About Names: Keith, popular in Britain, peaked in U.S. when Rolling Stones came along

Artist Keith Haring

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

Keith’s a Scottish surname from the “lands of Keith” in the county of East Lothian. The place name may come from Pictish for “woods.” Clan Keith is an important Scottish clan. The name of its founder is unknown. He was a warrior who killed Danish leader Camus at the Battle of Barrie in 1010. King Malcolm II granted him the lands of Keith and the title “Camus Slayer.”

As a famous aristocratic surname, Keith attracted use when the custom of giving surnames as first names took off in the 19th century. In Britain’s 1851 census, there were 96 Keiths in Scotland and 61 in England. The 1850 United States Census found 41 Keiths, only a quarter of Britain’s total when the two nations’ populations were about equal.

One-syllable names are now out of fashion. In 2017 Keith ranked 493rd, its lowest since 1901. Perhaps in another 40 years Keith will make parents happy again.

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

About Names: Marisa: from “Star of the Sea” to Hollywood Stars

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his December 4th column, he looks at the history of the name Marisa.

 Marisa is an Italian, Spanish and Portuguese blend of Maria and Luisa, though in Iberia it’s also from “Maria Isabel.” Italians often interpret it as being from Stella Maris, “Star of the Sea,” a title of the Virgin Mary. Marisa was rare in the United States before the film “The Rose Tattoo” debuted in December 1955. It starred Italian actress Marisa Pavan (born Maria Luisa Pierangeli in 1932) as Rosa Della Rose, a high school senior dealing with a distraught, overbearing widowed mother, played by Oscar winner Anna Magnani.

In 1994, 2,187 Marisas were born, ranking the name 146th. In 1994, girls named Marissa also peaked; 6,245 were born, ranking it 53rd. Originally, Marisa rhymed with Lisa (the pronunciation Berenson uses) and Marissa with Melissa, but they’ve inevitably been confused. Tomei herself rhymes Marisa with Melissa. Marissa is a blend of Mary and Melissa created in 19th-century America. The oldest Marissa I’ve found in more than one census is Marissa Cays, born 1877 in Michigan, but it was probably created decades before.

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

About Names: No matter the spelling, Lindsey has a lasting appeal

Lindsay Wagner by Gage Skidmore

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his November 20th column, he looks at the history of the name Lindsey.

Lindsey is an ancient Anglo-Saxon kingdom in England’s northern Lincolnshire. It means “the island of Lincoln.” It’s not actually an island, but a high area surrounded by rivers and marshes. Surnames Lindsey and Lindsay show one’s ancestors came from Lindsey. Scottish Clan Lindsay was founded by Sir Walter de Lindsay, who went to Scotland in the 11th century as a retainer of David, brother of Scotland’s King William the Lion.

The regular use of surnames as girls’ first names began in the South. The earliest female Lindsey in the census is Lindsey Ann Keenin, born December 1846 in Tippah County, Mississippi. Over 60 years, census takers wrote her name as Lindsey, Linsey, Lyndsa, Linnie, Lyndsy and Lynie. Multiple spellings made Lindsey seem less popular than it really was. If girls named Lyndsey, Lyndsay, Linsey and Lynsey are added, 1984’s combined total of 19,286 ranks 11th.

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

About Names: Ethan, which means “enduring,” has lasted since Old Testament times

Actor John Wayne plays Ethan Edwards in the 1956 film “The Searchers” (AP/Warner Bros.)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his November 6th column, he looks at the history of the name Ethan.

Ethan is the English form of Hebrew Eitan, “solid, enduring.” Four Ethans are mentioned in the Old Testament. The most famous, Ethan the Ezrahite, wrote Psalm 89, beginning “I will sing of your steadfast love, O LORD, forever.” Ethan was one of the obscure biblical names New England Puritans adopted. Ethan Allen (1738-1789), Vermonter who led the “Green Mountain Boys” at Fort Ticonderoga’s capture from the British in 1775, is the most famous example.

When Edith Wharton published classic novel “Ethan Frome” in 1911, the name was a good choice for a downtrodden New England farmer born around 1860.

In 1956, director John Ford adapted a novel by Alan LeMay into the Western “The Searchers.” John Wayne played Ethan Edwards, a Civil War veteran searching for his niece, who’s been kidnapped by Comanche raiders. In the novel, the character was “Amos.” Ford changed that to Ethan because Amos was too identified with the comic character from “Amos ’n’ Andy.”

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

About Names: A name that’s managed to stay in our good Grace(s) for centuries

Superstar Miss Grace Jones

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his October 25th column, he looks at the history of the name Grace.

Grace is from Latin “gratia,” “favor, good will.” In Christian theology, it means “God’s unmerited favor or love.”

Medieval Catholics occasionally used the term as a girl’s name. One example is St. Grace of Lérida in Spain. Born the daughter of a Muslim caliph, she was martyred in 1180. Normans brought the name Grece when they invaded England in 1066. This was probably from a Germanic word meaning “gray,” also found in the first syllable of “Griselda.” Early medieval records used “Grecia” as Grece’s Latin form. By 1250, this changed to “Gracia.” Soon, the everyday English form was “Grace.”

Grace peaked again at 13th in 2003 — though with names more varied today, it accounted for only 0.64 percent of girls born then as opposed to 1.13 percent back in 1890.

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

About Names: From Welsh roots, Gladys has worked its way through the grapevine

Gladys Knight

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his October 9th column, he looks at the history of the name Gladys.

