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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Baby Naming Issue: The Chosen Name has a Bad Meaning

Brooke writes:
I am less than two weeks away from my due date and we are in a predicament. I would really really appreciate hearing your thoughts and your reader's thoughts on this name situation. We have a name we really like and while my husband thinks it's rediculous that I took this name off the list a long time ago because of it's meaning, I am still hesitant and want to know if I would be making a mistake by using it. The name we like is Cora which means "maiden" - this alone is no big deal really. The middle name we planned on using is Marie which means "bitter". Would Cora Marie hate us when she gets older and finds out her name means bitter maiden??? Marie is my middle name and my mom's middle name. We want to use a family name from my side since we did a family name from my husband's side for our son's middle name.

A little background info that might help: my name is Brooke, husband is Bryan and our son is Drew Thomas. Our last name is Fletcher. Our top girl names are Cora, Kate and Audrey.

Cora Marie
Kate Amelia
Audrey Kate

Family names: Marie (my middle and my mom's) Lucille (my grandma's first name), June (my mom's favortie aunt), Kate (way back on both my grandmother and grandfather's side), Rosa (I LOVE Cora Rose, but this would be a stretch and Rosa is way far back in the family tree). I also love Cora Mae - could Mae be a newer version of Marie or am I pulling at strings here???

I am dying to know your thoughts and am completely open to any suggestions other than what have going!!!

Name meanings are fun, but this is where they bite us in the butt.

Historically, people have enjoyed attributing meanings to items. That doesn't mean those meanings are inherent to the items: one community decides a certain flower or certain color or certain gem or certain day of the year means one thing, and another community might decide something completely different. In one culture, white fabric is used for weddings and religious purity; in another, for funerals and mourning. Which of those reflects the true meaning of the color white? Neither: both meanings are imposed upon the color rather than obtained from it. Yellow roses mean "jealousy"---but also "friendship," "apology," and "dying love" (source). Which of those is the REAL meaning? None of them: all such meanings have been tacked onto the object for fun. If someone gives you yellow roses, the most likely message is "Here, have some pretty yellow roses."

It is the same with the name Cora Marie: it doesn't truly MEAN "bitter maiden" unless you intend it to mean that, any more than a yellow rose truly means "jealousy" if you don't intend it to mean that. A yellow rose means only itself: it is a yellow rose. The name Cora Marie means only itself: it is the proper noun Cora, followed by the proper noun Marie. Baby name books don't even agree on the meanings of names; and combining names to make compound meanings creates compound problems: the meaning of one name is not designed to refer to the meaning of another name.

Marie is said to mean bitter because it's similar to the name Mara which, in a Bible story, a character claims means bitter (source). Or maybe Mara means "to flap" or "to be filthy" or "to rebel" (source). In either case, does the possible meaning of a Hebrew word pronounced MAH-rah really impact the meaning of the French name pronounced mah-REE---and to the extent that a child sharing that name with millions of other women throughout history (as well as with her personal family ancestors) would take it as a personal slap in the face from her parents? Is that how you feel about your middle name, or how your mom feels about hers? Do any of us wonder, when we meet a Marie, if she hates her parents for giving her such an insulting name?

Besides, according to the The Oxford Dictionary of First Names, the names Marie, Maria, and Mary are separate from the name Mara and instead all come from the Latin word meaning "sea" (the same root as words such as marine, marina, and mariner). Presumably your daughter will not mind as much being known as a "sea maiden"---or mermaid, if you prefer.

The "maiden" part is also uncertain: according to the same book, the name Cora was invented in the 1800s by a novelist. Did that author imbue the name with a meaning at the moment of its invention? Was a special court convened to divine the true meaning of the name before registering it in the baby name books? No: the Oxford Dictionary speculates that the name "could represent a Latinized form of Greek Kore 'maiden'." Nobody knows what Cora means, because the name Cora doesn't have a meaning---not that this stops the baby name books from reporting one.

By all means, if you enjoy playing with the meanings of names, go ahead and do it: just as it might be fun to have a bouquet of striped and solid carnations seem to say "yes" and "no" at the same time, it could be fun to say a name like Cora Beatrix meant "happy maiden." But letting these imposed meanings stop you from using names you love is another matter. It would be like digging up the hydrangeas you loved because you didn't want your neighbors to think you were frigid.


Jen said...

Cora Marie is a beautiful name. I would not hesitate to use it.

Michelle said...

Cora also has roots in latin for 'heart'. Swistle is right, Cora first made an appearance as a name in literature, The Last of the Mohicans if I remember correctly. Marie/Mary also has the association of the beloved Mother of Christ, which I think eclipses the literal meaning. I really like the name you've chosen. I like that Cora is sweet and simple but has a nostaglic feel.

