Pearl is Marian!

Remember when I posted about whether or not the name Pearl is Marian? I said, “I couldn’t find any title/appellation referring to Our Lady that included “pearl” anywhere (if any of you can prove me wrong, I’d be beyond delighted!).”

I’ve been proven wrong! And I’m as beyond delighted as I could possibly be! A reader noted in a recent email to me, “I think pearls have been associated with the Virgin Mary — they’re used in art work of the Madonna to symbolize her purity” (thanks Laura!), so I looked it up and lo — she’s right!

Pearls, Unicorns, and Lilies: Symbols of Feminine Purity in the Renaissance” discussed this explicitly, with lots of good sources:

The pearl was imbued with many of its implications in the context of paintings of the Madonna. Through representations of the Virgin Mary pearls came to be associated with faith and chastity. The pearls used to adorn the Virgin were not necessarily the pearls one would see in everyday life. These were larger, perfectly round, and flawlessly white with a beautiful luster, while normal pearls may have irregular shapes and lack the Virgin pearls’ snow-white sheen. The perfection of the pearls served to mirror the Christian perfection of the Virgin Mary.[4]

“Mary’s virginity is one of her most frequently discussed attributes. Her purity was highly contested, and supposedly confirmed by Pope Pius IX in a declaration of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception in 1854. Even Mary’s own conception was highly debated, in regards to whether she was immaculately conceived by Saint Anne and Saint Joachim.[5] In short, Mary’s virginity and purity are her main attributes, and the items used to adorn her serve to further this message.”

Do you know what this means? If Pearl can be considered a Marian name, then Margaret can as well, since Margaret comes from margarita, the Latin word for pearl! That same post quoted above connects Mary and Margaret as well:

In addition to the Virgin Mary, one saint in particular became associated with pearls. Saint Margaret—whose name is markedly similar to the Latin word for pearl,margarita—was known for her purity and chastity, as well as for being the saint invoked most frequently during childbirth … It is not a coincidence that the chaste saint is named for a pearl … Jacobus de Voragine described Saint Margaret as being “named after a highly refined white stone known as margarita, small and filled with virtues. Thus the blessed Margaret was white due to virginity”.[9]

I mean, I suppose it seems somewhat of a stretch to suggest Pearl and Margaret could be considered Marian names, but I don’t know … if the intention is there — the intention to name a little girl after Mary and focusing on her purity as represented by pearls, which is also translated as Margaret — it doesn’t really seem that much different from naming a little girl after Mary and focusing on her purity as represented by the name Virginia, or Lily, or Rose.

What do you all think? Do you agree that Pearl and Margaret/Marguerite/Margarita/Mairead can be considered Marian, in light of this info about pearls?


Baby name consultant: Nicknames for Carmela

A reader, whose baby girl is named Carmela, wrote asking for help coming up with good nickname options. She didn’t care for Ella or Carmen, and was stumped as to what other options there could be. I thought I could come up with some good possibilities, and this is what I ended up with:

My first thought was Carmie. I actually know one, and her given name is Carmela.

Another thought is Cara (said like “car” … or I guess you could change the pronunciation to “care” for the nickname if you wanted), which is nice because I believe it’s Italian for “dear/beloved.”

Or Caro (a traditional nickname for Caroline).

Or maybe Melly a la Melly (Melanie) Wilkes in Gone With the Wind, or just Mela (like Ella but not).






The middle initial could also help — if Carmela’s middle initial is S, maybe Cassie? If a T, maybe Cat? If a D, maybe Caddy?

What do you all think? Do you know anyone named Carmela, and if so does she go by a nickname? Do you have any other ideas besides the ones I listed here?

Spotlight: Xavier

I started this post back in September, but was a bit overwhelmed by the depths of my emotion while writing it that I kept putting off finishing it, and putting it off and putting it off …

But I’m feeling energetic today, and I’ve got the Journey channel playing on Pandora, and I’m giving my older five haircuts, which is always a task that I sort of dread (even though I’m always happy at the outcome, and oh my are they looking shaggy right now), so I’m happy to have an interesting something to do in between shearings (they go right in the tub after, so I have a few minutes between each while I’m just letting them soak. So this post is an all-morning endeavor).

