Spotlight on: Kelly

One of you readers emailed me asking about the name Kelly! I haven’t heard anyone consider the name Kelly in a long time, it’s definitely in hibernation until its spring comes again (which it will, as it does for most names).

You know I love doing name research! So off to the dusty shelves I went and did indeed find a saint whose name is sometimes anglicized to Kelly: St. Cellach of Armagh. How cool! Behind the Name concurs that Kelly is a form of, as it spells it, Ceallach, whose meaning is uncertain but could include “bright-headed,” or from Old Irish ceallach “war, strife” or ceall “church.” I love the “church” meaning!

And in fact, that ties into another very cool thing about the name Cellach: there was a Cellach, the Abbott of the monastery at Iona (not the St. Cellach mentioned above), who fled raiding Vikings with his brethren and went to the Abbey of Kells (though “kells” here not having any connection to Cellach), which had been founded by St. Columba a couple hundred years earlier. Kells strikes me as a really easy way to update the name Kelly while retaining its Irishness and adding a shot of faith, no? Kells gave its name to the Book of Kells, the illuminated manuscript by those monks from Iona of the four gospels that has been described as one of Europe’s greatest treasures, and my favorite tidbit about it is that it “presents the earliest Madonna and Child image in any western manuscript” (source).

So I could see a Kelly taking St. Cellach of Armagh as patron, and loving the gospel/Marian/St. Columba connection of the similar-sounding and similarly spelled Kells. This could work for both a boy and girl, and in fact Kelly started as a male name, from the Irish surname. These days Kelly is nearly 100% girl (no. 514 for girls in 2016 as opposed to not at all in the top 1000 for boys), but thinking about St. Cellach and the Abbott Cellach definitely shows Kelly’s initial masculinity. I can also see parents loving Kells as a given name, and that might work better for boys these days.

For girls, names like Callie, Kayley/Keeley/Kiley, Ellie, and Zelie seem to have filled the Kelly spot for current parents, do you agree? But Kelly’s still familiar and fits in easily with those names I think.

What do you all think of Kelly? Do you know any little Kellys? Would you name your daughter Kelly, or have you? What about for a boy? Can you see Kelly working, or do you think Kells is a better option? Or neither?

 

Spotlight on: Sunniva

Don’t forget to enter the Feast of Sts. Anne and Joachim giveaway — it ends tonight at midnight! I’ll announce the winners tomorrow!

A fellow name enthusiast recently told me her Confirmation name is Sunniva and I was like Sunniva! I knew next to nothing about the name or the saint and I knew I had to do a spotlight on it!

St. Sunniva of Bergen, also known as St. Sunniva of Norway and of Selje, and sometimes known under the variants Sunnifa and Synnöve, has a pretty interesting story: she was the daughter of an Irish king who fled to Norway to escape an arranged marriage, and died there in a cave; years later her body was found incorrupt. The Irish-Norwegian connection makes her name a perfect one for a family with Irish and Norwegian ancestry (like mine!), especially because her name, though used in Scandinavian countries (especially Norway and Sweden as far as I can tell), is actually Old English in origin.

Regarding pronunciation, I’ve seen sun-EE-va on behindthename (by a mom living in the U.S. who named her daughter Sunniva) and SOON-ee-va on Nameberry, and the four examples on Forvo sound more like sun-ee-VA to me. So it seems there are choices, but unless you all know which is the predominant pronunciation for native English speakers, I’m going to recommend the first, because it rhymes with Geneva, which I think makes for a really easy way to help others learn and remember it. I also like that it highlights the -iva part, which can lend itself so naturally to the nicknames Eva and Evie, Neva, and even Vivi. I also love the possibility of Sunni, so sweet! And Synne appears to be a Norwegian short form of the name, pronounced SIN-na according to Forvo.

Sunniva is pretty rare here, having been given to 9 girls in 2016, 10 in 2015, less than five in 2014, and 5 in 2013 (I didn’t go back farther than that). So a true rarity that has history and faith significance and some sweet and on-trend nicknames!

