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What’s In a Name?

I’m not lying. Not kidding. Not exaggerating. May a lightning bolt come down from the sky this very minute if I’m even treading near untruth.

There’s a girl at my local Kmart whose name is Marijuanna.

I noticed it immediately as it was displayed for all to see on her nametag. I desperately wanted to ask how she pronounces it. Was it possible that it was a real name in some other language and it just happened to look almost exactly the same as the nickname for a popular illegal drug? I didn’t dare ask, but it turned out I didn’t need to since the woman behind me obviously saw it as well.

“That’s a joke, right?” she asked, pointing to the associate’s nametag. “Please tell me your mother did not name you Marijuana.”

Unphased, the girl answered, “It’s pronounced Marie-jew-ANna.” (“Anna” as in ‘‘Hannah”, emphasis on “an”)

“Is that another language?” The woman was reading my mind.

“Only if revenge is a language. It was my mother’s way of sticking it to Grandma.”

Wow.

Having this exchange filed under “N” somewhere in the shelving units of my brain, I went to church this Sunday and heard a conversation during Relief Society between two young mothers. One was explaining to the other how she came up with the name “Parkin” for her son.

“I just wanted something different and unique”, she said.

My thought was, “Why?” Not that “different and unique” are bad, but I was honestly curious about the reasoning for wanting a name that was uncommon. Is it because she hopes that having an uncommon name would influence the child to be “uncommon” as well?

Because she wants his name to stand out among a list of others? Because “common” is equivalent to “boring”? I didn’t know. I didn’t ask. I wish I had.

But while I was hearing the conversation and bouncing it around in my head, I was immediately reminded of a situation about six months ago, when one of the sisters I visit teach was getting ready to deliver a little girl. Her baby was coming soon but she and her husband still hadn’t been able to choose a name, so she put out a request for suggestions on Facebook.

I remembered being a little puzzled. She and her husband both come from LDS families themselves, so surely they were familiar with their own family’s names, maybe even back several generations. They’re both bright people, who must have close friends, heroes and role models, real or imaginary, from history or personal experience and relationships, books, movies, etc. So the thought of them not being able to “think of a good name” for their child seemed odd to me.

All that, with a request for suggestions on Facebook left me with the impression that significance didn’t have any roll in the naming of their child. So I wondered what her criteria were for “a good name.” Was it how it rolled off the tongue and sounded in the ear? Did it have to be “different”? Did it have to sound gender neutral? Did it have to be contemporary or instead possess a more classical ring? Did it have to have a significant meaning in its etymology?

The name she finally picked was chosen because she “just liked the way it sounded”.

My children all have pretty common first and middle names, all chosen because they each had familial significance and simultaneous religious meaning as well. One was named after the little sister I never got to have, one was named after his father and great grandfathers on both sides, another was named after her grandmother, great-grandmother and a pious great-great Aunt, and the last was given her great-grandmother’s middle name for her first name, which also has very significant religious ties to our faith, as well as a middle name that is actually a combination of one my favorite Biblical heroines and her grandmother’s middle name.

Each of my children know why they were given the names they have. They know, though may not yet fully appreciate stories about each of the people whose names they carry, and the strengths and qualities that we want them to associate with the names. All of this was completely intentional. It was important to me that my children’s names had real meaning and significance, and I wanted them to know and feel that meaning, too. At the time, I didn’t know why. I didn’t even think about the why—it just was. But now the why seems so obvious to me that I’m surprised I didn’t put it together before. I guess it took these three “naming” conversations over a period of several months to come together and churn around in my mind to bring it all to light.

I remember asking my father how they picked my name. I think I was around 10 or so. He jokingly said that he named me after an old girlfriend. Har-dee, har-har. I rolled my eyes and waited for an explanation, but an explanation never came. Then years later when I asked again, he said that he heard the name while he was in college. It was the name of a classmate’s sister. When he and my mother were considering what they should call me, he remembered that he liked it, suggested it, and wala, I had a name.

It’s not like it really bothered me or upset me that my name had no special meaning or real signficance to them—or to me either, but I wished that it did.

It would have been nice if it did.

{ 43 comments… add one }

  • Alison Moore Smith May 28, 2011, 7:59 pm

    I was named Alison because my parents liked the name “Alecia,” but my mom didn’t want people to call me “Allie.” Um. So, yes, I got called “Allie” by my closest high school friends — because HOW ELSE would you abbreviate Alison???

