Monday, January 31, 2011


A few days ago I read a lovely story about how a couple arrived at the name for their daughter. The name? Nona. I looked at the name and thought, "?" And I'll tell you why I thought "?" I'm half Italian-American, and all my life the only way I heard Nona was as the Italian word for "grandma." And I commented saying so.

As soon as I hit "publish," I felt like I was a terrible person. Who was I to tell them anything bad about the name of their already-born daughter? Well, I guess someone else is going to say something about it eventually if they haven't heard it already...that's not a valid excuse is it? I should just learn when to shut my mouth. So to Nona's parents, I'm sorry. To show properly that I'm sorry, I'll spread the knowledge by giving Nona a profile.

Nona (pronounced "NOH-nah") was last in the United States popularity charts in the 1960's. It's peak was in the 1890s at #317. Sometimes it's used as the short form of Winona, a Sioux name meaning "eldest daughter." But by itself, it's a Latin name meaning "ninth," and also the name of a Roman goddess.

Along with her sisters, Decima and Morta, Nona was part of the Parcae. Otherwise known as The Fates. The Fates control the destiny of all living things. Even the Gods feared The Fates. Nona's job was to spin the thread of life from her distaff to her spindle. Because of her association with the number nine, Nona was the Roman goddess of pregnancy. How could I not know this? I played one of the Weird Sisters in Macbeth, they're based on The Fates!

Since it's an established name that's been around for a while, there's a lot of namesakes for Nona. One of these is Strega Nona, Italian for "Grandma Witch" (again with the grandma thing, sorry, but it's witchy). Strega Nona is a popular children's book by Tomie DePaola whose story is very similar to The Sorceror's Apprentice. Strega Nona takes on an apprentice. While she's away, the apprentice casts a spell that he can't stop, so the cauldron won't stop making spaghetti and meatballs. Pretty soon spaghetti and meatballs cover the whole town. I fail to see why this is a disaster. Anyways, Strega Nona saves his bacon.

I guess that I should point out that the Italian word for "grandma" is more often spelled nonna. And Nona does have a melodic sound to it, and I do like it. But my unfamiliarity caused me to stumble. Next time I stumble, I'll just smile and nodd. Then I'll look it up.


Image Credit:
found via


Yes, I know that this sounds like it could be Cheetara's sister, but trust me. It is a name.

Teigra (pronounced "TEE-grah") is a Greek name meaning, you guessed it, "tigeress." If you believe in the Chinese zodiac, we are in the last few days of the Year of the Tiger, until February 3th when it turns into the Year of the Rabbit (and I've got a nice rabbit name waiting in the queue for the end of the week). The Chinese belief is that people born in the year of the tiger are sensitive, deep thinkers, but are also hot headed. They don't have a great respect for authority, but are courageous and powerful. Of course, tigers were much more abundant in Ancient China then they are now.

The tiger's habitat used to be a lot larger, spreading throughout all of Asia. They would have existed as far west as Mesopotamia, so it makes sense that the Ancient Greeks would be familiar with the animal. It's no surprise that there's a lot of mythology and literature centered around this creature.

-In Ancient China, the tiger was the emblem of the highest ranking General. The Dragon and Phoenix would have been the emblems of the Emperor and Empress, respectively.
-The Hindu goddess Durga rides a tiger into battle.
-The weretiger is the shape shifting animal of Asia, replacing the werewolf.
-The tiger is the national animal of India, Nepal, Bangladesh, and North and South Korea.
-In the beloved comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, Hobbes is a stuffed tiger that comes to life.
-In the bestselling novel Life of Pi, a boy named Pi is stuck on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger.
-According to a poll by Animal Planet, the tiger is the world's favorite animal.

Despite our love for the tiger, they are very endangered animals. Due to habitat destruction and hunting, three of the nine subspecies are already extinct. The hunting of tigers throughout the ages were done for three reasons, first because there is a genuine fear of tiger attacks. Tigers kill the most humans than any other wild cat, even though they are not part of their regular diet. Secondly, they used to be killed for sport. The third reason is to get a hold of their body parts for profit. There's the obvious allure of tiger fur, but also many Chinese people believe that tiger parts can be used for medicine and aphrodisiacs. Tiger parts trade is illegal, but there are farms breeding tigers specifically for this purpose.

I've seen this name pop up on lists of Wiccan names and some other baby name websites, so it's reasonably legitimate. But when I made the Thudercats joke, I did have a point. Teigra does have kind of a cartoon (for lack of a better word) feel to it. It looks made up, because I don't think this was used as a name in Greece. So it doesn't have a history. Also, I can't picture a shy girl named Teigra. You need to be an outgoing person to carry this name. But if you're daring and you're looking for a strong girl's name, Teigra's your gall.


Image Credit:

Saturday, January 29, 2011


Can you guess which name inspires the most vitriolic statements? No, it's not Jezebel. Nor is it a name with kre8tiv spelling, or a name that looks "old," or the name of an unsavory character or celebrity. In my experience it's actually Pink, a boys name from antiquity that's unlikely to ever be used again.

Pink as a boys name experienced it's peak in the United States in the 1880s at #367, the first time that the government started recording name popularity. There was also the feminine Pinkie at #419, and the masculine Pinkney at #747. By the 1910s, Pink disappeared. Today, if Pink is used at all it's used as a girl's name. So where does this name come from and why was it masculine?

Some sources say that Pink is a short form of Patrick. Patrick is a name that a lot of Neo-Pagans have a real animosity towards because of Saint Patrick. The reason he's a saint is because he "drove the snakes out of Ireland." Since there have never been any snakes in Ireland, that's obviously code for something. And snakes were the sacred symbol of the Druids at that time, so it most likely means that he drove Paganism out of Ireland.

Another explanation is that at the time pink really was the color for boys. Before the 1880s, there was no tradition in place that determined who wore what color. And all babies, regardless of gender, wore white dresses. But in the early twentieth century, ideas about child rearing were changing. Clothing that allowed for more freedom of movement for crawling became the norm, as did a wider range of colors. It was during this time that there was a real push for boys to wear pink.

Pink was thought to be the stronger of the colors. In both Christian and Pagan traditions, red is male. For Christians it's the blood of Christ, for Pagans it's the element of fire. So it made sense for them to use red's little sibling pink. Blue, on the other hand, was associated with paintings of the Virgin Mary, but also the moon and the goddess Diana. Therefore, blue was feminine. It wasn't until WWII, when blue was used extensively for men's uniforms, that blue became the color for boys. In the 1950s, the slogan "Think Pink" promoted femininity, and dressing girls in pink was part of conditioning women to embrace their stereotypical roles.

I'm not going to repeat what some people have said about this name, because I think you all can guess. But most of it is unnecessarily angry. Comments that make me think, "Uh...okay. Why are you getting so worked up over this?" I'm not a huge fan of Pink either, for a boy or a girl. So I just don't use it. I don't try my hardest to convince other people not to use it. But the sad truth in America is that gender matters. A lot. A lot of parents would consider it totally sexist and abhorrent to discourage a little girl from wearing blue, but what about discouraging a boy from wearing pink?

I think I answered my own question when I was pondering if Baphomet was the most controversial name. Pink wears the crown, and that's a tragic statement about our culture.


Image Credit:
"Pink Boy" by Thomas Gainsborough via


Tomorrow marks the birthday of Zsuzsanna Budapest, Feminist Witch and founder of the Dianic tradition. What a great name that is, isn't it?

Zsuzsanna Emese Mokcsay was born in 1940 in Budapest, Hungary. Her mother, Masika Szilagyi, was also a witch and a medium, and exposed her to her beliefs early on. Zsuzsanna (pronounced "zoo-SAH-nah") grew up during a turbulent time in postwar Europe under Russian occupation. This environment made her fiercely political. When the Hungarian Revolution broke out in 1956, she became one of the many political refugees that left the country. She eventually immigrated to the United States. It is unclear when she changed her name to Z. Budapest.

At the age of thirty, she became involved as an activist in the women's liberation movement. But Z. felt that feminism was lacking a spiritual core. So she created the Women's Spirituality Movement, and founded the Susan B. Anthony Coven Number 1, the first feminist witch's coven. As the years have gone by, Z.'s teachings have become extremely controversial. Dianic it doesn't acknowledge the Horned God and her covens only accept women (although the only Dianic Priest I've ever met was a man), but that's only the half of it. In two PangeaCons (the largest annual indoor convention of Neo-Pagans), Z. Budapest refuses to accept transgendered women into her rituals, stating, "Women are born, not made by men on operating tables."

