More one-hit wonders: A world of meanings

Oct 5th 2007

It's time for another dip into the pool of one-hit wonders, names that ranked among the 1000 most popular in the United States for exactly one year, never to appear again.

But first, a quick note. After a recent installment of this one-hit series, a reader pointed me to another set of one-hit names on the website "Nancy's Baby Names." Who'd have guessed anybody else had been obsessive enough to run that data? (A tip of the cap to Nancy, the calculations are a royal pain!) Since different writers bring different angles to any story, I'm going to continue offering my take on this odd and intriguing set of names.

In a previous post I rounded up names based on familiar surnames, and some peaks and valleys of fashion potential. Today's focus is "meaning names" which take their impact from associations in the wide world outside of name dictionaries.

The one-hit wonder list includes dozens of common English words, as well as names of places and cultures. Meaning and place names are hot today, too, so some of the older one-hits seem to foreshadow contemporary trends. Take Indian tribal names, a hot trend of the 1990s when Dakota was a top-100 name for boys and Cheyenne a top-100 girl's name. Flash back 50 years and you discover that Cheyenne hit the boys' charts in 1957, when gunslinger Cheyenne Bodie roamed America's tv sets. ("Navajo" also pops up as a one-hit name from 1891. Judging from census records, that probably reflected actual Navajo Indians recorded with names like "Navajo Pete.")

Other meaning names highlight differences between past and present. For better or worse, we're no longer likely to name our sons Welcome, Jolly or Friend. A selection of one-hit meaning names (sex in parentheses):


The Happy
Bliss (M)
Constant (M)
Friend (M)
Jolly (M)
Lucky (M)
Welcome (M)

The Exalted
Fount (M)
Haven (M)
Omega (F)
Temple (F)
Worthy (M)

The Winners
Fleet (M)
Profit (M)
Speed (M)
Victory (F)
Wealthy (F)

The Ruling Class
Council (M)
Gentry (M)
Governer (M)

The Atlas
Alabama (F)
Ceylon (M)
Maryland (M)
North (M)
Vienna (F)

The Great Outdoors
Grove (M)
Maple (F)
Sable (F)
Swan (M)
Wing (M)

The Spice Rack
Cinnamon (F)
Pepper (F)
Spicy (F)


...and in the spirit of Cheyenne Bodie, some one-hit names of the cowpoke genre:

Boone
Branch
Bunk
Hosey
Kid
Link
Red
Ruff

You mean there are OTHER baby name books?

Sep 28th 2007

I flatter myself that The Baby Name Wizard is a good source for name information, particularly trends and ideas. But it doesn't cover everything. Most conspicuously absent is the stuff of the familiar baby name dictionary: name etymology, or "meanings and origins." (Personally I think meanings and origins are very different things, but that's an argument for another day.) Etymology buffs might want to keep a name dictionary at hand to research the linguistic history of their favorite names. But which dictionary?

I get the question often enough that I figured I ought to share my answer here. First, I should make clear that there are quite a few worthwhile name dictionaries on the market (as well as quite a few stinkers.) I have no affiliation with any of them. But if I had to recommend just one book on English name origins to keep on your bookshelf, my choice would be:

The Oxford Dictionary of First Names by Patrick Hanks and Flavia Hodges.

This book was compiled by distinguished lexicographers, and it shows. Compare the entries on my name, Laura, in a typical name "dictionary" vs. the Oxford...

Typical
Latin, Laurel

Oxford
Italian, Spanish, and English: feminine form of the Late Latin male name Laurus "Laurel". St Laura was a 9th-century Spanish nun who met her death in a cauldron of molten lead. Laura is also the name of the woman addressed in the love poetry of the Italian poet Petrarch (Francesco Petrarca, 1304-74), and it owes much of its subsequent popularity to this. There have been various speculations about her identity, but it has not been established with any certainty. He first met her in 1327 while living in Avignon, and she died of the plague in 1348. The current popularity of the given name in the English-speaking world dates from the 19th century, when it was probably imported from Italy. Cognates: French: Laure. Catalan: Llora. German: Lora, Lore. Pet form: English: Laurie.


Need I say more? Well, perhaps a bit more. Given current name styles, you might also want a dictionary of surnames. Conveniently, Hanks and Hodges wrote one of those as well. It's pricy and not easily available in the U.S., but fear not. The first-name and surname dictionaries have been collected in a single massive volume together with A. D. Mills' dictionary of English place names. With a shipping weight of 4.5 pounds, the Oxford Names Companion is a whole lot of dictionary for your money. It's only for the hard-core name enthusiast...but hey, you're reading this blog, right?


Extra bonus radio edition!
If you're looking for even more baby name talk in all media, you might want to check out the recent name-filled hour on NPR's "On Point."

One-hit wonders part 2: surnames & superlatives

Sep 21st 2007

Last week I introduced the "one-hit wonders," names that made the U.S. top-1000 name charts one year and never again. In the weeks to come I'll be taking periodic dips into this fascinating pool of names, exploring the outer edges of American baby name style.

This week I'll lead off with some superlatives -- one-hit names of past generations that are hardest and easiest to picture parents turning to today.

Easiest to picture:

GIRLS
Adina
Arah
Arley
Beatrix
Caprice
Channing
Genevra
Junia
Neely
Nira
Perry
Simona
Tacy (psst, parents, don't forget to give your daughter Betsy-Tacy for her 5th birthday!)

BOYS
Beckham
Bowman
Collier
Colvin
Dixon
Elon
Evander
Griffith
Hendrix
Lofton
Mathis
Pryor
Robinson
Winslow


Hardest to picture

GIRLS
Beadie
Birdella
Chestina
Cleone
Girtha (a special award winner; like Bertha, but fatter!)
Gustie
Herma
Loda
Neppie
Pinky
Shelvie
Weltha

BOYS
Boysie
Bunk
Clabe
Derl
Fird
Ham
Hosey
Luby
Nimrod
Offie
Sank
Thelbert


If you look again at the "easiest" boy's list above, you'll see that it's dominated by surnames. Overall, surname-based names make up about a third of the male one-hit wonders. The late 1800s and early 1900s were a heyday of the surname style, with common choices like Winfield, Sanford, Eldridge and Lyman. Some, doubtless, were taken from personal family trees. Others were chosen for the reflected glory of prominent citizens. The one-hits of the 1880s-90s, for instance, include gilded-age financiers (Pratt, Vanderbilt) and Civil War generals (Meade, McClellan). But many other names were chosen as pure style statements, emblems of Anglo elegance.

One intriguing sub-style in the one-hit list is surnames ending in -s. They're exceedingly formal, and exceedingly rare now that our taste in surnames turns more to the rugged and rakish (see this 2005 post on tradesman names). Some one-hit s-men:

Adams
Ambers
Emmons
Graves
Jenkins
Matthews
Stokes

And a selection of other evocative one-hit surnames:

Alston
Baldwin
Blanchard
Boone
Bynum
Calhoun
Caswell
Claiborne
Colbert
Dabney
Ewart
Farley
Fuller
Gaither
Gilmore
Greely
Greene
Guthrie
Hanson
Liston
Livingston
Lovett
Marland
Nugent
Pembroke
Pinckney
Proctor
Redmond
Robley
Sewell
Shepard
Singleton
Snowdon
Thorwald
Tilford
Waller
Welby
Whitfield
Winslow
Woodfin