    Other than Samson — whose real name is Samuel and who’s named after his dad, who’s named after his great-great-grandpa (Joseph Smith’s brother) — all our kids names (Jessica, Belinda, Alana, Monica, Caleb) are names we JUST LIKED!

    Belinda is kind of an homage to Sam’s little sister Linda who was killed in a car accident as a baby. But I don’t love the name Linda, so we found a modification.

    Samson and Caleb both have grandpa middle names (Hal and Dean) and all the kids (even the boys) have my maiden name as their (other) middle name. Sam’s family tradition.

    As a side note, my mom was named after a great aunt (or something) who died as a baby. Her name was Ethel D’On (pronounced deon). My mom despised the name Ethel (as you might imagine) and so went by D’On. Which, of course, was always misspelled our mispronounced.

    My sister’s name is Nora D’On. Nora after my dad’s mom and, well, you know the D’On story. My brothers middle name is my mom’s dad’s first name, Claudius. Which means my brother must be a Greek emperor.

    And I just have this name that is meant to keep people from calling me the nickname they all called me (in addition to Fireball and Fatty and Four-Eyes, of course, alliteration at it’s finest). And no middle name! None! The Forgotten Child!

    My dad’s legal name is Hal G Moore. A curse for so many reasons. First, because NO ONE ever believes his real name is Hal. It MUST be Harold or Henry or Halgernon or Halitosis. Anything but HAL. And the G must really be a G(.) because it HAS to stand for something. And it DOES stand for something — Gillman, his mom’s maiden name. But his middle name isn’t Gillman, it’s just G without a period because it’s not an abbreviation. But NO ONE believes is.

    And speaking of names, there was a girl at Orem High when I was there who (so the story goes) was named by her two-year-old brother. Her name was Pebbles.
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    • Lacey May 28, 2011, 11:47 pm

      My FIL has the middle name of C, as in just C, without the period. We had to send our wedding invites back because they put a period after the C. My husband has no middle name, which people find odd since he’s a man.

    • Sandy Grant May 30, 2011, 10:34 pm

      We had tons of fun with our Wedding invites. Hubby has an R with no period, but his dad is C. Richard with a period in between and my Dad had a K without a period.

  • Jil May 28, 2011, 10:00 pm

    This is such an interesting subject, because we just went through it with my daughter. She just had our first granddaughter, a little girl two and a half months ago. Naming her was such a process for my daughter and her husband. They also wanted an unique name, something that they “liked”. I also wondered what made a name likable. We offered several names and they would say, “we already know someone with that name.” So really what they wanted was a name that they had not heard or that not very many people had. They ended up naming her Leola, after my husband’s grandmother that had passed away. It’s a pretty unique name and holds some sentimental value for our family.

    I felt growing up that my name was always pretty bland. The girl that I was named after spelled her name GYL, but my parents thought that spelling it that way was pretty out there at the time, so it was spelled Jil – yes with only one “L”. No one spells it correctly, althought they do pronounce it right.

    I didn’t have a middle name and neither does my husband, so we continued that same naming style with our children and didn’t give any of them a middle name. We named them Parker, Maddison, Logan and Hannah. Hannah was named after my husband’s great-grandmother Hannah Last Cornaby. Her name is the only one that really has any meaning. We just liked the other names.

    So do my children fell like they aren’t special just because they were named normal names? I’d like to think that they know their special, and hopefully we raised them to know that they are special, even if their names are normal.

  • Tracy Keeney May 28, 2011, 10:16 pm

    I’ll have to tell my brother about your father’s middle name being just an initial– he has a very similar problem, with people not believing that his first name, is actually just an initial. My brother was named after our paternal grandfather, L. Joseph Rivest. The “L” stands for Louie, which was our great-grandfather’s name. But our grandfather’s legal name, as written on his birth certificate, was L. Joseph Rivest. His mother wanted to name him after his father, but neither of them liked the name Louie and didn’t want anyone ELSE calling him that, either. So they just used the initial “L” in his legal name, but they always called him Joseph. My brother’s name is the same. He’s L. Joseph Rivest II, and goes by Joe. Until now, I’d never heard of anyone else having an initial as part of their legal name– very interesting!
    I remember that I called you “Ali” for quite a long while, until one time when you told me that your mother didn’t like it!!

