Thursday Dances: Bookish Christenings

Having long subscribed to the view that it’s preposterous to plot out first names for one’s entirely hypothetical children without having any idea what surname would be appended thereto, I have not, to be frank, spent a lot of time choosing any.

But I will confess a particular weakness where names are concerned, dear reader, and that is finding out what names mean.  Because my name is a common noun, capitalized, I took to translating it into other languages; any given Solo cup would read “Alegría” on one side and “Freude” on the other and “Alassë” for thoroughness on a third.  On finding that any other name could also be translated once one discovered its meaning, I figured out that my brothers’ names meant “little,” “martial,” and “gift of God,” respectively (and, more importantly, that in Quenya I could call them Pityon, Carnildo, and Eruntalon).

Not only so, but my friends evidently embody such traits as: song; earth-digger; grace; pure; pure; pure; Christian; Christian; honey/dark/we were never quite sure; reborn; powerful leader; little king; princess; reaper; commander of armies.  …there are, you may deduce, a number of Katherines.

However, the Meme does not care how my friends call themselves; the Meme demands to know how my children will be named despite there being, as yet, no sire for them.  So here’s my best assay:

The Princess BrideWesley – Old English, “dweller of a western meadow” – which might be especially false if the family ends up on the Eastern seaboard.  Where he shall become a Dread Pirate.  Muahaha.

The Ballad of the White HorseColan – Gaelic, “people’s victory” (or, depending whom you ask, “dove”) – Man shall not taste of victory / Till he throws his sword away.  And I’d have people remember that.  My only concern is the potential for misfortune should people render my poor son’s name as “Colon;” at best, it’s a punctuation mark.

The Chronicles of NarniaEdmund – Old English, “wealthy protector” – Thalia and I might have to duke it out for this one.  Everyone wishes there were a wealthy protector in their family, right?

In the Hall of the Dragon KingQuentin – Latin, “fifth” – Totally picked this before reading Thalia’s post the other day; Quentin went from weedy acolyte to SWORD-FORGER, which is my favorite part of Lawhead’s work.  Possibly dubious name-wise if I don’t have 5 children…but perhaps more reasonable than Septimus, which also appeals to me despite it being the name of a blood-spilling, power-hungry uncle in Stardust

Ender’s ShadowNikolai – Greek, “people’s victory” – Should we not ask the people who think Colan means dove, this might put me in the peculiar position of having sons named with the same meaning (whatever, man, I bet there’s a family somewhere with sons named John, Matthew, Nathaniel, and Theodore).  But Colan is a sword-flinger whereas Nikolai is a brother among brothers.  We just won’t shorten their names lest the “col” root confuse anyone.

And for the ladies:

Howl’s Moving Castle
Sophie – Greek, “wisdom” – More desirable than rubies.

That Hideous Strength Camilla – Latin/Italian, “young servant” – Is it bizarre to name a daughter for a character who likes weather?  Very well, then, I shall be bizarre.

The Winter’s Tale (and nothing else ever, no nothing, nothing at all) – Hermione – Greek, “messenger” or “earthly” or “travel” or “something else related to Hermes” – I can’t actually name a child this.  No one can pronounce Hermione on the first go-around, and Hermione of myth and plays does not, in my estimation, have the happiest of lots.  But it’s an awfully pretty name when said correctly.

The OdysseyPenelope – Greek, “weaver” – Hopefully people will address her without rhyming her name with “antelope.”  Plus the name’s practically synonymous with fidelity.  Yay!

Gaudy Night et al. – Harriet – Old German, “home-ruler” – Obviously this cannot be the only Germanic name I come up with, but for right now, it sounds reassuringly solid.


Heaven only knows what surname they’ll work with.

51 thoughts on “Thursday Dances: Bookish Christenings

  1. “My only concern is the potential for misfortune should people render my poor son’s name as “Colon;” at best, it’s a punctuation mark.”
    that would be my worry too. Harry is a family name on my father’s side, and in the Americanization of it, the connotations are unpleasant, though not quite on the level of Colon… Alas for homophones!

    I also have a great fondness for Septimus, though given my current age, seven children is highly unlikely. I like the number, though, so I might be able to get away with it regardless. If nothing else, there will have to be a Septimus in at least one of my stories. I decree it.

    “I can’t actually name a child this. No one can pronounce Hermione on the first go-around, and Hermione of myth and plays does not, in my estimation, have the happiest of lots. But it’s an awfully pretty name when said correctly.”
    You had me laughing here. 🙂

    • Other things to consider: what the initials would spell. Say I wed one Mr. Weasley, had a son named Colan, and then gave him the middle name Arthur or Owen. The boy would be CAW or COW forever! Cruel. Perhaps stories would be the best place to either audition or offload names…that gives one plenty of chances to learn which Greek names Americans can’t handle!

