More Than Cool Names for Baby Boys – by guest writer Catherine Uler

More Than Cool Names for Baby Boys – by guest writer Catherine Uler

The only names that are more popular come from the Bible and account for 40% of the boys’ top 100. Here are some of the most-used from each category:
n-ending Biblical
Landon (#39) Jacob (#3)
Brayden (#48) Michael (#7)
Cameron (#59) Daniel (#10)
Colton (#64) Elijah (#11)
Brandon (#70) James (#13)
Grayson (#78) Benjamin (#14)
Hudson (#87) Matthew (#15)
Easton (#88) David (#18)
Carson (#90) Joseph (#20)
Camden (#99) Joshua (#21)
There is some overlap between these two groups, a place where style and substance join forces. We like that spirit, which imbues the modern sound with meaning and tradition:
  • Aaron (#51)
  • Christian (#35)
  • Ethan (#6)
  • Evan (#55)
  • Ian (#80)
  • Jordan (#53)
  • Nathan (#31)
  • Simon (#229)
Stylish Irish Names for Baby Boys
A quarter of Americans have some Irish ancestry, and choosing a name from the old country is a way for many parents to celebrate that aspect of their family history. These Irish names are quintessentially cool:
  • Aiden (#12)
  • Kevin (#72)
  • Declan (#121)
  • Colin (#124)
  • Bryan (#132)
  • Rowan (#295)
  • Brendan (#326)
  • Ronan (#434)
  • Kieran (#557)
  • Kian (#583)
Venerable Old Names That Feel Fresh
Over the past few years, many old-fashioned names have come back into favor—the most popular have a respectable pedigree but still sound perfectly of-the-moment:
  • Dylan (#28)—recalls the 20th century Welsh poet Dylan Thomas
  • Byron (#516)—the most famous of the romantic English poets
  • Owen (#38)—from Owain, one of King Arthur’s knights
  • Gavin (#49)—from Gawain, another of the knights of Camelot
  • Tristan (#97)—also one of Arthur’s knights, famous for his doomed love affair with the princess Isolde
  • Jason (#79)—leader of the Argonauts in the ancient Greek story
  • Justin (#85)—short form of Justinian, an emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire
  • Roman (#134)—a citizen of the famous empire
  • Lincoln (#95)—our much-loved 16th president
  • Franklin (#495)—founding-father, inventor, and Renaissance man
  • Waylon (#292)—the smith of the gods in Norse mythology
  • Odin (#573)—father of the Norse gods
Updated Family Names 
We also admire the thoughtfulness of parents who incorporate the n-ending trend into family names to honor a father or grandfather, like Jackson (#16), Jameson (#181), and Samson (#356). If you like this style, see our full post on Fresh Forms of Family Names for Boys.

Magical Baby Names for Girls by Catherine Uler—author of The Complete Book of Christian Baby Names (a Kindle e-book)

Magical Baby Names for Girls by Catherine Uler—author of The Complete Book of Christian Baby Names (a Kindle e-book)

Witches and Magical Spells
  • Sybil (rare) is a general word for one of many prophetic women of classical antiquity.
  • Circe (rare) is a figure from Homer’s Odyssey. She was a sorceress and a goddess of magic, who famously turned all of Odysseus’s men into swine.
  • Morgan (top 100) le Faye, a powerful sorceress, was half-sister to King Arthur. In later stories, she was his great nemesis. The name was spelled Morgene before Geoffrey of Monmouth’s 12th century book titled Morgen blended the name with Morgan.
  • Samantha (top 50) was coined in the South as a feminine form of Sam but was little-used until it was given to the pretty and charming main character in the TV series Bewitched. The name was chosen at the time because it had an off-beat, old-fashioned sound, like other witch-names in the show: Endora, Tabitha, Esmerelda, Hagatha. From the time the show first aired in 1964, Samantha became increasingly popular, finally becoming the country’s 5th most popular girl baby name in 1990. 
  • Charm (rare) has more than a dozen meanings, all of them fascinating attributes for a girl to possess. As regards magic, a charm is an action or object that has magical effect. 
Elf and Fairly Names for Girls
  • Avery (top 25) comes from an old French pronunciation of Alfred, a Germanic name meaning “elf council”: it implies someone who is advised by the elven folk. The name is a combination of the elements ælf, “elf” and ræd, “council.” An older Germanic form of ælf is alb, which morphed variously into our words elf and elves and into elements of the names Avery and Aubrey.
  • Aubrey (top 25) is a Germanic name meaning “elf king”; it’s combined from the elements alb, “elf” and ric, “power, ruler.” Popular variations include Aubrianna, Aubriella, and Aubrielle (all top 1000).
  • Arwen (rare) is a high elf in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. As with many of the names in Middle-earth, Tolkien drew on the sounds of Welsh when he coined Arwen.
  • Pixie (rare) is a Celtic word for a race of mischievous, elf-like creatures. Some believe the tales of elves and pixies originated with “the small brown people” who lived in the British Isles before the coming of the Celts. They were driven to the north, west, and south of the region, where they lived underground, only coming out in the safety of dark night.
  • Faye (rare) in English is an old word for “faith.” In parallel, it comes to us from French fae, meaning “fairy”—a possessor of magic.
  • Pari (rare) is Persian meaning “fairy.” The word was borrowed into Turkish as Peri (rare), and is an element in the popular Turkish name Perihan, meaning “fairy queen.”
Magical Beings of Fire and Water
  • Phoenix (top 500), from Persian mythology, refers to a richly-colored bird that lived for many centuries before dying and being re-born from its own ashes. The increasing popularity of this name for both girls and boys is probably influenced by Phoenix, Arizona—at the moment, city names are widely used for both genders: Brooklyn, Savannah, and London were all top-100 girl-names in 2013.
  • Ondine (rare) is a variant spelling of undine, one of four elementals that ruled the basic elements of water, air, earth, and fire—the others being sylphs, gnomes, and salamanders. In Germanic mythology, if an undine married a human man and bore his child, she would be given a soul. As a girls’ name, Undine was popularized by an 1811 romantic novella of the same name, and later by the ballet Ondine, which was based on the novella.
  • Lorelei (top 500), in Germanic folk lore, was a mermaid (or siren) who sat upon her rock in the Rhine River. She was unaware that her bewitching beauty and magical voice drew the boats of mortal men to her—they were wrecked upon the rocks and engulfed by the river. The Lorelei is the subject of a haunting and much-loved 1824 poem by Heinrich Heine. [Julie – please link to]
  • Nixie (rare) refers to a water spirit of Germanic folk lore, often a kind of siren who lures men to their doom. In the US, the name has been given to baby girls since at least the 1870s and is sometimes taken as a nickname for Bernice. As a last name, Nixie is related to Nicholas.
© Catherine Uler 2014 – author of The Complete Book of Christian Baby Names

