hrj: (doll)
Long-term readers are probably aware that one of my major hobbies has been researching historic names and naming practices in Europe, and especially among the Celtic languages. Here's a brief (and un-footnoted) write-up of a question that has puzzled me for quite some time.

* * *

When you look across history and across cultures, one of the most common ways to identify people in names, once you’ve established their “given name” (i.e., the principal label that identifies the individual), is by indicating whose son or daughter they are, that is, by using a patronym. (These names may sometimes refer to the mother rather than the father, but we’ll use “patronym” for the general category.) When you look at modern inherited surnames, you can see the traces of this type of name in many languages.

It is also the case that words for close kinship are extremely stable across time. One of the classic ways of illustrating the relationships and differences within the Indo-European language family is by tracing the words for “mother” and “father” in the various branches.

Given these two observations, it is somewhat peculiar that within one closely-related language family, the Celtic languages, we find some curious discontinuities in the words for “son” and “daughter” that appear in the various recorded languages. (Patronyms may also be formed without overt words meaning “son” or “daughter”, for example, using a possessive form, but this article is only looking at names with the overt elements.)


While the various Gaulish languages (whose relationships are debated) are not exactly direct ancestors of the modern Celtic languages, they represent the oldest examples from that family.

I have yet to find a Gaulish name formula that includes an independent word meaning “son”, however both men and women may bear patronyms indicated with a suffix -gnos (masculine) or -gna (feminine) that has a sense of “child of, progeny of”. (In fact the -gn- part of it is directly cognate with the “gen” of “progeny”.)

Bratronos Nantonignos (Bratronos son of Nantonos)
Severa Tertionigna (Severa daughter of Tertiu)

A related word that shows up in Gaulish inscriptions is geneta, meaning “a young woman”, quite possibly with the implication of “a daughter”, although it isn’t found in name formulas (that I know of). Remember this word; it becomes relevant later.

There’s a name that shows up in Gaulish inscriptions, Maponos, which is based on the root word mapos meaning “son, young man”. I have no examples of mapos being used in patronymic name formulas, but keep it, too, in mind for later.

Daughters show up in one set of names indicated by the word duxtir (which, in fact, is cognate with English “daughter”).

Severa duxtir Valentos (Severa daughter of Valens)

Goidelic Langauges (Irish, Scottish, and Manx Gaelic)

So you remember that Gaulish word geneta I told you to remember? In the Goidelic branch of the Celtic family, the cognate of this becomes the standard word for “daughter” in name formulas. In the earliest records, written in Ogham letters, it appears as inigena.

Inigena Cunigni Avitoria (Avitoria daughter of Cunignos)

By the Old Irish period it had become ingen, then modern Irish inghean, continuing to appear in name formulas. The Scottish Gaelic form is slightly different but still clearly from the same origin.

Lasarfina ingen Chathail (Lasairfhiona daughter of Cathal)

Remember that Gaulish name based on the word mapos? In Irish, sons are now using a word cognate with this that appears in the earliest Ogham inscriptions as maqas.

Andagellas maqas Caveti (Andagellas son of Cavetas)

This is, of course, the familiar mac of later Irish and Scottish surnames, which are derived from literal patronyms.

Aodh mac Maghnusa (Aodh son of Maghnus)

But that’s not quite the end of the story. Remember the Gaulish word duxtir? It still shows up in names, but as an internal part of given names. Early Irish given names are formed in a number of interesting ways, one of which involves a noun (like “son”, “daughter”, “devotee”, “hound” etc.) followed by a possessive name. (In fact, this would be an interesting topic for another name squib.) And the word used for “daughter” in this context is a reduced form of the same root as Gaulish duxtir.

Dar-Erca (a feminine name)
Mac-Erce (a corresponding masculine name)

Brythonic Languages (Welsh, Breton, Cornish)

I’ll use Welsh as the example here because it has the largest set of early name records. Sons use the word map, cognate with Gaulish mapos and Gaelic mac. This shows up in the earliest records in the regular form map, but by the later medieval period has been reduced to ap, although the ordinary noun for “son” remains map.

Higuel map Caratauc (Hywel son of Caradog)
Hywel ap Caradog (the same)

Daughters, on the other hand, use an entirely different word from any of the ones seen before: merch. This shows up in the earliest records in the regular form merc. It sometimes became reduced in later centuries to ach, similarly to how map was reduced, but for various socio-linguistic reasons, women’s names were more likely to retain the full, regular form of the word.

Elen merc Loumarc (Elen daughter of Llywarch)
Elen ferch Llywarch (the same)

But remember that other daughter word, Gaulish geneta and Gaelic inghean? That’s still used in Welsh as geneth, but only as an ordinary word meaning “a girl” without any sense of meaning “daughter”. And there is no equivalent word to Gaulish duxtir and Gaelic der used in any sort of “daughter” sense in Welsh.


Although we think of relationship terms as being fairly conservative, and despite the fact that the Celtic languages have consistently used some sort of formula indicating parentage in names, the formulas that we see in use seem to have been re-invented regularly over the centuries, showing traces of connections between the languages but finding new ways of expressing the same concepts.
hrj: (doll)
The consensus was that the new Wednesday theme should be "random bits of interesting research", so I'm going to name this series "squibs" which is an academic term for little snippets of research or analysis that don't warrant a full article. Some academic journals have had a regular section (often labeled "notes" or "correspondence") to cover this sort of material, but I'm fond of "squib" which is used in the sense of "a very small amusing explosive device". By nature, these are going to be brief and may not be as solidly footnoted and bibliographied as a more in-depth research article would be.

You may consider yourself invited to ask for squibs on particular questions or topics, with the understanding that I'll pick and choose primarily based on the intersection of personal interest and "can be written up easily and briefly."

I'll start it off with a question that [ profile] gunnora posted on my facebook wall:

Do Welsh names have some regular rules in forming diminutives? Or do they form diminutives? Norse names are pretty darn simple: they take an element and make a weak noun form of it, so Gunnvor becomes Gunna, Sigrdrifa becomes Drifa, etc.

This answer is based primarily on data from legal records (rental rolls, tax rolls, court records, etc.) from the 13-15th century, and therefore the specific forms of the names are primarily mediated through Anglo-Latin or Anglo-French texts, although I'll try to use standardized spellings in talking about them.

It's easiest to see the more productive ways of creating diminutives of given names by looking at the overwhelmingly most popular names, such as David and John. There is a statistically significant tendency for individuals with high-frequency names to have their names recorded in ways that create greater distinction. (So, for example, men named David are more likely to be recorded with a more complex name structure -- e.g., a patronym and a personal nickname -- than men with more rarely occurring given names.) This means that we can't necessarily assume that high-frequency names were more likely to have diminutives in use, but perhaps that people bearing high-frequency names were more likely to be recorded by a diminutive.

