About Names: “Cleveland Evans: As a name, Sylvester has had a ‘Rocky’ run”

Pope Sylvester I, who lived from 285 – 335 CE (Public Domain)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his August 28th column, he looks at the name Sylvester.

Sylvester’s once again a hero on movie screens.

Sylvester Stallone, who turned 76 in July, became famous writing and starring in 1976’s hit “Rocky”, about a heroic heavyweight boxer. Today, he’s the title character in “Samaritan,” released Aug. 26. There, young Sam (Javon Walton) discovers superhero Samaritan, who disappeared 25 years ago, is secretly living as “Joe Smith.”

Sylvester’s a Latin name meaning “of the forest.” St. Sylvester I (285-335) was Pope from 314 through 335. During his reign, Constantine became Rome’s first Christian emperor.

Not much is known about St. Sylvester. However, about two centuries after his death, the legend developed that Sylvester cured Constantine of leprosy. The grateful emperor then was baptized and gave the Pope temporal power over Rome and the Western empire.

Modern historians know Constantine was baptized on his deathbed in 337, two years after Sylvester died. The legend was used to promote Papal authority.

In 999, French bishop Gerbert, a mathematician who popularized the abacus, became Pope Sylvester II. His fame, along with St. Sylvester legend’s, spread the name throughout Europe. Though never common in medieval England, it was used enough to spawn surnames Silvester, Sylvester and Siveter.

Publication announcement: Names: A Journal of Onomastics 70, no. 3 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 70, number 3 of Names. A table of contents appears below.

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.


Table of Contents


Place Names in Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye: A Literary Landscape
of Racism by Christine DeVinne

In the Name of Freedom: A Corpus Linguistic Analysis of Personal Names Recorded in Fugitive Slave Advertisements Published in New York and New Jersey 18th Century Newspapers by I. M. Nick

“Missouree Was Always Out of Step with Missourah”: Sociolinguistic Variants as Moral Toponyms by Daniel Duncan

Using Onomastics to Inform Diversity Initiatives: Race, Gender, and Names in Academic Radiology in Canada by Sohrab Towfighi, Adrian Marcuzzi, Salman Masood, Mohsin Yakub, Jessica B. Robbins, and Faisal Khosa

Book Reviews

Claire Cock-Starkey, The Real McCoy and 149 Other Eponyms by Beth DiNatale Johnson

Stephen Heard, Charles Darwin’s Barnacle and David Bowie’s Spider: How Scientific Names Celebrate Adventurers, Heroes, and Even a Few Scoundrels by I. M. Nick


In Memoriam: Wolfgang Peter Ahrens (1940-2022) by I. M. Nick


Invitation to Apply for the American Name Society’s Emerging Scholar Award

View All Issues 

On the Relatively Recent Origins of Confederate Names in the United States and the Commission that will Remove Them


A change of responsibility ceremony held at Fort Polk, one of the military complexes that will soon have a new name (Public Domain)

A recent opinion piece in The New York Times explores the relatively recent origins of Confederate names, symbols, and monuments in the United States and the work of the commission established to rename them. Of especial interest to those studying names are the stories behind the new names of military bases and complexes in the US. One, for example, is the new possible namesake of Fort Polk:

“The World War I hero William Henry Johnson, who served in the era of Wilson, received the Medal of Honor he richly deserved nearly a century after his service. By proposing that Fort Polk in Louisiana take Johnson’s name, the commission highlights the extremes to which the Jim Crow-era United States sometimes went to deny even the possibility of African American heroism.”

Read more about William Henry Johnson and other new namesakes over at The New York Times.

University of California Hastings College of the Law will Change Name, Drop “Hastings”

Stained Glass showcasing the “Battle of Hastings” at UC College of the Law (Public Domain)

University of California Hastings College of Law will be known as the “UC College of the Law, San Francisco” until a new name is chosen, potentially by January 2023. The Board of Directors voted for the change after it was revealed that Serranus Clinton Hastings was involved in the mass killings of the indigenous populations in Mendocino County in the 1850’s. The local tribal council has supported efforts to rename the law school.

Read more over at KRON 4 news.

Tuck Woodstock’s Advice for Changing your Name in America

Photo by Coastal Elite, Halifax, NS (CC-BY-SA-2.0)

In a recent installment of Life Kit on NPR, Tuck Woodstock explores the process of changing one’s name—a process that they have undertaken numerous times over their life. While the process can be arduous for trans people as they adjust to a new public identity, the article and accompanying audio recording outlines important considerations and the steps involved in changing a name. One tip: test drive your potential name at a coffee shop.

Read and listen over at NPR.