Fresh Forms of Family Names for Naming Baby Boys — by Catherine Uler—author of The Complete Book of Christian Baby Names (a Kindle e-book)

Fresh Forms of Family Names for Naming Baby Boys — by Catherine Uler—author of The Complete Book of Christian Baby Names (a Kindle e-book)

Whatever the reason, if you’re looking for an updated version of a name from your parents’ generation, there are plenty of choices beyond the popular short forms—Liam, Jack, Drew—and the familiar diminutives—Charlie, Johnny, Danny. Several contemporary options, such as the wildly popular Jackson, come from last-name-first trend. Parents also find inspiration in the European languages, which lend us cool variations, like traditionally crisp Garrett and fresh-sounding Enzo. Read on for an eclectic mix of unexpected alternatives to traditional boys’ names.

Patronymics from the last-name first trend:


·         Anderson (Anders is the Scandinavian form of Andrew)

·         Davis, a shortened and contracted form of Davidson

·         Dawson, from Daw, a Medieval nickname for David

·         Edison, a smart-sounding name that inevitably recalls the great inventor

·         Harrison and the short form Harris

·         Jackson and alternate spellings Jaxon and Jaxson are all top-100 names

·         Jameson and Jamison

·         Jefferson, which sounds more refined than many of the other names in this category, possibly because of its connection to one of our founding fathers

·         Ryker, the Dutch equivalent of Richardson

·         Wilson and the short form Willis


Non-English forms of traditional names are cool and very of-the-moment. Our list starts with the ever-popular variations of John, then moves on to European versions of other familiar English names:


·         Evan (Welsh)

·         Ian (Scottish) and variant spelling Ean (Manx)

·         Sean (Irish) and its Anglicized form Shane

·         Giovanni (Italian) and the contracted form Gianni

·         Juan (Spanish) and Jean (French)

·         Johan (German)

·         Ivan (Slavic) and its short form Van

·         Keoni (Hawaiian) 


and moving on….


·         Antonio and Antoine – for Anthony

·         Andres and Andre – for Andrew

·         Garrett – for Gerald

·         Pierce and Pierre – for Peter

·         Ricardo – for Richard

·         Marco, Markus, and Marcello – for Mark

·         Vincenzo and its short form Enzo – for Vincent


The most unexpected options often have their origins in the Bible:


·         Jeremiah and Jeremy – for Jerry

·         Mathias and Mateo – for Matthew

·         Micah and Mitchell – for Michael

The Power Behind a Name: Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Power Behind a Name: Martin Luther King, Jr.

I’m obsessed with Sigmund Freud’s quote: “A human being’s name is a principal component in his person, perhaps a piece of his soul.” I wanted to see what MLK, Jr.’s name said about him. The answer to this seemingly simple question really blew my socks off.
Bet let’s back up.
It’s a little known fact that King wasn’t born with the name Martin Luther on his birth certificate. He was born Michael King, Jr. on January 15, 1929. His father (Michael Senior) later changed his own name (as well as Junior’s) to Martin Luther after the 16th century German theologian – the man who basically sparked the Protestant Revolution with his radical idea that salvation was God’s gift to mankind through Jesus Christ and wasn’t something “earned” through good deeds (this posed a major problem for the Catholic Church, an institution steeped in the practice of accepting money in return for providing absolution of sin). In any case, Martin Luther was/is a highly honored man among evangelical Christians. It was he who inspired MLK, Sr. Michael King, Jr. was a little more than five years old when he was given his new name – from one revolutionary to another.
What’s remarkable about this name change is that it did not change MLK’s Destiny Number (a numerology calculation). In fact, Michael King and Martin Luther King both calculate to a Master #11 Destiny Path. Master Elevens are on a life journey to find spiritual truth. They are extremely idealistic and intuitive. Elevens have a rare and exceptional spiritual energy that brings a sense of obligation to illuminate the world around them. It’s a very powerful responsibility, but these people have far more potential than they know. It’s important that they surrender to higher ideals. They have the capacity to see the bigger picture, and they possess the skills to inspire others spiritually. Elevens have strong diplomatic skills and can become great peacemakers. Coincidence? I think not.
This is not the only clue we have in MLK’s name that he was predestined for greatness. The meanings behind each of his individual names are similarly apropos when you consider the man’s contribution to humanity – his leadership, his bravery, his revolutionary ideals, a god-like man of war (albeit a peaceful, non-violent war). All of his names scream leadership – LEADERSHIP OF PEOPLE. Not of a kingdom. But of humanity.
Martin:  a name from the Latin Martinus in reference to MARS, THE ROMAN GOD OF WAR and one of the most prominent of all gods in Roman mythology. The name Martin became very popular in medieval times due to the growing cult and popularity of a 4th century saint, St. Martin of Tours, who is mainly remembered for having cut his coat in two and humbly giving one half to a poor beggar. It is said that Martin later dreamed of Jesus wearing half his coat and saying to the angels: "Here is Martin, the Roman soldier; …he has clad me." This story was very popular in the Middle Ages as an example of Christian piety.
Luther:  a name derived from the Ancient Germanic Leuthar meaning THE PEOPLE’S ARMY, from the Old High German elements liut meaning PEOPLE and hari meaning ARMY.  This name was popularized by evangelical Protestants in honor of the 16th century German theologian Martin Luther whose famous 95 theses nailed to the church door is credited with sparking the Protestant Reformation.
King:   an English vocabulary word describing a MALE MONARCH, from the Olde English cyning meaning KING, RULER (cf. Olde English cynn meaning FAMILY, RACE, KIN), original meaning:  LEADER OF THE PEOPLE; also OF NOBLE BIRTH.  King is also an English surname derived from a nickname given to someone who conducted himself in a regal or kingly manner.  
And even his original name Michael is fitting. Michael was the archangel who sat closest to God. He was a protector of people, the patron saint of soldiers and the one who hurled the dragon from heaven.
Once again we find proof in the power of names.
Freud was right.

