“Rudolph” was one of many Names Considered for Santa’s Ninth Reindeer

“Rodney, Roddy, Roderick, Rudolph, Rudy, Rollo, Roland, Reggy, Reginald, Romeo.” All of the preceding names have two things in common: they begin with the letter “R” and they were all finalists for the name of Santa’s ninth reindeer in Robert May’s story “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” A recent column in The Chicago Tribune tells the story of the famous reindeer and its creator, a Montgomery Ward copywriter who penned the book as part of an ad campaign. On May’s handwritten list of names—located in a special collection at Dartmouth College—only “Rudolph” and “Reginald” are circled.

Read more in The Chicago Tribune!

You’re [named after] a wizard, Harry: The Cultural Impact of Harry Potter on Naming Practices

Author JK Rowling reading from “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” (Public domain)

In a column in The Wall Street Journal, Ellen Gamerman explores the cultural impact of the Harry Potter series by sifting through onomastic data from naming records in the United States. According to the US Social Security Administration, virtually all names that appear in the Potterverse—those of protagonists and antagonists alike—saw a meteoric rise in use after the year 2000. Gamerman also interviews Harry Potter fans who named their children after the characters; only some of these children became Harry Potter fans themselves.

Read more in The Wall Street Journal.

The Linguistics Behind “Omicron”

In a recent article in The New Yorker, Mary Norris explores the use of the Greek language to designate disasters. She writes:

“What is this penchant for using Greek to designate disasters? During hurricane season, if meteorologists use up the approved letters of the English alphabet, they have traditionally turned to Greek for naming storms. In recent years, we got as far as Hurricane Iota. During the pandemic, scientists with the World Health Organization are relying on Greek to make the variants of the coronavirus easier to talk about and to avoid associations with the names of places where the variants were initially detected; for instance, the strain with the designation B.1.617.2, which was first identified in India, is popularly known as the Delta variant. Although it was unlikely that, even with global warming, a single hurricane season could yield enough storms to run through both alphabets, the pandemic threatens to deplete our store of Greek in no time. Having reached omicron (ο), we are already more than halfway through the alphabet.”

Read more in The New Yorker.

Call for Nominations for the 2021 Names of the Year

The American Name Society requests nominations for the “Names of the Year for 2021”. The names selected will be ones that best illustrate, through their creation and/or use during the past 12 months, important trends in the culture of the United States. It is not necessary, however, for a nominated name to have originated in the US. Any name can be nominated as long as it has been prominent in North American cultural discourse during the past year.

Nominations are called for in the following categories:

  • Personal Names: Names or nicknames of individual real people or individual animals.
  • Place Names: Names or nicknames of any real geographical location, including all natural features, political subdivisions, streets, and buildings. Names of national or ethnic groups based on place names could be included here.
  • Trade Names: Names of real commercial products, as well as names of both for-profit and non-profit incorporated companies and organizations, including businesses and universities.
  • Artistic & Literary Names: Names of fictional persons, places, or institutions, in any written, oral, or visual medium, as well as titles of art works, books, plays, television programs, or movies. Such names are deliberately given by the creator of the work.
  • E-Names: Names of persons, figures, places, products, businesses, institutions, operations, organizations, platforms, and movements that exist in the virtual world.
  • Miscellaneous Names: Any name which does not fit in the above five categories, such as names created by linguistic errors, names of particular inanimate objects, names of unorganized political movements, names of languages, etc. In most cases, such items would be capitalized in everyday English orthography.

Winners will be chosen in each category, and then a final vote will determine the overall Name of the Year for 2021. Anyone may nominate a name. All members of the American Name Society attending the annual meeting will select the winner from among the nominees at the annual ANS meeting on January 21-23, 2022.

Survey Link

Advance nominations must be received before January 15, 2022. Nominations will be accepted from the floor at the annual meeting. You can also send your nominations, along with a brief rationale, by email to Deborah Walker: debwalk@gmail.com.

Thank you for your nominations!


About Names: “From stage to screen to athletics, Evan celebrates pop culture popularity”

Figure skater Evan Iysacek at the 2004 Four Continents Championships in Hamilton, Ontario; Photo by Vesperholly (CC-BY-2.5)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his December 19th column, he looks at the history of the name Evan.

Evan is celebrating the new year in Omaha.