So: Xavier. Awesome awesome name. There is no cooler first initial than X, first of all, and St. Francis Xavier is just an amazing patron saint (side note: do you know the CCC saint movies? My boys love the Francis Xavier one — there’s fighting and swords and samurais and it just cannot get any better for a boy). It’s a bit trendy right now, but who cares when it’s got such deep Catholicky Catholic roots?! Also: trendy saint name=evangelization! Woo!

Xavier’s got great nicknames too — X, Xave, Xavey. There’s a little Xavier in my life who started out going mostly by Xavey but has recently declared that he prefers Xave. (He’s five.)

I know you’re wondering, so what’s the big deal? What’s with the “depths of emotion” that I mentioned in the beginning? Why on earth did I put off finishing this post for six long months?


Ohmyword, the conversations about the “proper” or “correct” or “only right” pronunciation of Xavier hit my very last name nerve.

This is the deal, this is *the only* thing anyone needs to know about the proper pronunciation of Xavier: There are more than one. Period the end.

Please don’t anyone feel offended if you believe there is only one right way to say it — I’m very sorry if I’m coming across too strong. I used to feel as you did, before I read (and read and read and read) America’s opinions about the pronunciation of Xavier.

For you linguist-types (which I’d like to include myself in, but I think a real linguist would laugh at me) I can give what I think is a pretty decent academic argument in favor of my position that both the ex-ZAY-vyer and ZAY-vyer pronunciations are valid.

Okay, to start: Yes, in American English, the basic rule is:

1. If the /X/ is between a vowel and consonant sound then it is usually pronounced as /KS/

2. If the /X/ is between two vowel sounds then it is usually pronounced as /GZ/

Of course, there is always an exception to every pronunciation rule in English.  If the letter X is at the beginning of a word, then it is sometimes pronounced Z.

Do note that “usually” and “sometimes” are used throughout that quote, and not once does it say “always” or “never”; this tells more about the exceptions to the “rule.”

Then there’s this:

Xylophone is from the Greek xylon, which is … pronounced with an initial [ks]. Many words borrowed from Greek via French developed a [gz] pronunciation along the way, which was reduced to [z] word-initially when adopted into English.”


“English, like some other languages, systematically reduces certain consonant clusters; but it has a conservative spelling system (which incidentally often reminds us where a word comes from).

The clusters we reduce are mostly in borrowings from other languages: particularly initial clusters /ks/ (‘x’), /pt/, /pn/ which are generally from Greek, but also for example /hr/ (and in fact /h/ anywhere but initial) as in “Tahrir square”.

This reduction happens in some native words as well: initial /kn/ as in ‘knave’ is pronounced /n/ in modern English, though the related word ‘Knabe’ in German still has the /k/ pronounced; and words like ‘night’, old English ‘niht’ (with the /h/ pronounced), cf German ‘Nacht’.”

Which I quite like, both because I’ve always wondered how it was that Xavier-pronounced-ex escaped the basic American English rule that x- words are pronounced with a z, and because it points out the “ks” idea, which I think is the key.

Here’s my hypothesis: What people variously call the ex-ZAY-vyer or eggs-AY-vyer or ig-ZAY-vyer pronunciation is really the evolution of an original ks-AY-vyer pronunciation. It’s pointed out in the Greek example above, and I was reading the other day a book called Polish First Names by Sophie Hodorowicz Knab and Ksawery is the Polish version of Xavier. There’s that Ks-!

But so many seem SO RELUCTANT to admit that both pronunciations are valid! And it doesn’t seem academic — it seems personal, empirical, subjective. Despite the fact that any name source that provides pronunciations always provides both (behindthename, babynamewizard, and nameberry are three examples [although Nameberry’s entry also includes this annoying and incorrect tidbit: “Note that though that the initial ‘x’ does have a distinct appeal, the correct pronunciation has it beginning with a ‘z’ sound”), people still insist that only one or the other is the *only* correct one (usually the ZAY-vyer pronunciation), usually based on their own experiences.

