September 18, 2014 § 4 Comments
For two years in the late 90s, Peter Hessler taught English in Fuling, China, as part of the Peace Corps. His experiences are the subject of his best-selling River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze.
In one passage, he writes about the interesting English names that his students had chosen for themselves, including a girl who was named Keller, after Helen Keller:
This was a common pattern; some of them had taken their names from people they admired, which explained why we had a Barbara (from Barbara Bush), an Armstrong (Neil Armstrong), and an idealistic second-year student called Marx. A few had translated their Chinese names directly—House, Yellow, North. There was one boy whose English name was Lazy. “My name is Lazy,” he said, on the first day of class. “I am very lazy. I do not like to play basketball or football or do many things. My hobbies are sleeping.”
Other names made less sense. There was a Soddy, a Sanlee, a Ker. Some were simply unfortunate: a very small boy called Pen, a very pretty girl named Coconut. One boy was called Daisy . . . .
Not all of the “unfortunate” names came from the students themselves. When the students asked for surnames to pair with their English given names, Adam, Hessler’s fellow teacher, gave Nancy the last name Drew. And when Mo asked Hessler for a surname, he became Mo Money.
I have some friends from Taiwan with less than mainstream English names. But who can blame them? Aren’t a lot of American names just a combination of letters, with no real meaning or heritage? And don’t people sometimes take common words and turn them into names for their children? Yes, both are true, but for some reason, some names seem to sound less right than others. Why not Mray? Why not Cabinet?
But who am I to judge? Before I moved to Taipei, I asked a friend from China for a Chinese name. He gave me Ke Lai, based on the sound of Craig. I liked it. And even after my new friends in Taiwan said it wasn’t a great name, I hung on to it, even going so far as to come up with a tortured defense for it. Ke means “overcome” and lai means “come,” so I figured that my name could match up with the first words spoken by the Master in The Analects of Confucius: “Is it not pleasant to learn with a constant perseverance and application?” (overcoming?) and “Is it not delightful to have friends coming from distant quarters?” (come).
“Okaaaaaay . . . ,” said my my gracious friends, “but maybe it’s not quite right. It doesn’t sound Chinese.”
I didn’t want to give in—it was my name—until I realized that the Chinese for Chrysler is Ke-lai-se-le. I didn’t mind that my name sounded foreign, but sounding like a foreign car company was a little too much.
So how would you help an international friend who’s looking for an English name? Maybe you’d like to point them to the Bible as a good source for names. According to the Social Security Administration, during the first decade of the 2000s, 8 of the top 10 baby-boy names came from the Bible. But the Bible isn’t failsafe. Not every biblical name should be considered a good candidate. Some names have bad backstories (think, Judas and Jezebel), and some just don’t pass the sound test (for example, Shammua and Abishag).
To help out, below is my contribution to the cause. It’s a list of over 170 biblical names that have, over the years, often been used in the US. Following each name is its designation for males or females, its meaning (if it’s known), and some of the more well-known people (or in a few cases, places) in the Bible with that name.
By the way, this list makes up an appendix to Putting Words in Our Mouths: A Look at Biblical Expressions in American English. I started in Genesis, and I’ve made it through Revelation, explaining over 150 entries along the way. If you haven’t already, please drop by. You’ll probably be surprised at how often we quote the Bible without even knowing it.
So from Aaron to Zachariah, here we go. (Sorry, Zuriel didn’t quite make the cut.)
