Leonard Nimoy / Associated Press
Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his March 26th column, he looks at the history of the name Leonard.
That Vulcan greeting was popularized by actor Leonard Nimoy (1931-2015) as the “Star Trek” character Spock. Nimoy was born 88 years ago on March 26.
Leonard is a Germanic name combining words for “lion” and “hardy, brave.” It’s not as ancient as the similar Bernard (“bear-brave”) and Everard (boar-brave), because “lion” is from Latin. Lions aren’t native to northern Europe, so Germanic tribes learned about them as a symbol of power and bravery from the Romans. In medieval England, 177 churches were dedicated to St. Leonard. Families called Leonard had medieval ancestors named after him. In Ireland, Leonard was an English form of Leannán, “lover.” In the 1540s, the first decade all baptisms were recorded, Leonard ranked 24th for English boys. It remained among the top 50 until 1620.
In 1880, when Social Security’s yearly baby names lists started, Leonard ranked 78th. It rose in the early 20th century, partly due to immigrants. Leonardo was well-used in Italy because of artist and inventor Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), and Lev (Yiddish “lion”) was a common Russian Jewish name. Leonard was an American equivalent for both.
Want to know more? Read on to find out more about Leonards in history!
Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his March 12th column, he looks at the history of the name Stella.
Stella is the Latin word for “star.” Its first use as a woman’s name came in 1591 in “Astrophil and Stella,” a book of sonnets and songs by Philip Sidney (1554-86). Astrophil (“star lover”) describes his beloved as “Stella, Star of heavenly fire, Stella, loadstar of desire; Stella, in whose shining eyes are the lights of Cupids skies.”
German author Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749-1832) wrote “Stella: A Play for Lovers” in 1776. It created a huge scandal when hero Fernando resolves his love for both Stella and Cecilia by living in a ménage à trois. Goethe rewrote the play with Stella committing suicide at the end in 1806. Both versions spread the name across northern Europe. By 1770, romantic parents were naming real girls Stella in America. The 1850 United States census, the first listing all residents by name, found 548 Stellas.
In Social Security’s yearly baby name lists, Stella peaked at 55th in 1889. It gradually declined, leaving the top hundred after 1923.
Want to know more? Read on to find out more about Stellas in history!
Levi Strauss button
Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his February 26th column, he looks at the history of the name Levi.
The first Levi was Jacob and Leah’s third son in the Bible’s book of Genesis. At his birth, Leah says “Now my husband will be joined to me, because I have borne him three sons.” Hebrew “lawah” means “joined.” Levi’s descendants became priests and attendants at Jerusalem’s temple.
Before the Reformation, Levi was only used by Jews. Then some Protestant parents took it up. Unlike other Old Testament names such as Abraham and Joshua, Levi didn’t become generally popular in England, appealing only to more radical Puritans. Britain’s 1851 census found 4,727 Levis. In the 1850 United States census (when the nations had about the same population), there were 36,624, most descendants of New England Puritans living in the North.
Modern Levis now gaining fame include Levi Leipheimer (born 1973), the U.S. national champion road racing cyclist in 1999 and 2007, and Levi LaVallee (1982), winner of seven gold medals in snowmobile racing at the Winter X games between 2004 and 2014.
Want to know more? Read on to find out more about Levis in history!
Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his February 11th column, he looks at the history of the names Abraham.
Abraham was the Biblical patriarch of the Hebrews. He had one of history’s most famous name changes. In Genesis 17, God tells him: “No longer shall your name be Abram (“high father” or “exalted ancestor”) but your name shall be Abraham (“father of many”); for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations.” The patriarch’s fame meant his name was used by Christians as well as Jews in medieval Europe. Families with surnames like Abraham and Abrams had medieval Christian ancestors called Abraham.
In 1880, when Social Security’s yearly baby name data started, Abraham ranked 163rd, Abe 234th and Abram 373rd. All fell off until 1902 when they rose again, partly because of eastern European Jewish immigration. Abraham also jumped from 162nd in 1910 to 124th in 1911, probably because of publicity about the building of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. After 1912, Abraham dropped, bottoming out at 499th in 1967.
Want to know more? Read on to find out more about Abrahams in history!
Oprah Winfrey @AP
Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his January 29th column, he looks at the history of the names Oprah and Orpah.
Multi-talented Oprah Winfrey, nominated for an Oscar in 1985 for her supporting role in “The Color Purple,“ hosted the most successful television talk show ever between 1986 and 2011. When Oprah was born, her Aunt Ida named her Orpah after a character in the Bible’s Book of Ruth. In 2008, Winfrey explained her family, unfamiliar with the name, pronounced and spelled it “Oprah” from her infancy, though it remains “Orpah” on her birth certificate.
After the Reformation a few Protestant parents discovered Orpah. The 1850 United States census includes 105 Orpahs. Orpha was much more common; 2,156 are found in 1850. Most name dictionaries assume Orpha is an alteration of Orpah, but don’t explain why it was more popular.
A few parents named daughters Oprah at the start of Winfrey’s fame — 37 Oprahs were born in 1987. But 2007 was the last year more than four were born. Oprah, like Madonna and Cher, is so famous as a unique one-name celebrity, parents know they’d be mercilessly teased for naming a baby Oprah. It could only become popular for babies after Winfrey’s lifetime.
Want to know more? Read on to find out more about Oprahs and Orpahs in history! Note one minor error: The sentence about Orphea and Orpheus should refer to the 1850 census, not the 1950 one.
Journalist Jamal Khashoggi
Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his January 15th column, he looks at the ANS Name of the Year, Jamal Khashoggi.
Do you know how to say “Khashoggi”?
