We‘ve written and talked in the past about musical words like aria, jazz, rock and country singers, classical musicians, and opera and operetta and Broadway musical names, but we’ve never looked at the music instruments themselves. Some we’ve found are as common as Viola, others as rare and exotic as Ciaramella.
When Aussie actress Rachel Griffiths chose the name of this bluegrass instrument for her son, it caused a certain amount of headshaking. Her motivation became clearer when it was cited as an honor name for one of Australia’s national poets, Andrew Barton “Banjo” Paterson.
The baya is a deep kettledrum, played with the left hand, usually made of copper, but also of clay or wood. More exotic than Maya, Baya is at once a Swahili name, a Spanish name meaning ‘berry’, and was also the name of a ninth century Scottish saint.
A member of the tympani contingent, Bell has become a common girls’ name -- almost always spelled Belle, which gives it the French "beautiful" meaning. Actress Kristen Bell made her maiden name daughter Lincoln’s middle, and feminist writer Gloria Jean Watkins went by the name (lower case) bell hooks.
This is an instrument that produces sound by sending steam through large whistles, used especially in circuses and on carousels and riverboats: it can be heard on the Beatles Sgt. Pepper album. In Greek mythology, Calliope is the muse of epic poetry; Patricia Arquette made it one of her daughter Harlow’s middle names.
The celesta is a keyboard instrument that gets its name from its “celestial” tinkling sound, heard accompanying the dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker. More distinctive than Celeste, Celesta was used by novelist Barbara Cartland for the heroine of one of her books.
The Italian ciaramella instrument comes from the Abruzzo Mountains.
The familiar instrument that comes in many forms -- from snare to bongo to conga -- is also an Irish surname, derived from the Gaelic Ó Droma. Drum might make a cool middle name choice, or could be expanded to Scottish surname name Drummond.
A fife is that piccolo-like instrument you see in all those Revolutionary War pictures. Fife is a Scottish surname (anyone remember Barney Fife?) that originated for someone from the ancient Kingdom of Fife. Patrick Dempsey used the Fyfe spelling for his daughter Tallulah’s middle name.
Master character-namer Toni Morrison has in her novel Song of Solomon a wild and colorful best friend, mentor and confidante of the protagonist named Guitar Bains. Another possible evocative middle name for the child of musical parents.
This is a small bagpipe that was fashionable in French court circles of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and is also a dance style. It’s close to Musetta, the name associated with Puccini’s opera La bohème; the character was named Musette in the original novel.
There’s no doubt that some of these -- like this one-- would make better middle names than firsts, although Piano is a legitimate Italian surname, as in Pritzker Prize-winning architect Renzo Piano, selected by Time as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
The ruan is a Chinese string instrument similar to the lute, with strings that were originally made of silk. The name Ruan is a multi-cultural, unisex name with roots in Sanskrit, Chinese, and Scottish Gaelic -- and has the same red-haired feel as a Rowan.
The familiar and versatile reed instrument was invented by a Belgian named Adolphe Sax, and it’s commonly referred to by his surname, which has occasionally been used as a first. The English novelist known as Sax Rohmer, famous for his Dr. Fu Manchu novels, was born Arthur Henry Sarsfield Ward.
The one name on this list most recognizable as a girls’ appellation; the viola is a bowed string instrument slightly larger than a violin. The name Viola, which means “violet,” seems to be on track to be revived à la Violet. Powerful actress Viola Davis is a strong bearer of the name. (A somewhat larger instrumental choice: Cello.)