We all know that virtue names are big. And noun names have gone from outlandish to mainstream in the past decade, too. Some might even say that they’re growing tired.
But when Jessica Alba welcomed her little starbaby last month, she plumbed this category to choose a name that has both a long history of use and sounds completely fresh and original. Our Name of the Day for July 6 is Honor.
Honor student, honor code, defending my honor, honorarium, it’s a honor to be here today, all is lost save honor, the Honorable Judge So’n’So presiding.
The word is well-used. It means honesty, fairness and integrity or sometimes esteem, respect, distinction. The Latin honorem evolved to the Old French honor; in Anglo-French, it acquired an extra vowel and became honour, only to shed it in the US. It’s remarkably unchanged in both meaning and spelling for nearly a thousand years.
As a given name, the stripped-down Honor was probably first used by those intrepid Puritans. But Honora, Honoria and Annora all appear in the Middle Ages. Reaching farther back, Honorius was a fourth century Roman emperor. Four popes took the name Honorius, the last in 1285. A handful of early saints were called Honoratus and Honorata.
They’re all rare today. While Honora briefly ranked in the US Top 1000 in the late 19th century, none of the variants have charted since 1900, despite the rise of Grace, Faith, Constance, Hope and even more adventurous choices like Felicity and Charity. Honor has never appeared in the listings.
Perhaps the best known bearer of the name is English actress Honor Blackman. She gained fame as Cathy Gale on The Avengers, but left the series to film a movie – Goldfinger, opposite Sean Connery’s James Bond. As Bond Girl Pussy Galore, she flew airplanes, practiced judo and ultimately betrayed her evil henchman boss to help 007 save the day.
In French, the name Honoré is sometimes used for boys, with Honorine the feminization, and 19th century novelist Honoré de Balzac the most famous bearer. We’ve been too busy watching this season’s Tori Spelling reality show to tangle with Le Père Goriot, but his influence does lend the name a certain literary cachet.
It’s an interesting choice. Honor has a bit more spine than the frilly Felicity or the simple Grace, but she clearly belongs in the company of virtue names. And while she’s feminine, Honor is perfectly frills-free. We’re quite fond of the appellation, and rather think that the Bond Girl connection lends it a bit of boldness that the name might otherwise lack.
Hollywood’s influence on baby naming trends is undeniable, and that makes for the only real drawback to Honor. It might feel a bit torn-from-the-pages-of-People. But if you can overcome that hesitation, it’s the kind of name that will wear well on a child and an adult – and yes, maybe on your own daughter.