Drumroll, please … this is post #1,000, written over more than two and a half years.
More than 700 of those posts are deep dives into one particular featured Name of the Day. Here’s a quick look at what I’ve learned over the past two-going-on-three years.
1. The more I write about names, the less significant I find their stated meanings.
I used to be very concerned about meanings. How could anyone name a child Mallory or Tanner? The only thing I liked about my very common – and quickly shed – first name was that Amy had a pleasant meaning, consistent from baby name book to baby name book.
But the more I’ve written, the more I realized that the assigned meanings are often open to debate. The obvious example is Katherine – everyone might believe she means pure, but that’s folk etymology, made true by the weight of a billion baby name books. For other names, though, pop culture and current events loom larger than the name’s stated meaning. If you named your daughter Monica in 1995, you were asked about Friends. (Though Monica had been in the US Top 100 for more than three decades when the show debuted.) Three years later, it was all White House sex scandal. Monica exited the Top 100, and continues to fall rapidly.
That’s not to say parents shouldn’t consider a name’s meaning – if it matters to you, then it matters. But unless you’re using a straight-up noun name – Sky or Honor or Indigo – it is almost always more complicated than you might think.
2. The Myth of the Normal Name persists and will be with us always.
We have very short memories when it comes to names, and we’re heavily influenced by our experiences. It’s surprising to discover that Melvin and Ethel, Luther and Loretta were once perfectly ordinary choices. (Those four are Top 100 picks from the 1920s.) Our names (Jeffrey and Michelle, Chad and Dawn) will sound just as dated in another generation or two. And when we’re grandparents, some of us will be asking why no one calls their kids Chloe and Austin, Elijah and Isabella anymore.
Names are governed by customs and trends, and both shift over the decades, strongly enough that what sounds normal to someone in her 50s is unthinkable to a new parent today. And yet sometimes we’re harshly dismissive of emerging names, convinced that it’s just short of child abuse to name a boy Julian or a girl Taylor, not realizing that they’re solidly established Top 100 picks in the US. They might not be our personal style, and that’s fine – but they’re nothing if not normal.
3. Rules are elusive.
We want to believe that given names are fixed and unchanging, but they’re actually amazingly flexible. Dominant spellings evolve (Sallie to Sally, Philip to Phillip). Surnames and first names are more fluid than they appear at first glance. Gender shifts across languages and continents.
Take spellings. Many of us want there to be correct, etched-in-stone, though-shall-not-alter spellings. Most of the time, it isn’t so. There are better spellings – spellings that are familiar, that don’t require us to stop and question if the parents intended a different pronunciation for Alyzabeth, or if Zachareigh is a girl. (I’d guess no and yes, but I’d be prepared to be wrong in both cases.)
But standardized spellings are a very recent phenomenon – much, much younger than the practice of addressing each other by a given name. Any name with a history longer than a century or two has multiple spellings.
The same goes for the idea that surnames should never be given as first names. An astonishing number of names have traveled from first to last and back again. Some fall out of use, others become so common that we forget their origins.
When I first started writing, I set out to gather and explain the rules – as if no one would name her daughter Jordynne if only she understood. 1,000 posts later, I’m less certain than ever that I’m right. And I’m quite certain that Jordynne’s mom couldn’t care less!
And here’s one more, a bonus, The Very Most Important Thing I’ve Learned Since January 2008, when I wrote my very first post.
There really is no substitute for thoughtful, engaged, and equally name-obsessed readers. I would’ve long since grown bored with Baby Names of the Day without your challenging, intriguing suggestions. And your comments? I learn, I laugh, once in a while I even talk back at the monitor, forgetting that we’re not all on the playground together.
So cue the confetti – that’s all for post 1,000.
Or wait – not QUITE all. Stand by for a Very Special Give Away – the first one ever at Appellation Mountain. A chance to win is coming to you next Saturday, so check back. (Well check back before then. But next Saturday? Definitely stop by!)
Congratulations on 1000! And thank you for all those fantastic posts!
I love your blog, Amy. I think I’ve learnt similar things to you over the past few years just from reading various name blogs. 🙂
Thank you all! You’re really too kind.
