About Names: Dr. Evans on the Name “Darren”

Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation (Photo: Public Domain)
Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation (Photo: Public Domain)

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

Do you watch Ralphie ask The Old Man for an air rifle every December?

Darren McGavin (1922-2006), who starred as Ralphie’s dad in “A Christmas Story” (1983), was born 101 years ago today.

Darren’s origin as a first name is hard to track down. In Ireland, Darren is a rare variant of surname Darragh, Gaelic for “like an oak; steadfast.” A few Irishmen surnamed Darren came to America, but it stayed very rare.

The last name Darrin is slightly more common. A Darrin family from upstate New York are descendants of Ephraim Darwin, born in Connecticut in 1646. Darwin’s an English surname, either from Old English Deorwine (“dear friend”) or the river Derwent (“oak forest stream”).

These rare names don’t seem to have inspired the first name. Instead, Zane Grey did by creating Daren Lane, hero of his 1922 novel “The Day of the Beast.”

Unlike most of Grey’s works, “Beast” isn’t a Western. Daren is a soldier returning from World War I who is disturbed by Jazz Age immorality. Perhaps Grey created “Daren” from “daring.” Daren’s often addressed as “Dare.”

Though modern readers find Daren prudish and prejudiced, fans named sons after him. Middle names were rarely recorded in the census, but 10 examples of combination “Daren Lane” are found from 1930 onwards, showing the book’s impact.

The first year, at least five Darens were born was 1932. Alternate spelling Darren followed in 1936. Both stayed rare. In 1949, 12 Darens and five Darrens were born.

At birth, Darren McGavin was William Richardson. He took up acting after being a Hollywood set painter. Around 1946, he moved to New York to further his career. McGavin never wrote memoirs, and no full biography has appeared, so why he chose “Darren McGavin” as his stage name is a mystery. He did this before July 7, 1950, when the census found him living in Manhattan.

About Names: Dr. Evans on the Top Baby Names of 2022

Photo of a newborn (Photo by Kimberly Vardeman, CC-BY-2.0)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his May 21st column, he discusses the top baby names of 2022.

On May 12, the Social Security Administration released the United States’ top baby names of 2022.

On SSA’s lists, Liam and Olivia were first, as they have since 2019.

SSA counts every spelling separately. I add together spellings pronounced the same, creating lists I believe more accurately show popularity.

When alternative spellings like Jaxon were added, Jackson was first from 2013 through 2020. In 2021, Liam beat Jackson for No. 1 for the first time. In 2022, Jackson declined again, allowing Noah to take second spot.

Liam and Noah are international baby name stars. Both rank in the top 10 in Switzerland, Sweden, Quebec, Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands, Ireland and Argentina. Noah’s also No. 1 in both England and Germany.

After Jackson, the rest of my 2022 male top 10 were Oliver, Elijah, Mateo, Lucas, Aiden, James and Luca. Mateo and Luca knocked Grayson and William back to 11th and 12th.

Mateo, the Spanish form of Matthew, rose 8.3%, jumping to sixth from 12th. Mateo got a boost back in 2015 when it was given to the baby on “Jane the Virgin.” Its rise shows the influence of Latin American culture on baby names in the United States. Mateo’s now No. 1 in Chile and Argentina, and No. 2 in Mexico.

Last year Santiago was No. 1 in Mexico. Santiago increased 19.8% here last year, third quickest rise among the top 100.

Luca rose 9.1% to reach the top 10, after soaring 37% in 2021. Luca’s the Italian and Romanian form of Luke, with Luka the same in Balkan Slavic languages.

About Names: Dr. Evans on “Sandra”

Sandra Day O’Connor (Image: Public Domain)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his March 26th column, he discusses the name “Sandra”.

Are you observing Women’s History Month? If so, you should celebrate today as Sandra Day O’Connor’s 93rd birthday.

O’Connor became the first woman Justice on the Supreme Court of the United States Sept. 25, 1981. She left the court Jan. 31, 2006.

Sandra is originally a short form of other names. Most name dictionaries state it was introduced to English speakers by George Meredith’s 1887 novel “Sandra Belloni.” The full name of the heroine is Emilia Alessandra Belloni. Alessandra is the Italian form of Alexandra, Greek “defending men.”

Sandra’s history is actually more complicated. In 1860, the first two Sandras in the United States census, 28-year-old Sandra Nason of Massachusetts and 32-year-old Sandra Adams of Ohio, were both “Cassandra” (Greek “shining upon men”) in other records found on Ancestry.com.