  • Tracy Keeney May 28, 2011, 10:37 pm

    Good point Jil— spelling can be an issue, too. I’ve wondered about that one as well— why having a different or unique spelling is important to people. Again, not that it’s a bad thing at all. But it’s BOUND to cause problems. And I’ve seen people get pretty irritated about their names constantly being misspelled. But that’s going to come with the territory if it’s spelled in an uncommon way.
    To your point about your children knowing that they’re special— I certainly hope that my thoughts didn’t communicate that I felt I wasn’t special. I was my father’s pride and joy, and my mother had a way of making each child feel like she treasured them more than anything else in God’s creation. I was just aware that my NAME meant nothing special, and I wished that it held some sort of significance and meaning. I’m honestly not sure what sparked that, either. Maybe I heard someone talking about the significance of their own name, and it got me wondering about mine. Maybe the curiosity came after a conference talk about the importance of “living up to” our names– I know I’ve heard quite a few of those. But I honestly don’t recall what the catalyst was.

    • Jil May 29, 2011, 10:29 pm

      Oh goodness, I didn’t mean to infer that you weren’t special to your parents. I’m sure you were very speical to them. And I’m sure that if you were to talk to those who were your friends and family when you were feeling “not so significant”, you would find that there were, and are many people that think and feel that you are a very significant part of their lives. And to them your name means something very significant.

      I too remember hearing many talks throughout the years on “living up to” our names. In fact, after listening to one of those talks my mom always used to say to us as we were leaving the house, “Remember who you are.” I now have that saying above my front door. Mostly for sentimental value, but sometimes when I’m having a rather hard day, it’s a reminder that I’m a daughter of my Heavenly Father. It seems to help.

  • Lacey May 29, 2011, 12:04 am

    We gave both our girls Hebrew names. Lilah, which means night, and she was born at night, then she got my middle name so we could have the same initials and share a name, but I don’t like the spelling of my middle name, so I hers is actually spelled differently.

    Our second daughter is named Eden, which means pleasure or delight, then we just liked her middle name, it was actually our mortgage brokers name, and we choose it because we liked how it sounded with her first name.

    Neither first names have special family ties, but they still have meaning, and I admit I wanted unique names, but not out there names and unique spellings kill me. I didn’t think Lilah would be hard to spell, but people forget the ‘h’ all the time, which is somewhat understandable. I always had to say Lacey with an ‘e’.

    My father just liked the name Lacey, and my middle name came from a young woman my mother taught and my dad was impressed with.
    Since I shared the same initials as my dad, we had a special connection. He’d call me by our initials and it was something we shared. I almost hated giving that up once married.

    Funny story: My father one day went to the doctor and the doctor came in asking about Lacey, because they had pulled my records instead of his.

  • Mark N. May 29, 2011, 12:06 am

    Our middle daughter’s first name is Rebekah, which is the Biblical spelling. Nobody ever spells it correctly, so she’s gone her whole life having her name misspelled on programs and whatnot. I think she just takes it for granted now that most people are going to spell it wrong.

    • Alison Moore Smith May 30, 2011, 1:12 am

      Mark, people never spell my name correctly either. It’s usually Allison, but sometimes Alyson (or even Allyson). But mine is the correct spelling — in case anyone wants to know.
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    • Tracy Keeney May 30, 2011, 7:14 am

      Mark, I happen to PREFER the Hebrew spelling of Rebekah. And I think we can all probably agree that the “kah” spelling IS the “proper” spelling, if one would consider it’s original spelling as “proper”. In fact, I wouldn’t doubt that the now common “ecca” spelling is either the result of someone wanting to have a “different” or “unique” spelling of the name OR possibly even in a purposeful attempt to divorce the name from Judaism.

