Say My Name

How Did We Get Our Names coverHow Did We Get Our Names?

Submitter: This book would be out-of date at any library, but at our library, it’s both out of date and out-of sync with patron demographics. We are a bilingual private school in the Persian Gulf. The vast majority of our students are Arab, although we also have some students of South or Southeast Asian descent and a scant handful of students with at least one parent from Europe or North America. A book that assumes most readers’ names can be traced to medieval Britain would be out-of-touch with the naming practices even in very WASP-y U.S. communities. In a school where we have scores of Mohammeds and Ahmeds,and not one student named David, this seems utterly irrelevant. Apparently, the kids agree; the book hasn’t been checked out since 1986.

Holly: It definitely looks like something out of the 60s! The little white children on the cover are the first clue to its irrelevancy in your particular library.  How on earth did it end up there in the first place?

Where did our names come from

John Mary and David

Names from Bible Miracles


  1. As someone born in the 70s, to white, British parents, I’d be mildly surprise if my name was covered here, based on the excerpts.

    I’m not even sure there’s much reason for this kind of book in a school anyway, nowadays. The internet can provide the same information very easily.

  2. It’s sad, really: this type of book CAN be enjoyable but even the most comprehensive of them is instantly outdated.

  3. That’s not even accurate. Names like “John” and “Mary” are Hebrew in origin; those are just the English versions of preexisting names. You want a medieval British name, go with Æðeldrȳðe.

  4. Surely this was a later edition of a book first published in the 1940s or 1950s. The artwork would have already looked dated in 1966.

  5. Elle is so right! Unless David in the Bible was an immigrant from the British Empire – before it even existed.

  6. We can’t see all of the text, but I think the author’s point was that these names became popular in Britain because of the Miracle Plays. Before that, little boys would have been Ceolwulf and little girls would have been Cyneburg.

      1. This comment has made my Monday much better! It is rare when a comment nearly makes me spit out food, but this one really did. Thank you!

  7. It is pretty hilarious that they say names come from medieval Britain and then not one of the names they list is etymologically British.

    A better book on this topic, IMO, wouldn’t even try to be comprehensive, but would be more of a global survey. Look at a variety of names from different cultures and with widely varying etymologies: Common ones and unusual ones, old ones and new ones.

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