Tree of Names: The Wainwright-McGarrigle-Cohens

November 30, 2011 § 7 Comments

(c) Neal Preston/Corbis: Leonard Cohen with his photographer daughter, Lorca.

Following my last post on “Life” Names, I touched on this extended Canadian-American folk music family, and was inspired enough to devote a whole post to the collection of interesting, generally unique names.

Leonard Norman Cohen is considered by many a poetic musical genius, having written everything from “Suzanne” to “Tower of Song” to the haunting, often covered “Hallelujah.” He was born in Montreal in 1934, of Lithuanian Jewish ancestry, the son of Nathan Bernard Cohen, a clothing store owner, and Masha. Nathan died in 1944, leaving Masha to care for Leonard and his elder sister, Esther. His paternal grandfather Lyon Cohen was once president of the Canadian Jewish Congress. Lyon married Rachel Friedman in 1891 and had three sons – Nathan, Horace Rives, and Lawrence Zebulon, as well as a daughter, Sylvia Lillian Cohen.

The hit song Suzanne was written for Suzanne Verdal, the wife of Cohen’s friend, Quebecois sculptor Armand Vaillancourt, and not for artist Suzanne Elrod, who is the mother of Cohen’s two children. (Instead, she was reportedly “The Gypsy’s Wife.”) Son Adam was born in 1972, and daughter Lorca was born in 1974. Lorca was named for early 20th Century Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca, whose work Cohen first started reading while in high school. He has said of the poet, “I love him. I named my daughter Lorca, so he is not a passing interest in my life.”

(c) Adriel Reboh/, 2008: Rufus Wainwright and his longtime boyfriend Jorn Wiesbrodt show the love after a New York concert in August 2008.

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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.

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About A Name: Kennedy

November 27, 2011 § 3 Comments

Jaqueline and John F. Kennedy inspired this name’s current popularity in North America.

I felt the urge to write about this very Irish-American name. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated 48 years ago this week (November 22nd), and his death, and naturally, his relationship with Marilyn Monroe, has been brought to the media forefront once again in various stories. Perhaps it’s just irony that country musician Justin Moore on Monday welcomed his second daughter – Kennedy Faye (the middle name a tribute to Moore’s grandmother) – in Arkansas with his wife Kate. Their first daughter, Ella Kole, was born 21 months ago.

Kennedy is a Gaelic surname – or it was, almost exclusively, before John F. Kennedy became the youngest-ever leader of the United States, and subsequently the youngest-ever assassinated president in American history at the age of 46. He died a father of two children under six, was working hard to protect America from the threats of the Cold War, had proposed an end to segregation in schools as part of the American Civil Rights Act that passed after his death in 1964, and he had put millions of dollars into the American space program as the US raced the Soviets to the moon.

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About A Name: Clemency

November 23, 2011 § 3 Comments

The dove of peace is a symbol of the virtue of clemency.

I like when a blogger spots a name trend before it happens, which was exactly the case with Lou at Mer de Noms. In late October she offered up some alternatives to Clementine, wildly popular right now in her native Britain (perhaps thanks in large part to a one Mrs. Clementine Churchill). Among them was Clemency, which falls in line with other noun or adjective (virtue) names that are a hot trend right now, like Noble, Sunny, or Trendy. (Footballer Gabriel Zakuani went with Trendy for his new baby boy – his wife works in fashion; he loves Twitter – I wish I could, but I can’t, even if this blog focuses on name trends, and there’s nothing more trendy than Trendy.) In general, the trend has a lot to say about revered character traits, the sorts of positive virtues you wish upon your baby – which is perhaps another reason why Trendy is just…trendy…and nothing more.

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About A Name: Casper

November 20, 2011 § 4 Comments

(c) Jeffrey Mayer/JTM; The name of Jason Lee's three-year-old daughter was finally announced earlier this month.

It’s the least surprising, most surprising name trend of the year.

Much was made while I was in Japan of the announcement – finally – of actor Jason Lee’s daughter’s name, three years after she was born. (Further rumours state that her middle name is probably Alice, as per You Can’t Call It ‘It’.) Lee’s eight-year-old son with actress Beth Riesgraf is Pilot Inspektor, a much-maligned celeb baby name given as an homage to the 2000 song “He’s Simple, He’s Dumb, He’s the Pilot” by indie rock band Grandaddy.

Seems fitting that his daughter’s name, kept out of the spotlight for three years probably because of the attention paid to his son’s name, is just as dubious. Casper is not only traditionally a male name, it’s primary association is with Casper the Friendly Ghost, a – male – 20th Century cartoon figure. The Friendly Ghost has made the name nearly untouchable for modern baby boys, let alone girls.

