About Names: Bertram never caught on in U.S. but rings loud in Shakespeare lore

Bertram “Bertie” Wilberforce Wooster (played by Hugh Laurie)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his July 2nd column, he looks at the history of the name Bertram.

The name Bertram is derived from ancient Germanic beraht-hramn, or “bright raven.” In Germanic myth, ravens were sacred to the god Odin. The first famous Bertram was St. Bertram of Ilam, a hermit living near Stafford, England, in the early eighth century. Later legends claim he was a Prince of Mercia who fell in love with an Irish princess, becoming a hermit after she and their infant son were devoured by a pack of wolves.

Bertram was regularly used in medieval England. Surnames Bartram and Buttrum derive from it. Bertram became rare after 1400, retaining some use in Northumberland, England’s northernmost county. The Victorian era love for medieval names revived Bertram. It was much more common in Britain. By 1910, there were 6,401 Bertrams in the U.S., while England’s 1911 census found 21,819. England’s population at that point was 36 million; the U.S. had more than 92 million people.

In 1880, when Social Security’s yearly baby name data starts, Bertram ranked 405th in the U.S. At its 1923 high point, it had risen slightly higher, to 394th. Bertram fell from the top 1,000 names in 1971.

Want to know more? Read on to find out more about Bertrams in history!