Actor Errol Flynn
Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his June 20th column, he looks at the history of the name Errol.
Errol is a village in Perthshire, Scotland, so ancient its original meaning is unknown. Around 1178, King William I of Scotland granted the barony of Errol to Norman knight William de la Haye. In 1309, King Robert the Bruce made Gilbert, de la Haye’s great-great-grandson, hereditary High Constable of Scotland. In 1453, James II made Gilbert’s great-great-grandson William Hay first Earl of Erroll. (Spelling was still do-it-yourself in 1453; maps then sometimes used “Arroll” for the village.)
The Earls of Erroll are Scotland’s most important peers, second only to the royal family. Josslyn Hay (1901-41), 22nd Earl of Erroll, became a colonial planter in Kenya. He was murdered there, with his married lover’s husband controversially acquitted of the crime. His grandson, Merlin, 24th Earl, is a computer programmer who is now the House of Lords’ cybersecurity expert.
It’s not hard to find examples of boys named “Cedric Errol,” with Errol being the middle name. Prominent New Orleans architect and painter Errol Barron (born 1941) was Cedric Errol Barron Jr. at birth. Still, the name stayed rare until Errol Flynn became famous. Star of box-office hits like “The Adventures of Robin Hood” (1938), Variety ranked him the fourth most popular film actor in 1940. Errol first entered the top 1,000 baby names in 1936, peaking at 354th five years later, along with Flynn’s career.
Cover of the first issue of the New Yorker, with the figure of dandy Eustace Tilley, created by Rea Irvin
Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his June 6th column, he looks at the history of the name Eustace.
Eustace is the English form of Latin Eustachius, combining Greek Eustathios “well-built” and Eustachys “fruitful.” St. Eustace was supposedly martyred in A.D. 118. According to legend, he was a Roman general who converted to Christianity when he saw a crucifix in the antlers of a stag. Eustace, his wife and sons were roasted to death inside a bronze statue of a bull after refusing to make pagan sacrifices.
Though uncommon, Eustace stayed in use among England’s nobility. It was less popular in the United States, partly because Puritans avoided names of non-Biblical saints. The 1850 United States Census found 90 Eustaces. The 1851 census of Great Britain had 188, though the two nations then had about the same population. The latest available British census of 1911 included 3,009 Eustaces. The 1910 American census had 1,057, though then the United States had almost twice as many residents.
The most famous Eustaces are fictional. In 1925 the cover of the first issue of the New Yorker featured a drawing by Rea Irvin of a monocled dandy with a top hat. Later that year, author Corey Ford named him “Eustace Tilley.” The character reinforced the name’s effete image.
Christopher Reeve as Clark Kent
Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his May 23rd column, he looks at the history of the name Clark.
Clarke is another spelling of Clark, an English surname derived from “clerk.” Originally from “cleric,” Latin for “clergyman,” by 1200 it meant “anyone who could read and write.” In the 2010 census, 562,679 Americans had the last name Clark, making it the 27th most common surname. The 68,281 Clarkes ranked 281st.
When around 1800 the custom of turning surnames into male first names developed, boys named Clark appeared. In the 1850 United States census, first listing everyone by name, 7,757 men had the first name Clark, and 542 Clarke. Admiration for Revolutionary War general George Rogers Clark (1752-1818) and his younger brother William (1770-1838), leader of the Lewis & Clark expedition, helped its popularity.
Clarke was almost nonexistent as a girl’s name before 1991. That year, Spike Lee’s “Mo’ Better Blues” featured Cynda Williams as Clarke Betancourt, one of Denzel Washington’s two love interests. Critic Vincent Canby said, “No one with such a fancy handle can be trusted in slick-movie fiction.” There were 22 American girls named Clarke in 1991, the first year ever there were more than four. Between nine and 25 arrived between 1992 and 2013.
British actor Glenda Jackson
Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his May 9th column, he looks at the history of the name Glenda.
Glenda is a modern name with obscure origins. Most baby name books claim it’s from the Welsh words glân, “clean, pure,” and da, “good”. Welsh pride created many names from Welsh words in the early 20th century. Delwyn (“pretty and fair”) and Tegan (“lovely”) are two examples.
