American artist Norman Rockwell
Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his November 8th column, he looks at the history of the name Norman.
Norman is a Germanic name meaning “North man.” It became common as a given name in England after Danish Vikings invaded Britain in the ninth century. When the Viking-descended Normans from Normandy, France, conquered England in 1066, the name was reinforced. Families named Norman had medieval ancestors with the first name. In the 2010 census, there were 67,704 Americans with the surname Norman, ranking it 495th.
In 1880, when Social Security’s yearly baby name data begins, Norman ranked 133rd. It steadily increased, helped in the 1920s by matinee idol Norman Kerry (1894-1956), the Clark Gable of his day. Norman peaked at 37th in 1931, the year director Norman Taurog won an Oscar for “Skippy.” In 1938, Taurog directed Spencer Tracy in his Oscar-winning role as Father Flanagan in “Boys Town.”
Norman fell back to 132nd by 1960, when Alfred Hitchcock’s classic thriller “Psycho” featured killer Norman Bates. The next year, Sue Thompson’s hit song “Norman,” where “Norman knows my heart belongs to him and him and only him,” countered that image, but after 1965 Norman resumed its fall, leaving the top thousand in 2006.
Colorado’s capital is named after James W. Denver (1817-1892), a 19th-century Renaissance man who served in Congress, fought in the United States Army, and served as Governor of the Kansas Territory.
In November 1858, while Denver was still serving as territorial governor, William Larimer, Jr., a land speculator from Leavenworth, planted the townsite of “Denver City” along the South Platte River in Arapaho County in western Kansas Territory (the present-day state of Colorado). Larimer chose the name “Denver” to honor the current territorial governor with the intention that the city would be chosen as the county seat of Arapaho County. Denver retired as territorial governor in November 1858 and was reappointed Commissioner of Indian Affairs, serving until his resignation on March 31, 1859.
He only visited his namesake city twice, in 1875 and 1882, and was reportedly unhappy that the residents didn’t give him more of a hero’s welcome.
British food writer, journalist and activist Jack Monroe (Fox Fisher, CC BY-SA 4.0)
Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his October 25th column, he looks at the history of the name Jack.
Jack is an English nickname for John. In medieval England, “-kin” was common in nicknames, such as Wilkin and Adkin, from William and Adam. John led to Jankin, which became Jackin and then Jack. It’s possible confusion with Jacques, the French form of James, was also involved. By 1350, though, the English linked Jack to John, not James.
Around 1380, a third of Englishmen were named John. With so many Jacks, “jack” soon meant “common servant,” or any mechanical device doing servants’ work. By 1560, Jack Sprat was a skinny man. Jack and Jill have tumbled down hills since 1765. In 1660s Britain, a Jack-o’-lantern was a night watchman; in the United States, it became a candle-lit, carved Halloween pumpkin around 1834.
In 1996, Jack was back in Social Security’s top hundred. It peaked at 34th in 2005. That new popularity is exemplified by Omaha-based singing duo Jack & Jack (Gilinsky and Johnson), both born in 1996.
Then the American love of two syllable forms caused Jackson to explode to the No. 1 status it’s held since 2013. Between 2006 and 2015, Jack receded as Jackson boomed. Since 2017, as parents tire of Jackson, Jack has surged 10%. The 9,393 born last year ranked it 27th on my “combined spellings” list, beating John as an official name for the first time ever.
TV personality Carrie Ann Inaba
Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his September 12th column, he looks at the history of the name Carrie.
Carrie is a pet form of Caroline. That feminine form of Charles (Germanic “a man”) was introduced to England by Caroline of Ansbach (1683-1737), Queen Consort of King George II. Its use soared in 1820 when her great-grandson George IV unsuccessfully tried to divorce his wife Caroline of Brunswick (1768-1821), making her a tragic heroine to Americans.
The 1850 U.S. Census, the first listing all residents by name, includes 123,617 Carolines and 152 Carries. Carrie Chapman Catt (1859-1947) led the fight for women’s suffrage and founded the League of Women Voters in 1920, becoming as famous as Carry A. Nation. Both, however, helped give Carrie an elderly image after 1900. It fell off as a baby name, bottoming out at 241st in 1950.
Carrie began booming again in the 1960s, about a generation earlier than expected. It was seen as an alternative for Karen, and also was helped by Kerry and Kari. Kerry, an Irish place name and surname, and Kari, a Norwegian form of Katherine, have different origins than Carrie. Most Americans, though, pronounce all three the same.
Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his August 29th column, he looks at the history of hurricane names.
During World War II American meteorologists commonly gave women’s names to storms they tracked. This was practical: Using names is quicker and less error-prone than the previous latitude-longitude identification method. It reduces confusion when two or more tropical storms are active — as illustrated recently with Laura and Marco.
In 1951 and 1952, the National Hurricane Center used a phonetic alphabet (Able, Baker, Charlie, etc.) to name tropical storms. In 1953, it began using lists of women’s names. In 1979, male names were added, six rotating lists were created and the task of maintaining the lists turned over to a committee of the World Meteorological Organization.
How do hurricanes affect baby names? Names of infamous hurricanes often bump upward for babies in the year they occur, and then fall back. Katrina, which had been receding, rose 13% in 2005. Since 2005, it’s nosedived as “Katrina” has become an ongoing symbol of disaster. Similar if less sharp rises and falls occurred with Camille (1969), Celia (1970), Mitch (1998), Lili (2002), Charley (2004), Ike (2008) and Sandy (2012).
Author Nathaniel Hawthorne
Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his July 4th column, he looks at the history of the name Nathaniel.
Nathaniel is the modern form of a Hebrew name meaning “gift of God.” Ten minor Old Testament characters bear the name, spelled “Nethanael”. In the New Testament’s Gospel of John, Nathanael is one of Jesus’s 12 disciples. In the other three gospels, one of the disciples is Bartholomew (“son of Talmai”). Since the ninth century, Christians have believed Bartholomew and Nathanael were the same person.
In medieval England, the disciple was almost always called St. Bartholomew, and men named Nathanael hardly existed. After the Protestant reformation, parents searching the Bible for new names took it up.
The connection with Nathan is reinforced by many Nathaniels born since 1990 using Nate as their nickname instead of Nat or Natty, common in earlier generations. Nathaniel Turner (1800-1831) led Nat Turner’s Rebellion in Southampton County, Virginia, the most famous slave insurrection before the Civil War. Lithographer Nathaniel Currier (1813-1888) founded famous printmakers Currier & Ives.
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.”