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A Dictionary of First Names [Hardcover]

by Patrick Hanks, Flavia Hodges
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Book Description

1992 0192116517 978-0192116512
Here is the ultimate first name handbook, a delightfully informative, comprehensive survey of over 4,500 European and American names (with two appendices covering the most common Arabic and Indian names). The real charm and value of this reference lies in the wealth of fascinating additional information the authors provide. Under the entry for "Audrey," for example, we learn of the sixth century saint of that name--who died from a neck tumor, divine punishment for her youthful delight in fine necklaces--from whom the word "tawdry" derives: it referred originally to the cheap jewelry sold at fairs in her honor (St. Audrey eventually being compressed into "tawdry"). The authors reveal that the name "Colleen," a very popular name among Irish Americans, is in fact never given as a first name in Ireland; that the name "Wendy" didn't exist until J.M. Barrie invented it for Peter Pan; that "Algernon" originally meant "moustached" and was a nickname among the predominantly clean-shaven Norman French; and that the "th" in our spelling of "Anthony" comes from an erroneous confusion with the Greek word for flower, anthos.
Perhaps more important, this dictionary is an authoritative reference. Indeed, no other handbook provides a fraction of the information found here. Typical entries provide the linguistic and ethnic root of a name. "Jennifer," for instance, is a Cornish form of "Guinevere," which in turn is the French version of a Welsh name combining gwen, white, fair, smooth, and hwyfar, smooth, soft. Most entries also include the non-English form or cognate of a name. The name "Geronimo" is an Italian 0ognate of Jerome, whose Dutch cognate, "Jeroen," the authors point out, was the most popular male name in Holland in 1981. In addition, entries include diminutives and pet forms.
A companion to the authors' A Dictionary of Surnames, this informative reference offers a goldmine of curious facts to delight browsers of every age as well as a wealth of inspiration for prospective parents. It is an ideal baby shower gift.

Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

YA-- A wonderful book that provides the origins of 7,000 names found in the English-speaking world, giving their history, usage trends, and explaining how they are used in other languages. In addition, each entry highlights influences that determine popularity. Supplements list names from the often difficult to find Arab world and the Indian subcontinent.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.


`Review from previous edition A book on names is a must-have for every parent-to-be, and this is one of the most comprehensive titles' The Independent

`I have returned to this dictionary again and again for sheer pleasure' Jackie Wullschlager, Financial Times

`full of anecdotal material as well as historical facts' Glasgow Herald

`a colourful hunting ground and interesting reading' Maternity and Mothercraft

`the best available work on the subject' Verbatim --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 443 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192116517
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192116512
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 5.5 x 6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #535,991 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is the best reference book on first names. April 15, 1999
By A Customer
I have often found need for this book. It gives detailed etymologies of names, of famous persons bearing the name, and cross-references different forms of the name (as nick, male/female, and other languages). A name book done up as a proper reference book. It also has sections on Hindi/Indian and Muslim/Arabic names.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Head and shoulders above all other name books I have seen. Well researched and extremely thorough.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Reference and All-Round Interesting! May 8, 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I'm one of those nerds who loves reference books of all kinds, and the Oxford Dictionary of First Names is no exception. I purchased it with the eye towards getting ideas for ethnic names in storywriting. But then I kept perusing it just for fun.

This is the OXFORD dictionary, so the main dictionary is for English names, or rather, names used in countries where English is the main language. But that doesn't stop it from having tons of names I've never heard of. How about Abishag (Biblical derivation) or Dreda (a shortened form of Etheldreda, no wonder I've never heard of it).

But it also has appendices for specific ethnic/language/country names, which I'll list later.

I just ordered this book, and it's the 2006 2nd edition. [Added later: There is a newer edition available now.]
The book starts with two Introductions, one from the 1st edition, and a new one for the 2nd. I found these very interesting, with information on how first names have been created over the centuries.

The scholarship behind the names looks complete. There are times where it simply states, "derivation uncertain". For older names, especially, that's all they can do. Not all names "mean" something, but the Oxford Dictionary tells you as much as it can about when the name first appeared and where it is or may be derived. If you are looking for a more "fun" book of names, a "what shall I name my baby" type book, you may be disappointed with this. This is prepared more like a dictionary, a reference book.

To give you an idea of how it's put together, I'll take a common English name, "Henry" in the main dictionary, shown as a male name: "A perennially popular given name, of Continental Germanic origin, from haim 'home' + ric 'power, ruler'.
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