      • There are some eventualities one cannot foresee, but it’s nice if parents put in the effort. In my own circle, I know a few name-corruptions or associations that were quite unexpected.

        With stories, I feel free and happy to use all sorts of names I wouldn’t give to my child, provided the characters don’t object. …which leads me inevitably to a possible flaw in this meme question. How many authors, over the ages, have used names in their stories because they liked the ring of them but didn’t want to give them to children?

      • Haha! We may never know. I nearly protested that early morality tales used straight-up allegorical names, but later authors tend to combine sound and sense…hmmm…

        I’ve also just remembered that I’m having difficulty with one of my stories because of some trouble with the language question – the “okay, so if they’re from different planets/races/etc. how can the different flavour of their respective tongues be represented in English?” issue. No idea how to name the antagonist.

  2. Another factor to keep in mind when naming children is not only the surname, but the opinion of the father. 😉

    I do like Sophie (and Howl’s Moving Castle), but I agree that Hermione is unusuable, but more so because of the association than the pronunciation. Not that there’s anything wrong with the character of Hermione (although I’ve never been a big fan of hers), but the Harry Potter saga is so ingrained in our culture now, I think, that it would be a bit too frustrating for the child.

    (Side note: I actually heard Hermione used before Harry Potter. Not in any other work of literature, but in an episode of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.”)

    • I certainly believe fathers have opinions – my own father named his four children with monosyllabic “Bible names” (a bit of a stretch where I’m concerned, but whatever) – but hopefully they don’t get *too* far into left field (…hopefully I’m not the pot being too hypocritical to the kettle just now). You would not believe the names one of my friends supposedly has picked out for his progeny.

      Yeah…ohhhh Hermione. I wish it hadn’t been rendered unusable, but then, without HP, I might not be so fond of it.

  3. Ah yes. I’ve struggled with that too. In my current work I have effectively said “to heck with it,” but that’s not always the best choice. Are you dealing with differences between groups within the story world, or their differences from our world?

    • Both, I suppose, but more the former than the latter…I was attempting to set up an environment utterly unlike Earth because, I mean, if it were just like Earth…..then why bother saying it’s somewhere else?

      But “to heck with it” may win out ^_^

      • Because you don’t want to monkey around with our history or present-day culture?
        But I think I get where you are coming from. I am all for wildly alien worlds so long as the story itself can hold its own against its setting. The primary world I write about has both startling similarities and startling differences from Earth.

        Anyway. Differentiating between languages and cultures in-story… if you aren’t capable of creating languages like Tolkien, you can at least appropriate the forms/trappings of existing Earth languages, and if anyone questions your doing so, just say “it’s simply a way of expressing the differences in their languages,” which is perfectly true and valid. While suspension of disbelief can be pushed too far (I may be testing those boundaries anon), the very fact that you are writing about different worlds in English opens up all kinds of fair-game possibilities.

        I may not say “to heck with it” in all my stories, but the current expression of my WIP was born of my realization that “write what you know” can apply to the fantasy genre as strongly as to any other. 🙂

      • Weirdly, it’s simpler than that; it’s less about culture and more about…climate. Oddly. And indeed, appropriating trappings from extant languages is my preferred method. I just need to spend more time on it. I’d rather not have a story wherein Protagonist = western European and Antagonist = African/Asian/etc. The fact is, the story contains beings radically unlike each other, beyond the differences between any groups of men.

  4. “There being, as yet, no sire for them.” That line inspired a snickery sort of snort from me. XD

    Molti anni fa, (many years ago) I felt hurt when my mother laughed at me for pronouncing Penelope in just the way you described. I was hurt because that most excellent system of spelling and phonetics which she used in my home school education specifically taught that the silent e at the end of a word “jumps over” the consonant and makes the penultimate vowel “say it’s name.” Obviously, all those Greek names fall under a long list of “non-English exceptions.”

    And speaking of surnames… My friends and I had the devious/dubious idea to name our daughters such that they had two middle names and the first three initials H.M.S. so that their future suitors would be required to ask permission to assume command of the HMS (Surname). Probably a very inadvisable name choice, but funny!

    And names forever colored by fiction: I used to very much like the name Edward (well, still do), but ’tis now rather permanently associated with Eddie “Douchebag” Cullen. Yes, when I refer to him, I feel required to use his full name. Actually, my violin is Edward BUT A DIFFERENT ONE. Ed Elric (and my sister’s cello is Alphonse).