At its meeting in New York City on Jan. 4, the American Name Society voted Jamal Khashoggi 2018’s Name of the Year. Jamal Khashoggi was a Washington Post journalist and critic of the Saudi regime assassinated in Istanbul on Oct. 2. His name is associated with increasing threats journalists face in an atmosphere branding them “enemies of the people.” President Donald Trump’s dismissal of CIA reports strongly concluding the Saudi crown prince ordered the murder have kept Khashoggi’s name in the news.
“Khashoggi” also illustrates modern media’s more careful treatment of non-English names. Initially, reporters rhymed it with “soggy.” Over time, most switched to “Ka-SHOG-zhee,” closer to the Arabic pronunciation.
“Gritty” won as 2018’s trade name of the year. Gritty is the new mascot of the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team, a hairy orange monster debuted on Sept. 24. Left-wing activists interpreted Gritty as a blue-collar hero, fighting against the absurdities of capitalism. On Oct. 24, the Philadelphia City Council passed a formal resolution honoring Gritty, declaring he honored the city’s spirit and passion. Sports blog network SB Nation wrote: “The name ‘Gritty’ itself is an inside joke used as a descriptor by fans for any player who isn’t the most athletically talented.”
Want to know more? Read on to find out more about the ANS names of the year! Note that because of the limitation on the length of the column, this report does not include every nominee that was not a winner. A full report will come out later in the ANS journal, Names.
Artist Keith Haring
Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his December 18th column, he looks at the history of the name Keith.
Keith’s a Scottish surname from the “lands of Keith” in the county of East Lothian. The place name may come from Pictish for “woods.” Clan Keith is an important Scottish clan. The name of its founder is unknown. He was a warrior who killed Danish leader Camus at the Battle of Barrie in 1010. King Malcolm II granted him the lands of Keith and the title “Camus Slayer.”
As a famous aristocratic surname, Keith attracted use when the custom of giving surnames as first names took off in the 19th century. In Britain’s 1851 census, there were 96 Keiths in Scotland and 61 in England. The 1850 United States Census found 41 Keiths, only a quarter of Britain’s total when the two nations’ populations were about equal.
One-syllable names are now out of fashion. In 2017 Keith ranked 493rd, its lowest since 1901. Perhaps in another 40 years Keith will make parents happy again.
Want to know more? Read on to find out more about Keiths in American history!
Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his December 4th column, he looks at the history of the name Marisa.
Marisa is an Italian, Spanish and Portuguese blend of Maria and Luisa, though in Iberia it’s also from “Maria Isabel.” Italians often interpret it as being from Stella Maris, “Star of the Sea,” a title of the Virgin Mary. Marisa was rare in the United States before the film “The Rose Tattoo” debuted in December 1955. It starred Italian actress Marisa Pavan (born Maria Luisa Pierangeli in 1932) as Rosa Della Rose, a high school senior dealing with a distraught, overbearing widowed mother, played by Oscar winner Anna Magnani.
In 1994, 2,187 Marisas were born, ranking the name 146th. In 1994, girls named Marissa also peaked; 6,245 were born, ranking it 53rd. Originally, Marisa rhymed with Lisa (the pronunciation Berenson uses) and Marissa with Melissa, but they’ve inevitably been confused. Tomei herself rhymes Marisa with Melissa. Marissa is a blend of Mary and Melissa created in 19th-century America. The oldest Marissa I’ve found in more than one census is Marissa Cays, born 1877 in Michigan, but it was probably created decades before.
Want to know more? Read on to find out more about Marisas in American history!
Lindsay Wagner by Gage Skidmore
Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his November 20th column, he looks at the history of the name Lindsey.
Lindsey is an ancient Anglo-Saxon kingdom in England’s northern Lincolnshire. It means “the island of Lincoln.” It’s not actually an island, but a high area surrounded by rivers and marshes. Surnames Lindsey and Lindsay show one’s ancestors came from Lindsey. Scottish Clan Lindsay was founded by Sir Walter de Lindsay, who went to Scotland in the 11th century as a retainer of David, brother of Scotland’s King William the Lion.
The regular use of surnames as girls’ first names began in the South. The earliest female Lindsey in the census is Lindsey Ann Keenin, born December 1846 in Tippah County, Mississippi. Over 60 years, census takers wrote her name as Lindsey, Linsey, Lyndsa, Linnie, Lyndsy and Lynie. Multiple spellings made Lindsey seem less popular than it really was. If girls named Lyndsey, Lyndsay, Linsey and Lynsey are added, 1984’s combined total of 19,286 ranks 11th.
Want to know more? Read on to find out more about Lindseys in American history!
Actor John Wayne plays Ethan Edwards in the 1956 film “The Searchers” (AP/Warner Bros.)
Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his November 6th column, he looks at the history of the name Ethan.
Ethan is the English form of Hebrew Eitan, “solid, enduring.” Four Ethans are mentioned in the Old Testament. The most famous, Ethan the Ezrahite, wrote Psalm 89, beginning “I will sing of your steadfast love, O LORD, forever.” Ethan was one of the obscure biblical names New England Puritans adopted. Ethan Allen (1738-1789), Vermonter who led the “Green Mountain Boys” at Fort Ticonderoga’s capture from the British in 1775, is the most famous example.
When Edith Wharton published classic novel “Ethan Frome” in 1911, the name was a good choice for a downtrodden New England farmer born around 1860.
In 1956, director John Ford adapted a novel by Alan LeMay into the Western “The Searchers.” John Wayne played Ethan Edwards, a Civil War veteran searching for his niece, who’s been kidnapped by Comanche raiders. In the novel, the character was “Amos.” Ford changed that to Ethan because Amos was too identified with the comic character from “Amos ’n’ Andy.”
Want to know more? Read on to find out more about Ethans in American history!