Facebook friends and naming trends

10/09/2009 - One Response
Roseanna and Lukas

Roseanna and Lukas

I have yet to find the time to research and write my third and final blog on Nom de Plumes. In the interim, I thought it would be interesting—for me at least—to peruse the pages of my Facebook friends and create a list of all their new babies. It was fascinating for me to see how little or much the parents’ cultural heritages and current location played a role in their respective choices; thus I have decided to let you, dear reader, in on this aspect of my friends’ naming decisions.

Recent births

Alice (sister to James) – American parents

Amy Frances – Canadian parents (mother of Chinese descent)

Christina Grace – Dutch father and Indian mother living in Ireland

Constantine Charles – Canadian parents

Danika (sister to Bronson) – Canadian parents (father of Italian descent and mother Mennonite)

David James Ashley – Indian parents living in Scotland (baby was born in Wales)

Esther Joy (sister to Sarah, Caleb, Deborah, and Paul) – born to a Canadian mother and an Indian father living in India

Evan – Korean Canadian parents

Florian Kenzo (twin brother to Mathys) – French Canadian parents

Isaac (cousin to Isaiah) – both cousins the children of Indian sisters who are married to Americans and live in the US

Isaac William Daniel (brother to Analin) — Canadian/American parents currently living in the US

Joshua – Canadians of Chinese descent

Karoline – American parents

Lukas Cornelius – German Canadian parents

Marcus – Korean Canadian parents

Mathys Yaël (twin brother to Florian) – French Canadian parents

Nathan (brother to Esther) – father is Indian and mother is Dutch. They live in India.

Paul – Canadian parents

Rocco – Canadians (mother is of Latino heritage)

Tamar Sophia – Canadian parents

Zephan (brother to Ayanna) – Indian parents living in India


Azariah (brother to Jonathan and Josiah) – American parents

Katherine Jade – American parents

I must say that out of all these names, the one that surprised me the most was Amy Frances. I associate the name Amy with my own generation—with college classmates and dormitory discussions—not with a pink-faced little baby barely a week old.  Looking it up, I have discovered that, in British Columbia at least, the name does rank at number 71, which makes it fairly popular. Still, out of all the names my friends have chosen, it stands out to me as the most unexpected.

Tamar is another decision that through me for a loop. It’s a beautiful name, but its two famous biblical bearers both had rather unfortunate experiences. Since the parents of little Tamar go to my church, I was a might surprised at their decision. On the other hand, one biblical Tamar is in fact commended for being righteous and eventually contributes to the line that leads to King David and, ultimately, Christ; so I guess the name does actually have a fairly rich and meaningful history.

It also struck me, when creating the list, that most of my friends have made fairly “safe” selections when choosing names for their young offspring. One friend who went against this trend is Ruth, the mother of little Zephan and Ayanna. Rocco isn’t exactly common, but it’s definitely rising in popularity (thanks in part to Madonna’s starbaby). Danika’s another one that’s not widely heard, but it’s not exactly obscure either. Constantine hasn’t ranked in the US since the 80’s, although it’s much more common in certain parts of Europe. Finally, since little Azariah has yet to be born, there’s a definite possibility he may end up with a completely different name. However, should his parents choose to stick with their original decision I highly doubt he’ll have to go by Azariah C. in his kindergarten class.

I’m back!

09/09/2009 - Leave a Response

And I’ll start posting again soon.  My computer died on me and so my blogging was put on hold for a while as a result. I’m a bit busy at present, but I should have a new post ready within the following week.

The Curious Case of the Nom De Plume Part Two

13/08/2009 - 2 Responses


It should be noted that not all so-called “pen names” are chosen specifically for the purpose of writing. Sometimes authors decide to go by names they chose for themselves years ago for reasons completely divorced from a potential writing career.  When Chloe Anthony Wofford’s college classmates couldn’t pronounce her first name, she told them to call her Toni. Later on she married Harold Morrison and thus became Toni Morrison both in public and in private life.  And when young Howard Allen O’Brian went to school for the first time in the 1940s, she told the first person who asked her that her name was “Anne”. Anne’s mother let it go, knowing that her daughter was embarrassed of the masculine moniker she had been given. Little Howard remained Anne for the rest of her life, later going by her married name of Anne Rice.

Of course, more frequently pen names are chosen by the author for the purpose of publishing.

Names chosen to fit a genre

Authors who choose to call themselves by a name other than their own frequently do so in order to better “fit” their name to the genre of literature they are producing.

