About Names: “Liam and Sophia are the Top Baby Names of 2021”

Van Gogh’s “Madame Roulin and Her Baby” (1888)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his May 22nd column, he looks at the top baby names in the United States in 2021.

Liam’s finally No. 1 no matter how you spell it.

May 6 the Social Security Administration released the United States’ top baby names of 2021.

On SSA’s lists, Liam and Olivia rank first, as they did in 2019 and 2020.

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

From 2013 through 2020, when alternative spellings like Jaxon and Lyam were added in, Jackson ranked first. In 2021, Liam grew 3.14% to finally beat Jackson for No. 1.

Liam, an Irish short form of William, wasn’t even used as an official name in Ireland itself until around 1890. A top 10 name in England in 1995, Liam’s since spread around the world. It now ranks No. 1 in Quebec, No. 2 in Switzerland, No. 3 in Sweden, No. 5 in Belgium, No. 6 in Australia, Ireland, and the Netherlands, and No. 7 in Slovenia.

After Jackson, the rest my 2021 male top 10 were Noah, Oliver, Aiden, Elijah, Lucas, Grayson, James and William — the same names as 2020, with Oliver, now No. 1 in England, Australia and New Zealand, moving up a spot.

Luca was the top 100 boy’s name with the biggest leap, soaring 37% from 37th to 15th. Luca is the Italian and Romanian form of Luke, with Luka the same in Balkan Slavic languages.

The huge popularity of Noah and Elijah made parents used to boys’ names ending with Luca’s final vowel. Since 2000 it’s risen as a “different but not too different” alternative for Lucas and Luke.

In 2021 Pixar’s animated “Luca,” about an Italian sea monster boy who leaves the ocean to win a Vespa scooter, became the most-watched streaming film. This surely caused Luca to skyrocket. Luca joins Ariel and Elsa as animated characters inspiring baby names. In total there were 55% more boys named Lucas, Luca or Luke in 2021 than Liams.

About Names: “Iris loved as a flower, worshipped as a goddess”

A Blue Iris flower (Public Domain)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his May 8th column, he looks at the history of the name Iris.

Give someone a rainbow of flowers for Mother’s Day.

May 8 is Iris Day, celebrating flowers of the genus Iris. It’s also a legal holiday in Brussels, Belgium, where the regional flag features a yellow iris.

Iris is the Greek word for “rainbow.” Linguists trace it back to an Indo-European word for “bend,” referring to a rainbow’s distinctive curve in the sky.

Ancient Greeks personified Iris as a goddess. Iris was messenger for the chief Greek deities and served them nectar on Mount Olympus. Romans adopted her into their pantheon as special agent of goddess Juno. Iris is featured in both the Iliad by Greek poet Homer and the Aeneid by Latin poet Virgil, two of literature’s most famous works.

The flower’s been called iris since medieval times because it comes in a rainbow variety of colors. “Iris” has also been the colored part of the eye since the early 15th century.

Many assume Iris’ use as a girl’s name was taken from the flower, just as names like Hazel, Heather and Holly were inspired by plants. However, British historian George Redmonds believes the first rare use of Iris in the 18th century was after the goddess. Iris fit in with Doris and Phyllis, Greek names revived by 17th century poets. Iris then helped inspire other “flower” names.

Redmonds’ theory is supported by the oldest Iris in the 1850 United States census (first listing all free residents by name), 88-year-old Iris Amelotte, a Black woman born in Africa living with a white family in New Orleans. Iris was probably a freed slave named by a former owner. Some slave owners showed off their learning by giving slaves classical names like Hercules and Venus.

About Names: Goldwater’s loss sends Barry on downhill slope

Barry Goldwater photo1962

Barry Goldwater, 1962. Trikosko, Marion S., photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his April 24th column, he looks at the history of the name Barry.

As a surname Barry has several origins, including Scottish place-names meaning “grassy hill,” Welsh “son of Harry,” and Norman French “rampart.” Since surnames began becoming given names in the 17th century, some boys have been named Barry because of connections with Barry families. In Ireland, though, given name Barry is an Anglicized spelling of Bairre, a medieval pet form of Barrfind and Finnbarr, Gaelic names combining “barr” (top, head) with “finn” (fair).

