Baby Name of the Day: Nevaeh

by appellationmountain on July 23, 2012

English: clouds in the sky English: clouds in the sky (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

She’s among the most hated of baby names, one that can prompt pages of accusations.  But where, besides the skies, did she come from?

Our Baby Name of the Day is Nevaeh.

As we all know, Nevaeh is simply Heaven spelled backwards.  As a given name, Heaven has ranked in the US Top 1000 every year since 1990, coming in at #317 in 2011.  Heavenly - and, of course, Heavenlee and Heavenleigh - are heard, too.

Nevaeh is a little different, though.  She sounds like she should be a name, something with exotic roots or an intriguing backstory, a sister for Cloelia and Corisande.  Indeed, you’ll find lots of comments that Nevaeh is actually an old Scandinavian or Hebrew or what-have-you appellation, something with plenty of history to silence all the haters.

And yet.

In 1999, there were just a few baby girls named Nevaeh.  Then in 2000, Sonny Sandoval, frontman for P.O.D., went on MTV’s Cribs to show off his living quarters.  Sandoval was a proud new papa, and also introduced his newborn daughter, Nevaeh – “heaven spelled backwards,” he explained.

Apparently we were all watching.  Nevaeh’s debut in the US Top 1000 in 2001 was a record-setting #266.  By 2005, she was up to #69, and by 2010, she’d reached #25.  Misspell it Neveah, which is phonetically more logical but spells Haeven in reverse, and it still makes the Top 1000.

The interesting thing about Sandoval isn’t necessarily his musical career – though P.O.D. has had a good run.  Instead, it is the lifestyle and perspective he represents, and that’s the clue to Neveah’s success – and her controversy, too.

Sandoval was a teenage gang member, a ne’er do well who converted to Christianity following the untimely death of his mother.  We tend to think of conversion tales as straightforward narratives, where the changed life results in clean living and the pursuit of a career in something sensible.  Bank teller, maybe, or HVAC repair technician.  But Sandoval launched a musical career instead.  P.O.D. stands for Payable On Death, a reference to the death of Jesus on the cross.  Christian metal – and Christian-themed popular music in general – made a certain openly religious, cross-on-your-sleeve style not just acceptable, but downright cool.  It’s quite the phenomenon, an evolution tracked and analyzed by academics.

That’s the secret to Nevaeh’s success.  Sandoval’s other kids are daughter Marley and son Justice – a mix of musical influences and virtues, names that are meaningful and current – just like his music.  And that almost certainly strikes a chord with many parents.  If you’re not Catholic, saints’ names like Mary and Ignatius may lack relevance, just as they did for Protestant Reformers.

At the same time, plenty of the devout may find Nevaeh uncomfortable – like Trinity, it is a name that may appear to trivialize religious faith rather than celebrate it.  But that really depends on how each individual understands faith.  It is similar to the debate about Cohenis it a disrespectful borrowing, or an innocent adoption?

But factor in that evangelical Christians may have children younger, and that younger parents tend to choose different names – more creative, less traditional – and there’s more than one reason for Nevaeh’s appeal.

Nevaeh fell to #35 in 2011, suggesting that, like many a supernova’d name, she may quickly plummet from use.  But it will be decades before another name occupies her unique space in the naming ‘verse.

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