Italians weren’t the only ones to shorten Alexandra. Sandra was also used where it was spelled Aleksandra, including most of eastern Europe. In 1900, 46 of the 211 Sandras in the census were born in Finland. Another 10 were from Sweden or Norway. Only two were born in Italy.

Meredith’s novel was first published in 1864 as “Emilia in England.” The heroine, a professional singer deciding between two suitors, is called “Sandra” by her father. Everyone else calls her “Emilia.” “Sandra” only occurs 22 times in the story, while there are 880 examples of “Emilia.”

Publishers in 1887 probably thought the novel would sell better if the then more exotic name became the title. They were right; “Sandra Belloni” stayed in print for decades. However, the use of Sandra as an American name owes as much to Cassandra and Finnish immigrants as it does to Meredith’s Italian heroine.

Sandra first was a top thousand baby name in 1913. It got a boost in 1924 from the film “Sandra.” Sandra, who has a dual personality, abandons her husband for adventurous affairs in Europe, returning home to be redeemed by his forgiveness. Barbara LaMarr, called “The Girl Who Is Too Beautiful” by fan magazines, played Sandra.

When Sandra Day O’Connor was born in 1930, Sandra ranked 392nd. Sandra’s stock soared during the Great Depression. It 1939 it ranked 13th. It fit in with other booming fashions like Linda, Barbara, Nancy and Sharon. Sandra peaked at 5th in 1947.

About Names: Dr. Evans on “Brendan”

Brendan Fraser (Photo by Montclair Film, CC-BY-2.0)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his March 12th column, he discusses the name “Brendan”.

Will Brendan win an Oscar tonight?

Brendan Fraser (born 1968) is nominated for Best Actor for portraying a morbidly obese man in “The Whale.” He’s already won top prizes from the Screen Actors Guild and Critics’ Choice Awards.

Irish actor Brendan Gleeson (born 1955) is nominated for Best Supporting Actor for “The Banshees of Inisherin,” where his character cuts off the fingers of his left hand to spite his former best friend.

The Welsh word breenhin, meaning “prince,” was turned into the name Brénainn in ancient Ireland. Monks writing in Latin made this “Brendanus.” That led to the modern Irish Gaelic Breandán and English Brendan.

Seventeen medieval Irish saints were called Brénainn. The most famous, St. Brendan of Clonfert (484-577), is called “Brendan the Navigator.” Three centuries after his death, “The Voyage of St. Brendan the Abbot” appeared, claiming Brendan and 16 monks discovered a blessed forested island full of songbirds where the sun never set.

If St. Brendan’s Isle wasn’t completely imaginary, it was probably based on sightings of Atlantic islands like Madeira. However, since 1900, the theory that Brendan reached the Americas centuries before Columbus has been popular. Many songs, poems and novels are based on that speculation.

Despite that, Brendan vanished as a given name when Ireland’s British overlords prohibited most Gaelic names in official records. It was revived by Irish nationalists in the late 19th century.

The first Brendan in the United States census was an Irish-born monk at Indiana’s University of Notre Dame in 1870. He probably adopted the name after taking vows.

The oldest Brendan in the 1880 census, 36-year-old Canadian-born Brendan Letourneau of West Waterville, Maine, was probably an example of the 19th-century French Canadian fashion of searching the saints’ calendar for obscure baby names.

The first American-born example, 9-year-old Brendan Merrigan, lived with Irish immigrant parents Patrick and Mary in New York City in 1880.

About Names: “Cleveland Evans: Like Elvis Costello asks, has Veronica gone to hide?”

St. Veronica with the Holy Kerchief (ca. 1420 CE, Public Domain)

St. Veronica with the Holy Kerchief (ca. 1420 CE, Public Domain)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his February 26th column, he discusses the name “Veronica”.

Veronica is bringing ancient Greece to the far future.

“Arch-Conspirator,” latest novel by Veronica Roth, author of the bestselling “Divergent” dystopian science fiction series, debuted Feb. 21. It retells the legend of Antigone in a far-future desolate Earth where an Archive stores human genes from which our species can be recreated.

The name Veronica also reshapes an ancient Greek source. Berenike, Macedonian form of Greek Pherenike, “bringing victory,” became well-known throughout the eastern Mediterranean after Alexander the Great’s conquests in the fourth century B.C.

The Gospels of Mark and Luke tell of an unnamed woman with “an issue of blood” who’s healed simply by touching Jesus’s robe. Around 400, the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus named her Berenike.

Soon after, stories of the crucifixion were elaborated to include a woman who wipes Jesus’ face with a cloth while He’s on His way to Golgotha. The cloth retains an image of His face. By 900 A.D. the cloth was displayed as a relic in Rome, and Berenike was identified as the woman.

