7

I've seen a lot of female names that are simply derivatives of male names, mostly of biblical origin:

  • Michaela, Michelle from Michael, Michel
  • Joan, Joanna, Joanne, Jane, Jean from John, Jean
  • Stephanie from Stephen
  • Gabriella from Gabriel

Female biblical names like Mary or Rachel tend to be entirely original, belong to female holders.

Male names that derive from female names are almost certainly not the norm, but I still wonder if there are exceptions.

  • 2
    I can't think of any. There are a few names that can be either gender, such as Hilary, Vivian and Leslie (though in the UK the female version is spelled Lesley), but in general there's a reluctance to give boys a name that potentially sounds feminine. – Kate Bunting Oct 3 '18 at 7:48
  • 1
    (Grammar) Are there any English names for men that derive from female names? – Mari-Lou A Oct 3 '18 at 7:55
  • 2
    Maria .... Mario (peccato that Mario is derived from Marius). – Mari-Lou A Oct 3 '18 at 8:00
  • Joanna is a feminine given name deriving from Koine Greek Ἰωάννα Iōanna from Hebrew יוֹחָנָה Yôḥānnāh meaning 'God is gracious'. I think it highly likely (unless anyone can disprove it) that 'John' derives from 'Yohanna/Johanna/Joanna'. – Nigel J Oct 3 '18 at 9:04
  • 1
    @NigelJ No, John derives from Yochanan. – michael.hor257k Oct 3 '18 at 9:14
8

Demetrius is the best example that I know of. This name seems to have been derived in Greek (in the form Δημήτριος) from the name Demeter (Δημήτηρ). Demeter is not in common use in English as a name for mortal female beings, but I think most educated English speakers would recognize it as a female name—albeit the name of a Greek goddess.

I learned about this from a comment written by A. M. Bittlingmayer on a similar Linguistics SE question: In romance languages, are there examples of male names that derive from female names?

  • 3
    There are in France many people with double-barrel Christian names, where the second "barrel" is of the contrary gender to the first and to that of the person e.g. Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marie-Pierre Toussaint etc. I'm not sure if these might be of any interest to the topic under discussion. – WS2 Oct 3 '18 at 8:03
  • @WS2: Yeah, but they're French. What else would you expect from the French. They're French, you know. – Ricky Oct 3 '18 at 8:04
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    @Ricky: Carl Maria von Weber wan't French. – Andreas Blass Oct 7 '18 at 3:35
  • @AndreasBlass: That's no excuse for composing sub-par music. – Ricky Oct 7 '18 at 7:20
4

In modern English there are some traditionally masculine names that derive from feminine names by way of surnames. Emmett is a fairly well-know example: it started as the feminine name Emma, took the Norman-French diminutive -ett(e), then became a surname, and from there was adopted as a given name primarily for boys (all links are to BehindtheName.com, which is a fairly well-sourced internet resource for Western naming origins).

Evelyn and Madison took almost identical paths (from feminine given names Avila and Maude, respectively, to diminutives Aveline and Maddy to surnames Evelyn and Madison (Maddy's son) to masculine given name), but both have also since been "reclaimed" as feminine given names.

Merrill is also derived from a surname, some instances of which were likely from the feminine given name Muriel. Moreover, Merle can be a variant of both Merrill and Muriel directly (but it is used for both men and women, and it could be that most or all of the Merles-ex-Muriel are female).

Dwight is a marginal case; it comes from a feminine given name (again, via surname) but that given name was itself ultimately a feminization of Dionysius, the Latinate form of masculine name Διονυσιος.

There are also a few surnames-turned-given-name that originally derived from female occupations: Baxter was originally the term for a female baker and Brewster was a female brewer (though not all the families with these surnames would have been named after a matriarch). Some other occupation names ending in -ster or -xter might also reflect a female worker at the root of some families' trees.

In addition to these traditional examples, modern naming trends are conducive to new coinages of male names based on female names, in the model of Josephine for Joseph. At least one Jaden is famously named for his mother, Jada Pinkett Smith (and his sister, Willa, is named for their father, Will Smith). This name is generally taken to be a modern invention riffing on the general rhymes-with-Aidan trend, but at least in this case it is clearly derived from a feminine name. I expect in the future there will be more examples of genuine masculine-versions of feminine names, as some of the more creative cross-gender namesakes become mainstream.

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Cecil is, in fact, derived from Cecilia.

Or, to be more precise:

The male Roman name Caecilius was derived from the female Roman name Caecilia. Both were transferred into English (possibly through French) virtually unchanged.

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