Recently, a friend told me what her name meant and asked about “Jennifer.” I said that I had no idea other than “I am a girl-child of the ’70s.” She could not believe that I didn’t know what “Jennifer” meant. And I don’t know what my children’s names mean either.
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When Bring Back Beatrice: 1,108 Baby Names with Meaning, Character, and a Little Bit of Attitude by Jennifer (yes, another Jennifer) Griffin arrived on my doorstep, one of the first things I did was look up our names:
• Jennifer: A variation of Guinevere, meaning “soft and white.” Noted that it’s the “epitome of trendiness,” so my off-the-cuff definition wasn’t much of a miss.
• Amanda: “To be loved.” Good to remember since she’s an adolescent girl, and so our interactions aren’t always so lovely.
• Kyle: “A trendy name with solid foundations.”
The problem with a trendy name like Jennifer is that in 20 years or so it’s going to be a Granny name. Because it was so popular, once it peaked and crashed it all-but-disappeared. Today, there are no little girls named Jennifer, so it will age with me.
The Jennifer of the ’70s is equivalent to the names that my own grandparents were given 90 or so years ago: Hugh, Evelyn, Opal, Otis. But what goes around comes around, and now old-fashioned names like Hannah, Emma, Olivia and Isabelle are downright trendy.
So, what’s a parent-to-be to do when trying to select the perfect name for their child? Carry around a guide such as Bring Back Beatrice (conveniently purse-sized), and let Griffin’s research, opinions and advice guide you. In the introduction, she promises to give it to the reader straight:
"In addition to traditional names that make excellent choices today, the book includes the most popular picks—with warnings if I think they may be too popular—as well as trendy choices, quirky ideas, and other clever, interesting names. Overall, the book’s focus is on names that are real: names that will stand the test of time, reflect your values, and bring joy to your child. To that end, I do not hold back when concerned that a name has become too widespread or sounds made up."
That’s right, Griffin’s calling out the use of made-up names and asserting that a name can be both original and traditional. In a sidebar in the introduction, she goes a step further, imploring parents who are considering an unorthodox name or using an unorthodox spelling to imagine how the name would sound when your child used it as an adult in one of these professions: the captain of an aircraft, a medical specialist, a politician, or a judge. Would you take Aspen, Blaze, Jaxon or Journey seriously? If not, think again.
I didn’t consult baby name books when I named my children, but if this had been around, it is the kind of book I would have turned to. I wanted nice, solid names for my children that weren’t trendy—anyone named Jennifer hopes to avoid the over-popular when naming her children. I could picture the dignified, tall, white-haired Amanda, but it also conjured up visions of a playful little girl.
In each entry, after providing the meaning and history behind each name, Griffin also shares common nicknames and variations. For example, instead of Amanda, I could have considered Amata, Miranda, Samantha, Aimee or Tamara. She also has sidebars that include fabulous lists of alternatives to certain names. Looking for a biblical name but also wish to avoid Matthew, Mark, Luke or John? Griffin scours the New Testament and suggests names such as Aquila, Barnabas, Bartholomew, Festus, Nathaniel or Simeon/Simon. Do you like an “–ella” name, but want to avoid the uber-popular Isabella? Try Carmella, Daniella, Estella, Janella or Marcella.
And guess what? Griffin writes that three out of four names from my grandparents’ era are prime for a comeback. So, I guess I won’t be that surprised if I hear mothers on the playground calling for Hugh, Evelyn and Opal in years to come.
Jennifer Donovan has been reviewing books online for over four years. She’s been reading books ever since she can remember—as a child, she favored realistic fiction and is still drawn to memoir and character-driven fiction. Jennifer has been managing editor at 5 Minutes for Books since she launched it in 2008 with the goal to provide diverse content to encourage people of all ages to read.