Monday, March 15, 2010

The Name Game, Part 2


Hi, I’m Noah! This summer my wife and I are having twins. Someday, they will rule Poland.

I promised you I would say more about the process of baby naming. So it’s time for more on names.


Thank you.

Today I want to talk about sources, places to look for names for babies.

A great source for names, from a Western perspective, is the Bible. Good solid names that stand the test of time. People know them and they can spell them … sometimes.

Sidebar: When Michael Jackson died, practically every trending topic on Twitter was about him, including “Micheal Jackson,” spelled M-I-C-H-E-A-L. Yes, enough people were spelling the name wrong to make it a Trending Topic. Enough people cared enough about Michael Jackson to tweet about him, but didn’t know how to spell the name Michael, which is the most popular boy’s name of the last 20 years. Seriously America, there is a reason why this country is now a wholly owned subsidiary of the People’s Republic of China.

I like Bible names for, somewhat obvious reasons, though, when I tell people my name is Noah and my brother is named Abraham, they tend to assume we’re insane Biblethumpers who were home-schooled to believe that the one true path to heaven comes from eating buttermilk and barley sandwiches and shooting Mexicans on sight.

Yes, my brother is named Abraham. My mother’s father was the most lapsed of lapsed Jews, yet somehow he wound up with grandsons named Noah, Benjamin, Abraham, Samuel, Aaron, Daniel and Jeremiah. Conversely his granddaughters all have Jane Austen names Jane, Jessica, Emma, and Tessa.

Another good source for names is Shakespeare. Actually Shakespeare isn’t so great for boy’s names, since they either tend to be standard English names like John and Henry or impossibly fanciful fake Italian names like Prospero and Malvolio or dirty jokes like Falstaff and Pickledick.

There isn’t really any Shakespearean character named Pickledick, but there ought to be.

But Shakespeare is FULL of great girl’s names – Cordelia, Miranda, Viola, Rosalind, Cecily, Portia, Etcetera.

Etcetera isn’t the name of a Shakespearean woman, but it ought to be.

Then, of course, there’s family names. Now, for my own personal taste, I’m not a great fan of giving a child your own name, or that of any close relative who’s still alive. Actually, in the Jewish tradition it’s considered unlucky to name a child after a relative who’s still living. But if you go back a few generations on your family tree, you’ll probably find some good ones.

Of course, this gets into the problem of giving your child a name that seems like an old person name. But remember, these things are cyclical. In fifty years, everybody’s grandmother is going to be named Brittany or Tiffany. Does this mean all the little girls born in 2060 will be named Ethel and Prudence? I don’t know, maybe, but I could definitely see some old lady names like Rose or Clara come back. Remember that only a few years ago, Sophia was totally a grandma name, and now it’s the _________ most popular name for baby girls.

On the other hand, some old names are NEVER coming back into vogue. For example … Dorcas. Yes, that is a real name, a real woman’s name. It’s not a HAPPY woman’s name, of course. There’s a reason why the song doesn’t go “Who’s skipping down the streets of the city, smiling at everybody she sees? … Everyone knows it’s Dorcas.”

Still so much more to say about names. Do you have other good sources to find great baby names? Let me know.



  1. Hey Noah!
    Congratulations (times two, as everything in your life soon will be)!

    A great baby naming site I found while trying to name my third boy:
    Perhaps it will help!

    Love the blog!
    Be well.


  2. I'm surprised you didn't talk about all the really unusual names in the Bible... I actually met a toddler named Zepheniah. (He goes by Zeph.)

  3. Have you read the chapter in Freakonomics on names? They do all kinds of statistics based on a decade's worth of California birth records, which include a ton of information. Micheal [sic] is number 13 on the list of "The Twenty White Boy Names That Best Signify Low-Education Parents."

    Finnegan, incidentally, appears on the final, speculative list, "Most Popular Boys Names of 2015?"

  4. JESSICAFAIRY -- I like Nymbler! It reminds me of my favorite baby name book so far, The Baby Name Wizard (which also has a website at which I will now have to check out), because of the connections it makes.

    ALISON: Yeah, I may get into weirder Bible names in a later post.

    LIAM: I was just looking at that in a book store yesterday. I only had time for the first few pages, but it was fascinating. I'll try to get the whole book soon.

    Another book mentioned the trend of wacky spellings, like Alex-zander. I have to assume a very high percentage of these kids wind up using the traditional spellings down the road.

    Amanda and I really liked Finn as a name. But you went with Finnegan, and my cousin on my mom's side went with Phineas, so I think we're out of luck, there.