Names that come to Life

November 29, 2011 § 5 Comments

Life. Simply speaking :)

The birth of a new baby signals many things, but perhaps signals no greater thing than “life” itself. And names that mean “life” have begun fairing better than ever, especially for girls, whether it’s the wild popularity of Zoe (and all it’s alternate spellings), Latin upstarts Vita, Vida, or Viva, or French, feminine Vivienne (which, like old-fashioned cool Vivian, means “lively”).

In French, la vie means “the life,” while vivre is a verb meaning “to live.” Vive is a subjunctive form of the verb, and the root of Vivian/Vivienne. Vivre is born from the Latin vivat, which is the root of Italian Viva, like Viva Katherine Wainwright Cohen, who is Canadian folk music royalty. She was born earlier this year to Lorca Cohen, daughter of Leonard (and named for early 20th Century Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca), and singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright (deputy dad is his German fiance Jorn Wiesbrodt), the son of songwriters Loudon Wainwright and Kate McGarrigle, and sister of singer-songwriter Martha. If you think this tree of names couldn’t get more interesting, note that Martha’s son, born in 2009, is named Arcangelo.

In January 2010, Matthew McConaughey and his Brazilian girlfriend Camila Alves welcomed daughter Vida, which is Portuguese for “life,” and Latin Vita, too, is finding a place in the English-speaking world. Actor David Boreanaz and wife Jaime intially named their daughter Bardot Vita, after Brigitte Bardot, when she was born last year, but eventually changed her named to Bella Vita – fully translated as “beautiful life.” In May, 311 rocker Nick Hexum and his wife Nikki welcomed a daughter named Maxine Vita – Nick delivered their second daughter in a last-minute homebirth that didn’t align with their original birthplan, but was a success. Their first daughter, Echo Love, was born in 2009.

Noted British fashion designer Vivienne Westwood was always Vivienne, but her original surname is Swire. Brad and Angelina’s youngest daughter is just as famously known as Vivienne “Viv” Marcheline (the middle name honours Angelina’s mother, and her two French names honour her birthplace in France.) Rosie O’Donnell’s youngest daughter, Vivienne Rose, is nicknamed Vivi – so is Emmy-winner Melissa McCarthy’s eldest daughter Vivian, 4. On September 14th, Netscape billionaire Jim Clark and Australian model Kirsty Hinze welcomed a daughter named Dylan Vivienne, while actor Alan Ruck (Cameron in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) welcomed daughter Vesper Vivianne with French actress Mireille Enos in September 2010. In October 2010, Elvis’ daughter Lisa Marie Presley, a singer-songwriter, welcomed twin girls with husband Michael Lockwood – Finley Aaron Love and Harper Vivienne Ann.

Aisha, a popular African-American name, could mean “life” in Swahili. That’s not far off from the name of Hindu princess Saisha, a Sanskrit name that means “truth of life, meaningful life.” Ashia is Arabic for “life and hope” and was the wife of a Hindu demi-god. It’s also the name of a once treeless region in Cyprus, so named from the Greek askia meaning “without any shade.” Even Ava is said to be rooted in the Hebrew name Chava/Chaya or Hava, meaning “life.” Eve and Eva are two more names, their profiles raised recently thanks to the popularity of Evangeline, that are born from Hava. (Evangeline is born from the Greek evangel, the term for the Gospels, who brought good news.) The male form, Chaim or Haim has also derived Hyman.

Betha is Celtic for “life,” and in the New Testament, Bethany described life in the home – the name is Hebrew for, possibly, “house of figs.” The height of Bethany’s popularity occurred in the 1980s, coming up with sound-alike Brittany, and considered a derivative of Beth and Ann as opposed to a “life” name. Though it’s popularity has dwindled, it’s still a Top 100 name in England and Scotland.

