About A Name: Bear

September 5, 2011 § 4 Comments

Bear IMG 9015

When a name like Bear is bestowed upon two celebrity babies in less than a year, then shows up on the preschool class list of an everyday commenter from central California over at You Can’t Call It ‘It’, suddenly it qualifies as a name on trend, even though to many, it’s not a name anywhere near the top of their lists (and is, in fact, mocked and ridiculed).

On May 5th in Los Angeles, vegan and ultra eco-friendly celeb Alicia Silverstone chose the name Bear Blu for her newborn son with hubby Chris Jarecki. “We had narrowed our list to five boy names, and then we couldn’t really decide,” she told Us Weekly, adding that the name was first suggested by her mother-in-law. “She suggested Bear or Blu, and I loved them both.”

Silverstone, in all her PETA-supporting, meat-eschewing, decrease-your-carbon-footprint touting glory, is clearly in another world from most new moms selecting the perfect name for their newborn – how many people can say that their mothers or in-laws suggested their child’s almost too unique name?

Silverstone told Us that most people find the name “really cute.” It certainly is – and with cool, sustainable living TV adventurer Bear Grylls sporting the name, it’s definitely a name right in Silverstone’s wheelhouse. But if there’s one thing that comes to mind when thinking about bears, it’s probably fear. Bears are one of few animals that, though they don’t feast on humans as part of a regularly balanced diet, can and have often reminded humanity that they’re not entirely alone at the top of the food chain. For someone like Silverstone who doesn’t eat meat, the name is ever more perfect for her.

And Silverstone isn’t the only one who likes the name’s cute-yet-tough exterior. Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and wife Jools welcomed their first son in September 2010, and named him Buddy Bear Maurice. Not only is his given name right on trend with other dog-to-human monikers like Rex and Buster, but his second name, Bear, has been known to belong to its fair share of large, hairy dogs. (The second middle name, Maurice, was for Oliver’s father, who died of a stroke in 1997.) Following their three daughters – each given cute, flowery names that have only grown in popularity since his use, Poppy Honey Rosie, Daisy Boo Pamela, and Petal Blossom Rainbow, the Olivers went for cool and masculine with their first son.

So, too, did Red Hot Chili Peppers frontman Anthony Kiedis, who welcomed son Everly Bear in October 2007. Explaining the choice, Kiedis said, “We had a long list of names, but I suppose it came to me by way of the Everly Brothers, which is one of my favorite bands. And sometimes last names make good first names. The mama came up with Bear. That made sense to me because I feel like I’m part of the bear clan, and I think it’s nice to have a little bit of earth in your name.”

Kiedis has long claimed he is “1/4 Apache,” and is deeply in touch with his Native American roots. Though his grandfather, Anton Kiedis, left Lithuania for Ellis Island and eventually settled in Michigan, the Dutch on his maternal grandmother’s side intermarried with the Mohawk Indians originally in what was then New Amsterdam (now NYC). Kiedis sports an Indian totem tattoo covering half his back, and has a tattoo on each shoulder – the right features Sitting Bull, the great Native American Sioux chief, and the left features Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce tribe, known as “The Thunder Travelling to the Loftier Mountain Heights.” Kiedis has also used his fame to bring attention to the issues facing Native Americans in modern North America (land rights and loss of culture among them).

The Mohawk Indian nation is divided into three clans – Wolf, Turtle, and Bear. Clans are still relevant in modern Native American culture, though today most Indian nations are made up of members from various clans. In Mohawk teachings, members of the bear clan are fierce warriors, especially when protecting their young.

Archaologists have found some evidence of bear worship in ancient northern cultures – revered all over Europe, the bear is the national emblem of Russia, the largest country in the world, and of the cities Bern, Switzerland, and Berlin, Germany, among others.

Bears have also featured in myth and history. The story of Corbinian’s Bear tells the story of a 7th Century German bishop who was travelling to Rome when a bear killed his pack horse. Instead of kill the bear, the saint ordered it to carry his luggage the rest of the way. When they arrived, Saint Corbinian let the bear go. The story makes obvious reference to the region’s adoption of Christianity from paganism. The bear was used to symbolize Christianity’s “taming” of the “ferocity” of pagan religions.