  • Pearl Grey decided that his own name did not suit the rugged and romantic image of the Old West that his novels portrayed and so chose a substitute in the form of his mother’s maiden name, Zane.
  • Depressed and self-doubting, Sylvia Plath published her first and only novel, The Bell Jar, under the pen name Victoria Lucas. By doing so she differentiated the semi-autobiographical work from the poetry for which she was known. Sadly, any protection she may have hoped to attain from the use of a pseudonym did nothing to sustain her weakened mind following the first few negative reviews, and she successfully took her own life less than a month after the novel’s publication.
  • Daniel Handler chose to make his literary alias a character in his works of dark children’s fiction, having the “author” Lemony Snicket both narrate and take part in the tales.
  • When Agatha Christie wrote romance novels she published under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott and saw Agatha Christie, mystery writer, as being quite distinct from Mary Westmacott, novelist.

Particularly prolific authors may go by multiple different names depending on the genre within which they are writing.

  • L. Frank Baum is a good example of this, using a variety of pen names dependent on the work of fiction being produced. His various assumed names include Edith Van Dyne, Floyd Akers, Schuyler Staunton, and Laura Bancroft.
  • One of the first American writers to win international acclaim, Washington Irving gained both fame and notoriety when he published under the pseudonym Diedrich Knickerbocker. Other aliases used are Geoffrey Crayon, Fray Antonio Agrapida, and Jonathan Oldstyle.
  • Prior to settling on Mark Twain for most of his writings, Samuel L. Clemens wrote as both “Josh” and “Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass” dependent on the work he published. Incidentally, Twain alleged that his nom de guerre, a Mississippi riverboatman’s cry that basically meant “safe waters”, was adopted after the death of Captain Isaiah Sellers, who had previously used the name when writing his paragraphs of practical information.  This story has been contested by biographers who claim that “mark twain” is in actuality a reference to Twain’s running bar tab!

One a side note, the way in which Washington Irving secured the public’s interest in the works of “Diedrich Knickerbocker” is really quite a marvelous story — I recommend looking it up.

If you could name a rose. . .

10/08/2009 - 2 Responses


. . .what would you call it?  Usually the honour of naming a rose comes at the price of a pretty penny; however, if you happen to be living in BC until the end of the month, you have the opportunity of naming a rose for free.  I happen to be living in BC for two more weeks, so I guess I qualify.

My chances still aren’t that great.  It’s a free contest, but it is a contest, and I don’t usually win those things.  So am I going to enter?  Of course I am!  I just need to choose a name.

I know I don’t get much traffic on this blog, but if you happen by, tell me: if given the chance, what would you name a rose?

The Curious Case of the Nom De Plume Part One

07/08/2009 - 2 Responses


“We each write under a nom-de-plume. Mine is Rosamund Montmorency.” – Anne of Green Gables

The pen name, the literary alias, the pseudonym, the nom de plum – these are used when an author, for one reason or another, does not wish their actual name to appear on the covers of the work they publish.  Some novelists are more famous for their assumed names than their given names.  For example, while bibliophiles will recognise that Charles Lutwidge Dodgson is really Lewis Carroll, most people are much more familiar with the author’s playful pseudonym, created by combining an Anglicised version of his middle name with an Irish surname variant of Charles.  Other past novelists’ pen names are virtually unknown today—if I were to mention the author “Boz” in a conversation I would be very surprised if anyone realised I was talking about Charles Dickens.

There are many reasons that an author might choose a nom de plume, so I’m only going to discuss a selection over the next few days. 

Women using Male Names

It was relatively common in the 19th century for a woman wanting her publications to be taken seriously to assume a man’s name when writing.

  • Although their identities were “exploded” not long after they first published their novels, sisters Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Bronte originally hid their female names, choosing instead to write as Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell.  I find their taste in names very interesting.  They could have easily published under much more common masculine names, say, Charles, Edward, and Arthur; instead, they chose to use surnames as their supposed given names.  While giving your son a name that was originally a last name was already common in the 19th century, it strikes me that by using less firmly entrenched male names that the Bronte sisters were obscuring their gender, rather than definitely pretending to be male.
  • Conversely, when Mary Ann Evans published her novels she chose to use the decidedly male George Eliot.  This was in part because her goal in writing was absolute realism and she didn’t want people to think she was merely a writer of romances.  However, she also hid her identity in order to protect her somewhat scandalous private life.
  • French novelist Amandine Aurore Lucile Dupin also chose the name George when publishing. She adopted the pseudonym after co-writing Rose Et Blanche with Jules Sandeau.  The collection of short stories were published under the name Jules Sand, and when Sand later published works on her own she kept the last name and added George.  Given that Sand adopted masculine dress and habits (she smoked tobacco) as well as a masculine name, I don’t think she was too concerned about hiding her feminine identity.

