About Names: We can thank pop culture for scores of Gen X Amys

Singer Amy Winehouse; Greg Gebhardt from Laguna Beach, CA, USA, CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his February 23rd column, he looks at the history of the name Amy.

Amy is the English version of medieval French Amée, “beloved,” itself from Latin “Amata.” Saint Amata, who died around 1250, was an Italian girl miraculously healed by her aunt, St. Clare of Assisi. By 1320, Amy was well-used by England’s Norman French-speaking aristocracy. It was among the Top 50 names for English girls baptized between 1538 and 1700.

The most famous Amy then was Amy Robsart Dudley (1532-1560), first wife of Queen Elizabeth I’s favorite Robert Dudley. She was found dead of a broken neck at the foot of a flight of stairs. Though both a 1560 coroner’s jury and most modern historians conclude this was accidental, rumors abounded that Dudley murdered Amy in hopes he could then marry the queen.

In 1880, Amy ranked No. 108 on Social Security’s first yearly baby name list. It steadily declined, bottoming out at No. 364 in 1933. By 1948, Amy inched back up to No. 310. That year “Where’s Charley?”, Frank Loesser’s musical based on British author Brandon Thomas’ play “Charley’s Aunt,” began a two-year run on Broadway. Its hit song “Once In Love With Amy (always in love with Amy)” became star Ray Bolger’s signature. He often sang it on 1950s television variety shows. Both Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra recorded it.

Call for Interviewees on the Baby Names Podcast!

We’re seeking name experts to be interviewed on this season of The Baby Names Podcast. We’ve already featured many ANS scholars on the show and always get an amazing response. The podcast is hosted by longtime ANS member Jennifer Moss.

The Baby Names Podcast receives over 10,000 listeners PER DAY and it’s growing fast. We promote it through our site and social media and are happy to link to your social accounts and/or research. Here’s our lineup for seasons 4 & 5 – If you have an expertise in any of the subjects – or want to pitch your favorite name topic,  please reach out!
  • Puritanical Names
  • Italian Names
  • Hebrew/Jewish Names
  • Early 20th Century Naming 1900-1930
  • Cultural Appropriation and Names
  • Naming Trends
  • Chinese Names
  • Japanese Names
  • Slavic Names
Email Jennifer Moss, jennifer@babynames.com, to submit yourself for a topic…or to suggest one!

About Names: 2020 Name of the Year no surprise given dominance of politics, pandemic

Vice President Kamala Harris

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his January 31st column, he reviews the ANS Names of the Year.

Pandemic and politics dominated names last year, along with the rest of our lives.
This year, like most organizations, the American Name Society (ANS) held its annual meeting online. On Jan. 24, ANS voted COVID-19 and Kamala as co-winners of the Name of the Year – the first time ANS has had a tie, fitting how unique 2020 was!
ANS chooses Names of the Year for Place Names, Artistic-Literary Names, Personal Names, Trade Names, ENames and Miscellaneous Names before picking the overall Name of the Year.

COVID-19 won the Miscellaneous Names category. On Feb. 11, 2020, the World Health Organization announced “COVID-19” as the official name for the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. It’s short for “coronavirus disease first recognized in 2019.” Certainly no name, not even created until six weeks after a year started, has ever dominated the world’s consciousness as COVID-19 has.

Kamala was a nominee for Personal Name of the Year. The first name of our new vice president, Kamala Devi Harris, became an issue when U.S. Sen. David Perdue of Georgia referred to her as “KAH-mah-la, or Kah-MAH-la, or KAH-mah-la or Kamala-mala-mala, I don’t know, whatever,” at a Trump rally on Oct. 16. This mockery, considered racist by many, led Perdue Foods to issue a statement pointing out the senator had no connection to them, and was widely perceived as one reason why Perdue was forced into a runoff with Jon Ossoff in the November election. He lost the runoff on Jan. 5. Kamala, pronounced “Comma-lah”, is a Sanskrit name meaning “lotus,” inspired by the Hindu heritage of Shyamala Gopalan, Harris’ mother.

About Names: Beatles song accelerates Michelle’s boom

Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his January 17th column, he looks at the history of the name Michelle.

Michèle and Michelle are French feminine forms of Michel, French version of “Michael.” Michael is Hebrew for “Who is like God?”, a rhetorical question implying “No one’s like God.” One of only four angels mentioned by name in the Bible, St. Michael was popular throughout medieval Europe. Occasionally girls were named after him, though in medieval England there was no separate feminine form. Listed as “Michaela” in official records, they were called “Michael” in everyday life.

Though a few French girls were named Michelle before modern times, it was very rare, not coming into regular use until 1920. Before 1940, Micheline was the more common French feminine for Michel.

“Michelle” was one of the Beatles’ greatest hits, winning the 1967 Grammy for Song of the Year. Versions were recorded by many other artists. Though Michelle would probably have soon been a Top 10 name without it, there’s no doubt the song accelerated its boom. It peaked at #2 in 1968, when 2.6% of American girls were named Michelle or Michele.

About Names: Country singing sensation momentarily revives Garth’s popularity

LOS ANGELES – MARCH 14: Garth Brooks arrives for the 2019 iHeartRadio Music Awards on March 14, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Glenn Francis/Pacific Pro Digital Photography)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his December 20th column, he looks at the history of the name Garth.

