Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his August 1st column, he looks at the history of the name Herman.
Today’s the birthday of Moby Dick’s father.
Herman Melville (1819-1891) was born 202 years ago. One of America’s most famous authors, he’s best known for “Moby Dick” (1851), the story of Captain Ahab and his obsession with the great white whale that bit off his leg.
Herman’s the English form of German Hermann, derived from ancient Germanic “army man.” Hermann was a common name in medieval Germany. One example, Hermann of Reichenau (1013-1054), a Benedictine monk, who, despite having cerebral palsy, studied mathematics and astronomy and composed hymns that are still sung today.
Norman invaders brought the name to England in 1066. Families surnamed Harman are descended from medieval Hermans. Though rare in England, Herman never completely died out, partly because it was continually reinforced by goldsmiths and merchants immigrating from Holland.
Herman was more common in America than England, mostly because of German and Dutch influence. That’s how Melville got the name — his mother, Maria, was a great-great-granddaughter of Harmen Gansevoort, a Dutch settler who came to New Amsterdam in 1655. Harmen’s grandfather, Hermann (born 1570), was a brewer in Dersum, just over the Dutch border in northern Germany.