How to Find Out What Your Name Means

Three Methods:Researching Name MeaningsAsking Your Loved OnesFinding Cultural Context to Your Name

Your name is one of the few things that stays with you your whole like, so many parents put a lot of thought into choosing their child’s name.[1] They may have considered cultural or religious reasons for your name, decided to name you after a loved one or role model, or chosen your name for its sound or meaning. Learning about your name’s origin can give you insight into your family history or your parents’ hopes for you. Enjoy your foray into the world of onomastics—the study of names.

Method 1
Researching Name Meanings

  1. 1
    Head to the library. Ask your librarian to direct you to books about names. Don’t be satisfied with the meaning listed in just one book. Books can list slightly different meanings that can alter the nuances of the name.
    • For example, the name Hilary is typically translated as “cheerful one,” but it can also be rendered as “bringer of joy.” [2]
  2. 2
    Check out websites devoted to names. If you prefer to learn about your name in the comfort of your own home, the internet has endless information about name meanings.
    • The database website Behind the Name lists thousands of names, from every culture and period, along with a description of the name etymology and mention of historical figures who bore each name.[3]
    • Check out Baby Center! [4] They not only have information on name meanings, they also have polls on names and data on the most and least popular names.
  3. 3
    Find out what naming means in your culture. Some cultures have longstanding traditions and ceremonies for naming a child. For example, in Latvia, the baby’s godparents host a celebration nine days after the baby is born, and they are the ones who choose a name for the baby. [5]

Method 2
Asking Your Loved Ones

  1. 1
    Go to the source. Your parents know better than anyone how you got your name. Ask them how they chose it.
    • Talk with your parents about how you have continued to shape their impression of your name.
    • If you have siblings, ask your parents how they chose their names. They may have thought about how the names would sound together, or they may have chosen each individually.
    • Ask if your parents named you before birth or if they waited until they saw you to decide. Some parents feel that they have to see their baby in order to know what his or her name is.[6] If they didn’t name you until you were born, ask them how they knew your name was the right fit.
  2. 2
    Speak with extended family members. If you parents are no longer living or don’t have many thoughts on why they chose your name, you can ask your grandparents, aunts, or uncles if they remember when your parents were choosing your name.
    • If you were named after someone in the family, you can either ask them directly or ask someone who knew them about their feelings about their name. How did they feel to know someone would be named for them?
  3. 3
    Ask family and friends what associations they have with your name. Even if they had no part in choosing your name, other family members and friends might have funny stories about people with your name, or they may have had a reaction when first learning your name
    • If you go this route, be prepared to hear that not everyone likes your name. They may have had a negative experience with someone else with this name, or it just might not fit their personal taste. Don’t take it personally.

Method 3
Finding Cultural Context to Your Name

  1. 1
    Learn about historical figures that bore your name. Especially if you were named for a figure in history, look into the biographies of people who carried your name before you.
    • Again, you can go to the library or do a quick google search of your name.
    • Ask family and friends if they know of anyone in history who shared your name. They may know of a lesser-known, but interesting person.
    • Don't forget to look into fictional characters that may have been popular at the time of your birth. For instance, since the movie Frozen, the name Elsa has skyrocketed in popularity. [7] Could your name have been part of a pop culture trend?
  2. 2
    Walk around a graveyard. It may seem morbid, but walking around a graveyard can actually be very peaceful. Next time you’re in the mood for a stroll, go to a cemetery nearby and look at the headstones.
    • If you find your name listed on a headstone, look to see the years the person lived and if there is any inscription. These are clues as to the popularity of the name and the qualities of other people who have born it.
    • Look around the area to find if the person with your name is buried near any of his or her family members. This will give you a context for names that may have been popular around the time that this person was born.
  3. 3
    Look at the US Social Security website. [8] Here you can find information on popular names by decade, as well as the states the names were popular in.


  • Don’t stop with just your first name. Research your last name and middle name, if you have one. If the family history of your name intrigues you, search into your ancestry to see where your roots are.


  • Some names have unpleasant meanings or associations. For example, some speculate that the name Mary means “sea of bitterness.”[9] Don’t take it personally. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.[10]

Article Info

Categories: Family Life