Amie said...

In the baby name book I have it says that Marie means "star of the sea/from the sea of bitterness". I think that Cora Marie is a lovely name with a beautiful meaning!

StephLove said...

I like Cora Marie for you. I always attribute the sea meaning to Mary names, maybe because I love the ocean. I like the idea of thinking of it as meaning mermaid.

Tara said...

Personally I don't care about meanings at all. I couldn't tell you the actual meaning of my own name, and I've never even thought to see what my whole (first & middle) name means. To me if a name has a nice meaning that just happens to be a bonus. I like names for the way they sound, not for their meaning. Plus, it seems as though every baby name book/website have conflicting meanings for names.

Cora Marie is a beautiful name, and I think you should use it.

Jessica said...

Well said, Swistle! Cora Marie is a lovely name and I don't think you would have any name-meaning problems if you used it.

Anonymous said...

When I was growing up it was kind of an amusing past-time to discuss the meanings of names and usually to mock how incongruous those meanings were with their owners. For example, my name means "small and wise" (according to the naming book I consulted at the time) which was amusing because I was always the tallest among my friends and am now a 5' 11" woman - not small at all! The wise part is debatable. :) I have never known anyone who attached serious significance to the meaning of their name. Sure, it's nice to have a pretty or "positive" meaning. But, as others have pointed out, those meanings are different in different sources. I wouldn't let it rule out a name I loved.

Anonymous said...

I agree that the positive association with her mother, grandmother, and thousands of years of wonderful Marys and Maries, from the mother of Christ to Marie Curie, woman scientist, will trump any negativity from the possible rendering of "bitter maiden."

Anonymous said...

Spot on, Swistle!

Go with Cora Marie. What a lovely name.

phancymama said...

I completely agree with Swistle and the above commenters. Meanings vary, and the association with your middle name will trump all other "meanings". Cora Marie is a lovely name, with a great family connection.

Anonymous said...

I always thought Mary names meant pure. And Cora to me is the root of corazon, heart. I also think of corals when I see the word Cora. I never think maiden. If I looked up the words in a book and saw the meanings you found I would just shrug my shoulders. The name is very pretty. Cora Lucille and Cora June are also lovely.

Anonymous said...

I would use Cora Marie 100%. My sister and I had one amusing afternoon of looking up name meanings in a book...only long enough to discover that my name meant a flower and hers meant a haystack. I giggled over that for about 2 minutes and she is not scarred in the least, in fact she loves her name to this day. The meaning really had no effect on her opinion of it.

Mary said...

I think what will matter more to your daughter is hearing how you picked her name and how it has a special meaning to *you*, which led to her name being Cora Marie.

Mary said...

as to answer your other question, I think Mae could be used to honor you and your mom. Cora Mae sounds really sweet.

If you're still uncomfortable, what about Lucy Mae to also honor your grandmother in one go?

Teej said...

I think Cora Marie is a beautiful name. Like others have said, my association with Marie is from Mary, which makes me think of pure, holy, etc., not bitterness...

I will confess that when I found out as a pre-teen that my name (Theresa) meant "the reaper," I was really disturbed because I thought it meant the same thing as "raper"! But it was a family name, and I loved my Great Aunt Theresa, and I never was angry at my parents for naming me that...even when I thought the name meant rapist

So, I wouldn't worry about your daughter's reaction to Cora Marie. Save this post and all the comments to show her! I bet she will love seeing how much thought went into her name.

Leslie said...

Cora Marie is a gorgeous name, and it has the best kind of meaning - it is meaningful to you! Names meanings otherwise are so historically variable that I wouldn't worry about it. Just some of the meanings for my own first name that I've seen include white wave, phantom, fairy, purity, and juniper. It's all over the place, and the meaning that meant the most to me as a kid (and now) is that a) my parents chose a name they love, and b) my name has strong family connections. Go with Cora Marie, it's lovely and perfect!

Portia said...

Great post, Swistle.

Cora Marie is a beautiful name, and for your daughter, the family significance of Marie will doubtless mean much more to her than anything she could find in a name book. How sweet to share a name among three generations.

Anonymous said...

Swistle is right, the literal meaning of a root word that may or may not have influenced the creation of the name really doesn't matter. To most people today Cora "means" a sweet, short, feminine name with a vintage feel. And I'm sure to your daughter, Marie will mean "I was named after my mother." Cora Marie is lovely, has sentimental meaning for your family and fits well with Drew. I say you should use it.

Anonymous said...

If you're still uncertain about Marie, Mae isn't a leap at all-it's an old nickname for Mary. My grandmother's middle name is Mae, after her grandmother who's given name was Mary but went by Mae. Since Marie is a derivation/variation of Mary, I think Mae works honor-wise.

