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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
Jake Gyllenhaal as Jack Twist in Brokeback Mountain
Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his December 19th column, he looks at the history of the name Jacob.
The name Jacob is the English form of the Hebrew Ya’aqov, name of the biblical patriarch whose 12 sons are the ancestors of ancient Israel’s tribes. Jacob was Esau’s twin. In Genesis, he’s born holding onto Esau’s heel. Traditionally, the name is derived from words for “heel” or “supplanter,” predicting Jacob later tricking Esau out of his first-born’s birthright.
Many modern scholars think the name was originally “Ya’aqov’el,” from “may God protect,” believing the “heel” explanation came later. The original Latin form of Jacob was Iacobus. Around the fifth century, alternate form Iacomus developed. Several languages have names derived from both: Giacòbbe and Giacomo in Italian, Jacobo and Jaime in Spanish, and Jacob and James in English.
Famous Jacobs besides Gyllenhaal include baseball pitchers Arrieta (1986), deGrom (1988), Diekman (1987), Faria (1993), Nix (1996) and Rhame (1993). Packers punter Schum (1989) and Patriots tight end Hollister (1993) are football-playing Jacobs.
Want to know more? Read on to find out more about Jacobs in history!
Walt and Lillian Disney departing from Kastrup Airport CPH, Copenhagen 1959
Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his December 5th column, he looks at the history of the name Walter.
Walt Disney (1901-1966) was born Walter Elias Disney 116 years ago. After creating Mickey in 1928, he made “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (1937), the first successful animated feature. He won 22 Academy Awards, the most by one person, and created the theme parks Disneyland and Walt Disney World.
The name Walter comes from an ancient Germanic name combining “wald” (ruler) with “hari” (army). The form Walter was brought to England by Norman conquerors in 1066. Around 1380, Walter ranked eighth for English men. It was especially common in Devonshire. There, Walter of Cowick, a 12th century monk who had visions of purgatory and wore bearskins, was revered as a saint. Back then, Walter was pronounced “Water,” and its nickname was Wat. Family names Walters, Watt, Watts, Watkins, Waters and Waterson show descent from Walter. After 1600, as literacy increased, people started pronouncing the “l.”
With such a long stretch of popularity, there are scores of famous Walters besides Disney. Poet Walt Whitman (1819-1892) and basketball star Walt Frazier (1945) are two known by the nickname.
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Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his November 21st column, he looks at the history of the name Goldie.
Goldie Hawn turned 72 on November 21st. Hawn won a best supporting actress Oscar for “Cactus Flower” and was nominated for best actress for “Private Benjamin.”
In Old English, boys were called Golda and girls Golde. These were names in their own right, and also short forms of compounds like Goldburg (“gold fortress”), Goldrich (“gold ruler”) and Goldwin (“gold friend”).
Golda and Golde were common girls’ names among Yiddish-speaking Jews in Eastern Europe. Between 1880 and 1925, Jewish immigrants brought them to America. The most famous Golda was Golda Meir (1898-1978), prime minister of Israel from 1969 to 1974. Born Golda Mabovitch in Kiev, Ukraine, she came to Milwaukee in 1906 and moved to Palestine in 1921.
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Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his November 8th column, he looks at the history of the name Mildred.
Will you see Mildred’s billboards? “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” a dark comedy in which Frances McDormand plays Mildred Hayes, who erects billboards blaming a local sheriff for not solving her daughter’s murder, opens Friday.
In the seventh century, King Merewald and Queen Ermenburg of Mercia in England had three daughters: Mildred (“gentle strength”), Mildburg (“gentle fortress”), and Mildith (“gentle battle”). All became abbesses and were proclaimed saints. Mildith was least famous. Her name died out in England by 1350. Mildburg, said to have miraculous healing powers, lived in Shropshire. Her name became Milbrough there. Brought to America in Colonial times, it shifted to Milbrey. Though very rare, Milbreys are still found in North Carolina and Tennessee.
When Social Security’s yearly names lists started in 1880, Mildred ranked 121st. “Mildred Keith” rocketed it upward. Mildred peaked at sixth between 1912 and 1920.
Though Joan Crawford won a best actress Oscar in 1945 for the title character in “Mildred Pierce,” this tale of a wealthy restaurateur who spoils her murderous daughter didn’t help the name’s popularity. Mildred dropped below the top thousand in 1985.
Want to know more? Read on to find out more about Mildreds in history!