      • From the RiffTrax of Breaking Dawn (brought to us by the guys of MST3K): “Bella and Jacob have been among the top baby names for the last several years. Will you people please STOP DOING THAT?”

      • Thankfully, I have an excellent boss named Edward to color over Mr. Cullen. However, said boss has a son named Eddie, one of whose sons is named Eddie; said boss also has a daughter named Katie ENGAGED to an Eddie who has a sister named Katie.

        Good luck following all that; the upshot is that there are far too many Edwards to keep them all straight, and a fair smattering of Katies to boot.

        Thankfully, etymology provides other names that mean “beautiful” besides Bella. Hooray etymology!

        PS, should Alfred have made the list instead of Colan? Discuss.

    • That H.M.S. idea…is actually really awesome. Okay, perhaps a tad cruel to the child, if they didn’t end up being huge fans of Gilbert & Sullivan or British naval history, but still awesome.

      I’m torn on the name Penelope. It could be taken as nerdy, or as pretty. And the character is a truly excellent one.

      • I am attempting to think of HMS names that would actually work. Hannah Maria Samantha? Heidi Monica Stephanie?
        Hillary Megan Sandra? It sounds cool but not yet enticing…

        Between Dr. Horrible’s Singalong Blog and Big Bang Theory, I wonder if Penny (“a notorious domesticity for Penelope!”) isn’t the stock name for The Girl All the Nerdy Guys Want. Hmmm.

  5. I wanted to name a child “Sophia Grace”, until I learned that is in the top ten most popular children’s names. My kid will have a unique name, darn it! (But not Unique.)

    And on the not of initials, I have always wanted to do something clever with that, but as I am not sure what the last name of children will be I cannot plan ahead. Sadly . . . . but as an example, my brother’s initials are O.G.R.E. He is aware of how awesome that is.

    • I’m determined not to fret about how many other people happen to like the same names as me…I spent my schooldays surrounded by Christinas, Kelseys, Sarahs, and Katherines, and on account of Pityon, I keep meeting more and more Theresas. But most everything else is fair game.

  6. Character-wise, Colan is a bit mad, which is a plus, if you ask me, but Alfred has less unfortunate mispronunciations. I know someone named Korns. His childhood was rough.

      • I always felt that maiden names should be preserved in middle names (unless they’re a surname that doubles as a first name – Thomas or James or the like). Then one can take or leave them…

  7. Climate has such a profound effect on culture, though I suspect you know that very well. 🙂

    Yes indeed, such things are tricky, but given the wealth of languages and cultures in this world, it should not be too difficult to come up with something ambiguous enough not to be mistaken for a slight on a real-world culture, and yet distinct enough to serve its purpose in the story. Also “dead” languages can be a good source, as far as they go.

    On the other hand, there are ways of describing truly alien languages without the baggage of extant languages. Describing accents, or patterns of speaking can go a long way. I have a friend who has an extremely-rapidly-speaking race, who punctuate their speech with extra words in order to slow themselves down enough to be understood by other races. It’s quite interesting and effective.

    • That’s true! I should learn me some Proto-Indo-European roots ^_~.

      Your friend sounds like a bagpipe tune (specifically, a fast hornpipe). …which I’ll bet isn’t a comparison you expected to see XD. That’s a great point! Reminds me of Entish, somehow.

      • Hahaha! Nay, she doesn’t speak like that, some of her written characters do. I expect those characters would consider your comparison a high compliment, though. 🙂

        Let’s not be hasty.

        Anyhow, you’ll figure it out. I just spent around two months beating my head against walls for being stuck on part of a story, and last evening it finally came to me. These things have a way of working out on their own schedule, much to the torment of we writers.

  8. You should have said “I presume we paragons of phemininity protest against pushing our progeny to “meritorious defiance,” as pleasing as I phind that phrase.”
    Then you would have had… wait… is that ten?
    I think I should get coffee now. It is way too early for that much alliteration.

  9. I have both a friend and a cousin who named their respective sons after Westley from The Princess Bride. That’s actually pretty decent as literary names go. The meaning is pleasantly poetic, and doesn’t bind the boy to a particular legacy.

    I’ve always thought Nikolai is a really cool name, though I’d have a hard time justifying naming a kid that unless my wife had a lot of Eastern European, Russian, or Greek heritage. Nicholas is a good name, too, even though my childhood friend Nick was a wild and crazy guy.

    Sophie and Sophie are beautiful names, too! They sound very dainty, but I do think the child often ends up defining the name.

