The Baby Name Buff: Jazz Edition

Guest Blogger: Kyle Garton-Gundling

Jazz is a uniquely American musical style that can also be a great source of inspiration for names. These possibilities are taken from famous artists and song titles:



The funky, herky-jerky phrases of Thelonius (Thel-own-ee-us) Monk’s piano playing were as innovative and unique as his name, which, while not entirely a neologism, is strongly associated with him and no one else. This name could suit a baby boy who marches to the beat of his own drum or who made syncopated kicks in the womb. Nicknames could include Theo, Thel, or Thelly.


Duke Ellington defined the big band jazz sound for half a century, and while his compositions such as It Don’t Mean a Thing and Take the A Train are well-known, he is overlooked as an accomplished pianist in his own right. If you want your boy to have an endearing sense of style, this classy-sounding name could be the one for you.


Virtuoso trumpeter Wynton Marsalis (Mar-saa-lis) has made his mark with a special combination of soulful swing and meticulous refinement. This name could serve as inspiration for a boy to be well-rounded and have a capacious imagination. It is also not to be confused with Marsala or Masala, both of which are delicious, but not nearly as good at improvising over “Giant Steps” as Marsalis. Nicknames could be Mar, Mars, or Sal.


This strong-sounding boy’s name comes from pianist Dave Brubeck (Broo-beck), whose pivotal composition “Take Five” is the biggest-selling jazz single of all time, and one of very few popular tunes besides the Mission: Impossible theme to be written in 5/4 time. Often overshadowed by his quartet’s star saxophonist Paul Desmond, Brubeck knew both how to solo and how to blend in and accentuate the strengths of his colleagues. Your little Brubeck could learn from his namesake how to skillfully navigate individual and group roles. Nicknames include Rubin and Beck.


This could be a festive name with which to celebrate your unique little girl. Holiday’s unorthodox vocals go against technical norms but are so sinewy and enticing that they have given us definitive recordings of bedrock tunes like “Strange Fruit,” “Summertime,” and “Blue Moon.” With nickname options including Holly, Hol, Lida, or Day, this name can convey breeziness and originality.


If you don’t think jazz is improvisational enough already, you can listen to Ornette (Oar-net) Coleman’s radical album Free Jazz, which includes jazzy improvisation but also does away with the underlying shared musical form that usually defines jazz playing. While not my personal favorite, this creative cacophony shows just how daring this musician could be. So if you want your child to be unafraid to take risks and venture into the unknown, this name would fit the bill perfectly.  Although this namesake is a man, the typically feminine –ette suffix could make this name work for either sex.


Jazz may be an American style, but every jazz guitarist lives in the shadow of the European Django (Jang-go) Reinhardt, who singlehandedly established the guitar as an important jazz instrument as early as the 1920s. His mastery of improvising melodic lines makes him a charming and virtuosic listen to this day. This name also has a contemporary referent in the 2012 Quentin Tarantino film Django Unchained, an intense revenge film with plenty of that typical Tarantino violence. Parents considering this name are thus left with two highly contrasting associations.


John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespe (Guh-less-pee) is known for playing a trumpet with a bent horn, an accidental bit of “damage” that turned out to produce a unique sound he liked. This name, then, could suit a boy who is raised with the aspiration to turn accidents or apparent flaws into something beautiful. Possible nicknames include Gil or Gilly.


Speaking of Dizzie Gillespe, another great name option comes from one of his signature protegées, Arturo Sandoval (Sand-uh-vaul). Sandoval specializes in Latin and bebop jazz, but is a master of all musical styles. So this name could be good for a boy upon whom his parents wish a balance between specialization and breadth.


The charismatic band leader Cab Calloway (Cal-uh-way) is best known for his rendition of “Minnie the Mooch,” which was featured in The Blues Brothers.Civic-minded parents-to-be, take heart: the song describes, but does not praise, a mooch. So there is a good chance that a child with this name will grow up to be, in fact, quite self-sufficient.



The name of this North African nation gets special mention in the famous Dizzie Gillespe song “A Night in Tunisia.” The song’s most distinctive feature is the stylistic contrast between the straight-eights A section and swinging B section, which might be interpreted as a musical representation of the country’s diversity. Moreover, a quartet of factions in Tunisia were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2015 “for its decisive contribution to the building of a pluralistic democracy in Tunisia in the wake of the Jasmine Revolution of 2011.” Consider this name if you want a child who can unite disparate parties.


