How I got into onomastics in the first place

A friend asked me the other day, "So why names?" I hadn't ever really thought about it before then. It all started when I was 10 or 11, and I was bored, so I was reading through the dictionary (words have always fascinated me). The particular dictionary I was reading had a number of introductory articles and notes at the beginning of the first volume, and one was a two-page spread of masculine and feminine given names, their language of origin, and meaning.

This was pretty cool.

Being a home-schooled kid with LOTS of time on my hands and a weird penchant for cataloguing things, I decided to put this information into a database so I could search not just by name but by meaning and culture too. Then I discovered that the local library had entire books devoted to this subject. I checked out all the modern baby name books that the library had (about half a dozen) over a period of a few years, and ended up with a database with more than 11,000 entries. There was a time when you could spout me any name and I could tell you its language and etymology from memory.

Right around when I turned 14 I joined the Society for Creative Anachronism, and three months later got the job of herald (helping people pick names and coats of arms for their personas) for my local branch. Our current herald was moving out of the area in a week, and we needed someone to take the job. I had the best qualifications: of all the people there, I knew the meaning of the name "Bambi." (It means 'child' in Spanish).

A year later, I'd joined the Academy of S. Gabriel, of which I am still a member, whose main focus is researching medieval onomastics and armory practices. When I moved off to college I suddenly found myself the possessor of a very extensive library (OK, so it's actually the University's library, but with as many books as I have checked out, it might as well be mine), with a treasure trove: primary sources. Once I found out how easy it was to find a primary source, go through it and cull out the names, alphabetize them or organize them by frequency, slap them into HTML and FTP them over to the web, it all went downhill from there. In the last three years, I've written roughly 30 articles on names and naming practices in 12 different cultures.

People ask me, "Why didn't you go into linguistics?" I dunno. I guess I like keeping my onomastic research unstructured, without academic pressures. This is my fun hobby, and I plan to keep it like that.

March 27, 2002