Congratulations on having 1,000 posts. 🙂 I’ve been a lurker for a month, and I love your blog especially the name stories. They’re my favorite. I was so happy to find your blog with all those interesting history behind those lovely names. 🙂
Congratulations! Your blog is a delight to read – thank you!
wow.. congrats. I just found you a few weeks ago. So I am so glad to see that you are running strong. I cant believe there are name lovers out there like me. Its so nice to see the back stories on all of the names. I also dont think the meanings are too important, but I do think that the meaning and the history give it interest and makes your site oh so fun to read!!!
Charlotte Vera says
A fabulous thousandth post to cap 999 fabulous posts! Name meanings are less important to me than they were when I got my first name book at the age of eleven, but I still can’t bring myself to knowingly give a child a name with a negative meaning, however euphonious its sound or splendid its history. That’s just me personally, I have quite a few friends with extremely cute little Jacobs who quickly make me forget any of the name’s negative connotations.
Congratulations on your achievement and the great-as-usual post to go along with it. Ever since I found your site, I’ve been coming back every day. You’re a talented and funny writer, plus I love to read the diverse opinions in the comments. I don’t comment every day…how often can I say, “It sounds too sci-fi to me”?…but I’m always lurking!
Cheers, and here’s to the next 1,000!
Great post, and congratulations on all one thousand of them! The perspective and balanced view you’ve gained through your research and writing is what makes your posts interesting to me. I find many people with a passion for names fall into the mindset you describe of wanting definitive meanings and spellings and a clear line between what constitutes a ‘legitimate’ name and what does not, but as you rightly point out, the reality is much more complex and nuanced. Some of the names you feature are way too surnamey or faddish for my taste, but I appreciate that you cover such a wide range of names and don’t stick to just one style. I look forward to reading more of your posts.
Congratulations! Here’s to 1000 more!
My name was in your post, except mine is with an “e” at the end. And one might assume the extra “e” makes it feminine, but I’m a guy so :p I guess Zachareigh might be a guy too hehe, I see your point.
Congratulations on 1000 excellent posts! I was so happy the day I discovered your blog (some time at the start of this year). It’s always lovely to know that there are other people in the world who simply love names!
Great post, but then I look forward to all of your posts.
Great post Abby! I agree 100 % with you.
I love your site and yours too Elisabeth. You guys inspired me to start my site and that there were other name enthusiats like me.
Great post as always! Congrats on your 1000th post. I think you and Elisabeth from You Can’t Call It It should collaborate on a naming guide as a public good.
Yay! Congratulations on the 1000th post and a continuously great blog!
Congratulations! I thought your first post was in January 2008, not January 2007 (like you said here)?
Kelly, you’re SO right. January 2008. I’ve fixed my error!
Hooray! I love confetti!
I mean, congratulations 🙂 How wonderful and exciting!
And rats, I’ll be away next weekend. Don’t feel too bad, I’ll be enjoying my sister-in-law’s wedding on a cruise to Mexico 😉
Congrats on the accomplishment, and thanks for working so hard to provide such wonderful information.
Abby, I’ve loved every post since I discovered you in May 2007. Your energy and fervor and contributions about names encouraged me to begin my own name site, and I am forever grateful to you for that.
To me, the thing I am most reminded of the more I write about names, is that it’s names we are talking about– not individual people. A person’s name may not accurately reflect how smart or interesting they are, and usually it doesn’t.
As a mother, stated meanings are exceedingly important and played a vital role in choosing “blessed voyager bringer of joy” and “beautiful voice/ eloquent words” for my children. I just can’t help it. Though I still love Cormac, “son of defilement.” Just not for my child.
I’m very intrigued by this give away. Thanks for this list, and thanks for giving us so much to look forward to in our day.
That’s a VERY good point, Elisabeth – there are plenty of kids in my life with names I might not choose, but I love the children regardless!
congratulations on the thousandth post! i haven’t been around since the beginning but i certainly enjoy the daily dose of name knowledge. i’m intrigued over the giveaway too!
Thanks! And don’t get TOO excited about the giveaway – it isn’t a car. 🙂
Christina Fonseca says
And a wonderful 1,000 posts it’s been.
Giveaways are great and I’ll probably enter; but, truly – I marvel at the gift you give us week after week after week!
Great post! (As usual.)