About Names: “Brian boomed in the early ’70s”

Queen’s Brian May in 1979 (Photo by Eddie Malin, CC-BY-2.0)

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

Will “Good Vibrations” give you “Fun, Fun, Fun” “All Summer Long”?

Brian Wilson, who — with Mike Love — wrote those songs for The Beach Boys in the 1960s, turns 79 today .

Brian is the Irish form of ancient Celtic Brigonos, probably meaning “high, noble.” Irish king Brian Boru’s forces defeated the Vikings of Dublin at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014. Though Brian died in battle, he became the hero of Ireland’s struggle against foreign domination.

In the 10th century, Norse kings of Dublin also ruled York in northern England. They adopted Brian from the Irish and took it to York. Celtic-speaking knights from Brittany came to southern England with Norman invaders in 1066, introducing the name there. Though Brian died out as a first name in England outside of Yorkshire, it lasted long enough to establish Bryan as a common English surname.

The English rulers of Ireland suppressed the name, and the Irish turned to Barney and Bernard as substitutes. A few Irish immigrants went back to Brian after arriving in America. The 1850 census found 855 Bryans and 264 Brians, with 30% of the Bryans and 57% of the Brians born in Ireland.

Many Bryans had no direct Irish connection, being part of the general fashion for turning surnames into given names. Bryan boomed as a first name when Nebraska’s William Jennings Bryan (1860-1925) became the Democratic nominee for president in 1896, shooting up 330% in one year to rank 157th. The name peaked again in 1900 and 1908 during Bryan’s other presidential runs.

Washington and Lee University to Keep Name

Earlier this month, university officials announced that Washington and Lee University will keep its name. After calls from students and faculty, university leaders have dismissed a vote in favor of changing the school’s name. The administration also announced millions of funding for scholarships and plans to establish an academic center for the study of race relations in the South. Read more about the decision to preserve its name here.

In a more recent opinion piece in The Washington Post, Colbert I. King articulates what the University really embraces when it says Lee fostered “an exceptional liberal arts and legal education and common experiences and values”, pointing to key speeches and letters that Lee composed prior to and while serving what was Washington College at the time. King writes,

“So happens that at the time, members of my family were undergoing “painful discipline” as “property” of the Colbert and Rixey families of Culpeper, according to Culpeper County courthouse records. Even if my kinfolk had made it to the Washington College campus, I don’t think a fine old time would have been waiting.”

Read King’s column about the implications of the University’s decision here.

Behind the (Royal) Name: Lilibet “Lili” Diana

Harry and Meghan in 2017 (Photo by Mark Jones, CC-BY-2.0)

Royal names are in the news again after the birth of Lilibet “Lili” Diana Mountbatten-Windsor, daughter of Meghan and Harry. What is the story behind this intriguing praenomen? Jennifer Hassan writes in The Washington Post:

“As a young girl growing up in the royal family, then-Princess Elizabeth found it difficult to pronounce her name, often fumbling it — much to the amusement of her close family members, who soon began calling her “Lilibet,” according to British media. The affectionate moniker has stayed with her throughout her long life.”

Read more about Lilibet in Hassan’s article here.

On the Racist Legacy of Some Avian Names

Drawing of a Common Yellowthroat by John J. Audubon, a prominent name in North American birding who had a slave-owning and anti-abolitionist past (Public domain, CC0)

A recent feature in The Washington Post explores the racist legacy behind the names of many birds. Some of these birds were named after enslavers, supremacists, and grave robbers; this history has led to great debates in birding communities across North America. The article explores many of the people behind the names, including John James Audubon, as his name is eponymous of influential avian advocacy groups, organizations, and even birds themselves. In addition to his detailed drawings of North American birds, Audubon’s legacy includes slave-owning and anti-abolitionist worldview.

Read more of this fascinating article on The Washington Post.

Canadian Football League “Edmonton Eskimos” Renamed “Edmonton Elks”

An elk in Alberta (Photo by Aldakang, CC-BY-4.0)

Citing a desire to preserve common heritage and out of respect to the Inuit and Indigenous people of Canada, the Edmonton Eskimos franchise announced that it would rename itself the “Edmonton Elks”.

In USA Today Des Bieler reports:

“This was a process that originally began back in early August of 2020 with an initial discussion around the possibilities,” Presson said in his statement. “Thanks to our wonderful fans and partners across the board for their input, dialogue and debate. Rebranding a team is hard. Rebranding a team with 100 years of history is even more challenging and we worked hard to meld that history with something new and meaningful.”

Edmonton said it went with a plural version of “elk” that uses an “s” after consulting with linguistics experts from the Oxford Dictionary and the University of Alberta. That name proved popular “through all demographic categories,” according to the team.



About Names: Social Security Administration Releases Top Baby Names for 2020

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his May 23rd column, he looks at the Social Security Administration’s Releases fro Top Baby Names in 2020.

Jackson and Sophia won again during the pandemic, though other tragedies hugely impacted baby names last year.

May 7 the Social Security Administration released the United States’ top baby names of 2020.

On SSA’s lists, Liam and Olivia rank first, as they did in 2019.

SSA counts every spelling separately. I add together spellings pronounced the same, creating lists I believe more accurately indicate popularity.

When boys named Jaxon, Jaxson, Jakson, etc., are added to Jackson, 20,213 were born in 2020, ranking it first for the eighth year in a row.

The rest of 2020’s Top 10 for boys were Liam, Noah, Aiden, Oliver, Elijah, Lucas, Grayson, William and James — the same 10 as last year, though Oliver moved up two places.