In my experience, ex-ZAY-vyer was the only pronunciation I knew, and I therefore thought it was the only one and certainly the correct one. As I learned more, I suspected it might be that the ex-ZAY-vyer pronunciation was more common in Catholic circles; even the Baby Name Wizard book had in its first edition that ex-ZAY-vyer was the “Catholic and X-men” pronunciation.

But then as I learned more, I discovered that that wasn’t watertight either — and even the BNW book, in its most recent edition, changed it to ex-ZAY-vyer being only the X-men pronunciation.

This discussion thread and this one too on the BNW forums suggested variations in pronunciation might be regional (and some also pointed to the idea of ex- being a Catholic pronunciation), but there were some commenters whose location and Catholicism seemed to dispute that. In fact, some of them pointed to the (Catholic) Xavier Universities as the benchmark for how to say the name … with a z:

the press in towns around the American Xavier Universities (one in Ohio, one in Louisiana) enjoy making fun of non-locals who do the “egg” pronunciation, even writing that when they quote the people, like during NCAA basketball tournaments, a time when these Catholic schools are more likely to be in the national spotlight”


“I spent 25 years in New Orleans, and I dare say the universities know how to pronounce their names

But then this, in the same thread, seemed much more balanced:

I’ve heard the Xavier University argument before, but I don’t find it convincing as far as what the English pronunciation of Xavier is *supposed* to be — all it says to me is the two universities chose ZAY-vyer as their pronunciation so yes, anyone who calls them ex-ZAY-vyer University would be incorrect, because that’s not their chosen pronunciation. I know other Catholic entities named after the saint that pronounce it ex-ZAY-vyer.”

I recently heard someone refer to the ex- pronunciation as an Americization (?) (by which she meant “incorrect”) of the proper pronunciation. A commenter on one of the threads linked to above said this:

This issue is SOLELY an anglophone problem for this Basque-origin name. Other languages, such as French and Spanish, have clear, single ways of pronouncing the name. And none of them try and and say “X,” whether that means “eks,” “eeks,” or “equis.” It’s solely from the British English and their anglicization of a foreign name, not part of the name’s origins. As I always tell people, you don’t pronounce “eks” to start xylophone, Xerxes, Xena, Xanadu, or Xanax, either.”

which sounds very fancy and educated, but she’s incorrect in that (1) I’ve already shown that both Greek and Polish say “ks” when beginning at least some x- words/names, which is what I argue the ex- pronunciation is really doing, and (2) while the examples she offers of various x- words and X- names are ones that are only said with a z sound, she didn’t include yet another exception to the “rule,” which bolsters my argument: Xenia.

Are any of you familiar with the name Xenia? It’s Greek, and also used in Poland and Russia, and while the ZEE-nyah pronunciation is used, it seems the ks-AYN-yah pronunciation is more prevalent. It’s even spelled Ksenia sometimes. (Also, how fun to know that several Sts. Xenia are revered in the Orthodox Church!) The BNW book includes it as an entry, so it must be used *enough* in the U.S., and yet there was no discussion of the “proper” pronunciation beginning with z, or that the ks pronunciation is wrong.

So what does this all boil down to? Both pronunciations are fine and acceptable. ex-ZAY-vyer is not incorrect, though I might be more inclined to call it the k-SAY-vyer pronunciation. I will absolutely support your right to pronounce your child’s name any way you wish (since, when it comes to proper names, no one has the market on the “correct” pronunciation, so say the Sisters that taught my mom) — but I will also argue tooth-and-nail with you if you try to tell me that the ex/ks pronunciation is wrong.

There. Glad to have that sorted.

I did try to come up with a list of names that are pronounced in such a way that don’t follow American English pronunciation “rules” and thought of Thomas (the Th pronounced T) and Camille (the i pronounced ee) and Padraig (no one bats an eye at saying PAW-drig instead of PAD-rig) and Siobhan (not easy for a lot of people to remember how to say, but I don’t hear anyone saying shi-VAUN is wrong) and Nathalie (the French spelling but as far as I know no one fusses and insists on saying the th as th rather than T like Thomas), also Rene(e) and Desiree …

One last thought: I saw someone online say once that the disagreement over the pronunciation of Xavier was enough to make her not want to even consider using it for her son. PLEASE do not let that be your takeaway from this post. It’s an AMAZING name with an amazing patron  saint. All that’s required when people wonder about the pronunciation or say your version is wrong is to state simply which pronunciation you use and that both are considered acceptable, just as you would if you named your daughter Lucia or Lara or Corinne. If they tell you you’re wrong, send them this link.