The 10 Must-Have Picture Books for Children (2013). A book is the best Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa present because it’s the one gift that keeps on giving.

The 10 Must-Have Picture Books for Children (2013). A book is the best Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa present because it’s the one gift that keeps on giving.


The New York Times just released their list of the best Children’s Books published in 2013. We selected the 10 best picture books we highly recommend as gifts for any preschooler to second-grader you know. Don’t delay – buy them now for the child you love!


The Bear’s Song (Benjamin Chaud) ~ "Sweet" has new meaning in this richly illustrated, immersive picture book about two bears on a big-city adventure. Papa Bear is searching for Little Bear, who has escaped the den. Little Bear is following a bee, because where there are bees, there is honey! When the quest leads both bears into the bustling city and a humming opera house, theatrical hijinks ensue, culminating in a deliciously harmonious reunion. Children and parents alike will savor Benjamin Chaud’s lush illustrations, and relish in the book’s bonus seek-and-find elements. Recommended for ages 3-6.


Bluebird (Bob Staake) ~ In his most beautiful and moving work to date, Bob Staake explores the universal themes of loneliness, bullying, and the importance of friendship. In this emotional picture book, readers will be captivated as they follow the journey of a bluebird as he develops a friendship with a young boy and ultimately risks his life to save the boy from harm. Both simple and evocative, this timeless and profound story will resonate with readers young and old.  Bob Staake has been working on this book for 10 years, and he believes it is the story he was born to write. "Like nothing you have seen before," raves Kirkus Reviews in a starred review.  Recommended for ages 4-8.


The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbably Life of Paul Erdos (Deborah Heiligman) ~ Most people think of mathematicians as solitary, working away in isolation. And, it’s true, many of them do. But Paul Erdos never followed the usual path. At the age of four, he could ask you when you were born and then calculate the number of seconds you had been alive in his head. But he didn’t learn to butter his own bread until he turned twenty. Instead, he traveled around the world, from one mathematician to the next, collaborating on an astonishing number of publications. With a simple, lyrical text and richly layered illustrations, this is a beautiful introduction to the world of math and a fascinating look at the unique character traits that made "Uncle Paul" a great man. A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2013. Recommended for ages 4-8.


Building Our House (Jonathan Bean) ~ In this unique construction book for kids who love tools and trucks, readers join a girl and her family as they pack up their old house in town and set out to build a new one in the country. Mom and Dad are going to make the new house themselves, from the ground up. From empty lot to finished home, every stage of their year-and-a-half-long building project is here. And at every step their lucky kids are watching and getting their hands dirty, in page after page brimming with machines, vehicles, and all kinds of house-making activities! As he imagines it through the eyes of his older sister, this is Jonathan Bean’s retelling of his own family’s true experience, and includes an afterword with photographs from the author’s collection. A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice. Winner of the 2013 Boston Globe Horn Book Award for Best Picture Book. A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2013. Recommended for ages 3-7.


The Dark (Lemony Snicket & Jon Klassen) ~ Laszlo is afraid of the dark. The dark lives in the same house as Laszlo. Mostly, though, the dark stays in the basement and doesn’t come into Lazslo’s room. But one night, it does. This is the story of how Laszlo stops being afraid of the dark. With emotional insight and poetic economy, two award-winning talents team up to conquer a universal childhood fear. Recommended for ages 3-6.


Fog Island (Tomi Ungerer) ~ In this imaginative tale from master storyteller Tomi Ungerer, two young siblings find themselves cast away on mysterious Fog Island. No one has ever returned from the island’s murky shores, but when the children begin to explore, they discover things are not quite as they expected. Ungerer’s captivating drawings evoke the eerie beauty and magic surrounding this timeless adventure. Selected by both The New York Times and Publishers Weekly as one of the year’s best children’s books, Fog Island is destined to become a modern classic. "Tomi Ungerer has created another masterpiece," says Eric Carle. Recommended for ages 5-8.


