Let’s talk about English word names, by which I mean “names for people that are also regular English words,” not “names of words in English.”
There are plenty of languages where personal names are almost always regular vocabulary words, but English is not one of them. English speakers are used to name meanings being several steps removed – for example, you might see that Margaret “means” pearl, because the English name Margaret came from the French name Marguerite which came from the Latin name Margarita which came from the Greek word margarites which means pearl (and which probably was borrowed from Persian), but you cannot use “Margaret” in a sentence to mean “pearl”.
This makes the English words that are used as names special! Word names seem to be gaining in popularity in recent years (although I did not actually compute statistics on that). One reason for this might be an increase in the number of people looking for gender neutral names for themselves or their children – a lot of the newer crop of word names are less strongly gendered than classic word names like Rose. I have also had a couple of friends tell me that they were interested in choosing a word name for their baby because word names felt less tied to a particular culture. The English word iris might come from a Greek word, but as a name, Iris doesn’t necessarily feel as Greek as Christos or Eirini.
Here are some of my favorite English word names, grouped into seven fairly subjective categories:
Names that have a different origin but are coincidentally also words.
Antique word names
Word names, particularly religious/virtue names, had a bit of a moment in the 17th and 18th centuries. You can find lists of bizarre Puritan names on plenty other websites (1, 2, 3) – I’m just going to focus on names that I think were good but are rarely or never heard today.
Honour / Honor
Classic word names
Names that have become so classic, you almost forget they’re also words.
Established word names
Still brings the word to mind, but common enough not to raise eyebrows. What’s the difference between this and the classic category? Personal opinion.
Gray / Grey
Emerging & trendy
Some of these have been in occasional use for a while, others are totally new inventions, but they’re all trending up sharply. These word names feel fresh and cool, but it’s hard to say which will last and which will end up feeling dated to the 2020s.
Celebrity word names
These word names are rarer than you might think, despite one or two well-known bearers.
Words with name potential
These words have rarely or never been used as names (based on US name data, which is easier to search than other English speaking countries [I’m looking at you, Canada…]), but I think they could make good names.
Ocher / Ochre
Special mention: Sojourner
I also want to take a moment to draw attention to Sojourner, a word name that I think is incredibly underused. Sojourner Truth was an interesting, influential, and admirable person, and the name she chose for herself is an unusual word with an appealing sound. She deserves to have many more namesakes than she does.
Almost any word could be a name, but it’s clear that plants are one of the most popular sources for word names (despite valiant efforts by nature words, virtues, minerals, and the calendar) – something to keep in mind when looking for more words that could work as names. This is obviously not an exhaustive list of English word names – it’s not a dictionary, and I omitted several quite popular word names that I just don’t like.
Which word names would you add to these lists? I think accidental word names and potential word names were my favorite categories, so I would particularly like to hear ideas for those.