What do you think of all this? Have I lost any readers over my strong opinion that both pronunciations of Xavier are valid? Can you think of other proper names, used here in America, whose pronunciations don’t follow the “rules” and yet they’re accepted as fine?

Reading round-up

I’ve read a few interesting things recently, some which I’ve posted on Facebook and others I haven’t:

If you want to see a picture of Pope Francis going to Confession, check out this post (the content of the post is great too, but that picture!) (it’s the second one — scroll down) (the first pic is amazing too — he’s in the confessional ready to hear confessions): A “Jubilee of Mercy” – On 2nd Anniversary, Pope Calls Extraordinary Holy Year of “God’s Forgiveness”

Simcha posted on FB: “Confirmation saints! Did you or your kid pick someone unusual? If so, why? The more details, the better” and got a whoooole bunch of responses. I haven’t even read through them all yet, but I love the conversation!

I’m not as familiar with Latin as I’d like to be — I took two semesters of it in college, because I wanted to, which is how I was able to name this blog 🙂 — and I’ve been to too few Latin Masses to have picked up much more than just what I know from some common prayers and hymns, like Salve Regina. So I liked this, and thought some of you might find it helpful too: Latins Words or Phrases Every Catholic Should Know.

In case you missed it ( 😉 ), there’s this: How to Name a Large Family (by me!)

I mentioned before that I couldn’t wait to read all Arwen‘s posts on naming, and I did love the first one I read, on the naming of her first two: Insufferable Parental Name-Gazing (edited to add: Please don’t mis-read this as me saying I didn’t like the rest of her naming posts! What I meant was, I’ve only read that one so far, and I liked it!)

Somehow — and now I can’t remember how — I found Arwen’s mom’s blog post where she explains how she and her husband chose all their kids’ names. With a child named Arwen, you know the rest are going to be interesting, and wow — they are: Coming Clean

That’s all I got for now! Happy Saturday!


You’ve all heard of the name Nevaeh, yes? It’s “heaven” backwards, and the Baby Name Wizard calls it “the most divisive name in the country” or something similar (my BNW book is upstairs … as is the sleeping baby … so I’m just going with what I think I remember) — people either love it or looooathe it. Probably Loathe it, capital L. I have read some truly hateful things said about the name and anyone who would bestow it on their daughter.

It’s not my style, for sure, but I can see the appeal — it’s got a pretty sound, and it’s sort of clever that a good and holy word spelled backwards can make a feasible given name. (In the same vein, I’ve also seen Traeh [“heart” backwards].)

Most of the commentary, professional and otherwise, that I’ve seen on Nevaeh includes references to its trendy date-stamped-ness (it is a very very new creation, ca. 2000), but I was thinking the other day about Nomar Garciaparra. Nomar’s actually his middle name (his first is Anthony), and it’s his father’s name, Ramon, spelled backward. I’ve never once seen any negative commentary about Nomar’s name. So there is some precedent for a “backwards name” to be okay, and it’s not an entirely new trend (since Garciaparra was named five years before I was born). I was trying to think of other names that are backwards versions of “normal” names or words when I remembered one I’d read in that book by Withycombe I like to quote (it just fascinates me): Senga.

Its entry for Senga says:

[T]his name, common in parts of Scotland, is said to be simply a variant of Agnes … obtained by spelling it backwards.”

Crazy, right?? This book was first published in 1945. The behindthename entry nods to this traditional understanding of the name, though then says that it’s “more likely derived from Gaelic seang ‘slender.'” But then a commenter for that entry says, “Wherever I look this up it is only listed as Agnes spelled backwards, it started in Scotland.”

