Washington and Lee University to Consider Possible Name Change

In June, Washington and Lee University will announce whether or not it will change its name.

Named for George Washington and Robert E. Lee, Washington and Lee University was once Washington College. Following General Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, he was appointed President of Washington College where he served for five years. In 1870, the University was renamed to honor him. In recent years, students have been petitioning the University to change its name once again.

Lilah Burke’s article in Inside Higher Education details the circumstances behind the possible name change.

Join the American Name Society!

If you enjoy reading about names, we encourage you to join the American Name Society and share your name news with us! Membership is very affordable, with yearly dues starting at $20.

Membership in the ANS allows access to a community of scholars and its communications, as well as eligibility to present your research at the ANS annual conferences and the ability to submit articles to Names: A Journal of Onomastics.

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Publication announcement: Names: A Journal of Onomastics 69, no. 2 is now available

The latest issue of Names: A Journal of Onomastics is now available online! Click here to read the latest in onomastics scholarship in volume 69, number 2 of Names.

Volume 69 marks the first year that Names is published as an open access journal available to all via the Journal’s new home at the University of Pittsburgh. All journal content, including the content found in previous volumes, is now available for free online as downloadable PDF files.

Subscribers to the print version of the journal will receive their copies within the next few weeks.


Publication announcement: Toponyms in the Early History of China

The latest issue of the Sino-Platonic Papers explores the theme of toponyms in China. James M. Hargett’s paper “Anchors of Stability: Place-Names in Early China” explores place names and naming during the earliest phases in the history of China.

The abstract reads:

“The use of place-names in China predates its written history, which extends back at least 3,500 years. While the basic principles of toponym formation in ancient China are similar to those in other cultures around the world, early in its history a process took place that led to a standardization of the practices by which place-names were formulated. The central argument in this essay is that the essential features of place-name nomenclature in China were already in place before the Qin unification in 221 BCE.”

The journal is open-access and available online here:


About Names: Kara/Cara holds ‘Supergirl’ appeal

Actress Cara Delevingne speaking at Comic Con in 2015 (photo by Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his March 28th column, he looks at the history of the name Kara / Cara.

Kara is super again on Tuesday.

“Supergirl,” the CW series starring Melissa Benoist as Kara Danvers, Superman’s younger cousin developing her Kryptonian superpowers, starts its sixth season March 30.

Kara is a respelling of Cara. In Latin “cara” is the feminine form of “carus,” meaning “dear, beloved.” The Latin word became a name around 1827 in Sweden, though Swedish onomastician Roland Otterbjörk notes it was also often a pet form of Karolina.

It’s hard to know when Cara’s use began in America. It’s difficult to distinguish from “Cora” in handwritten records. The first sure example, Cara Whiton-Stone (1831-1913), was a Boston socialite and published poet. Though she’s Cara or Carra in almost all available records, a 1909 U.S. Senate bill increasing her military widow’s pension calls her “Caroline Stone.”

Pittsburgh journalist Cara Reese (1856-1914), who famously covered the 1889 Johnstown Flood, was also born “Caroline.”

Many baby name books claim Cara is Italian or Irish. In Italian “cara” means “beloved.” In Irish Gaelic, “cara” means “friend.” With that meaning, Cara is fashionable in modern Ireland, peaking at 29th in 2018.

Cara has never been used as a name in Italy, though, and there’s scant evidence the Irish word became a name before the 20th century.

World Health Organization to Adopt Standardized Nomenclature for COVID-19 Variants

Following the sixth meeting of the Emergency Committee regarding the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, the World Health Organization announced  on January 14, 2021 that it is developing a standardized nomenclature for COVID-19 variants “that does not reference a geographical location.” In a letter to Science magazine, Salim S. Abdool Karim, Tulio de Oliveira, and Glaudina Loots suggested an alternative naming convention is necessary, as the practice of applying geographical qualifiers is generally inaccurate and often harmful to the ethnic people from the region.

The authors write, “The connotation that the variants were created and spread by their respective first locations has already generated political backlash through travel bans and negative perceptions of these countries and their people. The risk of being associated with a new variant also disincentivizes country-level genomic surveillance and transparent reporting of their results.” The new naming guidelines are expected to be released soon, but the authors of the letter believe scientific and media outlets should not delay in avoiding reference to the country or region of first description when identifying variants.

