Noah Cyrus (sister of Miley)
Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his June 4th column, he looks at the history of the name Noah.
The first Noah (Hebrew “Noach,” “rest, renewal”) is told by God to build an ark to save his family and many animals from a worldwide flood in the Bible’s Book of Genesis. In early England, Noah was pronounced “Noy”; Noyes and Noyce families had ancestors called Noah. Noah was familiar to medieval Christians through church mystery plays. It was rare as a given name, perhaps because Noah is a comic henpecked husband in these plays. Noy was usually a nickname for someone who’d portrayed the character.
Boys began to be regularly named Noah after the Reformation. It was more popular with Puritans in America than England. Britain’s 1851 census found 3,688 Noahs. The 1850 United States census had 11,313, when the two nations had about the same population.
In 1880, when Social Security’s yearly baby name lists started, Noah ranked 130th. Its long decline bottomed out at 698th in 1963. Noah then rose as a “different but not too different” alternative for other Old Testament fashions like Joshua, Nathan, and Aaron. Bob Seger’s 1969 hit song “Noah” helped.
Want to know more? Read on to find out more about Noahs in history!
Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his May 21st column, he looks at the United States’ top baby names for 2018.
Know anyone named Jackson or Sophia? Kindergarten teachers do. On May 10, the Social Security Administration released the United States’ top baby names of 2018. On SSA’s lists, Liam and Emma rank first. Emma’s been No. 1 since 2014. Liam became No. 1 in 2017, beating out Noah.
When Sofia and other spellings are added, 21,691 Sophias arrived in 2018. Sophia has been No. 1 since 2011. Last year, 10% more Sophias were born than Olivias, the No. 2 girls’ name. The rest of the girls’ top 10 are Emma, Isabella, Ava, Charlotte, Mia, Amelia, Riley and Evelyn. This is the same top 10 as last year, though Charlotte and Amelia moved up in the ranks.
Want to know more? Read on to find out more about the top US baby names for 2018!
Winifred Atwell, famous boogie woogie and ragtime piano player.
Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his May 7th column, he looks at the history of the name Winifred.
Winifred is the English version of Gwenfrewi, a Welsh name combining “gwen” (“white” or “holy”) with “frewi” (“reconciliation” or “peace”). The English form came from confusion with the Old English male name Winfred, from “win” (“friend” or “joy”) and “fred” (“peace”). The original Gwenfrewi lived around 650 in northern Wales. Though she was venerated as a saint by 750, nothing was written about her until around 1130, when Robert, prior of the Benedictine monastery at Shrewsbury, England, began promoting her.
Babies named Winifred began turning up all over England after 1400. Though never very common, Winifred never disappeared. The 1851 British census found 2,272 Winifreds in England and Wales. Winifred wasn’t as popular in America, partly because the Puritans avoided saints’ names. The 1850 United States census found 934 Winifreds. A quarter were born in Ireland — the Irish adopted Winifred as an English equivalent of Irish “Una” when their British rulers banned Gaelic names.
Since 2011, avant-garde parents looking for retro names have rediscovered Winifred. There were 21 Winifreds born in 2010 — 168 arrived in 2017. If it keeps increasing at that rate, Winifred will be back in the top thousand names in 2021.
Want to know more? Read on to find out more about Winifreds in history!
Shirley Temple wearing the Kennedy Center Honors, 1998
Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his April 23rd column, he looks at the history of the name Shirley.
Shirley, Old English for “bright woodland clearing,” is the name of several English villages. As a surname, it shows that one’s ancestor lived in one of them. Several aristocratic English families are called Shirley. In 1403, Sir Hugh Shirley was killed at the Battle of Shrewsbury, one of four knights deliberately dressed as King Henry IV to confuse the enemy.
When the custom of turning surnames into given names developed around 1700, boys named Shirley appeared in both Britain and America. Then in 1849, Charlotte Brontë published “Shirley,” her most famous novel after “Jane Eyre.” When wealthy heiress Shirley Keeldar first appears, it’s explained that “her parents, who had wished to have a son, finding that … Providence had granted them only a daughter, bestowed on her the same masculine family cognomen they would have bestowed on a boy.”
Shirley had a bit more staying power than many celebrity-inspired names, not leaving the top thousand until 2009. Two Shirleys named after Shirley Temple in 1934 — MacLaine and Jones — had huge film careers themselves.
Want to know more? Read on to find out more about Shirleys in history!
American actress Kristen Stewart
Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his April 9th column, he looks at the history of the name Kristen – and Kristin and Kirsten.
Kristen is a Scandinavian form of “Christian.” The original Swedish title of John Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress,” the famous allegory where Christian travels from Destruction to the Celestial City, was “Kristens Resa” (“Christian’s Journey”). The Latin feminine of Christian was Christiana. In Scandinavia, this became Kristina. Inge the Elder, first Christian king of Sweden, named his daughter Kristina around 1075. By 1100, Kristin was used as a short form.
In Scandinavia, Kristen is male and Kristin female. In Denmark, parents can’t legally give names that don’t clearly designate gender, and all Kristens are male. Of course, in Scandinavia, Kristin is said more like how Americans pronounce “Christine” than how we say “Kristen.”
Kristin was the more common spelling until 1973, when Kristen took over. Kristin was back on top, though, when both names hit their high points between 1979 and 1982, while Mary Crosby starred as conniving Kristin Shephard on “Dallas”. Kristin was the answer to “Who Shot J.R.?,” the biggest season-ending cliffhanger in TV history. In 1981, Kristin, Kristen, Kristyn, Kristan, Cristin, Christin and Christen together accounted for 20,161 newborns, with a combined rank of 10th.
Want to know more? Read on to find out more about Kristens in history!
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.