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.
Actor Lorraine Toussaint (Photo Source: Caitlin Watkins)
Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his January 31st column, he looks at the history of the name Lorraine.
Lorraine is a region in northeastern France. It’s the modern form of Lotharingia, a medieval kingdom named after its first ruler, Lothair II (835-869), a great-grandson of Charlemagne. France and England fought to control northern France for centuries. In the 1300s, prophecies claiming France would be saved by “a virgin from the borders of Lorraine” began to spread. Today in English, that virgin is called St. Joan of Arc (1412-31). Though in France, she’s most often “Jeanne d’Arc,” she’s sometimes called “Jeanne de Lorraine.”
A few American parents named daughters Lorraine, probably as a variation of Laura, in the early 19th century. The 1850 census found over 30, most in upstate New York. Publicity about the Franco-Prussian War helped the name rise. This accelerated after American novelist Robert W. Chambers published “Lorraine: A Romance” in 1897. There, Lorraine, daughter of the Marquis de Nesville, is saved by (and marries) American adventurer Jack Marche after her father is killed piloting a military balloon.
Though Lorraine stayed in the top 100 until 1949, it then swiftly receded except for a minor uptick in 1985, when Lea Thompson played Marty McFly’s mom, Lorraine, in “Back to the Future.”
Subway riders found a creative way to pay tribute to Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant with a makeshift sign at the Bryant Park subway station. The sign at the 42nd St-Bryant Park Station was plastered with the name “Kobe” over “42nd Street” in order to read: “Kobe Bryant Park.” The makeshift memorial was just one of many tributes around the country as fans gathered to mourn the star.
Bryant died in a California helicopter crash along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna. Also killed in the crash were girls’ basketball coach Christina Mauser, college baseball coach John Altobelli, his daughter Alyssa Altobelli and wife Keri Altobelli.
Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg attends a climate strike in Stockholm on Friday, Dec. 20.
Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his January 18th column, he looks at the American Name Society’s Name of the Year.
Do you know where Arrokoth is? At its meeting in New Orleans on Jan. 3 2020, the American Name Society voted Arrokoth 2019’s Name of the Year.
In November, NASA announced this as the name of “minor planet 486958.” Before the New Horizons probe flew over this far-away rock in the Kuiper Belt on Jan. 1, 2019, NASA received about 34,000 name suggestions. Their initial selection, Ultima Thule, was abandoned when it turned out that Ultima Thule was used by Nazi occultists as the mythical home of the “Aryan race.” Arrokoth means “sky” in Powhatan, an extinct Algonquian language formerly spoken in eastern Virginia.
ANS chose Names of the Year for place names, artistic-literary names, personal names, trade names, e-names and miscellaneous names before picking the overall Name of the Year.
“Greta Thunberg” won personal name of the year. Swedish teen Thunberg, who turned 17 on Jan. 3, leads a global youth movement addressing climate change. She was chosen as Time magazine’s Person of the Year for 2019, and her name has become a byword for youth climate activists. Their influence on politics is called the Greta Effect. A documentary film about the movement is titled “Make the World Greta Again.”
Dick Gautier as Conrad Birdie in the 1960 Broadway Musical BYE BYE BIRDIE
Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his January 3rd column, he looks at the history of the name Conrad.
Conrad is the modern form of an ancient Germanic name combining “kuoni” (brave) and “rad” (counsel.) The first famous Conrad was St. Conrad (900-975), bishop of Constance, a city on Germany’s border with Switzerland. He once drank a chalice of concentrated communion wine a spider dropped into. Because they thought that all spiders were poisonous, Conrad’s contemporaries saw this as proof of great bravery.
In 1880, when Social Security’s yearly baby name lists began, Conrad ranked 262nd. Though its use then drifted downward, this very German name surprisingly rebounded during World War I. Two men whose last name was Conrad may have helped. During the war, Austrian Field Marshal Franz Conrad, Baron von Hötzendorf (1852-1925), was considered a military genius despite many defeats. Perhaps more importantly, Polish-born British novelist Joseph Conrad (1857-1924), best known today for “Heart of Darkness” (1899), was then at the height of his fame.
Though hotel magnate Conrad Hilton (1879-1979) countered that image with one of wealth and power, the name fell to 836th in 2005.
Ellen DeGeneres and wife Portia de Rossi
Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his December 7th column, he looks at the history of the name Ellen.
Ellen is the English form of Helen, derived from a Greek word for what’s today called “St. Elmo’s Fire,” light appearing around ship’s masts during thunderstorms, caused by electrical discharge. St. Helen was the mother of Constantine, the first Roman emperor to accept Christianity. Ninth-century English priest Cynewulf wrote about Helen’s travels to Palestine to find the “true cross” in “Elene,” one of the earliest surviving Old English poems.
In the 18th century, educated parents reintroduced Helen. Though Helen quickly took over in Scotland, in England and America, Ellen had more staying power. The 1850 United States census found 121,770 Ellens and 19,849 Helens. Around 1875, Helen started its American boom. Between 1900 and 1919, it ranked second for newborn American girls.
Though Ellen fell to 290th in 1985, it inched up the next decade as similar sounding Ella rose. After 1995, Ellen plummeted. This may be partly due to DeGeneres becoming a “one-name celebrity” through sitcom “Ellen” (1994-98) and her talk show. Of course, the Ellens born around the name’s 1946 peak are now in their 70s, giving it a “grandma” vibe to modern young parents.
Jane Fonda was arrested for a fifth time at the now-weekly climate change protests at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.
Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his December 21st column, he looks at the history of the name Jane.
Jane is an English feminine form of John, a biblical name from the Hebrew “Yahweh is gracious.” In 1066, England’s Norman invaders brought two Old French feminine forms of John with them. Johanne became Joan, while Jehanne became Jane. In medieval times, Jane was rare, while Joan was the third-most common name in England. Around 1450, Jane started to rise, especially among the upper classes.
Throughout the 19th century, Jane appealed to the British more than to Americans. In 1911, the census of England and Wales included 780,514 Janes. The 1910 American census had 191,665, though then the United States had 92 million residents to England and Wales’ 36 million.
Jane’s lowest point came in 2006 at rank 477. Surprisingly, since then it’s risen, three decades before a 1940s name normally would. That may partly be linked to the increasing prominence of English novelist Jane Austen (1775-1817). In 2007, the films “Becoming Jane Austen” (starring Anne Hathaway as the author) and “The Jane Austen Book Club” both appeared.