    • jennycherie May 31, 2011, 5:51 am

      ok – we have a Rebekah too, and I confess, when I first agreed to use the Hebrew spelling, I wasn’t real clear on what it was. I remembered the “k” but I thought there were two. At first, I thought “Rebekah” looked like it should be “ruh – BEAK – uh.” Fortunately, I’ve gotten over that now. . .
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  • jennycherie May 29, 2011, 7:15 pm

    Great post, Tracy! I always like to hear name “stories.” My middle name is Cherie. My parents took French together in high school and so they used the French endearment “cherie” (dear/dearest) in their love notes. Our kids are mostly names we just liked with a few exceptions. My son has his father’s name for a middle name. Two of my children have scriptural first names. One of my daughters has a family name for a middle name. It took us four kids to finally realize that we preferred having names that are easy to pronounce AND spell. I hope to pass this wisdom on to my children.
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  • jennycherie May 29, 2011, 7:33 pm

    by the way – thinking about Marijuana – My first thought was that maybe she was hispanic and her name was María Juana, which had been shortened (as is comomnly done) to Marijuana.

    We see all sorts of weird names in our school. My faves? A male classmate of my son named Precious (no joke!) and a female classmate of my youngest daughter named Kennyaviana.. It took us a good two weeks for her classmates to be able to say her whole name. And then there was the secondary problem that her name did not fit on the sticker nametags on field trips.

  • Janiel Miller May 30, 2011, 12:14 am

    Candy Cane
    Holly Jolly
    Lynn Lynn
    Stony Brooks
    Pandy Barr
    Joe King
    Gleed
    Thone
    Nancy Hancy

    These are names of people I know or know of.

    Please stop the insanity!
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    • Alison Moore Smith May 30, 2011, 1:14 am

      I know Pandy!

      In my ward we have a Kerry Sperry and a Kerri Berry. heh heh

      Gleed? Thone? What???
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    • Janiel Miller May 30, 2011, 10:02 pm

      Oh, Allyysonne, you will love this. Gleed and Thone are the names of the children of a guy who waits to name his kids until he gets up and gives them their blessing in church. Whatever pops into his head is what he names them. Inspiration.

      Not saying it isn’t inspiration. Just saying, how lucky they are that his inspiration comes in single syllables.
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  • Angie Gardner May 30, 2011, 10:53 am

    Ha, I thought my dad and his twin were the only ones in the world with a letter for their middle names. And their first names are boring too. Ray G and Roy D (sounds a lot like Hal C, doesn’t it?). I asked my grandma once why she did that, and she said they liked the middle name David for Roy, but my dad’s (Ray “G”) middle name was in honor of his doctor, and they didn’t like the full name (seems like it was Garland or something like that…) She didn’t want to give one twin a full middle name and the other one not, so she just did it that way. Lame. (She’s my favorite person in the world, by the way.)

    I suppose I’m fine with people coming up with unique names to help their kid stand out – what I really don’t get is weird spelling. Why? If it’s pronounced the same, why make it so your kid has to correct the spelling all their life? Or maybe you just want people to think you don’t know how to spell (I’m not talking about names that have different spellings like Sara/Sarah…I’m talking about names like Merree, Jaine, or Greyce – all names I have seen before in children of this generation.)

    As for my children’s names, I really wanted them to have meaning. My oldest daughter Morgan is named after a friend of mine who was killed in a car accident, and her middle name is my mother-in-law’s name. My second daughter is Elise is a family name and a name I’ve always loved, and her middle name is a version of my mom’s name. My youngest is Ashlyn which really has no significance other than when I was pregnant I kept dreaming about a little boy named Ashton. While I was pregnant with her I found out it would be my last pregnancy due to complications, but I liked the name Ashton but not for a girl – so we feminized it a little bit and made it Ashlyn. It totally fits her. Her middle name is Lily, after my grandma who named her twins Ray and Roy. I love the name Lily and that would have been Ashlyn’s first name other than the fact that our last name is Gardner. Lily Gardner. I was seriously debating it still, until one of the little girls in my ward said, “oh that’s really cute. Lily Gardner, like a gardener of lilies.” Thus, it became a middle name instead. :)

    • Alison Moore Smith May 30, 2011, 3:34 pm

      Actually, my dad’s name is “Hal G” and when my mom would call him, “Hallllll Geeeee” it was easily misunderstood. One day a friend asked me, “Why is your dad’s name ‘Algae’?”
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    • Angie Gardner May 30, 2011, 6:08 pm

      Ha, that’s what I meant. I am having an awful time typing today. P.S. Algae…that’s really funny.

  • Darcee Yates May 30, 2011, 2:46 pm

    About 20 years ago, my mother lamented that the new ‘hippie’ converts in her ward had named their new baby – Ourlove- I’m not sure how they spelled it, but that’s how it was pronounced. Poor girl.

