National Sciences Academy: Request to Remove “Sackler” Name from Endowment

National Academy of Sciences Building (Photo by Another Believer, CC-BY-SA3.0)

As reported in the New York Times and The Philanthropy News Digest, the National Sciences Academy has requested of a court to repurpose and rename an endowment of over $30 million given by the Sackler family. The Sackler family is best known for its association with Purdue Pharma, producers of OxyContin. OxyContin and other opiates are thought to have contributed to the opioid crisis currently facing families across America. Read more in the New York Times or The Philanthropy News Digest.

About Names: Dr. Evans on the name “Russell”

Bertrand Russell (Photo by Bassano 1936, Public Domain)

Bertrand Russell (Photo by Bassano 1936, Public Domain)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his April 7th column, he discusses the name “Russell”.

Maximus, John Nash, Jor-El and Noah all turn 60 today.

Actor Russell Crowe, born in New Zealand April 7, 1964, won an Oscar playing Maximus in “Gladiator” (2000). He was Nash in “A Beautiful Mind” (2001), Superman’s dad in “Man of Steel” (2013) and the ark-builder in “Noah” (2014).

Russell’s an English surname derived from Norman French Rousel, a nickname for a redhead. There were 221,558 Americans with Russell as a last name in 2010, ranking it 104th.

When using surnames as first names became common after 1700, Russell was one of the first to turn up. It was the surname of two noble families in England. John Russell (1795-1883), a fox-hunting vicar who first bred Jack Russell terriers, descended from the less prominent Devonshire Russells.

More famous was John Russell of Dorset (1485-1555), who King Edward VII made Earl of Bedford in 1551. But it was his three-greats-grandson, Lord William Russell (1639-1683), who was most responsible for turning Russell into a common given name.

Lord William, younger son of the fifth Earl of Bedford, was accused of participating in the “Rye House Plot” to kill King Charles II and his brother James. Though Russell wanted Catholic James barred from inheriting the throne, he denied planning to kill the king. After Russell was beheaded, he became a martyr to the Whigs in Parliament, who believed his trial was unjust.

In the next century, America’s revolutionaries used Russell as an example of the tyranny of British kings. Both John and Samuel Adams called him a martyr for liberty. American patriots named sons Russell in his honor.

An image of character Mona and her dog Russell on the popular Canadian Children’s Show “nanalan'” (Photo fair use)

Britain’s 1851 census found 449 men with Russell as a first name. In the 1850 United States census, when the two countries had about the same population, there were 3,519.

In 1880, when Social Security’s baby name lists start, Russell ranked 197th. It boomed over the next three decades, peaking at 49th in 1914 when 0.376% of boys received it.

Russell plateaued at around 65th until it suddenly jumped to 52nd in 1956, when 0.345% of newborns were Russells. This may be partly because of the career of basketball great Bill Russell (1934-2022). Probably more important was television sitcom “Make Room For Daddy” (1953-1964, later retitled “The Danny Thomas Show”), where Russell “Rusty” Hamer (1947-1990) played Danny Thomas’ young son Rusty. Famous cute kids often popularize baby names.

CSSN-SCO Conference Registration Now Open (June 15-16, 2024)

From Grace Gomashie:

(Le français suit)

Dear CSSN Members and Friends,

The countdown to Congress 2024 is on! We’re just 82 days away from kicking off the annual conference of the Canadian Society for the Study of Names (CSSN-SCO) – and this week is your last chance to register at the Federation’s early-bird rate (by March 31).

CSSN has 22 engaging presentations covering a wide range of onomastics topics over the two conference days. Join us June 15-16 online or in McGill University, Montreal.

To register by March 31, please visit the Congress registration page.


Aux membres et amis de la SCO,

Le décompte pour le Congrès 2024  est commencé. Il ne reste que 82 jours avant la réunion annuelle de la Société canadienne d’onomastique (SCO-CSSN), mais c’est déjà la dernière semaine pour profiter du tarif réduit d’inscription au Congrès 2024 de la Fédération (avant le 31 mars).

La SCO a accepté 22 présentations intéressantes couvrant un large éventail de sujets onomastiques. Venez y assister pendant les deux journées des 15 et 16 juin 2024, à l’Université McGill, à Montréal ; sinon, vous pourrez aussi y assister en ligne.