David gives us a good set of examples. The basic template takes the first (or, if you will, the stressed) syllable of the name, either as it comes (Da-) or turned into a diphthong (Dai-, Dei- which may in turn be reduced back to "Di-"), and then adds one of an array of diminutive endings (or a null ending). Thus:

+ 0 (Dai, Dawe)
+ a (Deia, Dia)
+ an (Deian)
+ con ? (Dicon, but possibly this is the English diminutive of Richard "Dickon")
+ cws (Dacws, Deicws, Dicws)
+ cyn (Dacyn, Deicyn, Dawcyn but see note below)
+ c + wyn (Dicwyn, but possibly a Welsh diminutive of "Dick"?)
+ o (Deio, Dio)
+ wyn (Deiwyn, Dewyn)

Endings like -an, -ws, -yn, -o, -wyn show up as productive elsewhere in word formation, but where is the "-c-" coming from in this process? One possibility is that it's being analogized from an entirely borrowed diminutive suffix "-kin" that was common in English. (See, e.g., Hankin, Malkin et al., cognate with German "-chen".) This interpretation is supported by the number of names derived from English sources for which "-cyn" is the only diminutive suffix that appears (Perkin, Philipkyn, Hankyn, Hopkyn, etc.).

The idea of "-c-" being a productive diminutive element separate from what follows it may explain the rare instance of Dicwyn, but this may instead represent the English diminutive of Richard with a Welsh suffix.

(In this context, I'm going to ignore two other variant forms of David: Davy and Dewi. "Davy" most likely comes from a reanalysis of the Welsh pronunciation of the name, where the final consonant is a fricative. "Dewi" is actually an earlier borrowing of the Biblical name at a time when it went through a different set of sound changes.)

The extremely common name John shows a similar variety of diminutives. In this case, the full Welsh form "Ieuan" is shortened to "Ian-" or "Ien-" to form the root. We also see some names with "Io-" or "Ion-" which are most likely from John as well. The records may spell these with initial "J" (or the published transcription of the record may indicate it with "J", the two symbols were not clearly differentiated in this era).

+ cws (Iocws)
+ cyn (Iancyn, Iencyn, Iocyn, Ioncyn)
+ ot (Ianot)
+ yn (Ianyn, Ionyn)

Toward the later part of my period of study, the spelling sometimes indicates that an English pronunciation of the root is being used: e.g., "Siankin", "Sionun"

As noted above, it's rarer to find diminutive suffixes like this being recorded for less frequent names. But here are some examples:

Madog > Mad-
+ yn (Madyn)

Hywel > Hwl-
+ cyn (Hwlcyn)

An entirely different method of forming diminutives throws off some unexpected forms. Here the "root" (such as it is) sometimes takes little more than the initial sound (although it may take a full syllable), usually followed by a simple vowel, typically "-i" or "-o", or "-yn". The other interesting feature of this group is that names beginning in "M" may have "B" substituted. (There are complex reasons for this relating to the lenition process, but too complex to get into here.) Diminutives in this group may also appear with a definite article (think: "The Donald", or don't if you prefer).

I mentioned above that it may be the stressed syllable rather than the initial syllable that's being extracted as the root of the diminutive. For 1- or 2-syllable names this is indistinguishable. But in the case of Maredudd, where the stressed syllable is "mar-ED-udd", this may explain why the productive root is "Bed-" rather than "Bar-".

Madog > Bad-
+ i (Y Badi)

Maredudd > Bed-
+ o (Bedo)
+ yn (Bedyn)

Gruffudd > Gut-
+ o (Guto)
+ yn (Gutyn, Y Gutyn)

Iorwerth > Iol-
+ o (Iolo)
+ yn (Iolyn)

It's possible that the "Dai" as a diminutive of David may belong in this category, for we get:

David > Dai-
+ 0 (Y Dai)
+ o (Y Deio)

I haven't touched on diminutives of women's names because the nature of the data gives me less to work with. So I don't feel comfortable extrapolating any of these patterns to women at this point.
hrj: (doll)
ETA: A couple very minor corrections made after the initial posting.

(I continue my three-part series on Alpennian language and names.)

Alpennian Names

As with the underlying parameters of the Alpennian language, the location and common history with its neighbors sets out the basics of the names in use.

Personal names will have some sort of deep-level substrate of both Latin and Germanic compound names with constant infusions of the standard European name pool, introducing names of Christian significance and those that became popular through cultural exchange among the elite levels of society. The latter developed into what one might think of as the “European international name pool”. All of this would be well established long before the early 19th century setting of my novels. In fact, the differences between the personal name inventories in different European countries at that time were relatively subtle, expressed largely in the way individual names developed within the rules of the local language, or how they were adapted when borrowed into local usage. In some ways, I’ve exaggerated the distinctiveness of Alpennian names to emphasize that we aren’t in familiar territory. And I’ve emphasized certain aspects of the Alpennian name pool in non-historic ways to be able to use certain aspects of naming as a class signifier.

The differences between Alpennian names and those of neighboring countries come from two major sources: the Alpennian sound-changes described in the previous section, and the choice of a starter set of name elements. As I noted before, for reasons of geography and (relative) obscurity, I used the obsolete Langobardic language as my jumping off point on the germanic side of the equation. My source lists hundreds of recorded Langobardic names (both male and female) which can be deconstructed into prothemes and deuterothemes (roughly: prefixes and suffixes) as well as supplying some models for non-compounded names and diminutives. These compounding elements have parallels in other germanic languages but the specific sets, frequency, and combinations are distinctive.

In addition to this starting Langobardic name pool, I added in the Latin forms of a vast number of popular names from Christian tradition. Names that would have come into Alpennian use later (by borrowing) were adapted similarly, not because they would have gone through the same historic sound-changes, but on the principle that they would have been modified to fit the Alpennian sound-system at the time they were borrowed. So they may not follow the sound rules strictly, but the result won’t violate the overall patterns of the language.

But it’s not entirely that simple. There might be a certain conservatizing force on Latin names due to the continued use of Latin in liturgical, academic, and legal contexts during the formative periods of the language. Furthermore, names might have been re-introduced multiple times, resulting in inconsistent variants. Names introduced later from the international pool might use that foreign version as a starting point and then might be modified by analogy to conform to Alpennian phonology, or might retain their “foreign” shape as a sort of exoticism. All of these forces give me a little extra freedom in creating the “look and feel” I want for the name pool, as well as providing more variety than a purely mechanical system would.

As the author, I can also use the device of presenting a truly foreign name (of a non-Alpennian character) in the spelling appropriate for that character’s origins, in order to signal those origins. So, for example, the estate manager René LeFevre is signaled as being of French origin by his name (with whatever other implications one might choose to draw about his origins and personal history). Similarly, there’s the example of Jeanne de Cherdillac who is ethnically Alpennian but who married a French exile and self-consciously affects a French name and mannerisms as part of her social “performance”. Similarly Barbara’s Italian fencing master in Chalanz has an obviously Italian name, and so forth. Some of the professors at Rotenek University have names indicating foreign origin, in part as a way of indicating the international character of the institution. This is one technique I use regularly to indicate the cosmopolitan nature of Alpennian culture. Names of figures in Alpennian history may be referred to by the “modern” Alpennian forms of their names, or by Latin versions of those names, reflecting how they would have appeared in records of their own time.