In 1975, Z. was arrested for reading Tarot cards to an undercover policewoman. At the time, fortune telling was still against the law. She was the first witch to be persecuted since the Salem Witch Trials. It blows my mind that something so harmless was illegal in this country until recently. She lost the trial, but won the issue. The law was repealed nine years later.

I almost put this name into the Wicca-lite category. It looks exotic, but it really is just Susanna with a few extra "z"s. Susanna is derived from the Hebrew shoshannah which means "lily" or "rose." But it being a variation that not many people outside of Hungary know about coupled with the strong association with a well known Pagan make it very witchy indeed.

It's amazing what the addition of a few letters will do to a name. I'm not terribly fond of Susanna, it's a bit too Little House on the Prairie for my tastes. But Zsuzsanna? Definitely something I would consider for a child. Except that every Neo-Pagan I meet would assume that she's named after Z. Budapest, so perhaps this should only be for someone who really has a connection to her teachings.


Image Credit:
Found via

Friday, January 28, 2011


I think it's a shame that this name isn't more widely used. Ursula is a name with so much rich history, I don't know if I could possibly write it all here. My god, look how many tags this post got!

Let's start at the beginning. Ursula (pronounced "ER-suh-luh") is a diminutive of the Latin name Ursa, which means "she-bear." There are two bear constellations in the night sky, Ursa Major and Ursa Minor.

Ursula was the name of a lot of women who were tried and executed for Witchcraft in the Middle Ages. The popularity of the name at the time was due to the story of a legendary 4th century saint. Ursula was the name of a British princess said to have been martyred along with eleven thousand other Christian virgins. Although there is no historical evidence of Saint Ursula's story, it's believed that she set sail to meet her Pagan husband along with her 11,000 handmaidens (that must have been a big boat!) when a miraculous storm made their trip last only one day. But before she agreed to marry, she wanted to make a pilgrimage to Rome. On the way, her and all her handmaidens were killed by the Huns.

The popularity of this name in the United States used to be pretty high, never really leaving the charts. In the 1970s it peaked at #604, but it also enjoyed a high point in 1900s at #500. But by the 1980s the name dropped out completely. And I think we all know the reason why: The Little Mermaid.

Giving the villain the name Ursula was a Disney decision. In the original story by Hans Christian Anderson, the character is just called the Sea Witch. And she's not evil, but she's not really good either. She's a neutral character. She knows that what the Little Mermaid is asking for is not a good idea, but enables her anyway. Despite this, people have a hard time shaking the evil octopus-woman image. Up until a short while ago, I had the same problem with it.

But maybe not everyone will. The name has other namesakes like the hugely popular fantasy/science fiction novelist Ursula Le Guin. Ursula is the name of a character in the novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, the Shakespeare play Much Ado About Nothing, an incidental character in the Harry Potter world, and the movie version of Beowulf. There is also a college named after Saint Ursula in Cincinnati, Ohio.

It's a common practice for Neo-Pagans to honor the people who were killed during "The Burning Times" by taking their names, so it's a perfect name for us. Elsewhere, the name seems to be slowly gaining acceptance again. I did see that someone has a daughter named Ursula on the design website Oh Dee Doh. Although even without The Little Mermaid association, the name does have a dark sound to it. But take hope, Ursula lovers! It might be time for the name to make a comeback.


Image Credit:

Thursday, January 27, 2011


There are a lot of -dora names out there: Isadora, Theodora, Pandora, and, oh yeah, Nymphadora. But out of all the -dora names, Musidora is one of the most under appreciated and rarely used.

Musidora (pronounced "myew-sih-DOOR-ah") is a Greek name meaning "gift of the muses." The Greek mousa was a common word meaning "song" or "poem." The Muses are the goddesses who inspire the creation of all forms of literature and the arts. The Greeks would commonly invoke the muses at the beginning of an epic poem or hymn, stating that they were the true speaker, for whom the author is merely a vessel for the work to travel through. In ancient Greek mythology there were actually a lot of Muses with different names depending on who you ask. But the earliest record mentions three original Muses named Aoide ("voice"), Melete ("practice"), and Mneme ("memory"). And isn't that all you really need to create art?

It wasn't until the Renaissance that we had the nine muses that we know today. Neoclassical artist were obsessed with Ancient Greek and Roman culture. There were many emblem books that helped standardize how these mythical figures were portrayed in art, giving them different props to hold, so that they were instantly recognizable to the viewer. These new Muses stuck, and are often taught in books and schools today. There's Calliope (for epic poetry), Clio (history), Erato (love poetry), Euterpe (lyric poetry), Melpomene (tragedy), Polyhymnia (sacred poetry), Terpsichore (choral dance and song), Thalia (comedy), and Urania (astronomy).

There used to be cults devoted to the Muses, and shrines to the Muses were made to promote civic harmony and learning in Greek cities. The ancient Library of Alexandria is said to have had a shrine to the Muses. Many Enlightenment figures such as Benjamin Franklin and Voltaire sought to reinstitute "the cult of the Muses" in the 1700s. This tradition is where the use of the word "museum" comes from.

Depending on how eclectic you're film tastes are, you might recognize Musidora as the name of a silent film actress from France. Born Jeanne Roques, she adopted this name to fit the vamp persona that she wanted to embody. With her exotic wardrobe and heavily kohled eyes, she was an instantly recognizable presence in Europe. She stared in many popular avante garde pictures, including the series Les Vampires, which has nothing to do with vampires. She also directed and wrote some of her own movies.

In America, the name would be very unusual. I don't think many people even know it exists, unless you're aware of incidental characters from the Harry Potter world. I also don't know if there is a version of this name for boys. Masculine variations of -dora names usually end in -dore or -doros. But if there is such a name as Musidore or Musidoros, I've never come across it. Doesn't mean you can't be the first though. I think all the versions sound dark, syrupy, and sophisticated, if that makes any sense. I'm in love with Musidora and would definitely consider it for a daughter.


Image Credit:
I can't remember where I found this image.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


As it turns out, the stone for Aquarius is also the "official" birthstone for January. So you get the best of both worlds today.

The name Garnet (pronounced "GAHR-net") could come from the English gernet, meaning "dark red," or from the Latin granatus, meaning "grain." The last meaning could be referencing pomegranate seeds, which have a similar color and shape to the gemstone. Garnets are mostly known for having a very deep, dark red color. But they come in a variety of other colors as well including green, orange, yellow, and brown.

Garnets are found all over the world, but they are particularly abundant in East Africa, Australia, parts of Europe, and South America. They were the most commonly used gemstone late in the Roman era. Artisans used them as gemstone inlays for sword hilts and jewelry. Garnet sand is a good abrasive, and is often turned into sand paper and used in water filtration systems.

This gemstone has been used for a number of magickal purposes as well. Because the deep red this stone is known for is reminiscent of the color of menstrual blood, it's associated with fertility. Women would sometimes wear it around their waist to help their cycle. The garnet is believed to draw happiness, peace, patience, creativity, and sexuality. It's also used to revitalize the bloodstream. Garnets are believed to protect the wearer against thieves. It's said that whoever steals a garnet is cursed until they return the gemstone to it's rightful owner.

Garnet is a name that appeared on the American popularity charts for both boys and girls around the same time. In the 1910s, Garnet was ranked #428 for girls and #906 for boys. There was also a version of this name with an unnecessary added t at the end that was also most popular in the 1910s. Since it was popular in my Great-Grandmother's generation, it might sound fresh to new parents and be ready for a resurgence.

This name is somewhere in between Ruby and Topaz. It's a recognized name but it's not currently abundant. As far as I can tell it has no obvious nickname, so if you're not a fan of nicknames Garnet's a good option. It's also unisex in the best possible way. I wouldn't think, "Oh, they must have wanted a boy," if parents gave this name to their daughter. And I wouldn't worry about a son getting picked on. I love names that both genders can share happily.


Image Credit:


Hah! You didn't think I could find a name even more controversial than Jezebel, did you? Did you?

Seriously, I don't want to have to talk about this name and the character that embodies it. But I know that bigots are going to come onto this website sooner or later, and I know that I have to straighten some things out about this particular idol. I figured that sooner was better than later.

