shut out. Jane ("plain Jane," some people called her) has three entries, as the list shows, but relatively few girls were given that name in the 1930s (Dunkling, First Names First). Similar comments apply to many other names with only one or two appearances in the Who's Who sampling, for example, Cynthia, Daisy, Gilda, Leona, Manuela, Rebecca, Regina, Rosemarie, Sherry, Sandy, Violet. And women with still more uncommon names also got into Who's Who: Exina, Jhane (she's no plain Jane), Luginia, Mara, Maya, Otti, Selena, Vali. So unique Vali finds herself in the Peerage of Great Accomplishment alongside the much more numerous Barbaras and Elizabeths. It's not the name that brings the fame; it's what the girl becomes and the woman does.
Similar conclusions may be drawn from the names of Canadian and British women included in the pantheons of the famous.
In Canada, too, the most common names in the Who's Who list are not far different from those most popular in the country at large. But once more, much less popular names can be found in the bright red book: Adina, Alexia, Christilot, Inger, Iby, Milada....
Some grand old names there: The first four belonged to various queens and princesses. In the 1930s, those names also ranked high among non-Who's Who Britishers. So did Barbara, Joan, and some of the others.
But a British girl need not be named for a queen to be allowed through the gates with the other mighty. She might be—and has been—named Atarah, Chicele, Daphne, Elspeth, Felicity, Olwen, Olwyn, Psyche, Romola, or even Trixie. (What parents, peering at their newborn, could have supposed that their little Trixie would someday share pages with little girls named for queens?)
How to Avoid a Baby's Name You Dislike
Use tact. That's what one husband, Raymond Roberts, did.
His wife, Alice, said, "If the baby is a girl, let's call her Lana."
Raymond detested that name, but didn't want to argue.
"Great!" he said. "The first girl I ever dated seriously was named Lana. She was beautiful, intelligent, and sexy. I've always liked that name."
Alice was silent for a few moments and then said, "Of course, we should talk over some other possibilities. What do you think of Marie, or Claudette, or Melanie?"
A Book about Some Modern Trends
In 1988 Beyond Jennifer and Jason, by Linda Rosenkrantz and Pamela R. Satran, was published by St. Martin's Press. Unlike most books on selecting a baby's name, it does not discuss the ancestral meaning of a name, but rather describes current (1980s) attitudes toward hundreds of names.
Fifteen pages are devoted to names that celebrities chose for their children. Ted Danson has a daughter named Alexis, Kim Alexis has a son Jamie, but Jamie is also the name of a Joan Lunden daughter. Mia Farrow seems to be the most versatile in choice of names: the old-fashioned Daisy, Dylan (a girl), Fletcher (a boy), the ethnically mixed name Gigi Soon Yi, Matthew Phineas, Satchel, and the beautifully poetic Lark Song. The son of Susan St. James is Harmony. The daughter of Mick and Bianca Jagger is Jade. Charlene Tilton's daughter is Cherish, and Sonny and Cher raised eyebrows by naming their daughter Chastity. Sylvester Stallone's son is Sage Moon Blood.
But more traditional names far outnumber the unusual, even among celebrities. A few examples: Katharine (Jane Seymour), Mary and Stella (Paul and Linda McCartney), Matthew (Christopher Reeve), Rachel (Kathleen Turner), William and Hannah (Mel Gibson), and Benjamin Simon (Carly Simon and James Taylor).
Rosenkrantz and Satran are interested not only in name-styles of the rich and famous. For example, they combine into one list the birth names most popular in five states: California, New York, Oregon, Tennessee, and Wisconsin. They report that in these states the ten most popular girls' names were, in order, Jessica, Amanda, Ashley, Jennifer, Sara(h), Nicole, Megan, Stephanie, Elizabeth, and Heather.
New York City's Favorite Given Names
In 1988 Jessica was the name most often given to New York City's newborn girls. Jessica supplanted Jennifer, which had been the leader since 1972. Other girls' names high on the list during the seventies and eighties, but changing order frequently, were Melissa, Nicole, Michelle, Elizabeth, Stephanie, Lisa, Tiffany, Amanda, Ashley, Samantha, Christina, and Danielle—sometimes in variant forms such as Christine, Kristin, or Daniella.
Among boys born in the late eighties, Michael led in popularity as usual (ever since 1963). Other favorites of the seventies and eighties, in shifting order, were Christopher, David, John, Joseph, Anthony, Jason, Daniel, Robert, Jonathan, Matthew, Andrew, and James.
In those lists, Michelle, Stephanie, Christina, and Danielle are feminine forms of the biblical names Michael, Stephen, Christ (ian), and Daniel. Samantha, Elizabeth, and its derivative, Lisa, also are rooted in the Bible. The boys' names based on the Bible are Christopher, David, Joseph, John, Daniel, Jonathan, Andrew, Matthew, and James.