What do you all think of Sunniva? Would you name your daughter Sunniva, or have you? Do you know anyone named Sunniva? What does she think of her name, and does she go by a nickname?

Spotlight on: Beretta

So my post on Beretta got a lot of attention! Not only did I get a lot of great comments here, but even Linda from Nameberry weighed in on Twitter! The overwhelming reaction was, “That’s a gun name,” followed by, “Don’t name your child after a gun.”

I posted that post, followed by this one, because a mama had emailed me asking about Beretta used in honor of St. Gianna Beretta Molla. Despite my love for that saint, I admit my first reaction was “that’s a gun name!” (and I have very little familiarity with guns), but I wasn’t sure if others would feel the same, so getting all of your feedback was really helpful to me and that mama, I’m sure. I also loved discovering that the name also calls to mind for many the car by the same name (which also reminds me of Shelby), as well as a hair barrette, and also biretta, which is the name for that square hat for priests, and according to one of our Italian readers also the word for “small beer.” (She also said that Italians don’t use surnames as first names, which is so interesting to me! I love learning about other cultures through names.) In hindsight, I wish I’d left out the part in my post about it being used as an honor name for St. Gianna, just to see if anyone would have that association right away as well.

My FB feed is regularly filled with gun posts — posts by those who are rabidly anti-gun, and by those who have no problem with them, and responses by both sides to the other side (often nasty) — so I can see even in my limited experience that the name Beretta definitely comes with some baggage that parents would need to feel comfortable with. But as the comments showed, as well as some quick research I did, there are some people who *like* gun names, whether because they just like tougher-sounding names, or because they nod to their profession or their hobby. There are many who see this as a negative (see The Frightening New Wave of Baby Names: Aggressive names from Gunner to Raider to Danger are on the rise [Nameberry] and Americans are naming their babies WHAT? We all know American are obsessive about their guns. But this is taking things too far. [Australian web site]), but I thought what Laura (Baby Name Wizard) wrote in her post Son of a Gun: The Firearms Baby Name Report was more balanced and well articulated:

What does the trend mean? I believe it points to two different cultural threads in the United States over the past decade. The first is the rising role of guns as a cultural identifier. For hunters and firearms enthusiasts, guns can be both a passion and a symbol of a way of life … Some gun owners perceive their lifestyle as being threatened by those who don’t understand them or share their values. Choosing a gun name, then, can summon up happy memories of hunting with your dad — or be a statement of cultural defiance. It’s an in-group statement, designed to speak to those who share your cultural touchstones.”

I’m sure we all have friends or relatives who we can see liking names like this for the reasons mentioned above, and we can certainly all relate with cultural defiance.

Beretta is a particularly interesting name in light of all this, for us especially. What Laura said about gun names being “an in-group statement, designed to speak to those who share your cultural touchstones” is exactly why so many of us choose the names we choose for our babies. Zelie, Jacinta, Kolbe, and Karol are examples of names that will likely only be fully “gotten” by those who share our worldview. It’s likely only we would also be able to understand the saintly significance behind the name Beretta, if chosen by a Catholic family. And in fact, being that it’s an Italian name as well, so many of which are loved by so many of Italian heritage and even those who aren’t, Beretta’s the amazing, solitary result of the Venn diagram of gun names, Italian names, and Catholicky Catholic names. For a certain kind of family, fully informed, Beretta is exactly perfect.

This reader suggested Beretta’s a name that should be reclaimed, because of its faith significance. She wrote:

I think, as a Catholic, one would have to ask the question: to what extent should worldly associations impact the choice of a saintly moniker for a child? Yes, there is a gun, but it is the maiden name of a saint nonetheless. And when other surname names (or place names) like Kolbe, Becket, Vianney, Avila, Lourdes, etc. get fair usage among Catholic circles, it doesn’t seem like Beretta should be an immediate write off. Actually perhaps there is reason to use it to “reclaim” the name so to speak, and when you are asked the child’s name it can be an evangelization opportunity to inform about St. Gianna Beretta Molla, and the Church.”