Even in the 20th century some female authors chose to obscure their gender.

  • American authors Nelle Harper Lee and Mary Flannery O’Connor both dropped their feminine first name when writing their works of Southern Gothic fiction.
  • When Edith Pargeter wrote her Brother Cadfael mystery series, she chose the alliterative but masculine appellation Ellis Peters—even though she had already published some works under her given name.
  • And while she didn’t actually assume a man’s name, Joan Rowling was instructed to pick up a middle initial upon the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone so that young boys interested in purchasing the novel wouldn’t be put off by an obviously female author. Rowling chose K in honour of her grandmother Kathleen and so J.K. Rowling was born.

While a teenager, I spent some time thinking about this trend.  I decided to take my own name (Charlotte D.) and alter it to see what kind of masculine pen name I came up with.  However, I quickly realised that by giving myself the male variant of Charlotte and slightly changing my own last name that the resulting name, Charles Dickens, was already taken. Now I’m married, so Charles Dickens doesn’t resemble my own name as much anymore.  Besides, I’m proud to be a woman and don’t think this tradition is one that I’d ever follow.

The Curious Case of Made-Up Names

05/08/2009 - 5 Responses

shadowParents who want to give their children unique names will often try to create entirely new names.  Frequently this will take the form of a name created by combining elements of existing names (e.g. Persette and Abiline).  Occasionally the parents will choose to combine their own names when dubbing their offspring; for example, I’ve met a “Bemin” who was named after his parents Benjamin and Minnie, and a “Javid” who was named after David and [I think] Janet.  Sometimes names are chosen from existing words (e.g. the growing popularity of the once-unique Lyric), and even from existing words scrambled or spelt backwards (e.g. the infamous Nevaeh).

Of course, every name was once created — a few years ago I met a woman who named her son Jaden, convinced that she was coming up with an entirely new and creative appellation!  Historically, authors of fiction have been known to create names for their characters.  Not surprisingly, this tendency occurs more frequently with girls’ names than with boys’.  Boys’ name traditionally remain more, um, traditional, and it’s much more difficult to get away with giving a boy an unusual name than a girl.

Without further ado, here’s a brief list of names created by authors for their works of fiction and poetry.

Cedric: Sir Walter Scott came up with this name when creating characters for his novel Ivanhoe.  He based the name on the actual name “Cerdic”, the title of the 6th-century founder of the Kingdom of Wessex.

Imogen: Shakespeare actually created quite a few names when peopling his plays, but this one is possibly the most famous.  Unlike some of his other names–intentionally made for the characters in question–Imogen is believed to be a “typo” of sorts.  The character Imogen appears in the play Cymbeline, and is based on a legendary figure named Innogen (I have also seen Innocence suggested).  The correction was never made and the name remains very popular in the UK.

Lorna: R.D. Blackmore is usually credited with creating this name for his novel Lorna Doone, basing it on the Scottish placename Lorne.  However, there is evidence of the name existing prior Blackmore’s novel, as in Lorna Bunyan (co-author of the little-known 1837 work The Epicure’s Companion).

Thelma: This much-derided appellation was originally created by British author Marie Corelli for her novel of the same name.  An extremely popular novelist in the late 19th-century, Corelli’s third work of fiction tells the tale of a young Norwegian girl loved by three different men.

Vanessa: Jonathan Swift, of Gulliver’s Travels fame, created this nickname for Esther Vanhomrigh by combining the “van” from her last name with “essa”, a pet-form of Esther.  Swift was Esther’s tutor, and he recorded their relationship in the autobiographical poem Cadenus and Vanessa.

Wendy: Possibly the most famous author-created name, J. M. Barrie based the name of the Peter Pan character on the nickname a friend’s daughter had given him, “my fwiendy-wendy”.  There is evidence that the name was actually used extremely rarely for both boys and girls prior to the staging of Barrie’s play; however, the name’s popularity and current use is certainly a result of Barrie’s tale of the boy who never grows up.