Actor Lorraine Toussaint (Photo Source: Caitlin Watkins)
Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his January 31st column, he looks at the history of the name Lorraine.
Lorraine is a region in northeastern France. It’s the modern form of Lotharingia, a medieval kingdom named after its first ruler, Lothair II (835-869), a great-grandson of Charlemagne. France and England fought to control northern France for centuries. In the 1300s, prophecies claiming France would be saved by “a virgin from the borders of Lorraine” began to spread. Today in English, that virgin is called St. Joan of Arc (1412-31). Though in France, she’s most often “Jeanne d’Arc,” she’s sometimes called “Jeanne de Lorraine.”
A few American parents named daughters Lorraine, probably as a variation of Laura, in the early 19th century. The 1850 census found over 30, most in upstate New York. Publicity about the Franco-Prussian War helped the name rise. This accelerated after American novelist Robert W. Chambers published “Lorraine: A Romance” in 1897. There, Lorraine, daughter of the Marquis de Nesville, is saved by (and marries) American adventurer Jack Marche after her father is killed piloting a military balloon.
Though Lorraine stayed in the top 100 until 1949, it then swiftly receded except for a minor uptick in 1985, when Lea Thompson played Marty McFly’s mom, Lorraine, in “Back to the Future.”
Subway riders found a creative way to pay tribute to Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant with a makeshift sign at the Bryant Park subway station. The sign at the 42nd St-Bryant Park Station was plastered with the name “Kobe” over “42nd Street” in order to read: “Kobe Bryant Park.” The makeshift memorial was just one of many tributes around the country as fans gathered to mourn the star.
Bryant died in a California helicopter crash along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna. Also killed in the crash were girls’ basketball coach Christina Mauser, college baseball coach John Altobelli, his daughter Alyssa Altobelli and wife Keri Altobelli.
Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg attends a climate strike in Stockholm on Friday, Dec. 20.
Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his January 18th column, he looks at the American Name Society’s Name of the Year.
Do you know where Arrokoth is? At its meeting in New Orleans on Jan. 3 2020, the American Name Society voted Arrokoth 2019’s Name of the Year.
In November, NASA announced this as the name of “minor planet 486958.” Before the New Horizons probe flew over this far-away rock in the Kuiper Belt on Jan. 1, 2019, NASA received about 34,000 name suggestions. Their initial selection, Ultima Thule, was abandoned when it turned out that Ultima Thule was used by Nazi occultists as the mythical home of the “Aryan race.” Arrokoth means “sky” in Powhatan, an extinct Algonquian language formerly spoken in eastern Virginia.
ANS chose Names of the Year for place names, artistic-literary names, personal names, trade names, e-names and miscellaneous names before picking the overall Name of the Year.
“Greta Thunberg” won personal name of the year. Swedish teen Thunberg, who turned 17 on Jan. 3, leads a global youth movement addressing climate change. She was chosen as Time magazine’s Person of the Year for 2019, and her name has become a byword for youth climate activists. Their influence on politics is called the Greta Effect. A documentary film about the movement is titled “Make the World Greta Again.”
Dick Gautier as Conrad Birdie in the 1960 Broadway Musical BYE BYE BIRDIE
Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his January 3rd column, he looks at the history of the name Conrad.
Conrad is the modern form of an ancient Germanic name combining “kuoni” (brave) and “rad” (counsel.) The first famous Conrad was St. Conrad (900-975), bishop of Constance, a city on Germany’s border with Switzerland. He once drank a chalice of concentrated communion wine a spider dropped into. Because they thought that all spiders were poisonous, Conrad’s contemporaries saw this as proof of great bravery.
In 1880, when Social Security’s yearly baby name lists began, Conrad ranked 262nd. Though its use then drifted downward, this very German name surprisingly rebounded during World War I. Two men whose last name was Conrad may have helped. During the war, Austrian Field Marshal Franz Conrad, Baron von Hötzendorf (1852-1925), was considered a military genius despite many defeats. Perhaps more importantly, Polish-born British novelist Joseph Conrad (1857-1924), best known today for “Heart of Darkness” (1899), was then at the height of his fame.
Though hotel magnate Conrad Hilton (1879-1979) countered that image with one of wealth and power, the name fell to 836th in 2005.
Ellen DeGeneres and wife Portia de Rossi
Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his December 7th column, he looks at the history of the name Ellen.
Ellen is the English form of Helen, derived from a Greek word for what’s today called “St. Elmo’s Fire,” light appearing around ship’s masts during thunderstorms, caused by electrical discharge. St. Helen was the mother of Constantine, the first Roman emperor to accept Christianity. Ninth-century English priest Cynewulf wrote about Helen’s travels to Palestine to find the “true cross” in “Elene,” one of the earliest surviving Old English poems.
In the 18th century, educated parents reintroduced Helen. Though Helen quickly took over in Scotland, in England and America, Ellen had more staying power. The 1850 United States census found 121,770 Ellens and 19,849 Helens. Around 1875, Helen started its American boom. Between 1900 and 1919, it ranked second for newborn American girls.
Though Ellen fell to 290th in 1985, it inched up the next decade as similar sounding Ella rose. After 1995, Ellen plummeted. This may be partly due to DeGeneres becoming a “one-name celebrity” through sitcom “Ellen” (1994-98) and her talk show. Of course, the Ellens born around the name’s 1946 peak are now in their 70s, giving it a “grandma” vibe to modern young parents.
Jane Fonda was arrested for a fifth time at the now-weekly climate change protests at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.
Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his December 21st column, he looks at the history of the name Jane.
