On my bookshelf: A Dictionary of English Surnames

I saw A Dictionary of English Surnames (3rd Edition) by P.H. Reaney and R.M. Wilson recommended in a thread on the Baby Name Wizard site a while ago, referred to as a source of info for first names, and maybe I was the tiniest bit skeptical (how does surname info translate into first name info?) but the person recommending it was a longtime reader/commenter on the site and one whose knowledge base I had come to find dependable, so I bought a used copy.

It took me a little while to get into it. I like to read name books — sit down and read — and this book initially didn’t seem to lend itself to that — the type is small and it has a very dictionary feel (where dictionary=small type, lots of words on a page, lots of technical abbreviations that you always feel like you’re supposed to understand without checking out the key at the beginning of the book, maybe a little overwhelming). But I kept at it, picking it up here and there for a couple minutes each time. I started out by looking up my own last name, and those of people I know, and I really started to get into it. For one thing, there are loads of surnames that are considered “English surnames” for the purposes of this book, that I would never have thought! Like Devereaux. Because “English surname”=surnames used by people living in England, and this book cites instances going back to the 1000s. So, using Devereaux as an example:

Deveraux, Devereaux, Devereu, Devereux, Deveroux, Deverose, Everix, Everiss, Everest, Everist: Roger de Ebrois 1086 DB (Nf); Walter de Eureus 1159 P (He); Stephen de Euereus 1199 MemR (Wo); Osmund de Deuereals ib. ( W); Eustace de Deueraus 1204 P (So); Thomas de Euereus, Deuereus 1279 AssSo; John de Ebroicis 1297 AssSt; John Deveros 1385 LLB H; Robert Everis 1495 GildY. From Evreux (Eure), from the Celtic tribal name Eburovices ‘dwellers on the Ebura or Eure River’.”

(See what I mean about the abbreviations? A little off-putting, right? Stay with me …)

Did you know that Devereaux and Everest are related? Me either! And did you see those dates? A Roger de Ebrois from Norfolk (Nf) was recorded in DB (Domesday Book) in 1086. 1086! The first fifty seven pages of the book discuss how the surnames used in England came to be, explaining a French name like Devereaux (lots of Norman influence).

And there is indeed loads of info useful for choosing first names. Many of the surnames were patronymics, for one thing, identifying a person by his or her father, and some were metronymics, identifying a person by his or her mother — so those surnames began as first names. Other surnames were nicknames, pet names, or diminutives, either for a person’s characteristics, or for their actual given first name. Some of my favorite discoveries:

Fayle comes from the Irish Mac Giolla Phoil “son of Paul’s servant”

Fiddy, Fido, Fidoe come from the French fitz deu “son of God”

Filkin, Filkins, Filson are diminutives of Phil, which of course is from Philip

Pack, Packe, Paik, Pakes, Pash, Pashe, Paish, Pask, Paske, Pasque, Patch, Patchett, Patchin are all from various words (Old French, Middle English) for Easter; another example is given of William Paskessone, where Paskessone=son of Paske.

Scollas is a last name from the first name Scolace, which “appears to be the vernacular form of [Latin] Scholastica, the name of a saint who was the sister of St Benedict and the first nun of the order. It is found as a christian name in England from the late 12th century until the Reformation.”

Vivian, Vivians, Vivien, Vyvyan, Videan, Vidgen, Vidgeon, Vigeon, Fiddian, Fidgen, Fidgeon, Phethean, Phythian are all from the French Vivian, Vivien, which are from the Latin Vivianus, which is “a derivative of vivus ‘living,’ the name of a 5th-century martyr not uncommon in England from the 12th century. Its pronunciation appears to have caused difficulty and it is found in a bewildering variety of forms, not all of which have survived. In the south, the v was regarded as the normal southern pronunciation of f and was replaced by it. As the child says fum for thumb, and fevver for feather, and the dialect-speaker favver for father, Fivian became Fithian, and this, with the common interchange of intervocalic th and d, gave Fidian. The initial Ph is merely scribal. As Goodier becomes Goodger and Indian is often colloquially Injun, so Fidian became Fidgeon and Vidian, Vidgen. The normal Vivian is much more common than appears from the above forms.”

