About Names: Why Oprah Winfrey has such a rare first name

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.

Time magazine names Jamal Khashoggi and persecuted journalists “person of the year”

Each year, Time magazine announces the name of an individual, group, idea, or object that has had a profound and significant influence on the events of the past 12 months. For 2018, the news organization announced that this recognition has been given to the murdered journalist and human rights activist, Jamal Khashoggi, and other killed and imprisoned journalists.  This decision marks the first time that the news agency has named a “Person of the Year” who is deceased.  The selection of the journalist, whom the US government’s intelligence community has determined was brutally tortured before being butchered by Saudi-directed operatives, is to serve as a symbol. According to Time editor Edward Felsenthal, the slain reporter is “the most visible representative of this harrowing year for truth.”

Those named also included the journalists killed in the mass shooting at the Capital Gazette in Maryland in June, two Reuters reporters jailed in Myanmar after investigating the massacre of Rohingya Muslims and Maria Ressa, a journalist in the Philippines facing tax evasion charges that she has called “political harassment”.

Louisville renames airport after hometown hero – Muhammad Ali

Louisville International Airport is getting a name change on a recommendation by a working group that studied renaming for more than a year. After a vote on Wednesday January 16, 2019, Mayor Greg Fischer announced the airport would be re-named to Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport, in honor of the heavyweight champion boxer and Louisville native.


Lonnie Ali, Muhammad’s widow, issued a statement on the city’s decision:

“I am proud that the Louisville Regional Airport Authority and the City of Louisville are supportive of changing the name of the Louisville International Airport to reflect Muhammad’s impact on the city and his love for his hometown.”

Call for Papers: Urban Place Names: Political, Economic, and Cultural Dimensions”

The new Special Issue of Urban Science Urban Place Names: Political, Economic, and Cultural Dimensions aims to contribute to urban studies by exploring city landscapes through its toponymy. The main goal is to bring together contemporary urban toponymic studies scholarship, both from the traditional onomastic perspective and the recently emerged critical toponymy perspective, to examine new areas of spatial relationships between people, language, culture, urban landscapes, development, and political power worldwide.

Please submit your original papers or critical reviews that reflect the theoretical development, contemporary condition, and future challenges of urban place names studies from transdisciplinary approaches until 15th December 2019.