About Names: “Are you reading ‘What happened to Lacey’?”

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his August 29th column, he looks at the history of the name Lacey.

‘You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey,” by Omahan Lacey Lamar and her sister, comedian Amber Ruffin, is the Omaha Public Library’s 2021 Omaha Reads selection. They humorously present the serious subject of how racism has impacted their lives as Black Omahans. The library will hold an online discussion with the authors Sept. 2.

Lacey is an English surname from the town of Lassy in Normandy. Lassy is 42 miles south of D-Day landing site Omaha Beach.

The first Laceys came to England in 1066 with William the Conqueror. One branch included John de Lacy, Earl of Lincoln (1192-1240), a leader of those who forced King John to sign the Magna Carta in 1215.

An Irish branch was founded by Hugh de Lacy, who King Henry II appointed Lord of Meath when he invaded Ireland in 1172. Most Irish Laceys are Hugh’s descendants, though some get the name from Gaelic Ó Laitheasa, “grandson of the prince.”

When the custom of turning surnames into given names became established around 1700, men named Lacy appeared. The 1850 U.S. Census reported 603.

The spelling Lacy was commoner for boys. In 1880, when yearly baby name data starts, Lacy ranked 662nd. It peaked at 392nd in 1900, leaving the male top thousand in 1969.

About Names: “The romantic — and rebellious — history of Guy”

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his August 15th column, he looks at the history of the name Guy.

Right now on movie screens a Guy is saving his world.

“Free Guy” premiered Friday. In this fantasy film, a new program makes Guy (Ryan Reynolds), a minor nonplayer character in video game “Free City,” self-aware. He then must save his virtual world from being erased.

Guy is the French form of Wido, an ancient Germanic name from either witu (“wood”) or wit (“wide”). Brought to England in 1066, it stayed in use partly because of the legend of Guy of Warwick, retold in ballads since around 1200.

In his story, Guy is a lowly cupbearer who loves Felice, daughter of the Earl of Warwick.

To become worthy of her, he travels the world slaying dragons and other monsters. After wedding Felice, Guy makes a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, returning just in time to save Winchester from Danish invaders by defeating giant Colbrand in single combat.

The name’s heroic reputation was ruined by Guy Fawkes (1570-1606).

In 1605, Fawkes joined several other Catholics in the Gunpowder Plot, planning to blow up King James and Parliament on Nov. 5. Though Fawkes wasn’t the leader, he was first arrested, and his name came to exemplify treason.

Parliament declared Nov. 5 an annual celebration. Effigies of Fawkes made of old rags were tossed into bonfires. Soon these were called “guys”. Around 1830 “guy” became slang in England for any shabbily dressed man.

About Names: “The name Herman is steeped in literary, athletic and magical history”

Fred Gwinne as Herman Munster in CBS’s “The Munsters” (Public domain)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his August 1st column, he looks at the history of the name Herman.

Today’s the birthday of Moby Dick’s father.

Herman Melville (1819-1891) was born 202 years ago. One of America’s most famous authors, he’s best known for “Moby Dick” (1851), the story of Captain Ahab and his obsession with the great white whale that bit off his leg.

Herman’s the English form of German Hermann, derived from ancient Germanic “army man.” Hermann was a common name in medieval Germany. One example, Hermann of Reichenau (1013-1054), a Benedictine monk, who, despite having cerebral palsy, studied mathematics and astronomy and composed hymns that are still sung today.

Norman invaders brought the name to England in 1066. Families surnamed Harman are descended from medieval Hermans. Though rare in England, Herman never completely died out, partly because it was continually reinforced by goldsmiths and merchants immigrating from Holland.

Herman was more common in America than England, mostly because of German and Dutch influence. That’s how Melville got the name — his mother, Maria, was a great-great-granddaughter of Harmen Gansevoort, a Dutch settler who came to New Amsterdam in 1655. Harmen’s grandfather, Hermann (born 1570), was a brewer in Dersum, just over the Dutch border in northern Germany.

About Names: “With t or without, Margo royally underappreciated”

Margo Martindale (Photo by Neil Grabowsky / Montclair Film Festival, CC-BY-2.0)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his July 18th column, he looks at the history of the name Margo.

You may not know Margo’s name, but you’d likely recognize her face.

Actress Margo Martindale turns 70 today. She’s won Emmys playing crime family matriarch Mags Bennett in “Justified” (2011) and KGB handler Claudia in “The Americans” (2015 and 2016). She makes fun of herself by voicing bank-robbing “Esteemed Character Actress Margo Martindale” on Netflix’s animated “BoJack Horseman.”

Margo is a simplified spelling of Margot, a nickname for Marguerite, French form of Margaret (Greek “pearl.”)