In the 1850 United States census 30% of the 318 men with first name Barry were Irish-born. Many others had Irish ancestry. Like other immigrant names, Barry lost favor after 1900. It wasn’t even among the top thousand names between 1915 and 1922.

Barry peaked at 68th in 1946, and then plateaued at about 70th until 1961. After Arizona’s Senator Barry Goldwater (1909-1998) was on the cover of “Time” in 1961, Barry had its best baby name rank at 61st in 1962. Goldwater’s devastating loss to Lyndon Johnson in 1964’s Presidential election started Barry on its downslope. It left the top thousand in 2005.

Want to learn more? Read on to find out more the history of the name Barry!

About Names: “Old Testament or modern use, Jonas continues to ‘give'”

The Brothers Jonas with Former U.S.Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne (Photo: Public Domain)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his April 10th column, he looks at the history of the name Jonas.

Jonas begins receiving memories in Omaha next week.

“The Giver,” a play by Dan Coble based on Lois Lowry’s 1993 young adult novel, opens at the Omaha Community Playhouse Friday. Twelve-year-old Jonas lives in a society that eradicates pain by forbidding color, memory and individuality. Dissidents and the unwanted are “released” by poison. Jonas is chosen to be trained as the “Receiver of Memory” by The Giver, the present Receiver. They make a dangerous plan to reform their society and stop the “releasing” by restoring memory to all.

Jonas is the Greek form of Jonah (Hebrew Yonah, “dove”), the Old Testament prophet swallowed by a fish or whale. In the King James Bible, Jonah is used in the Old Testament, but nine mentions of the prophet in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke use “Jonas.”

After the Reformation, when parents turned to the Bible for names, Jonah and Jonas both appeared. Though not popular in Britain as a whole, Jonas was a top 10 name in West Yorkshire in the 1670s.

Britain’s 1851 census found 5,100 Jonases. The 1850 United States census, when the two countries had about the same population, found 8,039. Much of Jonas’ popularity in America was due to immigration from continental Europe. Jonas is the Old Testament as well as the New Testament form in most European languages. (Jonas is also the Lithuanian form of John.)

Like many Biblical and immigrant names, Jonas went out of style in the 20th century. It ranked 323rd in 1880 when Social Security’s yearly name lists start. By the 1930s it was rare; in 1958 and 1961 it wasn’t even among the top thousand.

About Names: “Remembered as popular slang, Trey continues as a nickname, or signifying the third”

Trey Parker, co-creator of “South Park” at the 65th Annual Peabody Awards Luncheon (Photo by Peabody Awards, CC-BY-2.0)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his March 13th column, he looks at the history of the name Trey.

Just how mad will March be for Nebraskans? One Trey and his team find out today.

March 13 is Selection Sunday, when teams for 2022’s NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament are chosen. Creighton University’s basketball team, which has a Trey in its starting lineup, has a good chance to be chosen.

On March 5, Creighton’s Trey Alexander, along with teammates Ryan Nembhard and Arthur Kaluma, was named to the Big East’s all-freshman team.

(The Huskers of Nebraska also have a Trey, Trey McGowens, but the team’s win-loss record this year wouldn’t let them even sniff the tournament.)

Since the 14th century, “trey,” (from Old French “treis,” or “three”) has been the English word for a playing card or domino with three pips or spots. By 1887, it was slang for any group of three things.

Sometime in the 20th century, Trey became a nickname for a man or boy with the same name as his father and grandfather and suffix “III”. Though so far the earliest example I’ve found of this is in Texas in 1942, it probably started a couple of decades earlier. Back then, the nickname had a preppy upper-crust image.

In Social Security’s baby name data, including names given to five or more boys born in a single year, Trey first appears in 1948. Since back then a Social Security number came along with one’s first job, it’s possible some Treys on the list in the 1940s and 1950s weren’t born with the name.

About Names: “Evelyn historically popular for both men and women”

Olympic gold medalist Evelyn Ashford (Photo: public domain)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his March 27th column, he looks at the history of the name Evelyn.