I do love the evangelization opportunities that names can provide! But I also think there are some names for which the negative associations far outweighs the positive, names that even I don’t think are ready to be reclaimed (Adolf comes to mind). I’m not saying Beretta’s in the same league as Adolf, but I am saying that worldly associations sometimes *must* impact the choice of a saintly moniker for a child. (Poor holy Adolfs.) Is Beretta one such name? I’m not convinced, not in a universal way anyway (I mean yes, if parents feel that way regarding their own child, but not in regards to a blanket disavowal of the name).

Another good point to make, which answers the question, “why not Molla, if using a saint’s surname instead of given name is going to be the ‘thing’?” is that personal taste is so often the deciding factor. It’s why some parents choose to honor St. Thomas Becket with the name Becket instead of Thomas, why Grandma Pearl’s namesake is named Margaret instead of Pearl, and why Catherine is chosen instead of Katherine or Elisabeth instead of Elizabeth. St. Gianna has three names — for some, Gianna is the best and only way to go; for others, Joanna or Jane or some other anglicized variant; for others Molly as a nod to Molla; for others Beretta or a spin-off of it.

In fact, some of you who appreciated Beretta’s connection to St. Gianna offered ways of working around the gun association by using its nicknames Retta or Etta as the given name, for example, or a sound-alike like Britta, or mashing up Gianna and Beretta to get Greta, or naming a boy Barrett. Some might be willing to go farther by choosing the full Beretta, but then tucking it in the middle spot where it can stay hidden if desired.

I suspect, though, that a family who loves Beretta isn’t going to be thrilled by the idea of using Retta, Etta, Britta, Greta, or Barrett-on-a-boy instead (though perhaps they be happy enough to use nicknames on a day-to-day basis, and/or might go for it as a middle name). Though many of us wouldn’t feel comfortable with giving our child a name rife with so many charged viewpoints, I’m going to guess that parents who choose Beretta are more than willing to defend their choice to the naysayers.

Spotlight on: Niamh and Naomh

One of you wonderful readers requested a spotlight on Niamh — what a fun name to research! You all know how I feel about Irish names after all. 😉😍🍀 Specifically, this mom wants to know:

What I’m curious about is whether you can think of any Catholic roots or meanings to the name Niamh. As we are pretty conservative Catholics, we like our children to have saints’ names and I was somewhat surprised to find that there didn’t seem to be a Saint Niamh — with Ireland’s Catholic history, I’d just assumed there would be.”

Right? “[W]ith Ireland’s Catholic history, I’d just assumed there would be” — it’s so true, and I love love love that Ireland has that history and reputation.

So first, let’s discuss pronunciation: The “mh” in Gaelic is often (always?) a V sound, so Niamh can be said NEE-iv or NEEV (among native Irish this pronunciation will vary based on what part of Ireland they’re from; for us, we can choose which pronunciation we prefer).

Second, though I also couldn’t find any Saints or otherwise holy Niamhs, I think a faith connection can be made to its meaning, which Baby Names of Ireland says means, “radiance, lustre, brightness.” I don’t know about you, but that immediately gives me a mental image of the description of the Transfigured Jesus:

After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light.” (Mt 17:1-2)

It makes sense that the Transfiguration is one of the Luminous Mysteries, because the Luminous Mysteries as a whole also go along with the “radiance, lustre, brightness” meaning of Niamh (other Luminous Mystery names here), and really, the meaning of Niamh makes me think of holiness in general, both as a concept and as an artistic presentation.

Third, speaking of holiness, I wonder if this mom might be interested in a tweak in spelling? The Irish name Naomh is rarer than Niamh, I believe, but said the same (either NEE-iv or NEEV), and there also seems to be the additional possibility of NAYV or NAY-uv (you can hear several examples here). Naomh actually means “holy” or “saint,” so St. Patrick in Irish is Naomh Padraig, the Holy Spirit is Spiorad Naomh, etc. As I’ve written about before, naming a little girl Naomh would then be similar to other not-unheard of names like Toussaint (“all saints”), Sinclair (St. Clair), and Santino (“little saint”; a famous fictional Santino went by Sonny 😉), and can nod to any Saint or holy person the parents so wish, including Our Lady — in fact, in Don Quixote, Sancho Panza (whose first name also means “holy” or “saint”) has a daughter whose name is variously given as María Sancha, Marisancha, Marica, María, Sancha and Sanchica — all clearly referring to Our Lady, as Maria Sancha means “holy Mary.”

