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Friday, December 23, 2011

Baby Naming Issue: Names With Negative Word Meanings

Emily writes:
I absolutely adore your blog and can't get enough of baby name talk. An issue has been bothering me for a while and I'd love to hear what you/your readers think. One of my favorite names is Rue. This would be a nickname (everyday use) for Ruby which was the name of the beloved matriarch of our family. I love everything about it: the meaning of the full name, how cute it is as a call name and the rarity of it. However, by definition Rue means regret. It's not often used anymore except in literature, but is that negative meaning enough to ruin the name? Does the full name "Ruby" cancel out that meaning?

Just wondering if you have thoughts on the issue, or perhaps other examples with a similar problem.

Thanks for your time!

Ah! Yes! I am interested in this topic too. I am trying to remember when it recently came up. Oh, I remember: I love the names Malcolm and Mallory---but Mal means bad, and I took Latin.

I don't put much stock in baby name meanings---for example, that Emma means "healer of the universe" or that Isaac means "she laughed." I give it about as much thought as I'd give to flower meanings if Paul brought me a bouquet. ("Bachelor buttons?? Why didn't he just TELL me he wanted a divorce?? And why did I marry someone whose name means SMALL?") Different baby name books will give completely different meanings for the same name; and some names are retroactively given meanings from religious or mythological sources, but what did the name mean before then?

But when it's a WORD meaning, I get more involved. Rue. Mal. Bella. Patience. Hunter. I might still use one, but I'd consider the issue carefully.

One question is how familiar the word is as a name. We know a lily is a flower, and that gives the name Lily a pleasant floral imagery---but we're very familiar with it as a name. It's different if we meet a little girl named Sunflower, or Sapphire.

Another question is how familiar the name is as a word. The name Patience immediately brings the word patience to mind, but we don't use the word "felicitations" anymore so might not think of it with the name Felicity. Most of us might know that "bella" is the word for beautiful in Italy---but it's not the word for beautiful in the U.S. We might know the name Cooper is a tradesman name, but most of us would be hard-pressed to come up with barrel-making; Archer and Sailor are more evocative.

In the case of Ruby/Rue, I think you're in the clear. As you point out, we don't use the word rue much anymore (Paul and I still say it because of a Penny Arcade comic strip, but we don't say it MUCH). And we're somewhat familiar with it as a name, and I suspect we'll be even more familiar with it as this generation of Ruth/Ruby babies grow up. And as you also point out, it would be a nickname rather than the given name: naming a boy Malcolm is different than going straight to Mal; naming a girl Isabella is different than going straight to Bella. And it's an honor/namesake name, which gives it a new meaning related to your beloved family matriarch, which I'd say trumps other meanings.

You could also consider spelling it Ru.


Marginamia said...

Rue is an absolute favorite of mine, as well.

I'd also like to point out that Rue is also a plan/herb with rather pretty flowers, so it's also a nature name. And while the herb does some harm (as is true of most of plants) in larger amounts, it does good medicinally, too.

I say go for it!

Joanne said...

I like the idea of a different spelling. I think - isn't it Rue McClanahan that was on the Golden Girls? I'm probably dating myself with that reference, but I think that's the only Rue I've ever known. I don't think it's a problem, really, it won't come up too much that someone will "rue the DAY!", I only know that from literature. But since her name will be Ruby, which DOESN'T mean regret, I wouldn't worry. Maybe spell it Ru or Roo (cute!) so that you can avoid any negative connotations for yourself. Good luck!

Susan said...

I love the nickname Rue, and I think the spelling "Roo" is darling. In general, name meanings matter to me, but in this case, I wouldn't hesitate to use the nickname. I don't get even a hint of negative association with it. Perhaps it's because I've only ever heard the word "rue" used in a whimsical way, never seriously. I don't think you'll ever rue the day you picked the name Roo! Or Rue for that matter.

gail said...

My daughter's nickname is Roo. This spelling eliminates all the negative Rue associations, plus there's all kinds of imaginative tie-ins from Winnie the Poo. She's loved it as a nickname. As a toddler it was also Rooey, or Princess RaRoo. (Her given name is Robin Kate, she's now 28).

Guinevere said...

I have a baby who is a Rupert sometimes called "rue" and it didn't even occur to me, perhaps because I'd spell it Ru or Roo in my head. I'm someone who likes old fashioned words and does even USE the word rue sometimes... so I think you're clear. I wouldn't give Rue as a birth certificate name myself, because it makes me think of the flowers (and the Hunger Games), but as a nickname for Ruby I think it's just fine!

