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The Name Game

By Edited May 6, 2014 1 2

What's in a Name we Call A Rose?

'What's in a name?' Shakespeare asked; It seems, a lot actually. Names identify, categorise and define things, and a name can also brand something owned and unique. Many parents spend much time debating possible names for their offspring and many religions favour or attach importance to certain names. And changing a name seems to change the way we perceive a person, place or thing.

Different periods in history, often feature certain favoured names, which were often taken from prominent individuals or royalty. In 1800, 24% of female babies were named Mary, while 22% of male babies were called John. Today however, there seems to be a plethora of baby girls being called Paris and Miley, which only makes me wince in pain. In the English-speaking world, girls names have often tended to end in vowels, an effect that is seen as more feminine, while boys names, often end in consonants, to give the impression of being hard and strong.

Family Names

No Name Road

Many family's, can also trace certain names right back in their family tree. In mine the names, William and James feature on both sides going back centuries. The name William, would however feature prominently in many who can claim English descent, due to that esteemed personage, William the Conqueror, whose other less well known title was, William the Bastard. Those, with Irish Catholic descent on the other hand, mostly have a Patrick floating around for good measure, named for Saint Patrick, who as legend told it banished the snakes from Ireland.

What a Name Means

Names also, had literal meanings behind them, like Christopher, which in Greek meant bearer of Christ, or the name George, which meant farmer. Peter in Greek, means rock and the Latin origin of 'Calvin' is 'bald' (Calvin Klein suddenly has a different connotation). The etymology of the name Mary is disputed today, but until the 12th century was considered too holy for common use. While Melissa, another girls name, strangely means honey bee in Greek. 

Celeb Names

Kirstie Alley

The good-natured actor Alan Alda, was actually called Alphonso D'Abruzzo by his parents, which is quite different to the his character Hawkeye Pierce in the TV series  M*A*S*H*, for which he is famous. Or what about Tim Allen, from the rather inane TV sitcom Home Improvement, whose real name was Tim Allen Dick (I didn't say a word).

The constantly, body sculpting actress Kirstie Alley, was formerly known as Gladys Leeman, which fails to have the same sexy ring to it and debonaire Fred Astaire was in reality Frederick Austerlitz. lastly it must be mentioned, that Charlotte and her talented sisters, may not have been viewed so romantically, if their Irish father had not changed his name from Brundy to Brontë

Occupational and Location Names

In many cases, the origin of surnames came from an occupation. The name Eisenhauer (Eisenhower) for example, literally meant ironworker in Dutch and German. The surname Roberts, also boasts humble origins, as it was probably adopted by servants with a boss called Robert. An unusual set of occupational names in England, came from medieval mystery plays, where actors would play a certain role for life and pass the job to their oldest sons. Names which have this origin are King, Lord, Virgin, and Death.

Some surnames came from the location where people lived, like their village, or community or from the person whose estate they belonged to. Other surnames were nicknames and could be insulting or based on appearance (I wonder if Longbottom is an example). In the Greek culture, surnames often still are gender specific and a brother and sister may have different surnames. The male may have the surname Papadopoulos, while his sister is given Papadopoulou. Also the Greeks often name their first sons after the father's, father. I personally know of a family with five sons, who all had boys.  When the family get together for birthdays there are five boys called Christos in the same room. It's  totally ridiculous!

We give a tremendous importance to names and see great meaning in them, but it is well to consider the words of  Joyce Carol Oates:

Homo sapiens is the species that invents symbols in which to invest passion and authority, then forgets that symbols are inventions.



Apr 13, 2012 8:30am
Thumbs up! Great article! Your article made me think of Umberto Eco's "The Name of the Rose"
Apr 13, 2012 5:50pm
I am ashamed to say I only got half way through that book. But thanks for reading.
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  1. Wikipedia "Given name." .. ././.. 13/April/2012 <Web >

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