While working on the Phaedra post from earlier this week, I came across the fact that Greek playwright Euripides had two wives: Melite and Choerine.
The name Melite I recognized as coming from the Melissa/Melitta/Melita family. All these names can be traced back to the Greek word meli, meaning “honey.”
But the name Choerine didn’t ring a bell, so I went off in search of a definition.
Before tracking it down, I happened to find this enticing little snippet:
“Choerine” is an attested Athenian name, but it could easily be used for obscene puns.
After more digging, I discovered that Choerine (and the male equivalent Choerus) were based on the Greek word choiros, meaning “pig.” And that the equivalent word in Latin, porcus, had given rise to the names Porcius and Porcia/Portia.
But “pig” isn’t he obscene part:
In classical Latin the word porcus was occasionally used as an informal term for the vulva (Greek choiros, ‘young pig,’ was employed similarly).
Porcus (pig) was apparently a Roman nursery word for the external pudenda of girls […] Perhaps the allusion is to a perceived resemblance between the part in question and the end of a pig’s snout.
In fact, this obscene sense of porcus is precisely how porcelain came to be named. The word porcelain can be traced back to the Italian word for the cowrie shell, porcellana (“young sow”), which was named in reference to its vulva-like shape.
Now for the question of the day: Would information like this (i.e., obscene-but-obscure associations) ever dissuade you from choosing a particular baby name?
Laqueur, Thomas Walter. Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud, Harvard University Press, 1990, p. 270.
TWU: Bruno Mars is a world away from your name, so where did that come from?
Bruno Mars: My father and my mother. There was a wrestler in their day called Bruno San Martino and he was a very heavy-set wrestler and I guess when I was a kid I was a real chubby, chunky kid. Everyone calls me Bruno; they don’t ever call me Peter, that was just my government name.
As for me, I was named Conor in 1974 (the Irish spelling of that name, with one ‘n’) by my Irish father and worldly mother, at a time when that name didn’t exist as a first name. I got the same question every day: Is Conor your first name or your last name? And one memorable day in Kindergarten I came home crying, furious at my father because the other kids had made fun of my unusual name.
So my father, the Irish poet Eamon Grennan, told me the story of the first Conor — Conor mac Nessa, the legendary Irish king. He told me how Conor was born the same day as Christ himself, how he became king when he was just 7 years old (“That’s in two years, lad!”) and how he became the greatest ruler in the history of Ulster.
I still hated my name. But those stories, that meaning, made it a little easier to bear. It told me that my parents weren’t just punishing me. It told me that they knew what they were doing. That they had been purposeful in their choice. That they had named me — the goofy, red-haired, ill-mannered, walking-temper-tantrum of a boy — after a King.
People were more likely to imitate popular choices, particularly those choices that are on the upswing, a dynamic Goldstone and his IU colleague Todd Gureckis had documented earlier in an observational study of baby names in 130 years of U.S. Social Security records. People likewise choose names that have “positive momentum” in their popularity. For baby names, over 130 years, the United States has shifted from a society in which decreases in popularity in one year are likely to be followed by increases in popularity in the next year (and vice versa) to one in which increases are likely to be followed by increases, and decreases by decreases.
Portia: When I was 15, I changed it legally. In retrospect, I think it was largely due to my struggle about being gay. Everything just didn’t fit, and I was trying to find things I could identify myself with, and it started with my name.
I picked Portia because I was a Shakespeare fan [Portia is the character in The Merchant of Venice who famously declaims, “The quality of mercy is not strain’d / It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven.”]. De Rossi because I was Australian and I thought that an exotic Italian name would somehow suit me more than Amanda Rogers. When you live in Australia, Europe is so far away and so fascinating, so stylish and cultured and sophisticated.
As for my own story, family lore has it that my mom wanted to name me Kama Sutra, after the famous Indian sex positions book. Was my mother under the effects of some kind of drug after she pushed me out of her loins and chose this name? I have no idea. I just thank the nurses who supposedly said “no” and took me out of the room until she came up with something slightly more suitable. And I ended up with a weird one anyway.