Almost a hundred years ago, the biblical influence in New York City name-giving was about equally evident in the most-chosen names. In the following lists of the 1898 leaders, Bible-based names are italicized:
Girls—Mary, Catherine, Margaret, Annie, Rose, Marie (variant of Mary), Esther, Sarah, Frances, Ida
Boys—John, William, Charles, George, Joseph, Edward, James, Louis, Francis, Samuel
Adams without Eves
In Oregon Health Trends for April 1987, Joseph D. Carney, state registrar, reported on a sad state of affairs in the naming of Oregon children: "Romance in 1986 seemed to be one-sided. There were 16 Tristans, but alas, no Isolde; 183 Adams but no Eve; one Romeo and not a Juliet; one Samson but no Delilah!"
Rosenkrantz and Satran, the authors of Beyond Jennifer and Jason, prepared a list, based on their own impressions, of about a hundred girls' names they describe as "feminissima," saying that "If these names were dresses, they would be pale pink, with ruffles and lace and big bows and sprigs of flowers.... They are the sweetest of the sweet."
Examples: Adora, Allegra, Camilla, Cherie, Desiree, Giselle,
Heather, Lacey, Melody, Priscilla, Serena, Tiffany, Yvette.
The authors rate such names as Annette, Elena, and Margo as feminine but not feminissima.
If You Were a Girl in Old London
Back in the London of the eleventh to fourteenth centuries, the chances that a girl's or woman's name would be Edith was greater than for any other name, although it often was spelled with y instead of i, or with a finale.
If you weren't named Edith, the chances of having one of the following names was also fairly good, each with variant spellings: Alice, Amice, Emma, Isabel (la), Jocelyn, Johanna, Katherine, Laura, Margery, Maud, and Yvonne.
Most other female names of the period have vanished or now are disguised somewhat. Estrilda is only infrequently found today, as are Godeva or Godiva, although the suggestion of nudity makes the latter rare. Etheldreda has lost its second half (the first means 'noble'). Aedeleva may survive as Adelaide. The now unusual Aldith or Aldeth was spelled with a final a in the Middle Ages.
There seem to be few or no survivors of many other names of the early period, such as Alueua, Godid, Godgifu 'God's gift,' Goldcorna, Gun(n)ilda 'battle helmet,' Gonona, Leofdaeg 'love day,' Reganilda (an older form of Regan, King Lear's daughter in Shakespeare's play), Saefaru 'seafarer,' Swanhild 'swan war,' Swetleofu 'sweet love,' T(h)urgund, and Wulfgifu 'wolf gift.'
Late in the fourteenth century, Londoner Geoffrey Chaucer wrote his Canterbury Tales. Because of the subject matter, most of the names he used came from either Greek and Roman sources or the Bible. He did, however, use some women's names that reflected his own time. The lascivious Wife of Bath and the carpenter's unfaithful wife were both named Alys (equivalent to Alice or Alison), a nun was Madame Eglantine, and Jill was a housemaid. Maudy was another adulterous wife, but Griselda was unbelievably patient and completely virtuous. Maia (May) was married to January (with the usual unhappy results). Other Chaucerian names representative of his time include Mag, Custance (Constance), Susanna, Lady Donegild, Prudence, Sophia, Mabely, Elpheta, Canace, and Dorigen. (Incidentally, a ewe in one story was Moll, and a hen was Pertelote—whose companion was called by the traditional rooster's name, Chanticlere.)
The Most Popular Names for English and Welsh Girls (since 1925)
In England and Wales, girls' names fluctuate much more in popularity than do boys' names, and also more than girls' or boys' names in the United States. No single girls' name has ranked in the top ten in each of the years 1925, 1950, 1965, 1975, and 1981. In fact, very few have remained among the top 50 for each of those years (surprisingly, not even Mary, although Elizabeth has bounced about between 23d and 43d).
Here are the top ten for 1925, 1975, and 1981, according to Leslie Dunkling's First Names First:
1925 1975 1981
Dorothy Joanna Rebecca
Kathleen Rachel Rachel
Laura / Michelle (tie)
In the 1975 and 1981 lists, note the interesting mixture of biblical names (Rachel, Rebecca, Sarah), "elderly" or "middle-aged" names (Emma, Helen, Joanne, Victoria), and "relatively modern" (Claire, Nicola, Lisa, Kelly, and Gemma), the last perhaps deriving from "Solo," a then-popular British TV series in which Gemma was the lead character.
How About Etta Candy Barr?
Thomas Pyles, a noted linguist and student of Americana, must have had fun when he wrote for the magazine Names an article about his beloved Southland: "Bible Belt Onomastics or Some Curiosities of Anti-Pedobaptist Nomenclature" (1959). He listed a number of pairings of given and last names that, in combination, proved amusing. The following are taken from his longer list:
Candy Barr (also the stage name of Bunker Hill
a famous stripper)
Early Hawaiian McKinnon
Dill L. Pickle (who sold pickles)
Pamela Gay Day
H. L. Mencken's Unusual Names for Girls
In The American Language and its Supplement Two, H. L. Mencken, that great collector of oddities of the American language, listed several hundred girls' names that were found in newspapers of the 1930s and 1940s, mainly in the South and Southwest. Here are some of the especially remarkable ones:
Maria Endamile Jaann
Buena Vista Exum
Charlton Laird, in Language in America, adds the following:
Kitty Bit Satire
Delyte (also a name
Lance Amorus Tyty
for men, one of whom became a university president) Mary Sunshine
Leslie Dunking's First Names First credits George Hubbard, a New York name collector, with finding these and many other strange-sounding full names. Note how much difference a middle name can make. Some of them show that almost any name that suggests a verb may cause problems.
