About Names: “Cleveland Evans: Why Edgar was once the king of baby names”

Edgar Allan Poe (Photo: Public Domain)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his January 1st column, he looks at the name Edgar.

Perhaps Jan. 1 should be Founders Day at the FBI.

J. Edgar Hoover, appointed director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation at its creation in 1935, was born on New Year’s Day 1895. He remained director until his death on May 2, 1972. During his lifetime, Hoover was lauded as a crime fighter who promoted forensic laboratories. Since his death, his reputation has fallen as his use of abusive means to maintain influence have been revealed. However, he remains one of the 20th century’s most famous law enforcement leaders.

The first famous Edgar (943-975) became king of England at age 16. Though at first a frivolous womanizer, Edgar later promoted justice and religion. There was so little violence during his reign, he’s called Edgar the Peaceful. He was venerated as St. Edgar soon after his death.

Despite that, his name almost disappeared after the Norman Conquest in 1066. Shakespeare surely chose Edgar for the Duke of Gloucester’s honest son in “King Lear” (1606) because it was fit for a character from Britain’s legendary past.

Famous author Edgar Allan Poe’s parents were actors who’d performed in “King Lear” shortly before his 1809 birth. They may have also read “Edgar Huntly” (1799), a Gothic tale of sleepwalking and murder by American Charles Brockden Brown, making Edgar apt for the writer of macabre tales like “The Pit and the Pendulum.”

The hero of Sir Walter Scott’s tragic “The Bride of Lammermoor” (1819) is Edgar Ravenswood. Poe’s fame along with Scott’s and Brown’s characters made Edgar more popular in the United States than England. The 1850 U.S. census found 7,730 Edgars, while Britain’s 1851 census included only 2,273, though total populations were about equal.

In 1880, when Social Security’s yearly baby name lists start, Edgar ranked 61st. It slowly receded along with other Victorian favorites, leaving the top 100 in 1926 and bottoming out at 310th in 1965.

“Spoon River Anthology” poet Edgar Lee Masters (1868-1950) and psychic Edgar Cayce (1877-1945) are famous Edgars born during its Victorian heyday.

About Names: “Cleveland Evans: Dude, call him Jeff, Jeffrey or Jefferson, if you’re not into the whole brevity thing”

Julianne Moore and Jeff Bridges at Lebowskifest 2011 (Photo by Joe Poletta, CC-BY-2.0)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his December 4th column, he looks at the name Jeff.

Happy birthday to Lightfoot, Starman, Rooster Cogburn and Otis “Bad” Blake!

Actor Jeff Bridges was born Jeffrey Leon Bridges on Dec. 4, 1949. Nominated for Best Actor for “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot” (1974), “Starman” (1984), and “True Grit” (2010), he won playing alcoholic country singer Blake in “Crazy Heart” (2009). He’s had three Best Supporting nods, including “The Last Picture Show” (1971) and “Hell or High Water” (2016), making him among the youngest and oldest actors nominated.

Jeffrey’s a respelling of Geoffrey, a medieval French name that merged three ancient Germanic ones. The final syllable is from “frid” (“peace”). The first could be “gawia” (“territory”), “walha” (“foreign”) or “gisil” (“hostage”).

Geoffrey was common among the Plantagenets, Counts of Anjou in northern France. The fifth Count Geoffrey (1113-1151) married Matilda, daughter of Henry I of England. Henry proclaimed her his heir, but when he died in 1135 the English weren’t ready for a reigning queen. A civil war ended by making her cousin Stephen king, and her son Henry his heir.

Though Count Geoffrey died before his son became King Henry II, the Plantagenets popularized his name in England. In 1379, Geoffrey ranked 12th for English men, leading to surnames like Geffen, Jeffries and Jefferson.

After 1500, Geoffrey became rare. The 1851 British census found only 1,041 men named Jeffery, Jeffrey or Geoffrey. The 1850 United States census, when the countries had about the same population, had only 475.

That doesn’t mean Jeff was an uncommon nickname in the United States. Veneration of third President Thomas Jefferson made Jefferson a popular first name. Confederate President Jefferson Davis (1808-1889) reinforced that in the South. The 1870 census found 21,630 men with Jefferson as a first name and 8,076 Jeffs, compared to 1,083 Jeffreys.

In 1930, there were 12,431 Jeffersons, 20,904 Jeffs, and 2,719 Jeffreys. By then Geoffrey was booming for babies in England. In the 1930s Hollywood began promoting Jeffrey to Americans.

