astronomical names, Australian Aboriginal names, english names, famous namesakes, fictional namesakes, Flemish names, Greek names, Irish names, Latin names, locational names, musical names, mythological names, name history, name meaning, name popularity, nature names, Nook of Names, Old Norse names, popular culture, royal names, Sanskrit names, surname names, unique names, virtue names, vocabulary names
Many parents say that they are looking for a “unique” name, but what they mean by that seems to differ from person to person. Some say it’s a name you don’t see every day; others define it as any name not in the Top 100; and still others refuse to say what it means to them, but will “know it when they see it”. According to the dictionary, “unique” means that only one person possesses it, and names of which the world holds but one example are few and far between. However, names do not have to be particularly strange or rare to be unique in a certain context. For example, the name Savannah is unique within the British royal family. Here are some names from baby girls born in Tasmania last year; in each case, only one child was given these names. For their state, and in the year they were born, these girls possess unique names. I usually do ten names per list, but this time there was so much choice I did twelve; I’ve also listed other unique names from the same state and year that are similar in some way to the main entry.
Not only referring to our feathered friends, a “bird” is English slang for a woman, although in the 19th century it was slang for a man, which makes it seem unisex. Another slang term is to “give someone the bird”, meaning to raise the middle finger in an obscene gesture; this has been a favoured way of insulting others since the time of the Ancient Greeks, at least. Being a bird-lover, I find this name simple and homely, and it does remind me of birdsong.
Other nature names: Acacia, Autumn, Clover, Fern, Honey, Maple, Misty, Opal, Pearl, Rosemary, Sage, Storm
This is the name of an island off the coast off Naples, famous for its stunning natural beauty. Inhabited since prehistoric times, it was a pleasure resort during the days of the Roman Empire, but the first modern tourist didn’t arrive until the 17th century. It was a popular place for artists and writers in the 19th century, and also a haven for gay men and women who formed a community where they could feel more open. A popular 1930s romantic song was The Isle of Capri, which was covered by The Gaylords, aptly enough. Capri pants were all in the rage in the 1950s as cool beachwear suitable for this resort island. No doubt the Ford Capri was also meant to suggest insouciant summer fun. The name of the island may mean either “wild boar” (from Greek) or “goats” (from Latin); there’s even a tiny possibility it means “rocky” (from Etruscan). But clearly it’s the history and associations of the name that are more important than the meaning. It’s a name that spells beauty, romance, art, fashion and freedom.
Other place names: Arizona, Baltimore, Bethany, Cheyenne, Florence, Ireland, Israel, Italia, London, Olympia, Petra, Sierra
The virtue name Faith is familiar, but the adjective Faithful is one new to me as a name for a real person. Faithful is a (male) character in John Bunyan’s classic work, The Pilgrim’s Progress. He’s a friend of the protagonist who is executed as a martyr. He is meant to be represent those Christians who remain faithful to their beliefs, even should that lead to death. The Latin for “I am faithful” is Fido, traditionally given to dogs – apparently after Abraham Lincoln gave this name to his canine companion. As a child, I read the YA novel, Cinnamon and Nutmeg, by Anne de Roo, about a young girl growing up on a farm. The heroine wrote a story for school called “Old Faithful” about the touching death of her beloved dog. Unfortunately, she spelled “Faithful” as Fatful, and the teacher read her story mockingly to the class, with every “faithful” replaced by fatful, so that the children screamed with laughter at the tale of her dog dying. As a youngster, this struck me as the epitome of cruelty, and today makes me hope that nobody mis-spells little Faithful’s name.
Other adjective name: Innocent
This is an Old Norse name often translated as “love, peace”, but more accurately it refers to the harmonious social order which leads to peace. It was a rare name during the Viking era, and only seems to have become commonly used in Scandinavia after the coming of Christianity – which suggests that it was connected to Christian ideals of peace and brotherhood. Fritha is a main character in the novella, The Snow Goose, by American author Paul Gallico; a sentimental tale of friendship blooming against the backdrop of World War II which was very popular in England. There was a British actress called Fritha Goodey who you may have caught a glimpse of in the movie About a Boy, starring Hugh Grant. Sadly, she died a few years ago in tragic circumstances while still quite young. There’s also a musician, Fritha Jenkins, who played with UK pagan heavy metal band, Skyclad. Because of these associations, Fritha seems like a very “English” name, despite its origins, and also quite artsy.
