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What's in a name? The meaning of names is an important factor to consider when choosing the right name for your baby. The meaning can come from its literal meaning (its origin and the translation of the name) or by its sentimental meaning. No matter what name you choose, it will be more than just a name; it will carry a meaning that your child will have throughout his or her lifetime. The meaning of a name will be a reflection of you and how you see your child even before his or her life begins.

What's in the Meaning of Names?

Even though Shakespeare was right that a "rose by any other name would smell as sweet," there is a meaning in every name. One of the most exciting times in life is getting to be the one who chooses what the meaning of a baby's name will be. Finding the right name can be overwhelming when you start to look at the thousands and thousands of choices that are out there. And then trying to find one that has the right meaning and origin can complicate matters. But the simple fact is that name for your baby will be a reflection of you and what you like, not what everyone else wants.
The meaning of a name can come from several sources, such as its literal meaning (by looking at the translation and origin of the name) or its sentimental meaning. Creating the perfect baby name for your child is one of the best ways to express what this child means to you and how you envision your child's characteristics even before his or her life begins.

The Literal Meaning of Names

Many names have a literal meaning associated with them. The study of words and their meanings is known as etymology. Etymology involves studying:
  • When a word entered a language
  • What source the word came from
  • How the word's form and meaning have changed over time.
These factors can affect how a name is spelled, how it sounds, and what it means.
Literal name meanings can be based on the origin of the name (i.e., what country it originated in) and what that word or combination of words meant in the original language. Take, for example, the meaning of the name Alexander. Etymologically, the name is derived from alex- (the compound form of alexis) meaning "refuge, protection, defense." This is combined with -andros, the compound form of aner, the Greek word for "man." Thus, the first name Alexander can be roughly translated as "helper or protector of mankind."
Some people choose to name their child based on this literal meaning of names. For example, a couple who has faced infertility for several years and then are surprised by the news that they are pregnant may want to choose a name that means "a miracle" or "a gift." So, they may choose the name Matthew (meaning "gift of God") or Naysa (meaning "miracle"). Or, a couple that has a premature baby who fought hard to survive may want to find a name that incorporates "strong," "miracle," "tough," or "resilient." So, they may choose the name Andrew (meaning "strong, manly") or Arnold (meaning "strong as an eagle").
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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