So where does this name come from? Basically the knights of the crusades really screwed up Muhammad's name. The name first appeared in a poem written in the 1100s. Baphomet (pronounced "BAF-oh-meht," I think) is mostly associated with the Knights Templar, a Christian military order that was suppressed in the 1300s. When Templar members were arrested and tortured into confessions, the name Baphomet came up a lot in reference to an idol they were worshipping.

A lot of pseudo-history texts appeared about Baphomet after the Knights Templar were suppressed. In the 1800s, a French occult author named Eliphas Devi connected the name to the goat-headed creature that we associate it with today. His book Dogma's and Rituals of High Magic included the image of winged-humanoid with a goat's head, a pair of breasts, and a pentagram on it's forehead (the pentagram is an ancient symbol of protection that was originally from Babylonia and Greece that looks like a five point star. It's the most important symbol for Wiccans, but unfortunately has also become associated with Satanists.)

Does Baphomet have anything to do with Satanists? Possibly. I don't know what Satanists do and I don't want to find out. Does he have anything to do with Neo-Pagans? No. All forms of Neo-Paganism are based on ancient teachings and traditions. Baphomet isn't ancient, he's a relatively new invention. He's not in any recognized pantheon. He's a Christian creation.

I can not picture this name on a person at all. The character just freaks too many people out. If an adult wants to give this name to himself, that's his business. I assume it's been done since most everything's been done. Without knowing the association the name sounds cool, I'll give it that. But it would be the same as naming a kid Adolph Hitler, it suggests a disregard for the rest of society. I wouldn't allow my kids to go play in the home of a kid named Baphomet.

So what do you think? Is this the most controversial name?


Image Credit:


Once in a while I see someone saying how weird and out-there this name is, and I catch myself thinking, "Really? You mean, you don't see this name at least ten times every day?" Then I remember that not everyone spends time reading Pagan books and Wiccan websites on a regular basis. In the Neo-Pagan world, Wolf is in the same league as Raven. It's a very popular magickal name.

Wolf is derived from the Old German name Wolfe which means, oddly enough, "wolf." In researching the cultural impact of these creatures, I found that wolves have kind of a mixed reputation:

-The wolf Fenrir from Norse mythology is the son of the god Loki.
-The Japanese called wolves Ookami, or "great god." Grain farmers prayed to these animals to protect their crops from boars and deer.
-In Greek and Roman mythology, these creatures are associated with the sun god Apollo.
-The founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus, were raised by a wolf.
-In Turkish mythology, wolves were believed to be the ancestors of mankind.
-Navajo Indians believed that wolves were witches in disguise. In fact, the Navajo word for "witch," mai-cob, is the same as "wolf."
-In Pawnee Indian mythology, the wolf is the first creature to experience death.
-Wolves are referenced in the bible as symbols of destructiveness and greed.
-The German fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood, although interpreted in many ways, is thought to be based on the genuine terror of wolf attacks shared by peasants.
-And then, of course, there's the trendy association. Books and movies about werewolves are currently very big, particularly ones directed to teens.

Obviously there's a lot of fear and awe surrounding these canines. This fear persists even though wolves survive in much smaller numbers today and don't like to bother people much (their livestock is another story). Many people who study these creatures will say that these creatures have a more blood-thirsty reputation than they deserve. With the exception of hunting to eat, wolves avoid violence. In the wild, wolves live in nuclear families made up of a mated pair and their cubs. It's most likely us observing this behavior that gave them their "teacher" association. A lot of sources regarding animal totems will state that the wolf represents learning and intuition.

There are quite a lot of wolf names from different cultures. There's the Old German Wolfe, but it could also be a shortened version of Wolfgang and Wolfram (which means "wolf-raven," if you want the best of both names). There's also a lot of older wolf names that are more often seen as surnames: Lupellus, Lupus, Lupin, Lowell, and Lovett. Well, some of these last few are a little problematic. One sounds like a disease and one has a big Harry Potter connection.

I read a comment that said that Wolf wouldn't work on a shy boy. But oddly enough, that's exactly who I picture wearing the name. The quiet leader type. Maybe a little rebellious, but at the same time someone that has a strong sense of justice. It's a name that has a very Native American feel to it to me. But I've heard other's say that the name is too violent. It seems like the wolves in the Pagan imagination and the Christian imagination both have a hold on this name. That shouldn't scare anyone away from it, just be aware. Once the more honorable symbolism of the wolf is explained, naysayers should warm up to the human Wolf in your life.


Image Credit:

Sunday, January 23, 2011


We're going to take a break from the recent overload of Latin and Greek names, and profile something completely different. A lot of people with Native American heritage are attracted to Wicca because the ideals are similar to their traditional beliefs. So it would be foolish not to include some Native American names.

When most people hear the name Pocahontas, they might think of the fanciful story about her presented in the Disney film. They might know only vaguely the historical version behind it. As is to be expected from Disney, this movie has almost nothing to do with the real person.

Pocahontas (pronounced "poh-kah-HAHN-tus") was indeed a princess, and was the beloved daughter of Chief Powhatan. She belonged to the Algonquian tribe which lived in Virginia. There was no chance that she would ever become the ruler because power was passed on through the women and it was her fathers side of the family that was royal. She is described as being a playful, lively, and flirtatious girl.

The first meeting between the around ten-year-old Pocahontas and Captain John Smith is legendary. John Smith believed that Pocahontas saved him from death at the hands of her tribe members. He most likely misinterpreted what was happening. This mock "execution and salvation" was a traditional Native American rite of initiation. Pocahontas wasn't doing anything heroic, she was just performing her part in the ritual. Whatever really happened, John Smith and Pocahontas became friends. However, nothing in historical records suggest that they had a romantic relationship.

Pocahontas is also known for her compassion for the English settlers. She was a frequent visitor to Jamestown, bringing food to trade for other goods. But when hostility worsened between the settlers and the tribesmen, her visits became less frequent. During this time she was married at the age of fifteen to a man named Kocoum (he was depicted in the Disney movie too). What happened with that marriage isn't documented. It is thought that any information regarding her first marriage, and any possible children from it, were destroyed for propaganda reasons.

Her second marriage was to an English tobacco farmer named John Rolfe. She met and fell in love with him while she was kidnapped and in English captivity. John Rolfe was a Christian man who agonized at the thought of marrying a "heathen." So Pocahontas was baptized and given the Christian name Rebecca. No one knows how she felt about her conversion. And no one knows if she was technically still married to Kocoum at the time.

Pocahontas, along with her husband and their son Thomas, set sail to England. Their trip was for publicity purposes, so that the Virginia Company would get more financial support. Pocahontas became a celebrity in London, and was presented to high society and royalty. After seven months, the family decided to sail back home. But Pocahontas would not survive the voyage back. She died from what might have been either pneumonia or tuberculosis. Her body was brought back to England where it was buried. She was only 22 years old.

I've never met anyone named Pocahontas. Pocahontas wasn't even named Pocahontas. That was a nickname meaning "little wanton," "spoiled child," or "little playful one" depending on who you ask. When she was born her name was Amonute, and as she grew up her name was changed to Matoaka. Matoaka means "bright stream between the hills." In her native religion there was the idea that anyone who knew someone's true name could cast spells to harm that person. So the tribe only gave the Englishmen her nickname Pocahontas in order to protect her.

Pocahontas is a positive namesake associated with playfulness, caring, and (although historically inaccurate) romance. It'll show a sense of fun on the part of the namer. However, the memory of the first Pocahontas is hard to detach from. A lot of people couldn't imagine naming their child Pocahontas because of it. But it might not matter to someone who really admires her. One could also use any of her real names to honor her more subtly. No matter what, whoever has this name will have a great woman to look up to.

Other Name News:

A bewitching name sighting! At work I came across Yule! On a woman. Hmm.

Also, Bewitching Names was mentioned over at Appellation Mountain. Thank you, Abby!


Image Credit:
Found via

Saturday, January 22, 2011


Guess what guys! There's a new zodiac sign in that everyone forgot! And I'm apparently a Pisces now!

Wait, what?

Welcome to the madness. Although I must admit to being a little late to the party. On January 13th, Parke Kunkle said to a local paper that the stars do not match up with their zodiac months, and that there is a thirteenth constellation that should be in the zodiac called Ophiuchus. This caused some people, mainly on facebook, to reply, "What? Change...hurting brain....AAAARG."