Ann Campbell of Omaha, whose granddaughter Evelyn Campbell turns 5 today, asks about the name Evelyn.

Evelyn is a rare English surname derived from the Norman French woman’s name Aveline. Aveline is from ancient Germanic Avi (perhaps “desired”) with affectionate suffixes -el and -in added.

Emmett (from Emma) and Beaton (from Beatrice) are other examples of surnames derived from women’s names. It’s likely this happened when a woman was widowed when her children were young.

Around 1656, Elizabeth Evelyn — daughter of Sir John Evelyn — married Robert Pierrepont, a nephew of the Earl of Kingston-upon-Hull. In 1665, they named their third son Evelyn, one of the first examples of a mother’s maiden name used as a first name.

After his great-uncle and older brothers died childless, Evelyn Pierrepont became Earl in 1690. A chief advisor to Queen Anne, he was made a Duke in 1715 by King George I. His fame led other upper-class British families to name sons Evelyn. One later example was novelist Evelyn Waugh (1903-1966).

However, the Duke himself turned Evelyn into a female name in 1691 when he named his third daughter Evelyn. She married the Earl Gower and bore 11 children, including Lady Evelyn Leveson-Gower (1725-1763), wife of the Earl of Upper Ossory.

In 1841, England’s first census found 42 men and 42 women named Evelyn. In 1851, there were 196 women and 88 men. The 1850 United States census found 310 female and 53 male Evelyns. The girls have been far ahead on both sides of the Atlantic ever since.

About Names: “Darci rooted in old English aristocracy”

Illustration by C. E. Brock for Pride and Prejudice (Public Domain)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his February 27th column, he looks at the history of the name Darci.

Darci will be throwing her voice in Omaha next Sunday.

Darci Lynne, born Darci Lynne Farmer in 2004, won the top prize on “America’s Got Talent” in September 2017, a month before turning 13. A ventriloquist whose puppets include sweet bunny Petunia and stuttering Motown mouse Oscar, she stars at Omaha’s Orpheum Theater March 6.

Darci’s a respelling of Darcy, a surname with two origins. Darcy came to England with William the Conqueror’s knight Norman D’Arcy. He was granted vast lands in Lincolnshire. He was from Arcy, a French village whose name meant “Bear’s place” in Gaulish.

Darcys have been English aristocrats ever since. Thomas Darcy, 1st Baron Darcy of Darcy (1467-1537), was beheaded for rebelling against Henry VIII’s seizure of monasteries.

The most famous English Darcy is fictional Fitzwilliam Darcy in Jane Austen’s 1813 novel “Pride and Prejudice.” Proud but honorable Mr. Darcy is the model for romantic heroes in countless other novels and films.

In western Ireland, Darcy’s the English form of Ó Dorchaidhe, “descendant of the dark one.” Patrick Darcy (1598-1668) was a Galway lawyer who wrote the constitution for Confederate Ireland, Catholic rebels who ruled two-thirds of Ireland between 1642 and 1649.

When the custom of turning surnames into first names began during Elizabethan times, Darcy turned up among sons of British nobles. It remained rare; in 1841, the first British census found 29 men named Darcy.

About Names: “Sonny a famous nickname with a long lineage”

Jazz musician Sonny Rollins (Photo by Yves Moch, CC-BY-3.0)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his February 13th column, he looks at the history of the name Sonny.

Omaha has a new favorite Sonny.

The male elephant born to mother Claire at Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium Jan. 30 has been named Sonny by an anonymous donor. Half-sister Eugenia was born Jan. 7 to mother Kiki and father Callee.

Sonny’s a diminutive of “son” used to address boys or men younger than oneself. Though “son” goes back millennia to ancient Indo-European, “sonny” is surprisingly recent. The earliest example is found in 1833.

It’s hard to tell when Sonny became a nickname. It looks a lot like Lonny in 19th-century handwriting, and census takers sometimes used it for an unknown name. The 1860 census of Bloomington, Illinois, includes a German immigrant family with parents Daddy and Mammy and two boys both called Sonny. The census taker probably couldn’t understand their real names.