Do any of you know any other holy connections to the name Niamh? If you like Niamh, what do you think of Naomh? Do you know anyone with these names? What do they think of them, and do they have any other insights that would be helpful?

Spotlight on: Zara

I am so sorry that I’ve been so quiet on the blog this week and last! It’s the end of the year y’all, it gets me crazy every time. Only a couple of more weeks until summer!

I discovered the COOLEST thing the other day!! I love the name Zara — it’s familiar like Sara and zippy like Z and while an Arabic-sounding name might normally make Northern European me hesitate, Brit royal Zara Tindall, neé Phillips, brings it right back into my comfort zone (fun fact: her name was suggested by her uncle Prince Charles!).

Behind the Name describes Zara in a couple different ways: first, it’s said to be the English form of Zaïre — the name of the heroine in Voltaire’s play by the same name, which may have been based on the Arabic Zahrah (“blooming flower”) (it has Zaira listed as the Italian variant). And Abby at Appellation Mountain spotlighted Zara a year ago and has some other great info about possible origins (and she words in her characteristic lovely way that Prince Charles was probably not quite right about the meaning of Zara).

But I was always a little put off by the fact that I couldn’t figure out a patron saint for it — if you take it as a variant of Sarah then Sarah the Matriarch or St. Sara of Antioch can work, but I would have really loved to have come across a closer connection … and the other day I did! Behind the Name says it’s also a diminutive of the Bulgarian name Zaharina, which is the Bulgarian and Macedonian feminine form of Zechariah! Wow!!

I LOVE the idea of Zara for Zechariah! John the Baptist, Elizabeth, and The Visitation are all wrapped up in the name Zechariah for me, as they’re all related in the first chapter of Luke, along with Our Lady’s Magnificat. Specifically for us, how cool his story is that it has to do with one of the only times God named a baby!

What do you all think of this fun find? Does it make Zara more appealing to you? Do you know any Zaras, and do they like their name? I wouldn’t tend to think of nicknames for Zara (maybe Zee) — do any of the Zaras you know go by a nickname?

 

Spotlight on: Damian/Damien

Today’s the feast day of one of my fave saints with one of my fave names — St. Damien of Molokai! (Also known as St. Joseph de Veuster.) Perfect day to post a spotlight of his name!

In the universe of names that need to be reclaimed, Damian/Damien is at the top of my list, as was glaringly showcased in the consultation I posted for Grace a couple of weeks ago. Let’s just get it out of the way: For those who don’t know, there’s a 1976 movie called The Omen in which the boy character, named Damien, is revealed to be the Antichrist; there was a 1978 sequel called Damien: Omen II, and I only recently found out that the original movie was remade in 2006 — I’m not super into knowing every movie that comes out, but I know a fair bit, and it was a total surprise to me to find out this remake (1) exists and (2) is so recent. (Another post for another day: Do writers consider the way they can ruin lives and baby name lists through the names they choose for their bad characters?? I am a writer, and I love saintly names, and I will come up with a solution. Stay tuned.)

(Also, have any of you actually seen any of these movies? I haven’t, and I don’t know anyone who has, and the original was made before most of my friends and I were born, and we’re now approaching the later end of the childbearing-age spectrum, so how is it that *everyone* knows this reference and is *still* allowing their babynaming to be influenced by it??)

So yes, I’m sure the name was chosen for the movie because of its visual and audial similarity to “demon,” but they’re actually not related at all. Damian/en comes from the Greek for “to tame,” while demon is thought to be derived from the Greek for “to divide.” (“Demon”=”to divide” … that’s something to muse on, no?)