Journey (Aaron Becker) ~ Follow a girl on an elaborate flight of fancy in a wondrously illustrated, wordless picture book about self-determination — and unexpected friendship. A lonely girl draws a magic door on her bedroom wall and through it escapes into a world where wonder, adventure, and danger abound. Red marker in hand, she creates a boat, a balloon, and a flying carpet that carry her on a spectacular journey toward an uncertain destiny. When she is captured by a sinister emperor, only an act of tremendous courage and kindness can set her free. Can it also lead her home and to her heart’s desire? With supple line, luminous color, and nimble flights of fancy, author-illustrator Aaron Becker launches an ordinary child on an extraordinary journey toward her greatest and most exciting adventure of all. Recommended for ages 4-8.


Mr. Wuffles! (David Wiesner) ~ In a near wordless masterpiece that could only have been devised by David Wiesner, a cat named Mr. Wuffles doesn’t care about toy mice or toy goldfish. He’s much more interested in playing with a little spaceship full of actual aliens—but the ship wasn’t designed for this kind of rough treatment. Between motion sickness and damaged equipment, the aliens are in deep trouble. When the space visitors dodge the cat and take shelter behind the radiator to repair the damage, they make a host of insect friends. The result? A humorous exploration of cooperation between aliens and insects, and of the universal nature of communication involving symbols, “cave” paintings, and gestures of friendship. Recommended for ages 4-8.


Something Big (Sylvie Neeman) ~ A big one and little one talk together. The little one is frustrated because he wants to do something really big, even though he’s still small. The big one asks if he means something big like a mountain. No, a mountain is too big. Big like an elephant? No, that’s too gray. More like a lighthouse by the sea, muses the boy, though not exactly. Father and son take a walk by the ocean, and there something surprising and deep and big occurs. Lyrical and gentle, Something Big is a touching story about childhood, parenting, and experiences that repeat generation after generation. Here the author beautifully grasps the tension between a child’s smallness and his ability to dream big dreams. Recommended for ages 4-8.


This is the Rope: A Story from the Great Migration (Jacqueline Woodson) ~ The story of one family’s journey north during the Great Migration starts with a little girl in South Carolina who finds a rope under a tree one summer. She has no idea the rope will become part of her family’s history. But for three generations, that rope is passed down, used for everything from jump rope games to tying suitcases onto a car for the big move north to New York City, and even for a family reunion where that first little girl is now a grandmother.  Newbery Honor–winning author Jacqueline Woodson and Coretta Scott King Award–winning illustrator James Ransome use the rope to frame a thoughtful and moving story as readers follow the little girl’s journey. During the time of the Great Migration, millions of African American families relocated from the South, seeking better opportunities. With grace and poignancy, Woodson’s lilting storytelling and Ransome’s masterful oil paintings of country and city life tell a rich story of a family adapting to change as they hold on to the past and embrace the future. Recommended for ages 5-8.

When Is Being Too Unique Not a Good Thing?

When Is Being Too Unique Not a Good Thing?

This practice in and of itself could be considered a very modern (mainly American) naming trend; and one which is showing no signs of ending.
All I can ask is how much is too much? When does more become less? The number of baby girl names in circulation has increased by 771% since 1900. For boys, that number is 839%. When will our modern creative naming practices backfire on us? When is being too unique not a good thing? We truly respect the individual rights of parents to name their child whatever they choose. It just seems this trend to be unique has gotten out of control. Not to mention the term "unique trend" is an oxymoron. Being unique now means being like everybody else. Oh the irony!
Made up names and creative respellings are looked upon with a fair amount of derision in certain corners. I have to come clean: many of these names prompt a little eye-rolling from me, too. Yet in many circles, such names are considered super cool. Like, totally dif’rant and yooneek. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions and tastes, right? That’s a philosophical belief by which I try and live. So…I thought I’d tackle at this subject from an entirely different quasi-scientific perspective. You know, the politically-correct kind. People are so easily offended these days. And the name of one’s child is an immensely personal choice.
Now that there are almost 20,000 baby girl names in circulation and 15,000 baby boy names, I started to think: how many names can we actually absorb and commit to memory – just as regular human beings? And if there’s a limit to this notion, then which names are we most likely to forget? What capacity do we have to remember non-conventional names in general?
It is difficult to ascertain exactly how many words we already have at our disposal in the English language. Words have more than one meaning (e.g., the noun “bear” vs. the verb “bear”). There are about 170,000 top-level entries in the Oxford English Dictionary. Expanding that number to include several meanings per word, obsolete words, words from other languages which have become part of the English lexicon, and slang terms – that number is likely closer to half a million. However, the typical person only uses 5,000 words (usage vs. understanding). The average adult understands at least 50,000 words (super smart people with large vocabularies may understand 300,000+ words but still only use 30,000 of them in regular speech). There seems to be a general rule that English-speaking adults use about 10% of the words they actually understand. So if I use 10,000 words in my general verbal communication, then I probably truly understand the definitions of 100,000 words in the English language. And I like to think of myself as “pretty smart”. Not genius, but well-educated and well-spoken.
The human brain is unique in its ability to absorb, contextualize, retain and recall information. This information includes the names of people we meet. Yet for some odd reason, peoples’ names are one of the hardest things for us to remember. In fact, some people attend occupational seminars just to learn how to remember names. Why is this? We are visual animals, so we tend to remember what a person looks like rather than what they are named (unless we actively contextualize the name with the visual memory of that person). Not to mention the visual aspect of memory is stored in an entirely different section of the brain than the name aspect.
Many “memory” scientists believe that our capacity for memory is actually limitless. Everything we learn is stored somewhere in that mysterious organ called the brain. It’s the ability to recall that stored information that’s really the challenge. We subconsciously yet efficiently store the information we learn based on easiest recall. So that which is distracting, nonsensical and/or unfamiliar is more easily forgotten in order to free up brain-space for the information that we are more likely to recall. How we store information is how we effectively recollect it. The buried memories become harder to access whereas the familiar and rehearsed memories enjoy quicker recall. For instance, we’ve all rehearsed the name John in our minds – one of the most common masculine names in the Western World. Same goes for Mary. The recall is immediate. It’s natural. Our ability to retrieve common, traditional names is inherent because we have been practicing and rehearsing them throughout our lives.
There are probably about 2,000 male and female names (each) we have the ability to quickly recall – having been exposed to them regularly through history lessons and real life. We hear the name Kennedy and we think of the Irish surname borne by a former U.S. President. But we see the name Kenadee and we think, WTF? It sounds like a duck….but it doesn’t walk like a duck. Is it a duck? Kenadee requires us to give up more brain-space in order to accommodate her different spelling, but guess what? We’re not likely to bother with the extra effort. Kenadee is on her own. It’s her that will go through life repeating the following phrase: “My name is Kenadee. No, not Kennedy. Kenadee. Spelled K-E-N-A-D-E-E.” The person on the receiving end is more apt to quickly forget her name (due to the required extra work), or, worse, be annoyed (and remember her in a negative way). Hopefully it’s not a future perspective employer deciding upon her ability to make a living.
Ironically we think our children will stand out with a more unique name – and in many cases this is true. I had a friend in college named Eurydice (u-RID-Ó™-see). Weird name, but I never forgot it after learning the Greek mythological story behind Orpheus and Eurydice. The name was so different, but it was meaningful; from this perspective I thought it was such a cool name. Many of the made up names and altered spellings today feel so arbitrary and, I dare say, a little goofy. Nonsensical. And the human brain isn’t programmed to retain/recall the nonsensical. You may want your child to stand out, but he/she is more likely to be forgotten.
Just something to think about.
A perspective by Julie Hackett, Onomastics Consultant and owner/author of
Disclaimer: I understand this is a highly complex and controversial subject, and I only speak in general terms. There are always exceptions to every rule. But if you’ve studied names as long as I have, and you see so many arbitrary respellings (e.g., Hailey, Hailee, Haleigh, Haley, Haylee, Hayleigh, Hayley, Haylie, etc. etc.) you would start to wonder “What’s the point?”, too. Trust me. I know I’m not alone in this opinion.

