Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his February 11th column, he looks at the history of the names Abraham.
Abraham was the Biblical patriarch of the Hebrews. He had one of history’s most famous name changes. In Genesis 17, God tells him: “No longer shall your name be Abram (“high father” or “exalted ancestor”) but your name shall be Abraham (“father of many”); for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations.” The patriarch’s fame meant his name was used by Christians as well as Jews in medieval Europe. Families with surnames like Abraham and Abrams had medieval Christian ancestors called Abraham.
In 1880, when Social Security’s yearly baby name data started, Abraham ranked 163rd, Abe 234th and Abram 373rd. All fell off until 1902 when they rose again, partly because of eastern European Jewish immigration. Abraham also jumped from 162nd in 1910 to 124th in 1911, probably because of publicity about the building of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. After 1912, Abraham dropped, bottoming out at 499th in 1967.
Want to know more? Read on to find out more about Abrahams in history!
Oprah Winfrey @AP
Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his January 29th column, he looks at the history of the names Oprah and Orpah.
Multi-talented Oprah Winfrey, nominated for an Oscar in 1985 for her supporting role in “The Color Purple,“ hosted the most successful television talk show ever between 1986 and 2011. When Oprah was born, her Aunt Ida named her Orpah after a character in the Bible’s Book of Ruth. In 2008, Winfrey explained her family, unfamiliar with the name, pronounced and spelled it “Oprah” from her infancy, though it remains “Orpah” on her birth certificate.
After the Reformation a few Protestant parents discovered Orpah. The 1850 United States census includes 105 Orpahs. Orpha was much more common; 2,156 are found in 1850. Most name dictionaries assume Orpha is an alteration of Orpah, but don’t explain why it was more popular.
A few parents named daughters Oprah at the start of Winfrey’s fame — 37 Oprahs were born in 1987. But 2007 was the last year more than four were born. Oprah, like Madonna and Cher, is so famous as a unique one-name celebrity, parents know they’d be mercilessly teased for naming a baby Oprah. It could only become popular for babies after Winfrey’s lifetime.
Want to know more? Read on to find out more about Oprahs and Orpahs in history! Note one minor error: The sentence about Orphea and Orpheus should refer to the 1850 census, not the 1950 one.
Journalist Jamal Khashoggi
Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his January 15th column, he looks at the ANS Name of the Year, Jamal Khashoggi.
Do you know how to say “Khashoggi”?
At its meeting in New York City on Jan. 4, the American Name Society voted Jamal Khashoggi 2018’s Name of the Year. Jamal Khashoggi was a Washington Post journalist and critic of the Saudi regime assassinated in Istanbul on Oct. 2. His name is associated with increasing threats journalists face in an atmosphere branding them “enemies of the people.” President Donald Trump’s dismissal of CIA reports strongly concluding the Saudi crown prince ordered the murder have kept Khashoggi’s name in the news.
“Khashoggi” also illustrates modern media’s more careful treatment of non-English names. Initially, reporters rhymed it with “soggy.” Over time, most switched to “Ka-SHOG-zhee,” closer to the Arabic pronunciation.
“Gritty” won as 2018’s trade name of the year. Gritty is the new mascot of the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team, a hairy orange monster debuted on Sept. 24. Left-wing activists interpreted Gritty as a blue-collar hero, fighting against the absurdities of capitalism. On Oct. 24, the Philadelphia City Council passed a formal resolution honoring Gritty, declaring he honored the city’s spirit and passion. Sports blog network SB Nation wrote: “The name ‘Gritty’ itself is an inside joke used as a descriptor by fans for any player who isn’t the most athletically talented.”
Want to know more? Read on to find out more about the ANS names of the year! Note that because of the limitation on the length of the column, this report does not include every nominee that was not a winner. A full report will come out later in the ANS journal, Names.
Artist Keith Haring
Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his December 18th column, he looks at the history of the name Keith.
Keith’s a Scottish surname from the “lands of Keith” in the county of East Lothian. The place name may come from Pictish for “woods.” Clan Keith is an important Scottish clan. The name of its founder is unknown. He was a warrior who killed Danish leader Camus at the Battle of Barrie in 1010. King Malcolm II granted him the lands of Keith and the title “Camus Slayer.”
As a famous aristocratic surname, Keith attracted use when the custom of giving surnames as first names took off in the 19th century. In Britain’s 1851 census, there were 96 Keiths in Scotland and 61 in England. The 1850 United States Census found 41 Keiths, only a quarter of Britain’s total when the two nations’ populations were about equal.
One-syllable names are now out of fashion. In 2017 Keith ranked 493rd, its lowest since 1901. Perhaps in another 40 years Keith will make parents happy again.
Want to know more? Read on to find out more about Keiths in American history!
Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his December 4th column, he looks at the history of the name Marisa.
Marisa is an Italian, Spanish and Portuguese blend of Maria and Luisa, though in Iberia it’s also from “Maria Isabel.” Italians often interpret it as being from Stella Maris, “Star of the Sea,” a title of the Virgin Mary. Marisa was rare in the United States before the film “The Rose Tattoo” debuted in December 1955. It starred Italian actress Marisa Pavan (born Maria Luisa Pierangeli in 1932) as Rosa Della Rose, a high school senior dealing with a distraught, overbearing widowed mother, played by Oscar winner Anna Magnani.