The problem with the Welsh theory is that the earliest examples of Glenda in census records aren’t related to Wales. The first example in Britain, Glenda Day, was born in 1864 in Somerset, with most other early examples near London. The first Welsh Glenda doesn’t show up until 1910. It’s probable Glenda was originally created another way and reinterpreted with the Welsh meaning.
Glenda skyrocketed 136% between 1932 and 1933, when 680 arrived. Its boom continued until 1944, when the 3,366 born ranked it 79th. Glenda stayed among the top hundred through 1952.
Glinda, the good witch in L. Frank Baum’s famous 1900 children’s book “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” (played by Billie Burke in the 1939 film), often is misremembered as “Glenda.” Glinda was ignored as a baby name, however, until Linda became popular. Glinda was in the top thousand between 1944 and 1955, peaking at 733rd in 1951. Glinda is nonexistent as a baby name today, despite the popularity of Oz spinoffs like “Wicked.”
Professional tennis player Renée Richards
Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his April 25th column, he looks at the history of the name Renée.
Renée is the feminine of René, French form of Renatus, Latin “born again.” The name was created by early Christians to commemorate their symbolic rebirth in baptism. By 1300, French girls were being named Renée. In 1510, King Louis XII gave his second daughter the name.
Despite Renée of France’s fame as a Protestant heroine, before 1864, Renée was nearly nonexistent as a baby name in the United States. Then French brothers Edmond and Jules de Goncourt (for whom the Prix Goncourt, France’s most important fiction prize, is named) published “Renée Mauperin,” the tragic tale of a young woman who wastes away from heart disease after her beloved brother is murdered by a French nobleman. It went through several English-language editions the next 30 years.
Renee first became a Top 1,000 baby name in 1905. It got a big boost from French-born silent film star Renée Adorée (1898-1933). Adorée moved to Hollywood in 1920. She became a star in 1925’s “The Big Parade” as Melisande, a French girl loved by American soldier Jim (John Gilbert). The film, rated by critics as one of the best silents, was a box-office smash.
Renee left the Top 1,000 list of first names in 2018. As the typical Renee turns 53 this year, that’s to be expected. In another 40 years, Renée can be reborn again for babies.
Leona Frances Evans, mother of names columnist Cleveland Evans. She died April 2, 2020, in Tennessee. She was 98. This photo was taken at Christmas 2016.
Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his April 11th column, he tells the story of his mother, Leona Frances Evans.
This column was first published in November 2009. It’s being reprinted in memory of Evans’ mother, Leona Frances Evans. She died April 2 in Mount Juliet, Tennessee. She was 98.
Leona is the feminine form of Leo or Leon, Latin and Greek forms of an ancient name meaning “lion.” Leo became a famous name in 440 when Leo I was elected pope. Called Leo the Great, he was the first to assert the primacy of Rome within the Catholic Church.
During the early 1800s Leona turned up occasionally as a baby name in England and Germany, but it became popular only in the United States. Between 1896 and 1921, Leona was among the top 100 names for American girls, peaking at 69th place in 1905.
Rita Moreno, actor
Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his March 28th column, he looks at the history of the name Rita.
Rita is a short form of Margherita or Margarita, Italian and Spanish forms of Margaret, from Greek margarites (pearl). The fame of legendary St. Margaret of Antioch, swallowed by a dragon that burst open because of her holiness, made her name common across medieval Europe.
Rita became a name in its own right through St. Rita of Cascia (1381-1457). Born Margherita Lotti, Rita was married against her will at age 12 to wealthy but violently abusive Paolo Mancini. Over 18 years, her patience and prayers reformed him. After Paolo was stabbed to death in a vendetta, Rita’s example of forgiveness ended the feud. She entered a convent at Cascia, legendarily levitated into its courtyard by her patron saints.
Rita ranked between 52nd and 60th all through the 1940s. As Rita Hayworth’s reign as “Love Goddess” waned, the name began its inevitable retreat, finally leaving the top 1,000 in 2003. Novelist Rita Mae Brown (1944), recording artist Rita Coolidge (1945) and comedian Rita Rudner (1953) are famous Ritas born during Hayward’s heyday. Actress and film producer Rita Wilson (1956) is newsworthy now, as she and husband Tom Hanks were among the first celebrities to announce that they had tested positive for COVID-19.