What do the words wrestling, love, ocean, remember and humility have in common?

What do the words wrestling, love, ocean, remember and humility have in common?

American tradition has held that the very first Thanksgiving meal was celebrated in November 1621 among the New Plymouth colonizers from the Mayflower ship and the local Pokanoket Indians who were considered their friends and allies. In fact, it was these Native Americans who taught the Mayflower voyagers how to cultivate corn, and a celebration was held in honor of their first harvest a year following their landing on Plymouth Rock.
Those original 102 brave souls packed onto the small 100-foot Mayflower ship spent two long, miserable months crossing the rough seas of the Atlantic Ocean only to lose about half their company during the grueling northeastern winter that would follow in present-day Massachusetts. So what exactly was their motivation in exchange for all this suffering? The 102 original Mayflower passengers had separated from the Church of England and sought to practice their religion freely in the New World. They were religious “Pilgrims” as we have come to call them. Saints and Strangers, these Christian dissenters rejected the corruptions of the Roman Catholic and Protestant Churches and wanted only to pursue their austerely rigid religious life; one which they believed brought them closer to God.
One of the coolest things we discovered in doing our research was the name of the Captain of the Mayflower. Christopher Jones. How perfect is that? A ship carrying two congregations of Christians was being piloted by a dude named Christopher. A name that means “Christ bearer”. We couldn’t have picked a more appropriate name if we tried.
Of the 102 passengers, 74 were men and 28 were women. We know at least 14 of those men were named John and six of the women were named Mary. In other words, 20% (one in five) of the Mayflower’s passengers were called either John or Mary. [Yawn] Right? The next most common names were typically English: for the men it was William (7) followed by Edward (6) and Richard (5). There were three women named Elizabeth and two each of Dorothy and Alice.
What interested us more, however, were the less common names – yet ones so illustrative of naming styles associated with these Christian separatists (Puritans). For instance, we see a smattering of Old Testament names such as Sarah (wife of Abraham), Judith (an ancient Jewish heroine) and Susanna (a Jewish woman who refused to sin even if it meant certain death); for the men we find Moses (leader of the Exodus), Elias (the prophet swooped up to heaven by a chariot of fire), Isaac (Abraham’s son who was almost sacrificed), Myles (a Norman-French nickname for Michael), Samuel (an important prophet) and Solomon (the third King of a Israel, son of David). These names were once reserved for Jewish people until the Puritans resurrected them as their own. It was all about getting back to God, and what better way than through the Biblical figures who were God’s original Chosen Ones?
They also looked to the New Testament for lesser-known Biblical figures as a way of demonstrating their modesty before God. Names that show up on the list of Mayflower passengers include Bartholomew (one of Christ’s disciples), Jasper (one of the three Magi), Damaris (a Greek woman who converted to Christianity after hearing one of St. Paul’s rousing speeches in Athens) and Priscilla (one of the named Seventy Disciples of Christ and a traveling companion of St. Paul’s).
Hands down, though, our favorite names appearing on the ship’s manifest are some oddball examples of the so-called Christian Virtue names. Constance (firm faith), Humility (humble before God), Remember (be mindful of God) and Fear (fear of God’s wrath) for the girls; and Desire (desired child), Love (God’s love, charity), Resolved (be resolved in one’s faith) and Wrestling for the boys. Wrestling is a bit of a head-scratcher but we’re pretty sure it’s in reference to Genesis 32 wherein Jacob wrestles either with an angel of God or God Himself (the Bible isn’t exactly clear on this point). After this wrestling match, God changed Jacob’s name to Israel (which is a Hebrew word for “struggle with God”). Naming one’s son “Wrestling” is like the ultimate statement of modesty before God. Or is it? You be the judge.
One final point on the Mayflower names. If you really want to show off your knowledge this Thanksgiving, we have a couple of interesting little factoids about two more Mayflower passengers: Oceanus and Peregrine. HUH? That’s what we said. Here’s the backstory. Oceanus was born during the voyage across the Atlantic Ocean enroute to the New World. The baby boy born on the ocean was named after Oceanus, an ancient Greek Titan god who personified the endless river that surrounded the earth (which is how ancient Greeks viewed the ocean back then). Peregrine was the name chosen for the very first baby boy born in the New World (he was born on the Mayflower ship at port in Cape Cod). Apropos, Peregrine is the English form of the Late Latin “Peregrinus” meaning “traveler, pilgrim, one from abroad”, The very first American baby boy born is essentially named “pilgrim” – seriously, how perfect is that?
Let us not forget that Thanksgiving was not just a celebration with the Pilgrims, but with the Native American Indians, as well. We took a peek at male/female names on America’s Top 1000 list to see which have either come directly from a Native-American language or were at least inspired in some way by Native-Americans. For boys we found Dakota, Logan and Geronimo. For girls we found Aiyana, Amara, Cheyenne, Dakota, Kaya, Nayeli, Raven, Savannah, Shania, Winona, Yareli and Yaritza. Look up these names at to find their connection to Native American Indians.
From the “Christ-bearer” who sailed the Mayflower to the first “pilgrim” born among Puritans – I mean, honestly, this stuff is surreal. And it’s all a part of American history. Let us give thanks.
Gobble. Gobble. Happy Thanksgiving!
Written by Julie Hackett, Owner/Author of