On gender

One of the quirks of how I derived Alpennian names is that the original inflectional endings of Latin and Germanic names were lost (though gender-specific associations of particular compound elements or borrowed names were retained). So many names have identical forms used for both men and women, such as Iulien (from Julianus/Juliana). Alpennian grammar--like other Romance languages--retains clear distinctions between masculine and feminine in many forms. (We see this most obviously in gendered forms of the titles of address.) Alpennian society is not by any means gender-neutral or even particularly progressive regarding gender issues. We see in the aspects of “honor culture” a clearly patriarchal leaning, despite certain legal allowances that are more progressive-leaning. But one of the ways I wanted to distinguish the names from other Romance cultures was in not having women’s names always end in “-a” or “-e”.

I may digress a bit on the topic of gender politics: there are structures in Alpennian society that allow for (although don’t overtly encourage) greater gender equality. For example, inheritance is not strictly by male primogeniture. While the tradition of a semi-elected royal succession is unlikely to have been intended to allow for preferring a female heir over available male ones, it makes that possible. And the same case applies to the inheritance of titles. As the old Baron Saveze notes toward the beginning of Daughter of Mystery when he’s baiting his nephew Estefen, there’s nothing in law barring him from leaving the title to Estefen’s sister Antuniet. Or rather, from commending Antuniet to the prince as his chosen heir. There are legal and traditional guidelines for what they call the heir-default -- the person closest in blood and, by preference, male. But the structures that were originally set up to allow power to pass to the person best suited to hold it have the side effect of allowing for women to inherit that power. So the gender neutrality of Alpennian name forms hold a faint reflection of this potential gender equality on a symbolic level, but it was never meant to be cause and effect in either direction.

On Diminutives and Pet-names

Getting back to naming practices in general, another thing I had to come up with was guidelines for diminutives and pet-forms and whatnot. My basic diminutive suffixes are -ek and -et, but with -et provecting to -ez, as in Annek (from Anna) or Tionez (from Diana). They may also occur with a final vowel (sometimes with the consonant doubled) as in Akezze, Toneke. Toneke is a great example of several principles. The original root is from Latin Antonia and following the usual sound-changes we get Antuniet. (The final -et may either be by analogy to French Antoinette or may be the Alpennian diminutive.) But the pet-form clips off the first syllable leaving “-tun-“ which -- now that it picks up the stress -- “remembers” that the vowel was originally o. So the stem returns to Ton- and now we add an entirely different diminutive ending to get Tonek or Toneke. There are a few other techniques for forming diminutives. This not only gives me a greater variety of options when dealing with the fact that -- as in most European societies of the time -- there should be a lot of focus on a small set of popular names like John and Elizabeth. Now I’ve done this with Elizabeth -- in fact it’s something of a running gag in Daughter of Mystery that there are a lot of Elizabeths running around and most of them have an alternate variant form of the name (like Lissa and Bezza) for everyday use to be able to distinguish them. Similarly in The Mystic Marriage, I have two prominent characters named Anna and this is commented on. And one of them gets a clear alternation between the more formal Anna and the affectionate pet-form Annek that everyone uses -- but not to her face.

Another circumstance where diminutive forms show up a lot is in surnames, because a lot of working-class surnames are derived from patronyms, and very often from diminutive forms used as patronyms (as in English -- though it isn’t always directly appearant there if you don’t know the history of the names).

Names that Don’t Follow the Rules

Now, I have sometimes broken the rules of name derivation, either because a character was very emphatic about wanting a particular name, or because the Alpennian form just semed unesthetic to me, or because the correct Alpennian form seemed to have too modern-American a feel to me. I can usually excuse this as being a reversion to an original Latin form. For example, the correct Alpennian form of Barbara should be “Parber”. But not only had Barbara carried her name from the moment she introduced herself to me, I just don’t like the look of Parber at all. So for whatever reason, she uses a Latinate form. Another example is Anna, where the Alpennian form should properly be simply Ann, but that felt too modern so I went with the Latin form. Part of my backstory for this is that use of Latinate forms is something of a class marker with upper class families often preferring them to the vernacular. This puts an interesting twist on the alternation between the more formal, upper-class Anna and the definitively Alpennian diminutive Annek, which is something the character delibrately encourages to emphasize her Alpennian roots. (This is more relevant to events in The Mystic Marriage, so I’m being a little cagy on details.)

Names and Class

I’ve touched a little bit on class issues in names. I wanted to create some clear class markers both for given names and surnames, though I don’t expect the average reader to pick up on them necessarily. It just helps in creating a consistent and distinctive “feel” that helps with worldbuilding. The ways in which I did this aren’t necessarily historically sound in terms of how name pools developed. In general, Alpennian working class people will have names that derive from Germanic roots (that is the Langobardic name pool that I used to create my linguistic “look and feel”) plus the most common of the Christian-origin names, but often using Alpennian diminutives. So, for example, when Barbara says that, whoever her father was, he wasn’t some “Mefroi Iannik” (using the working-class title “mefroi”), she’s emphasizing that he wasn’t of low birth, with Iannik (an Alpennian diminutive of John) standing in for the “common everyman”. The kitchen servants in the Fulpi household have names like “Luzza” and “Gaita” (from germanic roots) or “Aggy” (a pet-form from Agnes). Middle-class given names are more likely to be from the traditional “pan-European” name pool, both of names of Christian significance (especially saints’ names) and popular international names like Richard and Frederick. Upper-class given names draw on this same pool, but also include more recent borrowings from other cultures like Charluz (an Alpennization of Charlotte) or classical names (like Tionez, which is an Alpennian diminutive of Diana).

It is very common for the reader to encounter working-class people only by their surnames. (I’ll get into class dynamics regarding address and reference in the next section.) This isn’t always apparent because, as noted above, the most typical form of working-class surname is taken from a patronym and therefore may look very similar to a given name. (In fact, there are certain characters where I haven’t yet determined whether the name I’ve used for them is a given name or surname.)

Upper-class surnames are typically derived from proper names of places, originally indicating ownership of the land indicated. To generate these names, I started out with the earliest identifiable forms of place names in the general region of south-east France, north-west Italy, and Swizerland, and then applied Alpennian sound-change rules to them. There are also some upper-class surnames deriving from occupations or offices that would have held appropriate status. For example Chazillen comes originally from “castellanus”, someone responsible for the administration of a castle. There’s a certain snobbishness revolving around upper-class surname origins and their relationship to landed titles. Generally older titles will be held by someone who has a surname different from their title, simply due to the way they changed hands down the years. Having a title identical to your surname is generally a marker of a relatively recent elevation, as it either means that the title has been created fresh or that a family with a declassé surname has adopted the title as their surname when receiving it. A surname deriving from a more descriptive place-name (rather than a proper name) such as “Old Mill” (Vezemul) is generally a marker for middle-class origins (or lower), and similarly for surnames derived from working occupations. But there’s a fair amount of overlap at the class margins due to historic mobility.

