Friday, May 26, 2017

Famous Fictional Bookworms - Sara, Matilda, Belle

Hello, readers!

One thing I've noticed from my time in the name community is how many name nerds discovered their passion through reading. It makes sense - if you're exposed to dozens of different character names, you're likely to find their names interesting and/or meaningful. I'm definitely a part of this group, and one of my favorite character types was that of the Female Bookworm.

Bookish and nerdy but headstrong and opinionated, these ladies were inspirations in my youth - and now inspire some fantastic name ideas! Why not name a child/pet/character after someone with smarts and personality?

Full disclosure - I've never read Matilda, by Roald Dahl. A brief clip of the film version frightened me at a young age, and I never got the courage to try the book. Still, Matilda (Wormwood) Honey is frequently cited as one of the most influential bookworms, and for good reason - her devotion to books despite constant derision is moving. Her sweet name also has the courageous meaning of "battle-mighty," making it a lovely choice that balances strength and style.

Who doesn't love a character whose catchphrase is "My glasses, my glasses!"? Velma from Scooby-Doo frequently got the gang out of trouble with her intelligence and cunning. Being that this sassy name last peaked in 1912, Velma could gain popularity along the same lines as Alma and Zelda.

Though her name literally means "beautiful," Belle is definitely the most bookish out of all the Disney princesses. Then again, were any of the others given access to a gigantic castle library, they'd probably follow suit! Belle returned to the top 1000 this year - its vintage sound and bright spirit matches its kindness.

The heroine of the Harry Potter series, Hermione has practically become an identity for fans of the books. Her early preoccupation with exams turns into a passion for knowledge over time, and she's an excellent example for young nerds. Unfortunately, her name is so unique that it's hard to bestow upon a child - perhaps in a decade or two, Hermione will soar.

Friendly yet formidable, Connie is Steven's well-read best friend in Cartoon Network's Steven Universe. Though the audience discovers that Connie's strict parents are the reason for her fixation on school, she certainly enjoys learning for learning's sake. Connie is a diminutive of Constance, and neither appealing name currently ranks in the top 1000.

I devoured the Anastasia Krupnik books in elementary school - precocious and blunt, Anastasia appealed to me on a personal level. She frequently mentions books, from Gone With the Wind to The Interpretation of Dreams, and uses her intelligence to help solve the problems in her dramatic twelve-year-old life. Once frilly, Anastasia has become a popular, elegant name in today's world.

Josephine (Jo)
The oldest American bookworm on this list, Jo March was based on the author of Little Women, Louisa May Alcott. Of the book's four sisters, Jo is the best read and the most bold, and (spoiler alert) ends up writing a few books of her own. While Josephine and Josie rank in the top 300, nickname Jo is perfect for tenacious and boisterous girls.

For fans of the Disney cartoon Recess, Gretchen was the smartest (and arguably most mature) of the crew. In fact, one episode shows Gretchen besting her teachers in a battle of knowledge. While the name Gretchen has never been very popular, it did have a brief peak in the early 1970's. It's originally a short form of Margaret, and it has an amicable and adorable sound.

Frances Hodgson Burnett's A Little Princess introduced many readers to Sara Crewe, a formerly rich little girl left penniless and forced to find her own way in the world (with the help of a few friends). Sara's cleverness and warmth towards others ultimately helps her more than money - an excellent lesson for young readers. The simpler version of the Biblical classic, Sara is especially great as a cross-cultural pick.

The titular heroine of The Book Thief, Liesel Meminger is a bright young girl enamored with books in the midst of WWII Germany. Many have heard this charming name via The Sound of Music, but Liesel is actually a diminutive of the perennially popular Elizabeth. Liesel is unusual but accessible, the kind of name that will fit all kinds of personalities.

In Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom, Suzy Bishop runs away from home with just a suitcase full of books - we've all been there, haven't we? Though Susan is taking a well-deserved break, cute Suzy fits in with current retro names like Sadie or Sylvie. Might this nickname become a possibility in our modern age of diverse names?

The original fictional female bookworm (correct me in the comments), Jane Eyre turns to books when her family and boarding school prove subpar. This ends up empowering her, allowing her to leave a sheltered life behind and get working #girlboss A classic feminine choice, Jane has begun creeping up the popularity charts again, proving that it's anything but plain.

Shy but intelligent, Phoebe from Hey Arnold! is also memorable as one of the few early Asian-American characters on Nickelodeon. She's the smartest kid in class, but also shows an emotional side in a few episodes. This Greek name is a friendly and beautiful choice, made popular by the character in Friends, too.

I'm sure I missed a few - tell me your favorites in the comments!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Terms of Endearment - Terrific or Tacky?

Hello, readers!

As name tastes continue to widen and diversify, all sorts of monikers that would never have been considered a decade ago are suddenly available. Celebrities have been given free reign, and this type of freedom is starting to extend to everyone - from nicknames to three middle names, birth certificates are more exciting than ever! But are there pet names too saccharine for even the quirkiest parent to use?

"Honey" (2003) theatrical poster, Wikipedia

In 2003, Jessica Alba starred in a film called Honey, playing a music video choreographer named Honey Daniels. Though the film received negative reviews, the effect of this character on name records was undeniably positive: while only twenty-five babies were named Honey in 2003, seventy-seven were given the name in 2004 and 109 in 2005. The name plateaued and declined, but the impact of this rather minor film is worth noting. Not even "Honey Boo Boo" (Alana Thompson) had this much name influence when she rose to fame after 2008. 

