Wednesday, April 30, 2014


    An ABC Wednesday Post: The Letter X

(Xanthe, daughter of Oceanus, by Barbara Cooney.)

Last year I received a birth announcement from a friend's daughter announcing the arrival of her new baby girl; Xanthe Alexandria. The correct pronunciation of this is Zanthee, which I only discovered after a conversation with my friend.

In Greek mythology, Xanthe was a sea nymph, one of the Oceanids, the daughter of Oceanus and Tethys. In ancient Greek, Xanthe means 'golden one', which has also been interpreted as blonde-haired. More likely than not, little Xanthe will be the only child in her class with a name beginning with X. So too, by the time she starts school, she will probably be used to telling people how her name is pronounced.

The Romans had an expression nomen est omen, or "name is destiny." A name is part of a person's legacy. It will be recorded in history. You will say it thousands of times during the course of your life.  It will be written on class lists, read out loud amongst throngs of others at graduation, spoken with portent on your wedding day, printed on business cards. Above all, rightly or wrongly, a name often conveys an image, an assumption about the person. It creates an impression.

Psychology professor, Albert Mehrabian, tested a host of names to see how people viewed them. Some names immediately aroused images of beauty or intelligence, others of popularity or kindness. Yet others were seen as artistic, nerdy or odd. On the whole, people judged to have more traditional names such as Rachel and Robert did extremely well. More alternative names scored badly. Breeze, for example, was viewed as being a poor student and business risk. Mehrabian feels that parents who choose or create bizarre names for their children are ignorant, arrogant or just plain foolish.

                                                    (from Google Images.)

Some celebrity offspring names are perfect illustrations of this case in point:  Moxie Crimefighter, daughter of Penn Jillette and Emily Jillette, and Spec Wildhorse, son of John Cougar Mellencamp and Elaine Irwin, are but just two of a whole litany of bizarre names created by celebrities. The newest to add to the weird and wacky list are Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, whose newborn daughter faces the world with the moniker, North West. Poor wee soul ... it's all south from there.

Alaska's Sarah Palin, that Western avatar of traditional values, rather paradoxically named her children, Track, Bristol, Willow, Piper, and Trig. Perhaps there is a hidden part of her which yearns to be more artistic, less conservative, that is solely reflected in the names she chose for her children.

For many parents, picking out a baby name is like choosing the perfect nursery décor or baby accessories. It comes with a great deal of thought, reflection and personal taste. Some choose to name after beloved family members, sports legends, or heroic figures. (I named my oldest son, Nicholas, after my much loved maternal grandfather.) Others pick names which are trendy, popular, current. Some go the biblical route, or take a page from their favourite novel, movie or historical era. Yet others give nod to family tradition or their ethnic roots.

My four grandchildren have fairly unusual names. It is my personal policy to never get involved in any way in the naming of grandchildren. I had my turn. Now it is my children's right, and their joy to choose names. The agreement between my second son and the mother of their children was that he would choose the boys' names and she would pick the girls' names. They have two sons. My son picked both their names from the NHL (National Hockey League) roster. (Seriously!) Regardless of my own private personal opinion, my response to the announcement of each grandchild's name has always been the same, "That's lovely! I really like it. You've chosen something unique and strong/beautiful." And so it is, as I have grown to love each child's name as part of them.

I think that names perhaps have a greater significant influence when that is the only thing you know about a person. In time, people give personality and definition to their own names, good and bad. As Shakespeare said in Romeo and Juliet:

What's in a name? That which we call a rose,
By any other name would smell as sweet.

Xanthe's relative obscurity (not ranked in the top 1000 names), will take a bit of determination to make it work.  She will stand out in a crowd of little girls named Emma (top girl's name in Canada for the last five years in a row), and among those bestowed with the tendency towards ever-more tortured, innovative spellings such as Mackenzie (McKynzee), Ava (Aayvah) and Taylor (Taelyr), all of which I have personally seen. In time, though, I have a feeling little Xanthe will come to define her name as a distinctive, interesting, spirited appellation.

                                     (Small Possibilities, by Maggie Taylor.)


  1. What a great name and interesting origin. I enjoyed this post a lot. Being a girl named Carver, I know what it's like to have an unexpected name. People expect I'm a man if they just go by my name before meeting me in person, but now that I'm 55 I'm mostly amused by that. Carver, ABC Wed. Team

  2. I had a LOT of rules re naming Lydia. It was in the top 1000 (in the 110s), but NOT in the top 10. It was based on a rich woman from Acts 16 who put up Paul

    My name means spear bearer, FWIW.

