Where To Search For Meanings Of Names


Behind every name is an interesting meaning and origin. If you study a bit names and their meaning and the people with those same names, you are likely find patterns and consistencies between the names and the personalities.

It may be a far-reaching effort, some say, to attach such importance to the meaning of names. But we spend many a pregnant, anticipatory hour poring over name books, lists, and websites devoted to finding the perfect moniker for our precious-thing-to-be.

That’s the first name, of course. Given names, more tethered to named one’s genealogy or limited to the parents’ last names, leave little room for creativity, needing little generating besides whether or not to take the father’s last name, the step father’s last name, the mother’s maiden given name, or both parents’ names in a hybrid combo.

But for those that already exist – if, say, you want to know the meaning of your own name – there are only a couple of contingencies to keep in mind when it comes to proper (or common, for that matter) nouns. The meaning of names is rooted in a sensory description or descriptiveness and in that which is being referred to, that which is being named. For example, think about when your kid got that new kitty or puppy. He/she either considered appearance, and used a descriptive word as the pet’s new handle (Fluffy, Buffy, Snowball, Spot), or took into account the way the new creature behaved, subscribing a personality trait name (Dum-dum, Sparky, Skip).

Then again, there are the likeness names, wherein the cat is now called Panther; and there are the homage names, such as Elvis or Sting; and there are the high-pressured, you-must-name him after so-and-so names, so the parakeet gets stuck with Polly and the lizard is named after uncle Lou. (I once had an ex whose new girlfriend named their newly acquired pit bull after me. At first I seethed at the insult, but realized she must be that intimidated by the memories of me still floating in their home and, besides, she would have to be reminded of the great one every damned time she called that dog to dinner.)

So much for the rationale of naming. It’s pretty clear that naming and names are important in all cultures (one of the few enduring universals we can boast of sharing with the world). On to the actual names and their meanings: a number of devoted scholars and others have researched and developed databases for us to find what we are looking for – be it a new name for the soon to be born (if he/she isn’t getting saddled with a family member’s already used Ethyl or Fred) or the etymology (history and definition) of an already existing title.

Here are a few of the top sites, those that students, parents, and the curious swear by:

Behindthename.com covers etymology of first names of numerous ethnic origins.

While Behind the Names does, too, nameseekers.co.uk has a hearty database for last names in their Surname Meanings section.

And mysteries-megasite.com has quite a lengthy links page with many links to many names and their meaning – in case you are looking for a more obscure definition.

There are, of course, engaging, interesting, or just fun sites on names attached to entities other than people. For example, chemist Paul May set up a page for students to read about Molecules with Silly Names, found at http://www.chm.bris.ac.uk/sillymolecules/sillymols.htm. (Alexa) And there are real human names that you may or may not want to investigate, at places like Ubersite.com, featuring a list of “Funny Names” such as Polly Waddle, Misty Raney, and Duck Yoo.


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