This beachside neighborhood in Rio de Janiero, Brazil has become musically immortalized in “The Girl from Ipanema,” most famously recorded by Astrud Gilberto. The titular girl is aloof to the love of her admirer, such that “when she passes he smiles, but she doesn’t see.” This could be an elegant girl’s name for one who will be highly sought after.


This celestial name has a robust pedigree in jazz standards, with at least five songbook classics including it: “How High the Moon,” “Fly Me to the Moon,” “Blue Moon,” “By the Light of the Silvery Moon,” and “Moon River.” This name could capture the aspiration for a cool and deep character in a child of either sex.


This is a great-sounding name that bears risks of cultural appropriation. In fact, composer Ray Noble had intended the piece as the first part of a five-piece Indian Suite, but as far as I can tell, the song has no particular connection to the music of the Native American tribe it was named after. Nevertheless, the name sounds too cool to leave off the list, and it can foster conversations around what cultural guidelines should go into the names we choose.


The jazz standard “Stella by Starlight” has many versions—fast, slow, and medium—showing that this beautiful girls’ name can roll off the tongue at any tempo. Nicknames options include Star, Starr, Arla, and Arli.


A rondo is a piece of music with a core phrase or segment that keeps returning. But in this context, this selection comes from Dave Brubeck’s strikingly original tune “Blue Rondo à la Turk.” The only jazz piece with nine-beat measures, this tune was “[i]nspired by Turkish street music and multi-rhythmic African traditions that use 9/8 time and other time signatures radically different from the standard 4/4 rhythm of American jazz,” according to PBS jazz critic Hedrick Smith. This name thus bears a legacy of cross-cultural synthesis that could inspire a cosmopolitan boy.


You might think that a tune named for the root “dox” would have to play it straight, as in ortho-dox (“straight doctrine”). And yet this swinging tune by sax great Sonny Rollins is anything but stiff or stuffy; the playful –y ending riffs on the rigidity of doxa. So this name could be an unorthodox inspiration for parents who want their child to almost play it straight, but with just the right amount of subversive twist.


This upper Manhattan neighborhood has been so central to African American innovations in art and culture that a great number of jazz songs include it in its name or lyrics, most notably “Take the A Train” (“To go to sugar hill way up in Harlem”), Drop Me Off In Harlem, Harlem Congo, and Harlem Nocturne. This unisex name could be good for a baby that’s always on the cutting edge.

Update: 5/15/19 – For the first time, Harlem is on the (boys’) top 1,000 list, at #985 for 2018.


This jazz standard is named for a flowering tree introduced to Cuba from Madagascar. With its expansive, ferny leaves and bright red flowers, it’s little wonder that, as the song’s lyrics state, “your branches speak to me of love.” This name could work for parents who want a floral name but are interested in moving beyond the usual choices like Iris, Rose, and so on. Although Poinciana’s floral associations would traditionally code this name as feminine, its sound would lend itself to either gender, though its nicknames Cia or Ana do seem to be more fitting for girls than boys.


Who could ask for anything more?

Which name has the most swing? Tell us what you think in the comments!

Photo credit: Alan E

The Baby Name Buff: Easter Edition

What comes to mind when you think about Easter? Colorful Easter egg hunts? Boatloads of candy? These and other secular Easter traditions are no doubt tons of fun. But, for the more than 70% of Americans who are Christians, Easter is a sacred and important holiday that celebrates Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice of his own life in order to save the souls of all humanity, for all time.

Whether you are a Christian or not, the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection is a compelling read. This tale is woven slightly differently in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. This week, to celebrate Easter, a holiday deeply important to so many people I know, I present you with my ten favorite names from the Biblical Easter story.

(And thanks to my brother, Alex Gundling, a devout Christian who helped me on this blog with name pronunciations and the context of the Biblical events relevant to each of the names below.)

All four Gospels agree that is was “a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph” who obtained Jesus’ body from Pilate in order to give Jesus a proper burial in Joseph’s own tomb (Matthew 27:58). As such, Arimathea (Air-uh-muh-thee-uh or Air-uh-may-thea) would be a great name option if you hope your little girl will grow up to be a particularly faithful devotee. Possible nicknames include Ari, Arima, Rhi / Ree, Rima, Maddie, May, Althea, or Thea. 

