Rhode Island moves to change official name

Rhode Island governor Gina Raimondo has signed an executive order announcing the state would move forward with changing its official name due to its ties to American slavery. The state’s official name, “The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations,” appears on state documents. But the order would shorten it to just “Rhode Island”.

“The pain that this association causes to some of our residents should be of concern to all Rhode Islanders and we should do everything in our power to ensure that all communities can take pride in our state,” the governor wrote. The new name would take effect “as soon as practicable” and apply to all state government communications, including agency websites and correspondence.

A brief history of black names

At The Conversation, Trevon Logan (Hazel C. Youngberg Distinguished Professor of Economics, The Ohio State University) writes about the history of black names in the US.

Many scholars have discussed black names as an outgrowth of the civil rights movement in the 1960s – but as Logan observes, black names aren’t new:

Many scholars believe that distinctively black names emerged from the civil rights movement, perhaps attributable to the Black Power movement and the later black cultural movement of the 1990s as a way to affirm and embrace black culture. Before this time, the argument goes, blacks and whites had similar naming patterns.

Historical evidence does not support this belief.

Until a few years ago, the story of black names depended almost exclusively on data from the 1960s onward. New data, such as the digitization of census and newly available birth and death records from historical periods, allows us to analyze the history of black names in more detail.

Head on over to read the entire article to learn more about black names in the context of African American cultural history.

“The Before Time”: From Star Trek to real life

In the 1966 “Star Trek” episode “Miri,” the title character (right) uses “the Before Time” to describe her world before a devastating plague

In his Word on the Street column in the Wall Street Journal, linguist Ben Zimmer discusses the curious phrase “the before time”. It’s used these days to refer to everyday life before the coronavirus pandemic, but where did it come from?

Beginning in the Middle English of the late 14th century, “beforetime” or “beforetimes” could be used as an adverb meaning “in the past, formerly.” “Beforetime” shows up frequently in the King James version of the Bible. But, as with many pop culture references, the current use is probably because of Star Trek. As Zimmer says:

We likely owe the “Before Time” label to an episode of the original Star Trek series broadcast in 1966, in which the crew of the Enterprise encounter a planet populated by children who survived a man-made plague. A young girl name Miri (whose name also serves as the title of the episode) explains how the planet’s grown-ups, known as “Grups,” disappeared: “That was when they started to get sick in the Before Time. We hid, then they were gone.”

Head over the Wall Street Journal to read more! (If you don’t have a subscription, you can find a PDF of the article here.)


About Names: Errol shot up like an arrow with Flynn’s success, then plummeted

Actor Errol Flynn

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

Errol is a village in Perthshire, Scotland, so ancient its original meaning is unknown. Around 1178, King William I of Scotland granted the barony of Errol to Norman knight William de la Haye. In 1309, King Robert the Bruce made Gilbert, de la Haye’s great-great-grandson, hereditary High Constable of Scotland. In 1453, James II made Gilbert’s great-great-grandson William Hay first Earl of Erroll. (Spelling was still do-it-yourself in 1453; maps then sometimes used “Arroll” for the village.)

The Earls of Erroll are Scotland’s most important peers, second only to the royal family. Josslyn Hay (1901-41), 22nd Earl of Erroll, became a colonial planter in Kenya. He was murdered there, with his married lover’s husband controversially acquitted of the crime. His grandson, Merlin, 24th Earl, is a computer programmer who is now the House of Lords’ cybersecurity expert.

It’s not hard to find examples of boys named “Cedric Errol,” with Errol being the middle name. Prominent New Orleans architect and painter Errol Barron (born 1941) was Cedric Errol Barron Jr. at birth. Still, the name stayed rare until Errol Flynn became famous. Star of box-office hits like “The Adventures of Robin Hood” (1938), Variety ranked him the fourth most popular film actor in 1940. Errol first entered the top 1,000 baby names in 1936, peaking at 354th five years later, along with Flynn’s career.

Call for Papers: Society for the Study of the Indigenous Languages of the Americas (SSILA), Online, January 7–10, 2021

The Society for the Study of the Indigenous Languages of the Americas (SSILA) will hold its annual winter meeting on January 7-10, 2021. SSILA meetings allow scholars to present on a wide range of topics centered on any aspect of Indigenous American languages.

Because of the global COVID-19 crisis, this conference will be held online on a virtual platform, allowing participants to take part in the meeting without the need to travel. The SSILA executive committee is currently exploring all options so that registration fees can be kept at a minimum.


The deadline for receipt of all abstracts is on July 17th at 11:59PM (Hawaii-Aleutian time). Abstracts should be submitted electronically, using the electronic submission website EasyChair. Consult the SSILA website for detailed instructions. Also, e-mail or hard-copy submissions will be accepted if arrangements are made in advance with the SSILA Program Committee Administrator, Martin Kohlberger (conferences@ssila.org). Abstracts may be submitted in English, Spanish, or Portuguese.

