Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his September 27th column, he looks at the history of the name Blake.
lake’s an English surname. In Old English, blæc meant “black” while blac meant “pale.” Both became nicknames referring to hair color or complexion. By medieval times, the words were confused, so Blake families don’t know if their medieval ancestor was swarthy or fair. In Ireland, Blake was also an English form of Ó Bláthmhaic, derived from a personal name meaning “flower son.” There were 73,797 Americans with the surname Blake in 2010, ranking it 447th.
In the 19th century, parents began using surnames as given names. The 1850 United States Census found 266 men and boys called Blake. A few Southern girls were named Blake in the early 20th century. Then in 1988, daytime soap “Guiding Light” rapidly aged child character Christina Thorpe (born in 1975), reintroducing her as an adult going by her middle name, Blake. Blake Thorpe Marler (played 1989-92 by Sherry Stringfield and later by Elizabeth Kiefer) endured the birth of twins thought to have been fathered in a one-night fling who later turned out to be her husband’s after all. Enough “Guiding Light” fans named daughters Blake to just get the name into the top thousand between 1990 and 1997.
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Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his September 27th column, he looks at the history of the name Gwyneth.
Most experts believe Gwyneth is an alteration of Welsh place name Gwynedd. The kingdom of Gwynedd was created in northwestern Wales around 450. After the Romans abandoned Wales around 383, Irish raiders settled there. Gwynedd is thought to be a Welsh form of either Irish “fían” (warrior band) or “Féni” (Irish people).
Native Welsh speakers defeated the Irish to found the kingdom. Then, in the ninth century, Gwynedd’s King Rhodri the Great united most of Wales under his rule. The letters “th” represent two different sounds in English. Teeth/teethe and Ethan/heathen contrast the two sounds. In Welsh, the former is spelled “th” and the latter “dd.” The final syllable of “Gwynedd” sounds like the middle of “weather.” It was natural for British parents to respell Gwynedd with “th” when giving the name to a daughter, ending it with the same sound as the familiar Elizabeth and Edith.
The first Gwyneth in the United States census was Gwyneth Williams, born in Rockland County, New York, in 1856 to Welsh immigrants David and Mary. Her younger sister was the first American-born Gladys.
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Director/Writer Tyler Perry (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)
Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his September 13th column, he looks at the history of the name Tyler.
Tyler is an English surname indicating one’s medieval ancestor made or laid floor tiles. There were 66,056 people with the last name Tyler in 2010, making it the 509th most common surname in the United States. When the custom of turning surnames into first names began in the late 18th century, boys named Tyler appeared. In the 1840s, many were named after John Tyler (1790-1862), the 10th president.
Tyler had been elected vice president in 1841 under William Henry Harrison, the first President to die in office. Many thought Tyler should be “acting president,” but he insisted he was president, with all the powers of the office. Tyler remained a controversial figure after his term. He sided with the Confederacy in the Civil War, being elected to the Confederate Congress shortly before his death.
As a top name for men now in their 20s, Tyler is borne by scores of professional athletes — as well as Tyler Knott Gregson (born 1981), a poet famous through social media for posting daily haiku on Tumblr, Instagram and Twitter.
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Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his August 30th column, he looks at the history of the name Ezekiel. Ezekiel is the English form of Hebrew Yechezqel, “God will strengthen.” The original Ezekiel was a Jewish prophet exiled in Babylon who wrote the Biblical book…
Actor Bernadette Peters
Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his August 16th column, he looks at the history of the name Bernadette.
The most famous Bernadette is St. Bernadette Soubirous (1844-1879), a miller’s daughter whose 1858 visions of a woman calling herself “The Immaculate Conception” were declared valid by the Roman Catholic church in 1862. The grotto near Lourdes in southern France where the visions occurred is one of the world’s most popular pilgrimage sites. Bernadette’s parents named her after medieval French monk St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153). After she became a novice of the Sisters of Charity, Bernadette spent hours copying texts related to St. Bernard.
When Social Security’s yearly name lists started in 1880, eight Bernadettes were born, ranking it 634th. The name rose as Lourdes became known to devout Roman Catholics. Newborn Bernadettes almost doubled in 1934 after Pope Pius XI canonized St. Bernadette on Dec. 8, 1933. Hollywood had a bigger impact. “The Song of Bernadette,” starring Jennifer Jones as the saint, premiered on Dec. 21, 1943. Jones got a Best Actress Oscar for the role. In 1942, 373 Bernadettes were born, and 1,321 arrived in 1946, when it ranked 188th, its highest ever.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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