About Names: “Cleveland Evans: Amber still a somewhat rare jewel among first names”

Amber Ruffin, star of “The Amber Ruffin Show” on Peacock (Public Domain)

Amber Ruffin, star of “The Amber Ruffin Show” on Peacock (Public Domain)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his November 20th column, he looks at the name Amber.

Amber and Lacey hit bookstores again on Tuesday.

Last year, Omaha-raised comedian Amber Ruffin and sister Lacey Lamar’s “You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey”, a humorous look at the serious subject of racism, was a bestseller. November 22 their sequel, “The World Record Book of Racist Stories”, goes on sale.

Amber is a fossilized tree resin, usually brownish-yellow, used as a gemstone since the Stone Age. The word comes from Arabic “’anbar”, originally meaning “ambergris”, a substance secreted by sperm whales used in perfumes. Both ambergris and amber are commonly found along the shores of the Baltic Sea.

In the early 19th century parents, inspired by flower names like Lily and Violet, started naming daughters after gems like Ruby, Pearl and Opal.

Unlike flower names, at first gem names like Pearl, Garnet and Beryl were also given to boys. In the 1850 census, there were 29 male and 16 female Ambers. Some male Ambers were probably inspired by the rare surname Amber, itself perhaps a form of Ambler (“enameller”).

The oldest two women Ambers in 1850 were free Black women. Amber Whorton, age 90, lived with husband, Wellcome, also 90, in Cherokee County, Alabama. New Jersey-born Amber Harris, 57, lived with 25-year-old waiter Charles Harris in New York City.

As neither of these women appear in the 1860 census, it’s possible their names are mistakes. The oldest example in multiple censuses, Amber Read of Swanzey, New Hampshire, was born in 1821.

Though by 1880, Amber became primarily female, it stayed rare and vanished from the top 1,000 in 1917. It was revived by Kathleen Winsor’s 1944 novel “Forever Amber”.

About Names: “Cleveland Evans: Now uncommon, Sally was found on stage, screen and sky”

Sally Ride, the first American woman in space (Image: Public Domain)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his November 6th column, he looks at the name Sally.

Happy birthday to Sister Bertrille, Nora Walker, and Sybil’s 16 personalities!

Actress Sally Field turns 76 today. First starring in sitcom “Gidget” (1965-66), Field played Bertrille in “The Flying Nun” (1967-70), where her huge headpiece combined with her small size let her catch the wind and fly.

Field overcame silly sitcom typecasting in 1976, winning an Emmy for “Sybil,” a TV movie about a young woman with multiple personalities. She went on to win Best Actress Oscars in “Norma Rae” (1979) and “Places in the Heart” (1984), and a Best Actress Emmy in 2007 as matriarch Nora in “Brothers and Sisters” (2006-2011).

Sally is an English pet form of Sarah, name of the biblical matriarch, from Hebrew “princess.” One of the few purely Old Testament names used in medieval England, Sarah boomed after the Reformation to rank fourth between 1660 and 1700.

Internal “r” is hard for small children to say, and so Sally developed from Sarah just as Hallie, Lolly and Dolly come from Harriet, Laura and Dorothy.

In the late 18th century, Sally became a name in its own right, as well as a nickname for Sarah. In the 1850 United States census, there were 56,800 Sallys and 2,066 Sallies.

The preferred spelling then shifted. In 1870, 42,399 Sallys and 70,587 Sallies were found. When Social Security’s baby name lists start in 1880, Sallie ranked 64th and Sally 166th. Only in 1911, did Sally again became more common.

About Names: “Cleveland Evans: Once a rare name, Heather’s popularity peaked in the ’70s and ’80s”

Heather Gell (1896-1988) was an Australian kindergarten teacher and a radio broadcaster, television presenter and theatre producer (Photo of Heather in 1941, Public Domain)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his September 25th column, he looks at the name Heather.

Happy Birthday to Sammy Jo and Amanda!

Heather Locklear, the actress who played golddigger Sammy on the original “Dynasty” (1981-1989) and manipulative Amanda Woodward on “Melrose Place” (1993-1999), turns 61 today.

In addition, the movie version of musical “Heathers,” based on the 1988 cult teen comedy film featuring three “queen bee” high schoolers all named Heather, premiered on Roku Sept. 16.

Heather is a low-growing evergreen shrub found throughout Europe. It’s especially common in northern England and Scotland, where its purple flowers cover the moors every summer. The plant’s name was originally “hathir.” This probably had a Celtic source, but its spelling was altered through confusion with “heath,” from Old English for “flat shrubby wasteland.”

