Historical Significance of Names

historical significance of names

According to the Encyclopedia of Britannica, the U.S. and United Kingdom are the only two countries that still impose traditional Roman Law that enables residents of the countries to legally change their first and last names as they please, unless it relates to criminal activity. However, this does not change the historical significance of the names.

Even with all the variations in names that exist now, it is possible to track the historical significance of most names, especially the popular ones.

While first and last names might have been given to infants and children in the past as their individual skills, talents and personalities became known, names are now given to babies as soon as they are born by their parents. Learn more about the historical significance of five of the most popular baby names in the U.S. today.

Amelia

Amelia, a variant of the name “Amalia,” has been a consistently popular female name in the UK. The name means industrious or hard-working and has German origins. In Hebrew, Amelia may mean “work of the Lord.” The name, though, was derived from the Germanic word amal, meaning work and implying a sense of fertility. Regardless, any baby with the name Amelia is bound to be strong with big goals and a plan to reach them.

As a baby girl’s name, Amelia only grew in popularity following the arrival of the German House of Hanover to the British throne in the early 18th century. Both George II and George III had daughters named Amelia that inspired the public to name their own daughters after powerful royalty.

Other famous Amelias who increased the name’s usage included Amelia Earhart, the famous children’s book character Amelia Bedelia and the patron saint of farmers and fishermen bearing the same name.

With three syllables, Amelia also allows parents and children to get creative with nicknames. These nicknames have historically included the following:

  • Amy
  • Mila
  • Mel
  • Lia
  • Millie

Currently, USA Today reports that “Amelia” ranks at number five on names.org’s list of the most popular names in the U.S.. On Nameberry, “Amelia” is rated number nine.

Emma

The name “Emma” for a girl was introduced in England in the 11th century. It means complete, whole or universal, has German origins and is a shortened form of the medieval names Irmgard and Ermintrude that the Normans often used.

While the name’s popularity did not spike until late in the 20th century, “Emma” has remained a popular name for parents who want a charming and classic name rather than one that is trendier.

Part of the reason “Emma” has garnered as much attention as it has is because of Jane Austen’s well-known book featuring the same name. The book shattered female misconceptions and brought light to important social issues regarding marriage, gender and age.

The protagonist of the novel Emma Woodhouse is a literary heroine that many parents hoped their daughters could be like. Other famous historical figures named Emma, both real or fictional, are listed below:

  • Emma Watson
  • Emma Lazarus
  • Emma Thompson
  • Emma Goldman
  • Emma Swan
  • Emma Frost

Nicknames for Emma include “Emmy” and “Em.” Because of the simple spelling of the name, it is uncommon to see “Emma” spelled in different ways. However, some versions of “Emma” may be spelled with only one “M.”

Harper

Unlike some other names with a more clouded history or meaning, the name “Harper” has a pretty clear origin. Harper began as a surname to indicate that someone had a harper (i.e., someone who played the harp instrument) in the family. Often, the name would be adjusted to mean “son/daughter of the harper.”

Because one of the most important guests at a medieval baronial hall was the harpist in Scotland and England, the position of harper would be passed down.

Surprisingly, though, “Harper” was never meant to be a first name for a girl or a boy. Once Nelle Harper Lee published To Kill a Mockingbird, omitting her first name from the cover, the name took off in popularity.

Harper is now recognized as an androgynous first name and appears on many popular TV shows like Gossip Girls and The Wizards of Waverly Place.  

Liam

Liam is an Irish form of the name William, which means “protector.” However, the name is widely used as a first name independent from William, Wilhelm or Ulliam – the name’s other derivatives. The name was almost exclusively reserved for the Irish until the mid-19th century.

When the Irish natives had to emigrate to surrounding countries due to the Great Famine, they brought with them traditionally Irish names and spread them around as they started to mingle with natives from other countries.

Soon, many non-Irish families adopted the name “Liam” for their newborn sons. The name started to take on slightly different meanings as it separated from its Celtic origin. For instance, in Hebrew, the name means “my nation” whereas the name in Arabic means “in harmony.”

Now, Liam is considered a common name for boys in the UK, U.S., New Zealand, Australia, Canada and other countries. In fact, Liam still tops the charts for popular male names in the U.S. and the UK each year.

Jasper

This male name comes from Persia and often means “bringer of treasure” or “treasurer.” The name developed from the Latin word Gaspar to the Hebrew word for treasurer, gizbar, from the Persian word ganzabara, until it was changed for English-speakers.

Historically, Jasper was the name commonly given to one of the three wise men (also known as the Magi or three kings) who visited baby Jesus to deliver gifts to honor the holy presence. Therefore, “Jasper” has been used as a name in various Christian countries since the Middle Ages.

However, the name could also refer to the English word for a specific type of gemstone, making it one of the very few gem-related names for boys. Jasper, in this context, means a spotted or dappled stone that is typically red in color.

According to some admirers of the Jasper stone, Jasper has unique healing properties and can even instill courage in anyone who touches it.

Variants of “Jasper” include Dutch and Judeo-Christian names such as Casper or Kasper and Caspar or Gaspar, respectively. Because of the name’s edgy yet charming sound to it, parents have been naming their baby boys Jasper more often lately.

Additionally, the name’s appearance in famous literary texts by Sir Walter Scott, Thackeray, Thomas Hardy and even Stephenie Meyer (the author of the Twilight series) has increased its popularity.