Marguerite de Valois (1553-1615), daughter of King Henri II of France, became Queen when her cousin and husband became King Henri IV in 1589. He divorced her for being barren in 1599.

In 1845, French novelist Alexandre Dumas published “Queen Margot”, a novel based on Marguerite’s life. This falsely presented her as a sex-obsessed schemer, but helped establish Margot as a name in its own right.

Margot was often a nickname for Margaret when first used by English speakers. The two most famous British Margots, author and Prime minister’s spouse Asquith (1864-1945) and ballerina Fonteyn (1919-1991), were both born “Margaret.”

About Names: “History of name Simon not as simple as it seems”

A statue of El Libertador, Simón Bolivar, in Paris

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his July 4th column, he looks at the history of the name Simon.

Tuesday we can join Simon again in the World of Mages.

“Any Way the Wind Blows”, the third book in Nebraska author Rainbow Rowell’s young adult series about young mage Simon Snow, will be released July 6. It promises to “tell secrets, answer questions, and lay ghosts to rest.”

Simon was originally a Greek name meaning “flat-nosed.” It was used in first-century Palestine as the Greek form of Hebrew Shim’on, “he has heard,” a common name among Jews. Nine Simons are found in the New Testament, including apostle Simon the Zealot; Simon of Cyrene, who carried Jesus’ cross; and Simon Peter, later the first Pope.

In England, the name’s fame was reinforced by Simon Stock (1165-1265), a Carmelite monk whose visions of the Virgin Mary earned him veneration as a saint.

Simon ranked 13th in England around 1380, leading to Sims, Simpson, Symonds, etc., being common surnames.

About Names: “Brian boomed in the early ’70s”

Queen’s Brian May in 1979 (Photo by Eddie Malin, CC-BY-2.0)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his June 20th column, he looks at the history of the name Brian.

Will “Good Vibrations” give you “Fun, Fun, Fun” “All Summer Long”?

Brian Wilson, who — with Mike Love — wrote those songs for The Beach Boys in the 1960s, turns 79 today .

Brian is the Irish form of ancient Celtic Brigonos, probably meaning “high, noble.” Irish king Brian Boru’s forces defeated the Vikings of Dublin at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014. Though Brian died in battle, he became the hero of Ireland’s struggle against foreign domination.

In the 10th century, Norse kings of Dublin also ruled York in northern England. They adopted Brian from the Irish and took it to York. Celtic-speaking knights from Brittany came to southern England with Norman invaders in 1066, introducing the name there. Though Brian died out as a first name in England outside of Yorkshire, it lasted long enough to establish Bryan as a common English surname.

The English rulers of Ireland suppressed the name, and the Irish turned to Barney and Bernard as substitutes. A few Irish immigrants went back to Brian after arriving in America. The 1850 census found 855 Bryans and 264 Brians, with 30% of the Bryans and 57% of the Brians born in Ireland.

Many Bryans had no direct Irish connection, being part of the general fashion for turning surnames into given names. Bryan boomed as a first name when Nebraska’s William Jennings Bryan (1860-1925) became the Democratic nominee for president in 1896, shooting up 330% in one year to rank 157th. The name peaked again in 1900 and 1908 during Bryan’s other presidential runs.

About Names: Social Security Administration Releases Top Baby Names for 2020

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his May 23rd column, he looks at the Social Security Administration’s Releases fro Top Baby Names in 2020.

Jackson and Sophia won again during the pandemic, though other tragedies hugely impacted baby names last year.

May 7 the Social Security Administration released the United States’ top baby names of 2020.

On SSA’s lists, Liam and Olivia rank first, as they did in 2019.

SSA counts every spelling separately. I add together spellings pronounced the same, creating lists I believe more accurately indicate popularity.

When boys named Jaxon, Jaxson, Jakson, etc., are added to Jackson, 20,213 were born in 2020, ranking it first for the eighth year in a row.

The rest of 2020’s Top 10 for boys were Liam, Noah, Aiden, Oliver, Elijah, Lucas, Grayson, William and James — the same 10 as last year, though Oliver moved up two places.

Kayson was the boy’s name among the Top 100 with the biggest increase, rising from 96th to 62nd. Though Kayson is the top spelling, it was only 19% of the total, which included Kason, Kaison, Kasen, Cason, etc. Blending the sounds of Mason and Grayson with Kayden, Kayson has become the perfect “different but not too different” choice for thousands of parents.

When Sofia and other spellings are added, 20,014 Sophias arrived in 2020. Sophia has been No. 1 since 2011. The rest of the girls’ Top 10 are Olivia, Emma, Ava, Isabella, Amelia, Charlotte, Mia, Camila and Riley.


About Names: How big a splash will “Melanie” make?