Gigi said...

I don't think many people use the word rue much any more except maybe in literature. I think it's really cute as a nickname for Ruby! It makes me think of Winnie the Poo. It also makes me think of the Hunger Games where this is a little girl named Rue.
As someone has mentioned; Rue is a kind of plant/herb with pretty flowers. How cute would it be to decorate her room like that! I think my favorite spelling is Ru.
P.S. I also love the name Rue!!!

Superjules said...

When I hear the name Rue I instantly think of the sweet, brave little girl in the Hunger Games.

liz said...

Rue is a beautiful name, and I think we'll be seeing more of it as the Hunger Games target audience grows up and has kids of their own.

Anonymous said...

Rue = Hunger Games to me, and it is a great association. Cute nickname for Ruby! I'd use it!!

Brittany said...

I use "rue the day" in a silly way with my brother fairly often, but that's the only time I hear it. I think Rue (or Ru) as a nickname for Ruby is very cute. There is also a roux in cooking, so that helps dilute the regret meaning as well.

Ms. Key said...

I think Rue is super cute! It didn't spawn any negative thoughts in my head, so I think most people won't think negatively about it. I thought of the cooking roux... which frankly, I didn't even know wasn't spelled "rue" until I just read Brittany's comment now. But that's what Rue brought to mind for me. And it's not like that's a big deal at all.

Do it, it's really cute!

I also think of Rue as being the character in The Hunger Games, and that's a positive association.

vanessa said...

I quite like it. I know a Rosie who often goes by Roo in her family, and I prefer that spelling. But it's pretty adorable either way--and Ruby is ALSO adorable!

Nina said...

I think the Hunger Games connection will definitely make Rue a more welcome if not popular girl's name/nn. It's a fabulous connection and probably one of the most catchy girl names in the book (I really don't see Katniss or Primrose catching on quite as easily, but maybe that's just me.)

Eliza said...

Rue, just said and not spelled makes me think of butter an flour as in roux (the sauce base)...yummy and not bad really. Any connotation will disappear as the name gets connected to the sweet baby anyway.

Ruthie said...

I'm a Ruth --- my husband calls me ruthie, but my momma has always called me "ru" and all my nieces and nephews followed suit with a different spelling "aunt roo". It's very much my everyday nickname, I'm 30, and have never come across an issue w/ the negative meaning. So rest assured!

Ps. I have loved my everyday nicknames if ruthie, ru, roo. They are dear to me.

Bethtastic said...

I love Rue. So cute, as well as a little sassy. :)

And name meanings don't mean much of anything to me. Which is probably good, because my name, Beth, is house in Hebrew. And our daughter is Tara, which means rocky terrace... Ha! I don't even know what Timothy (our son) or Harold (my husband) mean!

I vote for you to use Rue/Ruby - it's a great name!

Amelia said...

I have a friend whose son is Ruary and they call him Ru frequently... you could always drop the "e" from the nickname and change the meaning from "regret" to, well... nothing, I guess.

Emily said...

Wow, thank you all for the feedback! I do really love the name and it's a bit of a weight off my shoulders to hear it doesn't bring up negative thoughts for many people. I'd never even thought of Mal meaning bad so perhaps that's the same for most people and Rue.

I first learned of the name from Rue McClanahan (Golden Girls) and I'm also familiar with the Hunger Games. Both good references I think!

I hadn't considered an alternate spelling for the nickname, and I'll have to think about that. For some reason I fear "Ru" not sticking as well as "Rue" probably because I've seen it used as a name before. However, I do think Roo is very cute.

Thanks again Swistle and all of you commenters!

British American said...

I agree that Rue is great! It makes me think of Roo from Winnie the Pooh, which is cute. Then it makes me think of the French word for 'road'. :)

plantingoaks said...

I know someone with the nickname 'Roo'. It's a bit of a long story, as it has nothing to do with her given name (or winnie the pooh). I also knew a guy with the given name 'Roux' as in the French (though he was no himself French).

I had not associated either with the word for 'regret', so I guess my vote is if it's going to be a nickname, you should have no hesitations whatsoever.

Anonymous said...

FYI .. "rue" means street in French, and "roux" (masculine adjective or noun) means redheaded ("rousse" would be feminine).
It's an easy, uncommon and attractive name to me, a French teacher! :)