From the book Christian Names in Local and Family History by George Redmonds:
Other regional concentrations worth noting are Edith in Dorset, Felice and Petronille in Staffordshire and Amice in Leicestershire, but a close examination of the evidence reveals significant small ‘clusters’ right down the list. Typical of these are Goda (East Anglia), Godelena (Kent) and Osanne, the last of these found only in Spalding in Lincolnshire. It derives from ‘Hosanna’, a Hebrew word used as an appeal to God for deliverance, which was adopted into Christian worship as a more general expression of praise. We are familiar with it through the Bible and it occurs as ‘osanne’ in Chaucer’s Tale of the Man of Lawe: ‘Mary I mene, doghter to Seint Anne, Bifore whos child aungeles singe oscanne’. Less well known is its use as a baptismal name from the twelfth century, possibly to commemorate a birth on Palm Sunday. The earliest examples have been noted in Dorset and Herefordshire and it occurred often enough to serve as a by-name. Typical of these are ‘Reginaldus filius Osanna’, in the pipe roll of 1180, and Richard Osan of Shelley in 1277.
On a related note, if you’re going to be “that guy” and give your kid an effed up name, don’t also be the guy who refuses to share the name because you’re afraid of negative commentary or feedback. As soon as someone tells me they’re not sharing baby names, I assume the name they picked sucks or will scare people–and they know it. When you pick a name for your kid–good or bad–own it. Don’t be a puss about it. If someone begins to pooh-pooh your name, cut them off. Who cares if the biggest moron in their high school was Skippy, or the biggest douche was Biff? That’s their experience, not yours. Who cares if your coworkers think Maroon Marmalade is a terrible name as long as you love it. Most people know better than to slam your baby name anyway. Everyone is so damn sensitive nowadays. But on the bright side of the unwanted commentary, someone might actually have a helpful tidbit about your name that you should know before legally assigning it to your child. Like, “Adam Samuel Samsonite? Soooo…his initials will be ASS?” Oh hell no. Thanks for pointing that out, Friend.
Readers Tracie and Hugh Roarty, who are expecting a baby girl in August, would like a few baby name suggestions.
We have an almost 5 year old son and 3 year old daughter. Their names are Liam Robert and Brenna Kelly. My husband and I are both of Irish American descent. I had loved the name Liam since I was a child (am a bit shocked at how popular it is becoming now!). Their middle names are both family names.
Tracie, Hugh, Liam and Brenna currently live in Belgium, but they’ll be moving back to the U.S. before the baby arrives. They keep track of their travels at Belgian Bloggin, where Tracie recently announced her pregnancy. Tracie mentioned that Brenna would like to name the baby Rapunzel, while Liam would simply like to use the name Brenna again. :)
We have decided that we do not want another very Irish name (I feel like it will start to sound like we wish we lived in Ireland – if that makes sense?).
The names I have been drawn to so far are Margot and Valerie – both French I believe. I think it is the European influence on me. I like that these names are easily recognizable but not extremely popular.
The middle name would be either Patricia or Claire (our mothers names). For the two names so far we like Margot Patricia or Valerie Claire.
I love both Margot and Valerie.
Here are some other names I think Tracie and Hugh might like as well:
Which of the above do you like best for Liam and Brenna’s baby sister? What other names would you suggest?
A reader named Baccara has a daughter named Cecily. She’s expecting a second baby girl in May, and she’d like some name suggestions. She writes:
To give you an idea of our style, we like feminine names. We also tend to gravitate towards more unusual names, or at least ones that are not trendy.
Here are three names she and her husband are considering:
“Charlotte has always been a contender (during both pregnancies), although its popularity is now becoming somewhat of a deterrent.”
Camilla. “However, after reading your December post on sibling names, I am concerned that both names are too overtly similar (first initial, number of syllables) to work well together.”
Adele, though Baccara’s “husband is concerned with it having a religious affiliation (Hebrew).”
Their surname is a one-syllable N-name, so short names and names that end with n are out.
First, a couple of thoughts:
Cecily and Camilla do have the same first letter and number of syllables. But they don’t start with the same sound, and they don’t have the same rhythm. So I agree that they’re similar, but I don’t know if they’re too close. I think they might work pretty well together, in fact.
I also like Adele with Cecily. The name isn’t Hebrew in origin, though. It’s based on the Germanic word adal, meaning noble. (The first half of Adelaide comes from the same place.) I’m not aware of the name Adele being strongly associated with religion. (Am I overlooking something?)
Here are some other names that I think sound good with Cecily: