About Names: Dr. Evans on the name “Russell”

Bertrand Russell (Photo by Bassano 1936, Public Domain)

Bertrand Russell (Photo by Bassano 1936, Public Domain)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his April 7th column, he discusses the name “Russell”.

Maximus, John Nash, Jor-El and Noah all turn 60 today.

Actor Russell Crowe, born in New Zealand April 7, 1964, won an Oscar playing Maximus in “Gladiator” (2000). He was Nash in “A Beautiful Mind” (2001), Superman’s dad in “Man of Steel” (2013) and the ark-builder in “Noah” (2014).

Russell’s an English surname derived from Norman French Rousel, a nickname for a redhead. There were 221,558 Americans with Russell as a last name in 2010, ranking it 104th.

When using surnames as first names became common after 1700, Russell was one of the first to turn up. It was the surname of two noble families in England. John Russell (1795-1883), a fox-hunting vicar who first bred Jack Russell terriers, descended from the less prominent Devonshire Russells.

More famous was John Russell of Dorset (1485-1555), who King Edward VII made Earl of Bedford in 1551. But it was his three-greats-grandson, Lord William Russell (1639-1683), who was most responsible for turning Russell into a common given name.

Lord William, younger son of the fifth Earl of Bedford, was accused of participating in the “Rye House Plot” to kill King Charles II and his brother James. Though Russell wanted Catholic James barred from inheriting the throne, he denied planning to kill the king. After Russell was beheaded, he became a martyr to the Whigs in Parliament, who believed his trial was unjust.

In the next century, America’s revolutionaries used Russell as an example of the tyranny of British kings. Both John and Samuel Adams called him a martyr for liberty. American patriots named sons Russell in his honor.

An image of character Mona and her dog Russell on the popular Canadian Children’s Show “nanalan'” (Photo fair use)

Britain’s 1851 census found 449 men with Russell as a first name. In the 1850 United States census, when the two countries had about the same population, there were 3,519.

In 1880, when Social Security’s baby name lists start, Russell ranked 197th. It boomed over the next three decades, peaking at 49th in 1914 when 0.376% of boys received it.

Russell plateaued at around 65th until it suddenly jumped to 52nd in 1956, when 0.345% of newborns were Russells. This may be partly because of the career of basketball great Bill Russell (1934-2022). Probably more important was television sitcom “Make Room For Daddy” (1953-1964, later retitled “The Danny Thomas Show”), where Russell “Rusty” Hamer (1947-1990) played Danny Thomas’ young son Rusty. Famous cute kids often popularize baby names.

About Names: Shakespeare invented the name “Jessica”

Astronaut Jessica Meir in her EMU suit (Photo by Josh Valcarcel, Public Domain)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his March 24th column, he discusses the name “Jessica”.

Happy birthday to two Tammys who are both Jessica.

Jessica Chastain, who won 2021’s Best Actress Oscar as evangelist Tammy Faye Bakker in “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” and a Screen Actors Guild award as country singer Tammy Wynette in Showtime’s 2022 “George & Tammy,” turns 47 today.

The name Jessica was invented around 1597 by William Shakespeare for “The Merchant of Venice.” Jessica, Jewish moneylender Shylock’s daughter, feels unloved by her inflexible father and elopes with Christian lover Lorenzo.

It’s been speculated Shakespeare modified “Jesca,” (Hebrew “he looks”), name of Abraham’s niece, mentioned once in Genesis. “Jesca” in early translations, since the 1611 King James version it’s ”Iscah” in English Bibles. Others think Jessica’s simply a feminine for Jesse (possibly “God exists”), David’s father.

Shakespearean name expert Grant Smith thinks Jessica’s from “jess,” the leather strip binding hunting falcons to one’s arm. Other Shakespearean heroines, including Desdemona in “Othello”, are compared to falcons, and Jessica breaks bonds with her father.

In the late 18th century, real girls began being named after Shakespeare’s Jessica. The oldest of 88 Jessicas in Britain’s 1841 first census, Jessica Hoppens of Somerset, was born in 1781.

Surprisingly, given the first Jessica’s conversion, the earliest American Jessicas were Jewish. Malcolm Stern’s “First American Jewish Families” includes Jessica (Jochebed) Simson (1810-1886), wife of New York rabbi Ansel Leo — an example of Jews using a Hebrew name in synagogue (Jochebed was Moses’ mother) and an “English” one elsewhere.

Mrs. Leo was “Jessie” in the 1850 census. The oldest of 16 Jessicas, Jessica Lyons (1822-1894) married Alfred Jones, first president of Philadelphia’s Jewish Hospital Association. His sister, Jessica Jones (1824-1902), married George Davis, founder of a San Francisco department store.

In 1880 when Social Security’s lists start, Jessica ranked 705th. It started rising in 1942, when model Jessica Patton Barkentin (1920-2003) began appearing on magazine covers.

Jessica jumped in 1946 when fan magazines featured actress Deanna Durbin with new daughter Jessica — an early example of celebrity babies inspiring fashion. It then plateaued until 1962, when Angie Dickinson played an American nurse stranded in Sicily in romantic comedy “Jessica,” and author Jessica Mitford published bestseller “The American Way of Death” (1963).

Jessica kept rising as a “different but not too different” alternative for Jennifer. Actress Jessica Walter (1941-2021) helped by starring in “Play Misty For Me” (1971).

Jessica had been in the top 10 for eight years when Jessica Lange (born 1949) won an Oscar for “Tootsie” in 1983. Angela Lansbury starred as sleuth Jessica Fletcher on “Murder She Wrote” from 1984 to 1996.

About Names: the story behind the name “Jasmine” in Disney’s Aladdin and beyond

Cosplayers portraying Jasmine and Aladdin at a convention in 2014 (Photo by: RyC Behind the Lens, CC-BY-2.0)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his March 10th column, he discusses the name “Jasmine”.

Remember Whitley Gilbert, spoiled “Southern belle” college student on sitcom “A Different World” (1987-1993)?

Jasmine Guy, who became famous playing Whitley, turns 62 today. She recently won an Emmy as Barbara Baldwin on streaming series “Chronicles of Jessica Wu.”

Jasmine’s the name of a genus of over 200 shrubs and vines cultivated for the beauty and aroma of their flowers. At least 13 other garden plants not in the genus are also called “jasmine” in everyday English.

The word, originally Persian “yasmin,” traveled through Arabic and French to England along with the plants around 1500. It was first “jessamine” in English, with modern “jasmine” not found until about 1575.

Though girls have been named Yasmin in the Middle East for centuries, it wasn’t until the Victorian craze for names like Daisy and Hazel that British and American parents named babies after jasmine.

The earliest examples are forms of Jessamine, probably because it resembled then-popular Jessie. Jessamine’s never been common, though variations are borne by two famous American novelists: Jessamyn West (1902-1984), whose “The Friendly Persuasion” was a 1945 bestseller; and Jesmyn Ward (born 1977), winner of the National Book Award for “Salvage the Bones” (2011) and “Sing, Unburied, Sing” (2017).

In an amazing coincidence, considering Guy’s character, the first girl named Jasmine in the United States census was Mississippi-born Jasmine Whitley (1872-1952), who married Philip MacMahon and spent most of her life in Laredo, Texas.

Missouri-born Jasmine Stone Van Dresser (1878-1948) was the first prominent Jasmine. “Jessie” in the 1880 census, after 1900 she’s always “Jasmine.” Moving to New York to attempt a stage career, she married fellow actor William Van Dresser in 1902. Though during World War I they performed plays Jasmine wrote for soldiers at military bases, she made her living writing children’s books, which William illustrated. These included “How to Find Happyland” (1907) and “Jimsey” (1925), about an interracial friendship between two girls.

The name stayed rare until 1973, when it first entered the top thousand. Name observer Abby Sandel has suggested Seals and Crofts’ 1972 hit “Summer Breeze,” with its line “blowin’ through the jasmine in my mind,” was responsible, though more importantly, Jasmine was a “different but not too different” shift from Jessica, Amanda and Kristin.

Though Jasmine had risen to 95th in 1985, Guy’s “A Different World” fame skyrocketed it. In 1991 it had almost quadrupled to rank 24th. Disney’s Princess Jasmine in “Aladdin” gave it a final push to peak at 23rd in 1993.

Jasmine’s attracted many respellings. If all those named Jasmin, Jazmin, Jazmine, Jazmyn, Jasmyn, Jasmyne, Jazzmin, etc. were added in, it would’ve ranked ninth in 1993.

About Names: Dr. Evans on the name “Sean”

“The actor Sean Astin giving a talk at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign” (Photo by Daniel Schwen, CC-BY-3.0)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his January 28th column, he discusses the name “Sean”.

Happy birthday to Samwise Gamgee!

Actor Sean Astin, famed as Frodo’s heroic helper Sam in “The Lord of the Rings” films (2001-03) turns 53 today. His second most famous role is probably the title character in “Rudy” (1993), who achieves his dream to play Notre Dame football in the last game his senior year.

Seán’s an Irish form of John, from Hebrew “Yahweh is gracious.” When Christianity came to Ireland, John was translated “Eoin”, the form used in Gaelic language Bibles. Seán developed from French “Jean” after Normans settled in Ireland in the 12th century.

When Ireland’s English rulers suppressed Gaelic names, Seáns officially became “John.” Irish immigrants automatically translated Seán to John when speaking English, so it doesn’t reliably occur in United States censuses before 1900. One early example, Shawn MacMenamin, Irish born in 1904, lived with immigrant parents Brian and Alice in New York in 1910. He’s Shaun in 1920, but “John” when naturalized an American citizen in 1927.

Seán returned to official use in Ireland after 1900 among Irish nationalists. Two of Ireland’s greatest authors, playwright Sean O’Casey (1880-1964) and short story writer Seán Ó Faolaín (1900-1991), born John Casey and John Whelan, changed their names to support Ireland’s independence.

Highly educated artistic parents are first to revive names. The earliest census Sean with American parents was Sean Murphy (1924-2017), born in London to artists John J. A. and Cecil Murphy. Many museums feature John’s woodcuts. Sean became a Montreal ophthalmologist.

The first American-born Sean, Sean Burke (1926-2017), was born to physician J. Robert and wife Helen in Holyoke, Massachusetts. Sean, whose grandparents were all Irish-born, became a St. Petersburg, Florida, M.D.

Other Irish-Americans proud of their heritage followed the Murphys and Burkes. Sean entered the top thousand in 1943. Phonetic spellings Shawn and Shaun arrived in 1947 and 1950.

About Names: Dr. Evans on the name “Elijah”

Elijah Wood standing outside of a fan-built replica of the Hobbit Hole from the film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings (Photo: public domain)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his January 28th column, he discusses the name “Elijah”.

Frodo’s 43 today.

Actor Elijah Wood, famous for playing hero hobbit Frodo Baggins in the “Lord of the Rings” films, was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Jan. 28, 1981.

Elijah’s the modern English version of Hebrew ‘Eliyyahu, “my God is Yahweh.” The Bible’s Elijah was one of ancient Israel’s greatest prophets, preaching against wicked King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. Carried to heaven in a fiery chariot, in the New Testament he and Moses appear to Jesus in the Transfiguration.

Because of that, Elijah was the Hebrew prophet most revered by early Christians. St. Elias of Jerusalem, a fifth century patriarch, bore the Latin form of his name.

In medieval England, boys were named Ellis after the prophet and the patriarch. Families with surnames Ellis, Ellison, or Elkins descend from them.

The form Elijah didn’t occur until English Bible translations appeared during the Reformation. It was primarily used by Puritans in England. In Britain’s 1841 census, there were 4,444 Elijahs in England and only 17 in Scotland.

Elijah was even more popular with Puritans in New England. In 1851, there were 5,993 Elijahs in all of Britain, while in 1850, 22,937 lived in the United States, though total populations were similar. Puritan Massachusetts was the birthplace of 4,651 of 1850’s American Elijahs, while only 1,069 were born in Scots Irish and Quaker Pennsylvania, though Pennsylvania had more than double Massachusetts’ population.

About Names: Dr. Evans on the name “Tristan”

Tristan et Iseult, by Louis Bouquet (1921, Photo: Public Domain)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his December 31st column, he discusses the name “Tristan”.

Tristan’s off to war, but “Creatures” goes on.

In the Dec. 24 Christmas episode of “All Creatures Great and Small” on PBS, young veterinarian Tristan joined Britain’s World War II military. On Jan. 7 the new season starts, with brother Siegfried and colleague James overworked due to Tristan’s absence.

Tristan’s a name from medieval legend. Since the 12th century the story of how Tristan, nephew of King Mark of Cornwall, tragically falls in love with Iseult (or Isolde), Mark’s bride, has been retold by multiple authors.

Experts think Tristan was originally Drustan, from Celtic “tumult,” blended with French “triste” meaning “sad.”

Since the 13th century Tristram’s been an alternate form. After 1770 Tristram was more common, partly because of “Tristram Shandy” (1767), a comic novel by Laurence Sterne. Tristram’s father claims names exert enormous influence over one’s fate, and the worst possible name is Tristram. He wanted his son named Trismegistus, “three times great,” after the mystical founder of alchemy, but his mother mistakenly had him baptized Tristram.

The 1850 United States census found 279 Tristrams and 36 Tristans. Tristram was especially common in Massachusetts, probably because Tristram Coffin (1609-1681) was a founding settler on Nantucket. Tristram’s census peak was in 1850 — in 1950, there were 55 Tristrams and 124 Tristans.

In 1950 Tristan was known to opera fans through Richard Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde” (1865), where the lovers die like Romeo and Juliet, which didn’t happen in many medieval versions.

“All Creatures Great and Small” is based on Yorkshire vet James Herriot’s memoirs. When he began publishing these in 1970, he chose Siegfried as pseudonym for colleague Donald Sinclair from the hero of other Wagner operas, and decided to use “Tristan” for Donald’s brother Brian since he was “romantic,” like Wagner’s Tristan.

About Names: Dr. Evans on the name “Eileen”

NASA Commander Eileen Collins, the first woman to command a Space Shuttle mission (Photo: Public Domain)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his December 17th column, he discusses the name “Eileen”.

Eileen’s creating thrills and chills on screen.

“Eileen,” a dark thriller based on Ottessa Moshfegh’s prize-winning 2015 novel, debuted Dec. 8. Eileen (Thomasin McKenzie) escapes from an alcoholic father by becoming involved in a revenge killing with colleague Rebecca.

Eileen and Aileen are English spellings of Eibhlín, Irish version of Norman French Aveline, brought to Ireland by 12th century Anglo-Norman invaders. Aveline’s from ancient Germanic Avi (perhaps “desired”) with affectionate suffixes -el and -in. In England it became Evelyn.

By the 17th century Ireland’s Norman aristocracy adopted Irish culture, and as Catholics were persecuted by the British. Aristocratic Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill (Eileen O’Connell) (1743-1800) married Captain Art Ó Laoghaire in 1767. In 1773, a Protestant magistrate had Art murdered for refusing to sell him a horse.

Eileen wrote a lament considered one of the greatest Irish poems. In it she tells her husband “Travel that narrow road east where the bushes shall bend before you.”

About Names: Dr. Evans on the name “Mary”

Mary Todd Lincoln, former First Lady of the United States of America (Photo: public domain)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his December 3rd column, he discusses the name “Mary”.

Today is my younger sister Mary Elizabeth Evans Elliott’s birthday. I won’t get into trouble telling how old she is, but it’s a milestone ending in “0”.

Mary’s the English form of Latin Maria, derived from Hebrew Miriam, name of Moses’s sister in the Old Testament. No one really knows Miriam’s meaning. Because Mara means “bitter” in Hebrew, “bitter sea” used to be a common guess. Today “longed-for child” (ma-râma) is thought a more likely Hebrew meaning. However, since most experts now think Moses was an Egyptian name, many believe Miriam’s from Egyptian mry, “beloved.”

Mary is revered by Christians as the name of Jesus’s mother. Six other Marys are mentioned in the New Testament, including Mary Magdalene and Mary, sister of the resurrected Lazarus.

Mary was rare in medieval Britain. Most thought it too sacred to give a daughter. The first known example was Mary, daughter of King Malcolm III of Scotland and his English wife Margaret, born in 1082.

In 1380 Mary ranked 49th in England. It only became common after the Reformation. Though one might think Mary I (r.1553-1558), called “Bloody Mary” for her persecution of Protestants, along with Puritan disdain for what they saw as Roman Catholic “idolatry” of the Virgin Mary, would make the name unpopular, all those New Testament Marys prevailed. Mary, second to Elizabeth after 1600, reached No. 1 during the 1650s, when radical Puritan Oliver Cromwell ruled.

In the 19th century Mary’s popularity was overwhelming. The 1850 United States census found 1,352,362 Marys — 13.5% of all girls and women, nearly one out of seven. In Britain in 1851, it was 16.6%, or one out of six. It’s hard to imagine what life was like when multiple Marys of all ages lived on every street in town.

In 1880, when Social Security’s yearly data starts, 7.24% of newborn girls were named Mary. Though the percentage steadily decreased, Mary stayed No. 1 until 1947, when Linda displaced it. In 2022, Mary only ranked 136th, its lowest in 700 years.

It’s surprising Mary Todd Lincoln (1818-1882) was the only sitting President’s wife named Mary. Two others were acting first ladies — Mary McElroy (1841-1917) for widowed brother Chester Arthur (1881-1885), and Mary Harrison McKee (1858-1930) for father Benjamin Harrison after mother Caroline’s death in October 1892.

“Mary is a Grand Old Name” was written by George M. Cohan for musical “Forty-five Minutes to Broadway,” which debuted Jan. 1, 1906.

About Names: Dr. Evans on the name “Brandon”

An engraving from an early copy of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility: Marianne greets Colonel Brandon on his arrival (Public Domain)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his October 8th column, he discusses the name “Brandon”.

Are you reading Brandon’s “Nightmare” yet?

“Yumi and the Nightmare Painter,” latest novel by fantasy author Brandon Sanderson, was released last week. Sanderson, born in 1975 in Lincoln and a graduate of Lincoln East High School, in March 2022 revealed he’d written four “secret” novels during the pandemic, promoting them to fans in a Kickstarter campaign which raised a record $41 million. “Yumi” is the third of these to get a standard publishing release.

Brandon’s an English surname from a place name meaning “hill with broom shrubs.” In County Kerry, Ireland, it’s also from “Mac Breandáin,” “son of Brendan.”

Charles Brandon (1484-1545), Henry VIII’s best childhood friend, was created Duke of Suffolk in 1514. In 1515 he married Mary Tudor, Henry’s sister. Their daughter Frances Brandon (1517-1559) was mother of tragic Lady Jane Grey (1537-1554), briefly proclaimed Queen after Edward VI’s 1553 death until his sister Mary successfully claimed the throne.

Despite the royal connection, Brandon remained rare as a first name. Even in 1950, the United States census found only 760 men named Brandon, though 14,005 Americans had Brandon as a last name.

The first three celebrities whose fame affected Brandon’s use were all born with Brandon as a middle name. In 1914, the first year more than five American boys were named Brandon, songs by lyricist J. Brandon Walsh (1882-1935) sold well as sheet music. The chorus of his “Harmony Bay” (1914) proclaims “While the moon shines above, we can spoon and make love, on Harmony Bay.”

About Names: Dr. Evans on the name “Daryl”

An individual cosplaying as “Daryl Dixon”, a popular character from the TV Series “The Walking Dead” (Photo by Marnie Joyce, CC-BY-2.0)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his September 10th column, he discusses the name “Daryl”.

‘The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon” debuts on AMC this evening. This spinoff of “The Walking Dead” (2010-2022) finds popular character Daryl (played by Norman Reedus) stranded on a French beach without knowing how he got there. He’ll trek across France trying to find his way back home.

Daryl’s a respelling of Darel and Darrell, surnames brought to England in 1066 by knights from Airel, a town in Normandy whose name meant “open courtyard”.

Darrells were prominent among Tudor nobility. Elizabeth Darrell (1513-1556) was maid of honor to Catherine of Aragon. Sir Marmaduke Darrel (1559-1631) was a jailer of Mary Queen of Scots, and later escorted Anne of Denmark from Scotland to London when her husband James I succeeded to the throne.

Anglican clergyman John Darrell (1562-1603) made a name for himself as an exorcist. Though he claimed he proved Puritans could cast out devils as successfully as Catholics, he was imprisoned as a fraud.

The 1850 United States census found 99 persons with last name Darrell and 14 Darrels. There were 10 men with first name Darell and 12 Darrells.

Best-selling English novelist Mary Elizabeth Braddon published “Darrell Markham” in 1853. There Darrell’s true love Millicent is forced to marry George Duke. When George is murdered, Darrell gathers evidence proving Millicent innocent. They marry on the last page.

In 1867 English judge Sir Douglas Straight (1844-1914) began publishing memoirs and fiction under pen name “Sidney Daryl”, one of the first examples of that spelling.

All spellings stayed rare until the 20th century. Darrell first shows up among the top 1000 boy’s names in 1891, Darrel in 1905, Daryl in 1920, and Darryl in 1932.

Daryl was occasionally given to girls by 1900. In 1921, silent film “Love, Hate and a Woman” featured heroine Daryl Sutherland (Grace Davison) pretending to be a society belle to catch a husband. However, Daryl only made it into the top thousand names for girls between 1945 and 1957. Surprisingly, the 1980s fame of actress Daryl Hannah (born 1960) didn’t popularize it.

Nebraska-born movie producer Darryl Zanuck (1902-1979) helped found 20th Century Fox in 1935. His name being featured in film credits, along with the 1940s fame of child star Darryl Hickman (born 1931) propelled their formerly rare spelling upward. After Hickman was featured on brother Dwayne’s “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis” in 1959, Darryl became the most common spelling for seven years, peaking at 68th in 1965.