A Dictionary of First Names Paperback – Aug 15 2006
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From School Library Journal
YA-- A wonderful book that provides the origins of 7,000 names found in the English-speaking world, giving their history, usage trends, and explaining how they are used in other languages. In addition, each entry highlights influences that determine popularity. Supplements list names from the often difficult to find Arab world and the Indian subcontinent.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
`Review from previous edition I have returned to this dictionary again and again for sheer pleasure' Jackie Wullschlager Financial Times
`full of anecdotal material as well as historical facts' Glasgow Herald
`a colourful hunting ground and interesting reading' Maternity and Mothercraft
`the best available work on the subject' Verbatim
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
This is the OXFORD dictionary, so the main dictionary is for English names, or rather, names used in countries where English is the main language. But that doesn't stop it from having tons of names I've never heard of. How about Abishag (Biblical derivation) or Dreda (a shortened form of Etheldreda, no wonder I've never heard of it).
But it also has appendices for specific ethnic/language/country names, which I'll list later.
I just ordered this book, and it's the 2006 2nd edition. [Added later: There is a newer edition available now.]
The book starts with two Introductions, one from the 1st edition, and a new one for the 2nd. I found these very interesting, with information on how first names have been created over the centuries.
The scholarship behind the names looks complete. There are times where it simply states, "derivation uncertain". For older names, especially, that's all they can do. Not all names "mean" something, but the Oxford Dictionary tells you as much as it can about when the name first appeared and where it is or may be derived. If you are looking for a more "fun" book of names, a "what shall I name my baby" type book, you may be disappointed with this. This is prepared more like a dictionary, a reference book.
To give you an idea of how it's put together, I'll take a common English name, "Henry" in the main dictionary, shown as a male name: "A perennially popular given name, of Continental Germanic origin, from haim 'home' + ric 'power, ruler'. It was an Old French name, adopted by the Normans and introduced by them to Britain. It has been borne by eight kings of England. Not until the 17th century did the form Henry (as opposed to Harry) become the standard vernacular form, mainly under the influence of the Latin form Henricus and French Henri."
The kings are mentioned because, as is noted in an introduction, use of a name greatly increased after a royal used it.
Next, the pet forms (affectionate nicknames) of Henry are listed: Hal, Hank, Harry. (If you look up "Harry" in the main dicitonary, it simply states "short form of Henry".)
After the pet forms, the cognates are listed. These are the variations of the name in different languages. For Henry, the first listed is "Irish: Anrai, Einri". Then there's the cognates for Scottish, Gaelic, German, Dutch, Scandinavian, French, Spanish, Catalan, Portuguese, Italian, Polish, Czech, Slovenian, Finnish, Hungarian and Lithuanian. Whew!
Following the main dictionary, are 13 appendices of ethnic/country names. So if we go to the Appendix for Irish names, you will find entries for Anrai and Einri with the description, "Irish eqivilent of Henry. See main dictionary". In this way, names are cross-referenced. Really first rate.
Here's a list of the 13 appendices of ethnic/country names: Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Indian (country of), Irish, Italian, Japanese, Russian, Scandinavian, Scottish, Spanish, Welsh.
Appendix 14 is a list of unisex names.
Appendices 15 - 20 are lists of the most popular names for the given year of 2003 or 2004 for specific countries: England & Wales, Scotland, Republic of Ireland, United States, Australia, New Zealand. These lists came from official government agencies, which are indicated.
Appendices 21 and 22 give a little more detail encompassing several years, for England & Wales and the United States. For example, in 1954, the most popular American male name, according to the Dept of Social Security, was Robert. Robert wasn't even in the top 10 in 2003.
I find this book fun to page through - always something interesting!
The original version of the book is an excellent reference work, with a nice sturdy binding, low-acid pages, and lots of information about each name's etymology, notable namesakes, and cognates in other languages. In general, I'd have to say that if you want a long-lasting useful copy, buy that one, which I would give a solid five stars on its own.
The updated versions have lots of interesting "ethnic name" appendices, but I found their usefulness somewhat limited-- specifically, the "Chinese" and "Japanese" names are only shown in romanized form, without the underlying hanzi/kanji that are crucial for unambiguously establishing the meanings. The popularity tables were updated and diversified to cover more English-speaking nations, which is nice for a historical overview but not essential. I'd have to downgrade the 2nd ed paperback to four stars because of the dubious "improvements" and the flimsier binding/paper, although afaik all of the original information from the 1st ed is still in there too.
IMHO the Kindle version is barely useable. The table of contents doesn't have an alphabetical breakdown of the main section. Cross-referenced name entries aren't hyperlinked to each other. And most annoyingly, all of the tables seem to've been imported as non-zoomable graphics, which means teeny tiny near-unreadable quasi-print that can't be resized with the normal display tools. So the Kindle 2nd ed gets only two stars from me.
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