In 1994, 2,187 Marisas were born, ranking the name 146th. In 1994, girls named Marissa also peaked; 6,245 were born, ranking it 53rd. Originally, Marisa rhymed with Lisa (the pronunciation Berenson uses) and Marissa with Melissa, but they’ve inevitably been confused. Tomei herself rhymes Marisa with Melissa. Marissa is a blend of Mary and Melissa created in 19th-century America. The oldest Marissa I’ve found in more than one census is Marissa Cays, born 1877 in Michigan, but it was probably created decades before.
Want to know more? Read on to find out more about Marisas in American history!
Lindsay Wagner by Gage Skidmore
Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his November 20th column, he looks at the history of the name Lindsey.
Lindsey is an ancient Anglo-Saxon kingdom in England’s northern Lincolnshire. It means “the island of Lincoln.” It’s not actually an island, but a high area surrounded by rivers and marshes. Surnames Lindsey and Lindsay show one’s ancestors came from Lindsey. Scottish Clan Lindsay was founded by Sir Walter de Lindsay, who went to Scotland in the 11th century as a retainer of David, brother of Scotland’s King William the Lion.
The regular use of surnames as girls’ first names began in the South. The earliest female Lindsey in the census is Lindsey Ann Keenin, born December 1846 in Tippah County, Mississippi. Over 60 years, census takers wrote her name as Lindsey, Linsey, Lyndsa, Linnie, Lyndsy and Lynie. Multiple spellings made Lindsey seem less popular than it really was. If girls named Lyndsey, Lyndsay, Linsey and Lynsey are added, 1984’s combined total of 19,286 ranks 11th.
Want to know more? Read on to find out more about Lindseys in American history!
Actor John Wayne plays Ethan Edwards in the 1956 film “The Searchers” (AP/Warner Bros.)
Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his November 6th column, he looks at the history of the name Ethan.
Ethan is the English form of Hebrew Eitan, “solid, enduring.” Four Ethans are mentioned in the Old Testament. The most famous, Ethan the Ezrahite, wrote Psalm 89, beginning “I will sing of your steadfast love, O LORD, forever.” Ethan was one of the obscure biblical names New England Puritans adopted. Ethan Allen (1738-1789), Vermonter who led the “Green Mountain Boys” at Fort Ticonderoga’s capture from the British in 1775, is the most famous example.
When Edith Wharton published classic novel “Ethan Frome” in 1911, the name was a good choice for a downtrodden New England farmer born around 1860.
In 1956, director John Ford adapted a novel by Alan LeMay into the Western “The Searchers.” John Wayne played Ethan Edwards, a Civil War veteran searching for his niece, who’s been kidnapped by Comanche raiders. In the novel, the character was “Amos.” Ford changed that to Ethan because Amos was too identified with the comic character from “Amos ’n’ Andy.”
Want to know more? Read on to find out more about Ethans in American history!
Superstar Miss Grace Jones
Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his October 25th column, he looks at the history of the name Grace.
Grace is from Latin “gratia,” “favor, good will.” In Christian theology, it means “God’s unmerited favor or love.”
Medieval Catholics occasionally used the term as a girl’s name. One example is St. Grace of Lérida in Spain. Born the daughter of a Muslim caliph, she was martyred in 1180. Normans brought the name Grece when they invaded England in 1066. This was probably from a Germanic word meaning “gray,” also found in the first syllable of “Griselda.” Early medieval records used “Grecia” as Grece’s Latin form. By 1250, this changed to “Gracia.” Soon, the everyday English form was “Grace.”
Grace peaked again at 13th in 2003 — though with names more varied today, it accounted for only 0.64 percent of girls born then as opposed to 1.13 percent back in 1890.
Want to know more? Read on to find out more about Graces in American history!
Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his October 9th column, he looks at the history of the name Gladys.
Gladys is the modern form of Welsh Gwladus. Medieval records in Latin used “Claudia” as its equivalent. Experts disagree on whether Gwladus was just the Welsh form of Claudia or from Welsh gwlad, “countryside.” The first historical Gwladus was St. Gwladus, a princess of Brycheiniog. Kidnapped by Gwynllyw, king of Gwynllwg, she became his queen.
The modern form was spread by the novels “Gladys of Harlech” (1858) by Louisa M. Spooner and “Gladys the Reaper” (1860) by Anne Beale. Both authors were English women living in Wales. Spooner’s tale features a medieval noblewoman and Beale’s a simple country girl. Both show the Welsh as good people oppressed by corrupt Englishmen. The 1870 census includes 128 Gladyses, almost all born during the 1860s in the North. (Perhaps the novels didn’t make it to the South during the Civil War.)
Want to know more? Read on to find out more about Gladyses in American history!
Poet Dudley Randall
Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his September 24th column, he looks at the history of the name Randall.
Old Norse Rannulfr, “shield-wolf,” came to England with Norman conquerors in 1066 as Randulf. Clerks writing in Latin made Randolph the common spelling. Randall or Randell was Randolph’s nickname, adding French diminutive “el” to Rand. In 2010, 54,764 Americans had Randall as a surname, while there were 41,129 Randolphs, showing Randall was more common as the everyday medieval form.
Randall and Randolph became rare as first names after 1400, but never vanished. When Social Security’s yearly name lists started in 1880, Randolph ranked 398th and Randall 731st. For the next 55 years, Randolph ranked about the same while Randall steadily rose. Randall surpassed Randolph in 1936. Both then boomed — Randolph peaked at 154th in 1952 and Randall at 53rd in 1955, when 6,684 were born.
Want to know more? Read on to find out more about Randalls in American history!