All Saints Day

All Saints Day

10. Saint Bernard – Patron Saint of Skiers.
We didn’t know skiers needed their own saint, but apparently they do (especially on Black Diamond runs). St. Bernard was a real-life 11th century monk who dedicated himself to the Christian conversion of Alp-dwelling people still displaying practices of the old pagan ways. He also set up “traveler safe houses” for French and German pilgrims going to Rome over the St. Bernard Pass (a very dangerous pass between Switzerland and Italy). The very large working-dog known as the St. Bernard was named after this saint; the breed was used to find and fetch people in perilous conditions. The pooch would mercifully show up donning a “brandy barrel” around his neck in order to keep the suffering warm while they awaited rescue.
9. Saint Vitus – Patron Saint of Oversleeping.
For all of you sloths out there, not to worry. There is a saint you can invoke to help get your ass out of bed in the morning, and his name is St. Vitus. Vitus was a late 3rd / early 4th century child saint martyred at the age of 13 when being a Christian was punishable by death in the then-pagan Roman Empire. It was his tutor who converted him and his father who turned him in to the authorities. Ouch! An angel freed him from prison, but eventually he was captured and put into a pot of boiling oil. A rooster was thrown into the cauldron with Vitus for good measure (a pagan sacrifice). Because the rooster is the “early riser”, Vitus’s many patronages include oversleeping.
8. Saint Agnes – Patron Saint of Rape.
Ok, we need to get serious for a second. This one is not funny, although the story of how Agnes became the patroness of rape victims is really quite interesting. Born to the Roman aristocracy c. 291, Agnes was not only educated and wealthy, but she was also said to be easy on the eyes and not without her share of male admirers. However, the “chaste” Agnes, a girl of about 13, refused to marry anyone, as she had already given herself over to Christ. One of her rejected suitors turned her into the Roman authorities, essentially “outing” her as a Christian (illegal in the then-pagan Roman Empire), and she was consequently condemned to death. Since it was against Roman law to execute a virgin, Agnes was dragged to a brothel in an attempt to deflower her. According to legend, the Holy Spirit interceded and all sorts of miraculous circumstances prevented her rape (she grew hair all over her body, the men were struck blind before they could attack her, and so forth). So ladies, if you ever see a creepy guy approaching you at night in a dark alleyway, be sure to invoke St. Agnes.
7. Saint Adelaide – Patron Saint of Second Marriages and In-Law Problems.  
For all you spouses out there ruing the days your mother-in-law comes for a visit, just invoke St. Adelaide. The 10th century Saint Adelaide of Italy was one of the most prominent women of her time; a medieval celebrity of sorts. Her first marriage was a planned alliance during a time of great political chaos in Italy; however, her husband soon died and his usurper tried to force the young Adelaide (then barely 20) to marry his son. When she refused, she was forced to flee and threw herself at the mercy of Otto the Great of Germany. Otto had other plans. Taking advantage of this precarious situation, he went ahead and conquered Italy for himself and then married Adelaide. Her second marriage was a success, but she had some issues with her daughter-in-law that created a schism between her and her son.   
6. Saint Elizabeth – Patron Saint of Difficult Marriages.
According to statistics, the majority of married couples have cause to invoke St. Elizabeth. Elizabeth of Portugal (1271-1336) was a Spanish princess who was betrothed to King Denis of Portugal at the ripe old age of twelve. A beautiful, kind and devoutly religious woman, the King grew tired of her soon enough and began to cause her great suffering. According to legend, the King was told an untrue rumor about one of his wife’s pages (a low-ranking servant in royal court) and so conspired to kill him. The page stopped for Mass on his way to his (unknown) death. As a result of this delay, the “bad” page (the one who started the rumor in the first place) was mistakenly put to death by furnace in the good page’s place. Are you following us? When the King got wind of this situation, he realized that God had saved the good page (for stopping at Mass) and immediately saw the errors of his ways. This amazing event guided the King into a more pious life, and he and Elizabeth went on to live out their marriage happily. 
5. Saint Martin – Patron Saint of Vintners and Alcoholics.
This one just amuses us. The 4th century Saint Martin of Tours is the patron of both Wine-makers and Alcoholics. That’s just priceless. Conflict of interest much? 
4. Saint Bridget – Patron Saint of Fallen Women and Bastard Children.
Pious St. Bridget of Ireland (5th/6th century) did not fall off a building or anything. And she certainly remained chaste all of her life. Her patronage is a result of a “House of Corrections” for wayward women which stood next to the famous Well of St. Bridget. Apparently she looked over these recalcitrant ladies and their bastard children. As only an Irish Catholic girl knows how to do.
3. Cædwalla of Wessex – Patron Saint of Serial Killers.
This one is to die for (pun intended). The seventh century King of Wessex (England) was never officially made a saint, but he’s the unofficial patron of serial killers. And we certainly can’t think of a group of people more in need of a saint!  Cædwalla was responsible for the killing of several people including a King of South Saxon and almost all the inhabitants on the Isle of Wight. In the end, he abdicated his own throne to go on a pilgrimage to Rome (having apparently given up his penchant to kill). Not surprisingly, ï»¿Cædwalla ï»¿is a name no longer in circulation, but it’s Celtic in origin and means (apropos) "one who leads in battle."
2. Saint Rocco – Patron Saint of Dogs.
Rocco was born to a barren mother who prayed to the Virgin Mary for a child. In fact, it is said that he was born with a birthmark on his chest in the form of a red cross (which apparently grew larger as he grew older). Orphaned at 20, the devout Rocco distributed all of his earthly possessions among the poor and went on a pilgrimage to Rome where he ended up caring for the sick struck down by the Plague as it ravaged throughout Italy. Eventually he contracted the Plague himself, was expelled from the community, and retreated to the forest where a nobleman and his dog tended to the pious saint, keeping him alive by bringing him warmth, food and water. Proving once again that the dog is indeed man’s best friend.
1. Saint Drogo – Patron Saint of Ugly People.
Seriously. Even his name is ugly. St. Drogo was a 12th century French saint with Flemish ancestry. Upon learning at the age of 10 that his mother had died giving birth to him, the guilt-ridden Drogo turned completely to religion. During one of his pilgrimages to Rome, Drogo contracted some unknown disease which left him severely disfigured. The townspeople found him way too repulsive to look at, and a cell was built attached to the church where Drogo could live out his saintly life in complete isolation. Nice town folk, huh? So if you happen to get hit with the ugly stick, you know who to invoke. Just remember, though, “Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder” (at least that’s what ugly people say). 

