Thanks to Stephanie for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.
TO SLEEP, PERCHANCE TO DREAM
We wish our children sweet dreams at bedtime, and we talk about having big dreams.
But the word hasn’t always referred only to beautiful dreams.
In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the near-mad prince says, “to sleep, perchance to dream …” in his soliloquy about death. It makes for a moodier take on the word than we expect to hear today.
Another time, Mercutio declares “that dreamers often lie” in his long, rambling jest about Queen Mab in Romeo and Juliet.
On a very different note, the word refers to a fantasy, a beautiful dream, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
So which is it?
The origins are tangled.
In Old Norse, draumr and related words meant merriment or noise.
In Old English, the sense was closer to illusion, phantasm, or even trickery – more like Mercutio’s take on the word. In fact, it might be related to a Sanskrit root that means to deceive – which is Hamlet’s interpretation.
But in Old English, it could also suggest joy and mirth and merriment, which brings us to Midsummer’s Night.
And it might trace all the way back to a word meaning to deceive or seek to harm – edging closer to Hamlet’s take.
Eventually, the word grew to include imaginative dreams that were experienced when not sleeping. Call it the Walt Disney definition: “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.”
By the nineteenth century, dream also included something of great beauty or charm.
More recently, in the twentieth century, it started to refer to an ideal – a dream girl.
And sometimes it’s still ambiguous. Think of the 1960s anthem “California Dreamin'” by the Mamas and the Papas. It’s a song full of longing and homesickness, though it’s also about the Golden State as an ideal.
Even as the word itself changed and evolved, many an ancient deity was associated with dreams.
Greek mythology made Morpheus the god of dreams and god of sleep. Hypnos and Somnos are the personifications of sleep in Greek and Roman myth, respectively.
Their family trees hint at the way we’ve always understood dreamland. Hypnos was the son of Nyx – night. Pasithea, the wife of Hypnos, was responsible for relaxation – but also hallucinations.
There’s also the Chimera, a fantastic creature mixing parts of a lion, a goat, and a snake. The word has come to mean several things, including anything wildly implausible – a dream that cannot be realized. That’s particularly true for Chimere, the French form of the word.
And, of course, plenty of stories involve a prophecy received via dream. In Homer’s Odyssey, Penelope tells Odysseus of her visions; it’s only one example from stories with Greek origins. Gods sometimes appear directly in them, while others are harder to interpret.
Other cultures claim similar figures and tales.
In Lithuanian folklore, Breksta serves as goddess of dreams, and protector of the sleeping.
Irish myth gives us Aengus, a god of youth who falls in love with a girl he sees in his dreams. She’s Caer Ibormeith. Both Aengus and his dream girl are sometimes considered Celtic gods of dreams.
The Bible refers to dreams, too. Jacob experienced a famous dream vision, one that we know as Jacob’s Ladder – a stairway leading to heaven. Many works of art have depicted Jacob’s dream over the ages.
While it’s not part of the traditional Christian Bible, the ancient Hebrew text The Book of Enoch also details dreams; in fact, an entire section is dedicated to them.
NAMES MEANING DREAM
Accordingly, names from a great many cultures refer to dreams, including:
- The Gaelic name Aisling, pronounced like Ash-lyn and sometimes spelled Aislin or Aislinn, has been used as an Irish given name since the 1900s.
- Swapna, Swapnil, Swapnili, and Swapnali have Sanskrit roots. Maya means illusion in Sanskrit; not quite the same meaning, but close.
- Hayal and Hayali are Turksih names with the same meaning.
- Endri, an Albanian name, means dreamer.
- Sanja shares the meaning, and is used in Croatian, Serbian, and Slovene.
- Almos can mean dream in Hungarian.
- JRR Tolkein coined Lorien – or Lórien – which means either “land of gold” or dream in Sindarin.
- While the Polish name Marzena is usually associated with Mary or Margaret, it also benefits from its similiarty to marzyć – an archaic word meaning daydream.
- With Arabic origins, Ahlam means dreams.
- Roya, typically considered Persian in origin, is another Arabic name meaning dream.
- Yume is one of several Japanese girl names that can share the meaning.
In Old French, resver meant to dream – or possibly to rave. The French reve means dream.
And so, while we think of reverie as an English word meaning “daydream,” it has French origins, too.
It also sounds quite name-like, and has surged in use in recent years, with 62 girls named Reverie in 2020 and other 60 in 2021.
FROM WORD to NAME
So we can have fanciful daydreams or divine visions or aspirations that we work to realize while calling them dreams.
Music tells us all about it:
Life is but a dream, all you have to do is dream, hold on tight to your dreams.
But how did this word become a given name?
DREAMA and DREMA
In the mid-twentieth century, two mysterious names increased in use: Dreama and Drema.
Drema appeared in the US Top 1000 a handful of times from the 1940s into the 1950s. Dreama was never quite as common, but peaked in usage around the same time.
It’s particularly common in West Virginia. Actress Dreama Perry Denver was born in West Virginia – but in 1950, so she’s part of the trend, not the cause of it. The wife of actor Bob Denver, Dreama became an advocate for special needs individuals in her home state.
Maybe Dreama and Drema paved the way for the baby name Dream. One other possibility: a fictional character.
Neil Gaiman’s comic book The Sandman debuted in 1989 and introduced Dream of the Endless, also known as Morpheus.
It’s not exactly a human name. After all, the other Endless are things like Death, Desire, and Destiny. They’re more powerful than gods, and have been around longer, too.
Tom Sturridge plays the role in the Netflix adaptation.
BY the NUMBERS
In 1970, the baby name Dream debuted in the US popularity data, with six births.
It wouldn’t return until 1993, when eight girls received the name.
The timing suggests that The Sandman might’ve been an influence. But it feels like a stretch.
VIRTUOUS WORD NAME
Maybe the simplest explanation is that the baby name Dream started to feel like a purpose name – a word name that suggested a mix of personal achievement.
With choices like Journey and Nova trending, Dream just makes sense.
A number of high profile birth announcements helped put the baby name Dream on parents’ radar:
- Musicians Sole and Giuwine gave the name to a daughter in 2002. Her older sister is named Story.
- Hip hop artist Jayceon Terrell – better known as The Game – welcomed daughter California “Cali” Dream in 2010.
- Basketball star Allen Iverson also welcomed his youngest daughter, Dream Alijha, in 2008.
But then along came the Kardashians.
Love ’em, hate ’em, or just plain don’t really understand the fuss, nearly everyone at least knows that the Kardashian-Jenner family is nothing short of reality TV royalty.
In 2016, Rob Kardashian – the brother – and girlfriend Blac Chyna welcomed a daughter named Dream Renee Kardashian.
As of 2015, 98 girls and 8 boys received the baby name Dream.
By 2017? 330 girls and 31 boys. That’s a stratospheric rise!
Accordingly, the name entered the US Top 1000 at #824 in 2017.
But it hasn’t slowed down. As of 2021, the baby name Dream ranked #351 for girls in the US. That translates to 880 births. In addition, 60 boys received the name.
VIRTUE meets CHARM
The baby name Dream represents a new kind of virtue name – one that blends in a little bit of whimsy and some quirky charm, too.
It’s easy to imagine a girl with this name as a dreamy person, drifting in fields of flowers. But also as a driven achiever, accomplishing the unexpected.
While it could easily be considered unisex, for now, it’s all Dream girl.
If you’re looking for a name that suggests creativity and accomplishment, bold ideas and peaceful contentment all at once, this single-syllable name truly has it all.
What do you think of the baby name Dream?
First published November 29, 2016, this post was revised substantially and re-posted on March 8, 2023.