But my very very favorite discovery was this: Marriott is from “Mari-ot, a very common diminutive of Mary.”

Aren’t these amazing finds?? Can’t you see a baby Philip being called Filkins? What about the Easter names, like Pack, Patch, Pask, Pash, Patchett, and Patchin? I can see them all being used as given names, and what an awesome meaning — offbeat Catholic names are my favorite favorites!

Or wanting to honor Grandma Vivian but expecting a boy? I love Fiddian and Fithian, I see them as absolutely doable. (Also, I posted a fun thing the other day that shows what a full name looks like written out in different styles — like a name you’re considering for your baby, for example — and Laura commented that she found a perhaps unsettling disconnect between the sight and sound of some of her name ideas, so I found it particularly interesting that the Vivian quote above included the note, “The initial Ph is merely scribal.” It’s startling, to us parents who agonize over whether to name our daughters Sophia or Sofia, to think there was a time when the spelling of a name was a very distant afterthought — and maybe never even given a thought at all, until or unless it had to be written down for official reasons, and then only written down by officials, who probably decided how to spell what they heard. I guess it’s not that different from what happened to some at Ellis Island. Fascinating.)

(The Vivian example is also really timely in light of the awesome post up over at Appellation Mountain: 9 Creative Ways to Honor Loved Ones With Your Child’s Name. As I noted on FB, I’ve been wanting to write about this very topic for some time, but Abby did it so well! It’s an awesome resource, and the examples given in the comments are really helpful as well. This book could absolutely help with her first suggestion, “Use another form of the honoree’s name.”)

I am barely scratching the surface with the examples I give here — this book is over 500 pages of small-type info like what I shared above. It’ll take me ages to get through the whole thing, so if any of you read it and come across any other nuggets, please share them here!


Spotlight on: Bernadette

A reader asked me for a spotlight on Bernadette, soooo here it is!

Bernadette is, of course, after St. Bernadette of Soubirous, the little girl who Our Lady visited in Lourdes, France eighteen times in 1858. Until today I didn’t know that she was actually named Marie-Bernarde (according to most of the sources, or Bernarde-Marie, according to the one I linked to in the previous sentence), which makes Bernadette an even sweeter name — a diminutive of Bernarde, akin to Katie for Katherine. (It also brings to mind Bl. Marie-Azelie Martin, aka Zelie — it’s Zelie that’s popular with Catholics, not Azelie nor Marie-Azelie. It’s so sweet that the affectionate nicknames are the ones we’re clamoring after.) (I also love those French hyphenated doubles, especially the ones that begin with Marie. So beautiful!)

Bernadette’s actually a special name in my family, as it’s my sister’s Confirmation name, chosen because Our Lady of Lourdes has always been special to her. I’ve mentioned this sister before — she was technically stillborn, and we attribute the return of her life to the intercession of Ven. Solanus Casey. She had spinal fusion surgery when she was in sixth grade to correct ever-worsening scoliosis, and for years afterward she put Lourdes holy water on her nape-to-tailbone scar every night. She and my dad had the opportunity to visit Lourdes a few years ago, and also to visit the incorrupt body of St. Bernadette in Nevers. My sister was able to spend time alone with Bernadette, praying in the chapel, and she and my dad (and my aunt/godmother who went with them) stayed in the convent overnight. I know it was a very special experience for her. When people ask her name, she often tells them FirstName MiddleName Bernadette LastName.

The reader who suggested a spotlight on Bernadette also indicated that the name seemed to be generating a lot of buzz recently, which I didn’t realize, but it makes sense — long Frenchy names like Charlotte, Josephine, and Genevieve are super popular right now, and Bernadette fits right in. What a sister set that would be!

