It’s All In a Name – Conclusion


This review of naming practices around the world has hopefully made clear that so many of the implicit assumptions that citizens of the English-speaking nations make about names in other countries are simply wrong:

  • It is assumed that given names come first and family names come last – but the reverse is the case in countries like China, Vietnam and even Hungary.
  • It is assumed that people take their family name from their father – but girls in Iceland take their family name from their mother.

  • It is assumed that given names are gender-specific – but many African and all Chinese given names can be applied to boys and girls.

  • It is assumed that family names are not gender-specific – but in all the Slavonic countries, led by Russia, all female family names end in ‘-ova’.

  • It is assumed that the meaning of names is unknown and unimportant – but (virtualy) all names have meaning if only we knew it and, in many, many cultures, names are chosen precisely because of their meaning.

In many western countries, there is a growing tendency to use unusual first names or even to invent new first names. As an example, my beautiful little niece is called Saskia Effigina Darlington.




Proud uncle Roger with his beautiful niece Saskia

The following comment appeared in a column by Leighton Williams in Jamaica’s “Star” newspaper in July 2004:

“I’m puzzled by the names parents call their children these days … The other day while at a function I had to write down the names of seven children … I had to ask the organiser how the names of five out of the seven children were spelt. I mean, how on earth do you pronounce ‘Fuschiea’. Do you call it Fucha, Fushia or let me not say. Then let me not mention Teaekeishia … What were these parents thinking? … What happened to Kerry, or Kevin or David or Dawn or Simone? … Where did the African names go? Although they may sound strange to some of us at least they had meanings and could be spelt. I guess in our quest to be ‘modern’ we have gone for the ridiculous.”

The British celebrity couple David and Victoria Beckham named their first son Brooklyn, after the district of New York in which he was conceived. But the most original first name I ever came across was created a long time ago – it is Floella, the name of a colleague of mine at Ofcom whose father invented it more than 50 years ago.

Personal names are so important. They define in large part who we are, how we are perceived, and even how we perceive ourselves. When we meet someone new, the first thing we tell that person about ourself is our name. Conversely, the first thing we learn about that person is his or her name. So much about us changes as we grow older, but most people keep the same name. If we change it – for instance, a woman adopting the surname of her husband on marriage – it marks a very significant event in our lives. When we choose a name for our child, it is usually a very careful and deliberative act.

In many African cultures, a first name can tell us about the timing or circumstances of the birth or the expectations or hopes of the parents for their child. Indeed, in her novel “The Poisonwood Bible”, Barbara Kingsolver explains the Congolese concept ofnommo, “the force that makes things live as what they are”, and that a name is so important to defining something that a child is not alive until it is named.

At a societal level, names can tell us so much about gender, religion, class, nationality and ethnic origin. Looking at the origin of names and the changing choice of names can reveal much about a community or nation. This essay is intended to be a modest contribution to that exercise.

Dictionary of first names from around the world click here
Origins of first names from around the world click here
First name origin and meaning click here
BabyNamesCountry site click here


Last modified on 29 April 2007

I would be interested to know how names are used in your country or culture. Please e-mail me and let me know and I will add the information to this essay.Conversely, if you would like to know the meaning or origin of your name, e-mail me and I will do my best to advise you.


© 2007 John Cooke Fraud Report

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