Boo! Happy Halloween!

Boo! Happy Halloween!

Many scholars theorize that elements of Halloween were borrowed from the ancient pagan Celtic harvest festivals which occurred at high harvest (a time when faeries and spirits could more easily pass into the mortal world). The Celts would hold elaborate festivals to appease these potentially harmful spirits in order to ensure the health and safety of their crops and livestock. October 31 was also the last day of the year on the Old Celtic calendar.
The Christianized celebration of All Hallow’s Eve occurring on October 31 dates back to the 9th century.  Many rituals and customs grew from various superstitions associated with departed souls.  For instance, bonfires were lit to help guide souls to the other side. The belief that souls could wander the earth until All Saints Day meant Hallow’s Eve was the last opportunity for them to take vengeance on their enemies gave birth to costume-wearing, a way of disguising oneself from potential harm.  Trick-or-treating was borne from the practice of going door-to-door collecting “soul cakes” to feed the departed; if you didn’t have one baked and ready to hand out, misfortune would come upon you.  Most of the early Celtic pagan rituals as well as the later medieval Christianized variations on the holiday had to do with spirits and dead people, hence the morbid and macabre developments into the spooky modern traditions by which we live today.
Here are some name ideas for Halloween babies:
Autumn – Halloween occurs smack-dab in the middle of autumn.
Candy – a short-form of the name Candice; it also happens to be the primary end-goal of every child on Halloween.  
Dulce – the Spanish word for sweets (candy)
Elvira – Elvira, Mistress of the Darkness is a Hollywood pop-culture icon associated with Halloween. The Gothic origin of her name suits the black-clad Elvira perfectly. 
Hilda – as in the medieval Brunhilda (bad-ass Queen of the Franks), Brynhildr (the Valkyrie in Norse mythology) or the comic green, warty witch Broom-Hilda, don’t mess with any of these ladies. 
Leila / Layla – is Arabic for “night” which is when all scary things come out to play. Boo!
Lilith – the meaning of this name is “Screech owl” or “night monster”.  Need we say more? 
Luna / Selena – both of these names mean “moon”, another symbol strongly associated with All Hallow’s Eve.
Morgan – a Celtic name meaning “Phantom Queen” (sounded spooky to us!)
Raven – the black raven is as much to Halloween as the black cat. Her mysterious appearance is often seen as a spooky omen.
Casper – We know Casper as a friendly ghost, but did you also know this was the name of one of the three Magi who brought the baby Jesus gifts? Casper brought the frankincense to the BYOF baby shower. 
Corbin – originated from an Anglo-Norman nickname meaning “raven, crow”.
Corey – is a Scottish-Gaelic name meaning “cauldron” (where one might find the witch’s brew).
Ignacio – Spanish for fire.
Jack-o’-lantern – the pumpkin with a creepy carved face illuminated by a candle. Probably originally meant to scare the goblins away from one’s home.
Santos / Santino – meaning “saint” and “little saint” respectively.  All Hallow’s Eve essentially means the evening before Day of the Saints. 
Read more about each of these names. Some of their histories might surprise you…

Is North West Up or Down?