Yet what’s almost ironic is that public reaction to Casper Alice Lee is far different than reaction to Pilot (which isn’t so awful – my cousin’s son is named Wolfgang Pilot; he’s adorable, and I’m on board), perhaps because the nickname Cassie is so easy to take from the name. It might have something to do with the general trend towards girls’ names that sound a lot like it. There’s Harper, for one, while Vesper (like the Bond Girl, Vesper Lynd) is another that’s gaining steam, and on the YCCII post, Anna at Waltzing More Than Matilda commented that she had been waiting for a little girl named Jasper, but this one popped up first. (I have to agree with Anna – we live in a world where female Jaspers are not that far off!) It’s even similar to Aspen, which in some cases avoids it’s pole dancer tendencies to sound free-spirited or upper class.

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About A Name: Natalie

November 19, 2011 § 6 Comments

The mysterious case of Natalie Wood’s drowning has been reopened, just in time to mark the 30th anniversary of her death, and the start of the Christmas season.

With news Friday that the mysterious case of Natalie Wood‘s drowning death on November 29, 1981 is being reopened by the LA County Sheriff’s Department, I thought it fitting to feature a name whose modern popularity is inspired almost entirely by this tragic Hollywood starlet. The name’s popularity became SO huge as a direct result of Natalie Wood, that the true nature of its inspiration seemed to disappear and it’s been used anyway, much like Ava.

My best friend was named for Natalie Wood, born three years after Wood’s death. My cousin was named Natalie in 1997, her name no longer in honour of Natalie Wood, but selected as a top choice for girls – a name that lacks many “bully” nicknames (apart from the word ‘fat’), sounds beautiful, is on the fringe of Biblical, and by now its use, though still strong, has dropped from being given to almost 11,000 baby girls a year in the US to under 9,000. So today, a baby girl named Natalie today has less likelihood of being one of three in her class (it happened to my friend) – she might just be one of two!

Natalie Wood’s name was chosen for her – born Natalia Nikolaevna Zakharenko in San Francisco to an ambitious Russian stagemother named Maria and her father, Nikolai, studio bosses named her Natalie Wood long before she became a child star in the original Miracle on 34th Street. Though her father had changed the family name to Gurdin from Zakharenko, she spoke fluent Russian and often went by Natasha at home – she never liked her Hollywood name. But that name became synonymous with beauty and style throughout her high profile Hollywood career. She received Oscar nominations for Rebel Without A Cause, which she starred in with James Dean, and Splendor in the Grass, in which she starred with her then real-life beau, Warren Beatty. She had a like-named daughter, Natasha, in 1970 with her second husband, producer Robert Gregson, though Natasha was raised by actor Robert Wagner, Wood’s first and third husband. Wood and Wagner had their own daughter together, Courtney, in 1974.

The circumstances of Woods’ death – she’s presumed to have drowned on board she and Wagner’s yacht, the Splendour, off the coast of California – have long been discussed. Wood couldn’t swim, Wagner swears she wasn’t depressed, but an autopsy revealed she was intoxicated at the time of her death. Though rumours have always swirled regarding Wagner’s role in her death, the Sheriff’s Dept. has already said he’s not a suspect, which adds mystery to why the case is being reopened almost 30 years later.

And now, a look at the name behind the woman who inspired one of the most popular girls’ names of the last 30 years.

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Japanese Names

November 18, 2011 § 6 Comments

Mitaki Temple in Hiroshima.

Japan is a gorgeous country, and it happens to have some people with beautiful, meaningful names – many of which could find a place right at home in North America. Plenty of them have, even if their Japanese heritage and meaning hasn’t been the primary consideration, and they come from somewhere else.

Akira is Japanese for “anchor” and was used on Johnny Knoxville’s son, Rocko Akira, in 2009. And Gina is Japanese for “silvery,” but is primarily known and used as a derivative of the Hebrew name Jean, a female form of Gene. Kaede is a Japanese female name for “maple leaf,” something that makes me smile as a Canadian. In North America, it’s found use among boys. Kane is considered a name only suitable for boys in Japan, and means “putting together” as in one’s finances. Dai (see Dae) is a female name meaning “great.” Rising Hana is Japanese for “flower.”

Earlier this year, actress Mariska Hargitay adopted daughter Amaya Josephine – in Japanese, Amaya means “night rain.” Another heavy trender, Kaiya, is Japanese for “forgiveness.” Shina, more popularly known in it’s Irish form as Sheena, in Japanese means “virtue, good.”

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