Words from Names: A Vocabulary

I frequently write about words that become names.  A few hundred years ago, the Puritans famously appropriated virtues like Faith for their children’s names.  Virtues are still popular sources for vocab baby names in the 21st century, but so are all kinds of things – travel, guns, etc.  You may soon encounter a young Journey or Remington.

Lately I’ve been watching a fantastic BBC show called “Call the Midwife” about childbirth in a poor section of London, circa 1950s and 1960s.  The latest episode I’ve watched ends with a woman being prescribed thalidomide for extreme morning sickness.  Knowing that thalidomide caused serious birth defects, this ending caught me off guard.  When I went looking for the history, I learned that one of the defects in question is called “amelia.”  “Amelia” the medical term has a completely different meaning and origin than “Amelia” the name.  Still, it made me wonder what other names share dictionary-space with words.

You know how Urban Dictionary has user-submitted definitions for just about every name?  Using dictionary.com and my handy old Funk & Wagnall’s New International Dictionary of the English Language (not so new – published 1993, and it doesn’t even contain a definition for salsa!), I’ve compiled a selection of people’s names that are also words.  Definitions are included! 

Abigail is a servant or lady’s maid.  This Biblical name currently ranks #7 in the U.S. and #51 in England and Wales.

Adonis is an exceptionally handsome young man.  Current U.S. rank: #702.

Amelia is a birth deformity characterized by one or more missing limbs.  Yikes!  The word derives from Greek, but the name has Germanic roots that mean “work.”  Amelia ranks #12 in America but is the #1 name in England and Wales. 

Benedict: Interestingly, while “benediction” means “blessing,” “benedict” refers to a recently married man, especially if his bachelorhood was long.  I read that this usage relates to misappropriation of “Benedick,” a character from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.  151 boys in U.S., #341 in E/W.

Bobby is a policeman.  #738 in U.S., #67 in E/W.

Calliope is a kind of musical instrument also known as a steam organ.  In 2015, 218 girls were named Calliope in the U.S.



Carl: as a noun, “carl” can mean something like “serf” or “rustic.”  Current U.S. rank: #600.

Charlotte, which ranks #9 in the U.S. and #25 in England and Wales, is a kind of dessert served either hot or cold and that usually contains some kind of filling.  Fun fact – Charlotte Russe is both a clothing store and a dessert!

Don is an important (often Spanish or Italian) gentleman or the act of putting on an item of clothing.  114 boys in 2015.

Frank is adjective meaning honest or open.  Current rank: #355 in U.S.

Georgette is a kind of dull and sheer silk or rayon.  35 girls were named Georgette in 2015.

German means “closely related.”  German is not german to Germany.  153 boys were called German in 2015.

Harry: in the context of war, to “harry” is to pillage, plunder, or ravage.  This word also means “to harass.”  Harry is a far more popular name in the U.K. than U.S.  #3 in E/W, #781 in U.S.

Iris can refer to a part of the human eye, a flower, or rainbows.  #217 in U.S., #102 in E/W. 


Irises (Van Gogh)

Jehu is a fast driver.  32 American boys were named Jehu in 2015.

Job is an employment or task.  87 boys in 2015.

Julienne: When you have julienne vegetables, it means they’re presented in thinly-sliced strips.  29 girls were called Julienne in 2015.

Ken means “to understand.”  87 boys in 2015.

Lea is a meadow.  Current rank – #737 in U.S.

Margarita is a cocktail.  124 girls in 2015.

Marina is a place where small boats may dock safely.  #656 in U.S.

Peter means to diminish or trickle out.  #206 in U.S., #177 in E/W.

Phaethon is a kind of carriage or two-seating car.  You won’t see any baby Phaethons any time soon, but he was a character in Greek mythology!

Philander means “womanizer” in English, though in Ancient Greek it’s more like “friend of man.”  2004 was the last year that this name appeared in SSA birth data.

Phoebe is a kind of bird common to the U.S. east coast.  #286 in U.S., #22 in E/W.

Pippin is a kind of apple or a seed.  Curiously, this only appeared as girls’ name in 2015, with just 5 uses.

Pollyanna is someone who’s overly cheery or optimistic.  12 girls.

Ruth means “sorrow” or “regret.”  #293 in U.S., #455 in E/W. 


Timothy grass

Sibyl is a prophetess.  12 girls.

Timothy is a kind of grass.  #147 in U.S., #348 in E/W.

Victoria is a kind of carriage.  #20 in U.S., #92 in E/W.

Xanthippe – A nagging or ill-tempered woman.  Another mythological name you’re unlikely to see in real life, though I remembered it from a children’s alphabet book that probably came from Colonial Williamsburg.  Xanthippe was the wife of Socrates.

Are there any you’d add to this list?  Favorites?  Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Below the Top 1000, Part 29 (Girls)

Can you believe it’s only February?  It feels like April!  I’m not complaining…yet.