Did Honey get popular because of Jessica Alba's star power? Or, since this name was already a familiar pet name, were parents just more open to it? Let's look at some other terms of endearment that have made it into official records: 

Sweetie - Recorded regularly between 1889 and 1948 (and, surprisingly, in 2001), Sweetie had an adorable retro sound - think Hattie or Sadie - but not much substance to back it up. 

Darling - First debuted in 1920, but this stylish pick had its highest number of babies born in 2014, with twenty-nine girls given the name. 

Dearie - Only showed up in 2010! Less than ten girls per year have been given the name since, but it continues to show up as a first name. This pet name is admittedly a bit dated, and Dearie could have gotten its boost from such vintage vibes. 

Babe - Now associated with the cinematic pig, Babe was used for both boys and girls between 1880 and 1980. It could have some of the same pitfalls as Baby (see below), but the Babe Ruth influence is too important not to mention. 

Baby - Many times, this was written in birth records because the parents hadn't decided on a name, or didn't feel it was important to report - check out Laura Wattenberg's interesting article on "no name" babies before 9/11. But in 1987, Dirty Dancing introduced American audiences to Baby Houseman, played by Jennifer Grey, and by 1989, Baby was in the top 1000. It remained there until the early 2000's, helped in no small part by Baby Spice of the Spice Girls. But this name has spent its pop culture credibility, and was given to less than fifteen babies last year. 

Lovey - Honestly, I've heard this name applied to cats more than humans, but it was recorded for over 120 years! Today, Love is more likely to make it onto birth certificates, along with the other modern virtue choices sweeping the charts - Serenity and Genesis among them. 

Sugar - The definition of sweetness, Sugar has the cheerful benefit of featuring in a lot of popular music, from Sugar Sugar by the Archies to Sugar by Maroon 5. But it's a bit too glucose-heavy for many tastes.

Bae - Conflicting origin stories aside, Bae has entered the lexicon of terms of endearment used by millennials. It's arisen around the same time Bailey and Baylor have become popular - coincidence, or co-evolution? It's also been given as a first name to a couple dozen babies in the past five years.

Are more parents destined to bestow names in the same way that Jamie and Jools Oliver do? Or are these names just flukes, and unlikely to catch on the way "traditional names" do? Tell me your opinions in the comments!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Names for Adventurers

Hello, readers!

As spring turns to summer, daydreams of vacations are beginning to materialize in itineraries and tickets - seeing more of the world (or even just the world around your neighborhood) is a wonderfully invigorating activity. If you've caught the travel bug, check out these names inspired by adventuring!

Image via Wikimedia Commons

One of the more modern virtue names, Journey is a beautiful word name that seems to fit right into the world of names - it's not too far off from classic Julie or millennial Jordan. While two spellings of Journey rank for girls, it's been given a boost in the boys' column too (thanks to Megan Fox and Brian Austin Green's son). 

At face value, this name calls to mind the powerful and widespread peregrine falcon, a perfect symbol of wanderlust. However, Peregrine also means "traveler" or "pilgrim", giving it more background substance. There's also a few excellent namesakes, from the first English baby born in the United States to Pippin Took of Lord of the Rings

While Saylor is rising up the top 1000, the original spelling feels less trendy and more intrepid. Both Christie Brinkley and Bristol Palin have daughters named Sailor, and it fits in well with the occupational name trend. Pop culture aficionados will love the Sailor Moon connection, too!

The first European to cross the Pacific, Ferdinand Magellan isn't the only travel link for this name - it comes from the German for "bold journey." Both Fernando and Fernanda rank on the popularity charts, but this original version has an eccentric and exciting vibe. If the long form feels too clunky, try out nicknames Freddie or Andy

Already in the top 500, this handsome name was worn by the Titan who held up the sky in Greek mythology. Today, Atlas is more likely to conjure up images of colorful maps than marble statues, but the strength of its origin story remains. 

Bold and determined, Quest is a quirky alternative to other Q names like Quinn or Quentin. Modern audiences are likely to connect it to Johnny Quest or Galaxy Quest, but this word has a historical air that helps it balance between the old and the new. It also works well in the middle name spot. 

A recent addition to the top 1000, Wilder is another occupational name that seems ideally primed for the first name position. It's warm and friendly, cool and free. Book lovers will enjoy the connection to writer Laura Ingalls Wilder, and comedy fans will pick up on the Gene Wilder connection. It's also a viable alternative to masculine standard William

An ancient Roman name meaning "voyager", Viatrix was altered into Beatrix, then Beatrice over time (though Beatrice has a separate origin). This sophisticated choice could be revived today, thanks to its unique sound and high Scrabble value - both a V and an X?! Nicknames range from feminine Via to retro Trixie, and the name is included in the word "aviatrix".

Spelled with a second P, it's another Palin choice, but this short-and-sweet name is more than a fad. Trip emerged as a nickname for "thirds" - John Smith III, for example - but the word name is an energetic and contemporary choice. One drawback - Trip may be associated with drug use in some groups. 

What travel-related names have I left out? Tell me in the comments!