About Names: “The name Herman is steeped in literary, athletic and magical history”

Fred Gwinne as Herman Munster in CBS’s “The Munsters” (Public domain)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his August 1st column, he looks at the history of the name Herman.

Today’s the birthday of Moby Dick’s father.

Herman Melville (1819-1891) was born 202 years ago. One of America’s most famous authors, he’s best known for “Moby Dick” (1851), the story of Captain Ahab and his obsession with the great white whale that bit off his leg.

Herman’s the English form of German Hermann, derived from ancient Germanic “army man.” Hermann was a common name in medieval Germany. One example, Hermann of Reichenau (1013-1054), a Benedictine monk, who, despite having cerebral palsy, studied mathematics and astronomy and composed hymns that are still sung today.

Norman invaders brought the name to England in 1066. Families surnamed Harman are descended from medieval Hermans. Though rare in England, Herman never completely died out, partly because it was continually reinforced by goldsmiths and merchants immigrating from Holland.

Herman was more common in America than England, mostly because of German and Dutch influence. That’s how Melville got the name — his mother, Maria, was a great-great-granddaughter of Harmen Gansevoort, a Dutch settler who came to New Amsterdam in 1655. Harmen’s grandfather, Hermann (born 1570), was a brewer in Dersum, just over the Dutch border in northern Germany.

The Meaning of Generation Names



One interpretation of generation names, set against major events and year of birth (Image by Cmglee, CC-BY-4.0)

In an opinion piece in The Washington Post, Philip N. Cohen discusses the use of generation names and their lack of real meaning. He writes:

“The supposed boundaries between generations are no more meaningful than the names they’ve been given. There is no research identifying the appropriate boundaries between generations, and there is no empirical basis for imposing the sweeping character traits that are believed to define them. Generation descriptors are either embarrassing stereotypes or caricatures with astrology-level vagueness.”

Cohen also discusses the harmful effects of stereotyping and character judgement brought about by generation names. Click here to read more from Cohen and listen to his interview in the podcast “Please, go on”.

On Demonyms of Major US Cities

New York City, home of “New Yorkers” and (rarely) “Gothamites” (Photo by Deitmar Rabich, CC-BY-4.0)

In an article in Popular Science, Jennifer Billock explores demonyms of major US cities and consults linguist and long-time ANS member Dr. Frank Nuessel. A “Phoenician” can refer to either an ancient person of a seafaring civilization or a resident of the city of Phoenix. Read this article in Popular Science to learn more about modern demonyms of major US Cities.

Delta Air Lines Refuses to Call it the “Delta” Variant

Delta Air Line tails at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport (Photo by Aeroprints.com, CC-BY-3.0)

What happens when the latest and most virulent strain of the virus causing the worldwide pandemic shares a name with your trademark? Delta Air Lines might have to consult with Cervecería Modelo, the Mexican brewery that produces Corona Beers, for marketing advice as the delta variant of the coronavirus grips the world, accounting for 58% of cases in the United States alone. An article in Business Insider discusses Delta Air Lines’ decision to “call it the variant”.

About Names: “With t or without, Margo royally underappreciated”

Margo Martindale (Photo by Neil Grabowsky / Montclair Film Festival, CC-BY-2.0)

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

You may not know Margo’s name, but you’d likely recognize her face.

Actress Margo Martindale turns 70 today. She’s won Emmys playing crime family matriarch Mags Bennett in “Justified” (2011) and KGB handler Claudia in “The Americans” (2015 and 2016). She makes fun of herself by voicing bank-robbing “Esteemed Character Actress Margo Martindale” on Netflix’s animated “BoJack Horseman.”

Margo is a simplified spelling of Margot, a nickname for Marguerite, French form of Margaret (Greek “pearl.”)

Marguerite de Valois (1553-1615), daughter of King Henri II of France, became Queen when her cousin and husband became King Henri IV in 1589. He divorced her for being barren in 1599.

