Thursday, August 10, 2023

Scarlett, Rhett and... Wiley? The Names of Gone With the Wind

Old period films like Gone With the Wind can have a huge influence on which names we see as classic or traditional. It's often hard to imagine what it was like to hear these names for the first time and how they would have sounded to contemporary audiences. In the case of Gone With the Wind, what modern viewers are missing is that the three main characters, Scarlett O'Hara, Rhett Butler and Ashley Wilkes, are all using uncommon surnames as first names. 

Surnames as first names only started going beyond family names and heros in the 1800s and only started becoming popular enough to shake off the surname style individually at the turn of the 20th century. The names in Gone With the Wind fit with the established stereotype of wealthy and privileged men and women using surnames as first names but they weren't individually common names.

Gone With the Wind is set in the 1850s and 60s American Civil War era in the south. The book was written in 1936 by Margaret Mitchell and the movie staring Vivian Leigh and Clark Gable was released in 1939. 

In the book, Katie Scarlett O'Hara was named after her paternal grandmother Katie Scarlett. Having a surname in the middle spot was not uncommon in the south for boys as well as girls. In fact, when middle names started being adopted in the 1800s, they were just as likely to be a family surname as another Christian name. As a first name in general, Scarlett was rare and used by men as well as women. The origin of her name is explained in the book, but movie viewers would have heard her father Gerald O'Hara refer to her as "Katie Scarlett" and the two T spelling in the beginning credits indicated a significance beyond the colour. But WWII era parents did not immediately fall in love with the name Scarlett. It first entered the SSA stats in 1937 but stayed below 200 girls a year until the 2000s. 

Katie Scarlett O'Hara

The name of the character Rhett Bulter might have been inspired by South Carolina politician Robert B. Rhett, known for leading the Fire-Eaters and for being "the father of succesion".  The 1850 US census lists only 8 men with it as a first name. It's only become popular in the real world since the 2000s.

George Ashley Wilkes also goes by his middle name but it was a bit more common as a first name than the others, with over 750 people recorded with Ashley as a first name in the 1850 census (about 10 of them were women). But to put that in perspective, the surname Wiley was about 7 times more common, Jefferson and Wilson 10 times more common, and Washington almost 15 times more common as a first name than Ashley. It wasn't even the most common -ley surname being used as a first name. Ashley Wilkes could have easily been a Bailey Wilkes, a Riley Wilkes or Presley Wilkes and been appropriate for the period. Even accounting for 1930s name tastes, Margaret Mitchell might have called him Oakley Wilkes, as that name was about as common for baby boys in her time as Ashley. 

"Oh, Wiley!"

The recent popularity of Ashley might have blinded modern audiences to its surname style, but the contemporary audience was well aware and viewed it as a unisex surname. The book had a small effect on the popularity of Ashley for boys, going from 30 per year to 50, but it also influenced its use for girls. The year 1938 marks the beginning of Ashley trending for girls, starting with 7 and then hovering around 10 per year until the 1950s. It overtook the boys in 1964 with 184 girls named. It was most popular for boys in Georgia and North Carolina in the US, pointing towards Gone With the Wind as the major influence.

If you want to put the fictional Wilkes family naming taste in perspective, don't forget about Ashley's sister, India Wilkes. Her name was about half as common as Ashley but still more common than Scarlett and Rhett. Other surnames you might not have noticed in the film are Brent, Stuart and Beauregard. You can thank Gone With The Wind for Beau as well. It was very rare as a stand alone name and Beau is much more common today than it ever was in the 1860s.

India did not catch on as a name.

Gone With the Wind had a huge impact on our perception of these names. They were uncommon for the time it was written and the period it was written about. The film's place as one of the most iconic films in history gave the names a classic and traditional feel and influenced their modern popularity.

Saturday, August 5, 2023

The gender split of Ashley in English speaking countries

 Ashley is a popular name in English speaking countries, but whether it's more popular for men or women depends on the country. The following map was created using name data from each country. In some countries, the full dataset was not available so gaps were estimated using ranking information and calibrating it to population data. In the case of Australia, the Victoria data was estimated using the New South Wales data based on Ashley being in the top 100 girl names in 2008, and not Ashleigh. This estimating should not significantly affect the information presented, since I wanted to show the overall difference in gender split. The other story here is that the Ashleigh spelling was a popular name for girls in places where Ashley is more common for men. That's a another analysis though.