Gladys is the modern form of Welsh Gwladus. Medieval records in Latin used “Claudia” as its equivalent. Experts disagree on whether Gwladus was just the Welsh form of Claudia or from Welsh gwlad, “countryside.” The first historical Gwladus was St. Gwladus, a princess of Brycheiniog. Kidnapped by Gwynllyw, king of Gwynllwg, she became his queen.

The modern form was spread by the novels “Gladys of Harlech” (1858) by Louisa M. Spooner and “Gladys the Reaper” (1860) by Anne Beale. Both authors were English women living in Wales. Spooner’s tale features a medieval noblewoman and Beale’s a simple country girl. Both show the Welsh as good people oppressed by corrupt Englishmen. The 1870 census includes 128 Gladyses, almost all born during the 1860s in the North. (Perhaps the novels didn’t make it to the South during the Civil War.)

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

About Names: Evolution of Randall has spanned multiple generations

Poet Dudley Randall

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

Old Norse Rannulfr, “shield-wolf,” came to England with Norman conquerors in 1066 as Randulf. Clerks writing in Latin made Randolph the common spelling. Randall or Randell was Randolph’s nickname, adding French diminutive “el” to Rand. In 2010, 54,764 Americans had Randall as a surname, while there were 41,129 Randolphs, showing Randall was more common as the everyday medieval form.

Randall and Randolph became rare as first names after 1400, but never vanished. When Social Security’s yearly name lists started in 1880, Randolph ranked 398th and Randall 731st. For the next 55 years, Randolph ranked about the same while Randall steadily rose. Randall surpassed Randolph in 1936. Both then boomed — Randolph peaked at 154th in 1952 and Randall at 53rd in 1955, when 6,684 were born.

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

About Names: Swahili names like Taraji, Sanaa see swell in popularity

Taraji P. Henson

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his September 10th column, he looks at Swahili names.

Actress Taraji P. Henson turned 48 recently. Bernice and Boris Henson named their daughter Taraji Penda. In Swahili, taraji means “hope” and penda means “love”. Both taraji and penda are verbs in Swahili. “Penda maadui wako” is Swahili for “Love your enemies.”

The English verb “hope” is more often translated by the Swahili word “tumaini” than “taraji.” Swahili speakers use “tumaini” when they trust what’s hoped for will really happen. “Taraji” is a bit more tentative, closer to English “wish.”

Swahili was first spoken in Zanzibar and coastal Tanzania and Kenya. It became the trade language of all East Africa. Today, it has around 75 million speakers in Uganda, Mozambique, Rwanda and the Congo, as well as Kenya and Tanzania.

Since the 1960s, African-American parents have turned Swahili words into names. Many of them aren’t actually used as names in East Africa. Of course, they aren’t the only foreign words turned into American names — Irish “colleen” (girl) and French “chérie” (darling) weren’t names in Ireland or France.

In East Africa, the huge majority of Swahili speakers are Muslim, and most of the names they use are Islamic. Swahili variations of Muslim Arabic names are also used by African-Americans. One of the most common is Omari, Swahili form of the Arabic “Umar,” “long life” or “flourishing,” name of the second caliph after Muhammad’s death. Actor Omari Hardwick (1974), since 2014 starring as the nightclub owner “Ghost” St. Patrick on the crime drama “Power,” has helped this name boom in the African-American community. Omari ranked 512th for American boys in 2017.

Want to know more? Read on to find out more about Swahili names in American history!

About Names: Keegan keeps on growing in popularity

Keegan-Michael Key

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

Keegan is an Anglicized version of two Irish surnames. Most Keegans were originally Mac Aodhagáin, “son of Egan.” Egan is from Áeducán, a diminutive of Áed (“fire”), the most common name in seventh-century Ireland. The best known Mac Aodhagáin family founded a law school in County Tipperary around 1350. The first Irish law books were compiled under their sponsorship.

A few Keegans were originally Mac Thadhgáins, “son of Tadgán,” a diminutive of Tadhg, “poet.” In the 1850 United States census, 283 of the 465 people with last name Keegan were born in Ireland.

In 2004, Keegan-Michael Key (born 1971) began six seasons on the sketch-comedy hit “Mad TV.” He probably helped Keegan peak at 222nd in 2007. The name had another small uptick when Key starred in Comedy Central’s “Key & Peele” from 2012 to 2015. Other famous Keegans include pro golfer Bradley (1986), the PGA Rookie of the Year in 2011 after winning the PGA Championship. His fans wear “Keegan vs. Everybody” T-shirts. Chef Keegan Gerhard (1969) hosted “Food Network Challenge” from 2005 to 2010. Keegan Allen (1989) starred as Toby on teen drama “Pretty Little Liars” (2010-2017).

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

About Names: Rachel is a name with a crazy rich history

Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his August  14th column, he looks at the history of the name Rachel.

Rachel is Hebrew for “ewe.” In the Bible’s Genesis, Jacob falls in love with Rachel, but is tricked by her father into marrying older sister Leah. After seven more years, he gets to marry Rachel, too. She later gives birth to Joseph and Benjamin, Jacob’s favorite sons.

In medieval Europe, Rachel was only used by Jewish families. After the Reformation, it was one of the first Old Testament names adopted by Protestants. In the 1540s, the first decade English churches recorded all baptisms, Rachel ranked 39th. Susanna (at 30th) was the only Old Testament name above it.

In the US, newborn Rachels tripled between 1965 and 1970, when it ranked 58th. Rachel made the top 20 in 1983. Rachel’s final boost was from “Friends.” Debuting in September 1994, it made Jennifer Aniston a star as ditzy fashionista Rachel Green. In 1996, Rachel peaked at No. 9 for babies.

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