About Names: Despite its dubious roots, Myrna’s popularity grew thanks to star power

Actor Myrna Loy

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

There’s no place named Myrna in the United States. Williams was probably passing through Merna, Nebraska, when he saw the sign. Merna was founded as “Muddy Flats” in 1876 by Samuel Dunning, its first postmaster. In 1883, he moved 30 miles northwest to found Dunning, Nebraska. His friend William Brotherton, taking over the postmaster job, renamed Muddy Flats “Merna” after Dunning’s 7-year-old daughter.

David Williams may have deliberately altered the spelling to “Myrna,” or simply misremembered it. Both Myrna and Merna are thought to be Americanized respellings of Irish Gaelic Muirne, “festive.” In Irish legend, Muirne was the daughter of a Druid and mother of the great Irish hero Finn Mac Cool. The father of the earliest born Myrna in the United States census, Thomas Fox of Saunders County, Nebraska, was born in Ireland. Myrna Fox (1865-1929) is called “Murnie” on her 1882 marriage license to Perry Hadsall, and on her Idaho tombstone, reinforcing the idea that Myrna is a form of Muirne. Still, it’s a bit mysterious why over 2,000 American families, most in the Midwest without Irish ancestry, named daughters Myrna or Merna by 1910.

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