A friend of mine wrote a post about names last week that provided the inspiration for this post (he doesn’t post very often, but everything he writes is worth reading. Check out his blog here). He didn’t cover any of my main points — he took the discussion in a Biblical direction that I’m largely going to ignore for this post, but which I certainly find intriguing.
It has been several years now since I started researching names and wondering about the importance of name meanings. The meaning of my own name is hard to pin down, and searching for its origins lead me to looking up names of people I know, which lead me to collecting other names that I like.
Meaning of Names
In many cultures, names are something to be taken very seriously. Sometimes it is the meaning of the name which is important in determining a child’s destiny and character. Sometimes names are changed after a major event in a person’s life, as when God changed Abram’s name to Abraham and Sarai’s name to Sara (Gen. 17:4-6, 15-16). Some belief systems say that knowing someone’s name gives one power over them, and certain cultures make a practice of keeping true names a secret.
My own name has a confusing array of meanings. My mother tells me she saw the meaning “wished-for child” and that was what she thought my name meant when she and my dad named me. Since then, I have seen several different possible meanings for “Marissa” depending on which name/word it is derived from. If it is from the Hebrew mara, my name means “bitterness.” If it is from the Latin maris, then my name means “of the sea.” The “wished-for child” meaning is apparently associated with the Hebrew in some way, but I can find little information on it. Usually, I go with “of the sea” as my name meaning.
I think part of the reason I like reading about, collecting, and researching names so much is that I’m a writer and all my characters need names. Some writers pay very close attention to the names they give their characters, and fit either the meaning or a historic significance to the character. For example, the character Cecil in A Room With A View by E.M. Forster is figuratively blind in many ways. His name is of Latin origin, and means “blind.”
In my own writings, one of my favorite characters is a man named Bryant. His name is from the Irish, and means “strong, virtuous, and honorable.” From another story set in the same world, Jamen has a name derived from Benjamin and meaning “son of the right hand.” He and his twin brother are vying for their father to name one his heir, and Jamen would like nothing more than to be his father’s right hand.
My Favorite Names
Some of the names I collect have nothing to do with my fiction. There are a few names I like that I would be hesitant to use in my writings because I might like to give the name to a child some day. I don’t think I would want want my children to think I named them after one of my fictional characters. Typically for these names, I try to put them together so the first and middle names have meanings that fit together. Most of them are just names I like, but Eileen was also my Grandmother’s name and Renee is my sister’s middle name.