Despite all the hullabaloo, this actually isn't a new observation. People have been debating the inclusion of Ophiuchus for quite a while (there's also some people who believe in a 14th zodiac sign as well). In fact, the 13 signed version of the zodiac has had some popularity in Japan since 1995. But all this begs the question, who the heck is Ophiuchus?

Ophiuchus is a Greek name meaning "serpent-bearer" (and if he's really going to join the zodiac, should he conform and go by his Latin name, Serpentarius?) According the Greek mythology, the constellation represents the god of medicine and healing, Asclepius. He is also believed to have been a real historical person at one point, or at least a mortal. The physician's staff with the snake wrapped around it is a symbol for medicine even today. Asclepius angered Zeus one day by accepting money for bringing someone back from the dead. Making man immortal upset the natural order of things. So he struck Asclepius with a lightning bolt. But later, he gave him a place in the stars as a god in appreciation for his work.

If you were born between Nov 29th and Dec 17th and would like a little fun, here's what the Ophiuchus personality is supposed to be. They're described as seekers of wisdom and knowledge, peace and harmony, and has aspirations of healing mankind. They attract good luck but also a lot of jealousy from their enemies. They dress flamboyantly and love bright colors. Have enough of this stuff yet? Because really, who doesn't want peace and harmony?

So if you're freaking out thinking that you'll have to replace all of your Sagittarius stuff I'm here to tell you that all this doesn't make the slightest bit of difference even if you do believe in astrology. Because Parke Kunkle was thinking that this all had to do with the placement of the stars. You would think that astrology would have something to do with the placement of the stars, hence the astro-, but that's a rookie muggle mistake. It has to do with the relative position of the sun, moon, and planets throughout the seasons. They're just named after constellations. I mean, come on dude. Even I knew that.

So you see? Everything is the same. Except if you were born in the southern hemisphere. Then everything's switched.

As a name...well...there's nothing particularly wrong with Ophiuchus. I'm just not feeling it. It has a tricky and not particularly appealing pronunciation too ("off-ih-YOU-kuss"). It has a connection to Sailor Moon, of all things. And the pointless debate around it doesn't help my opinion. But to each her own. If you love it, go with it.

"Zodiac Switcheroo" by Belinda Luscombe, Time Magazine Jan 31 2011

Image Credit:


Before I go any further, take a break and go to the nearest bookstore and check out the metaphysics section. It's okay, I'll wait.

Glad to have you back. Now, do you remember the publisher of all those Wiccan books? Chances are most of them were published by a company named Llewellyn Worldwide, which is the largest publisher of Pagan, Occult, and New Age books.

Llewellyn Worldwide (formerly Llewellyn Publications) is named after it's founder Llewellyn George. To the surprise of no one, he's from Portland, Oregon. Guess that city had a lot of alternative folks even back then. Llewellyn started the company mainly in order to publish his astrology pamphlets. In 1906, his first bestseller came out, The Llewellyn Moon Sign Book and Gardening Guide. Another work of his, The A to Z Horoscope Maker and Delineator, is constantly revised and updated today.

After his death in 1954, the company was bought by Carl L. Weschcke. Under new management, the company broadened it's audience, including books about different occult topics and the at-that-point-new Wiccan religion. It went on to publish classics like Scott Cunningham's Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner, Raymond Buckland's Complete Book of Witchcraft, and their many yearly almanacs.

When I started to become interested in Wicca, Llewellyn was the first new name that I saw. I had never seen it before. Turns out Llewellyn (with the tricky pronunciation of "loo-EHL-in," this is another name I've butchered a million times) is a Welsh name derived from the Celtic Lugubelenus. Lugubelenus is a combination of the names of two Celtic gods: Lug and Belenus. Although most baby name books will probably say that the name means "shining one," "lion-like," or "leader." Llewellyn is a traditional name in Whales and was the name of several kings, princes, and poets. Llewellyn has many variations--Fluellen, Leolin, Llew, and Llelo to name a few--and is the great-grandad of the popular boy's name Lewis.

It's popularity rating in America over the years is...strange. It peaked at #741 in the 1890s, shot out of the charts entirely in the 1900s, then peaked again in the 1910s at #808, only to disappear from the charts again by the 1930s. I don't know what to make from it's roller coaster-ish popularity within the span of a relatively short amount of time. What's with the sudden drop in the middle? Maybe another name enthusiast can enlighten me. It's feminine form, Llewella, has never been a popular name in the United States.

The name is very lyrical if you say it right. I might get a lot of angry comments when I say that it almost sounds like it should be for a woman. And yet at the same time it's very manly. Llewellyn is the name of one of the characters in the book and film No Country for Old Men. I don't know if anyone not familiar with the publishing company will see it as Neo-Pagan per se. But it definitely does have a sort of woodsy, knightly atmosphere to it. For that reason Llewellyn is perfect for someone who wants a unique name with a lot of history.


Image Credit:
Found via

Friday, January 21, 2011


People who actually know me are probably thinking, "How was this not your very first profile on this site?" I restrained myself! But my geekiness could not be held back any longer.

Some Neo-Pagans will say that these fantasy witches have nothing to do with us or what we believe in, but they kind of do. When a witch becomes a popular icon, we take notice. Our entire public relations with other people is based on the actions of fictional characters. So when the character is unsavory, or is just poorly done, it's a sore point. No amount of great writing could make me get through The Witches of Eastwick because of it. And I know that I will never in my life touch Rosemary's Baby. However, when someone makes the witch a hero, or creates a thought provoking one, or just gets it right, we're fans. That's why my Wiccan calendar points out the day Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was published, the birthday of Wiccan novelist Starhawk, and the birthday of the actress who played the Witch that would be Elphaba.

In the 1939 film version of The Wizard of Oz, the character of the Wicked Witch of the West is played by Margaret Hamilton. Her previous profession endlessly fascinates me. She worked as a kindergarten teacher. I would have loved to sit in on one of those classes. Anyways, the Wicked Witch is her most famous role. It appears on lists for Best Film Characters and Best Film Villains consistently. During her lifetime, she constantly worried that her performance was too scary for children. But she continued working and had a good sense of humor about her legacy. In a different film, she constantly carries a broom as a joke.

Now, in adapting the classic children's novel by L. Frank Baum, the film makers made a few changes to the Witch. They switched the Witch's method of transportation from magical umbrella to a broom, which is an instantly recognizable witch symbol. They also made the crushed Witch of the East her sister, which makes her hatred of Dorothy understandable. But the most interesting change is kind of a big one. In the book, the Witch was not green.

I wish I knew why they made that decision. I suppose the Witch has green skin for the same reason that there are ruby slippers instead of silver ones, they wanted to show off the new color film technology. But whatever the reason, it was a brilliant choice. The image stuck. And when Gregory Maguire wrote his novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, he expanded on this character. He made her green skin a big part of the forming of her personality. He also gave her a name: Elphaba. Elphaba comes from a phonic pronunciation of L. Frank Baum's initials: L. F. B.

Without giving away any spoilers to those who haven't read it, here is what the Wicked Witch is like in the novel. Elphaba Thropp comes from Munchkinland, and is born with green skin. We don't really know what caused it even though there are several theories presented. She also has a bizarre allergy to water. She never allows herself to cry and only baths herself with oil because of this. Her green skin immediately makes her an outcast no matter where she goes. While in university, many people avoid her because she's perceived as odd and ugly. She wears a lot of black because everything else clashes with her skin tone. She has power that she can't control very well that mostly manifests itself when she's angry. Even though she's clearly upset that her sister is "the favorite," she dutifully cares for her anyways. As a young woman, she's a radical revolutionary. Despite being the daughter of a priest, she's an atheist. She's also a strong supporter of Animal rights (Animals are capable of human thought and speech in Oz). As she grows older, she becomes increasingly disillusioned and bitter. As a result, she does some pretty nasty things.

The way her unusual name is explained in the book is interesting. Elphaba's father is a Priest, he is a very religious man. So his daughter is named after a fabled Saint Aelphaba who disappeared behind a waterfall and reappeared a hundred years later before disappearing behind the waterfall again. This fable connects with the bucket of water that Dorothy splashes on Elphaba, supposedly killing her. Fans of the Wicked series have debated that this means that Elphaba is going to be resurrected in the fourth and last book. Maguire once stated very cryptically, "A witch may die, but she will always come back--always."