After his resurrection, Jesus reveals to his followers on multiple occasions that he is alive again. One instance of this takes place at the Sea of Tiberias. (See below for the story of this encounter, under the name Tiberias). One of Jesus’ followers present during this reunion is “Nathanael of Cana” (John 21:2). Cana (Cane-uh) would make a great boys’ or girls’ name, with possible nicknames Cay / Kay or Ana for a girl and Cai / Kai for a boy.

Mark 15:21 states that “they [the mob crucifying Jesus] compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his [Jesus’] cross” to Golgotha, where Jesus would be crucified. This same passage specifies that the man in question was named Simon of Cyrene, a man who was coming to Jerusalem to observe the Passover feast but was accosted on his way and compelled by those crucifying Jesus to carry Jesus’ cross when Jesus could no longer do it himself (due to having suffered a severe beating). Cyrene (Sigh-reen) is a cool location name that would make an awesome boys’ or girls’ name, with possible nicknames Cy, Cyre / Sire, Ren / Wren, or Irene.

It seems reasonable to me that some people—even some of Jesus’ own disciples—would be skeptical of anyone claiming to be Jesus after Jesus’ death. A prime example of such doubt is when Thomas (also known as Didymus) states “unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe” (John 20:24). Of course, Jesus is able to deliver on all counts, and then Thomas realizes that he is indeed in the presence of the true resurrected Christ. Not only does the boys’ name Didymus (Did-uh-miss) have Biblical ties, but it is also the name of a character, Sir Didymus, from the 1986 fantasy film, Labyrinth. Possible nicknames: Diddy, Diamond, and Dymus.

Prior to his crucifixion, Jesus tells his disciples to meet him in Galilee after his resurrection. “But after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee” (Matthew 26:32). Since the reunion of Jesus and his disciples would no doubt be a jubilant occasion, Galilee (Gal-uh-lee) would make a very joy-filled name for any child. I particularly like Galilee as a girls’ name, with nickname options Gal, all variations of Allie, all variations of Lily, or Lee / Leigh.

To reach the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus and his disciples cross “the Kidron valley” (John 18:1). (For more information on what happens once Jesus and his followers reach Gethsemane, see the name entry below for Zebedee.) Kidron (Kih-drawn) is a fresh addition to the seemingly-infinite list of popular boys’ names ending in –on. Kid / Kidd, Idri, Ron, and Ronny / Ronnie are some nickname choices.

Jesus grew up in Nazareth, and since people in the Bible like to talk about “so-and-so from such-and-such place,” the phrase “Jesus of Nazareth” can be found multiple times in the Easter story across the four Gospels. For instance, in the vignette where Peter denies Jesus three times, someone cries out “this man [Peter] was with Jesus of Nazareth” (Matthew 26:71), to which Peter responds “I do not know this man.”  As the hometown of Jesus, Nazareth (Naz-a-rith) would be a great name for any Christian’s little one, boy or girl. Some nickname options are Naz, Aza, Azzie, Zara, Zareth, Ara, or Rhett.

In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Joseph of Arimathea (discussed above) is the sole person who prepares Jesus’ body for burial after Jesus’ death. But the Gospel of John lists Nicodemus as Joseph’s helper in this sacred endeavor (John 19:38). Fun fact (courtesy of my brother, Alex Gundling): one of the most famous biblical quotes of all time, John 3:16, was spoken by Jesus to…you guessed it–the very same Nicodemus, who was actually a Pharisee that secretly came to Jesus for teachings. Nicodemus (Nick-o-deem-iss) is a strong boys’ name with many great nicknames to choose from, including Nico / Niko, Cody, Ode, Odie, Dean, and Demus.

As noted above when discussing the name Cana, Jesus visits his followers on many different occasions post-resurrection to show that he fulfilled his promise to rise again, thus renewing his disciples’ faith in him. One of these occasions takes place at the Sea of Tiberias (John 21:1), where Jesus proves to some of his followers that he is indeed the Lord by helping them catch some fish (which may not sound too impressive, but it was a lot of fish, and they weren’t catching any at all before Jesus showed up). Tiberias (Tie-beer-ee-iss) is an excellent boys’ name that also has analogues in Star Trek (Captain William Tiberius Kirk) and Harry Potter (Tiberius, the uncle of Cormac McLaggen).  I love the nickname Tyber for Tiberias, though Iber, Beri, Erias, or Rias would be other good possibilities.

