The Little Giant Encyclopedia
of Names



For most of us, our given names are our primary form of identity. It is our "letter of introduction" to the world and is the primary way that other know who we are. My own name was chosen to honor the memory of my paternal grandfather (Nathan Altman) and that of my mother's grandfather (Louis Shemin), which resulted in Nathaniel Lewis. When I was a kid, I really didn't like my name: I wanted one that was more common and easier to spell. But as I became an adult, I began to like my name a lot and am grateful that my parents decided to name me as they did.

Parents choose names for the children for a myriad of reasons. Many want to remember family members who have passed away, while others name children to honor living relatives, friends, and public figures like presidents, actors and writers. Many Christians name their children after saints or other religious figures, a tradition that is also observed by Muslims, Hindus and Jews. Children are sometimes named for plants (Daisy, Rose, Rowan); animals, (Wolf, Leona, Robin); stones (Beryl, Garnet, Opal), or geographic features, like Douglas ("dark stream") or Craig ("from the crag"). Occupational names are increasingly popular among American parents, such as Taylor, Mason, Hunter and Cooper, while some parents choose traditional family names as first names, like Madison, Mackenzie or Tiffany. Many African-American parents like to give their children names that sound appealing, like Tamisha, LaKeisha and Keshawn.

The Little Giant Encyclopedia of Names is a fascinating compilation of given names found primarily in North America. It examines the origins and meanings of thousands of names, including nicknames and their common foreign variations. It also includes listings of French, German, Indian, Irish, Italian, Japanese, Muslim, Rissiasn and Spanish names for boys and girls. This book was a lot of fun to put together and was a valuable learning experience for me.

The Little Giant Encyclopedia of Names. Sterling Publishing, 1999. Paper, 512 pages. $9.95. ISBN 978-0806965093. To order The Little Giant Encyclopedia of Names, click here.

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