Wicked was made into a Broadway musical, and they kept the character mostly the same. What changed the most was the story. The novel is really great at presenting questions about the intricacies of evil and how people become evil in the public mind. There's actually a lot of heavy stuff in it. In contrast, the musical has a very simple message about friendship and learning from people who are different. A lot of adults enjoy the play, but it's made for kids really. Because Elphaba in the musical never really does anything bad, it doesn't have the same darkness that the book does. Not that that's a bad thing. It's fantastic that kids look up to Elphaba!

My love for this name and character is so strong that I was getting really defensive on some other name websites. "I could totally use it for my daughter! The character isn't that well known." But, as much as it breaks my heart, it does have the same challenges as Nymphadora and Rapunzel. A possible upcoming film adaptation of the musical will only intensify the matter. On the other hand, children are given geeky names all the time. I've heard of so many parents that named their sons Ka-lel that it no longer seems odd to me. Aelphaba might be a sneakier way to use this name. And the argument of "Would your really name your daughter after a witch?" doesn't mean anything to us because...well...what do they think we are? But if you're going to give your kid a geeky name, you better hope that she shares your love.

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire

Image Credit:
Photo by Albert Sanchez via

Thursday, January 20, 2011


Some astrological names just don't work on a person. Capricorn? Possible, but not terribly appealing. Virgo? Sounds like the Pagan equivalent of Chastity, if you know what I mean. Libra? If she grows up to be a big girl, it'll sound like a mean joke. Cancer? No, just no.

But Aquarius? Cool and groovy, dude.

Today marks the first day of the month of Aquarius (pronounced "ah-KWARE-ee-us"). Basically astrology comes from the idea that what happens to the celestial bodies (the sun, moon, and stars) will mirror what happens on earth. So relative positions of these bodies from wherever you're located will influence your personality, love life, and other earthly matters. Even though all of the signs were used by the Ancient Greeks under different names, today we use the Latin version. Aquarius means "water bearer," and it originates from the constellation of the same name. It is associated with the air element and is therefore considered masculine.

Aquarius is sometimes thought to be the same character as Ganymede, a beautiful young man from Greek mythology. Zeus fell in love with him (Ancient Greece is so gay, so very, very gay). Zeus turned himself into an eagle and carried the boy off to Olympus, where he became the cup bearer of the gods. Aquarius is believed to have been responsible for flooding the earth in the Greek version of the Great Flood Myth (in the Bible this is the Noah's Ark story).

People who are born under the sun sign of Aquarius are believed to be visionaries who are progressive and independent. But they can also be insensitive and impatient with those that disagree with their ideas. To be honest, I'm not sure that I believe in astrology. I think that at best it's a fun diversion, and at worst it's a way to relinquish responsibility for your own life. But I might be saying that because the only Aquarian I know is very conservative.

This name will definitely sound very hippy-dippy because of the Broadway musical Hair. When they sing about the "Age of Aquarius" they're referring to a time of major change that comes approximately every 2,150 years. I wish I could give you more than that but trying to understand advanced astrology is like trying to make sense out of the stock market of you can barely count. There is zero uniform agreement on anything.

I found that although the name is classically masculine, the name is currently being used as a girls name as well. That's okay. It could sound cool on a girl, too. Not historically correct, but cool. If you or your child were born under a different sign and you're still in love with this name, just be aware everyone who hears this name will think that the bearer was born under Aquarius. However, I do think of the musical (and the song) first when I hear this name. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but if you're considering using Aquarius it might help to be a fan of all things sixties.


Image Credit:

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Here's a name I've loved ever since childhood that is just perfectly witchy. Faline (pronounced "fay-LEEN") is Latin for "cat-like." And cats and witches go together like milk and cookies.

Domestic cats have been respected and feared in many different cultures:

-A Neolithic grave discovered in 2004 contained the skeletons of an African wildcat and a human together.
-The Ancient Egyptians are credited for first domesticating the cat. The Egyptian goddess Bastet is depicting as having the head of a house cat or a lioness.
-In Greek and Roman mythology, cats are associated with Artemis and Diana.
-The Norse goddess Freyja rides a chariot drawn by cats.
-The first woman of the bible, Eve, was associated with felines in early Christian culture.
-During the Middle Ages, Pope Gregory IX declared that cats were diabolical, and they were routinely killed.
-In Japan, the Maneki Neko (the waving cat statue) is a symbol of luck.
-In the Islamic religion, Muhammad had a favorite cat named Muezza.

Cats are considered to be the most traditional familiars (a familiar being a magickal animal companion), particularly black cats. From what I understand, it's true that cats were killed in the Middle Ages due to their association with witches. However, the addition of a specifically black cat in a witch's coterie is relatively new. It wasn't until the 1800's that black cats took the lead role that it once shared by rabbits, rats, moles, and snails. This was influenced by the birth of showing, breeding, and pampering of domestic cats. People started to pay attention to different breeds and appreciating the different looks and personalities. Before this, they were just seen as a means to exterminate mice. The cat's many amazing abilities helped cement this connection to witches in the public mind: they like to be out at night, they materialize seemingly from nowhere, they sense storms and earthquakes before they happen, etc.

So a Neo-Pagan would think that being "cat-like" is an enduring trait. But does this name seem a little familiar? A little reminiscent of some other animal? Like, say...a deer?

Perhaps I should come clean about where I first heard this name. Fans of classic Disney films will know that Faline is Bambi's love interest, the doe that Bambi becomes twitterpatted over. If you're now depressed, thinking that whoever has this name will encounter a lot of teasing, I'm here to tell you that it probably won't happen. The reason for this is also depressing. I don't think many kids these days pay attention to the old movies. Maybe someone who has kids or works with kids or a regular basis can chime in and see if this namesake is too much, but I don't think many people are familiar with the character anymore.

Faline is a rare name that has never been popular in the United States. I don't really see this name on a pet. That would be kind of like naming your child Human. If I was pregnant, I would definitely consider this name for my daughter. Faline is very gentle and sweet on a child, but also sounds sexy on a woman. It has simple, familiar nicknames that are also tinged with magic: Fae, Faye, or Fay. I mean, I don't have to tell her that I first heard it on a cartoon deer, right?

Witches, Sirens and Soothsayers by Susannah Marriott

Image Credit:
Founde via

Saturday, January 15, 2011


I'm always curious about old names. Or to be more specific, old names that were incredibly popular in their day only to fad out of common use.

Through the 1880s to the 1910s, there were a fair amount of "ice" names for girls that rose up the American popularity charts. In the 1890s Icie ranked #605 and Icy was #743. Icey charted too (all versions are pronounced "EYE-see"). But by the 1920s the names disappeared almost completely. Why?

Most baby name resources will state that Icie means...well...icy. That's a logical assumption. But during the course of writing this I came across an alternative definition completely at random while playing around on nymbler. The name actually doesn't have anything to do with ice at all. Icie is a nickname for Isis through it's alternate spelling Icesis. Parents started to use the nickname on it's own, and the original meaning was forgotten. If this is accurate, it would suggest that there was a big cultural obsession with ancient Egypt from the 1880s to the 1910s.

So why isn't it used much anymore? Well, I have no proof of this, but I'm guessing that the fall of Icie might have something to do with the introduction of the term "ice princess." This term is used to describe a woman who is beautiful but doesn't want to have sex. I've found that it's often used by unappealing guys, but I digress. To be "icy" or "frigid" isn't a positive association for a girl.

Sometimes I see this name on a list of "unusable" girls names past. I'm highly sceptical of such lists because they don't take into account the changing nature of fashion. Ten years ago they would have had Agnes and Maud on that list, and now it seems like I'm seeing babies with those names everywhere. That's why I think that there are very few names that are truly unusable. So what do I think could possibly bring Icie back on the charts? Two words: twitter speak.

If you think that's completely ridiculous, look back at the pronunciation again. It sounds like "I see." Which is usually abbreviated as "ic" on twitter and AIM and all the crazy things the kids are using these days. Add an adorable -ie at the end and you get Icie. Why not? It will appeal to young parents. There's already a girl named Ily out there ("ily" is an acronym for "I love you"). So it's not out of the question that it could evolve this way.

So if you want a short, breezy name from antiquity that started as a nickname for an ancient goddess and sounds cool and wintry, then Icie (or Icey, or Icy) is for you. If not, hopefully I've cleared some things up about this curious name.