Now to focus on the positive: Damian/en is an amazing name!! It’s got similar sounds and rhythm to the Aidan/Brayden/Jaden family of names, with *centuries* of use and lots of holy men so named, with the most familiar probably being St. Damian (twin brother of St. Cosmas — they’re in the Canon of the Mass!), and today’s St. Damien of Molokai. There’s also Doctor of the Church St. Peter Damian, and how cool is that combo?? (I actually know a little Peter Damian — I swooned over his name when he was born and I still do!) Also, the church where St. Francis was instructed by Jesus to “rebuild my church” was the church of San Damiano, and the cross before which St. Francis was praying when Jesus spoke to him is called the Cross of San Damiano. You’re likely familiar with it:

512px-Kruis_san_damiano
Via Wikimedia Commons

So the name Damian/en has a LOT more going *for* it than it has going against it.

Fortunately, we have quite a few current Damian/ens we can look to as well, like Homeland and frequent BBC actor Damian Lewis

Damian_Lewis_Berlin_2015
By Siebbi (Damian Lewis) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
(who has a brother named Gareth and children named Manon and Gulliver 😍 — some good naming genes in that family!), and so many other famous Damian/ens that I really wonder why we don’t hear more of it! Especially since Damian has actually been in the top 200 names for the past 15 years, even breaking into the top 100 in 2012 and 2013 (Damien has always been less popular, but not by too much, and had an unfortunate spike in popularity following the original movie’s release). So is it mostly Catholic namers (like, all of us here) who are very concerned about the connection with the movie? We who have so much less cause than those who are unfamiliar with the faith? I get it, and at the same time I don’t.

Fortunately we have sweet little Damien Edmund, whose birth announcement I posted a while ago, to look to! If you remember, his mama wrote,

After your consult I realised how much I really love St Damien of Molokai and it seemed like the right name. My husband was hesitant because of THAT movie, but right after he was born my husband said a little prayer and felt it was the right name. And we added Edmund for Edmund Campion and Edmund Arrowsmith. So far, all our Catholic friends love the name Damien, and non Catholics haven’t said anything negative. Reclaim the name!

Amen sister!! 👊👊👊

I think that maybe Damian/en’s lack of familiar nicknames is somewhat problematic — it’s always nice to have a good nickname to hide behind, if hiding is desired (yes, I do think it’s A-okay to use a name you love that you’re not totally 100% sure will be received well. Choosing a nickname in case you [as the parent] or your child [with the name] wants to be incognito is a great way to manage this. And it [issues with one’s given name] can happen with names with no objective issues at all! I think I’ll do a post on this soon. My own personal example is my beloved Joachim — I totally get that if we were to ever have a son named Joachim, we or he might get tired of the confused looks, botched pronunciations, etc., and so I’m ready with the fab nickname Jake. Easy peasy).

So anyway, I (of course) have spent many hours over the last several years thinking long and hard about nicknames for Damian/Damien, and my favorite is Danny (for Damian) and Denny (for Damien). I think they’re perfect! You could also do just “D,” and I could even see Ian working for Damian. “Dame” is fine as a spoken nickname (not sure a guy would like to put that in writing though). (Also, fun future topic: “heard” nicknames vs. “written” nicknames — Swistle discussed it in a recent post, and I’d love to talk about it with all of you. Soon!)

And one last thought: If we all agree that it’s pretty terrible that some great saints’ name is being avoided because of a pretty terrible pop culture reference (that should really be forgotten anyway, name or no name), can we all agree to stop linking the two? Maybe when the name comes up, you can focus on the awesome saints instead of the negative association? Seriously, the more we talk up the good and ignore the bad, the more helpful we are in making that association fade away. (And conversely, the more we say, “The only thing I think of when I hear ‘Damien’ is that satanic movie!” the longer the names are going to be linked.) I do get that it’s good for parents to be aware of potential issues, but if you feel you must mention it, at least overcompensate by focusing extra hard on the saints. Deal? (You all are the best ever. 😘)

