Tripping It

Lehighton (PA) Times News

October 30, 1969

What a Difference a Name Makes

Almost everyone owns a dictionary. And many people even find occasional use for it. Sometimes to place under junior’s bottom so that he can reach the table to eat his lunch; sometimes to stand on to get something out of the cupboard above the stove; sometimes, in summer, to serve as a doorstop to hold the front door open for a bit of a draft of fresh air. Some people even use it occasionally to look up a word. Not too often, though, because of the very fact that since a dictionary is a chronicle of words in alphabetical order, you have to know how to spell a word before you can look it up, and most people know what the words they use mean, although they aren’t always sure how to write what they are saying. In that sense, at least, the dictionary is somewhat self-defeating.

Most people who have ever used a dictionary seem to overlook the most interesting parts of the entire book.

And those parts are in the back, after the z’s are over and done with. In the back you can usually find a copy of the Constitution of the United States, standard abbreviations, a vocabulary of rhymes, a small dictionary of foreign words and phrases, chemical elements, a table of vitamins, weights and measures, and, one of my favorites, good olde Common English Given Names.

Did you know that Abigail is taken from the Hebrew and means “my father is joy”? Or that Alice stands for Truth? Barbara translates as “foreign; strange.” Or how about Beatrice meaning “she that makes happy”? Bridget supposedly means “lofty; august,” but how do we rectify that with Bridgette Bardot?

Deborah is derived from “bee.” How about a deborah in your bonnet? Eve, of course, means “life or living”—what else? Gertrude means “spear maiden,” while Hilda means “battle maid.” How about this one? Huldah means “a weasel.” Maybe that’s why there aren’t too many Huldahs around—bad connotations.

Irene means “peace” and Iris means “rainbow.” Laura means “laurels,” while “green leaves” translates as Phyllis. Margaret refers to “a pearl” and Nadine to “hope.” Renee is “reborn” while Vivian is “full of life.”

Some names don’t mean anything, but are merely made up along the way. A few of these are” Vera, Sidney (female), Romola, Rena, Mercy, Lorna, Lois, Joy, Carol, Cheryl, and Doris.

On the male side of the ledger:

Albert is “illustrious through nobility”—some mouthful for an Albert, no? Alfred is an “elf in council” or “good counselor.” Ambrose is “immortal.” Archibald is “nobly bold.” Asa is “healer or physician,” while Baldwin is “bold or courageous friend.”

Benjamin is “son of the right hand,” Charles is “strong,” Conrad is “giving bold or wise counsel,” David is “beloved,” Donald is “world ruler” (Donald Duck?), Edward is “guardian of property,” and Harold is “an army leader.” Isaac is “laughter” and Jason is “a healer.”

Roland is “fame of the land,” Noel is, of course, “Christmas,” while Vivian (male version) corresponds pretty closely to the female, and means “full of life,” and Neal is “courageous.”

Male names that mean nothing in English are: Vernon, Tod, Sidney, Silas, Adrian, and Clifford.

Isn’t that interesting?