Backwards?

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?

5 thoughts on “Backwards?

  1. I do think the comments are pretty harsh about Nevaeh and also Destiny. I was a teacher before quitting to stay home with my kids, and both those names are quite common! We have a little Nevaeh at our church (sister named @ngel). I hate to think of these poor girls ever reading some of the negative comments about their names! And Nevaeh is quite proud that her name is Heaven backwards. My maiden name is Nella backwards and we have tossed around using that as an honorish name. We probably won’t but it’s a fun idea. 🙂

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    • Ooh I like Nella! I also know a girl who, when she was little, would — for fun — go by her name backwards : Haras. She said it like Harris, and I always thought that would be a fun way to name her son after her if she wanted (I would spell it Harris in that case though).

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  2. As someone who has a “word-name” (and one with some negative connotations at that), I understand people’s concern for Nevaeh. Yet, I think it really is a beautiful name, though I would not use it simply because so many people have such a negative view of it. it’s a shame it is such a divisive name and has so many unfortunate cultural associations. I love names, especially when they are filled with meaning. Great post!

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  3. This is so interesting! I’m not a fan of Nevaeh, but I really had no idea that Senga (a name I’ve heard a few times) was from Agnes spelled backwards! I also didn’t know Jennifer Connolly & Elisabeth Shue had named babies Agnes! I love that name but wasn’t sure if it was still too “out there” and old lady-ish. Cool to find out!

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