Appellation Mountain discussed Bernadette here (as part of an -et/-ette post) and here (as the Name of the Day) and noted that it peaked in the 1940s, right along with the release of the Academy Award-winning movie The Song of Bernadette, so it still has a grandma feel to it. Recent popularity may be due in part to the (super smart) character Bernadette on the show The Big Bang Theory (whose character, incidentally, is from a big Catholic family), and probably also because French names are currently popular. Or maybe because St. Bernadette’s waving from heaven with the Immaculate Conception and Catholic parents are noticing? 🙂

Whatever it is, it seems to me an easy nickname is a must, what with all the Charlottes/Josephines/Genevieves called Charlie/Josie/Evie. There’s Bernie, which I think is still out of touch with most of today’s namers. Benny seems fresher, and is totally doable and adorable. Or Etta/Etty. Or — and I think this is my fave, and I’ve mentioned it before — Betsy, as one of my friends was considering using as a nickname for Bernadette. Abby also mentions Betty, Bette, and Bebe.

What do you think of Bernadette? Would you consider it? Have you considered it? Have you gone ahead and given it to one of your daughters, or do you know a little one named Bernadette? If so, what does she go by — the full Bernadette, or a nickname?

CatholicMom.com column for June

Louisville Pronunciation Guide by Alex Leung (2004) via Flickr, CC.

My June column is up over at CatholicMom.com today: Let’s Talk About Pronunciation. I’d previously blogged about it here, but I expanded it a bit and incorporated into this article some of your feedback from my original post. I love how much I’ve learned from you all! ❤

It would be great if you could pop over and check out the article, and leave any thoughts/comments you might have!

Spotlight on: Bosco

In light of Grace’s new baby Bosco, I thought I’d re-blog my spotlight on Bosco from January.

Sancta Nomina

Today’s the feast of St. John Bosco, who is a special saint for our house full of boys. John is certainly a fine namesake for him, or the full John Bosco, but there was a Brother Bosco at our parish for a while, which really made me consider the name Bosco on its own.

Bosco. It seems to have some use as a first name among the laity — anyone remember Mr. T’s character’s name on the A-Team? (Answer: Sergeant B.A. Baracus — the B.A. was for Bosco Albert. This is new to me — I never watched the A-Team — I like Bosco Albert a lot! I guess he told people B.A. was for Bad Attitude? And his childhood nickname was Scooter. All super cute, I could totally see a precocious little guy owning all those names.)

But the scarcity of info on the name in my sources says…

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Baby name consultant: Baby Floyd #4

Emily and Ben Floyd are expecting their fourth baby, and though they don’t know the gender, they’re “feeling ‘girl.'” Their other kiddos are:

Gwenevere Marie (Gwen)
Avalene Ruth (Avie)
Gideon Elias

I love their style!! Some of the names one or both of them like that they can’t use include:

Midas (unusable because of the company)
Ulysses (related to the Greek for “to hate”)
Georgiana nicked Georgie/Ana
Alexandria nicked Alex
Walter nicked Walt

Emily writes,

My husband, Ben, especially likes unique and unpopular names. He will often ask me how popular a name is when I suggest one! I know Gideon is getting more popular, but we both really liked it and can have a hard time agreeing! 😉 … I love to read and it heavily influences my favorite names. Like Georgiana! We also love names with legends and stories, like with Gwenevere and Gideon and Midas. Avalene was named after seeing a picture of my great-great aunt who was a nun, her name was Sister Avallina. After beginning RCIA we found out that our Avalene was born on the feast day of Teresa of Avila! I have a special devotion to the Blessed Mother and to St Joan of Arc. I also love Pope Francis, as he became Pope right before we joined the Church. Gwen would have been Charles/Charlie if a boy. But we don’t re-use the other gender name if that makes sense! Almost like it’s still the child’s name in a way … We also keep the syllables of the names in mind & all three kids have three syllable first names. Because our last name is so short & common, we like the long, unique first name to balance it out.”

(Isn’t Avalene’s name story awesome??) Current frontrunners for a girl are:

Winifred nicked Winnie or Freddie
Eleanor nicked Nora or Nori

And for a boy:

Augustine nicked Auggie

I had a lot of fun with this dilemma — working with Ben’s love of “unique” and “unpopular” names was challenging but so interesting!