Earlier today, Abby at Appellation Mountain mentioned Enid and Bruce as possible name updates for Diablo Cody’s upcoming version of Sweet Valley High and blonde twins Jessica and Elizabeth. Enid is Welsh and means “soul, life.” As a first name, Enid peaked in 1910 inside the Top 500, but fell out of the Top 1000 in 1960 and hasn’t come back. It’s not quite as appealing as Eve or Eva, but it certainly has it’s place. Maybe not on one of the twins – there’s already a character called Enid in the series, Elizabeth’s best friend. It’s also a name that has thrived in the comic genre and picks up a couple cool points from the Barenaked Ladies song “Enid,” which reached number two on the Canadian singles chart in 1992.

Tansy could show promise like Peony (seen at Mer de Noms the other day), Thandie, or Josie. Tansy, from the Greek Athanasia (male Athanasios), means “eternal life.”

In 2005, Tina Fey welcomed her first child, daughter Alice Zenobia. The Greek middle name honours Fey’s heritage, and means “life of Zeus.” (It’s male form is Zenobio.) Slavic Zivanka means “full of life,” and you can almost imagine it as the perfect name for Ivanka Trump’s second daughter, if she has ever has another girl. She was named by adding the letter K to her mother’s name, Czechoslovakian-born Ivana Zelnickova, a former Olympic athlete and future Mrs. Donald Trump. (Ivana and Ivanka are both Slavic for “God is gracious,” feminine forms of Ivan, from the Hebrew John, in the spirit of Jane or Jean.)

But one Z name (they’re hot, I’m telling you!) is popular above all others, and it too is Greek for “life.” Zoe interestingly never ranks too high on name lists, but when all additional spellings are added together, the name is at the very least a Top 20 pick throughout North America. For example, in British Columbia the name Zoe was the 24th most popular baby name last year, with 83 baby girls named Zoe born across the province. But add the 24 Zoës, 36 Zoeys, and six Zoies, and there were 143 born in 2010. That makes it the ninth most popular name of the year, ahead of Sophie, Lily, and a host of other recent mainstays like Charlotte, Hannah, Madison, and Abigail. Actress and singer (she’s one half of folk outfit She & Him) Zooey Deschanel, with her hit show New Girl, seems poised to add another variation to the growing list.

Celebrities have certainly flocked to Zoe, from Australian singer Katie Underwood and her boyfriend Darren McCoy, who had twins Charlotte and Zoe on July 23rd, to Jodie Sweetin’s first daughter, Zoie Laurelmae and country singer Blaine Larsen’s daughter Zoe Grace, who were both born in April 2008. Dutch actor Dirk Zeelenberg welcomed son Zoe Philip Lodewijk in 2007, but I’m not sure if it’s pronounced Zo-ee, or Zo, like celeb stylist Rachel Zoe (mom to son Skylar Morrison, born in March).

Lest boys feel left out, Hungarian Zoltan, which gained some interest when comedian Penn Jilette and wife Emily welcomed their second child (we all know their daughter, Moxie CrimeFighter), son Zolten Penn in 2006. In their case Zolten was Emily’s maiden name, but it also means “life.” Vidal, which is also a surname in Portuguese or Spanish, and Vito are both Latin meaning “life-giving,” derived from vitus. The Arabic male name Ammar, which could be seen by some as vaguely feminine like Summer or Tamar, means “prosperous long life.”

Take your pick; “life” names are beautiful.

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§ 5 Responses to Names that come to Life

  • I’m a huge fan of Vivienne Westwood’s designs, and I do love her name as well, more so than Vivian. Chava, whilst pretty, has the problem here in the UK of being far too similar to our slang word ‘chav’, which denotes a type of social class stereotype, often used as an insult.

  • I’ve always quite liked Vita, as in Vita Sackville-West, but all the “life” names are well, lively! It’s hard to dislike something which has such a positive meaning.

    (I chose unisex Vivian as my middle name from my confirmation name; a famous fictional one is Vyvyan from “The Young Ones”).

    • namemuststay says:

      Vita is kind of like the Italian grandmother side of the old-fashioned name trend. When I hear it, I think of old women, but it’s been so revitalized lately and has the potential to become a completely ‘young’ name! It’s great!

      I like Vivian, but I’m a huge fan of Vivi and Viv!

  • [...] in names to do with the wonder that is life, there’s a great post at the newly-named The Name Station to sort [...]

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