Then, of course, there’s the story of Calliope and Arcas in Greek mythology. Zeus fell in love with mortal huntress Calliope, and out of jealousy she was turned into a large bear by Zeus’ wife, Hera. Realizing his mother had gone missing, Calliope’s son Arcas travelled into the woods to search for her. Upon seeing him in the woods, Calliope charged excitedly towards her son – but all Arcas saw was a large hunkering bear headed straight for him – he raised his bow and arrow towards the bear, not knowing she was his beloved mother. Zeus could see what was about to happen and could not undo Hera’s spell, so instead he quickly turned Arcas into a smaller bear and, grabbing both bears by their tails, threw them into the stars where they would be safe and immortal. But Hera had the last laugh, moving the big bear and little bear to the part of the sky that never sets, so Calliope and Arcas are still hanging out there, enduring an eternity without rest. (Their constellations are known as Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, Latin for Great Bear and Little Bear – also known in North America as the Big and Little Dipper – the two most recognizable constellations in the night sky of the Northern Hemisphere.

The name Bear is not a charter around the world – it’s still too out there, still considered more a noun than a name (see Clover), but it certainly shows room to grow. Even as a nickname, Bear has been around since the 1960s – legendary American college football coach Bear Bryant (born Paul, his nickname stuck after he agreed to wrestle a captive bear during a theatre promotion in 1926, when he was just 13 years old) led the University of Alabama Crimson Tide to six national championships before his death in 1982.

My advice? A name like Bear will make people’s minds up about your child long before they actually get to know him (or her, if you’re really interested in this name for a girl) because everyone has already made their minds up about bears. Be prepared for opinions, but if you’re a spiritual, earthy type, or even athletic, this name is splendid, strong, and full of power.

Of course, you could also just go with a name that means “bear” – choose from a long list that includes Orson (Latin for “bear”, an old French fable tells the story of a boy named Orson, reared by a bear in the forest), Arthur (possibly derived from the Celtic word artos, meaning “bear”), the Old French/German name Bernard, which means “strong, brave bear”, Old Norse Bjorn, which is immensely popular in Scandinavian nations and means “bear”, and the Hebrew name Dov also means “bear.” Feeling both medieval and regal? The name Auberon/Oberon is Old French/German for “noble bear,” ironically juxtaposed by William Shakespeare, who made Oberon the King of the Fairies in his A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Of all the names, old fashioned Arthur’s the only one even slightly on trend, selected by Selma Blair for her firstborn son on July 25th, Arthur Saint Bleick, and of course, everyone’s familiar with the tales of King Arthur, including the Sword in the Stone, the Knights of the Round Table, and the love triangle with Guinevere and Sir Lancelot. Orson has experienced minuscule periods of resurgence in North America, thanks due to legendary Hollywood players like Orson Welles and Orson Bean. The name was selected by Six Feet Under star Lauren Ambrose for her son, Orson Halcyon, in January 2007.

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§ 4 Responses to About A Name: Bear

  • There’s something about Bear that’s very appealing – it’s hard not to think of cuddly teddy bears, and after all, you can call boys Teddy, so why not Bear? 🙂

    However, I must confess to adoring bears, so I’m pretty biased. Although I admit they are also one of the scarier wild animals.

    • namemuststay says:

      Don’t get me wrong – bears may be vicious if you get too close, but I’d even say that’s probably more reason to revere them! And it’s true, Bear is so sweet on one hand, and powerful on the other. Jury’s still kind out on whether or not the name could suit a grown man who isn’t a TV star, though…A lawyer named Bear? I could see it!

      • My brother’s nickname is “Bear” – not based on his name or anything logical like that – so maybe I’m used to seeing it on a regular guy.

        (I just remembered, “bear” is a gay reference too – something that may put some people off?)

      • namemuststay says:

        I’m not familiar with it as a gay term; it’s not in use in my neck of the woods, at least that I’m aware of!

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