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.”

Spotlight on: Klaus

A reader is considering the name Klaus for her baby-on-the-way and asked me if I’d get your feedback on it. What an unexpected name!

Klaus is a German short form of Nicholas (and so can take any of the Sts. Nicholas as patron) and is said “klows,” which can be problematic for anyone who doesn’t know that — it might be annoying to have to correct people on a regular basis (though not a deal breaker imo), and said “klaws” would bring Santa to mind right away. But is that really a big deal? It strikes me as such a distinguished name and in fact, one of the comments on the entry for the name at Behind the Name said, “it has a sophisticated brevity.” I love that! Another commenter mentioned the Austrian actor Klaus Maria Brandauer — you guys! Klaus Maria!!! 😍😍😍 So I had to dig a little deeper and I’m fascinated by this: Klaus Maria Brandauer was born Klaus Georg Steng but replaced his middle and last names with his mom’s first and maiden names — Maria Brandauer — to create his professional name. I love that so much!! What a guy!! And not really any different from a man taking a Mary name as his own (religious name, Confirmation name), no?

Klaus is such a short name that it doesn’t really need a nickname (though I did see in its entry on Namipedia the nickname Klausie, which could be cute), but it’s also got some baggage (pronunciation, Santa) that could be managed with an easier nickname. I think Nick/Nicky/Niko/Nico could work, as a nod to its Nicholas connection. Or perhaps KC, if the middle was a C name, like Klaus Christopher (I had a friend in college named Keith Christopher who went by KC). Or Kip if the middle had a P in it (Klaus Patrick), or Kit if the middle had a T (like GoT actor Kit Harington, whose given name is Christopher — Kit is a traditional nickname for Christopher, which makes an extra nice argument for Klaus Christopher nicknamed Kit). Or Kam, for something like Klaus Abraham/Amadeus or Klaus Matthew/Matthias — Kam fits in easily with the Cameron/Cam crowd.

What do you all think of Klaus? Do you know anyone named Klaus? Does he like his name? Does he go by a nickname?

 

Spotlight on: Felicity

Felicity’s one of those names that I love seeing considered. Though it’s more familiar to us here in this community than not, it’s actually fairly unusual — take a look at its popularity chart:

felicity
From SSA.gov

Isn’t that so interesting? From 1900 to 1997, it wasn’t in the top 1000 at all. Doesn’t that surprise you? Then on September 29, 1998 the show Felicity aired, which accounts for the name’s appearance at no. 818 in 1998 and the HUGE leap it made the next year! It stayed between 400 and 800 ever since, being currently at the most popular it’s ever been, at no. 360. Part of the reason for the recent increase in popularity might also be due to actresses Felicity Jones and Felicity Huffman (who’s one of eight! Six girls besides her: Mariah, Betsy, Grace, Isabel, Jessie, Jane, and one brother: Moore, Jr.) and also the Revolutionary War-era American Girl doll by the same name. But even still, no. 360 is really not that popular at all, especially given what we know about name popularity today (here, here). All in all, I think it’s sort of in a sweet spot of popularity — uncommon yet familiar.

And of course, its saintliness! St. Felicity’s story is one of the very best — as New Advent puts it (using the variant Felicitas):

Felicitas, who at the time of her incarceration was with child (in the eighth month), was apprehensive that she would not be permitted to suffer martyrdom at the same time as the others, since the law forbade the execution of pregnant women. Happily, two days before the games she gave birth to a daughter, who was adopted by a Christian woman. On 7 March, the five confessors were led into the amphitheatre. At the demand of the pagan mob they were first scourged; then a boar, a bear, and a leopard, were set at the men, and a wild cow at the women. Wounded by the wild animals, they gave each other the kiss of peace and were then put to the sword.”

Felicity was the maidservant of St. Perpetua, also a mother of an infant who was martyred at the same time — they share a feast day: March 7. That Felicity is St. Felicity of Carthage, but there are others too, like St. Felicity of Rome who was mother to seven sons and was forced to watch them all killed in front of her in order to get her to renounce her faith (it didn’t work); she was then martyred.

Felicity’s also a virtue-type name — it means “happiness” — which puts it in league with names like Grace, Faith, Hope, Sophia, and Verity. It’s got so much going for it in its full form, but I feel like a big part of the conversation around the name Felicity involves nicknames — specifically, I know parents who decide not to go with Felicity because they can’t figure out a nickname they like. Some traditional ones are Fliss(y), Liss(y), Lissa, Fil, Flick, and Flicka (Felicity Huffman has a web site for women in general and moms in particular called What the Flicka), but what else can we get out of it?

Ages ago one of you (eclare) suggested Lily as a nickname for Felicity, which I thought was brilliant. Another of you (Margaret) has a daughter named Felicity who gets called Fin — a nickname from one of her middle names, but I totally think it could work for something like Felicity Nora. Zita is a Hungarian diminutive of the name, and Zyta a Polish short form — I really like both those options. The comments for the entry on behindthename include Fee and Felly as nicknames, which are cute. Cissy could probably work, as could Liddy, which I love. What other ideas do you have?

What do you think of the name Felicity? Would you name a daughter Felicity, or have you? Does she go by a nickname? Do you know any little Felicitys?