About Names: Fan of Shania Twain? Here’s the story behind her adopted name

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his May 8th column, he looks at the history of the names Shania – and Twain.

Shania Twain has had an amazing rags-to-riches life. Born in Canada in 1965 as Eilleen Regina Edwards, her divorced mother, Sharon, took her three daughters to Timmins, Ontario, in 1968. There Sharon married Jerry Twain, an Ojibwe Native American who adopted her girls. At age 8 Eilleen began singing in bars to support her impoverished family.

 Twain’s budding career was delayed when her parents died in a car wreck in 1987 and she had to raise her siblings. When her career resumed around 1993, she adopted “Shania” as her stage name, saying it meant “on my way” in Ojibwe. Recently she’s said she got it from a woman at Ontario’s Deerhurst Resort.
American girls were named Shania before Twain. Like Shanice and Shaniqua, it was created as an African-American name blending fashionable sounds in the 1970s, usually pronounced “Sha-NEE-uh.” However, there were never more than 86 born in one year, and it never made the top thousand names.

Want to know more? Read on to find out more about Shanias in history!

About Names: The Barbara boom brought big names

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his April 24th column, he looks at the history of the name Barbara.

Barbra Streisand, famed for these and many other artistic triumphs, was born Barbara Joan Streisand 76 years ago on April 23rd. First Lady Barbara Bush (1925-2018), who died a week ago at age 92, is the only other Barbara whose renown rivals Streisand’s.

Barbara comes from a Greek word meaning “foreign.” In the seventh century, stories about St. Barbara, a third century martyr who survived many tortures before her father beheaded her, were first told. Though modern historians doubt she ever existed, Barbara was a hugely popular saint all over medieval Europe. By 1400, the name was rare in England. Around the year 1550, it revived, and Barbara ranked among the top 30 names for 17th century English girls. It was about the only saint’s name to rise instead of fall after the Reformation. Most 17th century Barbaras in England and America were Anglican or Catholic.

When Barbara Bush was born in 1925, the name had risen to 22nd most popular. Then, in 1926, Broadway chorus girl Ruby Stevens saw a poster for Fitch’s play and renamed herself Barbara Stanwyck. She became a star the next year, when Barbara first broke into the top 10. Though Barbara would have been popular without Stanwyck, her film career pushed it to its peak when she claimed her first Oscar nomination for the tearjerker “Stella Dallas” in 1937. In 1938, more than 3.4 percent of newborn girls were named Barbara, ranking it second only to Mary. It stayed at No. 2 until 1945, and in the top 10 until 1959.

Want to know more? Read on to find out more about Barbaras in history!

About Names: Daisy, the popular English name, has French origins

Daisy Ridley

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his April 11th column, he looks at the history of the name Daisy.

The flower name daisy comes from Old English “dægesege,” “day’s eye,” because a daisy’s white petals surrounding a yellow center open at sunrise. Daisy wasn’t a girl’s name in Old English. The story of how it became a name starts in France. The original Latin word for “pearl” was “margarita,” a Greek derivative that’s the origin “Margaret.” In French, this became “margarite.”

Around 1300, “margarite” (modern “marguerite”) became the French word for “daisy.” No one’s sure why. To some, when the flower folds up at night, it looks like a pearl. Others say medieval French brooches often featured a circle of pearls around a larger central gem, resembling a daisy.

In 1879, Henry James published “Daisy Miller,” about a flirtatious American girl who scandalizes older tourists while visiting Rome. In 1880, when Social Security’s yearly name lists began, Daisy ranked 48th.

Daisy had its biggest success in the Hispanic community. Despite its English origin, Daisy has been well-used in Latin America for decades. One example is Nicaraguan Daisy Zamora (born 1950), one of the greatest living Spanish-language poets.

Want to know more? Read on to find out more about Daisys in history!

About Names: Gloria is a name that’s ready to relive its glory days

One famous Gloria is singer Gloria Gaynor, who had huge hits with “I Will Survive” and “Never Can Say Goodbye.” THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his March 27th column, he looks at the history of the name Gloria.

 

“Gloria” is Latin for “fame” or “glory.” It has the same meaning in Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese. The name began in Iberia. As veneration of the Virgin Mary developed in medieval Europe, she was given many titles, such as “Mary of Mercies” and “Mary of Glory” — in Spanish, “Maria de las Mercedes” and “Maria de Gloria.” By 1700, Iberian parents were naming daughters with the full titles. Soon Mercedes and Gloria became names in their own right. Gloria was often given to girls born around Easter.

Some famous Glorias are fictional — Gloria Bunker Stivic (Sally Struthers) of 1970s hit “All in the Family” and Gloria Pritchett (Sophia Vergara) of today’s “Modern Family” are two of America’s best-known sitcom characters. Jada Pinkett Smith voiced Gloria the Hippo, who falls in love with giraffe Melman, in the “Madagascar” animated film series. In 2016, Gloria ranked 550th — lower than in 1907. Its pleasant sound and positive meaning will surely make it ready for another close-up in a few decades.

Want to know more? Read on to find out more about Glorias in history!

About Names: Famous Neils have made giant leaps throughout history

Neil deGrasse Tyson

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his March 13th column, he looks at the history of the name Neil.