    Hermione in my mind is too linked to Harry Potter; it is kind of pretty when contemplated on its own and if pronounced in a certain way, but it can also have a rather grating, high-pitched sound in many an American accent.

    Ah, I didn’t know Harriet had that meaning! That’s pretty cool.

    Actually, I sort of envy women regarding surnames, because you have some modicum of choice in what surname you and your children will bear. Me, I’m stuck with my sudden, solid German surname that is a difficult fit for many good first names!

    • “Actually, I sort of envy women regarding surnames, because you have some modicum of choice in what surname you and your children will bear. Me, I’m stuck with my sudden, solid German surname that is a difficult fit for many good first names!”

      Ah, not so much… it isn’t really a choice.
      Granted, in this day we can choose not to take his name, but our children will have it all the same.
      If I ever marry, I fear I will miss my family’s surname. It’s German too, and has a horrible meaning, but it’s mine and I’m fond of it.

      • I’d take a bad name for a good man, but if it was really bad, I might still keep my maiden name! Who knows. This is a moot point at the moment.

      • Not that you’d choose a man by his name, but only in the sense that your surname will change. Mine never will. Which isn’t all a bad thing — it’s part of my identity, after all, my connection to my family, and I don’t want to throw it off. But it’s not an easy surname for name-fittings.

        We’re all lucky to have the option of middle names, and even multiple middle names. Much can be amended therein! I particularly think it’d be cool to string together names whose meanings would then form some kind of sentence or even cooler phrase.

      • I have a friend who, before she married into a different surname, was S. Renee’ Rauch. Translated, her name meant “Princess Reborn Smoke” – she snuck an “of” in there to make it Princess Reborn of Smoke, as though she were some manner of phoenix ^_^

      • Oh of course, I don’t mean to diminish the sacrifice women are called on to make. Hopefully we future husbands will be considerate enough to make accommodations for preserving the maiden name in middle names, should our wives desire it. I had a prof who had combined his surname with his wife’s surname to form a new made-up surname, and they adopted that legally for them both. Personally, I think that’s going too far and I wouldn’t recommend it, but the idea is sort of neat. Problem is their new name doesn’t actually mean anything!

        ‘Psichore, that’s one cool name meaning!

      • I didn’t think you meant to diminish that, but I wanted to point it out, as it is something that has troubled me in the past. With combining last names, in a way both names are lost! And that can be a bit sad too. No, I do not object, on principle, to taking a husband’s name, but I am unwilling to lose any of mine in the process, with the result that, if I ever do marry, I will end up with four names, three of which are surnames (as my middle name is another lost family surname!). Admittedly, that thought amuses me a bit.

    • Alack, pretty much any surname beginning with a vowel makes my full name into one huge diphthong. Awkward times, man. I once thought I’d recognize my future husband by virtue of his name fitting well with mine…but one never knows. XD

      • Nope, indeed! I’ve known some very happily married women with very unfortunate names. All told, I would take a bad name for a good man. 🙂

      • HMS names: Helen Mae Sophie, which is all the better because my grandmother is a Helen Mae. Though actually I have no real plans of naming my future daughter HMS.

    • Let’s face it, David: As a man, you’re stuck upholding the family name, will ye or nill ye. We women can abandon ship for new allegiances! ;P Though to be honest, I rather like my last name, and will be a little sorry to see it go. So I guess I have to find a guy with an even cooler last name. Actually, I like the fact that my full name has a succession of a‘s for vowels, and future Beloved will likely mess up the scheme. Oh well.

      • Fortunately a is a particularly popular letter, so don’t give up hope.

        But yeah, no guy would want to be chosen mostly for his name!

  10. “Not that you’d choose a man by his name, but only in the sense that your surname will change. Mine never will. Which isn’t all a bad thing — it’s part of my identity, after all, my connection to my family, and I don’t want to throw it off. But it’s not an easy surname for name-fittings.”

    I do see your point, and I have never considered it from that angle. At the same time, our non-static names can also be seen as a disadvantage.
    As a woman, it has always seemed a bit harsh to me that our family names can so easily die out and we are almost powerless to stop it. First and middle names in my family are often drawn from surnames we have otherwise lost. There is a sort of desperate “do not forget us!” to this tradition.
    From talking to my sister-in-law, I know there is joy in taking the name of a man you love, but there is also pain in the knowledge that your own name will die out, as hers has, for there are no boys in her generation.

    So yes, in some situations there is an advantage to a woman’s name being changeable, but there is a cost to it, too.

  11. Pingback: Conclusion « Egotist's Club

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