“Vera icon” is Latin for “true image.” Latin versions of the story changed Berenike to “Veronica” to link the name to the relic.

Though St. Veronica’s legend spread the name throughout western Europe, it was never common in England. Puritans avoided it along with other non-Biblical saint names. The 1851 census found only 74 Veronicas in Britain.

About Names: “Cleveland Evans: Say it ‘Loud’, Lincoln’s approval ratings ebb and flow”

President Abraham Lincoln, From a painting by G. P. A. Healy, 1868 (Public Domain)

President Abraham Lincoln, from a painting by G. P. A. Healy, 1868 (Public Domain)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his January 29th column, he discusses the name “Lincoln”.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), 16th U.S. president, was born 214 years ago today. In 1867, the village of Lancaster was renamed Lincoln after the assassinated leader when it became Nebraska’s state capitol.

The surname Lincoln is derived from the city in England first settled around 100 B.C.E. Its original Celtic name, Lindon, “the pool”, described a deep spot along the River Witham. Roman army veterans settling there called it “Lindum Colonia”, which became Lincoln in English.

Most surnames derived from a place name mean one’s medieval ancestor had left town. Last names were all originally nicknames. It made little sense to call John “Lincoln” while he was living there. If he’d moved elsewhere, “John (from) Lincoln” made clear which John one was discussing.

Some medieval person moved from Lincoln to Hingham in Norfolk County, England, establishing the surname Lincoln there. When Massachusetts was settled in the 1630s, several Lincolns helped found the town of Hingham in that colony.

Samuel Lincoln (1622-1690) arrived in 1637. Through son, Samuel Jr., he was great-great-grandfather of Levi Lincoln Sr. (1749-1820), U.S. Attorney General under Thomas Jefferson. Levi Lincoln Jr. (1782-1868) was governor of Massachusetts 1825-1834. Younger brother, Enoch (1788-1829), was governor of Maine 1827-1829.

Benjamin Lincoln (1733-1810) was a Major General during the Revolution, prominent in the battles of Saratoga and Yorktown. His great-great-grandfather was Thomas Lincoln (1600-1691), probably a distant cousin of Samuel’s who landed in Massachusetts in 1635. Benjamin Lincoln was nationally famous; counties in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri and Tennessee are named for him.

About Names: “Cleveland Evans: What is the 2022 Name of the Year?”

Stamp of Ukraine (Public Domain)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his January 29th column, he discusses the 2022 Name of the Year competition at the annual meeting of the American Name Society.

In 2022 Russia taught us to honor Ukraine and its names.

At its Jan. 22 annual meeting (held online for the third year in a row), the American Name Society voted Ukraine as 2022’s Name of the Year. Though Americans used to call this country “the Ukraine,” Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, and Ukrainians’ heroic resistance cemented the use of “Ukraine,” which Ukrainians themselves prefer, as the way Americans refer to the country.

ANS chooses Names of the Year for place names, personal Names, artistic-literary names, trade names, Enames and miscellaneous names before picking the overall Name of the Year.

Kyiv won as Place Name of the Year. The capitol city of Ukraine used to be called “Kiev” in English, a version still used in terms like “Chicken Kiev.” In 2022 American media almost all switched to “Kyiv”, which more accurately represents the Ukrainian language name of the city. Kyiv’s main competitors in the category were Mariupol, another Ukrainian city largely destroyed by Russian forces before they occupied it last May; and Uvalde, name of the Texas town which became a symbol of gun violence after the mass shooting at an elementary school last May 24 killed 19 children and two teachers.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy was declared Personal Name of the Year. When he was elected President of Ukraine in 2019, many American publications called him “Vladimir Zelensky,” the Russian form of his name. Here also we’ve learned to use the correct Ukrainian form. Other nominees in the category were Ketanji Brown Jackson, who became the newest justice on the Supreme Court June 30; and King Charles III. When he succeeded to the British throne upon Queen Elizabeth’s death, some were surprised he designated himself “King Charles”, despite his lifetime as Prince Charles, thinking it “unlucky” since King Charles I (1600-1649) was beheaded during the English Civil War.

“Encanto” triumphed as Artistic-Literary Name of the Year. The title of this Disney animated film, which won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature last March, means “charm, charming, enchantment” in Spanish. It was a fitting name for a magical village in Colombia, setting of this Disney film which, unusually, was not based on another source. The name helped the film set box office records throughout Latin America.

Want to learn more about the 2022 Name of the Year? Read on to learn more!

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”.