The U.S. name popularity data for 2016 won’t be released until May, but until then, the 2015 data is the freshest we have.  Sometime soon, I’ll sit down and tally my predictions for the new year.  In the meantime, I’d like to finish this post series.  Taking into consideration my long absence from blogging, I’ve decided to try posting these twice a week until May (or sooner, if completion comes before then).  Previously, I wrote these on a weekly schedule. 

A question for all of you: would you like me to continue posting lists of rare names like these for the 2016 data?  I’m thinking if I do, they’ll be more commentary-based. Fewer names, but more in-depth.  How does that sound?  

Anyway, the names! 

Today’s selection contains girls’ names used only 16 or 17 times in the U.S. in 2015, according to data from the Social Security Administration.  The SSA publishes information on the most popular baby names in America every year, along with almost every name used at least 5 times (very few exceptions). 

  • 17: Abigaelle, Adaia, Aeliana, Alura, Anaelle, Atziry, Belladonna, Betzabeth, Brave, Bruna, Carlene, Catriona, Chasidy, Contessa, Creedence, Cyleigh, Davie, Dove, Eh, Electra, Eleonore, Erykah, Farryn, Gabrianna, Gioia, Gladis, Harnoor, Heavyn, Holiday, Ikhlas, Indica, Jannatul, Jaylean, Josseline, Kherington, Klover, Lawren, Leiliana, Lilo, Lyrica, Maebel, Mahealani, Marifer, Maryclaire, Monzerrat, Nadyalee, Nardos, Nelle, Nydia, Oksana, Oreoluwa, Purity, Roseline, Ruthanne, Ruwayda, Sinclair, Skarlette, Talaysia, Vilma, Zayley, Zyanya
  • 16: Abcde (!), Ahlani, Akshita, Alannie, Alianys, Alishba, Alys, Ambrosia, Analeia, Andersyn, Anjana, Aolanis, Aphrodite, Arabel, Ariely, Astoria, Astraea, Avnoor, Basil, Candelaria, Carlotta, Carolann, Corabelle, Dilara, Eilee, Elianys, Elizabelle, Elona, Emmakate, Epiphany, Fable, Heavenleigh, Humaira, Isaura, Jaelani, Jamielynn, Jamiracle, Jordi, Katalia, Katja, Kaye, Kimberlin, Klaudia, Lilybeth, Lively, Lovella, Lynnea, Maeven, Mairany, Malillany, Maude, Meliana, Melrose, Memory, Mizuki, Nereida, Netanya, Nile, Nyx, Patsy, Rosaria, Roshni, Sable, Satori, Solace, Talulah, Temiloluwa, Tessla, Truth, Tuesday, Vincenza, Wrenley, Yakelin, Yari, Zaylin, Zenovia, Zephaniah, Zulay

What do you think of these names?  Any favorites?  Least-favorites?  Let me know in the comments! 

Previous five posts in this series:

Site Update (Welcome Back)

Greetings from a new laptop!  Technological issues incited and exacerbated a long absence from blogging.  My old and beloved college MacBook stopped typing so well.  As a writer, few things are worse than the inability to complete a word or a sentence because the ‘d’ key doesn’t work.  That’s where it started, anyway.  Then it spread through the rest of the keys in the row – ‘f’ through ‘l’ – excepting ‘a’ and ‘s.’  The issue first appeared in December and quickly disappeared.  It stayed when it returned in January.  Then, I couldn’t even log in without an external keyboard. 

Liquid damage is the silent device-slayer.  Perhaps you weren’t in the room when it happened; perhaps it happened months or years ago.  But one day, that coffee spill will return to haunt you. 

We think somebody else spilled coffee on my old laptop and didn’t tell me.  Eventually this destroyed those keys.  According to the techs, general functionality would only worsen with time.  Repair was an option, but at 5-years-old it teeters on “vintage” status and in 3 years it will be “obsolete” – meaning, if I did repair it, they wouldn’t have the parts if I ever needed to bring it in again.  The battery and power cord additionally needed replacing.  Finally, my warranty had already ceased, either when I graduated or sometime over the summer.  My best option was to start fresh.

So I got a new computer, which I am more than happy with!  But, it hasn’t all been flowers and sunshine.  Right as I was about to return to blogging, a stray, open, and full mug (not mine) was knocked over and shorted the power.  I was delayed another week while it sat in repairs. 

I finally have my new computer back with the necessary software installed!  I pray nothing else happens.  For good luck, and because I feel like alliterating (its color is “space gray”), I think I’ll name it Samuel.  Strangely, I never named my old one. 

So, I’m back!  And the last several weeks haven’t been entirely devoid of name-work.  Thankfully (and amazingly) my files weren’t lost during repairs.  What’s more, Google Docs helped me acquire some lists of rather unusual names from a game.  I can’t wait to write about them!

To my readers, I say – Welcome Back!