    And when my daughter was engaged to a boy with the last name of Light, my husband would tease her that no matter what the sex of their first child was, he’d be calling ‘it’ Bud.

    She didn’t marry him.
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  • Amber May 30, 2011, 8:56 pm

    I think the name thing is kind of generational. The younger generation seems to care more about the way the name sounds. Personally, I want to have it all. My baby got a name that had significance and sounded nice. :)

  • Janiel Miller May 30, 2011, 10:05 pm

    One of the wards I lived in as a kid had a family who named their boy Mahonrimoriancumer.

    Oh.my.heart.

    And there was a native american family with the last name of–and this is very cool–RunningHalfLightening.
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    • Tracy Keeney May 30, 2011, 10:27 pm

      We save the “odd” names for pets. :) We had twin black cats that we called Mahonri and Moriancumer.

    • Janiel Miller May 31, 2011, 1:42 pm

      That’s aweseome. :)
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    • Janiel Miller May 31, 2011, 1:43 pm

      “Aweseome” is going to be the name of my first grandchild.

      What I meant to say was “that’s awesome.”
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    • Amber June 2, 2011, 12:51 pm

      Lol! That’s awesome! It reminds me of Anne of Green Gables and the porcelain dogs named Og and Magog.
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    • Tracy Keeney June 2, 2011, 2:44 pm

      Then you might appreciate what we named our other pets as well. We had a pair of parakeets that were Abraham and Sariah. A different pair of cats, David and Goliath. And back when I was a kid, our cats were Nanu and Shazbot (that will only sound familiar to those old enough to have watched “Mork and Mindy” on TV.)
      We’ve already decided that any “pairs” of animals we have in the future will be KuKu and Kachoo, both of which, of course, have to be said with a cool “surfer dude” sort of accent.

    • Alison Moore Smith June 4, 2011, 4:11 pm

      We had a dog named Shadrack.

      All of our cat names have been cookie names. That’s hard when you’ve had as many as we have. A few:

      Oreo
      Duplex
      Pecan Sandie
      Nutter Butter
      Shortbread
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    • Heidi M. June 28, 2011, 3:14 pm

      My sister says she is naming her 1st son that. Whenever that will be. Which she says never. LOL!!

  • Conifer May 30, 2011, 11:31 pm

    I’ve always loved having a unique name (I’ve never met another person with my name) and a good, easy nickname imbedded in it. We gave both of our kids very old, forgotten first names that sound great, are easy to figure out how to pronounce and spell, and have great, easy nickname options. Their middle names are significant meaning-wise. I hope they love their names as much as I love mine.

    • Conifer May 30, 2011, 11:31 pm

      And my real name isn’t Conifer. :)

    • Tracy Keeney May 31, 2011, 4:39 pm

      HA! Well, I would have agreed with you that Conifer would indeed be a “unique” name! :)

  • Angie May 31, 2011, 12:21 pm

    I was wondering! I was thinking Conifer…Connie. Ha.

  • Tracy's Husband May 31, 2011, 1:17 pm

    My name William in Ireland it is Liam ” Protector of God/Light” , My middle is Michael “Arch Angel, Patron Saint of Law Enforcement and my last name, you know I know there is a county in Ireland with my family last name but I don’t recall its meaning but this is all Catholic to many. Now Marijuana is, well just Marijuana/ Reefer / Doopage / Dope. I find it more and more, its like a Johnny Cash song, a boy named “Sue”. Its sad, pathetic and ignorant mixed with arrogance to name a child after a well known narcotic.

    • Tracy Keeney May 31, 2011, 4:40 pm

      And as you know dear, I had 2 DIFFERENT girls in the last high school I worked in, whose names were Tequila.

  • jks June 1, 2011, 2:40 pm

    I don’t like naming children after people. We chose not to carry on a tradition of naming a son after his paternal grandfather. He’s a jerk.
    I know people who are named after their father who later is a jerk.
    I’ve heard of people whose child or father with the same name steals money or ruins their credit.
    It was important to me that my children had their own name so they can be their own person (plus, I hadn’t met my child yet, how do I know whether he will steal all of our money?).
    I have chosen names because I like how it sounds, I like the connotations (based on where I’ve heard the name, no stereotypes of names that I dislike, etc), we wanted normal names but not too tired/common and of course both my husband and I had to like the name.
    My children get to live up to their own name, not someone else’s. When I think of their names, I just think of them.

