Wordsworth: What's in a Name?

May 31, 1991|By Joseph Gallagher

Personal names generally have meanings, which parents often overlook. Dolores means ''sorrows;'' Cecil and Cecilia mean ''blind;'' Claude and Claudia, ''lame.'' Barbara is related to barbarous (foreign, outlandish). Would a father who wants his son to become a basketball star name him Paul (''short'')? Would a Quaker knowingly name her son Mark (after Mars, the Roman war-god)? Those Romans used to say that a nomen (name) is an omen.

Patrick is from ''pater,'' (''father''). Doesn't that make Patricia mean ''fatherly''? Andrew means ''manly;'' what about Andrea then? Charles means ''a man/male'' (as does the unflattering ''churl''); what of the related names, Charlotte, Carole and Caroline?

Norman means a north-man; Schwarzkopf, a black head. In Arabic, Saddam means ''a challenger;'' Hussein, ''small and handsome.'' Hussein was Mohammed's martyred grandson, whence the popularity of the name among Muslims. Mohammed (''praised'') may well be the world's most common name. For its part, the Bible offers 3,037 male names to choose from, but only 181 female ones. It gave the U.S. its most popular male name (John: God is a giver), and female one (Mary: bitterness? rebellion? wished-for-child?)

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