About Names: Dr. Cleveland Evans on the name “Axel”

Viennese Cellist Axel Simonsen in a photo dated to 1915 (Photo: Public Domain)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his June 30th column, he discusses the name “Axel”.

Axel is back investigating crime in Beverly Hills on Wednesday.

“Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F” premieres on Netflix on July 3. Thirty years after his last appearance, Detroit policeman Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy) returns to California when conspirators threaten his daughter.

Axel’s derived from Hebrew Avshalom, “my father is peace.” Absalom in English Bibles and Absalon in Danish, it’s the name of a son of King David who leads a revolt against his father. During battle his long hair becomes entangled in a tree, allowing David’s general Joab to kill him.

Absalom was occasionally used in medieval Europe, sometimes as a nickname for a long-haired man. In Denmark, Absalon, bishop of Lund (1128-1201), was an advisor to King Valdemar I who led battles against Slavs and built a fortress where Copenhagen later developed. A famous equestrian statue of Absalon can be seen there today.

By 1400 Absalon shifted first to Axelen and then Axel in everyday Danish speech. The famous bishop himself was often called Axel. The name was popularized all over Scandinavia by Axel Pedersen Tott (c. 1375-1447), an advisor to Queen Margaret I when she’d unified Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

Axel Oxenstierna (1583-1684) was Sweden’s ruling regent while Queen Christina was a child. Esaias Tegner’s romantic poem “Axel” (1822), where Swedish soldier Axel is saved by Russian girl Maria, who disguises herself as a Russian soldier to follow him and is herself killed in battle, cemented Axel’s popularity as a Swedish name.

Scandinavian immigrants brought Axel to America. The 1930 United States census found 15,195 Axels — 68% born in Sweden, Denmark or Norway.

Norwegian figure skater Axel Paulsen (1855-1938) publicized the name by inventing the “Axel jump” in 1882.

Enough Scandinavian-Americans named sons Axel for it to rank 336th in 1886. It then declined, leaving the top 1,000 in 1917. In 1982, only 25 American newborns were named Axel.

Axel had a slight rise after the first “Beverly Hills Cop” film appeared in 1984. The fame of Guns N’ Roses star Axl Rose (born William Rose Jr. in 1962) brought Axel back into the top 1,000 in 1989.

Axel grew slowly until suddenly skyrocketing 567% between 1999 and 2001. The cause? Mexican telenovela “DKDA: Sueños de juventud” (“DKDA: Dreams of youth”) which premiered in November 1999. There the teenage members of a rock band cope with sudden fame. One member, Axel Harris, (Patricio Borghetti) probably had a name inspired by Axl Rose. “DKDA” was a huge hit across Latin America, leading to the birth of thousands of Axels.