Another Erin from the 80s said...

I 100% agree with you swistle...great post!
All that is important is that you find a name you love, and it sounds like you already have!

Anonymous said...

Well, I purposely dropped my favourite ever name from my daughters list because it had a negative meaning. I just couldnt name her something that meant 'lame. I felt superstitiously that it may be prophetic and din't want to take the risk. But that's just me. I also thought Mary meant 'bitter' but I love that others like it to Mer, the sea, in French. In retrospect I would have used a Mary derivative if I knew it meant that! I think that your name is lovely and Cora Marie has a lovely sound. Best Of luck!

T said...

I find that is the most reliable baby name website, and this is what it says under the heading 'Meaning & History' of Cora and Marie...

Cora: Created by James Fenimore Cooper for his novel 'The Last of the Mohicans' (1826). He may have based it on KORË or CORINNA.

I then went to the name Kore which says: Means "maiden" in Greek. This was another name for the Greek goddess Persephone.

I then went to the name Corinna which says: Latinized form of the Greek name Κοριννα (Korinna), which was derived from κορη (kore) "maiden". This was the name of a Greek lyric poet of the 5th century BC. The Roman poet Ovid used it for the main female character in his book 'Amores'. In the modern era it has been in use since the 17th century, when Robert Herrick used it in his poem 'Corinna's going a-Maying'.

Marie: French and Czech form of MARIA. A notable bearer of this name was Marie Antoinette, the queen of France who was executed by guillotine during the French Revolution. Another was Marie Curie, a physicist and chemist who studied radioactivity with her husband Pierre.

I then went to the name Maria which says: Latin form of Greek Μαρια, from Hebrew מִרְיָם (see MARY). Maria is the usual form of the name in many European languages, as well as a secondary form in other languages such as English (where the common spelling is Mary). In some countries, for example Germany, Poland and Italy, Maria is occasionally used as a masculine middle name.

This was the name of two ruling queens of Portugal. It was also borne by the Habsburg queen Maria Theresa (1717-1780), whose inheritance of the domains of her father, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI, began the War of the Austrian Succession.

I then went to the name Mary which says: Usual English form of Maria, which was the Latin form of the New Testament Greek names Μαριαμ (Mariam) and Μαρια (Maria) - the spellings are interchangeable - which were from the Hebrew name מִרְיָם (Miryam). The meaning is not known for certain, but there are several theories including "sea of bitterness", "rebelliousness", and "wished for child". However it was most likely originally an Egyptian name, perhaps derived in part from mry "beloved" or mr "love".

This is the name of several New Testament characters, most importantly Mary the virgin mother of Jesus, and Mary Magdalene. Due to the Virgin Mary this name has been very popular in the Christian world, though at certain times in some cultures it has been considered too holy for everyday use. In England it has been used since the 12th century, and it has been among the most common feminine names since the 16th century. The Latinized form Maria is also used in English as well as in several other languages.

This name has been borne by two queens of England, as well as a Queen of Scotland, Mary Queen of Scots. Another notable bearer was Mary Shelley (1797-1851), the author of 'Frankenstein'. A famous fictional character by this name was Mary Poppins, from the children's books by P. L. Travers.

So, basically you COULD say that Cora Marie means 'bitter maiden', but it doesn't necessarily mean that at all.

Colleen said...

Great post! Swistle nails it again.

One of the meanings for my son, Brendan's, name is smelly hair, I think. It gave me maybe a moment's pause. He's old enough now to know that and other attributed meanings, and it doesn't bother him. Anecdotal evidence meant to be of assistance :-)
Go with the preferred name!

Anonymous said...

I absolutely love the name Cora Marie. In fact, if this baby is a girl (will be born 3/13) that is her name. I totally agree with swistle on the "bitter" meaning. We are actually waffling on Mae vs. Marie. But, I'm partial to Marie since it is my mom's and my middle name. It's beautiful! Don't hesitate to use it!

Patricia said...

From The Great Big Book of Baby Names by Cleveland Kent Evans, Ph.D., President, American Name Society:
CORA - "Probably created by American author James Fenimore Cooper for the heroine of his 1826 novel "The Last of the Mohicans", possibly from Greek 'kore' "girl". Cora was one of the top 20 names given to American girls born in the mid-19th century.

MARIE - French variation of MARY: "English form of Hebrew Miriam, meaning unknown: "beloved" or "child we wished for" are possibilities."

Few names have absolute meanings, so that parents often can choose among possible meanings. I would say that Cora Marie means "beloved girl".

Cora Marie is a pretty name, and with Marie's tie to your name and your mom's name, Cora Marie seems perfect for your daughter.