Tomorrow it will be only a week until Halloween, and so it seems a befitting time to review one of the most beguiling name blogs out there: Bewitching Names, which is written by Isadora Vegas. Its subtitle is Naming Enthusiasm from a Wiccan Perspective, and Isadora covers names that she thinks Neo-Pagans and Wiccans may want to choose – either for their children, or as a “magickal name” for themselves. However, so broadly does she sweep for names, and with such discernment and imagination, that anyone who shares her enthusiasm for names will find themselves becoming charmed by her selections.
Bewitching Names came highly recommended by Lou at Mer de Noms, and its entries often covered by Abby at Appellation Mountain in her Sunday Summaries, so it was only a matter of time before I eventually meandered over there to check it out for myself. The first name I saw on the front page was Seawillow, and after reading about the homely yet mystical origins of this lovely name from 19th century Texas, I was hooked.
Isadora has been writing Bewitching Names since mid-December last year, and has already produced 260 posts. It’s a one-name-at-a-time type blog, and one of the beauties of this format is that each name gets a chance to really shine in its own light. Isadora modestly says that she is a name enthusiast, not a name expert, but in fact she is selling herself short. The meaning and origins of each name are covered pretty thoroughly, including conflicting theories and ambiguities. Where her knowledge reaches its limit, she says so frankly, and can even be over-scrupulous, such as when she confesses to not having enough training in chemistry to fully understand the atomic composition of the gemstone when covering the name Topaz.
Names are often chosen to fit in with a seasonal theme, so that Cupid turns up just after Valentine’s Day, and Plum at Christmas (a fantastic Christmassy name too!). Isadora also delights to present names on a theme for a particular month, such as Harry Potter names in time for the film’s release, and names of fictional witches to coincide with a Pagan Culture Blogosphere Party. One of my favourites of these was the American names for early July to honour Independence Day, when she treated us to such delicious bites of Americana as Huckleberry, Treemonisha, Meriweather and Sojourner. I enjoyed these as they were a chance to see another side of the American story, as well as American names.
I think this is one the strongest points of Bewitching Names – the way that Isadora has the ability to find the story behind the name and bring it to life. Because let’s face it, what makes you fall in love with a name, or at least get interested in it, isn’t the Greek etymology or how it translates into Russian; it’s the story of how it came into being, and how it came to be used as a name. I was fascinated, for instance, to read all about the god of the seasons, Vertumnus; his obscure Etruscan origins, and the story of how he wooed the goddess Pomona dressed up as a pantomime dame. I also became engrossed in the story of that controversial lady and her controversial name – Jezebel. If you’ve ever thought of this Biblical queen with horror or disgust, Isadora presents Jezebel’s side of the story in a very sympathetic way.
She also tells wonderful little stories about her own life and family, that demonstrate so profoundly how a name becomes valuable to us through our personal associations with it. So we learn about her grandmother from Puerto Rico who was nicknamed Gladiola, and the names of Spanish ancestors from her family tree. She shares with us names from her favourite authors, and favourite musicians, as well the name of one of her favourite artists.
If you began by wondering what kinds of names a Wiccan name enthusiast gets enthusiastic about, I hope by now you are beginning to get an idea. Isadora covers names of the astrological signs; names of Celtic tree months, such as Hawthorn; nature names, such as Savannah; gemstone names, such as Diamond; names of gods and goddesses, such as Shango; names from mythology, such as Kitsune; and names from fairytales, such as Rapunzel. There are also names of famous Pagans, such as voodoo priestess, Marie Laveau, and Wiccan folklorist, Gerald Gardner, and names of historical witches, such as Marable Cooper and Nicodemus Hirsch.
Isadora has strong opinions on quite a few subjects, and isn’t afraid to share her thoughts on why Pagan parents may choose non-Pagan names for their children, name sites that are short on information and long on catty remarks, and what a crappy movie The Craft is. Isadora, unlike many other name bloggers, doesn’t feel the need to “sell” every name that she covers and convince you that you simply must use it; in fact sometimes she admits that perhaps Cicada might be a bit weird, Vixen on a child is pretty creepy, and that Bird isn’t to her personal taste. She has a feisty sense of humour, and can often see the funny side of name stories, such as this one on the name Orchid.
Each entry is well tagged, with categories neatly arranged on the right-hand side, and she also has Master Lists for girls, boys and unisex names, which she calls The Maidens, The Princes and The Shape-Shifters. Isadora is very broad-minded on the subject of gendered names, and this is the only name site I’ve seen where Willow and Pearl are listed as being for both sexes. Having done lots of searching of the site for this review, I very much wish she had installed a Search Bar on her blog to save me from performing multiple advanced Google searches.
Isadora is an artist and illustrator, and one thing I must say is what gorgeous photos and drawings she chooses for each of her name entries. She has the ability to pick out the perfect picture to mesh with the name and make it seem “real”, and each one has a touch of fantasy to it.
