Wednesday, October 9, 2013

How We Named Our Children: A Tale of Flowers & Thunder

Linnaeus Bastien & Brontë Sonja. I know, they're kinda weird names. My poor children will probably hate me every time they have to fill in a form too, as they've both got a double-barrelled last name that includes my all-the-vowels nine-letter french-canadian moniker plus their father's short-but-still-unspellable teutonic surname. A lot of people have asked how we decided on these particular names or what they mean, so I thought I'd write a post about it.

Linnaeus the botanist, via WikiMedia Commons
Sprout's Name Story

Linnaeus, as you might know, is an 18th century Swedish botanist, famous for developing the system we use to this day for plant & animal identification. However, we didn't start by saying, "Hey, we love this name, let's use it on our son!". I had a strong hunch I was carrying a girl when I was pregnant with Linnaeus, so I was more focussed on the list of girls' names. The 20 week ultrasound showed otherwise, so we set our girls' names list aside & started narrowing down the boys' list. 

I vetoed Oli's suggestions of Falco & Haldor. The initials with the former would be somewhat disastrous, no matter what the middle name. Imagine if we'd called him Falco Ulysses Corriveau-Kuehn? Gah! Haldor, well, it might sound all Viking & stuff, but it's also a character from World of Warcraft. Just doesn't seem an appropriate place to be taking names from.

I had ideas like Orin, Stirling, Kiefer & sorta liked Joachim (pronounced the German way, yo-AH-khum). But none of them really seemed right. By the time Linnaeus was born, we still didn't really have a solid shortlist. The week he was born, we went back to the girls' list & took our favourite--Linnaea, which is a little flower that grows in Sweden & Canada--tracing it back to the botanist who named it. Karl Von Linne, or Carolus Linnaeus, since anybody important got latinized in those days. The name Linne actually has its origins in the word Linden, as in the tree, which pleases the crunchy-earth-muffin side of me.

Linnaeus' middle name was easier to pick--I think Bastien had been on my list--it also happened to be the first name of a soccer player on the German team at the World Cup that year. After some Googling to make sure he wasn't someone we wouldn't want our son's name associated with (no criminal convictions, no sex scandals, that sort of thing) we decided on it. I preferred the French spelling of Bastien, rather than Bastian, & that was it. The short form of Sebastian, which the Baby Name Wizard posits is likely a derivation of the Latin name Sebastianus, which is derived from the Greek word "sebastos" meaning "venerable" & closely related to the Latin "augustus"--the same meaning.

Anne, Emily & Charlotte Brontë, via WikiMedia Commons
Bug's Name Story

When it came to Brontë's name, we didn't spend that much time thinking about what to call her. We kept procrastinating... & then she was born. I wasn't happy with my list of girls' names from my previous pregnancies. Things like Raven, Callisto, Cassiopeia, Ponderosa... I just didn't really like them anymore. Because we'd stolen our best girl's name for Linnaeus, we more or less had to start over. 

I really wanted to give her a name that went well with her brother's name, something with a little weight to it. I favour surnames as first names--obviously--but I like ones that are pretty rare. Brontë as a first name is actually less rare than Linnaeus--it's not that unusual in Australia. Brontë was actually on my list from a while ago, but Oliver hadn't really been in favour of it, as he thought it was too 'anglo'. I mean, yes, how much more anglo can you get than using the surname of three of England's most famous writers? 

There's another meaning to the name, which some of my friends & family have already figured out: Bronte means 'thunder' in Greek. I had the idea to name my daughter something that meant thunder in another language because of the thunderstorms when I was in labour & shortly after her birth. Thunderstorms are relatively rare here & I really love them. We almost settled on Aska, which means thunder in Swedish. However, I just couldn't commit to that name after thinking about it for a couple of weeks. The pronunciation is a bit foreign--it is supposed to sound a bit like Oscar, but without the R--so no one would ever say it right. I was also a bit wary of just picking a word out of Google Translate, in case there was some connotation that we weren't aware of, as neither of us speaks Swedish. The final strike against Aska was that her name would sound like a sentence: Ask a ___... 

I realized that Brontë fit the bill for thunder, as well as being the solid kind of adult name that she could grow into. So my next step was to try to convince Oliver, who, to be honest, is still coming around to the name. I offered a compromise: if we used Brontë as her first name, he could choose her middle name. Oliver went for this & decided on naming her after his mother, Sonja. Though I felt that it's sort of uneven in a way to name one child for a family member & only one side of the family, I think the name works. Sonja doesn't get to see her grandchildren very much, living 400km away, & I know she'll appreciate the namesake. 

There you have it: the story behind the names. Now you tell me: how did you choose your child(ren)'s names? Please leave a comment below--I'd love to hear about your process!