First off, some thoughts about their current ideas: As you all know, I rely heavily on the Baby Name Wizard book for inspiration — for each entry it provides lists of boy and girl names that are similar to the entry in style/feel/popularity — and Winifred is spot on, having connections to both Ulysses and Gwenevere — nice job Mom and Dad! Unfortunately, Ben is right to be concerned about the popularity of Eleanor and Edith — I see Eleanor used a lot, and Edith is starting to be as well. They’re both great names! But not so unique or unpopular anymore. Every once in a while I see the spelling Elanor instead of Eleanor, and wondered if they’d like that? It’s literary — both a flower and a character in Lord of the Rings. And I wondered if Esther might interest them instead of Edith? It’s similar to both Walter and Edith in style/feel/popularity, and I really like that it’s biblical, so it can loop Gideon in as well. Gabriella is a lovely lovely name, but I do think it’s pretty popular? And Augustine — I see it allll the time among the Catholic families I know. We almost used it! I do love it, it’s a great name — but I don’t think it passes their unique/unpopular test. Ambrose, on the other hand, might, so I wonder if they’d like that? I do hear it from time to time in Catholic circles, but not a whole lot, and I feel like the rest of the world doesn’t even know it exists! I’ve often thought Sam and Bram could be good nicknames for it.

I did come up with some other suggestions that I think Emily and Ben might like. I relied heavily on their love of literature/stories and Ben’s preference for unique and/or unpopular, with a saintly or biblical spin when possible. I always shoot for three for each gender, but I ended up with five for girls and three for boys:

(1) Darcy
I’m not entirely convinced that they’ll like this, because it seems so different to me from their other names, but the reasons behind why I’m including here have me just swoony! Okay, Emily said she loves Georgiana because of Pride and Prejudice, and she has a special devotion to St. Joan of Arc … the two thoughts were swirling around in my head while I was working on this for them, and all of a sudden I sat straight up with an exhilarating thought! I scrambled to look it up and — yes! — Darcy (as in Mr. Darcy) comes from the French d’Arcy, meaning “from Arcy,” and Joan of Arc’s name in French is Jeanne d’Arc, and while I haven’t been able to verify that d’Arc and d’Arcy mean the same thing, I’m going to guess that they do, and even if they don’t, it’s totally close enough that the connection is there. Whew! When all that occurred to me I felt like dusting my hands off and saying my work here is done. Haha! It’s definitely unique and unpopular, and Emily said she loves Pope Francis right after she was talking about Joan of Arc so in my mind they’re now together: Darcy Frances. That is a great name for the daughter of Catholic, literature-loving, somewhat-contrarian-naming parents. 🙂

(2) Melisande
In general, it was hard to find much overlap in the styles of the names they’ve already chosen and the names they’re now considering. So Melisande was only in the list of names similar to Gwenevere, but it jumped right out at me as a possibility. I’ve always liked it, and I think Gwenevere, Avalene, and Melisande make a smashing group of sisters. It’s got literary roots too, as in the (admittedly pretty sad) play-turned-opera Pelleas et Melisande. It’s definitely unique/unpopular.

(3) Sidony/Sidonie
I came across this name a a few months ago while doing a consultation for another family, and its meaning just blew me away: “[Sidony] was formerly used by Roman Catholics for girls born about the date of the Feast of the Winding Sheet (i.e., of Christ), more formally alluded to as ‘the Sacred Sendon’. Sendon or Sindon (from Latin sindon … ‘fine cloth’, ‘linen’) was used in Middle English for a fine cloth, especially one used as a shroud. The Sacred Sendon is supposed to be preserved at Turin … Sidonie is not uncommon in France, and the Irish Sidney is probably really Sidony.” (pp. 268-269, Withycombe). When I saw it listed as similar in style to Avalene, I knew I had to include it!

(4) Miranda or Imogen
I was playing off their love of literature here, and trying to think of literary names that were also unique and/or unpopular — Miranda and Imogen immediately came to mind — I thought they both went well with the other kids.