Is North West Up or Down?


North West. These two simple, innocuous words have caused quite a media stir in the “Celebrity Baby Name” news category. It was Kim Kardashian and Kanye West who “put it on the map” when they gave this directional moniker to their newborn baby girl in June of 2013. When asked by Barbara Walters on The View, North West’s grandmother, Kris Kardashian, had this to say: “The way [Kim] explained it to me, north means highest power, and North is their highest point together. I thought that was really sweet." And I have to agree. That is sweet. Like “Sweet’n Low” sweet. 


However, I found myself pondering a reasonable question that follows such a claim: Is Kimye’s interpretation of their baby’s name accurate?  And my conclusion?  Symbolically, yes. Etymologically, probably not. In fact, from an etymological perspective, Kimye may have inadvertently given their innocent baby girl a double-dose of the “downers”. 


But let’s back up. What is Etymology exactly?  Quite simply, it’s the study of words, their origin, their history, and how their literal, practical and symbolic meanings evolve over time. Every word in the English language has its own fascinating story behind its likely origin and what idea or notion it initially meant to convey. The words “north” and “west” are no exception.  


The Proto-Indo-European (PIE) language is considered the first (“proto”) or ancestral language of all of the major European language groups such as Celtic, Germanic, Hellenic, Indo-Iranian, Italic and Slavic.  Because no written linguistic record was left by the Proto-Indo-European man (believed to have lived in prehistoric times during the Neolithic Era and older parts of the Bronze Age), the linguistic study of PIE is hypothetical – in essence, it’s a reconstruction of words that exist (or have existed) in all the major and minor branches of PIE to find a common, probable ancestral origin.  Anglo-Saxon (Olde English) developed into Middle English which ultimately expanded into what we speak today, Modern English (a minor language branch of Germanic). Here are the generally accepted PIE deconstructions for our Modern English words denoting direction: North, East, South and West. In short, everything centered on the rising sun (East). 


In ancient times, East was the focus; the direction one faced while worshipping the rising sun.  The Olde English word “Ä“asten” was most likely derived from the Proto-Germanic *austra- meaning “toward the sunrise” from the PIE root *aues- meaning “to shine, dawn”. [1] East was the highest power, or the highest point, from a directional perspective. It was while facing east where people of the ancient world  found their bearings.


North is believed to be derived from the Proto-Germanic *nurthra, from the Proto Indo-European (PIE) root *ner- meaning “below, left”. Supporting evidence left by two now-extinct Italic languages (long-ago replaced by Latin) leaves little doubt that the words “nertrak” and “nertru” meant “to the left” because that’s where North could be found when one was facing the rising sun (to the east). The PIE notion of “below, under” (*ner-) is supported by the Greek “nérteros” (nether, infernal) as well as the Sanskrit नरक (narakah) meaning “below the earth (hell)”. [2] 


It is thought that West comes from the PIE root *ue- meaning “to go down” in reference to the direction where the sun sets. [3] 


And finally, the Old Saxon “sÅ«thar” (South) is believed to have meant, quite literally, “from the region of the sun”, derived from the PIE root *suen-  meaning “sun”. [4]  In the Northern Hemisphere, the southerly direction enjoys most of the sun because of the way the earth rotates on its axis. This is why moss grows on the shady (northern) side of trees. 


Paradoxically, for most of written history, the default direction pointing upwards on maps was East, not North. Everything was “oriented” around the rising sun (apropos, “oriens” is the Latin word for “East”). Are you following us so far?  All such linguistic conclusions and hypotheses provide logical evidence as to the true PIE root meanings of the words North (left, below), West (to go down), South (sun) and East (dawn).  


The 1st century Greek astronomer/cartographer Ptolemy is often credited with placing North at the top of maps in reference to Polaris (the North Star), which is the brightest star in the Northern Hemisphere’s night sky (the sky is upwards). It wasn’t until the Late Middle Ages, when Ptolemy’s 1,500 year-old maps were reintroduced, that North’s positioning at the top became the defacto rule in Western map making. Let it be known, however, that this is not true for all maps, even today. North is still not universally accepted as the upwards direction.  


This is the history behind the reason most people (Westerners mainly) associate the directions North with “upwards” and South with “downwards” – because of their respective locations when facing a conventional map as well as their symbolic positions in terms of where we conceive them to be.  This is certainly a fair interpretation; symbolically Kimye chose the right name (I can’t argue with that).  


Etymologically, however, reality orients us in a different direction.  The name North West actually means “to the left, below, beneath, to go down’’.  North is merely a metaphor for up; not a real definition, just one that has evolved symbolically over time. I certainly don’t mean to be a “downer” on the subject; I’m only reporting the generally accepted facts from a word-origin point of view.  I’ll leave the smug irony of my findings to the reader. To quote writer George Saunders, “Irony is just honesty with the volume cranked up.” 


There is no doubt that “Kimye” was being sincere whilst explaining the name of their beautiful baby girl as their “highest point”. In fact, it’s both downright celebratory and thoroughly uplifting. The only direction North West really points is directly toward the hearts of her parents. And recently, that direction happened to be toward the Paris fashion shows about 5,600 miles northeast from North West’s bassinet in California. Maybe they should have named her “Leave Her Out” West.



 [1, 2, 4] The Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology edited by Robert K. Barnhart (HW Wilson Co., 1988)

[3] The Origins of English Words: A Discursive Dictionary of Indo-European Roots edited by Joseph T. Shipley (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984)