Kayson was the boy’s name among the Top 100 with the biggest increase, rising from 96th to 62nd. Though Kayson is the top spelling, it was only 19% of the total, which included Kason, Kaison, Kasen, Cason, etc. Blending the sounds of Mason and Grayson with Kayden, Kayson has become the perfect “different but not too different” choice for thousands of parents.

When Sofia and other spellings are added, 20,014 Sophias arrived in 2020. Sophia has been No. 1 since 2011. The rest of the girls’ Top 10 are Olivia, Emma, Ava, Isabella, Amelia, Charlotte, Mia, Camila and Riley.


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.

Keep apprised of the latest onomastic research by joining today!

“The Ethics of Renaming”: Re-Branding in the Wake of Social Movements

ANS President, linguist, and co-founder of naming agency Catchword Laurel Sutton writes about the ethics of rebranding in a piece for the brand development magazine transform.

Throughout the essay, Sutton highlights many recent examples of problematic brand names and changes (including Aunt Jemima, the Washington Redskins, Uncle Ben’s and Eskimo Pie, for example), illustrating the dangers of maintaining these brand names. Sutton writes: “The cost of renaming a company or product might be high, but stacked against the cost of losing business, bad press, and, most importantly, perpetuating oppression, it’s a small investment for the greater good. Caring about other people wins over not caring, every time.”

Read more over at transformmagazine.net!

Call for Papers: ANS Emerging Scholar Award

In 2007, the American Name Society established the ANS Emerging Scholar Award (ANSESA) to recognize the outstanding scholarship of an early career onomastics researcher. This special distinction is given to a new scholar whose work is judged by a panel of onomastic researchers to be of superior academic quality. This year’s selection committee is made up of Dr. Luisa Caiazzo, the 2021 ANSESA Committee Chair; Dr. Dorothy Dodge Robbins; Dr. Andreas Gavrielatos; and Dr. Maggie Scott. The ANSESA winner not only receives a cash prize, but is also mentored by a senior onomastics scholar who will assist the awardee in preparing a manuscript for submission and possible publication in the ANS journal, Names: A Journal of Onomastics. The winning submission will also be announced in in the ANS annual conference program. The Selection Committee reserves the right to refrain from giving this award in those years in which no submission is deemed to have met the above-mentioned requirements.

Application Guidelines

To be considered for this award, applicants must submit the full text of their paper by midnight (E.S.T.), the 15th of October 2021, to both ANS President Ms. Laurel Sutton (<laurela.sutton@gmail.com>) and this year’s ANSESA Chair, Dr. Luisa Caiazzo (<luisa.caiazzo@unibas.it>). Submissions must be sent as an email attachment in either a .doc or .docx format. For ease of processing, please be sure to include the keyword “ESA2021” in the subject line of your email.

Submission Requirements

All submissions must be prepared according to the guidelines provided at <https://ans-names.pitt.edu/ans/guidelines>. Authors must use the formatting rules listed in the official Style Sheet of Names, the journal of the American Name Society. The Style Sheet is available at the journal website: <https://ans-names.pitt.edu/ans/StyleSheet>. Submissions will not only be judged upon the quality of the writing and the scientific merit of the submission presented, but also on their adherence to these formatting regulations.

Eligibility Requirements

To be eligible for the ANSESA, applicants must be an entry-level professional, an untenured academic, or a student. Applicants must have had their single-authored abstract accepted for presentation at the ANS annual conference and be a member of the ANS. Previously published papers are not eligible for consideration. However, papers based on unpublished theses or dissertations are eligible. The ANSESA Selection Committee will judge all submissions for their methodological soundness, innovation, and potential contribution to the field of onomastics. Although past recipients of the ANSESA are eligible to re-apply for an entirely new piece of scholarship, preference may be given to first-time applicants. Please direct questions to this year’s ANSESA Committee Chair, ANS Vice President, Dr. Luisa Caiazzo (<luisa.caiazzo@unibas.it>).

About Names: How big a splash will “Melanie” make?

Melanie Klein, psychoanalyst and developer of object relations theory (Photo by Hans A. Thorner, CC-BY-4.0)

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

The U.S. Olympic Swim Trials are taking place in Omaha this month. Twenty-nine-year-old Melanie Margalis, holder of the U.S. record in the 400-meter individual medley, is expected to win that event here. At the 2016 Olympics, she won gold as part of the U.S. women’s 4×200-meter freestyle relay.

Mélanie is the French form of Melania, a Latin name derived from Greek “melaina,” meaning “black.” Melania the Elder (c. 350-417) and granddaughter Melania the Younger (c. 383-439) were fabulously wealthy Roman women who used their fortune to build convents and give relief to the poor. St. Jerome, angry at the elder Melania for supporting his theological rival Origen, called her “black in name and black in nature.” That didn’t stop both Melanias being revered as saints.

Though the Normans brought the name Melanie with them to England in 1066, it was rare and soon died out. In the 1850 United States census, 144 of the 189 Melanies were born in French-settled Louisiana, France, or Belgium.

Melanie’s rare American use before 1940 was usually in a Roman Catholic context. For example, when Martha Anne Holliday (1850-1939) joined the Sisters of Mercy in Atlanta in 1883, she was renamed “Mary Melania,” and called “Sister Melanie.”

Sister Melanie’s second cousin, Atlanta journalist Margaret Mitchell, often visited her. When Mitchell wrote “Gone With the Wind” (1936), she named selfless genteel Melanie Hamilton, best friend to fiery Scarlett O’Hara, after Sister Melanie.