I did split up England and Wales and Scotland because there was a significant difference in usage, but there I had better data. Australia is similar with different states having different patterns of usage. The difference in Australia seems to be that overall Ashley/Ashleigh is more common for women and which spelling was chosen for girls depends on the state.


Tuesday, May 23, 2023

My Little Nimrod

Nimrod is a biblical name found in the Old Testament and the Torah. He was famous for being a great hunter but also used as a type name of a tyrant as he rebelled against God. This name is popular as a given name in Hungary and not uncommon in Israel. Hunters have been referred to as Nimrods as a type name similar to how flirts are called Romeos, and it has been used to name vehicles like the British Hawker Siddeley Nimrod patrol aircraft and American Nimrod pop-up camper trailers. The composer Edward Elgar named the ninth variation of his Enigma variations Nimrod in 1899 after his editor and publisher Augustus J. Jaeger. Jaeger means hunter in German.

A Ward Industries ad for Nimrod pop-up campers in Popular Mechanics from 1965

But some time in the 1970s in Canada and the US, Nimrod came to mean klutz, geek, moron or fool. The earliest example is in the 1981 Canadian thriller movie Happy Birthday to Me. One teen character yells "Hey! That nimrod owes me 20 bucks." Then in 1982 the American movie Wacko used Nimrod in a series of insults, "Nard. Nitwit. Gonard. Cone head. Oh yes. Dip. Nimrod."

This list goes on from there and includes use in Just One of the Guys, Heathers, Pulp Fiction, Wonder Years, Child's Play 3, George Carlin stand up, Family Matters, and Cheers. It's first appearance in a slang dictionary with the idiot meaning was in 1995, and appeared in a proper dictionary in 2000.

How did this happen? There is a theory that the use of Nimrod as a type name for a hunter in a condescending or sarcastic way in 1960s Looney Tune cartoons might have led younger viewers to mistake Nimrod for a general insult. This was debunked in 1998 in Jesse Scheidlower's online column Jesse's Word of the Day. He mentioned he found two older examples of Nimrod being used to mean jerk from the 1930s, and one Newsweek letter to the editor from 1963. Although not mentioned, I believe those 2 early examples are from the 1932 play "The Great Magoo" by Ben Hecht and Gene Fowler and from the W.C. Fields 1934 film You're Telling Me. I wonder if it's important that jerk and idiot are two distinct meanings, and it is hard to distinguish their meaning when used as an insult. I looked up the references none the less.

In the first example from "The Great Magoo", the character is talking about a man's romantic pursuit of a woman, "The same old Nimrod . Won't let her alone for a second.". I don't think this is an example of Nimrod being used to mean jerk or idiot. It could easily still be a reference to the hunter meaning of the word, as in his dogged determination to chase after a woman. The second example is not as clear. While making a series of golf jokes and puns (including one about the Thousand Islands country club and Canadian Club whisky), W.C. Fields is handed a wobbly club by his caddy, to which he remarks "Little too much whip in that club, Nimrod.". When I watch this now, to me it does sound like he's insulting the caddy by calling him nimrod, meaning idiot. I can't easily link this usage with the contemporary tyrant or hunter meaning. My only guess is that it's an insider's golf joke. The reference to hunters as Nimrods appears in Sir Walter Grindlay Simpson's 1887 book "The Art of Golf". He attributes the obscurity of the sport of golf to the fact that no one writes romantic works with golf as the theme the same way you do with sport hunting. If there was some tension between those that golf and those that hunt, like "Are you a hunting club man or a golfing club man?", then calling someone a nimrod meant they definitely didn't know golf. It's still an insult, but does still rely on the hunter meaning.

The 1963 Newsweek reference is also not a clear example of nimrod being used to mean idiot, but does get closer to jerk. It’s a letter to the editor about the NCAAP suing Quaker Mills over the racist depiction of a black woman on their Aunt Jemima pancake syrup. 
….After they win that case, can whites engage their lawyer to lead in opposition to the advertisers use of that masculine, ear-ringed scrubwoman Mr. Clean? If Aunty’s image slights the negroes, what does the aforementioned nimrod do for whites?  
Karl Kirkman, Pastor, Friedens United Church of Christ, Browns, IL 
The writer is ridiculing the case by suggesting that Mr. Clean is somehow just as offensive to white people as Aunt Jemima. There is no obvious reason why Mr. Clean would be referred to as a hunter and the derogatory meaning of idiot does make sense. The clue here was that the writer was a pastor. Taking the tyrant meaning into account, for which examples can be found back to the 16th century, it looks like he means to say Mr.Clean is some sort of tyrant tormenting the poor white folk with his image, and does follow the exaggerated tone of the letter. 