Exactly when the nickname became an official name is also unclear. Sonny first appeared on Social Security’s yearly name lists in 1888. However, Social Security only began in 1935, and only since the 1980s has everyone gotten a Social Security card as an infant. Many born before 1970 didn’t enter the data until they were going by a nickname which wasn’t given at birth.

It’s probable boys were being officially named Sonny by 1920, though, because the name starts showing pop culture influences. The first big boom in Sonnys began in 1928, when Al Jolson’s hit song “Sonny Boy” premiered, sung by a father whose little son “made a heaven for me here on earth.” Sonny first peaked at 470th in 1935.

About Names: “Sports, music, and works of fiction helped popularize Andre”

French author and poet André Breton (Attribution: public domain)

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

Andre starts the beginning of the end Tuesday.

“Black-ish,” the popular ABC sitcom about a wealthy African American family, premieres its final season Jan. 4. Anthony Anderson, starring as advertising executive Andre “Dre” Johnson, has been nominated for the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series all seven seasons.

André is the French form of Andreas, a Greek name derived from “andreios” (“manly”), known as Simon Peter’s brother, the first Apostle of Jesus. In English, he’s of course called St. Andrew.

Before the 19th century, it was normal to translate given names when moving from one culture to another. Men born André in France would naturally be called Andrew when visiting or immigrating to an English-speaking country. It’s only around 1800 that different forms of common saint’s names from other languages started being adopted into English.

The 1850 United States census, first listing all free residents by name, found 475 men called Andre. Eleven percent were born in France or Quebec, and 38% in French-influenced Louisiana.

The names of slaves weren’t listed in the census. The 1870 census included 670 Andres. Twenty-two percent of those were Black, mostly freed slaves and their sons. Forty-two percent of them were born in Louisiana.

Andre increased slowly over the next 70 years, though it didn’t maintain its popularity with Black parents. In the 1940 census, the latest with names available, only 5.4% of the 3,673 Andres were Black men, though Black men made up 9.8% of the population.

Meanwhile André had boomed back in France. Between 1910 and 1935, it was second only to Jean as a name for French boys.

Andre entered the top thousand baby names in the United States in 1924. Starting in the 1930s, it was helped by orchestra conductor Andre Kostelanetz (1901-1980). Born Abram Kostelyanetz in Russia, he’s credited with inventing “easy listening” light classical arrangements years before the term was created. Albums with him conducting the New York Philharmonic billed as “Andre Kostelanetz and his orchestra” sold millions.

About Names: “From stage to screen to athletics, Evan celebrates pop culture popularity”

Figure skater Evan Iysacek at the 2004 Four Continents Championships in Hamilton, Ontario; Photo by Vesperholly (CC-BY-2.5)

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

Evan is celebrating the new year in Omaha.

“Dear Evan Hansen,” the Broadway musical about a high school loner who falsely claims he was the best friend of a classmate who committed suicide, will be at Omaha’s Orpheum Theater Dec. 28 through Jan. 2. In 2017, it won the Tony Award for Best Musical, and Ben Platt became the youngest winner of Best Leading Actor in a musical for playing Evan. A film version starring Platt premiered in September.

Evan is the English spelling of Welsh Iefan. (Welsh “f” is pronounced like English “v”.) Iefan is a Welsh form of John, the Biblical name derived from Hebrew Yochanan, “God is gracious.”

Just as John was common in England after 1250, Evan was common in Wales. The Welsh were late in adopting hereditary surnames, and so a few family names based on given names became overwhelmingly popular. The surname Evans today ranks fourth in Wales and seventh in the UK. The 355,593 Evanses in the 2010 United States census ranked 53rd.

The first British census in 1841 included 14,985 named Evan in Wales out of a population of just over a million, and 1,706 in England among almost 15 million. The 1851 United States census found 3,082, with 21% born in Wales.

The popularity of Evan with those of Welsh ancestry led to a surprising number of men named Evan Evans. Fifteen percent of those named Evan in Wales in 1841 were surnamed Evans, and 291 (7%) of 1851’s Americans were “Evan Evans.” Mathematician Evan Evans (1827-1874) was the first professor at Cornell University at its founding in 1868. Evan Evans (born 1965) is a champion off-road racing driver while using hand controls as a paraplegic.