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Forget About What They've Called the Royal Babe, How Do You Feel About Your Own Name?

23/07/2013 10:01 BST | Updated 21/09/2013 10:12 BST

It is astonishing how many people do not know what their name means. It is not because they lack intelligence, but because English is a language with so many foreign roots that we have often lost touch with the origins of words. So whereas 'Myrtle' or 'Lilly' obviously refer to plants and flowers, many others are much less clear.

How many know that 'Clive' comes from the Old English word for 'mountain' or that 'Derek' derives from the Gothic for 'ruler'? I suspect many do not realise that 'Susan' is from the Hebrew for 'rose' or that 'Theresa' stems from the Greek for 'farmer'.

There are also names that have very unfortunate meanings and which the excited parents would never have considered for their new child had they understood them. What mother would give their new baby the name 'Cecil' (or 'Cecilia') if they had any inkling it came from the Latin for 'blind'? Nor would many choose 'Claude' (or 'Claudia') - also Latin - meaning 'lame'.

It may also be the case that many an atheist is unwittingly carrying around the name of God with them. This is because they have names that come from the Bible that end with the syllable 'el' - the Hebrew word for God. Thus 'Daniel' means 'God is my judge', while Michael is 'Who is like God'. Raphael and Gabriel are other examples, while for girls the syllable has switched to the beginning of 'Elizabeth', meaning 'God is my oath'.

Still, Biblical names have the advantage of enduring across the passing years and not dating you to a particular decade. Who can tell when a John or Sarah were born, whereas nearly every Lara I have met arrived shortly after their mother had seen 'Dr Zhivago' and was devoted to the theme tune of that name.

There are also plenty of names that immediately indicate that the person's parents had a favourite television 'soap', while others owe their origins to a sporting hero who shone at a particular time, be it a 'Wayne' or 'Tiger', and to which their child is forever tied.

Amongst Jews, there is a tradition to name a child after a relative, but a fierce divide as to how exactly to do that. Thus the Sephardi Jews (largely from the Mediterranean area) name after a living relative so as to honour them in their own lifetime. However, Ashkenazi Jews (primarily from Europe and America) name after a dead relative so as to keep their memory alive.

It can lead to problems. I know of a mixed marriage where the Sephardi father thought it would be good to call his new-born daughter after his Ashkenazi mother-in-law. She took it badly: 'What', she shrieked, 'you want to kill me off already!'

Some names become ruined by the people who bear them. The name 'Adolf' was a popular name amongst Jews in 19th century Germany and remained in use during the early part of the 20th century. However, once Hitler came to power it became associated with the mass murder he unleashed and is tainted forever.

On a less global scale we often shy away from picking names belonging to someone we dislike - that terrible Fiona a few houses away, or that awful Malcolm in the office. It might be instructive to wonder what we do for our own name, and whether people have good or bad associations with it because of us. Do we shame our name or enhance it?