Was it then really the Looney Tunes cartoon that is the origin of the mistaken idiot meaning? As you can see, using Nimrod to insult someone is not a recent development, but all of these examples do rely on a connection to the biblical Nimrod, either as a hunter or a tyrant. If someone wasn't familiar with the Biblical Nimrod reference, any insulting use of it could have lead to someone mistaken the word to mean idiot.

An early example is in the 1940 movie His Girl Friday, "Get the governor on the phone. He's not there... He's duck shooting.... Blasted Nimrod! Fishing, duck shooting..." In the 1947 movie Unconquered with Gary Cooper and Paulette Goddard, the male lead Chris condescending says to Abbey "There, my little Nimrod, is your wolf" after they find out the source of a eerie howl is a small dog, mocking her animal identification skills. 

 
"There, my little Nimrod, is your wolf." Unconquered, 1947
It's been pointed out before but technically it's not true that Bugs Bunny called Elmer Fudd a Nimrod.  In 1948 the Looney Tunes short "What Makes Daffy Duck" it was Daffy Duck, not Bugs Bunny, who called Elmer Fudd "my little Nimrod", possibly as a reference to the line in Unconquered. Kids cartoons often made reference to popular media and I think it's telling that this usage has the same format of "my little Nimrod". The title of the short itself is in reference to the controversial book "What Makes Sammy Run" by Bud Schulberg. Bugs Bunny does call someone Nimrod but it was Yosemite Sam as he fills the role of hunter. The 1951 Looney Tunes short "Rabbit Every Monday" (title based off the 1949 comedy film "Chicken Every Sunday") has Bugs Bunny feeling remorse for having fooled Yosemite Sam into walking into a hot oven, saying "I couldn't do that to the little Nimrod". These are still examples of Nimrod being used as a slang term for a hunter, and aren't examples of a new use for the word. 

Daffy Duck in the 1948 Looney Tunes short "What Makes Daffy Duck"
Unlike the previous film examples, these cartoon shorts started appearing regularly on American and Canadian television in 1955 with the syndication of Looney Tunes and the start of The Bugs Bunny Show in 1960. If the slang use of nimrod to mean idiot started in the 50s and 60s with children, it makes sense that examples of this new use wouldn't show up in media until those kids were old enough to start writing scripts and producing media. They would be working age in the 1980s when the first non-hunter usage is recorded. Meanwhile the only notable use of Nimrod in reference to the hunter meaning was on camper vans and an episode of Hogan's Heroes in 1969 when Colonel Klink is passed off as the British spy code named Nimrod. With Klink being inept, this would have not clarified the meaning to younger viewers if they already thought it meant idiot. The lack of opportunities for the meaning to be corrected was important in the propagation of the new idiot meaning.

The Looney Tunes shorts were shown in British theatres too, and also aired on British television but idiot did not become the predominant meaning of Nimrod there. This is probably due to the exposure to other associations with Nimrod, like Elgar's Nimrod Variation. It's a piece of music played every year during the National Service of Remembrance, a lineup that hasn't changed since 1930. The Nimrod Variation has been described as an unofficial British anthem. Brits may have been inoculated against mistaking Nimrod for an insult. 

Nimrod continued to be occasionally mentioned in reference to the hunter in other British media as well. The 26th season of Doctor Who had a character named Nimrod in the Ghost Light serial (1989). An episode of Lovejoy in 1994 explained the great hunter meaning. As late as 2010 Nimrod was used as the name of a circus pony in the title of a children's book published in the UK. Eventually the idiot meaning of Nimrod did cross over to the UK, and it was well known enough to cause a person named Nimrod grief. In Israel, Nimrod is used more commonly as a personal name so someone connected to that Jewish community might have actually known someone named Nimrod, although I have been told it's more popular among secular Israelis.

