Fetching Names: Bird by Bird

English: A Bird

English: A Bird (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Plenty of nature names have been spotlighted at AppMtn over the years, but one particular category fascinates me: bird names.

Ava is sometimes linked to the Latin avis, for bird.  That’s almost certainly folk etymology – a coincidence of sounds that influenced our ideas about the meanings and origins of a name.  Plenty of other appellations do conjure up feathers and flight.

Amateur ornithologists of the world, unite!  There are dozens of avian names for a daughter.  Some are more of a stretch than others, but any on this list has potential – even if it is only in the middle spot.

There are a handful of bird names for boys, too, though they tend towards the more aggressive: Hawk, for example, or Talon.

Aderyn – One of my favorites!  This modern Welsh name literally means bird.  Emphasis is on the middle syllable, but you could certainly shorten this one to Addie, too.

Avis – She probably comes from a Germanic element of debated meaning, but it is easy to match her up with the Latin avis – bird – just like Ava.  Actor Daniel Baldwin used this name for a daughter born in 2008.

Birdie Busy Phillips – her real name is Elizabeth Jean – decided to put the nickname on her daughter’s birth certificate.  Birdie Leigh was born in 2008.

Branwen – Another Welsh import.  Bran means raven, and makes for one of those bird names for boys.  The wen comes from gwen – fair.

Celandine – She’s a two-for … a celandine is a flower, but it derives from the Greek word for a swallow.

Columba – The name developed in Late Latin, and was worn by men and women – we’ve got the saints to prove it.  Columba comes from the Latin for dove.

Derora – The Hebrew masculine name Dror means sparrow, and Drora or Derora is a feminine form.

Dove – A very literal bird name with peaceful overtones.

Jemima – Yet another dove name, from Hebrew via the Old Testament this time – she’s one of Job’s daughters.  Jemima found favor with Puritan parents, but in the US today, she’s mostly syrup.

Kestrel – Another literal bird name, this time a type of falcon.  Kestrel isn’t common, but her sound is intriguing.

Lark – Mia Farrow and Andre Previn gave this name to a daughter back in 1973, but it was the recent arrival of Agnes Lark, daughter of Jennifer Connelly and Paul Bettany, that helped put Lark in the spotlight.

Mavis – She’s stuck in fashion limbo, but if you’re after an underused name with avian roots, Mavis fits.  The bird is better known as the song thrush in English; in Old French, the word was mauvis.  A late nineteenth century novel introduced the idea of Mavis as a given name, and she had a good run in the 1920s and 30s.

Merle – Another name unlikely to make a comeback anytime soon, the gender-neutral Merle was in favor in the 1910s and 20s.  Merle is almost certainly derived from Muriel via a surname, but it is also the Old French word for blackbird, from the Latin merula.

Paloma – Actor and pacifist Pablo Picasso was the first.  Now David Caruso and Ana Ortiz both have daughters named Paloma.  Salma Hayek’s little girl is Valentina Paloma.  She’s found favor with American parents in recent years, but remains nicely under-used.

Raven – Popular in the 1990s, and boosted by actress Raven-Symoné, today Raven is fading.  Ravenna, as in the Italian city, is unrelated, but could serve as a modern update.  Charlize Theron wore the name as the Evil Queen in 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman.

Rhea – A rhea is a large, flightless bird, whose name was inspired by the goddess Rhea.  In Greek myth, Rhea was a Titan, and mother to Zeus, Hera, Hestia, Hades, Demeter, and Poseidon.

Robin – A masculine nickname for Robert, and also a Top 100 pick for girls from the 1950s into the 1970s.  She’s feeling a bit dated and mom-name today, at least for a daughter.  Maybe it is time for Robin to be reclaimed by Team Blue?

Sarika – From the Sanskrit for myna bird – a thoroughly exotic, and yet completely accessible choice.

Sephora – A major chain of cosmetics stores found in nearly every mall in America, and yet she’s also an Old Testament appellation.  Sephora is a simplified form of Tzipporah, the wife of Moses.  It comes from a Hebrew word meaning bird.

Starling – Borrowed directly from the bird, a creature found in nearly every corner of the Earth.  Clarice Starling was the FBI agent from the Silence of the Lambs, a role for which Jodi Foster scored a Best Actress Oscar.  It lends some backbone to an otherwise fanciful name.

