This blog has moved! Please join us over at!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Baby Naming Issue: A Problem With the Name's Meaning

Eilidh writes:
Hello! My husband and I have Emmett, who is 6, then Alice, who is 4, and Leighton, who is 2. We have an issue with naming our last baby, a boy. We both love the name Shane, and it is our very first choice. However, the meaning is "God is gracious". This is where our issue is. Both my husband and I are non-religious, and we aren't raising our children with a religion. We don't want to give him a name tied to a religious meaning, and it can mean a lot to someone. We're both very Irish, and love those sort of names. We'd love some help! Thanks so much!

P.S.: If the baby was going to be a girl, he would have been Rowan. Is that any help?

Oh, easy one! I know exactly what you should name your baby: Shane.

About the meaning---I getcha, I do. But baby name meanings are not the actual meanings of names. Generally meanings are based only on the root words from which the names were formed. Other meanings can be totally arbitrary. Baby name books frequently disagree on what any particular name means.

Meanings are fun and may even significantly enhance a name for the parents, but that's it. Rowan means "little redhead," but if your baby had been a girl she needn't have been a redhead to possess that name, nor would your giving her that name have meant that you wanted her to be one. And the name Leighton means "meadow settlement," but you're not rearing Leighton as a meadow settlement and no one should think you were.

Shane in particular has a very tenuous connection to its meaning: Shane is the English version of one possible pronunciation of the Irish name Sean (the English version of the other possible pronunciation is Shawn). Sean, in turn, is the Irish version of John. The name John is a contracted form of the Hebrew name Johanan. And it's Johanan that means "God is gracious" in Hebrew. [Source for all this stuff: Oxford Dictionary of First Names.]

To me, this means that if you were rearing your children in that religion, you could think pleasantly of Shane's several-times-removed connection to that meaning. But the name Shane has, well, almost NOTHING to do with the name Johanan. The name Shane HAS no meaning. Name your son Shane! You love it, and the only real meaning of that name to you is going to be "Our Baby."


MelissaInk said...

I agree. Shane is just fine. I don't associate it with the religious meaning AT ALL.

We skipped the name Cruz, but that's a little closer to "Crucifixion" ... you know?

Brody means "second born," but I don't think people pay attention to that.

Blake means "fair." I'm sure there are some dark-skinned boys named Blake.

I think Shane is totally, totally fine and goes nicely with your other children's names.

My oldest kid's name means "barrel maker." Who cares?

Plenty of little girls named Mallory out there ... (it means "unlucky").

I agree with Swistle, the meaning is fun and can enhance a name for some, "but that's it."

Tracy H. said...

Use Shane! Love the name Shane! Most people really don't even know the meanings of most names. It's a great name, forget about the meaning.

Kelley said...

While I agree that the meaning of the name Shane is negligible and you should go ahead and use it, if you're still really stuck on the meaning, I think Rowan is still unisex enough that it works for a boy. In fact, I think I prefer Rowan with your other children's names.

TweePopACap said...

I totally agree with Swistle (and previous posters). Go with Shane! I'm in the same boat as you - I'm nonreligious, won't be raising my kids with a religion, and would prefer a nonreligious meaning in my child's name...but if it turned out that a name I love had a religious meaning, I would shrug and name my child that name anyway. It's a bonus if a name has a great meaning, and kind of a bummer if it has a terrible meaning, but in the end it's really a nonissue.

StephLove said...

I'll get on the "keep Shane" bandwagon. I'm not religious but my son's name is Noah, one of the better known Biblical characters.

bellaf said...

Nah, don't worry about it. It's not like you're naming your child Christian or Faith. Who hears Shane and think of religion? I dare say nobody. These supposed meanings are tenuous at best.

BTW, I'm also non-religious, my name is Isabel and it's supposed to have something to do with God. Doesn't bother me in the least. My parents most certainly weren't thinking 'bout meanings when they named me and no one ever thinks it is religiously inspired.

Misty said...

Well answered, Swistle. As another non-religious person, I completely agree with her assessment.

Jeni Q said...

Agree totally!

Frazzled Mom said...

Most people don't know most names meanings, and most meanings are disputed anyway. I wouldn't worry too much about meanings.

Erin said...

Someone else said this and I agree - if you were naming the baby Christian, maybe. Shane, not so much. My husband won't even go for Evangeline, too Evangelical for him. But you know, Leah means weary, a bunch of those M names (like Mary I think) mean bitter, so who cares.

That said, I understanding wanting to love the meaning of the name too, and the meaning of a name is pretty instructive for me on which names I like. but I still like Shane's meaning even though I'm not religious. Forget the God part for a second and you get Grace, which is quite nice, whether from "God" or "a creator" or "mom and dad" "the universe" "nature" whatever. (the idea of God is malleable). My middle name, Elizabeth, I love but it means promise or oath unto God. thats a bit much, but it wouldn't stop me from using the name because while it might have those Hebrew roots and meaning, its very much English sounding now (like Shane is more considered Irish then coming from the Hebrew John). So maybe that helps justify it more for you?

Go with Shane!

Lara Jane said...

I'm super "religious" (I hate that word. I don't like the "institution" of it all, but I very much enjoy my relationship with my God) and had no idea that Shane had any kind of religious meaning.

In other words, I agree with bellaf that nobody else will make this leap either. There are a lot of Biblical names that I don't necessarily associate with being Biblical, unless one family uses several of them. And Shane, to my knowledge, isn't even one of those!

The only reason I would hesitate with Shane is that all of your other children have two-syllable names, and Shane sort of throws harmony out the window. But if you love it, use it!

beyond said...

I agree that Shane is fine, to me it's a 'non-religious' name. If you love it, go for it. However, if it really bugs you... I understand as well. Here are a few names -most of Irish origin and none with religious meaning (I think!)- that might inspire you?
Good luck!

sarah said...

Shane is fine, but I actually prefer Rowan for a boy. Maybe that is because I know 2 adorable little boy Rowans. I think Rowan goes better with the other kids' names, and you should use it for a boy (unless you plan to have more kids and want to save it for a future potential girl).

Bearden 365 said...

I am also non-religious and really liked the name Christian! To me, that is a VERY religious sounding name, so I nixed it. Shane--not so much. I think you're good!

The Schwant Family said...

totally unrelated comment: I have a friend whose name is Shayne Rowan (first and last name)

Steph the WonderWorrier said...

Totally go with Shane -- I agree, no one will know the "Meaning", and Swistle outlined really well why you don't need to worry about 'meanings' anyway! :-)