The Easy Chair submission page address is https://easychair.org/conferences/?conf=ssila2021

Some General Requirements

  1. All authors must be members of SSILA. See the SSILA website for information about membership and renewal. The membership requirement may be waived for co-authors who are from disciplines other than those ordinarily represented by SSILA (linguistics and linguistic anthropology).
  2. Any member may submit one single-author abstract and one multi-author abstract OR two multi-author abstracts.
  3. Papers must not appear in print before the meeting.
  4. Authors may not submit identical abstracts for presentation at the SSILA meeting and the LSA meeting or a meeting of one of the Sister Societies (ADS, ANS, NAAHoLS, SPCL, TALE). Authors may submit substantially different abstracts for presentation at the SSILA meeting and the LSA or a Sister Society meeting.

Please go to the SSILA website Winter Meeting 2021 for a complete list of the General Requirements, information on Abstract Format, Abstract Categories and Content, and detailed instructions for submitting abstracts on EasyChair.

How Boston got its name

A group of English Puritans founded the Plymouth Colony in 1620, just to the south of Massachusetts Bay.  Their leader, Puritan lawer and Governor John Winthrop announced the foundation of the town of Boston on September 7, 1630 with the place named after the town of Boston, in the English county of Lincolnshire, from which several prominent colonists emigrated.… Read More

Irish onomast received Fulbright Award to research and teach in the US

Irish Minister of State for the Diaspora and International Development Ciarán Cannon T.D. has announced the 2020-2021 cohort of Fulbright Irish Awardees at an online celebration on June 11 2020. At a time when international education programmes face huge challenges, the enduring Fulbright Programme will support 36 remarkable academics, professionals and students to go to the USA and collaborate with their US counterparts. Among others, you may meet Brian Ó Doibhlin.

He is a graduate of Queen’s University Belfast, Ulster University and NUI Galway. Brian is currently a third year PhD student researching with the Northern Ireland Place-Name Project based in Queen’s, where he is also a Teaching Assistant at undergraduate level. His current research relates primarily to uncovering the origin of townland-names within a certain geographical area. His research interests include Celtic languages, onomastics, translation, and the early-modern period in Ireland. As a Fulbright FLTA, he will teach the Irish language and take classes at the University of Notre Dame.

About Names: Eustace wasn’t rare in Britain, but it never caught on in America

Cover of the first issue of the New Yorker, with the figure of dandy Eustace Tilley, created by Rea Irvin

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his June 6th column, he looks at the history of the name Eustace.

Eustace is the English form of Latin Eustachius, combining Greek Eustathios “well-built” and Eustachys “fruitful.” St. Eustace was supposedly martyred in A.D. 118. According to legend, he was a Roman general who converted to Christianity when he saw a crucifix in the antlers of a stag. Eustace, his wife and sons were roasted to death inside a bronze statue of a bull after refusing to make pagan sacrifices.

Though uncommon, Eustace stayed in use among England’s nobility. It was less popular in the United States, partly because Puritans avoided names of non-Biblical saints. The 1850 United States Census found 90 Eustaces. The 1851 census of Great Britain had 188, though the two nations then had about the same population. The latest available British census of 1911 included 3,009 Eustaces. The 1910 American census had 1,057, though then the United States had almost twice as many residents.

The most famous Eustaces are fictional. In 1925 the cover of the first issue of the New Yorker featured a drawing by Rea Irvin of a monocled dandy with a top hat. Later that year, author Corey Ford named him “Eustace Tilley.” The character reinforced the name’s effete image.

REVISED Call for Papers: ANS 2021, ONLINE, January 22-25, 2021

The American Name Society (ANS) is  inviting proposals for papers for its next annual conference, January 22-25, 2021. After serious deliberation of an official proposal made on the 8th of May 2020, the Executive Council of the American Name Society unanimously voted to hold the 2021 Annual Conference online. All presentation sessions will be held online during the four days of the conference. This means that our conference will NOT be held in conjunction with the LSA meeting, which is still slated to be held in January 2021 in San Francisco. To submit a proposal, simply complete the 2021 Author Information Form.

Abstracts in any area of onomastic research are welcome. The NEW DEADLINE for receipt of abstracts is AUGUST 1, 2020. 

Please email this completed form to ANS Vice President Laurel Sutton using the following address: <laurelasutton@gmail.com>. For organizational purposes, please be sure to include the phrase “ANS 2021” in the subject line of your email.

All proposals will be subjected to blind review. Official notification of proposal acceptances will be sent on or before September 30, 2020. All authors whose papers have been accepted must be current members of the ANS. Please feel free to contact ANS Vice President Laurel Sutton should you have any questions or concerns.

A downloadable PDF of the REVISED Call for Papers can be found here.

We look forward to receiving your submission!

Meet the American interns at “Dictionary of Medieval Names from European Sources”


Exciting developments are afoot at DMNES central, as they’ve partnered with Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts for their summer internship programme, which means that the Dictionary Project has four research interns working for them for the next 8-12 weeks! So many back-burner projects are being brought to the front burner and are now already bubbling away.

In addition to working behind the scenes, each will write a few blog posts updating their progress and what they’re learning/finding out, as well as take over the twitter account for a week. Let us briefly introduce thems: Adelia Brown (majoring in Philosophy and English), Juliet Pepe (majoring in Neuroscience and Behavior), Sidney Boker (English major) and K. J. Lewis (studying Physics, Engineering and English).