In the garden of Gethsemane, just before Judas betrays Jesus to the priests and elders who conspired to have Jesus crucified, Jesus steps away from the full group of his disciples to pray to his Father for the strength to give his life. To commune with him during this prayer, he takes with him “Peter and the two sons of Zebedee” (Matthew 26:37), meaning John and James. Zebedee (Zeb-uh-dee) is a unique name that is very fun to say and could work well for a boy or a girl. Possible nicknames include Zeb, Ebby / Ebbie, Betty, Bud, Buddy, or Dee.

Photo credit: Claudio Ungari

The Baby Name Buff: Gilmore Girls Edition

This week’s blog discusses names inspired by the TV show The Gilmore Girls. In addition to the names I contributed, I am especially excited to present name picks from two of the top GG gurus I know: (my aunt) Terri Gundling and (my sister-in-law) Carrie Gundling.

From the moment my friend Lauren Albright introduced me to The Gilmore Girls, I was smitten: a show focused on talkative, witty women? Yes please! I love Lorelei, Rory, and all the minor-yet-somehow-major characters that populate their idyllic small town of Stars Hollow, CT. Like all shows, of course, The Gilmore Girls has its downsides, like Rory’s and Lorelei’s occasional terrible decisions that make you almost unable to still root for them or the near-absence of any non-white, non-heterosexual characters throughout the show’s entire run. (And let’s not even talk about the disaster that is The Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life.) Even so, there will always be a special place in my heart for this show. And whether you like The Gilmore Girls or not, it is undeniably an excellent source for baby name inspiration.

So, please enjoy Terri’s, Carrie’s, and my Gilmore Girls name picks, as well as a few GG-related names I “invented” for this blog. 

Terri’s Picks

Hanlin Charleston is a super preppy name, so it makes sense that this character is the high-and-mighty headmaster of the fancy-pants private high school Rory attends, Chilton Preparatory School. But don’t let this snobby character dissuade you from using Terri’s classy name choice, Hanlin (Han-lin), for your little boy. Not only does this full name itself sound really nice, but the possible nickname Han (as in Han Solo) is amazing.

“In Omnia Paratus” (ready for all things) is the motto of the Life and Death Brigade, a secret society at Yale where members partake of activities ranging from risky to straight-up illegal. Despite this dubious association, I agree with Terri that the girls’ name Omnia (Om-nee-uh) is absolutely gorgeous, and the meaning of this word—“all” is certainly appropriate, since your little one will no doubt be your everything from the moment she’s born. I like Minnie, Mia, or Nia as possible nicknames for Omnia.

Pennilyn Lott was Richard Gilmore’s girlfriend when he attended Yale. They were later engaged, but Richard left Pennilyn to be with his eventual wife (and Lorelei’s mom), Emily. Although Pennilyn is only a minor character, Terri is right that Pennilyn (Penn-a-lynn) is a majorly-awesome girls’ name with lots of terrific nickname options, including Penn, Penny, Nell, Nelly, and Lyn / Lynn.

The episode We Got Us a Pippi Virgin! includes an awkward double-date movie night where Lorelei, Luke, Rory, and (the newly-divorced) Dean watch—you guessed it—Pippi Longstocking. This is yet another great choice from Terri; I like the light and spunky feel of the girls’ name Pippi (Pip-ee), and I especially like Pip as a nickname.

Even though Rory spends the first few seasons dreaming about going to college at Harvard, she ultimately decides to go to Yale, her grandfather Richard’s alma mater. It is still unclear to me why Rory made this decision, but I agree with Terri that Yale is a cool boys’ name (and definitely a better name than Harvard). I wouldn’t personally use a nickname with a name as short as Yale, but you could go with Al if you really wanted to. 

Carrie’s Picks

Dean Forester is Rory’s first boyfriend. These two seem like opposites in almost every way, and yet their teen romance somehow works well (until Jess comes to town…) As a nature lover, I really like the name Forester (Four-ist-uhr), though I’m a bit surprised that Carrie chose this name as one of her favorites, since I’m fairly certain she is Team Logan all the way. I also think Forest / Forrest is a great nickname, even though people will undoubtedly tell your child to “run” a lot or possibly recite candy similes.  