The occasional post-1980 examples of Nimrod still being used in reference to the Biblical Nimrod in North America are intriguing exceptions to the new American meaning of idiot. The X-Men comics and cartoons had a Sentinel robot programmed to hunt mutants named Nimrod in 1985. Neil Gaiman named one of his serial killer characters Nimrod in his Sandman comic in 1989. Power Rangers named one of it's monsters The Nimrod in 1994. These exceptions all have two things in common: their creators were not born in North America and they were Jewish. Neil Gaiman and Christopher Claremont (X-men comics) are British born and Shuki Levy (Power Rangers) is from Israel. I am assuming they were not aware of the new American slang meaning of idiot or did not think it was relevant when choosing the names of their characters. Their Nimrod characters were all bad guys too, which matches closer to both the Jewish and Christian religious depiction of Nimrod as a tyrant. 

Even though we don't have proof, it is very likely that Looney Tunes did play a role in influencing the idiot meaning of the word nimrod. The usage of "my little Nimrod" in Looney Toons was likely inspired by contemporary popular films. It might have been distinct enough at the time to be parodied and could indicate that the awareness of Nimrod as a type name for a hunter was not prevalent even among the adults. The spread of the mistaken meaning may have been helped by the absence of the word being used in other cultural contexts, which is why the same mistake was less likely to be made in the UK.

In 1997 Green Day released their album "nimrod." stylized with a lower case initial letter and period. When asked about it in a 1998 interview Billie Joe Armstrong said, "It's some guy from the old testament. For some strange reason it turned into a curse; it's another name for dork.". The album art features men in suits with their faces blanked out, a striking loss of identity.

Green Day's 1997 album cover for nimrod.

Spears, R. A. (1995). NTC’s Dictionary of American Slang and Colloquial Expressions.
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. (2000). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Interview with Green Day singer Billie Joe Armstrong, NYROCK.com, 1998

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

How did the name Cohen get so popular?

Cohen is a Jewish surname that has recently started trending as a name for boys in the US, Canada, and the UK. It’s problematic because it’s closely associated with a special religious group within Judaism. I’m not Jewish, so I’ll paraphrase a reddit comment from r/namenerds on the subject:

Cohen is offensive because it isn’t just a surname, it is a hereditary title. Cohens (Kohanim in Hebrew) were the priestly class during the era of the Temple in Jerusalem, and were responsible for directing daily religious practices. ... Kohanim traditionally have special responsibilities within Judaism: they cannot marry converts or divorcees, and cannot come into contact with dead bodies. Because it is a hereditary title associated with special privileges, no Jew would ever use this as a first name, and it is in extremely poor taste for gentiles (non-Jews) to use it for the same reasons. It comes across as being extremely ignorant of our culture at best (a lot of people have never met a Jewish person before) and intentionally antisemitic at worst.

I’ve always wondered how such a name could start trending. Then a movie title caught my eye while reading about actor Adam Baldwin (you know, Jayne from Firefly). In 1989 he starred in a thriller movie called Cohen and Tate. Baldwin plays the brash younger assassin named Tate who is teamed up with an older, more professional assassin called Mr. Cohen (played by Roy Schneider, you know, Chief Brody in Jaws). I only watched the trailer but his surname seems to be the only Jewish thing about the character. He is referred to as Mr. Cohen but also simply as Cohen. Of course I had to check the baby name stats. Did this movie inspire the Cohen baby name trend? 

The movie was released in the US in January of 1989, and that year Cohen was given to 8 boys in the US. But it was given to 13 boys the year before in 1988. Can a movie’s trailers and promos inspire a baby name? What other Cohen related media happened in 1988? Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen released his eighth and most popular album in the US, “I’m Your Man”. It’s not a slam dunk in name influence terms but after 1988 Cohen started slowly trending.

There was another Cohen kicking around at this time. Terry Pratchett’s second Discworld novel The Light Fantastic (1986) features a character named Cohen the Barbarian. He appears again in the 1994 book Interesting Times. He starred in his own book in 2001 in The Last Hero. I’ve read all these books and Cohen (or Ghenghiz Cohen) is a likable character. He’s a satirical take on the barbarian tropes in fantasy, and his name is a parody of Conan the Barbarian. He’s not Jewish. I can’t tell if Pratchett was subverting all sorts of Jewish stereotypes with this character name, or merely chose it for the puns. Either way by 2001 Cohen was being given to 50 boys a year in the US. 