The final part of this essay will cover forms of address and reference and issues of class dynamics and courtesy in how people speak to and of each other.
hrj: (Default)
(The concluding episode of this particular essay. I hope future essays won't be quite this long and involved, but that's not the way to bet.)

Why the Multiplicity of Spellings?

One of the most common complaints you hear about creativity in modern naming is, "Nobody knows how to spell any more!" And it would certainly be easy to use the explosion of spelling variants among the Aidan-rhyme names as ammunition in this campaign. But recall that when we looked into the possible origins of Braydon, for example, we found exactly the same exuberant variety of spellings. And, of course, there are even more current spellings in use than the ones that make the top 1000 names list. (In 2009 the cut-off to make the list was 194 examples for boys and 263 examples for girls.) Historically, the reasons for the variety in spelling come from several sources:

Cut for length, tables, and images. )

Future Potential Topics

One of the really fun things about this sort of name research is that the answer to every question raises several other questions. While I can't guarantee that every interesting topic will eventually be addressed, here are some of the questions I've jotted down in the course of this article (as well as the questions that were already on my list that are cross-referenced in the discussions here).

  • What's going on with the fashion for names in the B-R-(N)-(D)-(N) group?
  • Is there really a "trend" for names with the format CVCVC or is this a figment of my imagination, assisted by the basic sound-rules of English?
  • What's going on with Utah? Are they the secret masters of name popularity or is it just something about the Aidan-rhyme group? (Utah is evidently famous for "odd" names but most of those names don't go on to become national fads.)
  • What's going on with major population centers? Time and again in the geographic-spread maps we saw California, New York, and Illinois being unusually resistant. If they aren't jumping on the same name bandwagons as their neighbors, what are they doing instead?
  • Several of the comments on sections of this article brought up the topic of the influence of celebrities and popular fictional characters on name fashions. My initial research suggests this influence isn't nearly as strong as people think, but it would be an interesting topic to explore more fully.
hrj: (Default)

ETA: This is my first experiment with posting videos and I still have some troubleshooting to do. The videos are Quick-Time format but I don't have the advisory apparatus to tell people they need Quick-Time to view them. Please bear with my learning curve. Feedback in the comments on what systems/programs are able to view the videos or not may be useful. Sorry about this.

Further ETA: I have a confirmed success on a Windows machine running Firefox 3.6.12 and with QuickTime installed. And a confirmed failure on a Windows machine running Internet Explorer with no QuickTime installed. I suspect that the key difference is simply whether QuickTime is installed. (Duh!) I'll see if I can add a built-in message to that effect. It may be that I should look into Flash eventually, unless a better idea comes along.

Looking at the rise of all these name-groups in parallel, all starting to shoot up at roughly the same time, you'd think that they're all part of some single fashion, ruled by the rhyme. But when you look at how each individual name spreads geographically, something even more curious happens. The geographic data is taken from the Babyname Wizard "name mapper". In this case, it plots the relative popularity of a name in each of the 50 states, but only for names appearing in the 100 most popular for that state. So some of the spelling variants that show up in our top 1000 list for the entire USA never make the cut-off for the map. I'm going to oversimplify a bit by charting a simple "yes/no" for each state and leaving off Alaska and Hawaii (not because they aren't interesting, but because I'm looking at a more big-picture trend).

Behind a cut due to heavy video content. )

To be concluded in Part V

hrj: (Default)

How far does this Aidan-momentum reach in terms of names with a similar sound but not an exact rhyme? I looked at five names that differed either in having a "t" rather than a "d" (Clayton, Dayton, Layton, Payton, and Treyton) and at a group of names that are similar to the Aidan group except for having plain "a" or "e" at the beginning (Adan, Aden, Adin, and Eden).

Clayton has been mildly popular during the entire period covered by the SSI data. From the 1880s through the first decade of the 1900s it hovered around 200th in popularity for boys, crept up to #149 in 1919, declined through the mid century (although never lower than #266), had a second peak of popularity at #149 in 1994 then has been falling steadily since then.

Dayton had a fairly low presence on the charts in the early 20th century then disappeared until the '90s when it gains a low but fairly steady presence with no noticeable change around 1998.

Layton first shows up on the chart in 2001 and has been steady ever since.

Payton (in the spellings Payton and Peyton) first shows up at the beginning of the '90s and rises steadily in popularity, although not to the level of the true Aidan-rhyme names. (Payton has a very similar popularity curve for girls and is somewhat more popular in that context.)

Treyton has a brief blip at the bottom of the chart in 2002-2003 but never gains any traction.

Eden has only had a very minor blip in the last couple of years. But the Adan/Aden/Adin group shows the same profile as the main Aidan-rhyme names: Adan itself has been holding steady (in the 400s-500s of the rankings) since the mid-20th century but after 1998 it takes off, relatively speaking, Adding Aden to the chart in 2000 and Adin in 2005. The increase in popularity is nowhere near to the same degree as Aidan itself, though.

So of these names in the next rank of similarity, only the Adan group seems to benefit from and participate in the Aidan fashion. Payton is the only other of these name-groups that is on a rising trend in the same period, but it doesn't show the 1998 effect.

relative popularity or names rhyming with Clayton

As we can see in the cumulative graph above, there may be some indication in the 2009 data that the fashion is starting to fade. 2009 was the first year in a decade where the rate of increase leveled out. The four most popular name-groups (Aidan, Jayden, Caden, and Braydon) are all flat between 2008 and 2009, and Haydon has been declining for two years. Only the two most recent additions to the chart (Raiden and Zaiden) increased in 2009.

So if we wanted to make some predictions for the future, it might be safe to suggest that all the more popular groups will continue to decline, although individual names may still be on an upward arc. The pair Kayden/Cayden still seems to have some juice despite not being at the top of their group. And it might also be safe to predict that we'll see some other Aidan-rhymes make it onto the charts, driven by the overall momentum (as Raiden and Zaiden have since the time I first made this prediction). But which ones? We're unlikely to see initial sounds that aren't "normal" in men's names used in the U.S. and we might expect the overall popularity of certain initial sounds to make some Aidan-rhymes more or less likely. So let's start by looking at the distribution of initial consonants and consonant clusters in the names that have made the chart at some time in the last century or so (a total of about 2600 different names and spelling variants). Leaving out combinations that only occur in variants of a single, non-English name (such as Dmitrii), here are the relative numbers for each distinct spelling that has made the chart at some point. In each case, I've followed it by a suggestion of an Aidan-rhyme name beginning with those letters and commentary on known usage. (I've focused on the two most common spellings "-aden" and "-ayden" when searching for uses.) Names already discussed in this article are in bold.