Other Scandinavian name: Inka
This is famous for being the name of gorgeous award-winning Hollywood actress, Halle Berry. Ms Berry’s birth name was Maria Halle Berry, but legally switched around to Halle Maria Berry when she was five. Her parents chose the name Halle from Halle Brother’s department store, a local landmark at that time in her home town of Cleveland, Ohio. Founded in the 19th century by Samuel and Salmon Halle, it became an upmarket emporium, but was liquidated in the 1980s. The brothers’ surname is originally Flemish, and is after the village of Halle in Belgium. Of Old Norse origin, Halle means “manorial hall”, and is the equivalent of the English surname Hall. Pronounced HAL-ee, it sounds the same as the girl’s name Hallie, a short form of Harriet.
Other celebrity names: Angelina, Gwyneth, Jolie, Shakira
This can either be seen as an occupational surname meaning “judge”, or an English vocabulary word. Some people see this name as a Christian virtue name, referring to God’s righteousness; others connect it with social justice; others see it as simply describing the person as fair-minded and honourable. I remember Kay at Nook of Names got rather alarmed at Australian naming laws and thought the name Justice wouldn’t be permitted here, so I wanted to reassure her that it definitely is, even though not a common name.
Other virtue names: Constance, Honor, Prudence, Temperance, Verity
This is a Sanskrit word which is an element of sacred Vedic mantras. It means “to surrender with love”, and literally, “to bow (in a gesture of homage and respect)”. It is a negation of one’s ego, and an affirmation of the greater Self becoming one with the Cosmic Soul. It is pronounced nah-ma-hah, with unstressed syllables.
Other Asian names: Jaya, Megumi, Mika, Nilu, Palpasa, Sakura
This Australian Aboriginal name means “waterlily”, and features in a legend from Victoria. Nerida and Berwain are two young lovers, about to marry. Wahwee, the spirit of thunder who lives in the mud pool where the couple meet to gather mussels, develops an overpowering desire for Nerida. Because she will not give herself to him, he transforms her into a waterlily, and her lover Berwain into rushes. A superstition is that if you pick a waterlily, you must also pick the rushes growing nearby so that Nerida and Berwain never be divided in death. The waterlily is used as a food source by Aborigines as a traditional bush food; the roots can be roasted, and the stem and seeds eaten raw. Nerida was used as a female name by Aborigines, and also by Europeans, who may have been charmed by the fact it is so similar to Nereida, the name of a nymph in Greek mythology (the scientific name for waterlily is Nymphaea, another pleasing coincidence). Pronounced NEHR-uh-duh, it’s a bit old-fashioned now, but clearly still in use.
The epithet of the Greek goddess Athena, this may mean “maiden”. The original Pallas was the daughter of sea-god Triton, and foster-sister to Athena. During a friendly fight between the two goddesses, Athena received divine protection from her father Zeus, but she mortally wounded Pallas. Out of her deep sadness, she created the palladium, a statue made in the likeness of Pallas, which was given to the city of Troy to act as its protector and guardian. This sacred statue was stolen by the Greeks during the Trojan War, otherwise they could never have conquered it. Some stories say that the palladium became the property of Rome, and there are rumours that it was transferred to Constantinople. Pallas is also one of the largest asteroids, and the name of one of the Moon’s craters. Sailor Pallas is a character in the Sailor Moon manga who is named after the asteroid as well the Greek goddess, so it is an astronomical name and one from popular culture.
Other classical names: Athena, Camilla, Cassandra, Lucia, Melanie, Melissa, Octavia, Olympia, Penelope, Sylvia, Valentine, Veronica, Xanthe, Zephyr
This modern Irish name means “freedom”, and came into use in Northern Ireland during the 1920s as a Republican political slogan. Depending on your accent, you can pronounce it SEER-sha, SAIR-sha or SOR-sha, with SEER-sha being the Northern Irish way of saying it, and therefore (some would argue) the “correct” one. Although spelling and pronunciation may be an issue for some, the name sounds enough like names such as Sasha and Sarah to not seem out of place. Its recent use probably owes a lot to young actress Saoirse Ronan, who has impressed critics with her sensitive performances in movies such as Atonement and The Lovely Bones. Saoirse Ronan pronounces her name SUR-sha, just to confuse things further. I suspect the political and religious implications of this name have not been considered much outside Ireland.