Many cultures have named girls after flowers. Rose and Violet were used in medieval England, though Rose also came from a Norman name meaning “famous sort.” When the Victorians revived Rose and Violet along with other medieval names, creative parents were inspired to use other plant names. Girls called Lily, Pansy, Hazel, Fern, Daisy and Laurel soon sprang up.

The first British girls named Heather appeared by 1880. Though the flower was common in Scotland, the name was more common in England, probably because Scots didn’t have the same romantic image of heather English and Americans did.

Initially, Heather was one of the rarest flower names. The first Heather in the United States census, Heather Bremer of Dayton, Ohio, was a boy born in 1871. His parents were probably inspired by the rare surname Heather. In later records he’s “Robert Heather Bremer.”

About Names: “Cleveland Evans: Agatha’s popularity is a mystery”

Agatha Christie in 1910 (Public Domain)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his September 11th column, he looks at the name Agatha.

Forty-six years after her death, Agatha still inspires books.

British author Agatha Christie (1890-1976) is the best-selling novelist of all time. Her 72 novels and 14 short-story collections have sold over two billion copies. “Agatha Christie: An Elusive Woman,” a biography by historian Lucy Worsley, was released Sept. 8. Next week “Marple: Twelve New Mysteries,” where contemporary writers including Leigh Bardugo, Lucy Foley and Ruth Ware present stories about Christie’s sleuth Miss Marple, goes on sale.

Agatha’s the Latin form of Greek Agathe, from “agathos” (“good”). The original St. Agatha was a Christian martyred in Catania, Sicily, in the third century. A later legend claimed virgin Agatha was imprisoned in a brothel after refusing a Roman official’s advances. There her breasts were cut off, making her patron saint of breast cancer patients.The first Agatha in England was wife of Edward the Exile (1016-1057). When Danish conqueror Cnut defeated King Edmund Ironside in 1016, Edmund’s infant son Edward was banished, first to Sweden and later to Ukraine. He helped another exile, Andrew of Hungary, regain his throne in 1046.

Edward married Agatha in Hungary. Her origin’s unclear. She might have been a German, Hungarian, Ukrainian, Polish or Bulgarian princess. When Edward was recalled in 1056 by King Edward the Confessor, Agatha brought her name to England.

Agatha’s husband died in 1057, leading to 1066’s Norman conquest. Agatha’s granddaughter Matilda married King Henry I in 1100, joining Norman and Anglo-Saxon royal lines.

Though her medieval namesakes were “Agatha” in official records, in everyday English they were called Agace. Agace disappeared in the 1500s. When the Victorian love of medieval names revived Agatha, the Latin form came into use.

Want to learn more? Read on to learn more about the name Agatha!

About Names: “Cleveland Evans: As a name, Sylvester has had a ‘Rocky’ run”

Pope Sylvester I, who lived from 285 – 335 CE (Public Domain)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his August 28th column, he looks at the name Sylvester.

Sylvester’s once again a hero on movie screens.

Sylvester Stallone, who turned 76 in July, became famous writing and starring in 1976’s hit “Rocky”, about a heroic heavyweight boxer. Today, he’s the title character in “Samaritan,” released Aug. 26. There, young Sam (Javon Walton) discovers superhero Samaritan, who disappeared 25 years ago, is secretly living as “Joe Smith.”

Sylvester’s a Latin name meaning “of the forest.” St. Sylvester I (285-335) was Pope from 314 through 335. During his reign, Constantine became Rome’s first Christian emperor.

Not much is known about St. Sylvester. However, about two centuries after his death, the legend developed that Sylvester cured Constantine of leprosy. The grateful emperor then was baptized and gave the Pope temporal power over Rome and the Western empire.

Modern historians know Constantine was baptized on his deathbed in 337, two years after Sylvester died. The legend was used to promote Papal authority.

In 999, French bishop Gerbert, a mathematician who popularized the abacus, became Pope Sylvester II. His fame, along with St. Sylvester legend’s, spread the name throughout Europe. Though never common in medieval England, it was used enough to spawn surnames Silvester, Sylvester and Siveter.

About Names: “Cleveland Evans: Kyle raced up the charts of boy names”

A football card dated to 1952 featuring Kyle Rote (Public Domain)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his July 31st column, he looks at the name Kyle.

Kyle’s racing into his fourth decade.

Kyle Larson, 2021’s NASCAR Cup Series champion, won the ESPY for Best Driver on July 20. He turns 30 today.