Inscrivez-vous au plus tard le 31 mars sur la page du site du Congrès 2024.

Publication Announcement — Names: A Journal of Onomastics 72, no. 1 (2024) is now available!

The latest issue of Names: A Journal of Onomastics is now available online! Click here to read the latest in onomastics scholarship in volume 72, number 1 of Names. A table of contents appears below.

Names is published as an open access journal available to all via the Journal’s home at the University of Pittsburgh. All journal content, including the content found in previous volumes, is available for free online as downloadable PDF files.


Table of Contents


Uniqueness and agency in English Naming Practices of Mainland Chinese Students by Robert Weekly, Shih-Ching (Susan) Picucci-Huang

Chinese Onomasticons of Posthumous Names: Between Ritual Practice and Historical Exegesis by Yegor Grebnev

Actant Models of Kazakh Anthroponyms-Composites with Substantive and Verb Components by Zifa Temirgazina, Gulnara Abisheva, and Rumaniyat Aselderova

Navigating Linguistic Similarities Among Countries Using Fuzzy Sets of Proper Names by Davor Lauc

Book Reviews

The Names of the Wyandot by Rebekah R. Ingram

Place Names: Approaches and Perspectives in Toponymy and Toponomastics by Daniel Duncan



2023 Award for Best Article in NAMES: A Journal of Onomastics by I.M. Nick

Name of the Year Report 2023 by I.M. Nick

View All Issues

About Names: Shakespeare invented the name “Jessica”

Astronaut Jessica Meir in her EMU suit (Photo by Josh Valcarcel, Public Domain)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his March 24th column, he discusses the name “Jessica”.

Happy birthday to two Tammys who are both Jessica.

Jessica Chastain, who won 2021’s Best Actress Oscar as evangelist Tammy Faye Bakker in “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” and a Screen Actors Guild award as country singer Tammy Wynette in Showtime’s 2022 “George & Tammy,” turns 47 today.

The name Jessica was invented around 1597 by William Shakespeare for “The Merchant of Venice.” Jessica, Jewish moneylender Shylock’s daughter, feels unloved by her inflexible father and elopes with Christian lover Lorenzo.

It’s been speculated Shakespeare modified “Jesca,” (Hebrew “he looks”), name of Abraham’s niece, mentioned once in Genesis. “Jesca” in early translations, since the 1611 King James version it’s ”Iscah” in English Bibles. Others think Jessica’s simply a feminine for Jesse (possibly “God exists”), David’s father.

Shakespearean name expert Grant Smith thinks Jessica’s from “jess,” the leather strip binding hunting falcons to one’s arm. Other Shakespearean heroines, including Desdemona in “Othello”, are compared to falcons, and Jessica breaks bonds with her father.

In the late 18th century, real girls began being named after Shakespeare’s Jessica. The oldest of 88 Jessicas in Britain’s 1841 first census, Jessica Hoppens of Somerset, was born in 1781.

Surprisingly, given the first Jessica’s conversion, the earliest American Jessicas were Jewish. Malcolm Stern’s “First American Jewish Families” includes Jessica (Jochebed) Simson (1810-1886), wife of New York rabbi Ansel Leo — an example of Jews using a Hebrew name in synagogue (Jochebed was Moses’ mother) and an “English” one elsewhere.

Mrs. Leo was “Jessie” in the 1850 census. The oldest of 16 Jessicas, Jessica Lyons (1822-1894) married Alfred Jones, first president of Philadelphia’s Jewish Hospital Association. His sister, Jessica Jones (1824-1902), married George Davis, founder of a San Francisco department store.

In 1880 when Social Security’s lists start, Jessica ranked 705th. It started rising in 1942, when model Jessica Patton Barkentin (1920-2003) began appearing on magazine covers.

Jessica jumped in 1946 when fan magazines featured actress Deanna Durbin with new daughter Jessica — an early example of celebrity babies inspiring fashion. It then plateaued until 1962, when Angie Dickinson played an American nurse stranded in Sicily in romantic comedy “Jessica,” and author Jessica Mitford published bestseller “The American Way of Death” (1963).

Jessica kept rising as a “different but not too different” alternative for Jennifer. Actress Jessica Walter (1941-2021) helped by starring in “Play Misty For Me” (1971).

