Do people's names have meanings in English?

If so, where can I look up names to find their meanings?

If not, where did these names come from originally?

closed as off topic by aedia λ, Hugo, user13141, FumbleFingers, user2683 Nov 14 '11 at 22:57

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    Do you mean given names or family names? – Monica Cellio Nov 14 '11 at 21:29
  • Were there specific names you had in mind? – FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Nov 14 '11 at 21:45
  • @Monica I did not have something specific in mind so I mean both family and given names. – M.Sameer Nov 14 '11 at 22:00
  • 2
    Why is this off-topic? – Andrew Vit Nov 15 '11 at 9:55
  • There is an informal trend, among US English speakers, that names that have an overt meaning in the English language are not considered appropriate names. This may come from the common trend to do so among the Hippie sub-culture. There may also be a correlation between these name, hippies, and the english names chosen by indigenous North Americans. Generally, such names held by indigenous Americans are respected – which may be cause non-indigenous people to be seen in some way as 'self-hating' (their cultural background). – New Alexandria Oct 3 '12 at 3:04

When I wondered the same thing I did a bit of search on the Internet and I came across this site: http://www.thinkbabynames.com/

It gives the meaning and the origin of English names, even those that aren't of English origin.


Most (if not all) names have a meaning. As far as I know, this holds true in any language - whether it be English, French, Chinese, Japanese, etc.

For example, I named my grey dog Lloyd, which is a Welsh name meaning "grey-haired". I named one of my cats Wynnie, which is another Welsh name and means "happiness". I chose that name for her since I had just moved in with my significant other at that time, which was a moment of happiness for us. My own name - Bjorn - means "bear" in Norwegian while a friend of mine has the English name of Sara, meaning "princess". So names definitely do have a meaning.

That being said, many people tend to be unaware of the specific meaning of a name unless it happens to be their own name.


In general, personal names in English, though having a meaning historically, do not also have this meaning transparently.

They almost always have a meaning hidden by a change in vocabulary and phonology. For example, the Christian biblical names all have a explicit meaning in Hebrew. But it is in no way clear to the uninitiated that Rachel means 'ewe' in Hebrew.

As to where to find meanings of names, the internet is -full- of baby naming sites with all sorts of meanings. just google:

baby names meaning

Different sites will have different details, but together they'll give you a good idea of the history of a name.

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    And even if the meaning is transparent, it is almost never considered. If a girl's name is Rose Fox, that is just her name, and usually no one associates her with roses or foxes. – GEdgar Nov 14 '11 at 22:23
  • @GEdgar: True. And the slightest modification renders it opaque (e.g. 'Rosa'). But if asked about the meaning of the name 'Rose' an answer would be immediate, and on the other hand there's no energy possible within English that could be spent to extract any meaning from 'Elizabeth'. – Mitch Nov 14 '11 at 22:28

Given names (first names) have been addressed by other answers. To summarize: many names originally had meanings, but you can't assume that that meaning was intended in any given case.

As for family names (last names), many were originally descriptive. "Joe Johnson" was Joe, the sone of John, and his children wouldn't be "somebody Johnson" but rather "somebody Josephson". Similarly, "Thomas Baker" might have been the town baker and his son might end up being "Samuel Fisher" or some such. Family names did not start being inherited until the 13th-14th century, according to Wikipedia. Once family names started applying to all descendants, the original means began to fade away.

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