Kyle is a Scottish surname that can come from places named from Gaelic “caol” (narrows, strait.) It’s also from the district of Kyle (Gaelic “Cuil”) on Scotland’s southwest coast, possibly named for legendary British king Coel Hen, where Coel means “belief, trust.”

Kyle was a prominent surname among Scots who settled Northern Ireland during the 1600s. In the 1700s, Kyle families were among Scots-Irish immigrants to America. In 1850, 2,200 Americans had the surname Kyle. In Scotland and England together there were only 950 in 1851.

When the custom of turning surnames into given names began, Kyle was among them. An early example is “Kyle Stuart” (1834), a long poem by Robert Mack. There Kyle buries his father on a Virginia mountaintop and later sails to Scotland to claim his inheritance. Though published in Tennessee, “Kyle Stuart” condemns slavery, and claims studying law develops morality while practicing law ruins it.

About Names: “From religious beginnings to spy thrillers, Gabriel still a ‘mighty’ name”

A mosaic of the Archangel Gabriel from the Gelati Monastery, Kutaisi, Georgia (Public Domain)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his July 17th column, he looks at the name Gabriel.

Gabriel’s back in action Tuesday.

“Portrait of an Unknown Woman,” Daniel Silva’s 22nd novel about art restorer and Israeli intelligence operative Gabriel Allon, will be released Tuesday. Since “The Kill Artist” (2000), Silva’s spy thrillers about Allon have been bestsellers. “Portrait” finds Gabriel retired from Israeli service and investigating a multibillion dollar art forgery.

Gabriel is from Hebrew Gavri’el, “God is my strong man.” Gabriel is the archangel who interprets Daniel’s visions in the Old Testament and announces Jesus’ birth to Mary in the New Testament. Traditionally, Gabriel’s expected to be the angel blowing a horn to signal the Last Judgment, though that angel isn’t named in the Bible. Muslims believe Gabriel dictated the Quran to Muhammad.

Silva named his spy Gabriel because of its meaning. In “Prince of Fire” (2005) Allon’s mentor tells him “Your mother named you Gabriel for a reason. Michael is the highest [angel], but you, Gabriel, are the mightiest … You’re the angel of judgment — the Prince of Fire.”

Despite that, Gabriel was less popular with medieval Christians than Michael. In England, 686 churches were dedicated to Michael, but only six to Gabriel.

Gabriel became regularly used in the 17th century, ranking in the lower half of the top 50 names between 1610 and 1689. However, Puritan parents avoided it, believing it was sacrilegious to name children after angels. Instead, Gabriel was taken up by Anglican gentry and others opposed to Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell’s radical Protestant regime (1653-1658).

In the American colonies, German Lutherans and French Huguenots also used Gabriel. Architect Gabriel Manigault (1758-1809) was a son of Peter Manigault of South Carolina, a Huguenot descendant thought to be the wealthiest American at his death in 1773.

About Names: “‘Admired’ Miranda popularity flows with the tides”

Photo of Carmen Miranda from a 1941 issue of New York Sunday News (Public Domain)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his July 3rd column, he looks at the name Miranda.

Miranda plays on the “Green” five more times this summer.

Omaha’s Shakespeare on the Green festival started June 23. Its two 2022 plays are “Othello” and “The Tempest,” with performances of the latter scheduled July 8, 10, 13, 14 and 16.

Miranda, the only female character in “The Tempest,” is the teenaged daughter of Prospero, a sorcerer who was Duke of Milan before his brother, Antonio, usurped the throne. When a ship carrying Antonio along with Alonso King of Naples and Alonso’s son, Ferdinand, sails by the island where Prospero is exiled, he conjures up a tempest, forcing them to land. Miranda and Ferdinand then fall in love.

Shakespeare created the name Miranda from Latin “mirandus,” meaning “admirable, wonderful.” When Ferdinand asks for Miranda’s name “that I might set it in my prayers,” his response to “Miranda” is “Admired Miranda! Indeed the top of admiration! Worth what’s dearest to the world!”

Coincidentally, Miranda’s a common Spanish and Portuguese surname, derived from places whose names meant “lovely” or “watchtower.”

In the 1700s, Shakespeare fans began naming daughters Miranda. By 1800, alternative spellings Maranda and Meranda appeared.

The name became much more popular in America than Britain, probably because it sounded like Amanda, another American favorite. In the 1850 United States census, there were 6,432 Mirandas, Marandas and Merandas. The 1851 British census found only 265, though total populations were similar.