Spotlight on: Matthias

A reader asked for a spotlight on Matthias, one of my favorite favorite names! Specifically, she wrote,

Biblically, I have only seen it as Matthias, but when I ask my family members who are not as familiar with the biblical spelling, they think it is spelled Mathias. When I read the name, I pronounce it as ma-THIGH-as, whereas, in Germany, for example, where the name seems to be more popular than in the US, it is pronounced Ma-TEE-us. It has the same meaning as Matthew (gift from God), but the spelling of Matthew is far more prevalent than the use of Mathew, although there are some of those. Matthias, on the other hand, is much more uncommon than Matthew, so it seems as if there is more room for variance and not an assumed way to spell it.”

Indeed! It’s just as she said: according to Behind the Name there are two traditional spellings with the “th” (Matthias and Mathias), though Matthias is the one used in the  English Bible (not sure about other translations?), and it seems that both spellings have usage in a bunch of languages as listed on Behind the Name, with Matthias having broader usage:

Matthias: Greek, German, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, French, Dutch, Biblical, Biblical Latin, Biblical Greek

Mathias:  French, German, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish

Pronunciation-wise, it seems that Mathias is only pronounced ma-TEE-as (and there’s also the variant Mat(t)ias, which makes that pronunciation more obvious), while Matthias can be either ma-THIGH-as or ma-TEE-as. I looked both Matthias and Mathias up on SSA and was interested by the results:

matthias

mathias

Matthias is slightly more popular BUT 2003 is the first year it made it into the top 1000, while Mathias has been on and off since 1900. Also, I found this very telling:

matias

Over the same time period, Matias — which of course has that ma-TEE-as pronunciation — has been like 100 spots more popular than either Matthias or Mathias, so just from these charts Americans might be more familiar with the ma-TEE-as pronunciation and/or might be baffled by having an “h” in the name, never mind two “t”s. (The spelling Mattias has never been in the top 1000.)

So it’s definitely one of those names that requires some decisions, and then firm consistency when sharing the name with others.

I think it’s a name that’s totally worth it though. I mean, it’s a Matthew variant, so it has the same great meaning (“gift of God”), and it can take the same friendly, accessible nicknames (Matt, Matty), but names that are a twist on the familiar are some of my favorites, and Matthias totally fits that. Never mind that I always think of Matthias as a Catholicky Catholic name because he was chosen by Peter and “the brothers” to replace Judas in, dare I call it, the first Church Council??  😉

During those days Peter stood up in the midst of the brothers (there was a group of about one hundred and twenty persons in the one place). He said … ‘Therefore, it is necessary that one of the men who accompanied us the whole time the Lord Jesus came and went among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day on which he was taken up from us, become with us a witness to his resurrection.’

So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. Then they prayed, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this apostolic ministry from which Judas turned away to go to his own place.’ Then they gave lots to them, and the lot fell upon Matthias, and he was counted with the eleven apostles.” (Acts 1:15,21-26)

(I also need to point out, because it can be confusing, that the Apostle Matthew, also known as Levi, who was one of the original twelve, is not the same person as Matthias. I’m guessing that we use Matthew and Matthias (and also Levi for Matthew) to distinguish between the two, because they’re both more recent variants of the original Hebrew Mattiyahu via the Greek variant Matthaios.)

Anyway, I’ve always loved Matthias’ story, and I’ve always loved his name. Not only are Matt and Matty possible nicknames, but I’ve seen Mitt/Mitty for Matthew, which can work for Matthias as well, and the Dutch nickname Thijs and its variant Ties I find so appealing — Matt Lauer has a son named Thijs, pronounced TICE. Love it! (But that would probably interfere with getting everyone on board with the ma-THIGH-as pronunciation, huh?)

What do you all think of Matthias? Which pronunciation do you prefer? Do you like the spelling Matthias or Mathias better? Do you know anyone named Mat(t)hias? Does he like his name? Does he go by a nickname? All of which is my way of saying the same thing as the reader who requested the spotlight: “I would be interested in hearing your opinions on it and the opinions of your readers.”