Book Talk: “Names of New York: Discovering the City’s Past, Present, and Future Through its Place-Names” Joshua Jelly-Schapiro

Joshua Jelly-Schapiro will speak about his book, Names of New York: Discovering the City’s Past, Present, and Future Through its Place-Names, at a book talk sponsored by the NYU Institute for Public Knowledge on Thursday, May 13, 2021 at 6:30 pm. The announcement for the event reads:

“Exploring the power of naming to shape experience and our sense of place, Joshua Jelly-Schapiro traces the ways in which native Lenape, Dutch settlers, British invaders, and successive waves of immigrants have left their marks on the city’s map. He excavates the roots of many names, from Brooklyn to Harlem, that has gained iconic meaning worldwide. He meets the last living speakers of Lenape, visits the harbor’s forgotten islands, and lingers on street corners named for ballplayers and saints. As recent arrivals continue to find new ways to make New York’s neighborhoods their own, the names that stick to the city’s streets function not only as portals to explore the past but also as a means to reimagine what is possible now.”

Register for the event via the NY Institute for Public Knowledge website.(Advanced registration and RSVP are required.)

Renaming Lake Shore Drive: Chicago’s Iconic Road to be Named for Founder Jean Baptiste Point du Sable

An artist’s rendering of Jean Baptiste Point du Sable (Public Domain)

After a heated debate, the City of Chicago is one signature away from re-naming Lake Shore Drive after Hatian Explorer and Founder of Chicago Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, John Byrne reports in the Chicago Tribune. Many landmarks throughout the city have been renamed in recent memory, some of which honor the memory and deeds of important Chicagoans where others merely reflect a change in ownership. Byrne writes:

“There’s recent precedent for naming a prominent street to honor an important Black Chicagoan. In 2019, the City Council renamed a stretch of Congress Parkway downtown for crusading African American journalist and anti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells.
Still, Chicagoans cling to tradition, a point that’s been proven time and again. How many locals still refer to the city’s tallest building as the Sears Tower, though it has officially been the Willis Tower since 2009?”

Read more about Point du Sable, Lake Shore Drive, and the politics of renaming in the Chicago Tribune.

Indigenous Toponyms in New York, across America

Though the indigenous peoples of the American colonies were pushed off of their land throughout the history of the United States, indigenous names proliferate throughout the North American continent. In his New Yorker essay “How New York was Named”, Joshua Jelly-Schapiro discusses the indigenous toponyms of America’s cities, states, and landmarks. Dialects of Lenape, Algonquian, and many other North American languages (which at one point made up a quarter of the world’s languages) are featured throughout the essay, as are the modern language centers founded to preserve the culture and language of the people behind these names.

Jelly-Schapiro is also the author of Names of New York: Discovering the City’s Past, Present, and Future Through Its Place-Names (Pantheon, 2021), from which the essay is adapted.

Additionally, the Institute for Public Knowledge at New York University will be hosting Jelly-Schapiro for a book talk at 6:30 pm on Thursday, May 13, 2021. Click here for more information on that talk.

About Names: Staying Power Makes “Andrew” A Smash Hit

Andrew Yang, American businessman, politician, and Universal Basic Income advocate (photo by Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his April 26th column, he looks at the history of the name Andrew.

Will you stay up late to see hometown boy Andrew?

Andrew Rannells co-hosts “Oscars: After Dark” on ABC after the Academy Awards tonight. Rannells, who grew up in Omaha’s Hanscom Park neighborhood, was nominated for Tonys for “The Book of Mormon” (2003) and “Falsettos” (2016). He starred in television’s “The New Normal” and “Black Monday”, and the 2020 films “The Boys in the Band” and “The Prom.”

Andrew is the English form of Andreas, a Greek name derived from “andreios” (“manly”). St. Andrew, Simon’s brother, was the first Apostle of Jesus.

It’s possible the saint was born with a Hebrew name, Andrew being his nickname. On the other hand, Alexander the Great’s conquests brought Greek culture to Palestine three centuries before. Israeli historian Tal Ilan’s found 14.5% of Jews in Jesus’ time had Greek names.

St. Andrew was popular throughout medieval Europe. In England, 637 churches were dedicated to him.

Andrew did even better in Scotland. Relics of St. Andrew were brought to Scotland in the eighth century. King Angus II legendarily won a battle against the Angles in 832 after praying to the saint. The town surrounding Scotland’s national cathedral was named St. Andrews, and Andrew became a hugely popular name for Scottish boys.