Jessica had been in the top 10 for eight years when Jessica Lange (born 1949) won an Oscar for “Tootsie” in 1983. Angela Lansbury starred as sleuth Jessica Fletcher on “Murder She Wrote” from 1984 to 1996.

On Irish Names and their Pronunciation

A stained glass featuring Saint Patrick at a Catholic church in Junction City, Ohio (Photo by Nheyob, CC-BY-SA4.0)

A recent article by Maureen O’Hare published on CNN Travel discusses Irish names and how the English speaking world most likely mispronounces them. The article is comprehensive and, as noted by one ANS member, offers “a fuller presentation than most journalistic articles on the subject”.

On one name, Fiadh, for example, O’Hare shares: “The girl’s name Fiadh (Fee-ah) is perhaps “the biggest Irish name of the 21st century,” says Ó Séaghdha. It was the second most popular girl’s name in Ireland in 2023, after Grace. “In the late 20th century, popular Irish names tended to come from mythology – Deirdre, Niamh, Oisín and Gráinne – but in the 21st century there’s been a shift towards adjectives” and nouns, he says. Fiadh means “grace and wildness” while Rían (Ree-an) – the fourth most popular boy’s name in Ireland last year – means “kingly.””

Read more from Maureen O’Hare over at CNN Travel.

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

Call for Papers: High Desert Linguistics Society 16th Biennial Meeting (1-3 November 2024)

From the High Desert Linguistics Society:

The 16th biennial High Desert Linguistics Society will take place from Friday, November 1st, through Sunday, November 3rd, 2024 at the University of New Mexico. The theme of the conference will be “Harmony in Diversity: Innovative Approaches to Language Variation and Change”. We welcome submissions for in-person or virtual presentations, posters, and panels directly related to this topic, as well as work related to cognitive linguistics, functional linguistics, typology, sociolinguistics, sign language linguistics, discourse analysis, and related fields such as anthropology, psychology, sociology, and education.

Link to abstract submission:

Download the PDF of the Call for Papers here

About Names: the story behind the name “Jasmine” in Disney’s Aladdin and beyond

Cosplayers portraying Jasmine and Aladdin at a convention in 2014 (Photo by: RyC Behind the Lens, CC-BY-2.0)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his March 10th column, he discusses the name “Jasmine”.

Remember Whitley Gilbert, spoiled “Southern belle” college student on sitcom “A Different World” (1987-1993)?

Jasmine Guy, who became famous playing Whitley, turns 62 today. She recently won an Emmy as Barbara Baldwin on streaming series “Chronicles of Jessica Wu.”

Jasmine’s the name of a genus of over 200 shrubs and vines cultivated for the beauty and aroma of their flowers. At least 13 other garden plants not in the genus are also called “jasmine” in everyday English.

The word, originally Persian “yasmin,” traveled through Arabic and French to England along with the plants around 1500. It was first “jessamine” in English, with modern “jasmine” not found until about 1575.

Though girls have been named Yasmin in the Middle East for centuries, it wasn’t until the Victorian craze for names like Daisy and Hazel that British and American parents named babies after jasmine.

The earliest examples are forms of Jessamine, probably because it resembled then-popular Jessie. Jessamine’s never been common, though variations are borne by two famous American novelists: Jessamyn West (1902-1984), whose “The Friendly Persuasion” was a 1945 bestseller; and Jesmyn Ward (born 1977), winner of the National Book Award for “Salvage the Bones” (2011) and “Sing, Unburied, Sing” (2017).

In an amazing coincidence, considering Guy’s character, the first girl named Jasmine in the United States census was Mississippi-born Jasmine Whitley (1872-1952), who married Philip MacMahon and spent most of her life in Laredo, Texas.

Missouri-born Jasmine Stone Van Dresser (1878-1948) was the first prominent Jasmine. “Jessie” in the 1880 census, after 1900 she’s always “Jasmine.” Moving to New York to attempt a stage career, she married fellow actor William Van Dresser in 1902. Though during World War I they performed plays Jasmine wrote for soldiers at military bases, she made her living writing children’s books, which William illustrated. These included “How to Find Happyland” (1907) and “Jimsey” (1925), about an interracial friendship between two girls.