Table of possible Aidan-rhyme names
Initial # of Names Spellings Possible Names Comments
D 232 Dayden Possibly pre-empted by Dayton.
J 230 Jayden  
M 178 Maiden Not likely, especially for a boy's name! But various spellings of this occur as surnames and except for the meaning over-ride there would be no reason it might not have been turned into a given name.
R 166 Raiden  
K 129 Kaden  
L 126 Layden Possibly pre-empted by Layton.
C 108 Caden  
H 98 Hayden  
G 88 Gayden Possibly blocked by discomfort about names containing "gay", however there is a surname Gayden and place-name Gaydon that are available as starting points.
T 83 Tayden Possible -- anecdotal evidence on the web shows that this is being used already as a boy's name.
B 80 Bayden Possible -- web searches turn up both Bayden and Baden as surnames and given names.
W 67 Wayden Possible, especially motivated by the given name Wade. There's a surname Wayden, but the most common web hit for it is for a sponsor of a curling (sports) tournament.
Br 63 Brayden  
S 62 Sayden Possibly blocked by the similarity to "Satan"?
N 61 Nayden Possibly pre-empted by Nathan? But Nayden appears to be a common transliteration of a Slavic form of Nathan and it shows up in the US as a surname, so you never know.
V 37 Vayden Possible -- anecdotal evidence on the web shows that this is being used already as a boy's name.
P 35 Payden Possibly pre-empted by Payton.
Tr 33 Trayden Possibly pre-empted by Treyton.
Ch 31 Chayden Possible -- anecdotal evidence on the web shows that this is being used already as a boy's name and there are examples of Chaden as a surname.
F 29 Faden Faden and Fayden show up as surnames (possibly as variants of MacFadden) but the only anecdotal evidence I've found for Fayden as a given name appears to be for girls, probably due to association with Fay(e).
Cl 28 Clayden Possibly pre-empted by Clayton. There is a surname Clayden, though.
Sh 24 Shayden Possible -- anecdotal evidence on the web shows that this is being used given name although the gender isn't clear.
Fr 22 Frayden Possible -- there appears to be a surname Frayden and I've found at least one given name example, although from the early 20th century rather than recently.
St 22 Stayden Possible -- web searches turn up a surname Stayden.
Z 22 Zaiden  
Gr 17 Grayden There's a surname Graydon, sometimes used as a given name, but it hasn't made the charts yet. Other possible spelling variants turn up as surnames and place names. This one's quite likely.
Th 12 Thayden No serious hits on this one.
Cr 9 Craydon Craydon is a surname and occasional given name. This one's quite possible.
Y 9 Yaden My gut instinct says this is unlikely.
Fl 7 Flayden Not impossible, but there's no surname of this sound to give it a starting point.
Kr 7 Krayden Possibly as a variant of Craydon.
Bl 6 Blayden Blayden is found as a surname, Blaydon as a place-name, and Bladon exists as a place-name and surname and occasional given name from the surname. This is a definite possibility.
Qu 6 Quayden Possible, especially motivated by Quaid (which itself isn't on the charts, though). Quaydon shows up as a surname and there seem to be some hits for Quayden as a given name, gender unclear.
Gl 5 Glayden Possible -- anecdotal evidence on the web shows that this is being used already as a boy's name.
Pr 5 Prayden Possible -- anecdotal evidence on the web shows that this is being used already as a boy's name.
Sc 5 Scayden Maybe, but the Sc- and Sk- spellings are pretty much restricted to variants of specific names (Scott for the first and Skyler for the second). This makes these spellings less likely to generate new names.
Kh 4 Khayden Possibly as a spelling variant for Caden but only if someone were working really hard on an exotic look.
Ph 4 Phayden My gut says unlikely unless Faden establishes itself first.
Dr 3 Drayden Possible. There's a place-name Drayden, alternately there's an even more common place-name and surname Drayton which might pre-empt it.
X 3 Xayden Possibly as a spelling variant for Zaiden.
Rh 2 Rhayden Possibly as a spelling variant for Raiden.
Sk 2 Skayden See notes under Scayden.
Sp 2 Spayden Unlikely for the same reason as Sc-/Sk- : initial Sp- is pretty much associated with a single name and its variants (Spenser).
Wh 2 Whedon A surname, currently especially familiar from TV producer Joss Whedon. It's possible this might get picked up.
Sl 1 Slayden Slayden can be found as a surname and place-name.
Sm 1 Smayden My gut says no.

What's the take-home message from this table? Well, the rhyme-names that begin with the most common initial letter(s) are, for the most part, ones that are already showing up in the top 1000 charts. Exceptions tend to be for names where the close-rhyme name exists and is popular (e.g., Dayton, Layton) or where the result is an ordinary word with a meaning that would interfere (e.g., maiden). The data here also illustrates something that is often forgotten by people who complain about "made up names": the reason some combinations of sounds get "invented" as names is because these are sound combinations that we're already used to hearing as names. And there are a LOT of uncommon place-names and surnames out there that are just as reasonable to adopt as given names as the ones we're already familiar with. The majority of the possible "inventions" for new Aidan-rhyme names (i.e., ones that fit the sound-patterns of existing English names) already exist as place-names or surnames (or even as occasional given names), whether or not someone choosing that rhyme-name for their baby is aware of the pre-existing names.

So what are my predictions for the next Aidan-rhyme to hit the charts? Tayden is a possibility but it strikes my ear as a bit odd so I'll skip it. (Mind you, my instinct isn't all that sound -- I wouldn't have predicted Raiden.) Vayden seems a likely possibility and I'd love to see Grayden/Graydon get picked up. Blayden also seems quite likely. I could see Craydon hitching a ride as well.

To be continued in Part IV

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There are several possible sources for this name. There is a Biblical Jadon in the Book of Nehemiah but this spelling is a late-comer to the fashion, making it less likely as an origin. There is a French surname Jadin (probably from an occupational surname meaning "seller of bowls and pans" -- Dauzat), but in addition to the problem that this spelling never gets into the top 1000, it doesn't seem to have been a significant surname in the U.S. For the most part, the Jaden group seems to have been coined for the sound, or composed from elements taken from other popular names, such as Jay or Jason. Another component to this name is the general popularity of names of the form "CVCVC" (where C=consonant and V=vowel) ... but that's a topic for another column.

The Jaden group first shows up on the charts in 1994 as Jaden and Jayden and adds more variants rapidly: Jadon in 1998, Jaiden and Jaydon in 1999, Jaeden in 2000, Jadyn in 2001, and Jaidyn and Jaydin in 2004. All together they make up 7.9 out of every 1000 boys names in 2005. As with Aidan, there’s a sharp increase in popularity starting after 1998 to go along with the increase in spelling variants.

