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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
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 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!
Wesley Crusher, Star Trek: The Next Generation
Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his July 31st column, he looks at the history of the name Wesley.
Wesley is an English surname from several villages called Westley or Westleigh, meaning “western clearing.” Wesley is a given name because of John Wesley (1703-1791.) An Anglican priest who tried to reform the Church of England by promoting evangelical conversion, he ended up founding Methodism. Wesley was also an abolitionist and accepted women preachers.
In 1880, Wesley ranked 109th as a baby name. It plateaued between 151st and 171st from 1940 through 1975.
On Sept. 25, 1987, fantasy film “The Princess Bride” was released. Cary Elwes played Westley, farmhand turned pirate who’s killed by Prince Humperdinck, revived by Miracle Max and saves beautiful Buttercup from marrying the villain. In 1988, spelling Westley ranked 562nd, its highest ever.
Three days later “Star Trek: The Next Generation” premiered, with Wil Wheaton as teen Wesley Crusher (named after Gene Roddenberry, whose middle name was Wesley). Baby name Wesley ranked 92nd in 1987, highest since 1979.
Want to know more? Read on to find out more about Wesleys in history!
Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his July 17th column, he looks at the history of the name Phyllis.
Phyllis is Greek for “foliage.” In Greek myth, Thracian princess Phyllis marries Demophon, King of Athens. She kills herself when he abandons her. An almond tree on her grave blossoms when Demophon returns. Classical poems retold Phyllis’ tale. When Renaissance Englishmen rediscovered these in the 1500s, Phyllis was confused with Felis (a form of Felicia) and became an English girl’s name. Romantic poets in the 17th century loved the name. John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester (1647-1680), wrote “Phillis, be gentler, I advise; make up for time misspent. When beauty on its deathbed lies, ’tis high time to repent.”
Phyllis peaked in 1929 at 24th. It stayed in the top 50 in the United States until 1950. It then fell, leaving the top thousand in 1985. It had one minor uptick in 1975, when “Phyllis,” Cloris Leachman’s “Mary Tyler Moore Show” spinoff in which snobbish Phyllis Lindstrom has to move in with in-laws and get a job, debuted. Only 21 American babies were named Phyllis in 2017.
Want to know more? Read on to find out more about Phyllises in history!
Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his July 3rd column, he looks at the history of the name Thomas.
Thomas, one of Jesus’s original apostles, is famous for refusing to believe Christ’s resurrection until he’d touched His wounds. It’s believed he was martyred in India on July 3, 72. Thomas is from the Aramaic Ta’oma, “twin.” Its popularity with medieval Catholics was reinforced by renowned theologian St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274).
In England, a bigger influence was St. Thomas Becket (1119-1170). Becket, Lord Chancellor for his friend King Henry II, became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1162. Conflicts over church rights led four of Henry’s knights to misinterpret the king’s angry rant as an order to kill. Becket’s murder in the cathedral led Pope Alexander III to canonize him in 1173. His Canterbury tomb became a place of pilgrimage, and Thomas became a hugely popular name. By 1380, it ranked third. It was second or third every year between 1538 and 1850, much more common in England than the rest of Europe.
Want to know more? Read on to find out more about Thomases in history!