About Names: “Spencer has proven it’s a name for all ages”

Spencer Tracy (Public Domain)

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

Will Spencer’s team win the state championship? Fans find out Monday.

“All American,” a television drama about high school football players in Los Angeles, starts its fourth season then. Starring Daniel Ezra as Spencer James, it’s based on the life of NFL linebacker Spencer Paysinger (born 1988). Last season’s cliffhanger ended with Spencer’s team running onto the field to face Beverly Hills High.

Spencer is an English surname meaning “dispenser,” the official on a noble estate who disbursed provisions. All estates had a spencer, so it’s a common surname. Almost 140,000 Americans bore the last name Spencer in 2010, ranking it 199th.

Noble English Spencers trace their ancestry to Sir John Spencer, a wealthy livestock trader who purchased the Althorp estate in 1508.

King Henry VIII knighted him in 1519. One of his descendants married a daughter of John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough. The surname changed to Spencer-Churchill, and the family spawned British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965).

Army Base Name Changes and their Impact on Local Communities

The entrance to Fort Bragg in North Carolina (US Army, Public Domain)

A recent piece in the New York Times showcases interviews with populations in and around ten different Army bases. What is at the heart of these interviews? Congress’ decision to rename these Army bases as their current names honor Confederate leaders. The reaction is generally mixed, as the reputation of the bases have transcended their association with former Confederate leaders. One interviewee responded, “There are some people who don’t want the name to change. It’s not that they want to embrace Confederate symbolism, it’s because they identify the installation as a place not a person.”

Read more in the New York Times.

About Names: “For men and women, Brett historically a ‘maverick’ name”

A photo of quarterback Brett Favre at Lambeau field (Photo by Mike Morbeck, CC-BY-2.0)

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

Which NFL quarterback holds the record for most consecutive starts?

Brett Favre of the Green Bay Packers, who started 297 regular season games between 1992 and 2010. Favre turns 52 today.

Brett is a surname indicating one’s ancestor was a Celtic-speaking Breton or Briton. In southern England, Bretts are descended from settlers from Brittany who arrived after 1066’s Norman conquest. In Scotland, Bretts had ancestors from Strathclyde, a kingdom along the Scottish-English border where Cumbrian, a language akin to Welsh, was spoken when Scots conquered it around 1030.

When the custom of giving boys surnames as first names was established, Bretts began to occasionally appear. The oldest of the five in the 1850 United States census, Brett Stovall of Patrick County, Virginia, was born in 1766.

Author Bret Harte (1836-1902) was born as Francis Brett Hart in New York; Brett was his paternal grandmother’s maiden name. He went to California in 1853, later becoming famous for short stories and poems about miners and gamblers of the California Gold Rush.

Attention-grabbing Pet Names

(Photo by Nhandler, CC-BY-2.5)

An article in The Washington Post notes an interesting phenomenon at animal shelters: animals with unordinary names get adopted quicker. While adopting “pandemic pets” was a national trend in 2020, this year shelters are overcrowded as more animals are brought in. Included are “ones named after random objects, like Lawn Mower or Chainsaw, but others verge into the more abstract, such as a pit bull terrier mix named Knowledge or a guinea pig named Constructive Criticism.” Read more at The Washington Post.

About Names: “Television fueled the Meredith comeback”

While Meredith was not his first name, James Meredith was the first African-American man admitted to the segregated University of Mississippi

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

What new crises will Meredith have this fall?

“Grey’s Anatomy” begins its 18th season Sept. 30. The medical drama, set in a large Seattle hospital, revolves around the professional and personal lives of surgeon Meredith Grey and her colleagues. An immensely talented doctor with a messy emotional life, Meredith almost died from COVID-19 last season. “Anatomy” maintains high ratings; Ellen Pompeo, who plays Meredith, is one of television’s highest-paid actresses.

Meredith is the modern form of medieval Welsh Maredudd, combining words meaning “great, splendid” and “lord.” Maredudd, son of King Owain of Deheubarth in southwestern Wales, seized the northern kingdom of Gwynedd for his father in 986. When Owain died in 988, Maredudd became king of most of Wales until his death in 999. The name stayed popular in Wales and English counties bordering it for centuries, spawning the surname Meredith.

In 1851, the British census found 264 men with the first name Meredith. The 1850, the United States census found 776, though the total population was about equal. Some American Merediths may have been named after Jonathan Meredith (1772-1805), a Marine killed in the First Barbary War after saving an officer’s life. Four U.S. Navy ships have been named “Meredith” in his honor.

Though more used in America than Britain, Meredith was never common for boys. Its highest rank on Social Security’s yearly lists was 582nd in 1941, while actor Burgess Meredith (1907-1997) was at the top of his Hollywood fame.

Iowa-born Meredith Willson (1902-1984), who wrote hit Broadway musicals “The Music Man” (1957) and “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” (1960) and the song “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” (1951), is probably the most famous American male Meredith.

Eponyms in College Football and Black Pioneers in Sports

A photo of George Jewett, an American athlete who became the first African-American player on the University of Michigan football team

A piece in the Chicago Tribune explores the legacy of Black sports pioneers. Only recently was a trophy named for George Jewett, the first African-American football player at the University of Michigan. Andrew Golden concludes: “We must demand that schools and programs do more to honor Black players and coaches. This is about more than just awards. It’s about the stories that need to be told and the figures who need to be recognized — because too many Black athletes have proved themselves worthy but haven’t gotten their proper respect.”


Read more at The Chicago Tribune.

Does your Password Contain the Name of a Division 1 Sports Team? It Might be Time to Change your Password…

(Image by Santeri Viinamäki, CC-BY-4.0)

Georgia Tech, University of Kansas, and University of Florida are at the top on a list of Division 1 sports team names in passwords. In a report from Specops, a research team presents its findings after combing through 800 million leaked passwords. It turns out, sports fans frequently use the names of their favorite sports teams and mascots in their passwords. Read more over at Specops.

On “Sign Names” in the Deaf Community

A recent article in the New York Times explores “Sign Names” and Deaf culture.The article cites another that recounts how Vice President Kamala Harris received her name sign. Journalist Sarah Bahr writes “Name signs are an important component of “capital D Deaf” culture, a term used by some deaf people to indicate that they embrace deafness as a cultural identity. The signs consist of gestures that can reflect facets of an individual’s personality, physical features or background.”

Read more at The New York Times.