The name stayed rare until 1973, when it first entered the top thousand. Name observer Abby Sandel has suggested Seals and Crofts’ 1972 hit “Summer Breeze,” with its line “blowin’ through the jasmine in my mind,” was responsible, though more importantly, Jasmine was a “different but not too different” shift from Jessica, Amanda and Kristin.

Though Jasmine had risen to 95th in 1985, Guy’s “A Different World” fame skyrocketed it. In 1991 it had almost quadrupled to rank 24th. Disney’s Princess Jasmine in “Aladdin” gave it a final push to peak at 23rd in 1993.

Jasmine’s attracted many respellings. If all those named Jasmin, Jazmin, Jazmine, Jazmyn, Jasmyn, Jasmyne, Jazzmin, etc. were added in, it would’ve ranked ninth in 1993.

About Names: Dr. Evans on the name “Sean”

“The actor Sean Astin giving a talk at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign” (Photo by Daniel Schwen, CC-BY-3.0)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his January 28th column, he discusses the name “Sean”.

Happy birthday to Samwise Gamgee!

Actor Sean Astin, famed as Frodo’s heroic helper Sam in “The Lord of the Rings” films (2001-03) turns 53 today. His second most famous role is probably the title character in “Rudy” (1993), who achieves his dream to play Notre Dame football in the last game his senior year.

Seán’s an Irish form of John, from Hebrew “Yahweh is gracious.” When Christianity came to Ireland, John was translated “Eoin”, the form used in Gaelic language Bibles. Seán developed from French “Jean” after Normans settled in Ireland in the 12th century.

When Ireland’s English rulers suppressed Gaelic names, Seáns officially became “John.” Irish immigrants automatically translated Seán to John when speaking English, so it doesn’t reliably occur in United States censuses before 1900. One early example, Shawn MacMenamin, Irish born in 1904, lived with immigrant parents Brian and Alice in New York in 1910. He’s Shaun in 1920, but “John” when naturalized an American citizen in 1927.

Seán returned to official use in Ireland after 1900 among Irish nationalists. Two of Ireland’s greatest authors, playwright Sean O’Casey (1880-1964) and short story writer Seán Ó Faolaín (1900-1991), born John Casey and John Whelan, changed their names to support Ireland’s independence.

Highly educated artistic parents are first to revive names. The earliest census Sean with American parents was Sean Murphy (1924-2017), born in London to artists John J. A. and Cecil Murphy. Many museums feature John’s woodcuts. Sean became a Montreal ophthalmologist.

The first American-born Sean, Sean Burke (1926-2017), was born to physician J. Robert and wife Helen in Holyoke, Massachusetts. Sean, whose grandparents were all Irish-born, became a St. Petersburg, Florida, M.D.

Other Irish-Americans proud of their heritage followed the Murphys and Burkes. Sean entered the top thousand in 1943. Phonetic spellings Shawn and Shaun arrived in 1947 and 1950.

Call for Papers: “Literary Name Games: Onomastic Indices, Icons, and/or Symbols” ANS @ MLA 2025

Literary Name Games: Onomastic Indices, Icons, and/or Symbols

Writers the world over play with names of characters, places, and more to create mood, further plot, and expand meaning. In this panel, we will consider the ways in which names of characters (charactonyms), places (toponyms), and other components function as affective identifiers, as visual or aural icons, and/or as figurative symbols in literature from any era, from any narrative genre, in any media, and for readers of any age. Useful resources might include, the archives of NAMES: A Journal of Onomastics (, the ANS list of terminology (, Dorothy Dodge Robbins’ edited collection Literary Onomastics (2023), and the Oxford Handbook of Names and Naming (2018).

Proposal Submission Process:

  1. Email Dr. Anne W. Anderson (  Please place  “MLA 2025 proposal” in the subject line.   In the email body, include the title and first line of the abstract, the full name(s) of the author(s), their affiliation(s), and their email address(es).  Attach a PDF file that includes the proposal title, abstract of up to 350 words, and a brief list of works cited. Do NOT include author identification.
  2. DEADLINE: Proposals must be received by 11:59 pm EST on Friday 15 March 2024. Authors will be notified about the results of the blind review on or by 25 March 2024.
  3. Contributors selected for the thematic panel must be members of both MLA and ANS in order to present their papers; MLA membership must be obtained by 7 April 2024;
  4. Questions? Please contact Dr. Anne W. Anderson (