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.