Swan – It’s a surname worn by two famous fictional heroines – Twilight’s Bella and Pirates’ Elizabeth.  Swans are also lovely birds with a fierce reputation – not a bad combination for a daughter’s name.

Tori -Typically she’s considered a nickname for the regal Victoria, but she’s on this list for another reason.  In Japanese, tori means bird – but I can’t confirm if Tori is actually used as a given name.  It also seems possible that tori refers mainly to poultry – and I’m hard-pressed to imagine a child named Rooster or Chicken.

Zipporah – Another form of Sephora, one that skews closer to the Biblical original.

Wren – The only avian name I’ve ever written on a birth certificate, and one that seems to be on the upswing.  Nameberry’s most recent quarterly report included a newborn Wren Elise.

Which avian appellations are missing from this list?  Would you consider any of these?

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  1. Carrie says

    Tori Avalon was the Americanized name of a character in the Japanese anime Cardcaptors.

    His original name was Toya Kinomoto, not a stretch but knowing tori is a Japanese words help it make sense.

    I’ve been wondering how they came up with it for years, its not usually thought of as a male name, plus its nicknamey….

    What would be a full name for it besides Victor, Thor, Thorence, Torrent, or various Torins?

  2. Hugz says

    I had Teal on my list for a while (as in the duck AND the colour).
    Had a brief liking for Feather and Finch as guilty pleasure names.
    I also really like Piper.

  3. says

    There are lots of Icelandic bird names (yes, I like to bring the Icelandic names!). My favourite for a girl is Lóa (a beach bird). We nearly named our second daughter that, but decided against as it sounds a bit matchy with our first daughter’s name.

    For girls there’s also Kria (the arctic tern), Svala (swallow), Hrefna (raven), Erla (not sure of the name in English!), Ugla (owl), Arna (eagle?), and Svana (swan).

    For boys we have Örn, Ari (both mean eagle), Haukur (hawk), Hrafn, Krummi (both mean Raven), Svanur (swan), Eiður (the eider duck, I think).

    Not many of these are usable in English, but Loa or Kria might work. :)

  4. Danielle says

    I never realized I like so many bird names! Ava, Celandine, Jemima, Lark, Mavis, Paloma, Raven, Sephora, Wren.

  5. Charlotte Vera says

    I liked a lot more of these than I thought I would — always a pleasant surprise!

    By the way, I was trying to read up on some of your older articles to compare what they have to say with this list http://www.mentalfloss.com/blogs/archives/132523 (e.g. Arizona, the infamous Florida), but only the first few lines of the articles are readable. Is this glitch an aspect of my computer/browser, or does it still have to do with the movement of your site?

    (Hmm, I just clicked on Zipporah and had the same issue.)

    • appellationmountain says

      Nope, that’s me not you – much of the blog content came over as stubs and I’ve been manually importing them, ten or so at a time as I find the pockets of problems. I’m also fixing the ones that are specifically pointed out. If you see one, it would help if you’d take a sec and add a quick comment – it makes it easier to find the next area to attack! :)

    • Amanda says

      I really like Heron. I think of the great blue heron, such a beautiful and graceful bird. Heron has a masculine sound, although it also brings Hera to mind (the goddess of women and marriage). Overall I think it could work as a first name by I LOVE it as a middle.

      • appellationmountain says

        I think I could get behind Heron. As a middle, stunning. As a first? Yeah. Why not? It’s not so different than Karen. Factor in the popularity of Harper and Harlow and I think that sound is perfectly wearable for a girl, and nicely distinctive at the same time. Great addition to the list!

  6. Amanda says

    We used Adler as one of our son’s middle names because Adler is the German word for the bird of prey “eagle”. We liked the connection to nature/birds (my husband is an avid bird watcher) and the less aggressive sound (when compared to Hawk or Talon etc.) Another name I love for a boy is Peregrine. Great list :)

  7. says

    One of the biggest ironies of my life is that my name means bird and I’m ornithophobic. Still, it’s nice to see my name up there. I really like most of the names on the list, especially Starling, Wren and Lark. Celandine is certainly interesting, though.

  8. Emily says

    Byrd is a family surname for me, and it’s number one on my list for a girl’s middle name. I also like the idea of using birds as a nursery theme, since it’s a theme that can go from boy to girl to boy and back again.

  9. Martha says

    My niece’s middle name is Kestrel and I adore it! It might be a harder first name to wear but it suits her perfectly in the middle spot. They are the smallest bird of prey and the name kestrel means “rattle” which refers to their cry.

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