Aaron (m), possibly “teacher, lofty, mountain of strength”—Moses’ brother, first high priest
Abigail (f), “father’s joy”—King David’s wife
Abraham (m), “father of a great multitude”—father of the Hebrew people
Adam (m), “earthy, red, human”—the first man
Alexander (m), “defender of man”—member of the Jewish ruling council; man expelled from the church
Amos (m), “carried, burden, weighty”—Old Testament prophet who wrote the Book of Amos
Andrew (m), “manly, strong man”—Jesus’ apostle
Anna (f), “grace”—New Testament prophetess
Bartholomew (m), “son of Tolmai”—Jesus’ apostle
Benjamin (m), “son of the right hand”—Jacob’s son
Bethany (f), “house of dates, house of misery”—village east of Jerusalem
Caleb (m), “dog”—one of the Israelite spies sent to bring back a report about Canaan
Candace (f) possibly “one who is contrite”—queen of Ethiopia
Claudia (f) possibly “lame”—follower of Jesus in Rome
Dan (m), “judge, judgment”—son of Jacob
Daniel (m), “judgment of God” —Old Testament prophet and writer of the Book of Daniel
David (m), “beloved”—king of Israel who wrote many of the Psalms
Deborah (f), “bee”—nurse of Rebekah, Isaac’s wife; prophetess and judge of Israel
Eli (m), “lifting up”—Old Testament high priest
Elisabeth (Elizabeth) (f), “God is her oath”—John the Baptist’s mother
Ethan (m), “enduring, strong”—descendant of Judah; descendant of Levi
Eve (f), possibly “life, giver of life”—first woman
Gabriel (m), “God is my strength, champion of God”—angel
Hannah (f), “grace”—mother of Samuel, the Old Testament prophet
Isaac (m), “laughter”—Abraham’s son
Jacob (m), “one who grabs the heel, supplanter, deceiver“—son of Isaac, father of the Israelites
James (m), “supplanter”—Jesus’ apostle, brother of John; Jesus’ apostle, son of Alphaeus; Jesus’ brother and writer of the Book of James
Jared (m), “descent”—ancestor of Noah
Jason (m), “one who heals”—Thessalonian Christian; Paul’s relative
Jeremiah (m) “raised up by God”—Old Testament prophet who wrote the Book of Jeremiah and Lamentations (and possibly 1 and 2 Kings); Old Testament priest
Jesse (f/m) possibly “gift, wealthy”—King David’s father
Joel (m), “the Lord is his God”—Old Testament prophet who wrote the Book of Joel
Joanna (f) “the Lord’s grace”—manager of King Herod’s household and follower of Jesus
John (m), “the Lord’s grace”—”John the Baptist,” prophet who announced the arrival of Jesus and baptized him; Jesus’ apostle and writer of the Gospel of John, Revelation, and 1, 2, and 3 John; “John Mark,” companion of Paul and Barnabas, writer of the Gospel of Mark
Jonathan (m), “the Lord’s gift”—son of King Saul and friend of David
Jordan (m/f), “descender”—river in Israel
Joseph (m), “increase”—Jacob’s son who was sold as a slave by his brothers and who gained great authority in Egypt; husband of Mary, Jesus’ mother; Jesus’ brother; “Joseph of Arimathea” in whose grave Jesus was buried; one of two Christians presented as possible replacements for Judas as an apostle
Joshua (m), “the Lord saves”—leader of the Israelites after Moses died, writer of the Book of Joshua
Judith (f), “of Judea”—Esau’s wife
Julia (f), “downy, soft hair”—Christian in Rome
Leah (f), possibly “weary”—Jacob’s wife
Lois (f), possibly “better”—grandmother of Timothy, who was Paul’s companion
Luke (m), “light giving”—a physician and Paul’s companion who wrote the Gospel of Luke and Acts
Lydia (f), possibly “woman of the province of Lydia”—the first European to become a Christian
Mark (Marcus) (m), possibly “polite, shining”—companion of Paul, Barnabas, and Peter and writer of the Gospel of Mark
Martha (f), “lady, bitterness”—sister of Mary and Lazarus
Mary (f), possibly “rebellion”—Jesus’ mother; Martha and Lazarus’ sister who anointed Jesus feet with perfume; “Mary Magdalene,” follower of Jesus who was first to see him after the resurrection
Matthew (m), “gift of God”—Jesus’ apostle who wrote the Gospel of Matthew
Micah (m), “who is like God?”—Old Testament prophet and writer of the Book of Micah
Michael (m), “who is like God?”—angel
Miriam (f), possibly “rebellion”—Moses’ sister
Moriah (f)—possibly “chosen by the Lord”—region where Abraham went to sacrifice Isaac; “Mount Moriah” where Solomon built the temple
Naomi (f), ”lovable, my delight”—mother-in-law of Ruth
Nathan (m), “gift, given”—Old Testament prophet
Nathaniel (Nathanael) (m), “gift of God”—Jesus’ apostle
Nicolas (m), “conqueror of the people, victory of the people”—one of the seven chosen to serve the church in Jerusalem
Noah (m), possibly “rest” —man who built the ark and whose family was saved from the flood
Paul (m), “little”—Jesus’ apostle who wrote 13 books of the New Testament
