Onomastics is the word given to the study of names. It is a field that touches on linguistics, anthropology, psychology, history, sociology as well as critical race theory. In short, Onomastics is concerned with understanding the derivation and meaning of names.
The origin of some names is obvious. Take Mohammed, for example, which happily since 2014 is the most popular male baby name in England. Due to the tide of war-torn refugees coming to Western shores in recent times, it is a name that is becoming incredibly popular in Sweden, Germany, France and elsewhere. As we know by the increasing number of people called Mohammed in the major news stories, this name comes from the Great Prophet of the Islamic Faith. According to Babycenter, the meaning of Mohammed is unsurprisingly ‘the praised one’
Before they learned to check their privilege, Christian parents used to name their children after the names of saints. Examples abound and include John (meaning: God is gracious), Andrew (Greek for “strong,” “manly,” “courageous), Agatha (good), and Catherine (Pure). Today, parents are increasingly naming their offspring in more creative ways, taking inspiration from places, fruits, and even geographical directions. Names such as ‘North West’, ‘Apple’, Moon Unit’, and even ‘Nutella’ are sure to lead to happy school days for these kids.
The origin and meaning of some obscure names, however, can baffle even the greatest of Onomastics professors. Take the name ‘Anon’, for example, which barely registers on Babycenter and comes in around 9,500th place in terms of popularity.
Some rookie Onomasticologists believe Anon is short for Anonymous. They would be completely wrong. Who after all, would call their child ‘Anonymous’ except perhaps the most radical hermits?
Anon is actually an obscure Greek derivative of the name ‘Onan’, with the ‘O’ and ‘A’ transposed. It is a male name. But who, you ask, was Onan?
As one particular AT resident (who must remain unnamed to protect his privacy) will be able to tell you after displaying his vast biblical knowledge yesterday, Onan was a minor biblical figure. Appearing in Chapter 38 of Genesis, Onan was the person who was struck down for sowing his seed on unfertile soil after being commanded to impregnate his brother’s wife.
The exploits (or lack thereof) of Onan/Anon are where the words ‘Onanist’, ‘Onanism’ come from, literally one who spills their seed. These days, we rarely use the word ‘Onanist’. The modern equivalent is the pejorative ‘wanker’.
If you ever cross paths with a real-life Onan/Anon in the real or virtual world, be sure to let them know you are fully aware of the meaning of their name. They will be touched that you care. Please do not tease them, however, as this would be cyber-bullying.