Personal names derived from gem names are known as lithopersonyms. Lithos means "stone" in Greek.
If you're looking for a rare, old-fashioned boys' names, don't overlook the gem category. Some names, such as Garnet, were very popular during the Victorian era and could do well as given names today. Jasper is another possibility, as it has a fun pet name – Jaz.
The fondness for names that belong to precious or semi-precious stones also dates back to the Victorian period, and it's believed to have started for the same reasons as the flower names did: The popularity of one name inspired the search for other names of the same genre. In this case, Margaret, which translates to Pearl, seems to have been the catalyst, as Pearl was a popular name at the beginning of the twentieth century. Other names that were popular among the Victorians were Ruby, Opal, Coral, Beryl, and Onyx.
Because of their obvious relationship to jewelry, many of these names are more commonly used for girls than boys, although there are a few that can cross gender lines.
Gems Commonly Used
These twinklers are the most popular gem names today:
- Amber: A yellow to brownish-yellow translucent fossil resin, much prized for its somewhat mysterious qualities – rub two pieces of amber together and they become electrified and warm to the touch. A very feminine-sounding name that became popular in the 1970s and continues to be to this day.
- Jade: A hard ornamental stone, usually green or white, much prized in Asian countries. It's currently somewhat popular as a name for girls; it's also had limited use for boys.
- Jewel: Not a gem per se, but the noun used as a name. The popularity of the singer Jewel should spur wider use of this name.
- Mica: A thin, crystallized mineral, easily separated and translucent. It's also a feminine Hebrew name formed from Michael, so it's in broader use than you may think.
Precious but Rare
What's in a Name
The gem-related names most often given include Amber, Opal, Garnet, Pearl, and Ruby.
What's in a Name
Both the German name Gretchen and the Greek name Margaret mean "pearl."
Although Ruby and Emerald are more commonly used as gem or jewel names, others also gain popularity at times and are possible choices for parents looking for more uncommon names. Diamond, for example, is currently somewhat popular. Baseball player Darryl Strawberry has a daughter that carries this brilliant name.
These little gems are either unusual choices or are still being polished.
- Amethyst: This lovely purple gemstone takes its name from the Greek word amethystos, meaning "not drunk," as the Greeks believed that wearing this gem would protect them from intoxication. It's the birthstone for the month of February and a possible choice as a girl's name for babies born then, but not in wide use.
- Beryl: A very hard, lustrous mineral, best known in its forms as emerald and aquamarine. It has had its run as a fashionable jewel name, but with its similarity to Meryl Streep, could gain in popularity among parents looking for an old-fashioned name.
- Coral: Not a gem or mineral at all, but a hard substance made up of the skeletons of sea animals. Used by the Victorians during their gem-based naming fashion period, but not much since then.
- Diamond: Brilliant and clear, it's one of the hardest substances known to man. As the birthstone for April, it's a possible choice for girls born during that month. The name is currently somewhat popular among African-American families.
- Flint: Flint is a kind of quartz best known for its ability to produce sparks when struck against another stone. It may be a good choice for parents looking for a tough-guy image for a little boy.
- Garnet: A deep red mineral that gets its name from the Latin granatus, which means "having seeds," as small garnets look very much like the seeds of a pomegranate. It's the gemstone for January.
- Turquoise: The sky-blue to green stone that's widely found in the western U.S. Its name comes from a Middle English word for Turkey, as it is also found there and first came to England from that country.
- Jacinth: Not often seen, it's a reddish-orange precious stone of the zircon family. Jacinda, a form of this name, is more often used.
- Jasper: An opaque, multi-colored quartz, often found in the western U.S. The name is thought to come from an ancient Persian word that means "lord of the treasure." It's not a bad name for a boy, but it might be too close to Casper (the friendly ghost) for some.
- Jett: A hard black mineral, currently fashionable in jewelry. John Travolta and Kelly Preston used this name for their son, but they probably weren't inspired by this meaning.
- Onyx: A gray-to-black agate often used as a gemstone in men's jewelry, it's rarely used as a name today.
- Opal: Gemstone composed of glassy, translucent silicas that both reflect and refract light. It's the gemstone for October and was once in fairly wide use, but sounds old-fashioned today.
- Pearl: The valuable growth formed by irritated oysters. This was another very popular gem name during the Victorian era.
- Ruby: A deep-red variety of the mineral corundum, rare today and much valued as a precious gem.
- Sapphire: Another form of the mineral corundum. In its blue form, sapphires are equally as rare as rubies.
- Topaz: A fairly common gemstone, it's found in colors ranging from white to yellow to blue.
Not Even a Twinkle in Their Parent's Eyes
You don't have to give your baby the name of a gem or mineral to show how precious she is to you. Jewel and Gemma are both names that mean precious gem, and they're a little less uncommon than many of the names listed here.
These names have lost their luster, or never really had it.
- Crystal: Clear, translucent quartz. A name with a New Age feel, thanks to the minerals that factor heavily in rites and rituals related to this movement. It also dates back to the early 1980s and the television show Dynasty, which makes it sound dated today.
- Emerald: One of the best-known forms of the mineral beryl. It's not in common use.
- Galena: A gray mineral with a metallic luster that is the principal ore of lead, but it also often includes silver.
- Ivory: Another element that's more animal than mineral, taken from the tusks of elephants. It's use might be construed as politically incorrect because of the widespread slaughter of these animals.
More on: Choosing a Name
Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Baby Names © 1999 by Sonia Weiss. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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