Other Irish and British names: Arwen, Ciara, Cordelia, Fiona, Maeve, Sabrina, Shona, Sian, Una
This is the Latinised feminine form of the word “satanic”, which can either literally mean giving veneration to Satan, or more generally, suggestive of being diabolical in nature. Satan is from the Hebrew, meaning “the adversary, the opposer, the obstructor”, and in the Hebrew portion of the Bible, Satan is an agent of God whose thankless task it is to tempt humankind and then accuse it before Heaven. In Christianity, he is seen as the Devil, the personification of all evil. Satanica is often used in black metal music as a title, and there is band with this name. There is also a manga series called La Satanica, so it can be seen as a name from popular culture. Satanica cannot help but be controversial as a baby name, and I think it is a heavy burden to place on a child; this name even made me feel depressed just thinking about it, which almost never happens.
Other Latinate names: Amanda, Clementine, Felicia, Mirabella
This is a dance which arose in the working class neighbourhoods of Buenos Aires, Argentina, in the mid-19th century. It is claimed that the tango is a mixture of South American popular dances influenced by the African community, and by European immigrants. Although the word tango could be Spanish in origin, it may very well come from Nigeria, where temgu means “to dance” in the Ibibio language. The tango arrived in Paris early in the twentieth century, and soon spread to other world capitals, where it was thought to be shockingly intimate (as nearly all new dances seem to be thought). Another tango reference is the scandalously erotic film, Last Tango in Paris, starring Marlon Brando. Even though tango, as a dance form, is dark and sensual, the name Tango isn’t – it sounds chipper and bouncy, and I’m sure has been given as a name to more animals than humans.
Other musical names: Allegra, Aria, Melody Other verb names: Cherish, Treasure Other O-enders: Indigo, Marlo
NOTE: I didn’t count variant spellings of more common names as unique, and I also disqualified double names, as well as names that had also been given to boys.
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In correspondence with Murray Fagg of the Australian National Botanic Gardens, I was informed that waterlilies are not native to Victoria.
The “Nerida” legend may be referring to marshworts, whose flowers do not look like waterlilies, but who do have lilypad-like leaves.
Or maybe the story isn’t from Victoria after all?
Nook of Names said:
Ah, ’twas NZ where I was lamenting the ban on Justice!
Great post, some gems here. I particularly like Nerida and Fritha. Annoyingly, Tango is an ‘-o’ which has slipped through my net, as it’s a great one too.
I’m surprised Saoirse is so rare; it’s in the top 20 in the Republic of Ireland at present and sees modest use throughout the UK.
As for Pallas, the female form (epithet of Athene) might well be from the same source as the male: pallô ‘to brandish’. It’s just in Athens, Athene was worshipped as ‘Pallas Athene’ with emphasis on her maiden status, which has led some scholars to speculate that Pallas was a pre-Greek Goddess with whom Athene was associated when the Greeks arrived, and that in that pre-Greek language, it meant ‘maiden’.
And as for Satanica… well, hmmm. Perhaps the parents have a good reason for it. I daresay if she grows up to be the lead-singer of a very heavy metal band, she might consider it very cool. And at least it has some uncontroversial short forms, like Nicky/Nikki and Tanny…
Yeah I’m pretty sure Pallas just has the one meaning, whether male or female.
Maybe Saoirse will get better-known, although Irish names only seem to get popular here once they’ve been thoroughly abandoned by the Irish.
Isadora Vega said:
I’m pretty open-minded, but even I raised an eyebrow at Satanica. That’s just too much negative energy.
Now that I think of it, I’m kind of surprised that Halle isn’t used more.
And Tango just makes me think of “Tango Makes Three,” the oft-banned “gay penguin” book.
I don’t want to sound melodramatic, but I did get this terrible “dark and heavy” feeling in my chest writing the little paragraph on that name. 😦
I didn’t know of this little book, but it sounds sweet, and possibly even helped inspire this baby name? (It doesn’t seem to have been banned here). But I guess I was right about it being an “animal” name! There is a money at London Zoo called Tango, I believe. 🙂
(Must add it to reading list, thanks for informing!)
I have been into Pallas lately — Fritha is lovely, too. Thank you for posting these, I’d love to see more.
Welcome Eponymia, and thanks for commenting! 🙂
Lou @ Mer de noms said:
Pallas is an interesting name, although I took her for a male name to begin with. Maybe that’s because I know a male Dallas.
Well you’re right – Pallas is unisex. I’m told that for males, it means “brandishing a weapon”; I’m not sure why it is said to mean something different for females, and maybe it’s just sexist – I mean the goddess Pallas did brandish weapons!
Poor baby Satanica. You’re very generous to include it in the category “Latinate names” 😉
Probably subtly hinting to choose one of the other names instead!