Peter (m), “rock, stone”—Jesus’ apostle who wrote 1 and 2 Peter
Philip (m), “lover of horses”—Jesus’ apostle; one of the seven chosen to serve the church in Jerusalem
Rachel (f), “sheep, ewe”—Jacob’s wife and mother of Joseph and Benjamin
Rebekah (f), possibly “ensnarer”—Isaac’s wife and mother of Jacob and Esau
Ruth (f), possibly “friend”—non-Jewish woman who married Boaz and became an ancestor of Jesus, subject of Old Testament book named after her
Samuel (m), “heard of God, asked of God”—Old Testament judge and prophet, and possible writer of Judges and 1 and 2 Samuel
Sarah (f), “princess”—wife of Abraham, mother of Isaac
Seth (m), “compensation, a substitute”—son of Adam and Eve
Sharon (f), “a plain”—coastal plain in Israel
Simon (m), “he hears, hearing”—original name of Jesus’ apostle Peter; “Simon the Zealot,” Jesus’ apostle; Jesus’ brother; man who carried Jesus’ cross
Stephen (m), “crown”—one of the seven chosen to serve the church in Jerusalem, first Christian martyr
Tabitha (f), “gazelle”—Christian woman with a reputation for helping others, she died and Peter brought her back to life
Thomas (m), “twin”—Jesus’ apostle
Timothy (m), “honored by God, honoring God”—companion of Paul, who wrote 1 and 2 Timothy to him
Titus (m), “honorable”—companion of Paul, who wrote the Book of Titus to him
Zachariah (Zechariah) (m), “God remembered”—king of Israel; Old Testament prophet; father of John the Baptist
December 13, 2013 § 3 Comments
It all started when I asked one of my sons what he wanted for Christmas. He said a Moleskine journal. (By the way, this story would be better if I could tell it, rather than write it out.) I’d heard about them before, but come on. Moleskin?!! Do I look like I’m made out of money? I can’t afford a book with a cover made out of mole skins!
I looked it up on Amazon anyway, and I saw that it wasn’t as expensive as I’d expected, nor was it spelled the way I’d thought. Come to find out, it’s not mole skin, the fur. It’s Moleskine, the Italian company in Milan.
So, what’s the right way to say Moleskine? “The answer,” say the folks at the Moleskine website,”is: there is no predetermined answer.”
Moleskine® is a brand name with undefined national identity. And that’s the way we like it. As a literary name, it was used by British travel writer Bruce Chatwin in his book “The Songlines”, referred to the little black notebooks he usually bought from a stationery store in Paris.
Everyone should feel free to pronounce it as he/she prefers. Enjoy.
Well, that’s settled. (Or not.)
But what about all those other foreign words and names that escape obvious pronunciation? You can’t always just look them up. And even if you find them, how can you hope to decipher all the hieroglyphics of phonetic spelling? What do they really sound like? If only we could hear someone say them.
Fear not. There is help—and it’s only a couple clicks away.
Here, for your listening and learning pleasure, are 8 sites that will have you sounding like a native in no time—or at least you’ll sound like an intelligent non-native to your friends.
As the Moleskine people say, “Enjoy.”
“The largest pronunciation guide in the world.” Boasts over 2 million pronunciations in more than 300 languages. Gives you the ability to add words, pronunciations, and ratings. From their blog, “Pronuncionary,” here are the top pronunciations of 2013:
2. Chag Sameach
Started by Pinky Thakkar, a San Jose State graduate student from Mumbai. Includes people and place names. You can submit names for inclusion. Has its own YouTube channel, as well.
Good for names of celebrities, sports figures, politicians, and the like. Created for radio and TV professionals. Gives “Americanized” version of foreign names.
Surnames and given names from over 50 languages. Started by Elizabeth Bojang, an American who served in the Peace Corps in West Africa, to “help executives and customer service representatives compete in the global marketplace.”
Celebrity names and commonly used foreign words, with pronunciations that are “irreproachable replicas as produced by non-native speakers.” Run by Italians Patrizia Serra, a well-traveled journalist, and Laura Mazzoni, a translator and editor of linguistic dictionaries.
Voice of America’s guide to pronouncing names and places in the news. “The first of its kind on the Internet.”
Maintained by Judith West and Heather Henderson to provide resources for their colleagues in audiobook narration. An index of links to a slew of sites on pronouncing words in multiple languages, people and place names, food names, biblical names, and more.
A collection of sites from About.com. Includes entries for German, Italian, Japanese, and French cuisine.