Melanie Klein, psychoanalyst and developer of object relations theory (Photo by Hans A. Thorner, CC-BY-4.0)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his June 6th column, he looks at the history of the name Melanie.

The U.S. Olympic Swim Trials are taking place in Omaha this month. Twenty-nine-year-old Melanie Margalis, holder of the U.S. record in the 400-meter individual medley, is expected to win that event here. At the 2016 Olympics, she won gold as part of the U.S. women’s 4×200-meter freestyle relay.

Mélanie is the French form of Melania, a Latin name derived from Greek “melaina,” meaning “black.” Melania the Elder (c. 350-417) and granddaughter Melania the Younger (c. 383-439) were fabulously wealthy Roman women who used their fortune to build convents and give relief to the poor. St. Jerome, angry at the elder Melania for supporting his theological rival Origen, called her “black in name and black in nature.” That didn’t stop both Melanias being revered as saints.

Though the Normans brought the name Melanie with them to England in 1066, it was rare and soon died out. In the 1850 United States census, 144 of the 189 Melanies were born in French-settled Louisiana, France, or Belgium.

Melanie’s rare American use before 1940 was usually in a Roman Catholic context. For example, when Martha Anne Holliday (1850-1939) joined the Sisters of Mercy in Atlanta in 1883, she was renamed “Mary Melania,” and called “Sister Melanie.”

Sister Melanie’s second cousin, Atlanta journalist Margaret Mitchell, often visited her. When Mitchell wrote “Gone With the Wind” (1936), she named selfless genteel Melanie Hamilton, best friend to fiery Scarlett O’Hara, after Sister Melanie.

About Names: Trevor was a grand slam in the 1990s, thanks to baseball’s all-stars

Trevor Noah speaking at BookExpo 2018 (photo by Terry Ballard, CC BY 2.0)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his March 14th column, he looks at the history of the name Trevor.

Trevor may not sing tonight, but he’ll surely joke about singers. Tonight, South-African born comedian Trevor Noah, star of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” hosts the 63rd Grammy Awards.

Trevor is a Welsh surname, indicating one’s ancestors lived in one of several medieval hamlets in Wales whose name meant “large homestead.”

Though Trevor is an uncommon last name it’s well-known in Britain because of Edward Trevor (1580-1642), a Welsh soldier sent to Ireland who married Rose Ussher, daughter of the Anglican Archbishop of Armagh, in 1612. He acquired a large estate in County Down and was knighted in 1617.

Sir Edward’s grandson Sir John Trevor (1637-1717) was Speaker of the House of Commons from 1689 to 1695. Though Sir John lost his speakership because of taking bribes, by then his daughter Anne had married Michael Hill, Governor of County Down. Their elder son Trevor Hill (1693-1742), perhaps the earliest person with Trevor as a first name, became Viscount Hillsborough. Younger son Arthur (1694-1771), created Viscount Dungannon in 1766, is a five-greats-grandfather of Queen Elizabeth II.

Trevor’s aristocratic associations led to its use as a surname for many characters in British novels and plays. After 1925 it became fashionable as a first name in England. This was reinforced when Trevor Howard (1913-1988) became one of Britain’s biggest movie stars in “Brief Encounter” (1945). Trevor peaked in 1955 at around 27th on England’s baby name chart.

About Names: Kara/Cara holds ‘Supergirl’ appeal

Actress Cara Delevingne speaking at Comic Con in 2015 (photo by Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his March 28th column, he looks at the history of the name Kara / Cara.

Kara is super again on Tuesday.

“Supergirl,” the CW series starring Melissa Benoist as Kara Danvers, Superman’s younger cousin developing her Kryptonian superpowers, starts its sixth season March 30.

Kara is a respelling of Cara. In Latin “cara” is the feminine form of “carus,” meaning “dear, beloved.” The Latin word became a name around 1827 in Sweden, though Swedish onomastician Roland Otterbjörk notes it was also often a pet form of Karolina.

It’s hard to know when Cara’s use began in America. It’s difficult to distinguish from “Cora” in handwritten records. The first sure example, Cara Whiton-Stone (1831-1913), was a Boston socialite and published poet. Though she’s Cara or Carra in almost all available records, a 1909 U.S. Senate bill increasing her military widow’s pension calls her “Caroline Stone.”

Pittsburgh journalist Cara Reese (1856-1914), who famously covered the 1889 Johnstown Flood, was also born “Caroline.”

Many baby name books claim Cara is Italian or Irish. In Italian “cara” means “beloved.” In Irish Gaelic, “cara” means “friend.” With that meaning, Cara is fashionable in modern Ireland, peaking at 29th in 2018.

Cara has never been used as a name in Italy, though, and there’s scant evidence the Irish word became a name before the 20th century.