At Bewitching Names, you will find one of the most creative collections of names you have ever seen, beautifully presented, and each name with its own narrative. If you have an interest in names, history, culture, mythology, religion, literature, art and nature, you will find much to intrigue you here. If you are searching for name ideas, you will be dazzled by the choices. If you can appreciate a smart, funny, plain-speaking, daring name blogger who’s a natural story-teller, then prepare to be enchanted.
The wonderful thing is, Isadora has been blogging for less than a year – she’s barely got started. I can’t wait to see where she takes this.
Q & A With Isadora
Online name: It depends where you find me. Increasingly, I’ve been going by the name Isadora Vega, but I haven’t legally changed it yet. So many of my old websites still list me as Tina. Calling me either one is fine. The name on my birth certificate is Christina Patrice, by the way.
How you chose that name: It’s weird, I was never convinced that my birth name “fit” me, but growing up I never thought about changing it. I placed Isadora in my pile of names for future children, but for some reason, it haunted me. The name means “gift of Isis” so I looked up Isis, and found that she is a powerful magical figure and a mothering icon. I was obsessed with Ancient Egyptian culture as a child so it just seemed meant to be. And then I paired it with Vega. Vega is the maiden name of my maternal grandmother and my great-grandmother’s last name. I’m very drawn to my maternal lineage, and both of these women were wonderful. To top it off, my grandmother died immediately after my college graduation, so her name had been on my mind. The more I referred to myself as Isadora Vega, the more I realized that this was the person that I wanted to become. It just felt right.
What began your interest in names?: I don’t remember the exact point. I’m sure my very popular name had something to do with it – Christina was ranked #12 the year I was born. But I also loved to write stories, and these characters and places needed names.
How did you start blogging?: I wanted a website that was like all the great baby name blogs out there, but with a Neo-Pagan slant. But there wasn’t really anything like that. The websites I found on this topic were old, with questionable descriptions. So that got me thinking, “Why don’t I just make my own?” I experienced a lot of doubt starting out. I wasn’t an expert in etymology or Neo-Paganism, and I was afraid that people would think I was a fraud. But then I realized that being wrong didn’t stop most people who wrote about either of these topics, and many of them have even published books! I knew that at the very least, I could do a better job than they did.
Nook of Names did not come out until a few months later. Had it been around back then, I probably wouldn’t have had the courage to start Bewitching Names.
Your pet naming peeve: I’ve noticed that many new unisex names, like Kestrel, October, and Topaz, are often only listed with the girls names. I find that very interesting. It’s my hypothesis that up until recently boys names have been more about tradition and passing on the family line, while girls names adhere more towards the fashion of the day. So all the sparkly bits tend to get thrown in with the girls. And there’s a popular idea in America that you can’t give a name used for girls to a boy, because feminine qualities are inferior. That’s a very un-Pagan way of thinking. We venerate women. So that’s an attitude that really upsets me and that I’m fighting it all the time. I’m very proud of my collection of unisex names.
Your favourite names: I love Italian/Latin/Spanish names, nature names, and mythological names. I’m influenced by art and literature. But I cull inspiration from everywhere. Some of my favourites are Fortuna, Romulus, Sirocco, Lavender, Midori, Kahlo, Oberon, Aradia, Peregrine … I could go on forever. I’m constantly finding names and making up new names; half of what I profile on Bewitching Names I’ve never actually seen on a person. I’m currently in love with Nimbus and Remedy. I read of someone who met a boy named Labyrinth, and I love that.
Names you dislike: I never really understood the appeal of Mackenzie, Madison, Addison, and that whole group, not even for boys. I hate Dashiell for no logical reason. An old high school chum is pregnant with a Gage, which just makes me think of NASCAR (no, I didn‘t tell her that). And there are certain ones beloved by name enthusiasts that a part of me wants to warm up to, but I can’t (Astrid and Maud come to mind). I don’t really hate traditional names like Thomas and Richard, it’s just when someone tries to push them on me that I flare up.
Names you love, but can’t use: I’m a little crazy about avoiding names in the Top 1000. Well, that’s not true. I’ve relaxed about that somewhat – I don‘t have the heart to get rid of Archer and Kimora. But Sophia, Genevieve, and Sebastian were tossed out. The Top 1000 is probably, what, 0.09% of the names in the world and most of them are alternate spellings? I don’t see staying away from it as limiting in any way.
There are also certain names I’m avoiding because I’ve noticed they’re very popular among Neo-Pagan parents. Rowan and Tabitha are lovely, but I’ve seen a lot of them in this community.
Your future children’s names: I’m not sharing them because I’m paranoid someone will take my precious combos. Besides, what would I surprise you with? You’ll just have to wait until I get pregnant.
The one piece of advice you would give to someone choosing a name for their baby: Substance over style. I’ve seen perfectly ordinary names become magical with great thoughtfulness attached to them. Imagine telling your child the story of how she got her name. What’s the one that would make you the proudest? Of course, you never know how that’s going to turn out. My parents did this with me and it didn’t work. But they don’t regret bestowing it. And that’s all you can ask for, really.