Prairie: Baby Name of the Day

prairie grass

prairie grass (Photo credit: **** j a z z z i ***)

Praise and Promise were names given to dozens of girls in 2011.  But this lovely nature name is impossibly rare.

Thanks to Deanna for suggesting Prairie as our Baby Name of the Day.

Prairie sounds like classic girls’ names like Mary and Carrie, but her spelling is slightly more elaborate.  She comes from the Latin pratum, which became praerie and then prairie in French.  The word was known in English once upon a time, but we discarded it until the late eighteenth century, when we needed new words to describe the vast American wilderness. 

In some ways, this makes Prairie a patriotic name, too.  Post-Revolution, the new nation started aggressively expanding west.  Daniel Boone was blazing trails, and we were about to seal the Louisiana Purchase in a few more years.

Strictly speaking, there are similar environments all over the world.  The Argentine Pampas are prairies, and so are the steppes of Eurasia.  But the word is usually reserved for the American Midwest – think of Kansas and Missouri, Wisconsin and Oklahoma.  There’s also an architectural style called Prairie School, used to describe the type of buildings that evolved in the region.  Up until then, quite a bit of our architecture was based on European design aesthetics.  By the late nineteenth century, we were looking for something specific to our habitat.

Prairie features in place names and animal names, but the most famous person named Prairie is fictional – and not completely human.  She’s a seven year old Muppet called Prairie Dawn.  She’s not one of the most famous Muppets, but she has been around for ages.  Perhaps the hot pink puppet is the reason Prairie really does seem more common than she is.

Pop culture references include:

  • Little House on the Prairie, the long-running television series based on the writings of Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • Pure Prairie League, a country rock act with a string of hit in the 1970s
  • Garrison Keillor has narrated A Prairie Home Companion for decades

Despite all of these wholesome associations, Prairie feels more hippie chic.  Other than the Muppet, the only figure to wear the name was, indeed, the fictional teenaged daughter of an aging hippie in Thomas Pynchon’s 1990 novel Vineland.  A smattering of real people have answered to the name – mostly women, but apparently a man or two, too.  Some of them are Native American, but others are clearly not.

What does this mean for Prairie circa 2012?  With nature names at an all-time high, there’s really no barrier to using Prairie.  She sounds like an established name, too.  So if you’re fretting that Meadow is too popular and Autumn too obvious, why not Prairie?

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17 Comments

I had my baby girl this past August and I named her Prairie. I couldn’t be happier with my choice! Everyone loves her name too, and it just fits her so well. My mother wanted to name me Prairie but with my last name (Parks) my dad wasn’t so thrilled. Know both my mom and dad are elated that I chose the name Prairie. I’m glad to “meet/hear” of others names Prairie too!

I am actually a person named Prairie. My middle name is Rose. 🙂 growing up I hated my name. I wanted any normal name but now as an adult I love my name! I’m 25 and have never met another Prairie. I have done facebook searchs that have revealed there are others out there. Therefore I love that my name is special and orginal. My mom chose to name me after an Indian girl in a book she was reading while pregnant with me. The question I get asked the most is if my parents are hippies, which h they are not. My mother loves horses and westerns. And the old wild west. I think this is a beautiful girls name and thoughtful because of how uncommon it is.

My 14 year old great nieces’ name is Prairie. If she was a boy, the name was going to be River. She is very “earthy” and a vegan.

This one is a tongue twister for me. It comes out like “Purrie” in my accent. Just like the Brewers become the Brurers. We sure do love us some Prairie style architecture out here though! Hey, how ’bout Taliesin as a NotD?

I’ll third Charlotte Vera and Jen – lots of Canadians today!

I was born in Grande Prairie, Alberta, so the word Prairie has always evoked home for me. We’re considering it as a middle for our second, if we have another girl. Our daughter’s middle name is Verity, so we love the similar rhythm as well as the personal meaning.

I think it sounds very sweet and old-fashioned, but spunky, like Felicity. It’s certainly not my style, but I would be so delighted if I met one!

I’m with Charlotte Vera, we have our Prairie provinces which account for a large portion of our total area. It doesn’t say “patriotic American name” to me at all!

Today’s article is a good example of how words and names can have very different meanings and associations to different people depending on their background. I confess that I have never thought of the prairies as American, not even after reading the Little House books. To me, the word “prairie” evokes Canada, my grandmother’s Albertan farm, and the warmth of Canadian Thanksgiving dinners in October. I’d never considered the word as a name before, but I can see how, as an expatriot Canadian from the Western prairies, I might be tempted to use Prairie in the middle spot. Doing so would also be a subtle nod to my clunky German maiden name which, arguably, translates to “thick meadow”.