The surname of the main characters on the show, Gilmore (Gill-more) is a name associated with wealth and status. Or, to be less politic, the original Gilmores (Richard and Emily, and Richard’s mother Trix before him) are rich, insufferable snobs. But Lorelei and Rory bring some goodwill to the Gilmore name by being much more down to earth. Though Terri and I did not rate Gilmore quite as highly as Carrie did, this is one of the names on our initial list that all three of us thought was very good. And I love the nickname Gil (probably because it reminds me of Gilbert from Anne of Green Gables—swoon).

Honor Huntzberger is the sister of Rory’s third serious boyfriend on the show, Logan Huntzberger. Whereas many of the people in Rory and Logan’s social circle are snobby and shallow (including to some extent, I would argue, Logan himself), Honor actually seems pretty nice and level-headed. (Maybe Rory should have dated her instead of Logan…are you picking up that I’m not a huge Logan fan?) As for the name Honor (On-uhr), I’m not as big a fan as Carrie and Terri both are, but I can see how this would be a great name choice for some people.

Sherry Tinsdale, portrayed by Mädchen Amick, is the mother of Rory’s half-sister, Gigi. Or, to say it a different way, Tinsdale is the ex-fiance of Rory’s father, Christopher. Got that? No? Doesn’t really matter. What matters is that, like Carrie, I love the name Mädchen (Mayd-chin), which means “girl” in German. Possible nicknames: May, Maddie, Addie, or Chi Chi.  
The Gilmore girls—especially Lorelei—love snow, particularly the first snow of each new winter season. Lorelei often waxes poetic about how everything’s magical when it snows and how the best moments of her life all occurred during snowfalls. Despite the cheesiness of these sentiments and the fact that winter is my least favorite season, the way the show depicts the beauty of softly-falling snow on a Stars Hollow evening is admittedly enchanting. And, once again, since I love all things nature, I fully support Carrie’s choice of the lovely name Snow as one of the baby names that made the cut for this blog post.    

Vickie’s Picks

Alex Borstein (of MadTV fame) plays Drella, the Independence Inn’s harpist. I love this character because she is just one in a long line of the show’s female characters who don’t demure all day long but instead have sass, spunk, and sometimes just plain old attitude. (Paris and the below-mentioned Gypsy are two other great examples of feisty feminist characters.) Both Terri and I singled out Drella (Drell-uh) as a great choice. For my part, I have a thing for names that end in –ella; if I had had a girl instead of a boy, she would have been either Novella or Delaney (nn Della). I like Dre, Drea, Rell, Rella, Ella, Elle, or Ellie as nickname options for Drella.   


I have always adored this girls’ name! And the fact that the character Gypsy on The Gilmore Girls is a rough-and-tumble, tell-it-like-it-is car mechanic just makes me love the name even more. Take that, gender stereotypes! Gypsy also brings some much-needed ethnic / cultural diversity to Stars Hollow. And, speaking of cultural literacy, the name Gypsy (Jip-see) of course has ties to the Roma ethnicity / culture, so this name could be especially appropriate if you come from that lineage. This name is pretty short, so nicknames might be hard to come by, but I think Gigi, Ipsy, or Cici could be good options.   

Rory’s rockin’-and-rollin’ best friend, Lane Kim, is played by Keiko Agena. Having to watch Lane’s character hide something as innocuous as rock and roll music from her crazy-strict mother was really hard to take, and I always rooted for Lane to be able to stand up for herself (which she eventually did, to some extent). And, like Gypsy, Lane and her family bring some cultural diversity to the show (albeit in a caricatured and satirical way that I think sometimes borders on the offensive). I love the double K sound of the short, sassy name Keiko (Kay-co), with possible nicknames Kei, Key, Kay, Kiki, and Iko.

Who could forget the awkward date between Lorelei and Rune? (Well, technically it was a double date that included Sooki and Jackson as well.) While Jackson’s prickly, odd cousin Rune is not exactly a desirable role model, I am obsessed with the boys’ name Rune (Roon) in general, and Terri also picked Rune as one of her tops. And though Rune is already a single-syllable name, you could do Ru / Rue as a nickname.