Jane is an English feminine form of John, a biblical name from the Hebrew “Yahweh is gracious.” In 1066, England’s Norman invaders brought two Old French feminine forms of John with them. Johanne became Joan, while Jehanne became Jane. In medieval times, Jane was rare, while Joan was the third-most common name in England. Around 1450, Jane started to rise, especially among the upper classes.
Throughout the 19th century, Jane appealed to the British more than to Americans. In 1911, the census of England and Wales included 780,514 Janes. The 1910 American census had 191,665, though then the United States had 92 million residents to England and Wales’ 36 million.
Jane’s lowest point came in 2006 at rank 477. Surprisingly, since then it’s risen, three decades before a 1940s name normally would. That may partly be linked to the increasing prominence of English novelist Jane Austen (1775-1817). In 2007, the films “Becoming Jane Austen” (starring Anne Hathaway as the author) and “The Jane Austen Book Club” both appeared.
Elsa the character is so ubiquitous, helping to sell everything from lamps and Lego to pillows and piggy banks, that parents might be avoiding the name.
Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his November 23rd column, he looks at the history of the name Elsa.
Elsa is a Germanic short form of biblical saint’s name Elizabeth, which is Hebrew for “my God is an oath.” The first famous Elsa was also a fictional princess. Around 1200, German knight Wolfram von Eschenbach wrote “Parzival.” This epic poem includes the story of Lohengrin, Parzival’s son. When the Duke of Brabant leaves his throne to daughter Elsa, Lohengrin arrives in a boat pulled by a swan, promising to defend Elsa’s reign if she never asks his name. He weds Elsa. They rule Brabant for years until she finally asks the forbidden question, when he glides away in the swan boat.
The 1850 United States census included 1,169 Elsas. Elsa was still mostly a nickname. Immigration increased the number of Elsas and established it as a separate name. On Social Security’s yearly lists, Elsa peaked at 215th in 1890. After “Frozen” was released, newborn Elsas more than doubled in 2014, ranking the name 286th, but that was a flash in the pan. By 2018, Elsa plummeted to 888th, a startling reversal.
Want to know more? Read on to find out more about Elsas in history!
Marion Rombauer Becker looks over “Joy of Cooking” with her mother, Irma Rombauer, in 1951. Irma Rombauer first published the cookbook in 1931.
Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his November 8th column, he looks at the history of the name Irma.
The ninth edition of “Joy of Cooking” came out. Its first edition was privately published by author Irma S. Rombauer (1877-1962) in 1931.
Irma is a short form of Germanic names starting with “ermen,” meaning “whole” or “all.” Emma was originally a Norman French form of the same name. Several medieval saints in England and Germany had “ermen” names. Sixth-century forest hermit St. Ermelinde (“whole-soft”) is venerated in Belgium. St. Irmgard (“whole-enclosure”) of Chiemsee (830-866) was a great-granddaughter of Charlemagne who became an abbess. St. Ermenburga (“whole-fortress”) was a Queen of Mercia in England who founded a nunnery.
Unlike Emma, Irma wasn’t used as a name in its own right until around 1700. Though this began in Germany, Irma’s first big success came in France.
Homemaker humorist Erma Bombeck (1927-1996) is probably the most famous person with the “E” spelling, though gospel singer Erma Franklin (1938-2002), older sister of Aretha, is also well-known.
Want to know more? Read on to find out more about Irmas in history!
Actor Seth Rogan
Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his October 26th column, he looks at the history of the name Seth.
Seth is the English form of Shet, Hebrew for “appointed.” In the Bible’s Book of Genesis, Seth is Adam and Eve’s third son, born after oldest brother Cain kills second brother Abel. That’s about all Genesis says. Later legends say Seth journeys to Paradise, where he sees a vision of the future newborn Jesus. Seth writes a book describing the star foretelling the baby’s birth. Centuries later, this guides the wise men to Bethlehem.
These legends were featured in “Cursor Mundi,” a poem written in northern England around 1300. Perhaps that’s why Seth was used by several prominent Yorkshire families by 1450, a century before the Reformation created a general fashion for Old Testament names.
When Social Security’s yearly baby name lists started in 1880, Seth ranked 349th. Like most Old Testament names, it then declined, bottoming out at 907th in 1930. Seth then rose, booming in the 1970s to a plateau at around No. 100 between 1979 and 1997. Pop culture doesn’t seem to have had a big influence, even though its first peak, at 89th in 1987, was helped by the 1986 horror film “The Fly,” in which scientist Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) turns into an insect.
Want to know more? Read on to find out more about Seths in history!
Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his September 27th column, he looks at the history of the name Blake.
lake’s an English surname. In Old English, blæc meant “black” while blac meant “pale.” Both became nicknames referring to hair color or complexion. By medieval times, the words were confused, so Blake families don’t know if their medieval ancestor was swarthy or fair. In Ireland, Blake was also an English form of Ó Bláthmhaic, derived from a personal name meaning “flower son.” There were 73,797 Americans with the surname Blake in 2010, ranking it 447th.
In the 19th century, parents began using surnames as given names. The 1850 United States Census found 266 men and boys called Blake. A few Southern girls were named Blake in the early 20th century. Then in 1988, daytime soap “Guiding Light” rapidly aged child character Christina Thorpe (born in 1975), reintroducing her as an adult going by her middle name, Blake. Blake Thorpe Marler (played 1989-92 by Sherry Stringfield and later by Elizabeth Kiefer) endured the birth of twins thought to have been fathered in a one-night fling who later turned out to be her husband’s after all. Enough “Guiding Light” fans named daughters Blake to just get the name into the top thousand between 1990 and 1997.
Want to know more? Read on to find out more about Blakes in history!