Rita Moreno, now 88, won a best supporting actress Oscar in 1961 for “West Side Story.” She went on to win a Grammy, a Tony and two Emmys, one of only 12 artists to win all four.
Guitarist Wendy Melvoin
Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his February 29th column, he looks at the history of the name Wendy.
“Peter Pan” began as a 1904 play by Scottish author J.M. Barrie (1860-1937). He named Wendy in honor of Margaret Henley (1888-1894). Daughter of poet William Ernest Henley, Margaret died of meningitis at age 5. She called Barrie “Fwendy-wendy,” inspiring Wendy Darling’s name. Many names (including Vanessa, Pamela and Dorian) are author creations, and “friend” is a great meaning. Still, many commentators seem embarrassed by Wendy’s baby-talk origin and insist it’s a form of Gwendoline. There really isn’t good evidence that Wendy was used as a pet form of Gwendoline before Barrie’s play.
Wendy is an English place name and surname. Wendy is a hamlet in Cambridgeshire, meaning “island at a river bend” in Old English.
Today’s most famous Wendy is probably “Wendy” Thomas (born 1961), whose father, Dave, named his hamburger chain Wendy’s after her in 1969. Befitting a name created from baby talk, Wendy is a nickname from her childhood mispronunciation of Melinda.
Scientist Albert Einstein
Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his March 14th column, he looks at the history of the name Albert.
Albert is an ancient Germanic name combining “adal” (noble) and “beraht” (bright). Albert was a French form brought to England by Norman conquerors in 1066. It replaced Old English Æelbriht, source of the surname Albright.
The first famous Albert was St. Albert the Great (1193-1280), who resigned as Bishop of Regensburg in 1262 to devote his life to scholarship. Albert wrote works on astronomy, chemistry, physiology and other subjects. One of the first since ancient times to record careful observations of nature, he’s patron saint of natural scientists. By 1400, Albert was very rare in England. It’s often assumed that it only revived when Queen Victoria married Prince Albert in 1840.
So Albert was in use on both sides of the Atlantic before 1840. There’s no denying, though, that Prince Albert’s fame skyrocketed it. In 1850, Albert was No. 20 in England. In 1880, when Social Security’s baby name data begins, it ranked No. 15 in the U.S. Alberts in entertainment include film producer Broccoli (1909-96), Blue Oyster Cult drummer Bouchard (1947) and actor Molina (1953). Comedian Albert Brooks was born Albert Lawrence Einstein in 1947. If he used his real name, people would think it a bad joke.
Photo by Suzanne Cordeiro – Conor Oberst – Luck Reunion in concert, SXSW Festival, Austin, USA – 16 Mar 2017
Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his February 15th column, he looks at the history of the name Conor.
Conor is the modern form of ancient Irish Conchobar, from “con” (dog) and “cobar” (desiring, liking). In Irish myth Conchobar mac Nessa is a king of Ulster. His mother, Ness, convinces her husband, King Fergus, to make 7-year-old Conchobar nominal king for a year to cement his royal status. Ness makes such wise decisions for her son that Ulster’s nobles keep him king permanently. As an adult, Conchobar wins a war against Queen Medb of Connacht when she attempts to steal Ulster’s famous stud bull.
Conner is an English surname from Old English “cunnere” (“examiner”), indicating one’s ancestor was an inspector of measures in alehouses. It’s often been confused with Conor. Many American Conner families are probably O’Connors in disguise.
Connor first beat Conor as the top spelling in 1986 — probably because of the film “Highlander.” Christopher Lambert starred as Connor MacLeod, an immortal Scottish swordsman battling foes who can only be killed by beheading. “Highlander” was a cult hit, spawning several sequels.
Connor boomed, peaking at 38th in 2004. Conner had a smaller upswing, reaching 127th in 2005. Conor’s 1993 peak, at 232nd, is linked to Eric Clapton’s song “Tears in Heaven,” inspired by the death of his young son Conor in 1991.