Image Credit:

Friday, January 14, 2011


Back when I posted Vixen, I hinted that I had more to say about this mythical creature. In fact, it's one of my favorites. There's more rich folklore about kitsune than I could ever write here. It needs to have it's own profile.

The ancient Japanese lived in close proximity with the many foxes in the country. Their mythology reflects that. Kitsune (pronounced "kit-zoo-nay," I think) is the Japanese word for fox, but in the Western world the term is used exclusively for a fox like creature from Japanese folklore. This creature is based on similar mythological beings from Korea, China, and India. They are associated with the Inari, the Shinto goddess of rice. They are intelligent, cunning, live long lives, and possess many magical abilities. Stories give varied accounts about what precisely those abilities are, and whether they are benign or malevolent. Some folklore is pretty consistent with other mythology regarding foxes, meaning that they use their abilities to trick mortals. But other stories show them as loyal guardians, friends, lovers, and wives.

Kitsune are shape shifters with two forms, a fox form and a human form. The fox form typically has multiple tails. The more tails a kitsune has, and they could have up to nine, the older and more powerful it is. When a kitsune reaches a certain age, they learn how to take a human form. In their human form, they can appear to be beautiful women, little girls, effeminate men, or old men. They are particularly renowned for impersonating women. When kitsune get careless they don't transform fully, leaving a fox tale or a fox shadow. While in their disguise, they could get married and have children with ordinary men. There are many romantic tales where this happens. When the lover finds out that the woman is a kitsune, the fox has no choice but to leave. It is believed that children from this union are gifted with their mothers supernatural abilities.

Other stories are more sinister. Some people believe that kitsune are similar to vampires or succubi. These people think that these creatures drain the life force of humans through sexual contact. There is also the belief that women can be possessed by foxes. The strange behavior they engage in is similar to that of demonic possession in Catholicism, like running in the streets naked, frothing at the mouth, writing and speaking languages that they had no knowledge of previously, and eating a lot. Exorcisms have to be performed at an Inari shrine. Today, kitsunetsuki is a psychosis unique to Japan. Those that have this mental illness believe that they are possessed by a fox.

Like the countries of Europe, Japan also has a tradition of Witchcraft. These witches belong to hereditary witch families that pass their abilities generation after generation. They are also believed to have a family of fox familiars that do their biding. The status of these witch families are everyday knowledge to the surrounding neighbors. To this day, these families are respected, but unfortunately are also openly shunned. Since the power is passed from mother to daughters, it's almost impossible for these woman to find men willing to marry them.

Kitsune are becoming pretty popular outside of Japanese culture. I know this because whenever I try to use it as a user name on forums it's always already taken. Also, the general consensus in America is that these creatures are way to cute to be evil. Tails from the Sonic the Hedgehog video game is a kitsune. He totally is.

I've seen a few Neo-Pagans adopt this as their name. However, if you decide to give this name to a child, it would be extremely rare. And I have no idea what kind of a look you would get from a Japanese person. But you know me, I'm a champion of the daring. There's something very chic and exotic about this word as a name. And I'm not the only one who thinks that, it's also the name of a French fashion/record label. If I met a little Kitsune on the playground, I would be very excited.


Image Credit:
I can't remember, I saved it a long time ago.

Print by Hiroshige.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


Many people are familiar with the Greek and Chinese Zodiacs, but not so much with the Celtic Tree Months. Therefore, only Neo-Pagans are probably aware that it's now the Birch Moon. If you learn more about the Celtic Tree Months, it could be an interesting inspiration for names.

The word birch actually comes from the Old German language, derived from the word birka meaning "white." The Celtic name for birch is actually beth pronounced "BEH." The modern Celtic Tree Months are based on the idea that every letter in the Celtic alphabet has a corresponding tree.

The Birch Moon is the first month on the Celtic calender, so it makes sense that it's all about rebirth and regeneration. After Yule has passed, it's time for the days to get longer again as the God grows older. Spell casting during this month could be used to give an extra boost to new projects.

Wood and leaves from the birch tree have many practical and magickal uses. It's white, satin-like appearance make it attractive for furniture. The tree is also fragrant, it's used to make soap and shampoo. Extracts from the leaves are used to make cosmetics and dyes. Native American tribes prized the birch tree for it's bark. They used the bark to construct sturdy yet light-weight canoes. Ancient people also used to soak the bark, then use it as casts for broken bones.

The birch tree is also associated with creativity, fertility, healing, and protection. Neo-Pagans sometimes use them to make wands. Tying a red ribbon around a birch tree wards off negativity. In Gaelic folklore, the tree is also associated with Tir na nOg, which is the land of the dead. The birch tree used to be worshiped as a goddess in Russia during the first week of June. It is now their national tree. In non-Pagan cultures, the birch tree is used to decorate churches and homes on the Christian feast of Pentecost.

While it's not an unquestionably masculine name the same way that John and George are, there's just something about the strong, mono-syllabic Birch that just sounds more appropriate on a man. Birch is more familiar as a surname, which fits in nicely with the current trend of using last names as inspiration for first names. I see no down side, although I did find a smart alec remark of, "Replace the r with a t and you get..." Just like I don't believe to catering to dumb people when picking a name, I don't believe to bowing down to the cruelty of children either. I know that it's just one letter, but it's really not that obvious a connection to me. But if you're still concerned there's also the Norse version: Birk. Whichever you use, you've found a botanical name that's both earthy and manly, which is a tough combination to find.


Image Credit:

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Now, some people might say, "Wait a minute, isn't ruby the birthstone for July? Why are we talking about it now?" About two minutes ago I would have thought the same thing. Well, it turns out the stone for Capricorn is the ruby. We do birthstones by zodiac sign here, remember? And when the news came out that it could be the most popular girls name in Australia, the timing seemed right.

The word ruby (pronounced "ROO-bee") comes from ruber, Latin for "red." It's a gemstone with color that runs from pink to red. The bolder the red the more valuable it is. The addition of the element chromium is what gives the gem it's deep coloration. They are chemically closely related to sapphires in a way I'm not smart enough to understand. Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) was the worlds main source of rubies for hundreds of years. They've also been found in Thailand, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Nepal, Pakistan, Madagascar, and Greenland.

Rubies have always been held in high esteem in Asian countries, particularly in India and China. According to Myanmaran tradition, rubies can grant wishes. The Chinese built them into the foundations of buildings in order to bring good luck to the structure. They also used them as ornamentation on armor, harnesses, and scabbards. In Sanskrit, the word for rubies is ratnaraj, meaning "king of gems." The Hindus give offerings to the god Krishna so that he can be reborn as a powerful king.

Today, rubies are used for a number of magickal purposes. To those who believe in the power of gemstones to alter your health, rubies help circulation and strengthens immunity. Red represents the element of fire, so rubies are also associated with passion and masculinity.

In America, Ruby is a classic name even though it's relatively new. It only emerged as a given name in the 1800's. It peaked in the 1910's rating at #24 which might be why it sounds a little old to me. It has never left the top 1,000 and in 2009 it rated #108. It's also popular all over the world: it's #1 in Wales, #2 in England, #13 in New Zealand, #28 in Scotland, and #41 in Ireland (although I think these numbers are a little old). There are many different variations of Ruby including Rubia, Rubi, Rubianna, and Rubie. My research hasn't turned up any masculine versions.

This name has been used on a lot of fictional characters, but the interesting thing is that I seem to remember them being all the same character. For some reason, there's never a shy, quiet girl named Ruby. Ruby always seems to be the bold and brassy type in film and television. She's the one that always tells it as it is. And no matter how popular the name gets, that association will always be in my head. Not that that's a bad thing. Witches are bold women who speak their minds, so it's perfect for us.


Image Credit:

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


I knew when I started this blog that my obsession with all things Japanese was eventually going to show up here. We're going to start my insane love with Zen.

The Japanese word zen comes from the Chinese chan, which comes from the Sanskrit dhyana, which means "meditation." Zen is a type of Buddhism, an no one knows precisely when and where it first formed. It is traditionally credited to a figure of debatable historical existence, Bodhidharma. If he ever actually lived, he was an Indian prince-turned-monk that lived around 500 A.D. The earliest known record of zen comes from the 14th century.