The Stars Hollow Town Troubadour, played by singer-songwriter Grant-Lee Phillips, was never actually named on the show. Yet this character is an exemplar of the quirkiness that makes Stars Hollow so charming. In one particularly memorable episode, another troubadour shows up and tries to encroach on the Town Troubadour’s territory, but then a vote at one of the infamous local town hall meetings confirms that the Town Troubadour is the one and only true music-maker Stars Hollow needs. Just as a town only needs one troubadour, your little boy or girl will be similarly unique with this one-of-a-kind moniker (pronounced True-buh-door). And I love the nickname True.

Vickie’s “Invented” Names

One of the biggest debates among Gilmore Girls fans was who Rory should “end up with:” Dean, Jess, or Logan. As a feminist, my real answer to this question is that Rory doesn’t have to end up with anyone to be a whole person. (And, to the credit of both the original show and the terrible continuation miniseries, they both ended without Rory technically being shacked up with anyone.) That said, if I have to choose one of Rory’s three suitors from the show to be her forever mate, then I’m Team (adult) Jess all the way (for Rory from the original show; I actually dislike the Rory in the continuation miniseries so much that I feel Jess would be way too good for her). So, the girls’ name Essry (Ess-ree) is a combination of Jess and Rory. But there are also some cool options for Dean and Rory (such as Rodea, Derry, Orea, and Rea) or Logan and Rory (Roan, Rogan, and Anory) if you happen to prefer one of those guys.

One of my favorite relationships on The Gilmore Girls is the hard-won friendship between Rory and Paris. To celebrate their strange but awesome bond, I wanted to create a name meld from their names. However, nothing was coming to me when looking at the names Rory and Paris. So, I decided to try to combine Rory’s full given first name—Lorelei—with Paris, and that’s when it hit me—Loreliss (Lore-a-liss). I don’t know why, but I think any girls’ name ending in an –iss sound is extremely beautiful, so I really love this name as an homage to these two unlikely but also totally likely gal pals.

Amy Sherman-Palladino is the creative genius behind The Gilmore Girls, so it is only right that our list contain a name to honor her (per Carrie’s great suggestion). The reason this name is under “invented” names is because I was originally going to use Asp (Sherman-Palladino’s initials) as the name. But I realize that, because most Americans are Christians, snakes have negative connotations for them (though snakes are actually revered or auspicious in many other religions, as I learned reading my husband’s recently-published book about Asian religions depicted by American fiction writers). But Palladino (Pal-uh-deen-o) is an amazing name that would be great for a girl or a boy. For girls, I like the nicknames Palla, Paula, Ali, Allie, Ally, Addi, Addie, Addy, Dina, or Ina. For boys, I like the nicknames Pallas, Alladin, Aladdin, Adino, Dean, or Dino.

There are two inns / bed-and-breakfasts central to The Gilmore Girls: The Independence Inn and The Dragonfly Inn. The former is the first place Lorelei ever worked, where she got a job as a maid to support herself after moving away from her parents at the age of 16 (because she was pregnant with Rory). The second is an inn that Lorelei and her best friend, Sookie, purchase and run later in the show. I wanted to find a name that combines these two important locations. So, I “created” the girls’ name Pendra (though a quick internet search suggests that this name does already kind of exist). You could also spell this name Penndra, and I love the nickname Penn, though Ender or Indra would also be good possibilities.

Because the town of Stars Hollow is a huge part of what I love about this show, I wanted a name to honor this homey hamlet. But both Star and Starr have been in the U.S. top 1,000 before, and while the word hollow sounds nice, its connotations are decidedly negative. So, I combined Stars and Hollow to make the girls’ name Starlow. (Though, apparently, this name has already technically been invented, as it was used for a star sprite character in some Mario video games.) While this name might initially seem odd, it is well in line with popular names like Marlowe and Harlow, both of which have been in the U.S. top 1,000 recently.

The Baby Name Buff: SNL Edition

The winner of the contest from last week’s blog was my sister-in-law, Carrie Gundling. She and my brother are both big Saturday Night Live fans, so that is the focus she chose for this week’s blog. I learned a lot of interesting facts doing research for this name topic. For example, I had no idea Robert Downey Jr. was ever a cast member of SNL. More shocking, I had no idea that Steve Martin was not ever an actual cast member of the show. So, I really enjoyed learning lots of new things about SNL thanks to Carrie’s pick for this week’s namefest.