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  1. One of my favorite topics Lisa! I prefer names with weight too.
    Oakley Miles is my backwoods scholar. He was named for the live oak trees where we lived in N California (Oakley means "meadow of oak trees"). It's a nature name, a surname that's been around a long time, it's got a modern sporty connotation, it's easily nicknamed, and everyone can spell it. It also works because his father's favourite album by his favourite songwriter JJ Cale is "Okie". He got Miles for the many, many miles we traveled in Labour Land before he could be born; hence the i instead of a y.
    Bennett Ford is my collegiate cowboy. His name comes from Benedict (too Catholic for us) and means "good", "blessed", and "well-spoken". It's also been around a long time and happens to be a surname too. More importantly, it's a rough n tumble kind on name that can stand up straight when it has to, and lends nicely to our nickname-prone family; he goes by Benny as much as Bennett. The root "bene" comes from Latin and is a nice nod to my last name, Dante, which doesn't feature in either of our kid's names. Ford is a family name on my mother's side and my only uncle's middle name. It nearly could have been Benny's first name with Bennett in the middle but I won that one by convincing my husband that Ford couldn't be nicknamed as easily. And there you have it.

    1. Love the 'backwoods scholar' & 'collegiate cowboy' names. Sounds like your process had a lot in common with ours. :)

  2. I like both the names you chose, but I probably would have been less thrilled with "Ponderosa". I can't hear that name without immediately thinking "Steakhouse". :-)

    I always really liked the name Linnaeus, and I remember cursing myself for not putting it on our original list of boy's name.

    1. Ponderosa is my favourite kind of tree, plentiful in the area of BC where I spent my first 11 years. But not quite right for a first name. :)

      So how did you pick the names of your two? Would you share the story?

  3. I love the names of your kids, and have full confidence that with your creative genetics and apparent strong convictions, they will totally OWN their fancy names! For our kids, I wanted regular, easy to spell, easy to pronounce names for my girls and Brad was on the same page. As I'd said before here, I was super-jealous of the Lisas, Michelles, Jennifers and Karens with whom I grew up! We picked Megan and Emily because we liked the sounds of them with their fairly simple last name. Easy peasy! Only because I grew up (and at 37 am still going through this) having to correct the spelling and pronunciation of my first and last names and it truly drove me crazy! So did always having conversations about my names, because I'm just not someone who wanted lots of attention like that. My sister has a plain-jane name, and just had a baby, and named her something ridiculously unusual/borderline made-up, because she found it a bore having the same name as lots of others growing up! I just love that there are stories and reasons behind any and every name choice, from the most exotic to the plainest-janest :)

  4. I know that we each had a couple of names we liked before we started seriously discussing it. We spent some really unproductive time looking through lists of baby names on the Internet ("No, no, no, no,"). After a few weeks of that, we decided to look at historical names (scientists, philosophers etc) and see if anything jumped out at us. After a while, we put together a list that I still have (from Dec 6, 2010, so 6 months before Tycho was born)!:

    Girl Boy

    Arianna Adon
    Aalyyah Torin
    Adaya Locke
    Sienna Nevin
    Hypatia Soren
    Kalani Kepler
    Juno Erez
    Tesla Lachlan

    In January 2011, I sent Shannondell an email with the Subject "Tycho!" and a Wikipedia link to Tycho Brahe. I thought of it, but we both immediately liked it. I know that we had a second name picked out in case he didn't "look like a Tycho", but I can't remember the backup name.

    We chose the middle name Locke for Tycho from the original list.

    Kepler, apart from being on the same list, was a natural extension of Tycho, of course. We debated a little if it would be "too clever" to have both sons named after astronomers. However, we just liked the way the names sound.

    The only other thing I remember is that we had a "No Brayden, Kayden, Jayden, Aiden" name policy. :-)

    1. Sorry, the formatting didn't quite work for the girl/boy list.

  5. Oh! We also had a no Aidan/Braydon/Jaden policy!

    1. They're SO popular though--I think that class attendance lists must rhyme these days. :)

  6. My husband and I both have ancestors from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales - all four corners of the isles, you could say. We wanted names for our children that reflected their heritage somehow and we loved ancient names, the likes of which we had read in history books and in myths and legends growing up. We couldn't come up with a name for our daughter that we both liked, until my husband said 'Imogen'. Immediately, I knew that was it. The name is a 1st century name, and appears in Shakespeare's play Cymbeline. My husband also remembered reading fairytales as a boy with a character called Imogen and always liked it. It also means 'Young Maiden' which I think is lovely. I anglicized her second name from the French Esme (with accent on latter e) to simply Esme. Our children also both have double-barrelled names - my maiden name and husband's name. Many of my friends in Spain and Latin America have both surnames and I like this tradition. Our son who is still a baby - the thinking was similar. We also loved Orin, but a friend of ours already named their son Orin. We ended up picking 'Caradoc' (kah-rad-oc) - also a 1st century name - a Welsh name meaning 'beloved'. He was also an elder knight of the round table and there is a mountain in Wales - caer caradoc. Also a former King of Gwent (one of the old kingdoms of Wales) was a Caradoc. I've never met another Caradoc in my entire life. I have met Canadians who think it's a little strange, but we love it. and our little boy really suits it. His second name is William - after my husband's late father who died when he was a lad. I love hearing about people's name-picking processes too. I love your children's names also.

    1. Thanks for sharing! Imogen Esme & Caradoc are fabulous names! Imogen reminds me of another name I liked--Isolde.


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