    ROG, ABC Wednesday team

  3. I hated my name as a child because it was "different," but now as an adult I like it because it is "different." I think Xanthe is a perfectly gorgeous name. My daughter named her first child Noah, which at the time was not that popular. Now, of course, it's so common, which is disappointing. Then when her daughter arrived, I anxiously awaited the announcement - Eden! I love it and subsequently have been asked if our family if very religious! LOL

    abcw team

  4. Love Greek mythology and researching names. When I was writing my 2nd fiction novel, Eagle Visions, I was amazed at how the names I chose for Trooper's Run (the prequel to EV) even before EV was a thought fit perfectly with the story line! Names are fascinating!

  5. Interesting post about the letter X ...and names. My grandson's middle name is that there would only one Matthew Zahir. Everyone calls him Matty so far. I actually like the name Xanthe (except it is hard to remember the spelling). My name is actually Lorraine...but I much prefer Lori:)
    Nice pics too:)

  6. Something to think about!

  7. We gave our son a distinctive name on the basis that he wouldn't have the aura of others with the same name cast upon him - in retrospect it was probably a bad choice - he shortened it to a more conventional name when he was a teenager and we all call him that now.

  8. Excellent post! I learned something new today by reading these blogs. Yours is very interesting. I know that Xanthe means yellow or gold, for Xanthippe means Golden Horse.
    Your grandchildren are so lovely. I have also 5 grandchildren, three boys and two girls.
    Have a great week.
    Wil, ABCW Team.

  9. Emma is a very old name, my grandma's first name was Emma and she was born end 1900 century. Now it's in fashion again. We wanted a name for our son which you can't translate into another language. For my grandson I only told them to choose a short first name as the name is very long ! I thought poor thing when he has to start writing his name. They choose Toby and that's OK, although not very original. I have to say that Xanthe is rather a tongue breaker ! (at least for me, lol !)

  10. What a unique and beautiful name. I wouldn't have had a clue how to pronounce it either. Yes, I read a study where they assigned certain names to photographs of various men and women. When they used old-fashioned names or out-of-style names, people assigned the people negative and boring characteristics. The same photos with hipper and more common names and the people viewing the photographs assigned the same photographed people entirely different characteristics. It's totally fascinating. Mind you, those celebrity names are a bit hard to Apple...seriously? I would have thought peach more appropriate for a sweet baby! :)

  11. smiles...what a cool name...made me think of piers anthony's books the Xanth novels....names are cool...and carry much power as well...i know some very sad names that people have given their kids...what a curse....xanthee sounds magical...

    appreciate you stopping in today ...and yes you are free to print out the poem and post it...smiles.

  12. Great post reflecting childrens names. I really like Xanthe--to me she will be very artistic--I guess you all will see. I had never thought before how many times our name's are written on paper and spoken. To your post on my highway worker--ITS NOT A REAL PERSON, just a figure made out of cones.

  13. AnonymousJune 26, 2013

    I think Xanthe is beautiful =) Common names come with baggage, I am shocked at the venom people have for the names of exs, rivals, or enemies. If you end up with name of a serial killer or detested celebrity even though those people have nothing to do with you it doesn't matter. My initials were C. Lewis in middle school everyone believed that I was related to C.S. Lewis lol I feel more unique names give a person the opportunity to more clearly define that name for themselves. I am not for tortured spellings I think the name should be spelled neatly and be easy to pronounce relatively. I have a fairly common name actually people still can't spell it and oddly despite how easy it is to pronounce I still get called Kansas a lot. I wonder about people's verbal skills sometimes I really do lol If the child has confidence they can make any name work. Conversely absolutely any name no matter how safe you assume it is can be converted into a taunt. My daughter's name is Isadora easy to say, spelled strait forwardly, not insane and where I live neither common nor bizarre. When I saw her I knew that was her name and right now at five she loves it, in a few years maybe some complaints lol

  14. I have had an unusual name all my life, - no nicknames. I think it has been o.k., but we named our eldest daughter 'Dale' and she changed it to 'Indea'??? She would probably be delighted with Xanthe, too - and I think it is a lovely name - though puzzling to spell unless people see it written.

  15. That is a lovely choice of name and such a nice legend behind it. One of my first thoughts was it will make a great signature with that bold X. I once worked with someone once called Jon, his parents chose that particular spelling so it could not be shortened. Ah fickle fate, the spelling was reversed by friends and everyone called him Noj.

  16. What a lovely and wonderful post for X! I love reading old legends anytime:) Xanthe, though unusual, is so beautiful and sounds lovely. I had a nice chuckle over the celebrity piece too, thanks! (So sorry I'm a little late to visit, been away for a spell.)

  17. I do believe names can affect who we allow ourselves to be. Parents should be sure to help a child to be proud of their names -- usual or unusual. It seems to me that it's good to have a reason for choosing any particular name. I used to go to school with a girl named Camelia Cockerline. Poor girl, she had many problems. Certainly she was pre-judged.