What’s in a Name?

Our names are part of what defines us. A name can reveal your country of origin, a favorite flower, a family name passed down through the generations, or created anew. Some people love their names; others despise them, change them, and choose a new one. A lot of weight can be associated with a name.

The name Ariel comes from ancient times, even mentioned in Bible prophecies. Shakespeare named a prankish (male) spirit Ariel in “The Tempest,” and much later, Disney chose Ariel as the name for the main character in “The Little Mermaid,” with the name peaking in popularity in 1991.

In The Tempest, the spirit Ariel displays only positive characteristics, is very empathetic, which works perfectly to reveal the lack of empathy of the other characters in the play. In The Little Mermaid, Ariel’s deepest desire is to explore the human world and experience freedom. Empathy and a quest for freedom – what could be a better concept in a name!

The Study of Names

Research into names is a science called onomatology. This science covers names for both people and places. Behind every name is a story. When choosing a name for a child, a dog, a cat, a band, or a company, selecting a name could take days, weeks, or longer, as a name is not a minor issue. In fact, the UN has enshrined the right to a name in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, in this phrase: 

“The child shall … have the right from birth to a name, the right to acquire a nationality and, as far as possible, the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents.”

It makes sense! Your name can be a big deal. My dog Frankie has a name that suits a French Bulldog – In the early Middle Ages, the Franks controlled the area that is now France, and is the origin of the country’s name. It’s also a cute name for a sweet little dog.

State and City Names

The origin of the state name Oregon is in contention but is believed by many historians to be connected to the Algonquian word “wauregan” which means “the beautiful,” which Oregon certainly is, with its mountain ranges, rushing rivers, and rugged coastline. The city name “Portland” is just one of thirty Portlands in the USA, the best known being Portland, Maine and Portland, Oregon. In Portland Oregon, the name was chosen by the flip of a coin when it was first laid out. It was named after Portland, Maine, but had the coin landed on the other side, the city would have been named Boston!

The name “America” goes back to the Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci, who had the revolutionary idea that Christopher Columbus had landed on a separate continent. An early map from 1507 was the first time the continent was first named “America,” which is a Latin version of the name “Amerigo.”

Naming is a unique part of the human experience, and names travel through time, telling stories about who we are, where we come from, and reflect the hopes and dreams of our parents.

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