Baby Names in the News
Is it thumbs up or thumbs down for Vivienne Marcheline & Knox Leon?
The name Vivienne reflects Jolie’s French-Canadian heritage on her mother’s side.* It’s the French form of Vivian, a name that has a Latin origin and means “full of life.” Vivian rates 4 stars in my book 5-Star Baby Name Advisor, perhaps because it’s ranked #223 in popularity, has a low risk of misspelling and mispronunciation, and has a slightly old-fashioned vibe. The French form, Vivienne, gives the name a fresh twist, but it also heightens the risk of misspelling and mispronunciation. Consider the fact that the French pronunciation of Vivienne (“viv-YEN”) is very different from the American pronunciation of Vivian (“VIV-ee-en”).
Although I, myself, think Vivienne sounds fresh, charming, and sophisticated (perhaps because I studied French in high school and love visiting Paris and Montreal), I think most Americans who read the name will pronounce it like Vivian. So before I announce my verdict, permit me to digress briefly:
If you are naming a child who may live in two countries, take some time to consider how the name will be perceived and pronounced in each country. Even if you live in only one country, you may need to think twice before you give your child a name with a foreign pronunciation and spelling. My son, Doug, married a Swede and lives in Sweden. He gave his three daughters names that could be easily spelled and pronounced pretty much the same way in both countries. Vivienne, however, will likely run into problems as Americans stumble with the pronunciation and spelling.
So, the verdict for Vivienne is: One thumb down.
*Vivienne’s middle name, Marcheline, was Jolie’s mother’s name. Although I think Americans may struggle with the spelling and pronunciation of that name (people who hear it may assume the name is spelled Marshaleen—an awkward, low-rent name), I give Jolie a free ride on the middle name because it’s a lovely way to memorialize her beloved mother, who died of cancer.
Knox is most often used as a family name rather than a given name. The name has an English origin and means “hill.” The x ending fits well with the couple’s two other boys’ names: Pax and Maddox. And like the other two x-names, Knox has never been popular enough to rank in the Top 1,000 list.
When parents select an uncommon name for their child, it poses risks that may offset the value of being unique. One risk is that most people may not know what to make of the name. If my parents named me Knox, to help people “get” the name I might say, “My name is Knox—y’know, like Fort Knox.” That kind of introduction would help people figure out that the name starts with a k and ends with an x instead of cks, like knocks. However, the fact that the name needs such an introduction suggests it’s not a practical choice.
And since Knox sounds like knocks, I fear some people may have a negative association with the name. Knox may provide some teasing opportunities for his classmates at school. It’s quite possible Knox may get tired of being called “Knock-Knock,” “Fort Knox,” or “Hard Knox” by kids who want to demonstrate their “wit.”
A word of advice: If you feel compelled to give your child an uncommon (hence, risky) first name, it makes sense to give your child a safe middle name he can fall back on. Leon gives Knox a decent fallback position. (The name rates four stars in my book 5-Star Baby Name Advisor.) However, a decent middle name doesn’t eradicate the practical difficulty of dealing with “knock-knock” jokes every day.
About the Author:
Bruce Lansky is the #1 author of baby name books in North America. His name books have sold more than 9.5 million copies. He's called "The Baby Name Guru" because he regularly writes articles that provide baby-naming advice. His candid reviews of celebrity baby names have been reprinted in thousands of newspapers, magazines, and websites from coast to coast. His other name books include 100,000+ Baby Names, 60,000+ Baby Names, The Very Best Baby Name Book, 25,000+ Baby Names, and The New Baby Name Survey. He is also the editor of a successful series of children's poetry books and children's fiction books. Lansky resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he enjoys his work as a publisher.
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