Isn’t all that interesting? I particularly noticed it because Agnes is such a traditional, Catholic, saintly name, but until recently it didn’t really sing to modern ears (it’s on its way up! Actresses Jennifer Connelly and Elisabeth Shue both named their daughters Agnes in 2011 and 2006, respectively), so I could totally see parents wanting to honor Beloved Grandma Agnes and not knowing how to and then rejoicing when they figured out Senga. I mean, it doesn’t work for me, but I could see it.

What do you think of Nevaeh, Nomar, and Senga? Have you heard of any other names that are names or words spelled backwards?

Just a quick explanation

There have been SO MANY great great comments over the last couple days, from “longtime” readers and new (I know I know, no one knew about this blog til two months ago!), and I dearly want to respond to each one, but between my baby turning one (which I’m still trying to wrap my head around!) and this weird not-terrible but not-great cold that’s taking its sweet time making its way through my house, and my hubs texting me a little while ago that his stomach is feeling shaky, I’ve been off the computer and I know you all get it but I still just wanted to be sure you all know I’m not ignoring you or anything! I’ve read every single comment, and filed bits of info away in my head that might show up in later posts, because everything you all have to say — your opinions, your experiences — is so interesting to me. For 100% real. And now the baby’s napping and the other boys are having quiet time so I’m off to write the post I actually sat down to write. Check in again in a half hour or so!

Great conversation!

I loved all your thoughts on sharing or not sharing names before birth! Thank you all for leaving such thoughtful comments! ❤

We do share our names ahead of time. I kind of love seeing people’s reactions, good and bad, to our ideas. Negative reactions don’t bother me too much, and sometimes I find them helpful. For example, when we were considering Oliver and some variation of Joseph for Boy #3, both my brothers, in separate conversations, were like, “Really? You’re okay with OJ initials?” Huh. We’d never once thought anything of the initials, but knowing that they meant something (negative) to my brothers gave us more information with which to make our decision. I’m totally fine with deciding to bestow a name that others might not like (and have, every time, since there’s always someone who doesn’t care for our ideas), but I really want to know what the objections are so that our name choice is a totally free one. I also really like educating others about names — the wrinkled noses at some of my faves have allowed me to teach others about those names, which I always find fun. I’m pretty sure most people I know never gave two thoughts to my unrequited name love Joachim before hearing about it from me.

Also, I’ve seen some people (online and in real life) choose names for their children that they didn’t share ahead of time, only to find out after the baby’s born and named that the chosen name had some horrible or unsavory significance that they didn’t know. Oof.

But I also totally get the not-wanting-to-share. So many people have thoughtless uninformed opinions on names, don’t they? And so sad to have the happiness and excitement of your baby-on-the-way overshadowed by negative chatter from those you love about the name you love for the baby you love. Getting opinions from strangers online — like here, or other name web sites — seems like a really good way to find out a name’s full impression profile without opening it up to criticism from friends and family.

Thank you all again! I have another busy day here — most notably because it’s my baby’s first birthday!! — but my post topics are starting to pile up — I have a lot of things to talk about! So I do hope to have some good meaty posts over the next few days. Happy Thursday to you all!

Wee lassie’s debut!

Theresa’s name dilemma kicked off Irish month as she was scheduled to have her eighth baby, a little girl, on St. Patrick’s Day. She emailed me an update and a photo of the new little lady!

Everything went well, we’re back home with ::drumroll:: Rosary Brigid Elise! She was 6lbs. 14oz, 18.75 in, and has been a wonderfully happy baby with siblings who fight over getting to hold her. 

About her name, there’s always that moment when you’re faced with filling out the Birth Certificate paper and you wonder if you chose the right name. But I’m confident we did. The consultation helped us to look deeper into other forms of Elizabeth, my sister’s middle name, since I liked Eilis, but my husband didn’t care for it. We came across Elise, which seems to still flow nicely.
So, thank you for the inspiration and input!! We have a beautiful name to go with a bonnie wee lass! 😉 “
So wonderful!!!! I just love her name!!! I never in a million years would have considered Rosary for a little girl, but because of Theresa and her beautiful baby it’s totally on my radar as a viable Rosie name. Nice work Heckamans! And I’m ever so grateful for the update!

Rosary Brigid Elise