(5) Mercy or Mercedes
I felt like it was easier for me to think of names that fit Gwenevere and Avalene and Winifred and Walter than it was to think of names that fit with Gideon. I love the name Gideon, and if it didn’t clash with our last name, I’d want to use it in a heartbeat. But his style seems a bit more … offbeat? than their other ideas. So when I saw Mercy listed as a girl’s name similar in style to Gideon, I thought it was definitely worth a mention. My idea here was Our Lady of Mercy, because Emily said she has a special devotion to Our Lady. I know a little girl whose middle name is Mercy for OL of Mercy, and any baby born this year and given a name with a connection to Mercy is doubly blessed because Pope Francis declared it the Year of Mercy! So great! I also thought Mercedes (“mercies,” from the Marian title Our Lady of Mercies, aka Our Lady of Ransom) might be of interest.

(1) Leopold
Leopold’s such a great name! It’s similar in style to Ulysses and Winifred, and it has the amazing nickname Leo. When I looked it up, I was impressed by its pedigree — saintly and royal, both — but what really clinched it for me was that it was “used by James Joyce for the main character, Leopold Bloom, in his novel ‘Ulysses’ (1920).” I know that a character’s name in a novel called the same name as another name one likes does not necessarily mean that one will like the first name, but it seemed too coincidental to pass up, especially with its connection to Winifred.

(2) Fitzwilliam
And again, I’m drawing inspiration from P&P. I was trying to think of names that will always be somewhat unique/unpopular, no matter the changing tide of societal taste, and I thought surnames are one of those that may tend to fit that category. Certainly some have become popular, like Taylor, but when Mr. Darcy’s first name came to mind I thought aha! I can’t imagine Fitzwilliam charging up the charts any time soon. Fitz and Will are both natural and awesome nicknames for it, and I kind of really really love Fitzwilliam Floyd. That has such a ring to it!!!

(3) Gennaro
This was listed as similar to Avalene, and I probably wouldn’t have given it any thought except that Pope Francis recently had that amazing thing happen where the blood of St. Gennaro (also known as St. Januarius) liquified in our Holy Father’s presence. I knew a Gennaro growing up, and I had the name on my list for years, even though I don’t have a drop of Italian blood. I love it, it’s a very cool name. I do realize that using it would leave Avalene out first-initial-wise, but I had to suggest it anyway.

Those are my ideas! What do you all think? What names would you suggest for this family?

I love to do name consultations! If you’d like me to give your name dilemma a go, check out my Baby name consultant tab.

Birth announcement: Patton Camper #5!!

Ahh! I take a measly sixteen hours off the computer and in bed for myself to get through a stomach bug (a sixteen hours which also included my oldest’s elementary school graduation, and yes I made it to the graduation) and Grace over at Camp Patton goes and has her baby and I totally miss it because I’m sleeping/moaning/crying at graduation and I get a text from one of my dearest friends during the graduation with just these words:

Bosco Ignatius!”

and I knew.

Bosco Ignatius!! What an amaaaaaaaazing name!! I love it love it love it!!! It’s not one of the ones I’d suggested in my post for Grace back in April, but I fully 1000% approve. 🙂  Such a great name.

Be sure to hop on over for a peek of the little sweetie!! Congratulations to all the Pattons, and happy birthday Baby Bosco!!!!

(P.S. Due to my unforeseen illness, my usual Monday consultation will run tomorrow.)

Good to hear this perspective

After 19 years of getting into fights over his name and hearing it mispronounced, Shia LaBeouf can’t believe celebrities are still coming up with weird names for their kids … Asked what he would say to parents planning to give their kids strange names, LeBeouf says, ‘Name your kid Billy and Timmy. What is the problem with that?'”

~The Associated Press, as quoted in Beyond Ava and Aiden by Linda Rosenkrantz and Pamela Redmond Satran (Nameberry‘s creators)

From today’s preschool graduation

I’m in the thick of graduation season here, which for me means two graduations — my 5-year-old graduated from preschool this morning (becoming a Kindergartner is SUCH a big deal!) and my oldest is graduating from elementary school on Monday (what??).