“Dear Evan Hansen,” the Broadway musical about a high school loner who falsely claims he was the best friend of a classmate who committed suicide, will be at Omaha’s Orpheum Theater Dec. 28 through Jan. 2. In 2017, it won the Tony Award for Best Musical, and Ben Platt became the youngest winner of Best Leading Actor in a musical for playing Evan. A film version starring Platt premiered in September.

Evan is the English spelling of Welsh Iefan. (Welsh “f” is pronounced like English “v”.) Iefan is a Welsh form of John, the Biblical name derived from Hebrew Yochanan, “God is gracious.”

Just as John was common in England after 1250, Evan was common in Wales. The Welsh were late in adopting hereditary surnames, and so a few family names based on given names became overwhelmingly popular. The surname Evans today ranks fourth in Wales and seventh in the UK. The 355,593 Evanses in the 2010 United States census ranked 53rd.

The first British census in 1841 included 14,985 named Evan in Wales out of a population of just over a million, and 1,706 in England among almost 15 million. The 1851 United States census found 3,082, with 21% born in Wales.

The popularity of Evan with those of Welsh ancestry led to a surprising number of men named Evan Evans. Fifteen percent of those named Evan in Wales in 1841 were surnamed Evans, and 291 (7%) of 1851’s Americans were “Evan Evans.” Mathematician Evan Evans (1827-1874) was the first professor at Cornell University at its founding in 1868. Evan Evans (born 1965) is a champion off-road racing driver while using hand controls as a paraplegic.

Registration opens for the 2022 ANS Conference, Online, January 21-23, 2022

Registration is now open for the 2022 ANS Conference. The ANS conference will take place online, on Zoom, from January 21-23, 2022.

You can register online here, or download a PDF of the Conference Registration Form and mail it to ANS Treasurer Saundra Wright, as per the instructions on the form.

The schedule will be available as soon as possible.

For more information about the ANS Conference, please visit our Conference Page.

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!

About Names: “In song or in prayer, Maria is ‘beloved’ by many”

Physicist and chemist Maria Skłodowska-Curie, renowned for her work in radioactivity

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his December 5th column, he looks at the history of the name Maria.

Maria and Tony meet on screen again Friday.

Steven Spielberg’s remake of 1961’s “West Side Story” premiers Dec. 10. Based on 1957’s Broadway hit with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim (1930-2021), who died Nov. 26, it’s the story of star-crossed lovers Tony and Maria, who fall in love despite being connected to rival New York City street gangs.

Maria is the Latin form of Miryam, the Hebrew name of Moses’s sister in the Bible. The origin of Miryam is unknown. The most common guess used to be “bitter sea,” because Mara is a Hebrew name meaning “bitter.” Today “rebellious” and “wished for child” are thought possible. Some modern scholars think Miriam was based on Egyptian “mry,” “beloved.”

Whatever its origin, Maria is famous as Jesus’s mother, venerated as the “Mother of God” by Christians for two millennia. Today it’s her name in most European languages. English (Mary), French (Marie), and Irish Gaelic (Máire) are among the few where Maria isn’t the traditional name of the Virgin.

Though Orthodox Christians have named girls Maria since ancient times, in the Middle Ages Roman Catholics thought it too sacred to give to babies, as Christians outside the Spanish speaking world still think of “Jesus.” When Orthodox Princess Maria of Kiev married Duke Casimir of Poland in 1040, she was rebaptized “Dobroniega,” because Catholic Poles found calling her “Maria” offensive.

This attitude changed in Iberia and Italy by 1250. Soon so many Spanish and Portuguese girls were named Maria, they were given titles of the Virgin, such as “María de los Dolores” (“Mary of the Sorrows”) as their full name, with epithets like Dolores, Gloria “glory,” and Mercedes “mercies” becoming names themselves.

The “Sackler” Name will be Removed from Metropolitan Museum of Art Wing

“A Day at the Met” (Photo by Sracer357, CC-BY-3.0)

Most well-known for its role as the meeting place of the Met Gala, the “Sackler Wing” of the Metropolitan Museum of Art will be renamed. According to an article in The New Yorker, the Sackler family of Purdue Pharma—best known as the maker of OxyContin, one of the primary motivating forces behind the current opioid crisis—has been engulfed in controversy surrounding the business practices of the pharmaceutical. Other museums, universities, and galleries are named for the Sacklers around the world, and many of these institutions have been waiting for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s move concerning the name of the wing.

Read more in The New Yorker.