Saturday Night Live has produced some of the greatest comedians of our time. Unfortunately, a lot of my own favorite SNL cast members all have really boring names, even their middle names: Bill Murray. Eddie Murphy. Billy Crystal. Phil Hartman, Chris Farley. Etc. And even the character names of the earlier cast members are generally either very commonplace or too bizarre to be baby names, even for my tastes. But there are also many cast members I like or learned about through research for this blog that have amazing, unique names. And while today’s blog focuses on baby names inspired by cast members’ actual names, look out for a future SNL edition that will take a look at some baby names based on SNL character names and skit titles.

And now, without further ado…live from Urbana, Illinois, it’s my favorite SNL baby names!


Up-front confession: I have never seen Blues Brothers, and I am honestly not sure that I’ve ever seen anything with John Belushi in it, on SNL or otherwise. (I know—I need to rectify that!) But I have only heard amazing things about him, and even though I feel like I shouldn’t love the sound of this name, I kinda do. So, if you suspect your child might be on “a mission from God,” you love jazz, or you’re just a huge John Belushi fan, then Belushi (pronounced Buh-loo-she) could be just the ticket for your son. Also, the surname Belushi is Italian in origin, and Belushis were historically nobility, knights, politicians, or military captains, so this name could also be appropriate if you hope your little one will be a leader, whether regal or tough (or both). Possible nicknames: Baloo, Bello, or Lu.

Perhaps known best for her airhead sorority girl character Pam in SNL’s Delta Delta Delta skits, Beth Cahill is a master of the overly-exaggerated character. But the name Cahill (pronounced Kay-hill), while unique, is actually fairly understated. Nevertheless, this name option would be good for parents who want a little boy with lots of energy and pizazz. The surname name Cahill is Gaelic in origin, and Cahills were traditionally leaders or martyrs (or both), so this name could work well for those who want to foster leadership qualities or piousness in their children. Nicknames: Cay, Kai, Ahi, or Hill.

What I really love about Danitra Vance is how she took many of her own trying life experiences and used them to create hilarious characters that somehow both exemplified and challenged stereotypes about marginalized groups in American society (including African-Americans, women, and teen mothers). For more on Vance’s remarkable but unfortunately short life, check out this article. With the context of Vance’s talents on SNL and her life overall in mind, I think Danitra (Duh-nee-truh) would be a great name choice for those who hope their daughter will be funny, resilient, and socially conscious. Danitra also (may) mean “little princess.” Possible nicknames: Dunn, Dani, Anita, or Nitra.

Before I talk about Finesse Mitchell’s work on SNL, I just want to take a second to revel in the glory of this guy’s full name: Alfred Langston Finesse Mitchell. I actually wanted to include both Langston and Finesse in this list, but I was delighted to find that the name Langston has finally been getting its well-deserved due, having debuted in the U.S. top 1,000 in 2013 and holding strong ever since. On SNL, Mitchell impressed viewers with his many and varied impersonations of movie stars and sports icons, including Morgan Freeman, Venus Williams, and Ron Artest (now Metta World Peace—also a very unique name!). Moreover, Mitchell is one of the few actors on SNL that I haven’t seen fumble a line or accidentally crack up during a skit (Jimmy Fallon, anyone?), so the name Finesse definitely suits him. The word-based name Finesse comes from Old French via Latin and means subtle, sophisticated, delicate, etc.  I think Finesse (pronounced Fuh-ness or Fin-ess) would be a great boys’ or girls’ name, with possible nicknames Finn, Ina, Essie, or Essa.  

In my opinion, Maya (Khabira) Rudolph is highly underrated. Because she isn’t an attention grubber who constantly needs to be in the spotlight, Rudolph is more often a minor player included in ensemble skits. But that doesn’t stop her from bringing her comedic chops to bear on pretty much everything she does on SNL.  Likewise, Khabira (pronounced Kuh-u-beer-a-u or Kuh-beer-uh) is a beautiful and distinctive name option if you want your little girl to be a team player with a spirit of humility (despite how awesome she no doubt will be). Khabira is an alternate spelling of the Arabic name Khabirah, which means expert or experienced, which is also a great description for Rudolph’s comedic prowess and would be a great meaning for any baby’s name. Possible nicknames: Kha, Khabi, Abbi, Abby, or Bira.  