In 1845, French novelist Alexandre Dumas published “Queen Margot”, a novel based on Marguerite’s life. This falsely presented her as a sex-obsessed schemer, but helped establish Margot as a name in its own right.

Margot was often a nickname for Margaret when first used by English speakers. The two most famous British Margots, author and Prime minister’s spouse Asquith (1864-1945) and ballerina Fonteyn (1919-1991), were both born “Margaret.”

TV Weather Report Replaces Australian City Names with Aboriginal Names


Map of Australia from 1860 (Public Domain)

According to a report in the Daily Mail, an Australian television station replaced colonial city names with their Aboriginal equivalents. “Perth” was listed as “Boorloo”; “Sydney” as “Warrang”. Channel 10 journalist Kate Doak wrote on Twitter, “Respect costs nothing, though can make a huge difference for all of us, of any background.” While some applauded the station for acknowledging the history of the land and the people who inhabit it, others were confused by the absence of the familiar names. Read more reactions from the Daily Mail.

Call for Interviewees on the Baby Names Podcast – Careers in Names!

We’re seeking name experts to be interviewed on this season of The Baby Names Podcast. We’ve already featured many ANS scholars on the show and always get an amazing response. The podcast is hosted by longtime ANS member Jennifer Moss.

The Baby Names Podcast receives over 10,000 listeners PER DAY and it’s growing fast. We promote it through our site and social media and are happy to link to your social accounts and/or research.
Do you have a Career in Names? If so, we want to feature it on The Baby Names Podcast. If onomastics is a major part of your job, we want to include it on our episode in Careers in Names. Just drop us a line explaining what you do, how you started in the field, and if you’re comfortable with a recorded interview. If not, that’s okay – we can still include your story!
Email Jennifer Moss, jennifer@babynames.com, to submit yourself!

Entomological Society of America Announces Moth and Ant Name Changes

A “Gypsy Moth”, now known solely as Lymantria dispar (Photo by Ben Sale, CC-BY-2.0)

Last Wednesday the Entomological Society of America announced that it will stop using common names of the Lymantria dispar moth and the Aphaenogaster araneoides ant: the “Gypsy Moth” and the “Gypsy Ant”. News outlets were quick to cover this story, as the New York Times garnered reactions from academics and entomologists, exploring the history of recent name changes in the entomology, ornithology, and other academic circles. The moth is particularly devastating to the Northeastern US, where its destruction regularly makes the news in places like the Finger Lakes and North Country regions of New York.

The move to rename the moth and ant is part of a greater initiative called the Better Common Names Project, wherein the society expresses the desire to bridge the gap between entomologists and the general public. The project acknowledges that “common names of insects were formally recognized in the early 20th century to help bridge communication between those who study insects and those who don’t. However, not all common names accepted over the past 120 years align with the goal of better communication, and some hinder it.” The project aims to end the use of “problematic names perpetuate harm against people of various ethnicities and races, create an entomological and cultural environment that is unwelcoming and non-inclusive, disrupt communication and outreach, and counteract the very purpose of common names.”

Until a new name is announced, scientists will use the Latin names Lymantria dispar and Aphaenogaster araneoides to refer to these insects. If you are interested in joining the committee responsible for renaming this moth, you can fill out an application form here.

Arlington County to Rename “Lee Highway” after Black Abolitionist Congressman John M. Langston

John Mercer Langston, member of the United States House of Representatives.

An Arlington County highway named for the Confederate General Robert E. Lee may soon be renamed for John M. Langston, an abolitionist and Virginia’s first Black congressman. After a year-long process, the Arlington County Board is set to vote on the issue soon. The road was named “Lee Highway” in the 1920’s, long after the eponymous former Confederate General lived in Arlington County. The County recently renamed another highway once named for former Confederate President Jefferson Davis. John M. Langston was one of five African Americans elected to congress during the Jim Crow era, and would be one of the last Black congressmen elected from the southern United States until 1972, after the Voting Rights Act was passed.