Attested spelling variants that haven't made the charts include Jaidon, Jadan, and Jadin.

relative popularity of spellings of Jayden

Behind a cut due to heavy graphic content. )

To be continued in Part III

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For all that baby name resources make a big deal out of the origins and meanings of names, it can’t be denied that many names are chosen more for the sound than the specific origin. Oh, parents may deny that’s what they’re doing, and individual names are always chosen partly for individual reasons, but an underlying truth comes out in the statistics. Certain sounds, sound-patterns, and spellings show the same overall fashions and falls from grace that names themselves do. A particularly striking case currently is that of names rhyming with Aidan. (This essay deals primarily with boys' names. Unless gender is specifically discussed, assume that all statements apply only to the masculine version.)


Although much of the point of this essay is that the fad for Aidan-rhymes is independent of the specific names involved, let’s start by looking at the history of that name.

Once upon a time, there was an Irish masculine given name Aodhán. (It comes from the root aodh meaning “fire” – which is often the meaning listed in baby-name books for variants of this name. In fact, Aodh itself is also an Irish masculine given name, but it didn’t emigrate quite as readily.) Now back in the very early middle ages, this name was written Aedán and pronounced roughly something like AY-than. And – it being the middle ages – a lot of the time people wrote the name down in Latin, changing it to fit the rules of Latin spelling, where it became Aidan(us). This is important, because when the name was revived much later outside Ireland, people often encountered it in the Latin form and used that spelling as a starting point.

Time passed, and the spelling of the Irish name shifted to Aedhán and then to Aodhán, and the pronunciation also shifted to something more like AY-yan (as you can hear in the surname "MacKeane" or "MacKane" which derives from this given name).

Now we need to skip to more modern times and a new interest in older Irish names and in “Celtic” names in general. (I may do an essay on the topic of “Celtic” names sometime in the future.) For a variety of reasons (and we could speculate on a few of them) the most popular spelling of the name in its revival was “Aidan”, taken from the Latinized form, which modern English speakers naturally pronounced as if it were an English name with that spelling – i.e., as “AY-dan”. The name first became re-popularized in Ireland, and in the British Isles more generally, starting around 1900 (see the Wikipedia article on the name for a selection of examples) but I'm interested specifically in the fate of the name in the USA.

In studying name trends in the U.S., I've made heavy use of two invaluable resources: the Social Security Administration registration data and the Babyname Wizard site which processes this data in various useful ways. (I'm also using a database based on the SSA data that I set up when working on Baby Names for Dummies that enables me to pull together the various spellings of the same root name, or names matching a particular pattern, or various other topics of interest.)

Aidan first becomes visible on the SSA charts in 1990 at #889 (0.3 out of every 1000 boys). It creeps up in popularity slowly at first, joined in 1995 by the spelling Aiden. But then something happens in 1998: both Aidan and the group of names as a whole start more than doubling in popularity every two years. New spelling variants start appearing more often: Ayden in 1999, Aden in 2000, Aydan in 2003, Aydin in 2004, Adin and Aedan in 2005. (There’s also the name Adan which had been showing up sporadically since the early 20th century. It isn’t technically a variant of Aidan, but it seems to have hitched a ride on the popularity boost in the last couple of years as a sound-alike.) By 2005, Aidan and Aiden are both in the mid 40s in the rankings, and the whole group of spellings put together are given to 11.7 boys out of every 1000.

Popularity graph for spellings of Aidan

But this isn’t where the story ends. If you look at the last few years of popular boys’ names, you start noticing an increasing number of names moving up the charts that rhyme with Aidan, even though they’re completely unrelated in origin. In addition to Aidan (if we’re including Adan in that group), we find Caden, Braydon, Hayden, Jaden (all in a variety of spellings) -- and when I first started writing this article in 2006 I came up with a list of other possible rhymes, of which Raiden and Zayden/Zaiden have now also made the charts. If you look at the rise in popularity of these name groups over time, they all show a startlingly simultaneous and steady rise in popularity starting in 1999.

Here's the rise of these name-groups (where all spellings for a particular sound are added together).

Popularity of names rhyming with Aidan

While newcomers like Raiden and Zayden may well be inventions driven solely by the fashion for this rhyme-group, the other names all have independent origins -- often several different origins, bound only by a similarity of sound. We've discussed the origins of Aidan, so let's look at the other groups in detail, in decreasing order of popularity.

To be continued in Part II

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So I thought some more about starting a blog of amusing observations and essays about (mostly modern) naming trends. And I thought about starting up a new blog for it on some place like blogspot or the like. And then I thought, "I've got a perfectly good blog here on LiveJournal and I'm more and more saving it for essays (and putting the chit-chat on Facebook instead) so it makes more sense just to do it here." But I also want to store the essays somewhere I have complete control over -- i.e., my website. So here's how it's going to work. I'll post the name blogs here on LJ so people can comment and discuss if they want (and also for better publicity), but I'll also post them on my website for the permanent record. Depending on storage space, some of the essays may end up being teasers with a pointer to the website version. (For example, the one I'm about to post has a number of short embedded videos and I'm not sure of the logistics of doing so here.)

So the first (well, actually the second -- because I already posted the LaTrina rant and essay) will be an extended discussion of the recent fashion for boys' names that rhyme with Aidan. I started writing this several years ago but updated it for the more recent data and finished up all the graphs and trend-videos and whatnot. I've never embedded a video before! It'll be going up in five parts, of which the last is still in progress, so it'll come a little later.
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My little rant about the obnoxious "name pet peeves" people love to tell generated a couple of questions about the origins of the trend for names of the form "Le-X" or "La-X". Questions like this are one of the reasons I once thought to start a blog on interesting name topics ... but then I came to my senses and realized I didn't need another hobby. But here is a brief contribution to the sort of thing that blog might have covered.

[ profile] fosveny asked:

So, maybe you can tell me if this relatively new trend of people naming their kids with given names of "LeSomething" or "LaSomething" is just that they like the way the French locative surnames look/sound and are following the trend of changing surnames into given names (with the assist taht always comes from famous people with those sorts of names), or if there's something else going on?

This is part of a rather complex set of intersecting trends. The extremely short version is: French surnames contribute to the origins (generally due to family associations or associations with famous bearers) but names of this type then contribute to an innovative reanalysis of a much broader selection of names as belonging to a synthetic dithematic construction pattern and new names are generated (or previously obscure names are raised to popularity) that have a similar look-and-feel. Famous bearers have influenced the specific popularity of a small number of names in this group but the primary driving factor is the popularity of the synthetic strategy itself.

The somewhat longer (but still much abbreviated) version is: it begins with the popularity of a handful of names of French surname origin that had shifted to being used as given names (plus a couple of feminine names with the same look-and-feel that didn't originate as La + X but may have been re-analyzed as such). These names were popular from at least as early as the second half of the 19th century.