Of course I scoured the graduation program this morning for names — our school is small overall, but our preschool program makes up nearly half of the entire school population, and I don’t know most of the kids in the other sections, so I was excited to see if there were any gems.

Among 76 graduates there were ….

Three sets of twins (I always love to see what twins are named!) (alternate characters used for privacy):

— Laur3n and Mad!son (I’m a fan of some kind of connection between twins’ names … not too matchy matchy, but like with this set — same ending sound but different ending spelling and different names overall)

— Ann@ and L!bby (love!) (I wonder if L!bby’s given name is Elizabeth? Either way, I like this set a lot)

— Dev!n and L!za (I would consider the “I” in both their names to be a subtle link … also both two syllables … but very much their own names, nice job parents!)

Other names that jumped out:

— Natal!a (I actually had the opportunity to tell her once that her name is so pretty [one of my faves, really], and she was like, “My mom said she couldn’t come up with anything else, so she might as well name me Natal!a.” Haha!)

— Hall3 (I only think of Ms. Berry with this spelling, funny to me to see it on a little one! Great name)

— Am@nda and Carr!3 (not sisters, just classmates, but a bit of a time warp, right? They feel very … 80s? But I do love them both for different reasons — Am@nda because it means “beloved,” one of the best name meanings ever and so appropriate for one’s child; Carr!3 because it reminds me of Little House on the Prairie [one of the best shows ever] and can be a nick for Caroline, which is one of my fave names)

— G!0!a (I love love her name — the sound [JOY-ah], the spelling [they’re very Italian]) (I believe it was a family surname, and I think I heard that G!0!a’s grandmother considered it when naming G!0!a’s mom — great connection between Grandma, Mom, and Daughter!)

— 3mry (like Emory? Or Emrys? But not?) (not sure of gender)

— Ka3ley (I thought I’d seen all the spellings of this name, but this one is new to me)

— R0ry (just because I love it)

— L3ighton and Ev3rlie (these are 4- and 5-year-olds [not sibs], I’m just surprised to see what I think of as very recent celeb names/celeb baby names on kids who were born that long ago … but I guess actress Leighton Meester’s been around long enough to inspire parents of babies born in 2010/2011 since Gossip Girl started in 2007 [I don’t know why she and the show feel so much more recent to me? I never watched it, maybe that’s why] … And now that I look it up, the first celeb baby Everly was 2007 so I guess it has been on parents’ radar for long enough [babies Everly born in 2007 (boy) and 2013 (girl) and Everleigh in 2009 (girl)] Huh) (must brush up on my celeb news)

— The duplicates: three Michaels, two Julias, two Brendans, two Gabriels, two Liams, a Cecelia, a Cecilia, two Colins and a Cole

— And the most amazing of all … Ursul@! Wow! I’ve heard/seen it being discussed recently (most notably by this family, as a sister to Xavier … as an aside, one of the commenters referred to the Ursuline nuns, so Ursula and Xavier seem like uber Catholic sib names to me!), but I’ve never known one in real life, of any age. The little one in the program today has a very Polish last name … I looked it up in my Polish First Names book and indeed it says:

St. Ursula was a 4th century martyr. In spite of the Ursuline Order, the name was not especially popular in earlier centuries. It was considered old-fashioned until the end of World War II, when it began to increase in popularity.

So now I’m really curious to know if the parents chose it because of their ethnic heritage or because they’re fashion forward? (Also, Ursula in use for little girls now means The Little Mermaid is old enough that it’s not a bother anymore. That makes me feel ooooold)

Heard at baseball last night

Between the boys playing baseball with my son last night (9 and 10 year olds) and the kids playing in the area around the field, names I heard that resonated:

Luca (boy) (I know a local girl named this as well)

Xander (Alexander)

Tad (Thaddeus)

Jack called Jacky by his dad (cuuuute! Out of context, Jackie is only a girl’s name to me, but in that context, it’s so sweet and affectionate for a boy!)

And I’m pretty sure I heard — but I’m having a hard time believing it — Uriah!