Researching names for babies, characters and all kinds of cats

Earlier this year a group of librarians offered to help one of our pregnant coworkers name her babies (yes, babies—as in two!). Although she graciously declined our assistance, the conversation continued and headed, as it so often does when librarians confab, to research—in this case hansresearching names for babies, pets and characters in novels.

We  quickly went to Name Voyager on the Baby Name Wizard site. You can easily research the popularity of names in the U.S. during the past 120 years and use the graphing tool to show trends by decade (see “Hans” and “Stella,” left). Of course I immediately typed in my own stellachild’s name (Theo) and saw that it peaked in popularity in the early 1900s (perhaps a salute to Theodore Roosevelt?). “Angelina” has had a recent spike in popularity (think Angelina Jolie), and once I noticed that I couldn’t resist testing out  celebrity names.

Baby name books are plentiful, but some are standouts. I asked our genealogy librarians Darlene and John for their suggestions of where parents, pet owners, writers, family historians and the eternally curious can go to research names. Here are the books they recommend (and their comments):

Dictionary of American Family Names by Patrick Hanks. A three-volume masterpiece. This is the place to start if you want to know what your last name means. It also gives ethnic origin. Amazing how many names can come from several different national backgrounds.
penguin-classic-baby-nameThe Melting Pot Book of Baby Names by Connie Lockart Ellefson. Older, but a fabulous resource for names from other cultural backgrounds.
The Penguin Classic Baby Name Book: 2,000 Names from the World’s Great Literature by Grace Hamlin. Hankering to name your daughter after a Shakespeare character or perhaps a character from Chinese Opera? This is the book to use when you have only a category of name selected.
100,000+ Baby Names by Bruce Lansky. An overwhelming number of names — but perhaps not enough detailed information to help you make a choice.