Neil is the English spelling of Niall, an Irish Gaelic name so ancient its derivation is unclear. “Cloud,” “passionate” and “champion” are all possibilities. The original Niall was Niall of the Nine Hostages, a king who lived in the fifth century. Few facts are known about him, though legends say he led the raid on Britain when St. Patrick was brought to Ireland as a slave.

The 1850 United States census includes 1,801 men called Neal, Neil or Niel — a third born in Ireland or Scotland. When Social Security’s yearly baby name lists started in 1880, Neal ranked 270th and Neil 292nd. Neal fell off until Neil became more common in 1912 — still ranking 292nd.

Want to know more? Read on to find out more about Neils in history!

About Names: With French roots, famous Joannes (and Joannas) spread far and wide

Joanna Lumley

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his February 27th column, he looks at the history of the names Joanne and Joanna.

Joanne is a medieval French feminine form of John, derived from Jehohanan, Hebrew for “God has been gracious.” Joanne was common enough in the Alpine province Dauphiné to become a French surname. Adolphe Joanne (1813-1881) wrote the “Guides Joanne,” popular tourist manuals from the 1840s to the 1920s. By 1500, Joanne was eclipsed by Jeanne in France. It’s still very rare there.

Joanna became a regular English name after the Reformation. In the gospel of Luke, the King James Bible’s Joanna is one of the first witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection.

Want to know more? Read on to find out more about Joannes and Joannas in history!

About Names: In honor of Mardi Gras, a primer on some more unusual names

Lisa Loring as Wednesday Addams

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his February 13th column, he looks at names associated with Mardi Gras and days of the week.

Tuesday, Feb. 13th, was the last day before Lent on the Christian calendar. Traditionally a day of revelry before Lent’s austerities begin, it has inspired Mardi Gras (French “Fat Tuesday”), the famed New Orleans parties and parades that began Jan. 6 and end Tuesday night. Mardi was regularly if rarely used as a girl’s name between 1936 and 2009. Model Mardee Hoff (1914-2004) started it off. In 1935, she won a contest for “most perfect figure in America.” Artist Norman Rockwell painted her for a 1936 “Saturday Evening Post” cover; she was later featured on the cover of “Life.”

English names for days of the week have also been used as first names or nicknames. Sunday, Monday, Friday and Saturday are English surnames, going back to medieval ancestors. Friday is the most common — men thought unlucky were nicknamed “Friday” no matter what day they were born. All the days of the week turn up as given names in censuses between 1850 and 1940. In the 19th century, most examples were African-American men. West Africa’s Akan culture traditionally named boys after days of the week. That custom occasionally survived among slaves and their descendants.

Want to know more? Read on to find out more about “days of the week” names in history!

About Names: Like Redgrave, Vanessa has British roots

Vanessa Redgrave au festival de Cannes, 2016

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his January 30th column, he looks at the history of the name Vanessa.

British actress Vanessa Redgrave, title character in all three, turned 81 on January 30th. The origin of the name Vanessa is also British. It was created by Anglo-Irish author Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) in his poem “Cadenus and Vanessa.” Esther Vanhomrigh (1688-1723), daughter of a Lord Mayor of Dublin, fell in love with Swift while he was her tutor. He created Vanessa by linking the “Van” of her surname with “Essa,” a pet form of Esther. Swift gave the poem to Esther in 1713. She arranged for its publication after her death, perhaps as revenge on Swift for jilting her for another Esther, Esther Johnson (1681-1728).

 When Vanessa Williams (born 1963) became the first African-American Miss America in September 1983, she helped the name.

Want to know more? Read on to find out more about Vanessas in history!

About Names: Rohingya is a name worth remembering

An exhausted Rohingya woman arrives with her children at Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh after fleeing Myanmar in September 2017. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his January 16th column, he looks at the ANS 2017 Name of the Year.

At its meeting in Salt Lake City earlier this month, the American Name Society voted Rohingya as the 2017 Name of the Year.

More than 650,000 members of the Islamic group Rohingya fled Myanmar in 2017, creating a massive refugee problem in Bangladesh. The Myanmar army has targeted the Rohingya for persecution and massacres.

The American Name Society vote comes in protest of attempts to suppress the Rohingya name and deny them status as people deserving equal treatment and protection from persecution. Each year, the ANS chooses Names of the Year for places, fictional names, personal names and miscellaneous and/or trade names before choosing an overall Name of the Year.

Want to know more? Read on to find out more about the Names of the Year!

About Names: The name ‘Scott’ could be poised for a comeback

Sir Walter Scott

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

Scott is an English surname telling of one’s Scottish ancestry. The Scots were Gaelic speakers from Ireland who founded the kingdom of Dál Riata in western Scotland in the sixth century. In the ninth century, Dál Riata merged with the Pictish kingdom of eastern Scotland to form the modern nation. Linguists aren’t sure what “Scot” originally meant. The best guess is Pictish for “carved,” from the ancient Gaelic habit of tattooing with sharp knives.

Today, Scott is the 10th most common surname in Scotland and 42nd most common in England. In the 2010 United States census, there were 439,530 Scotts, making it the 39th most common family name. When the custom of turning surnames into boys’ first names took off in the late 18th century, men with Scott as a first name appeared. Many had mothers whose maiden name was Scott. Others were named after Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832), famous author of novels such as “Rob Roy” and “Ivanhoe.”

 

Want to know more? Read on to find out more about Scotts in history!