Like most forms of Buddhism, Zen decrees that all sentient beings have the universal nature of transcendent wisdom. The aim of Zen is to access this nature within each person through meditation. Zen differs from other forms of Buddhism in that there is no written scripture. Everything is based on intuition, rather than rational thought or written dogma. They believe that doctrine obscures the way to truth. Yeah, I'm not sure I get it all either, but that's the gist of it. Zen started to become popular among non-Asian Westerners in the 1950's, which is the same time that Wiccan and Witchcraft practitioners were starting to come out of hiding.

I've seen this name pop up on some secondary characters in Japanese movies, but it looks like the most prominent fictional namesake is the cult comic book character Zen the Intergalactic Ninja. In the series, Zen is a skilled martial artist trained by the Masters of Om. He can also communicate through telepathy and can create food with the power of his mind whenever he's hungry. Those that are only vaguely familiar with comic books are not going to be familiar with him, though. It has a following but it's not as popular as, say, Spiderman.

So is there any such thing as Zen Wicca? Or Zen Paganism? Not officially. But that doesn't mean that they aren't combined. Zen isn't really a religion. There are no "gods" that you "worship." It's more of a way of life. So I think it is possible to be, say, Christian and practice Zen meditation. Meanwhile, all the different sects of Neo-Paganism are both religions and a way of life. It really depends on which tradition someone follows whether or not including ideas from other religions is acceptable or not. But I have found some people who refer to themselves as Zen Wiccans or Zen Witches, so it's not unheard of.

This name will sound very hippy-ish to a Westerner. I'm not sure how popular Zen is in it's native Japan. I suppose this name could be used as a girls name, but the overriding opinion is that this name is masculine. It's a very peaceful, calm boy's name. And I can think of a few parents who wish they had a peaceful, calm boy.


Image Credit:

Friday, January 7, 2011


I remember when I was a little girl, already a budding name nerd. I walked up to my mother and said, "I found a new name today!" She humored my excitement and asked, "What is it?" I replied, "Jezebel! Isn't it pretty?" My mother wrinkled her nose. "That's a prostitute's name." I still remember the disappointment. It took me a long time to find out that what Mom said just wasn't true. What unfair treatment Jezebel gets.

Many baby name websites and books might list the meaning of Jezebel (pronounced "JEH-zuh-behl") as "impure queen" or "wicked queen." This isn't really true either. Historians still conjecture as to what the name's true etymology is. Jezebel is an Anglicized version of the Hebrew Izabel. Depending on which combination of Hebrew words you use, Izabel could mean many different things including "no husband," "no king," "island of dung," or "Ba'al exists." The last one should be a big clue as to why Christian culture considers her morally corrupt.

The story of Jezebel actually remindes me a lot of the story of Marie Antoinette, another monarch unfairly labeled as "evil." Jezebel was a Phoenician princess before marrying King Ahab. Phoenicia was an empire that was located on the coastal region of modern day Lebanon, Syria, and Israel. Even though she became Queen of Israel, she stayed loyal to the Pagan religion she was raised in. The gods she loved the most was Ba'al, god of storms, rivers, and water, and Ba'al's wife Asherah, goddess of fertility and the family. Jezebel also convinced her husband to convert to her religion.

At the time Israel was engaged in religious tensions between the Priests of Ba'al and the Priests of Jahweh. Jezebel, of course, sided with Ba'al. On the side of the Jahweh's was the prophet Elijah. When Elijah lead a massacre against Ba'al worshipers, Jezebel swore revenge. Unluckily for her, Elijah went into hiding shortly after.

Another cause of her evil reputation was due to poor public relations and cultural differences with her subjects. Jezebel's father was an absolute monarch in Phoenicia. His word was law. But in Israel, her husband Ahab did not have the same power. Ahab needed a piece of land in order to build a palace, but the owner of the land, Naboth, would not sell. When Ahab fell into a deep depression, Jezebel decided to act. She arranged for the execution of Naboth, and thus got the land for her husband. Many of her subjects believed that she acted illegally, but according to how she was raised she was totally in the right.

After her husband died, Jezebel's son Ahaziah became king. He reigned for two years until he died under suspicious circumstances, falling from a high balcony. And so her second son Joram took the throne, only to be murdered in a coup lead by the sinister Jehu. It was during this coup that Jezebel was killed as well. Whe she realized that Jehu has come to kill her, she dressed in all her finery, putting on make-up and jewelry. After that she, too, was thrown from a high balcony. She shouted curses and her murderers all the while. When the fall failed to kill her immediately, Jehu ran his chariot back and forth over her body. The majority of her body was then eaten by the palace dogs. Jehu's coup was supported by the prophets whose side of the story the Bible preserves.

A lot of people will say that this name has the same problem that Vixen has. In modern culture, the name Jezebel has become synonymous with sexually promiscuous and controlling women. The reason for this is due to a common interpretation of her final acts. According to this interpretation, the reason she dresses up is in order to try to convince Jehu to take her into his harem and save her own life. The more feminist version says that she is donning the feminine version of armor in order to die with dignity, as a Queen.

If you're still saying, "But no one would ever name their daughter Jezebel!" repeat after me: everything's been done. Other "fallen" Biblical women have shed their cursed reputations. Delilah, Magdalen, Eve, Salome, Vashti, Lillith (okay, Lillith's not actually in the Bible, but come on), they're all used and no one bats an eye. In 2009, there were born in the United States 24 Jezebels, 25 Jezabels, 8 Jezabells, 11 Jezebelles, 11 Jezabelles, and 5 Jezabellas. It even has the fashionable Bella nickname that everyone's going for! It's definitely time to give Jezebel a new identity.

Jezebel did us Neo-Pagans proud. She honored her culture, she was strong for her husband, and she faced a horrifying death with dignity. She wasn't a perfect woman, but then again no woman is. If you love this name but the opinions of the Christian majority are still holding you back, consider what kind of naming story that you want for yourself or your child. Do you want the story to be about honoring a strong woman, or do you want it to be about catering to stupid people who didn't study their own religion? It's your choice. What would Jezebel do?


Image Credit:

Thursday, January 6, 2011


I just read another baby name website that reported that the name of one of Queen Elizabeth II's great-grandchildren is named Savannah. It surprised me. With it's abundance of Marys, Elizabeths, Williams, and Henrys, the family tree of the Royals appears to have a strict tradition of keeping names within the English identity. But Savannah is hardly a traditional English name.

Savannah (pronounced "suh-VA-nah") is a Spanish word meaning "a treeless plain." Savannah is the name of a particular kind of ecosystem. The largest savannah in the world is in Africa, which is why this name conjures lions, elephants, and cheetahs to many people.

This is also a place name for many cities in the United States. Savannah, Georgia has the unique distinction of being the most haunted city in America. How does one measure that, precisely? Anyways, the city's strangeness started at the time of it's foundation. The original city was a perfect square. Historians speculate that the design of Savannah is based on the design of Solomon's Temple. This might have been due to the original founder's desire to create a Utopian city. It's also partially built on old cemeteries, both White and Native American. Savannah historically has some connection to magic, through it's voodoo-practicing population. I didn't see anything when I went to Savannah (all girl scouts go to Savannah at some point, it's the birth place of Juliette Low), but there has been hundreds of reports of ghost sightings there.

Those of you well versed in cat breeds will recognize this name for a different reason. The savannah is a new, experimental breed of domestic cat that combines the genes of an serval and a house cat. The creation of the savannah was controversial, since it requires the capture and breeding of wild creatures. Some states do not recognize it as a domestic breed, and it is banned in some areas. But it does create a beautiful cat, and those that own them say that they are gentle and well behaved even though they require lots of space.

This name also has a fictional witchy namesake. Savannah Levine is the name of a half-witch, half-demon orphan in the fantasy series Women of the Otherworld by Kelley Armstrong. She is the youngest employee of the supernatural detective agency, where her guardians also work, and has quite a rebellious streak.

Savannah was one of my favorite names when I was a little girl. I found it exotic and unique. Evidently, many other people my age had the same idea, since this is a very common name. Savannah hit it's peak in 2006 ranking at #30. Since then, it's popularity has dwindled a little. In 2009, Savannah rated #40 in the United States, #61 in British Columbia, #73 in Australia, #246 in Scotland, and #410 in Norway. It also experienced some modest popularity in America through the 1880's to the 1920's, which surprised the hell out of me.

Many people feel that the name is trendy and dated. On the website I looked at, some were even horrified that it's now the name of a English princess. I think that attitude is a bit close-minded. Royal parents are just people like the rest of us. Even though I don't think I would ever use it due to it's popularity, this name still fills me with childlike glee. Princess has a nice ring to it.