Symposium: “People’s Names: Identities and Inequalities” at Nottingham Trent University, 14 September 2022 (Online)

“Hello my name is…” badge (Public Domain)

From Dr. Laura Coffey-Glover:


People’s Names: Identities and Inequalities

On behalf of the People’s Names Research Network, Associate Professor of Sociology Dr Jane Pilcher of Nottingham Trent University is pleased to present this free online globally available symposium on names, identities and inequalities.

From: Wednesday 14th September 2022, 1.30 pm (GMT)

To: Wednesday 14th September 2022, 5pm (GMT).

Where: online, with booking via Eventbrite


Event details

Personal names are core components of identities – and therefore are also inherently linked to issues of equality and social justice. This free online symposium features a range of international social scientists at different stages of their careers. Their work showcases the opportunities the study of names presents for our understanding of people’s identities and experiences, and how the social science of personal names can help promote social and democratic inclusion and transformation at global, national and local levels.  Contact: Dr. Jane Pilcher, Associate Professor of Sociology (jane.pilcher@ntu.ac.uk)


Keynote speaker – Dr Karen Pennesi, Western University, Canada: (Don’t) Say Their Names: Indexing Social Injustice through (Re-)Naming


Karen Pennesi is Associate Professor of Linguistic and Sociocultural Anthropology. Karen’s research explores how language plays an integral part in the processes of constructing individual and group identities. Her current focus is on personal names, and their importance in relation to immigration, social integration and belonging. Karen is particularly interested in the experiences of people whose names do not fit into the legal, institutional and conventional frameworks for the structure, spelling and pronunciation of names in Canada. Her research aims to promote understanding and respect for everyone in linguistically and culturally diverse societies.”

Booking information



13.30 – 13.35 Welcome Jane Pilcher, Nottingham Trent University, UK The People’s Names Research Network
13.35 – 13.55 Paper 1 Emilia Aldrin, Halmstad University, Sweden



Naming Diversity: Textbook name choice as a mirror of evolving cultural & gender constructions in Sweden from the 1920’s to the 2010’s
13.55 – 14.15 Paper 2 Julia Sinclair-Palm & Westley Partington, Carleton University, Canada Finding Joy in a Name: Trans youths’ experiences of names & naming practices


14.15 – 14.35 Paper 3 Hannah Deakin-Smith*, Jane Bryan^ & Jane Pilcher* (*Nottingham Trent University & ^Warwick University, UK The (Mis)Pronunciation of Names: experiences of university students in England & Wales
14.35 – 14.45 10 min Q & A Chaired by TBA
14.45 – 14.50 5 mins break 5 mins break 5 mins break
14.50 – 15.10 Paper 4 Francesco Cerchiaro, University of Leuven, Belgium “What About a Muslim Name?”: religion, ethnicity & family kinship in naming practices among mixed couples with a Muslim partner (in Italy, France and Belgium).
15.10 – 15.30 Paper 5 Federica Guccini, Western University, Canada Conceptualizing a Decolonial Framework for Language & Naming Practices: A translanguaging approach to names


15.30 – 15.50 Paper 6 Ayokunmi Ojebode, University of Nottingham, UK


Connecting Worlds, Performing Identities: Peeking Through Lens of British-Nigerian Actors’ Names in Hollywood


15.50 – 16.00 10 min Q & A Chaired by TBA
16.00 – 16.10 10 mins break 10 mins break 10 mins break
16.10 – 16.45 Keynote address Karen Pennesi, Western University, Canada (Don’t) Say Their Names: Indexing social injustice through (re-)naming


16.45 – 16.55 10 min Q & A Chaired by Jane Pilcher
16.55 – 17.00 Closing remarks Jane Pilcher


Read more about this symposium over at Eventbrite.

About Names: “Cleveland Evans: Kyle raced up the charts of boy names”

A football card dated to 1952 featuring Kyle Rote (Public Domain)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his July 31st column, he looks at the name Kyle.

Kyle’s racing into his fourth decade.

Kyle Larson, 2021’s NASCAR Cup Series champion, won the ESPY for Best Driver on July 20. He turns 30 today.

Kyle is a Scottish surname that can come from places named from Gaelic “caol” (narrows, strait.) It’s also from the district of Kyle (Gaelic “Cuil”) on Scotland’s southwest coast, possibly named for legendary British king Coel Hen, where Coel means “belief, trust.”

Kyle was a prominent surname among Scots who settled Northern Ireland during the 1600s. In the 1700s, Kyle families were among Scots-Irish immigrants to America. In 1850, 2,200 Americans had the surname Kyle. In Scotland and England together there were only 950 in 1851.

When the custom of turning surnames into given names began, Kyle was among them. An early example is “Kyle Stuart” (1834), a long poem by Robert Mack. There Kyle buries his father on a Virginia mountaintop and later sails to Scotland to claim his inheritance. Though published in Tennessee, “Kyle Stuart” condemns slavery, and claims studying law develops morality while practicing law ruins it.