  • Heidi M. June 28, 2011, 3:29 pm

    When I first married Shawn, my father-in-law joked with me that I was named after him. I was like “WHA?” “You were born after me, so you are named after me.” Riiiiiiiight!! LOL!!

    Our oldest is Joshua Alan. Joshua because Shawn really liked it, and Alan because it was after my mom’s brother who died when I was 8. I just really liked it. I have no memory of that uncle, but I always liked the name.

    Lauren because we liked it.
    Kayley because I really liked it and after Shawn said no to it when I was pregnant with Lauren. When I found out I was having another girl, I told him she was Kayley. He wanted Ashlen, but Kayley she is!

    Jacob Austin. Good sounding Book of Mormon name, well Jacob at least. And Austin, because it’s a cool Texan name. So after we determined a biblical name and Texas name, I then said Joshua was named after the Joshua in the bible, and Alan was because of the original reason, but also because of Allen, TX but just modified. There is also a Joshua, TX. =D

    Kristen, because Shawn liked Kristen since before finding out Jacob was a boy. But we went to the hospital with Kristen, Amy, Sarah & Nicole. Kristen, aka Krissy, won.

    Lindsey. Only an L name because we had 2 girl “K” names, so we needed another “L” name. I wanted Elle. Simple, plain… call her “L”. Shawn didn’t like it. I liked Logan. Nope. I liked Lindley. Which is a family name on my Gramma’s side, who I really loved. Nope… how about Lindsey? Sure, why not? To this day, I wished I had named her Lindley.

    Joseph Avery: Joseph being a mighty Book of Mormon prophet, and Avery because of Avery, TX. Even though James Avery was my #1 pick. LOL!! Sometimes I have to think what his middle name is. It’s actually kind of wierd, and wished now I would have done something different. Oh, well.

    My name: Heidi. When my parents found out I was on my way, my Mom chose Jannalee. I guess up until the time my Dad got his last letter from her before I was born while in Vietnam, he thought my name was Jannalee. So when I was born, she named me Heidi instead. No middle name (thus no middle names for my girls). When she called the American Red Cross to have them give the message to my Dad that I had been born, they asked for the name, and she said “Oh, he knows the name!” My “birth certificate” from them to my Dad says BABY GIRL as the name. So until my Dad got another letter from her, he thought I was Jannalee.

    And Shawn is Oliver Shawn. He hates his name. I’m not to keen on it either. But Shawn is better than Oliver (which I know, is a popular name now, and I’ve known some cute Oliver’s… just not naming my son that).

  • Pam August 11, 2011, 1:30 am

    You were given a name without a history- probably because he liked the sound of it and wanted to find out the story you would make of it. I find it bornig when people tell long winded stories of people they were named after- they had no choice but now are expected to be like the deceased. I am not talking something absolutly nutty like two common names smushed together- but something that was pleasant to say a million times. For every parent says their childs name at least that many times.

  • Jane H. May 11, 2012, 11:34 am

    In response to posts #7 and #15 above: There is a common misconception that “Rebekah” is “the Biblical spelling.” However, the spelling “Rebecca” is used in the Bible too (see Romans 9:10 KJV). Not only is “Rebecca” used in the KJV Bible, it is also the older Biblical spelling. The ancient Latin Vulgate (compiled in the 4th Century A.D.) was the version of the Bible that was used for centuries. The Latin Vulgate uses the spelling “Rebecca” exclusively. Centuries later, when the Bible was translated into English in the year 1611, the spelling was changed to “Rebekah” for the Old Testament, but the spelling “Rebecca” was retained in the New Testament (see Romans 9:10). So the older Biblical spelling is “Rebecca,” but both spellings are in the original English Bible. Here is a link to view Genesis 49:31 in the ancient Latin Vulgate text (alongside an English translation) that spells the name “Rebecca.” http://www.latinvulgate.com/verse.aspx?t=0&b=1&c=49 // It should also be noted that the original name was in the Hebrew language, which uses an entirely different alphabet. There are no English letters in Hebrew language. The original Hebrew name was pronounced something like “Rivka.”

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