A few of these names had their highest popularity in the mid 19th century (e.g., Lafayette and Lavin(i)a) but most of this group peaked in popularity in the 20s and 30s (e.g., Leroy (m), Lamar (m), Lavern(e) for both genders, Lavon(ne) for both genders, Larue (f)). Latecomers to this group include Lamont (m, first hitting the charts in the 30s no doubt due to 30s radio-drama character Lamont Cranston), Ladonna (f), and the somewhat anomalous Lawanda (f) which looks more like it belongs in the next trend.

Then there arises a second fashion for names with this look-and-feel beginning in the 60s and peaking in popularity mostly in the 70s and 80s. These names derive from a variety of sources.

The most familiar and interesting type is part of a much larger pattern of dithematic names where the prototheme is an unstressed monosyllable primarily of the form CV- and the deuterotheme is either an independent name (e.g., Shawn, Tonya, Tanya) or is reanalyzed as a deuterotheme from another multisyllabic (typically trisyllabic) name with an unstressed first syllable, e.g. Latasha, constructed as La+tasha with the deuterotheme reanalyzed from Na+tasha, or Latricia, constructed as La+tricia, from a reanalyzed Pa+tricia. Another contributing source for the look-and-feel are multisyllabic (typically trisyllabic) names beginning in "La-" that have been shifted in pronunciation and spelling from a name with a different vowel in the first syllable (aided and abetted by the tendency in American English for all unstressed vowels to fall together as schwa). An example of this group is Latisha (from Leticia).

Notice that this later, more synthetic trend involves more women's names than men's names, although Lashawn hits the charts as a man's name and Levar/Lavar appears in the same time period (although I haven't tracked down its origins or inspiration).

The data source I'm using as my primary reference for the chronological trends (SSI baby name data, processed and presented via Baby Name Wizard) has no indication of ethnicity-specific trends. Based on other research (unfortunately more qualitative than quantitative) I'd say that the early 20th century group is not driven by any particular ethnicity, although specific names in the group may have been more popular among certain ethnicities (e.g., Leroy seems to have been significantly popular among African Americans) however the 60s-80s trend is strongly associated with African American naming fashions, as is the larger innovative dithematic construction strategy I mentioned (which is too complex to get into at the moment).

And because I put it together in order to sort out my examples, here's a chart of some of the most popular names in this look-and-feel group taken from the SSI data. The color bar shows the period during which the name (or some name in the spelling-variant group) fell in the 1000 most popular names for that decade. The darker color shows the decade when it was at its maximum popularity (or in the case of Lamar there are two local maxima). The column labelled "Max #/million" is the representation of that name (group) per 1,000,000 names (of either gender -- so if the name is purely masculine, then in effect its the rate per 500,000 names).

I was so not supposed to stay up past midnight working on something like this on a weeknight.
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One interesting phenomenon I've observed is that having written a baby-name book is a great conversation starter. Not because people then ask you interesting questions about naming practices and trends, but because everyone in the world is an expert on naming practices and trends and has only been waiting for the chance to show off this knowledge to someone who will truly and properly appreciate their expertise. (It may be a special-case variant of mansplaining, although of the more gender-neutral variety.)

But just as telling someone you're a linguist gets you inundated with that person's pet grammar peeves -- many of which will be completely wrong-headed -- telling someone you study names will result in you getting inundated with their pet name peeves. And it is unfortunate that some of the most popular and oft-told "terrible baby name" stories in American culture reflect cultural misunderstandings and cultural ignorance that can be extremely difficult to distinguish from racism.

I had one of those conversations recently and wish to offer some advice to the world at large. (I hope I don't need to offer it to my f-list but if a reader finds themself feeling defensive on reading this post ... think about it a bit before responding.) Names in one culture may be coincidentally similar to -- even phonetically identical to -- words in another culture. Sometimes the words they are similar/identical to have socially unfortunate meanings. This is not a reflection of the intelligence, common sense, or taste of the person so named or the person who chose the name.

Just for example (avoiding personal names for the moment), the King Dong Chinese restaurant in Berkeley was not named in reference to royal male organs. Once you get over your little adolescent giggle, try one of the lunch specials. Pretty much everything is delicious.

And, to get to the specific example from that conversation: if you start telling me a story about some African American woman you heard about (or met, or saw on TV) named LaTrina, and it is clear that the point of your story is "look how ignorant and uncultured the parents of this woman must have been to have named her after a toilet", do not get all defensive on me when I point out that your telling of this particular name anecdote creates a strong impression of racism on your part.

Never mind for the moment that about 99% of the time when stories about this name get told it's a Friend-of-a-Friend story with all the usual fictionality of a FoaF. Because being "true" is no excuse. The question is why are you telling this story? About this particular name? While ignoring the larger sociolinguistic context in which this name exists (and in which it is completely unremarkable)? While ignoring the fact that "latrina" itself is not even a word in English? Why? Because, you see, your telling of this story about this name does not exist in a vacuum. There are lots of stories you could tell about names that sound odd to you within your narrow cultural experience. But you told this one. And you are one of a large number of people who tell this same story about this same name. (And remember: I've spent a lot of time listening to people tell me stories about names and naming practices.) And I can follow contextual implication as well as the next person, and it's blazingly clear that the story was not meant to be a neutral commentary on a coincidental similarity of sound.

So when you tell me a "funny" story about a woman named LaTrina, don't get all huffy when I point out to you what the story says about you.
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1. It would be a perfect day for piano moving -- not raining, snow hasn't started falling yet, trails not good for skiing (due to yesterday's rain and today's not-yet-snow) -- but ...

2. Several people (not me) are experiencing a re-run of the stomach upset. (It may be that BBQ smoked ribs were not the most auspicious meal for people with recovering digestions, but the holiday meal schedule has a life of its own. We also finally cracked open the pies last night.)

3. Had a nice time yesterday hanging out with misc. cousins who had come for the memorial.

4. Why is it that winter holiday colds have to be compounded by arid, centrally-heated air that turn ones nasal passage and throat into the Mojave Desert every night? I keep wanting some sort of ultra-portable vapor mask to keep in my travel kit for these occasions.