Garth is an English surname derived from Middle English “garth,” itself from Old Norse “garðr,” “enclosure,” indicating one’s ancestor lived by a garden or orchard. Only 402 people with Garth as a last name were listed in the 1940 United States census. However, actress Jennie Garth (Kelly Taylor on “Beverly Hills, 90210”) has made it well-known.

When the custom of turning last names into boys’ given names began around 1800, Garth became a first name. The 1850 census includes three Garths, all in Kentucky, with the oldest, Garth M. Kimbrough, born Jan. 1, 1820.

Garth left the top 1,000 names in 1983. Then in 1989 Garth Brooks became a country singing sensation. His second album, “No Fences” (1990), containing “Friends in Low Places,” the Country Music Award’s Single of the Year, sold 17 million copies. Boys named Garth skyrocketed 360% to rank 658th in 1992. The name then collapsed, leaving the top 1,000 again in 1994.

About Names: Maud’s best chance for a comeback lies with Hollywood

Bea Arthur as Maude Findlay in 1973

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his January 3rd column, he looks at the history of the name Maud.

Maud is a medieval form of Matilda, a Germanic name linking words for “power” and “battle.” Brought to England by Norman conquerors, it was best known through Empress Matilda (1102-1167), daughter of King Henry I, whose title came from her first marriage to Holy Roman Emperor Henry V.

When Henry I died in 1135, he wanted his daughter to be Queen. The English weren’t ready to accept a woman monarch, so a civil war between Matilda and her cousin Stephen ensued. This was settled in 1153 by declaring Stephen king, but making Matilda’s son Henry Plantagenet his heir. Though official records called her Matilda, in everyday English she was Empress Maud. Around 1380, “Matilda” was the fourth commonest woman’s name in English records, but was still “Maud” in spoken English.

Tennyson and Whittier made Maud popular, though by 1875 Americans preferred the spelling “Maude.” The first nationwide baby name lists in 1880 showed Maude ranking 21st and Maud 70th. Combined they would have been 13th.

The city of Naples will name the stadium to Diego Maradona

The city of Naples will name the municipal stadium to Diego Armando Maradona. Laura Bismunto, the president of the Toponymy Commission of the City Council of Naples, announced the change of title of the San Paolo Stadium in Naples.

The Neapolitan stadium, initially called Stadio del Sole and renamed with today’s title in 1963, will be the second stadium in the world to bear the name of Maradona. The other is the Diego Armando Maradona in Buenos Aires, where Argentinos Junior plays. Maradona’s death is a mourning that will leave its mark in the Neapolitan community and dedicating the Stadium of Naples to what many have called the greatest footballer of all time is an essential gesture.

About Names: Marvel’s Black Widow helped Scarlett reach its greatest popularity yet

Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his November 22nd column, he looks at the history of the name Scarlett.

Scarlett is an English surname derived from the Old French “escarlate,” “scarlet-colored cloth,” designating one who sold expensive fabrics. Will Scarlet has been one of Robin Hood’s Merry Men since the ballad “A Gest of Robin Hood” was written around 1450. In modern times, he’s usually portrayed as Robin’s youngest outlaw.

In the 1850 United States census, there were 252 people with the last name Scarlett. In the 19th century, a few boys received Scarlett as a first name. The first famous female Scarlett is Scarlett O’Hara, heroine of Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 novel, “Gone With the Wind,” and the 1939 film based on it. In the novel, her full name is Katie Scarlett O’Hara, after her paternal grandmother, but everyone except her father calls her “Scarlett.”

Scarlett’s real boom began along with Scarlett Johansson’s career around 2002. The 8,343 born in 2019 ranked it 24th, its highest ever.

Antarctic place names recognise ‘modern explorers’

Antarctica is getting 28 new place names to recognise British individuals who’ve made a major contribution to advancing science in the polar regions. The list includes Jonathan Shanklin, co-discoverer of the ozone hole, and Alastair Fothergill, whose BBC films such as Frozen Planet have widened understanding of the White Continent.

The honourees will be associated with various mountains, glaciers and bays. These are features known previously only by their anonymous coordinates. It’s highly unusual for so large a group of people to be recognised in this way all at once. But the UK Antarctic Place-names Committee felt something special was required to mark the 200th anniversary of the discovery of the continent.

American History reflected in proper names bestowed on many birds

Read the Ruth Bass’ article here.

Lewis’s Woodpecker, Deschutes National Forest, Near Fort Rock, Oregon

Dozens of birds bear the names of those credited with identifying them, like the Bonaparte’s gull honoring Prince Charles Lucien Bonaparte, Napoleon’s nephew; the Cooper’s hawk, familiar to New Englanders, named for William Cooper, one of the founders of the American Museum of Natural History; the Blackburnian warbler for pre-Revolution naturalist Anna Blackburn.

But, what’s ruffling feathers in the American Ornithological Society today is a growing number of their scientists protesting the old practice of giving people names to birds. They are focusing on some of the so honored who reflect colonialism and on the fact that Indigenous peoples had met birds named for Audubon and Wilson and Cooper before those men were born.