Last week I read about Anne’s and her husband’s thoughts on names, and it reminded me of a short “essay” I wrote for my Spanish course a few months ago. I think that the subject of names is fascinating; the cultural and linguistic differences, as well as the historical background and meaning.
When it comes to royalty, I thought that it was fascinating for example to discover that in the Spanish gossip magazine, Hola, the British Queen Elizabeth II is referred to as Isabela Segunda, her son is called Carlos and her grandson Guillermo (William). One of my first memories of working in Brussels is of when I mixed up Charlemagne and Charleroi. For me, as a Swede, the two names sounded very alike – to the shock of my French colleague who told me that Charlemagne* was a very famous king (I had heard of him as Karl den Store in Swedish or Charles the Great) and Charleroi is a Belgian town! Why is it that names of Kings and Queens are translated?
King Oscar’s sardines – the sardines are Norwegian, and the king was Swedish. However, Oscar II also ruled over Norway since the two countries were in a union until 1905. Oscar is a Celtic name and was in fashion in Sweden around the turn of last century, as well as currently (since the new Millenium)
I have already written about names, in my blog post “What’s in a name – Spanish name mysteries“, which dealt with confusing Spanish surname (family name) traditions rather than first names. Surnames are definitely interesting, the respective family names of O and I could have had a -ez and -es at the end, but they do not… This causes a lot of confusion, especially here in Puerto Rico, even though the most famous Puerto Rican singer has the same surname as O, while I always try to explain that I am not a relative of Sherlock! O’s surname is a very common one in Spanish-, French & English-speaking countries, but of course pronunced differently.
This is more or less what I wrote (in Spanish originally):
Names (without any scientific proof what so ever, this is my study of how names are chosen in different countries):
In Sweden it is common to choose names of past generations, generally the generation of the grandparents (or great grandparents) of the parents’ of the child. This means that names are “recycled” every 3-4 generations, but the children are not necessarily named after a certain relative (see below for the Spanish tradition).
The most popular names for Swedish children born in 2008 were:
- Emma (second name of my father’s uncle’s wife – she’s Swiss though)
- Ella (actually my great-grandmother’s name)
However, the most common names in Sweden (for children and adults) are Maria (and Anna), and Erik (and Lars). What is interesting is that most people with these names, Maria and Erik, have them as second names, i.e not used as their given names (tilltalsnamn).
Spanish square with the same name as O’s grandfather and grandmother (ending with an -a of course). It is of German origin and means, just like it sounds, “the brown” or “the tanned”. Saint Bruno was born in Cologne and refused to become a bishop in Reims (from Wikipedia).
In Spain, my impression is that names don’t change as often as in Sweden. There are always children who are called Carlos, Diego and Manuel! And to prove this, I actually just took what I thought were common Spanish names, the above-mentioned ones, and confirmed their popularity (No 14, No 9 and No 15 for babies born in 2007). One reason might be that many Spanish families still keep the tradition of naming the first son after the father, who in his turn was named after the grandfather, named after the great-grandfather etc etc.
The great-grandmother Francisca (I noticed that I called her Joaquina in another post – I am actually not sure if she is Francisca or Joaquina, need to confirm her name with O’s father), whose name is not among the top 100 of the names given to babies in 2007
Since this tradition only seems to apply to boys, does it maybe mean that women’s names change more often in Spain? I am not so sure, but let’s try to do the same test as with male names. I would say that common Spanish female names are: Cristina, Mónica and Ana. Now, let me check their popularity among babies born in the 21st century: Cristina was No 26, Mónica No 88 and Ana No 13!
Aha, I have proved my point in a most un-scientific way: the names I chose were names of Spanish people I know (from my generation) and obviously their popularity have not been carried over to the present female generation to the extent of the male names, which are still common.
These are the top names of Spanish babies born in 2007:
(source: www.babycenter.es/pregnancy/nombres/top_names_2007 and interestingly enough the top 4 names haven’t changed at all between 2007 and 2008)
My third example is the Puerto Rican name tradition – which doesn’t seem to be cyclical like the Swedish one, nor repetitive like the Spanish one, but it is rather a more imaginative custom. It would appear that the Puerto Rican parents try to find the most original name possible, and one tradition is to combine the names of the two parents – for example Geomari (from George and María). I don’t know how popular it is nowadays to give taíno (indigenous indian tribe in Puerto Rico and other islands of the Caribbean) names to babies but the name Uroyoan for example is of taíno origin.
For a foreigner it is sometimes difficult to understand and remember people’s names, at least when they are called Jehyra, Katsí, Nerydette, Adalberto, Glendaliz, Ydalmi, Unexie, Eulalio etc. Don’t get me wrong, I love the originality**, but maybe they are not always very practical names? And it does seem that boys get the more traditional names while the more fanciful ones are reserved for girls.
Unfortunately I couldn’t find the top names of Puerto Rican babies, in the US the more plain (?) names Jacob and Emily were the most popular in 2007.
*) Charlemagne is also the name of one of the European Commission buildings in Brussels and the whole conversation was about me going for lunch there – but I said Charleroi, a town 6o km away…
**) A Puerto Rican novel that I would really like to read, but haven’t found yet, is Usmaíl by Pedro Juan Soto that tells the story of a boy named after a US Mail post box…