Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his June 5th column, he looks at the name Ian.
Ian will find a way to deal with dinosaurs again next Friday.
“Jurassic World: Dominion,” the sixth film in the hit “Jurassic Park” series, opens June 10. It features Jeff Goldblum as Dr. Ian Malcolm, an expert on mathematical chaos theory whose line “Life finds a way” is iconic for fans.
Ian is a simplified spelling of Iain, a Scottish Gaelic form of John, ultimately from Hebrew “God is gracious.”
Before 1880, Ian was very rare in written records. Back then names, like other words, were translated from one language to another. A Scottish Highlander called “Ian” in Gaelic would automatically be called “John” in written or spoken English. Only one man is listed as Ian in Scotland’s 1851 census, alongside 252,476 Johns.
Educated artistic parents often start new name trends. Scottish-born John Forbes-Robertson (1822-1903) was one of the first professional art and theater critics in London. Five of his eleven children became actors, including second son Ian (1858-1936), perhaps the first example of Ian’s use as an official name in England.
In 1894, Presbyterian minister John Watson (1850-1907) published “Beside the Bonnie Brier Bush” under pen name Ian Maclaren. This collection of sentimental tales whose characters spoke in heavy Scots dialect (“Wull ye no come wi’ me for auld lang syne? … it wud dae ye gude”) was a huge bestseller in both Britain and America. “Ian Maclaren” died in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, while on an American lecture tour.
The actor and the author inspired many namesakes. By 1935, Ian was a top 50 name for baby boys in England and Scotland. That year, Ian entered the top thousand in the United States, helped by the career of character actor Ian Wolfe (1896-1992).