About Names: Despite its dubious roots, Myrna’s popularity grew thanks to star power

Actor Myrna Loy

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his August 2nd column, he looks at the history of the name Myrna.

There’s no place named Myrna in the United States. Williams was probably passing through Merna, Nebraska, when he saw the sign. Merna was founded as “Muddy Flats” in 1876 by Samuel Dunning, its first postmaster. In 1883, he moved 30 miles northwest to found Dunning, Nebraska. His friend William Brotherton, taking over the postmaster job, renamed Muddy Flats “Merna” after Dunning’s 7-year-old daughter.

David Williams may have deliberately altered the spelling to “Myrna,” or simply misremembered it. Both Myrna and Merna are thought to be Americanized respellings of Irish Gaelic Muirne, “festive.” In Irish legend, Muirne was the daughter of a Druid and mother of the great Irish hero Finn Mac Cool. The father of the earliest born Myrna in the United States census, Thomas Fox of Saunders County, Nebraska, was born in Ireland. Myrna Fox (1865-1929) is called “Murnie” on her 1882 marriage license to Perry Hadsall, and on her Idaho tombstone, reinforcing the idea that Myrna is a form of Muirne. Still, it’s a bit mysterious why over 2,000 American families, most in the Midwest without Irish ancestry, named daughters Myrna or Merna by 1910.

Want to know more? Read on to find out more about Myrnas in history!

About Names: Bertram never caught on in U.S. but rings loud in Shakespeare lore

Bertram “Bertie” Wilberforce Wooster (played by Hugh Laurie)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his July 2nd column, he looks at the history of the name Bertram.

The name Bertram is derived from ancient Germanic beraht-hramn, or “bright raven.” In Germanic myth, ravens were sacred to the god Odin. The first famous Bertram was St. Bertram of Ilam, a hermit living near Stafford, England, in the early eighth century. Later legends claim he was a Prince of Mercia who fell in love with an Irish princess, becoming a hermit after she and their infant son were devoured by a pack of wolves.

Bertram was regularly used in medieval England. Surnames Bartram and Buttrum derive from it. Bertram became rare after 1400, retaining some use in Northumberland, England’s northernmost county. The Victorian era love for medieval names revived Bertram. It was much more common in Britain. By 1910, there were 6,401 Bertrams in the U.S., while England’s 1911 census found 21,819. England’s population at that point was 36 million; the U.S. had more than 92 million people.

In 1880, when Social Security’s yearly baby name data starts, Bertram ranked 405th in the U.S. At its 1923 high point, it had risen slightly higher, to 394th. Bertram fell from the top 1,000 names in 1971.

Want to know more? Read on to find out more about Bertrams in history!

About Names: Despite ties to traitor, Benedict has enjoyed a long, blessed history

Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his July 19th column, he looks at the history of the name Benedict.

Benedict is from Late Latin Benedictus, “blessed,” used as a name by early Christians. It became famous through St. Benedict of Nursia (480-550). As a young man, Benedict became a pious hermit near Subiaco, Italy. He attracted followers, becoming so admired that a jealous priest tried to kill him. A raven snatched poisoned bread out of his hands.

Sixteen Popes have been named Benedict, the first reigning from 575-579. The name became popular in medieval England, though in everyday use it was usually pronounced “Bennett.” That’s why Bennett is a common surname, ranking 86th in the 2010 United States census.

Benedict Arnold (1741-1801), the American revolutionary general who plotted to turn West Point over to the British, made “a Benedict Arnold” a synonym for “traitor” to Americans. It might then seem surprising that Benedict was actually 10 times more common in America during the 19th century. Only 94 Benedicts are listed in Britain’s 1851 census, while 1,068 are found in the 1850 United States census, when the total populations were equal.

Want to know more? Read on to find out more about Benedicts in history!

About Names: ‘Days of Our Lives,’ ‘Twilight’ helped Isabella regain its crown

Isabella Rossellini at Cannes in 2015

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his June 18th column, he looks at the history of the name Isabella.

Occitan is a Romance language spoken in southern France. In medieval times, Elisabel appeared there as a variation of the biblical name Elizabeth. Though linguists explain that “th” or “t” don’t normally end Occitan words, that “bèl” means “beautiful” in Occitan surely helped. Elisabel shortened to Isabel, which quickly became the normal form of Elizabeth in Spanish and Portuguese. Isabel spread to northern France, and was introduced into England by the Normans.

Isabel was hugely popular in medieval England because of three queen consorts. Isabella of Angoulême (1186-1246) was wife of King John and mother of Henry III. Isabella of France (1295-1358) was Edward II’s wife and regent for her son Edward III. Isabella of Valois (1389-1409) was the child bride of Richard II.

The hit book series about high school student Isabella “Bella” Swan and sparkly vampire Edward appeared in 2005. Author Stephenie Meyer, who has only sons, gave her character the name she was saving for a future daughter. The first “Twilight” film, starring Kristen Stewart as Bella, premiered November 2008. In 2009, over 25,000 Isabellas were born, ranking the name No. 1.

Want to know more? Read on to find out more about Isabellas in history!

About Names: Noah enjoys revival thanks to flood of pop culture references

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!

About Names: Cleveland Evans: Jackson, Sophia were most popular baby names in 2018

Sophia Loren

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!

About Names: Winifred, rooted in a resurrection story, has often come back to life

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!

About Names: Shirley’s star has fallen since Temple’s heyday

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!

About Names: Kristen (or Kristin or Kirsten) has been through many changes

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!

About Names: Leonard prospered even before Nimoy on “Star Trek”

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.

Live long and prosper!

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!