Do Teachers Favor Conformists?
Herbert Harari, a psychologist at the University of California in San Diego, made a study in 1973 of whether children's first names affect the grades that teachers give.
Eight essays said to be of identical quality were duplicated and given to 80 fifth- and sixthgrade teachers to evaluate. Four of the papers bore names considered ordinary: Michael, David, Karen, and Lisa. The other four had less common names: Elmer, Hubert, Bertha, and Adelle.
Michael and David outscored Elmer and Hubert by a full letter grade. Karen and Lisa outscored Bertha by a small margin—a point and a half. Adelle's grades were reported as "not significantly lower."
Like other such research, this study should not be considered conclusive unless confirmed by further investigations.
Who could be more trustworthy than a young woman named Virtue Innocent?
Sad to say, this nineteenth-century woman was found guilty of short-weighting the customers in her shop.
Why Freelove Didn't Last
Although most Puritans had such ordinary given names as Mary and William, some parents liked to emphasize their religious convictions through the names they gave their children. A male might go through life as Persistence even if he gave up easily, and Preserved 'saved' was sometimes teamed with an unsuitable surname, as was true of one Preserved Puddifoot.
Compound or hyphenated names were somewhat less common: Everlasting-Mercy or Avoid-Illness. Gary Jennings, for his Personalities of Language, found these names in a 1658 jury panel list: Faint-Not Hewett, Stand-Fast-on-High Stringer, Search-the-Scriptures Moreton, Fly-Debate Roberts, and Be-of-Good-Comfort Small.
Jennings adds: "One poor girl was baptized Through-Much-Tribulation-We-Enter-into-the-Kingdom-of-Heaven Crabb. Her friends called her Tribby."
Among the jury panelists not mentioned by Jennings were Repentant Hazel, The-Work-ofGod Farmer, Be-Thankful Playnard, God-Reward Smart, More-Fruit Flower, Fight-theGood-Fight-of-Faith White, and Hope-for Bending.
Other Puritan names, likely to be masculine but sometimes feminine, include Thankful, Submit, Godly, Faynt-Not, Experience, Sorry-for-Sin, Tamesin (Tame Sin), and Prosper (short for Prosper-Thy-Works). Increase Mather, the son of one prominent Puritan pastor and the father of another, made Increase a familiar given name in his day.
Two men whose last names originally may have been Barbon perhaps inevitably found it corrupted to Barebone. One of them was Jesus-Christ-Came-into-the-World-to-Save Barebone; the other, If-Christ-Had-Not-Died-for-Thee-Thou-Hadst-Been-Damned Barebone. The latter, it is said, was called Damned Barebone for short.
Some girls were named Faith or Faithful, Faith-My-Joy, Hope, Gracious, Charity, Prudence (a favorite), Blessing, Comfort, Constant or Constancy, Felicity, Virtue, Diligence, and Obediencia. Flora Loughead's Dictionary of Given Names has this to say about another name:
Freelove ... This name was bestowed upon girls of highly respected New England families in late Puritan days, evidently through a misconception of the practices advocated by the apostles of its creed; but enlightenment evidently came, for within a few years it was discarded abruptly.
Excerpted from All Those Wonderful Names by J.N. Hook. Copyright © 1991 J.N. Hook. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsPart I: The Names People Give Their Defenseless Children,
Chapter 1. Choosing Names For Girls Ballad of Beautiful Names,
Chapter 2. Choosing Names for Boys,
Chapter 3. Fads and Fancies in Bestowing (or Inflicting) Names,
Chapter 4. The Ups and Downs of Jane, and the Rise and Fall of Irene,
Chapter 5. Were You Born in the 1950s?,
Chapter 6. The Troubles of Job,
Chapter 7. Choosing a Name for Your Baby,
Chapter 8. The Names We Inherit,
Chapter 9. America Entered the War, and the Muellers Became Millers,
Chapter 10. Some Jewish Family Names,
Chapter 11. Names of African-Americans,
Chapter 12. Names from the British Isles Those Good Old English Names,
Chapter 13. The National Origins of Some of Our Surnames,
Chapter 14. Some Other Sources of Surnames Misleading Surnames,
Chapter 15. Wonderful People with Strange-Sounding Names,
PART II: We Name Almost Every Place We Know,
Chapter 16. The Continents and the States,
Chapter 17. How Places Get Their Names,
Chapter 18. Whimsy and Humor,
Chapter 19. Naming in the Wilds,
Chapter 20. Improper (?) Names,
Chapter 21. On the Big Apple and Smaller Apples,
Chapter 22. This Is a Lovely Little Town, Wasn't It?,
Chapter 23. Changing Times, Changing Names,
PART III: Still More of These and a Few of Those,
Chapter 24. Still More of These Early Automobiles,
Chapter 25. ... and a Few of Those,