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Pamela Redmond Satran

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Forbidden Baby Names

Posted: 02/ 3/2012 10:42 am

When a name like Talula Does The Hula from Hawaii gets banned, it makes big news. But there are lots of other names that, now and since the beginning of recorded name time, have quietly been relegated to the forbidden list. No judge may have pounded a gavel, no name-sensitive Napoleon decreed the name unlawful. But these baby names have nevertheless been shunned by parents in the Western World -- and sometimes even by those who've been unlucky enough to be born with them.

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  • Cain

    As the murderous biblical brother, <a href="" target="_hplink">Cain</a> was for centuries a name that was off the table, while <a href="" target="_hplink">Abel </a>was quietly (too quietly, in our opinion) still used. While naming your son Cain might put negative ideas in his head -- watch the baby! -- you might consider cognates <a href="" target="_hplink">Keane</a> or <a href="" target="_hplink">Kean</a>, Irish surnames that mean "ancient."

  • Lucifer

    <a href="" target="_hplink">Lucifer</a>, Latin for "light bearer," may be a beautiful-sounding name --- part <a href="" target="_hplink">Lucas</a>, part <a href="" target="_hplink">Christopher</a> -- but it's long been a tainted choice as the appellation of the archangel cast into Hell. (Theologians disagree about whether Satan and Lucifer are the same being.) While the name is still banned in New Zealand, a handful of contemporary children in the U.S. are named Lucifer.

  • Jezebel

    <a href="" target="_hplink">Jezebel's</a> name was long synonymous with hussy, and few self-respecting parents would name their daughters Jezebel or the names of slutty Biblical sisters <a href="" target="_hplink">Salome</a> or <a href="" target="_hplink">Delilah</a>. Those barriers are breaking down now, with Delilah perfectly proper and Jezebel a theoretical substitute for Isabel. Ironically enough, Jezebel is a Hebrew name meaning "virginal."

  • Judas

    To be a <a href="" target="_hplink">Judas</a> meant, for centuries, to be a two-faced traitor ala the Judas who betrayed Christ. Feelings against the name Judas ran so strong that it wasn't until the past decade that its Hebrew version Judah entered the US Top 1000, while short form <a href="" target="_hplink">Jude</a> took off in the last ten years thanks to actor Jude Law. In the most recent year counted, there were over 2000 boys named Jude and over 1000 named <a href="" target="_hplink">Judah</a> -- but only 13 called Judas.

  • Mary

    Before the 16th century, <a href="" target="_hplink">Mary</a> was considered too holy a name for mortal use. Once the gateway opened, however, there was no stopping Mary, the Number 1 name until 1950, when Linda finally unseated her. Now Mary is thought of as the most proper of names, if not the most fashionable.

  • Benedict

    <a href="" target="_hplink">Benedict</a> Arnold, Revolutionary War traitor, gave his perfectly nice name a bad name. Current Pope Benedict has helped restore the name, which means blessed, to glory. Benedict can make a fresher substitute for <a href="" target="_hplink">Benjamin</a>.

  • Bridget

    A hundred years ago, young Irish immigrants to the US who were named <a href="" target="_hplink">Bridget</a> rushed to change their name -- to <a href="" target="_hplink">Bertha</a>, <a href="" target="_hplink">Bernice</a>, <a href="" target="_hplink">Beatrice</a>, anything but the dreaded Bridget, which had become an epithet for Irish servants. It took decades for this name of the ancient Celtic goddess of wisdom to regain its power, and it's never shaken off its Irish brogue.

  • Sambo

    "Little Black<a href="" target="_hplink"> Sambo</a>" was a popular children's books from the time of its publication in 1899 until the mid-20th century, when criticisms of the book's racist slant began to surface. An early critic was Langston Hughes, who said the "pickaninny" storybook was hurtful to black children. Once a pet form of <a href="" target="_hplink">Samuel</a>, Sambo came to be a racial slur.

  • Adolf

    <a href="" target="_hplink">Adolf</a> entered the verboten list after the rise of Adolf Hitler, perhaps the greatest villain the world has ever known. As popular as Nathaniel or Moses in 1900, Adolf is barely used in the US today. A <a href="" target="_hplink">New Jersey child</a> who was actually named Adolf Hitler was taken out of his parents' custody, his parents claim, partly because of his name.

  • Princess

    <a href="" target="_hplink">Princess</a> may be a name any little girl would love, but it's banned in New Zealand as well as in some European countries, where a royal title cannot be used as a first name. Also on the outs: <a href="" target="_hplink">Prince</a>, <a href="" target="_hplink">King</a>, <a href="" target="_hplink">Queen</a>, <a href="" target="_hplink">Count</a>, and <a href="" target="_hplink">Duke</a>.

  • Cohen

    The Jewish surname <a href="" target="_hplink">Cohen</a> has been adopted as a first name only in the past few years, arousing the ire of some Jews who believe only those who inherit the name from their families should be entitled to use it. The reason: Cohen is a sacred name in the Jewish religion, meaning priest and designating the descendants of <a href="" target="_hplink">Aaron</a>. Non-believers protest that they only like the name for its fashionable sound, and either don't know or don't care about its history.

  • Dick

    <a href="" target="_hplink">Dick </a>was long a popular short form for <a href="" target="_hplink">Richard </a>-- witness Dick Nixon, Dick Cheney, Dick Clark, Dick Van Dyke, Dick Tracy -- but now it's become the favored slang for everything from penis to jerk. Dick has gone downhill so fast and so far as a name that it's impossible to imagine anyone giving it to a baby -- and in fact, in the last year counted, no one did. Even Adolph was more popular.


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