5. I went through the exercise of running the list of proper names for Daughter of Mystery through Google, just to avoid any dreadful mis-steps. The coincidental overlap hits a sprinkling of assorted Romance languages (unsurprisingly, since the phonological adjustment rules leave some roots relatively unchanged) and an amusing set of superficially south Slavic items. ("Superficially" because in a lot of cases you have to strip off diacritics from the Slavic items to get the overlap. On the other hand, I may beg Alma to take a gander at the list just for a safety-check.) But overall it looks like I've succeeded in creating a look-and-feel that doesn't match anything particular in the real world and doesn't appear to land on anything too particular-and-unfortunate enough to need changing. In only one case was the top Google hit for a name one of my LJ entries discussing the writing project. Since that one happened to be for the surname of my Protagonist #1, I'm rather happy about it. (In fact, that particular name has only 5 other primary Google hits. One is a very inaccurate OCR of an entirely different word. One appears to be a place-name in a bit of fiction posted in a blog in Italian (so I have no idea whether it's a real place-name or one invented for the fiction). One is the created by the erroneous insertion of two spaces into a longer word (the genus name of some mollusk). One is part of a long list of possible typos for the name of a web site that appears to exist solely to get search-hits. So I appear to have come up with something fairly close to unique in this case.
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Yesterday and today I set myself to working on titles and forms of address to be used in the novel. I ran a large number of possible roots and compounds through the phonological mill, applied my general principle that romance roots are considered more upperish-class and germanic ones more lowerish-class, and picked the results with the right "feel". The next step was putting together a matrix of all relevant combinatorial interactions of class, formality, age, and intimacy and sketching out the general social rules for address and reference. The exciting part was that as I started firming up the results, I could feel the tone of the story shift from "generic Englishy feel" to "definitely Somewhere Else". "Mistress *placeholder*" is a rather different person from "Maisetra Sovitre". One of the fun things I hope to do in my overly-analytical way is to track the shifting relationships between the main characters not only in how they address and refer to each other, but -- in the case of the two POV characters -- how people get referred to during their "stage time". Yes, it's a bit excessively picky, but it's sort of like getting the food right, or the clothes right. I have most of the main characters named at this point, so I think I'm ready to start the revision process on Part I. I'm guessing that what with one thing and another this process will take me through the end of the year.
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I think I'm happy with the tweaking of the look-and-feel of my name set at this point. Now I have about 90 items to name so far, roughly equally divided between men's names, women's names, and names of places and things. I think I can make a good start with that, but this is the point where the names have to "fit".
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Worked on the name-set for the novel this evening. I've got a working list that I've rung the phonological changes on, although I want to do some tweaking to adjust the look-and-feel. Next step is to start matching up names for the current characters that need them (as well as for the known characters that haven't been introduced yet). Next up is place-names, noble titles, and forms of address for all possible combinations of rank, status, and formality of addressor and addressee. Then I'll be ready to do a serious revision pass on Part I.
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There's a reason that I have a policy of refusing to answer random genealogy questions that come in through my web-site. I'm a sucker for an interesting research question; that's the reason. It's pretty easy to refuse to address questions about the relationships of specific family lines or about disambiguating between possible name derivations for a specific family -- there simply isn't enough data for an informed answer. So this guy thought he was asking exactly the sort of random "what does my surname mean" question that I automatically turn away. Which means -- given that I have a notice on my web-site that I don't answer questions like that -- he deserved to be told, "Sorry, no." The problem (for me) was that the name he was asking about is one that appears in my own genealogy. So I was hooked on trying to find the answer. (The name does show up on my site in the section on the LaForge diaries, but from the wording of his question, I don't think he was aware of any specific connection.)

Three hours later ....

And after it all, I still don't have any certain knowledge of what the derivation of Gatchell/Getchell/Gatchill/etc. is, but I would be utterly unsurprised to discover that it's related to the town of Goathill in the area where the family was located in the 16-18th century. Somewhat surprisingly, none of the standard surname references mention it.
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The oldest and youngest brothers have flown back to California (since they have a play rehearsal for 12th night). I'll still be here in Maine until the 1st and have shifted home base from the middle brother's house (formerly Sibling Central) to the parents' house. The great skiing has passed -- yesterday I went out for a couple hours but the packed trails had turned to ice and the wind had blown all manner of organic material into the tracks. The best runs were across the open meadow where the grainy crust had warmed up just enough to give the right balance of tooth and drag. There was a small shower of new snow last night but nothing useable. The forecasts suggest there may be more snow Monday night and Tuesday, so I may get a couple more decent days in. Or, I suppose, I could drive somewhere that has better conditions, but I could do that back home. The novelty here is the whole "walk down the street to the ski trail" aspect.

Other than that, I've been messing around on the computer a lot. Mostly doing a bunch of really tedious coding in the Medieval Welsh Names database. When I get around to making my New Years' Irresolutions, I think one of them will be to get the names database online in interactive form. It will always be a work in progress -- and people who want to use it for researching and documenting names for the SCA are going to need some serious training in "you can't just say 'I found it on hrj's website'." When I started this project, I saw that I could go one of two directions. I could either make the data "safe" to use, with highly filtered and interpreted content and eliminating anything with any degree of uncertainty. Or I could present the material simply as a data resource, with all the interpretations flagged as to degree of confidence and rationale, and with all the background information about context dumped into the user's lap, and with the onus for responsible usage also dumped on the user. And I concluded the only sane path was the second one. The first approach would only reinforce the illusion that there are simple answers and absolute truths. The second approach reminds people that there is always uncertainty and interpretation and you just have to lump it and do your best.

The one nod I'll be making to user "safety" is that the planned report form for search results will have all the background data on the source and all the explanations of confidence levels included in the format. It'll be repetitive and redundant, but it will make it much harder for an end-user to take snippets of data out of context and claim that I said they mean things that I never said or meant.
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It's always fun to make someone's day. So there I was, sitting in on the every-author-in-attendence autographing session, even though none of the dealers actually have the new Sword and Sorceress so I didn't figure I'd get much business. But one of my acquaintances brings up their copy of Baby Names for Dummies to get it autographed and while I'm telling my story about how my book probably has the highest proportion of any baby-name book of SF authors used as name examples, it occurs to me to check the "famous people with this name" listings under Esther. Sure enough, I'd used guest of honor Esther Friesner's name as an example. As she was sitting right at the next autograph table, I had to show it to her. "Tickled pink" seems to describe the effect.

Nice con, nice hanging out, nice panels. I suppose I could try to come up with a more detailed con report but my brain's a little fried.
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I regularly get random e-mails from people asking me what their name means (or what their kid's name means), which can get amusing. I got one today from someone whose niece got named "Peren" because the parents liked the sound, and the only place he could find the name on-line was one of my web articles so did I know what it meant? So I gave the whole spiel about how we don't always know the meanings of names and how relatively short simple names like this may show up coincidentally in multiple languages, so if they picked it just by the sound there may not even be a reason to assume that it's Welsh just because there's an identically-spelled name in Welsh sources. Yadda yadda yadda. So he tells me they picked the name from the lists at

Guess who did some consulting work for and expanded and corrected their Welsh listings? (Peren is listed there as "meaning uncertain" and I haven't managed to get any more certain about it in the mean time, alas.)
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Another thousand words tonight, tucked in between the gym and the housecleaning. I figure I'll have a first draft finished by the end of the weekend, although I do have a handful of names to come up with, plus at least two new sentences in the language of my main character. (This means I have to go back and review the existing vocabulary, grammar, and phonology. One of them only has to be a scrap of a magic spell, and I may have something already that will serve that I haven't used yet. The other one will only need one new vocabulary item, and I know the grammar exists already, I just need to look it up.) But I need four or five new personal names in at least two different languages, and that takes immersing myself in the existing material and a bit of meditation.


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