Image Credit:

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


And now onto one of my favorite, but impossible-to-use names: Eurydice.

You already know of most of Eurydice's story from the profile of Orpheus. She is either an oak nymph or a daughter of Apollo. There is not as much information available on Eurydice as there is on her husband. It's not known if the character in the myth is based on a real person. However, there are many people from history with the name Eurydice. Mostly ancient queens of Greece and Egypt. Eurydice derives from the Ancient Greek eurudike, meaning "she whose justice spreads widely." There are other Eurydice's in Greek mythology as well, but they all have bit parts. This makes me think that it was a popular name in Ancient Greece.

There is an interesting interpretation of her story that I think deserves to be mentioned. A few years ago I saw the Tony-winning play Metamorphosis by Mary Zimmerman, which presented a variation of the Orpheus and Eurydice story. It's a piece that was originally written by Rainer Maria Rilke which was inserted into the drama. It shows the walk out of the underworld from Eurydice's point of view:

She was deep within herself, like a woman heavy
with child, and did not see the man in front
or the path ascending steeply into life.
Deep within herself. Being dead
filled her beyond fulfillment. Like a fruit
suffused with its own mystery and sweetness,
she was filled with her vast death, which was so new,
she could not understand that it had happened...

Narrator Two:
And when, abruptly,
the god put out his hand to stop her, saying,
with sorrow in his voice:

He has turned around--

Narrator Two:
She could not understand, and softly answered,


Eurydice has a strong hold on culture today, with plays, poems, and songs written about her story. She is also associated with the elm tree, one of the sacred trees associated with Witchcraft. After his failed return from the underworld, Orpheus sang to Eurydice, and the first elm grove sprang into existence where he played.

I should probably explain why I find this name impossible to use (for me, anyway). I think I've butchered the pronunciation of this name at least eighty million times in my lifetime. The amount of times I've seen and heard it have not made the slightest bit of difference. It looks like "YUR-ih-dice" but is actually pronounced "yur-RID-ih-see." Anyone with this name will probably feel like Hermione from the Harry Potter books. When I finally have a daughter I want her name to be something I can actually say.

But hey, if you can pronounce it, use it. Because it's beautiful. And don't let anyone stop you if you're heart is set on it. Not even me.

Metamorphoses: A Play by Mary Zimmerman

Image Credit:


There are some stories that stick with you long after you hear it. Ever since I read the myth as a child, I've been semi-obsessed with the story of Orpheus and Eurydice.

Many baby name websites will probably claim that Orpheus (pronounced "OR-fee-us") means "beautiful voice." In truth, the meaning of the name is a bit hard to pin down. Possible definitions have included "to be deprived," "darkness," "fatherless," "to cast a spell," "to lament," and "to sing wildly." The word orphic is an adjective that means mystic, enchanting or fascinating.

The mythical Orpheus is actually based on a real person. Not much is known about the historical Orpheus except that he was well known for being a "wizard" and lived near Olympus. In mythology, Orpheus is the son of either King Oeagrus or the sun god Apollo and the muse Calliope. Orpheus had a gift for music at a young age, and Apollo gave him a lyre as a present. Orpheus was one of the Argonauts. He used his musical abilities to drown out the singing of the sirens, thus enabling Jason and the Argonauts to sail without wrecking the ship.

Now to the tragic story of Orpheus and his wife, Eurydice. On the day of their wedding, a satyr got fresh with Eurydice (we all know how satyrs are). When she refused him, he pushed her into a pit of vipers, where she was fatally bitten. Orpheus discovered her body and became inconsolable, singing the saddest song in the world. His mother and aunts suggested that he go to Hades and ask him to bring her back. He takes their advice and journeys into the underworld. While in the presence of Hades and Persephone, he used his music to soften their hearts. So the two gods agreed to bring Eurydice back to life on one condition: he had to walk in front of her and not look back until they're both out of the underworld. He follows this instruction until the last possible second, when his anxiety took over and he looked back. He saw his darling wife again before she was taken away, this time for good.

But that's not the end of Orpheus' story. Years later, Orpheus spurned the advances of the female followers of Dionysus, having sworn off love after the death of Eurydice. The women threw sticks and stones at him while he played, but his song was so beautiful that the sticks and stones refused to hurt him. Enraged, the women tore him to pieces. But his head and his lyre still sung after he died. His head was eventually buried while his lyre was carried by the muses to the stars. Orpheus' soul at last reached the underworld, where he was reunited with his beloved Eurydice.

Orpheus has left a big impact on the Neo-Pagan world. It's most well known namesake is Opheus Caroline High-Correll (some sources spell her name Orpheis), a woman who founded the Correllian Nativist Tradition of Wicca in 1879. This doesn't really make any sense since Wiccan ideas like the Wiccan Rede were first introduced in the 1950s, and I can't find any information on how they combined. Maybe a reader can fill in the gaps for me. High-Correll had Scottish and Cherokee ancestry, and claimed to be the ancestor of Scottish witches. She lead an interesting life as a fortune teller, spiritual healer, and herbalist, and worked in a traveling circus along with her husband John Correll. The Correllian Tradition as it exists today is a combination of Wicca and Native American practices.

There are stories strikingly similar to the story of Orpheus and Eurydice that appear in mythology all over the world. There's the Japanese story of Izanagi and Izanami, the Mayan Ix Chel and Itzamna, the Sumerian "Inanna's Decent into the Underworld," and a Nez Perce story about Coyote.

Some mythology names like Orion and Apollo are rising up the popularity charts in the United States. Despite this, Orpheus is still a rare name. This is probably because it sounds a lot like orphus, which is a sexual slang term for any hole in the body. Luckily, the Italian Orfeo side-steps this problem somewhat. It is traditionally masculine, which makes me think that Orpheus was not High-Correll's given name. However, if you want a heroic and romantic boys name, this is a good choice.


Image Credit:
Illustration by Same Weber via

Monday, January 3, 2011


If you want a name that's sexy, mysterious, creative, and impish, then there are few you could pick that are better than Duende.

A duende (pronounced "doo-EN-day," I think) is a creature that comes from Spain and Portugal. The origin of the word is from the Old Spanish "duen de casa," which means "master of the house." The Spanish and Portuguese introduced this being to all the countries they conquered, namely Latin America and the Philippines.

A duende a mythological being similar to a fairy or goblin. Stories of what duendes are like are different depending on the culture. In Spain, they are described as being short forest-dwelling creatures who like to wear big hats. Whether they're good or malicious is disputed. In some stories, they lure young girls into the forest and cause them to lose their way. But others say that they help those who are lost in the woods. In Hispanic folklore, the duende are gnome-like creatures that live inside the walls of children's bedrooms. They sometimes barter with mothers so they can take the children and eat them. Filipino duendes live in rocks, caves, old trees, unused parts of houses, and ant hills and are believed to be color coded. The white ones are good and the black ones are evil.

However, duende is not just the name of a fantastical creature. In Spanish, the word is used more often as a description for the performing arts. But as it turns out, the exact definition of duende is kind of hard to explain:

-"Tener duende" is a term that translates roughly into "having soul."
-The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines duende as, "the power to attract through personal magnetism and charm."
-Spanish poet, dramatist, and theater director Fedrico Garcia Lorca stated that duende has four parts: irrationality, earthiness, a heightened awareness of death, and a dash of the diabolical. According to Lorca, duende is a spirit that puts the fear of death into artists, so that they surrender to intensity making their work bone-chillingly moving.
-Australian musician Nick Cave thinks that duende is what gives music it's sadness.
-The term is applied a lot to flamenco dancing, because the folk dance and music comes from a culture that is enriched by hardship.

Put that all together and you basically get a name that means passion, inspiration, and finding beauty in the darkness of life. It stands to reason that those that call the spirit of duende into their rituals are artists seeking to make art with reckless abandon. However, a duende will not possess those that have no darkness in them.

So has anyone actually used this as a name before? As far as I can tell, no. It's hard to know for certain, most of the sources that deal with it are in Spanish. But just say it a few times. Duende, Duende,'s cool, right? And people are looking for new, unique names all the time. It could work for either gender, and it has a lot of beauty and power behind it. On the right person, Duende will be magnificent.

The Witches' Almanac Issue 29: Spring 2010 to Spring 2011.

Image Credit: