The Changing Place Names of Washington, D.C.

“View looking northwest from Anacostia: [Washington D.C.],” John L. Trout, 1901. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

Kim Edwin, a library technician in the Geography and Map Division, has written about the history of place names in Washington, D.C. for the Library of Congress. She discusses the complicated array of toponyms and political geography over its history. Here’s a sample:

The Residence Act of 1790 created a national capital, known as the Federal District, from portions of Maryland and Virginia, centered on the convergence of the Potomac and the Anacostia rivers, which are names derived from the Algonquian Native American language. In 1791, President George Washington appointed Major Pierre Charles L’Enfant to develop a plan for the new city. This resulted in a map, now famously known as the L’Enfant Plan, an enhanced version of which can be seen below. L’Enfant does not name the new city in his map, but within his layout of streets, marked by circles and diagonals, he shows locations for the “President’s House” as well as the “Congress House.” It even has a “Grand Avenue” on the site of today’s National Mall.

Want to know more? Click through to read it all at the website for the Library of Congress!

About Names: Swahili names like Taraji, Sanaa see swell in popularity

Taraji P. Henson

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his September 10th column, he looks at Swahili names.

Actress Taraji P. Henson turned 48 recently. Bernice and Boris Henson named their daughter Taraji Penda. In Swahili, taraji means “hope” and penda means “love”. Both taraji and penda are verbs in Swahili. “Penda maadui wako” is Swahili for “Love your enemies.”

The English verb “hope” is more often translated by the Swahili word “tumaini” than “taraji.” Swahili speakers use “tumaini” when they trust what’s hoped for will really happen. “Taraji” is a bit more tentative, closer to English “wish.”

Swahili was first spoken in Zanzibar and coastal Tanzania and Kenya. It became the trade language of all East Africa. Today, it has around 75 million speakers in Uganda, Mozambique, Rwanda and the Congo, as well as Kenya and Tanzania.

Since the 1960s, African-American parents have turned Swahili words into names. Many of them aren’t actually used as names in East Africa. Of course, they aren’t the only foreign words turned into American names — Irish “colleen” (girl) and French “chérie” (darling) weren’t names in Ireland or France.

In East Africa, the huge majority of Swahili speakers are Muslim, and most of the names they use are Islamic. Swahili variations of Muslim Arabic names are also used by African-Americans. One of the most common is Omari, Swahili form of the Arabic “Umar,” “long life” or “flourishing,” name of the second caliph after Muhammad’s death. Actor Omari Hardwick (1974), since 2014 starring as the nightclub owner “Ghost” St. Patrick on the crime drama “Power,” has helped this name boom in the African-American community. Omari ranked 512th for American boys in 2017.

Want to know more? Read on to find out more about Swahili names in American history!

Book Announcement: Onomastics Between Sacred and Profane, ed. by Oliviu Felecan, Vernon Press

Vernon Press announces publication of the volume Onomastics Between Sacred and Profane, edited by Oliviu Felecan, part of the Vernon Series in Language and Linguistics. A free sample of the book is available as a PDF download, containing the Table of Contents, the Foreword, the list of Contributors, the Preface and the Indexes.

Religiously, God is the creator of everything seen and unseen; thus, one can ascribe to Him the names of His creation as well, at least in their primordial form. In the mentality of ancient Semitic peoples, naming a place or a person meant determining the role or fate of the named entity, as names were considered to be mysteriously connected with the reality they designated. Subsequently, God gave people the freedom to name persons, objects, and places. However, people carried out this act (precisely) in relation to the divinity, either by remaining devoted to the sacred or by growing estranged from it, an attitude that generated profane names. The sacred/profane dichotomy occurs in all the branches of onomastics, such as anthroponymy, toponymy, and ergonymy. It is circumscribed to complex and interdisciplinary analysis which does not rely on language sciences exclusively, but also on theology, ethnology, sociology, psychology, philosophy, anthropology, geography, history and other connected fields, as well as culture in general.

Despite the contributors’ cultural diversity (29 researchers from 16 countries – England, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Nigeria, Poland, Romania, Russia, South Africa, Spain, U.S.A., and Zimbabwe – on four continents) and their adherence to different religions and faiths, the studies in Onomastics between Sacred and Profane share a common goal that consist of the analysis of names that reveal a person’s identity and behavior, or the existence, configuration and symbolic nature of a place or an object.

If you would like to order a copy through the publisher,  you can get a 24% discount using coupon CFC7736DFEE at Vernon Press. You can also order this book on Amazon.

About Names: Keegan keeps on growing in popularity

Keegan-Michael Key

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

Keegan is an Anglicized version of two Irish surnames. Most Keegans were originally Mac Aodhagáin, “son of Egan.” Egan is from Áeducán, a diminutive of Áed (“fire”), the most common name in seventh-century Ireland. The best known Mac Aodhagáin family founded a law school in County Tipperary around 1350. The first Irish law books were compiled under their sponsorship.

A few Keegans were originally Mac Thadhgáins, “son of Tadgán,” a diminutive of Tadhg, “poet.” In the 1850 United States census, 283 of the 465 people with last name Keegan were born in Ireland.

In 2004, Keegan-Michael Key (born 1971) began six seasons on the sketch-comedy hit “Mad TV.” He probably helped Keegan peak at 222nd in 2007. The name had another small uptick when Key starred in Comedy Central’s “Key & Peele” from 2012 to 2015. Other famous Keegans include pro golfer Bradley (1986), the PGA Rookie of the Year in 2011 after winning the PGA Championship. His fans wear “Keegan vs. Everybody” T-shirts. Chef Keegan Gerhard (1969) hosted “Food Network Challenge” from 2005 to 2010. Keegan Allen (1989) starred as Toby on teen drama “Pretty Little Liars” (2010-2017).

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

Finding That Perfect Business Name Is No Easy Feat

American Name Society Information Officer Laurel Sutton was recently interviewed at WGLT for a story about business naming. You can click through to read the story, or listen online!

Here’s a sample:

Starting a business is hard. You need money, a product or service people actually need, a lawyer. You need to find a space, a staff, and start advertising. It’s a lot.

One of the hardest parts is picking a good name. And good doesn’t just mean catchy or clever. A good name means it’s both appropriate and available, said Laurel Sutton, senior strategist, linguist, and co-founder of Catchword, one of the most prominent naming agencies in the world.

“That’s the biggest hurdle that most people face,” Sutton told GLT. “There are so many names out there already. There are hundreds of thousands of trademarks in the U.S. alone. There are millions worldwide. To find the name for your thing that’s not already taken, that’s the hard part.”

More people in the Netherlands want to change their first name

The number of people in the Netherlands who apply to have their first names changed has steadily increased over the last few years. These applications do not come from people with awkward or strange names, but from people who have a nickname and want to make this their official name. Noah and Emma topped the list of most popular baby names in 2018. Goodluck, Dikshit, Lovelace, Genius, Narbys-Lenay and Rooney have been some of the more unusual baby names over the last few years.

Why is the name Brenton so popular in Adelaide?

Name tags collected over the years by Channel 9 Adelaide newsreader Brenton Ragless. (ABC News: Eugene Boisvert)

There are an inordinate number of men called Brenton in Adelaide, Australia. Brenton was in the top 100 baby names in South Australia in every year but one between 1944 and 1988. Since 1944, 3,325 South Australian babies have been named Brenton. The name is very common elsewhere in Australia. In the U.S., the name peaked in popularity in 1984. Why was Brenton so popular in the 1980s? This article at ABC News explains some of the reasons why:

No doubt the popularity of the name Brenton interstate and in the U.S. is down to the paddleboat TV drama All the Rivers Run, which starred John Waters as captain Brenton Edwards and Sigrid Thornton as Philadelphia Gordon. Brenton “is very clearly a Cornish name”, and a large number of Cornish people emigrated to South Australia in the 1840s because of a famine in Cornwall and a copper mining boom in towns such as Burra, Kapunda, and Moonta. Brenton is often a middle name also, after a boy’s mother’s maiden name. In South Australia, there were — and still are — a lot more people with the last name Brenton than interstate, at least per capita.

About Names: Rachel is a name with a crazy rich history

Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring

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

Rachel is Hebrew for “ewe.” In the Bible’s Genesis, Jacob falls in love with Rachel, but is tricked by her father into marrying older sister Leah. After seven more years, he gets to marry Rachel, too. She later gives birth to Joseph and Benjamin, Jacob’s favorite sons.

In medieval Europe, Rachel was only used by Jewish families. After the Reformation, it was one of the first Old Testament names adopted by Protestants. In the 1540s, the first decade English churches recorded all baptisms, Rachel ranked 39th. Susanna (at 30th) was the only Old Testament name above it.

In the US, newborn Rachels tripled between 1965 and 1970, when it ranked 58th. Rachel made the top 20 in 1983. Rachel’s final boost was from “Friends.” Debuting in September 1994, it made Jennifer Aniston a star as ditzy fashionista Rachel Green. In 1996, Rachel peaked at No. 9 for babies.

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