Monday, April 22, 2013

Name Round-Up: Natural Wonders of the World

Happy Earth Day, everybody! Let's celebrate by cataloguing some names inspired by our earth's many treasures.

There technically isn't an official "Seven Wonders of the Natural World" list that everyone agrees on. There's just so many beautiful places. But I managed to pick a few interesting names:

1. Paria. America has the famous Grand Canyon, but it's little sister the Paria Canyon has equally beautiful rock formations.

2. Verdon. Verdon Gorge in France is considered to be the most beautiful river canyon in Europe. The formation of this gorge can be traced to the Jurassic era, when it was covered by a warm shallow sea and covered in coral. Because it is so close to the French Riviera it is a popular destination for tourists.

3. Nakuru. If you watch a lot of wildlife documentaries you've probably seen Lake Nakuru, Kenya. It's the one with all the flamingos, amongst many other animals. Nakuru is Maasai for "dusty place."

4. Siwa. The Siwa Oasis in Egypt's main claim to fame is that it was the home of an oracle temple to the Ancient Egyptian god Amun.  Alexander the Great once reached that temple and the oracles confirmed that he was divine and a rightful Pharaoh of Egypt. The Oasis is a vast and extremely isolated settlement. The name Siwa is of unknown origin.

5. Reef. The Great Barrier Reef located off the coast of Queensland, Australia. It is the world's largest structure made out of living organisms and supports many endangered species.

6. Shilin. The Shilin Stone Forest of China is very striking, with tall rock formations that stand straight up as if they were trees themselves. There is a local legend saying that the forest was created when a young lady was forbidden to marry her love and turned into stone.

7. Everest. Thought I would never get to this one, did you? Mount Everest is the world's highest mountain and it's located in the Himalayas. Named after Sir George Everest by the English, the Tibetans have called it Chomolungma ("Holy Mother") for centuries.

8. Victoria. Victoria Falls, named after Queen Victoria, is at the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia. While it's not the tallest or the longest waterfall, it does have the largest sheet of falling water. It's known in Africa by the name Mosi-oa-Tunya, meaning "the smoke that thunders."

9. Aurora. An Aurora is a featureless, colorful glow in the skies of the Artic and Antarctic regions. They are caused by a collision of charged particles. The Cree Native Americans called this the "Dance of the Spirits" and Medieval Europeans thought it to be a sign of god. The ones in the northern hemisphere are called aurora borealis, and in the south they're called aurora australis. Aurora is the Roman goddess of the dawn.

10. Komodo. Komodo Island is unique for it's beaches with pink sand and the unusual animals that roam it. And yes, this is the same island with the komodo dragons.

11. Amazon. As in the Amazon Rainforest which contains more than half of the remaining rainforest in the world. It was named after the mythical female warriors due to a war that a conquistador fought with the Native tribes. He noticed that the women fought alongside the men, which was common practice amongst the tribe but unusual for an invading Spaniard.

12. Baikal. Thought to be the world's oldest lake, Lake Baikal in Siberia contains roughly 20% of the world's unfrozen fresh water. There are even reports of a "Baikal Monster" much like the Lock Ness Monster, but it is more likely that it is a large sturgeon. It's name is derived from the Mongolian baygal nuur, meaning "nature lake."

13. Jieta. Jieta Grotto in Lebanon has vivid painterly colors, an underground river, and chambers stretching for miles. It's other claim to fame is that it has the largest stalactite in the world. This underground cave was inhabited by prehistoric humans. Jieta means "roaring water" in Aramaic.


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Sunday, April 21, 2013


Sophia is currently the most popular girl's name in America, and it's easy to see why.

Sophia (pronounced "soh-FEE-ah," although some say that prior to the 1800s it was pronounced "soh-FIY-ah") is a Greek name meaning "wisdom," but there is a lot more to the story than that. In Ancient Greece, Sophia was a central virtue in Hellenistic religion. You can see this in the word "philosophy." Philosophy is derived from the Greek word philosophia, meaning "love of wisdom."

Ironically, it was the Christians that turned Sophia into a goddess. Some Eastern Orthodox religious thinkers champion something called Sophiology. They believe that the Sophia is the wise, feminine aspect of God coexisting with the masculine Holy Trinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In the Roman Catholic Church, Sophia is the wisdom of God and is therefore eternal. Roman Catholic mysticism has a famous celebrant of Sophiology named Saint Hildegard of Bingen, who is so interesting she deserves her own post here. Within the Protestant tradition there was a mystic named Jane Leade who had visions of the "Virgin Sophia," who revealed the spiritual workings of the universe. Some Christians might be horrified that I referred to her as a goddess. I apologize, but I'm not sure what else you would call a "female aspect of God."

Even if you don't know any of that you've probably heard of the Hagia Sophia, a former church which was dedicated to this concept. It was turned into a mosque but is now a museum and a landmark of architectural achievement. There is also a Saint Sophia who was said to be martyred during the reign of Hadrian. Some Neo-Pagans have adopted Sophia as a goddess. Outside of religion, Sophia is a name tied to lots of people and things from popular culture from Sophia Loren to Sophie's Choice.

All of that makes Sophia a sound choice. But I would suggest that you didn't use it unless you really like the sound of your last initial. The name has always been on the American charts but use has risen dramatically in the past few years. It's now the #1 girl's name in America. So that's a lot of Sophias. Variations are also very popular: Sofia is #19, and Sophie is #51. Most people don't think of Sonia as another form of Sophia, but it is. It rests at #770. Variants Soficita and Sofka are almost unheard of.

I admit that Sophia would be amongst my contenders if it weren't for the popularity factor. If you don't mind that, this is a beautiful name. Sometimes names are used a lot for good reasons.


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