Like Finesse Mitchell, Kate McKinnon is a versatile comedian who has impersonated numerous people, typically politicians and celebrities. So, if you are hoping for a funny little chameleon who can adapt in many different situations, McKinnon (pronounced Mih-kin-in) might be the right name for your (girl or boy) child.  The surname McKinnon  is Scottish for fair born, fair son, or love. Possible nicknames: Mac, Mick, Mickey, Kai, Kin, Kindra, Ken, Kenna, Kendra, or Kenny.

Until I did research for this blog, I had no idea that Ben Stiller had ever been a cast member of SNL nor that the Zoolander character was originally from SNL. How did all this slip past me, especially since I (unlike many haters) am a Ben Stiller fan? At any rate, Stiller’s full name is Benjamin Edward Meara Stiller. Meara (pronounced Meer-uh, like Mira), though typically a girls’ name, is incorporated into Stiller’s full name because it is his mother’s surname. Meara is an Irish name meaning pool or lake or sea and is a fun alternative to Mira or Myra. This name could therefore be a great option for anyone who has a Pisces girl who they hope will be a little goofball. Possible nicknames: Mae, Era, Aura, Ara, or Ari.

I had not even heard of Morwenna Banks before I started doing research for this blog. It turns out Banks was only a cast member of SNL for four episodes, so her corpus of work from that show is obviously minimal. But those of you who are already parents likely know Banks in one of her more famous voice acting roles as Mummy Pig (and Madame Gazelle and Dr. Hamster) on Peppa Pig. I love the name Morwenna (pronounced either More-wee-nuh or More-when-uh) as a similar but less common girls’ name option for those who like the name Rowena, which has become very popular because of Harry Potter.  Morwenna is Welsh for maiden or sea wave. Possible nicknames: Mora, Maura, Auror, Aura, Orwe, Wenn, Wren, Wrenn, Wennie, or Wenna.


Novella is one of my all-time favorite girls’ names, so I can’t believe I never thought of the male version, Novello (pronounced No-vell-o) until I came across Don Novello’s name in the SNL cast list. Novello is best known for his character Father Guido Sarducci, a caricatured Italian priest who does not seem to be super pious nor good at his job. Novello is an Italian name taken from the Latin word for “new,” a meaning that applies well to any baby. But I also associate this name with the word novel, so this could be a good option for parents hoping for a little bookworm.  Nicknames: Nova, Novel, Novell, Ovell, Vell, or Vello.

While he is probably most famous for his portrayal of former President Barack Obama, Jay Pharoah—perhaps even moreso than Finesse Mitchell and Kate McKinnon—is fantastic at impressions. From musicians to politicians to actors to sports stars to other comedians, there’s pretty much no one Pharoah can’t embody. And, completely off topic, but I’m just gonna throw it out there: Pharoah is also absolutely gorgeous. Pharaoh is Latin for ruler, so this is another great name for parents who want to instill leadership qualities in their little one. Apparently, Pharoah’s original last name was actually spelled Farrow, and I think either spelling (both pronounced Fair-oh) would make an excellent boys’ or girls’ name. Possible nicknames: Farah (girl), Arrow (boy) or Ro / Roe (boy or girl).

Randy Quaid is another SNL cast member I’m not really familiar with first-hand. But I checked out some of his characters and skits, and I actually really liked him as Vlad the Impaler. It takes a lot of talent to somewhat humanize and definitely humorize a historical leader who impaled thousands of people, but Quaid somehow pulls it off. Quaid is an Irish surname (reduced from McQuaid), and Quaids were traditionally laborers, farmers, and domestic workers. So, Quaid is a great name if you want a child who is a homebody, family person, or lover of the land.  I really like Quaid (pronounced Kwade) as an alternative to similar, more popular single-syllable Q names like Quinn or Quint. And while Quaid might be thought of primarily as a boys’ name, I like this name for boys or girls. While Quaid is already pretty short, Quay or Quai could work if you’re dead-set on having a nickname.

Which of these names do you think should be the star of the show? Let me know in the comments.

Photo Credit: Paul Beavers