Unexpected Facts About The Origins And Meanings Of Common Names



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Vote up the names with the most unexpected history.

Expecting parents have big choices to make, and choosing the perfect name for their bundles of joy is often at the top of the list. Whether settling on a well-known moniker or opting for one that stands out from the crowd, parents hope the decisions they make for their children will hold up to the personalities they develop. 

Still, no matter how much thought goes into the baby-naming process, there's always room for the unknown. Some newborns are intentionally given controversial names that don't sit well with their respective cultures, while others receive common ones that have surprisingly dark meanings

If new parents are hoping to dodge the weighted history of a name by choosing classics like Chad, Molly, Courtney, Jason, or others on this list, they may be surprised to learn that their child's namesake has a surprisingly deep origin story worth looking into. Read on to discover the unexpected history behind some of the world's more common names. 

  • 1
    86 VOTES

    Despite Its Noble Connotations, ‘Lady’ Started As A Name For A Bread-Kneader

    The title Lady has been a distinction reserved for women of British nobility for centuries. However, long before it became a first name or even a flashy title, it was the label for those who worked as bread-kneaders. 

    Derived from the Old English term hlæfdige, the hlæf portion refers to bread, while dige translates as “kneader.”  (Similarly, “lord” initially stemmed from hlafweard, meaning “bread guardian.”) 

    Despite the technical translation, the English had already adopted the original version of the name to describe a female head-of-household by the early 9th century and formed it into the modern spelling and title by the 14th century.

    86 votes
  • 'Mallory' Means 'Unlucky' And Was Originally Considered A Masculine Name
    Photo: Family Ties / NBC

    Several translations exist for the name Mallory, and none sound very pleasant. Stemming from the Old French word malheure, the popular name means “ill-omened,” “unfortunate,” “unlucky,” or “unhappy.” 

    Although it was initially a name primarily reserved for boys, the 1980s sitcom Family Ties featured a character named Mallory Keaton, creating a surge in popularity for baby girls. 

    102 votes
  • ‘Avery’ Derives From An Ancient Germanic Name Meaning ‘Elf King’
    Photo: Elf / New Line Cinema
    71 VOTES

    ‘Avery’ Derives From An Ancient Germanic Name Meaning ‘Elf King’

    A name that was once mainly used for boys before becoming popular with parents of baby girls, Avery is now a gender-neutral choice derived from the ancient Germanic language. 

    A combination of aelf (which translates to “elf”) and ric (meaning “king” or "power"), the name's interpretation is “elf king" or “ruler of elves.”

    71 votes
  • 'Courtney' Was An Old French Nickname For Someone With A Short Nose
    Photo: Manfred Werner / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
    76 VOTES

    'Courtney' Was An Old French Nickname For Someone With A Short Nose

    Introduced by the Normans to England around the Norman Conquest of 1066, Courtney was a surname before it became a first name. It now claims two distinct origin stories, and neither is as appealing as its current popularity suggests. 

    One possibility is that it comes from the location label “domain of Curtenus,” from the Latin meaning “broken.” Another origin story suggests “Courtney” derives from the Old French nickname “court” or “curt" - paired with "nes" - meaning someone with a short nose.

    76 votes
  • 5
    89 VOTES

    ‘Chad’ Has Old English Origins And Was The Name Of A Saint

    Stemming from Old English, Chad translates to “protector” or “defender.” While the name carries a distinct “bro” vibe in the modern era, it's centuries' old and was the name of a saint born around 634 CE. 

    Believed to have origins in Northumbrian nobility, St. Chad was first a student of St. Aiden at a monastery on the island of Lindisfarne before moving to Ireland. He eventually became the ordained bishop of York and later Mercia and Lindsey in central England. He perished on March 2, 672, a date now recognized as St. Chad's Day in Catholicism. 

    89 votes
  • ‘Pepper’ Began As An Occupational Name, And As A Nickname For Short Men
    Photo: Iron Man 2 / Paramount Pictures

    Despite its climb on the baby name charts after the Iron Man films and comics adopted it for a character played by Gwyneth Paltrow, Pepper was used long before the MCU caused its resurgence in popularity.

    The name originates from England and Northern Germany, though it was initially used to describe a person who worked in the spice business. Short men were also deemed “peppers” based on the exaggeration that they were as small as peppercorns.

    73 votes