About Names: Dr. Evans on the name “Sean”

“The actor Sean Astin giving a talk at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign” (Photo by Daniel Schwen, CC-BY-3.0)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his January 28th column, he discusses the name “Sean”.

Happy birthday to Samwise Gamgee!

Actor Sean Astin, famed as Frodo’s heroic helper Sam in “The Lord of the Rings” films (2001-03) turns 53 today. His second most famous role is probably the title character in “Rudy” (1993), who achieves his dream to play Notre Dame football in the last game his senior year.

Seán’s an Irish form of John, from Hebrew “Yahweh is gracious.” When Christianity came to Ireland, John was translated “Eoin”, the form used in Gaelic language Bibles. Seán developed from French “Jean” after Normans settled in Ireland in the 12th century.

When Ireland’s English rulers suppressed Gaelic names, Seáns officially became “John.” Irish immigrants automatically translated Seán to John when speaking English, so it doesn’t reliably occur in United States censuses before 1900. One early example, Shawn MacMenamin, Irish born in 1904, lived with immigrant parents Brian and Alice in New York in 1910. He’s Shaun in 1920, but “John” when naturalized an American citizen in 1927.

Seán returned to official use in Ireland after 1900 among Irish nationalists. Two of Ireland’s greatest authors, playwright Sean O’Casey (1880-1964) and short story writer Seán Ó Faolaín (1900-1991), born John Casey and John Whelan, changed their names to support Ireland’s independence.

Highly educated artistic parents are first to revive names. The earliest census Sean with American parents was Sean Murphy (1924-2017), born in London to artists John J. A. and Cecil Murphy. Many museums feature John’s woodcuts. Sean became a Montreal ophthalmologist.

The first American-born Sean, Sean Burke (1926-2017), was born to physician J. Robert and wife Helen in Holyoke, Massachusetts. Sean, whose grandparents were all Irish-born, became a St. Petersburg, Florida, M.D.

Other Irish-Americans proud of their heritage followed the Murphys and Burkes. Sean entered the top thousand in 1943. Phonetic spellings Shawn and Shaun arrived in 1947 and 1950.

Call for Papers: “Literary Name Games: Onomastic Indices, Icons, and/or Symbols” ANS @ MLA 2025

Literary Name Games: Onomastic Indices, Icons, and/or Symbols

Writers the world over play with names of characters, places, and more to create mood, further plot, and expand meaning. In this panel, we will consider the ways in which names of characters (charactonyms), places (toponyms), and other components function as affective identifiers, as visual or aural icons, and/or as figurative symbols in literature from any era, from any narrative genre, in any media, and for readers of any age. Useful resources might include, the archives of NAMES: A Journal of Onomastics (https://ans-names.pitt.edu/ans/issue/archive), the ANS list of terminology (https://ans-names.pitt.edu/ans/keywords), Dorothy Dodge Robbins’ edited collection Literary Onomastics (2023), and the Oxford Handbook of Names and Naming (2018).

Proposal Submission Process:

  1. Email Dr. Anne W. Anderson (awanderson.editing@gmail.com).  Please place  “MLA 2025 proposal” in the subject line.   In the email body, include the title and first line of the abstract, the full name(s) of the author(s), their affiliation(s), and their email address(es).  Attach a PDF file that includes the proposal title, abstract of up to 350 words, and a brief list of works cited. Do NOT include author identification.
  2. DEADLINE: Proposals must be received by 11:59 pm EST on Friday 15 March 2024. Authors will be notified about the results of the blind review on or by 25 March 2024.
  3. Contributors selected for the thematic panel must be members of both MLA and ANS in order to present their papers; MLA membership must be obtained by 7 April 2024;
  4. Questions? Please contact Dr. Anne W. Anderson (awanderson.editing@gmail.com)

Register for the ANS Annual Meeting 2024 (via Zoom, February 17, 2024)

Registration is open for ANS 2024, which will be held on February 17, 2024. You can register online by clicking here or the following link:


The American Name Society Annual Meeting for 2024 will be held online using the Zoom platform. It is accessible via Mac or PC. The meeting will require a passcode, which will be sent via email to all registrants and presenters by February 16th.

We have been working hard to set up a schedule that will work globally, and this means that some presenters will be scheduled at times outside of normal working hours. The schedule below is subject to change depending on speaker availability.

The Book of Abstracts will be available before the conference.

Keep apprised of any changes to the annual meeting schedule here.

Saturday, February 17, 2024


Conference Opening Address

5:45 AM Laurel Sutton (Catchword Branding, USA), Welcome and Opening Remarks

First Session

6:00 AM Anna Tsepkova (Novosibirsk State Pedagogical University, Russia): American and Russian Nicknames of Persons, Motivated by a Combination of Linguistic and Extralinguistic Factors

6:30 AM Olga Chesnokova (RUDN University, Moscow, Russia): Ludic Representation of Toponyms in Riddles

7:00 AM Zhazira Agabekova (Nazarabayev University, Astana, Kazakhstan): The Concept of “UL” (son, child) in Kazakh Anthroponomy

Second Session

7:30 AM Halyna Matsyuk (Ivan Franko National University in Lviv, Ukraine): The linguistic landscape of Ukraine: Decolonization of geographical names associated with Russia

8:00 AM Reima Al-Jarf (King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia): To Translate or not to Translate: The Case of Arabic and Foreign Shop Names

8:30 AM Sara Racca (University of Zurich, Switzerland): From the Countryside to the Urban Outskirts: The Displacement of Old Microtoponyms in Contemporary Urbanization. An Italian Case-Study

9:00 AM Break

9:30 AM ANS Committees Meeting

Third Session

10:00 AM Deborah Ball (University of Oxford, UK): Exploring the landscape of proper names and their grammatical characteristics to understand how brand names fit in

10:30 AM Tristan Alphey (St Cross College at the University of Oxford, UK): Nicknames Maketh Man? Performing Masculinity in the Gesta Herewardi

11:00 AM Jane Pilcher (Nottingham Trent University, UK): Surnames and surnaming in families formed though adoption

Fourth Session

11:30 AM Cari Didion and Michel Nguessan (Governors State University, USA): Names, Immigration Trends and Cultural Identity: A Study Ethnic Restaurant and Grocery Store Names in Greater Chicago

12:00 PM Star Medzerian Vanguri (Nova Southeastern University, FL, USA) and Maggie M. Werner (Hobart and William Smith Colleges, NY, USA): Portmanteau Names as Ideographs

12:30 Mary Ann Walter (University of the Virgin Islands, USVI): The Persistence of Morphou: Diachronic Awareness and Usage of Toponyms in Northern Cyprus

1:00 PM Michael Akinpelu (University of Regina, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada), Hasiyatu Abubakari (University of Ghana, Accra, Ghana) and Michel Nguessan (Governors State University, USA): Names of God and Divinities in African Languages and the Myth of Polytheism

1:30 PM ANS Annual Business Meeting and Awards Presentation 

Fifth Session

2:30 Evangeline Nwokah (Our Lady of the Lake University, USA): Clowning around with names: A linguistic comparison of hospital clown and entertainment clown names

3:00 Thomas Wickenden (Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, retired): Reverse Reinterpretation in Dictionaries of English Place-Names: Why the origin and identity of the Hwicce remain so obscure

3:30 Sarah Bunin Benor (Hebrew Union College, USA) and Alicia B. Chandler (Wayne State University, USA): Perceptual onomastics: Survey data on Americans’ Jewishness ratings of personal names