Then it happened. The event. The first episode of the American teen drama The O.C. aired in August 2003. It stars Adam Brody as Seth Cohen, the awkward but good looking, nerdy but charming, outcast but lovable teenager who befriends the troubled Ryan Atwood after he’s taken in by his father. Seth is Jewish! Well, his father is Jewish. His mother is Catholic, named Kirsten (that's a Scottish version of Christian). I didn’t watch The O.C. but I’ve read articles by Jewish authors describing how refreshing it was to see regular Jewish customs just being part of the every day family life of the Cohen family. The O.C. was written by Josh Schwartz who is Jewish and based much of the character of Seth Cohen on himself. On the show, Seth is often referred by his surname, Cohen, by his girlfriend and friends. Adam Brody won multiple Teen Choice Awards for his portrayal. I’ve seen Seth described as the Jewish “manic pixie dream boy” which would explain some of his appeal. He may have normalized Cohen as a name and the name stats support that. 


The O.C. ran from 2003 to 2007. In 2003 Cohen was given to 89 boys, up from 72 the year before. In 2004 it jumped to 315, and by 2007 it was up to 774. The latest US statistics in 2021 had it being given to 1186 boys and 40 girls, ranking in the 200s. It’s not just the US either. In England and Wales it started out with 8 boys in 2003, and peaked at 167 boys in 2017. 

I’ve heard that people choosing Cohen aren’t aware that Cohen is a particularly Jewish surname. A couple of the early influences weren’t obviously Jewish but Seth Cohen definitely was and Leonard Cohen was open about his faith. Americans in media have had to change their Jewish surnames to avoid antisemitism because Jewish surnames were identifiable, or at least known by those with antisemitic beliefs. According to creator Josh Schwartz, the original family name for Seth's family was Needleman. "Originally, when I started writing it, the Cohens were called the Needlemans so they were even more Jewish,". It was 'scaled back' to Cohen.

There are now about 28,000 American kids born in the last 20 years with some variation of Cohen, Kohen, Coen or Koen as their name (another couple thousand in Canada, and over 3,500 in England and Wales). There are other origins for these different spellings. There are lots of Dutch cyclists named Koen or Coen, pronounced closer to kun or koon. Cohen is also found as an Irish surname but more often spelt Coen. I've heard mention Cohen is an Australian indigenous word for thunder but I can't find a good reference. I'm convinced their popularity now in the US has been lead by the influence of Seth Cohen of The O.C. .

References: 

Saturday, March 11, 2023

The Victorians called trendy names "romantic names"

 I have been enjoying articles on britishbabynames.com tagged "Twas Ever Thus". They are all clippings from old newspapers, magazines and sections from books on the topic of baby names from 100 to 200 years ago in the UK.

There are many articles written on the theme of how ridiculous it is when the lower classes chose upper class names. They should be choosing John not Frederick, Sarah not Eugenie, James not Theodore. But the article writers also look down their nose at the working class who choose "romantic names".

Here's a quote from a 1869 London periodical called Belgravia:

"Apropos of romantic names, I have it from a registrar of great experience that these are enormously affected by the lower orders, who get them from the romances in the penny papers."

Examples of these romantic names from the Victorian era included Yolande, Gladys, Beatrice, Ethel, Gertrude, Blanche, Eva, Dora, Mabel, Amy, Evelyn, Maud, Florence, Marguerite, and May.

The writer from 1869 also drops this little tidbit about names used for both sexes:

"Happily there is one folly in christening which has never strengthened into a fashion, namely, that of confounding the names proper to the two sexes. This has been done to a slight extent, however. I once knew a lady named Charles; Joey has been bestowed on a female infant; and Brown, the author of Britannia's Pastorals, is said to have married a Miss Timothy Eversfield, of Den in Sussex. Evelyn is one of the bewildering names without sex."

So there you have it. Not only was Evelyn a trendy Victorian name for girls, it was also unisex (plus it was also the alternative spelling of Eveline, a spelling which C.M. Yonge warned against using in 1863).

Twas Ever Thus. 

Source:  Belgravia, "Concerning M. or N." page 389, United Kingdom, 1869

Sunday, February 12, 2023

Ursula is a Drag Queen Inspired Name

Growing up, I never questioned the name of the sea witch in Disney's The Little Mermaid. Ursula always made sense to me, an ugly old-fashioned name for a witch, like Dolores, Mildred, or Gruntilda.
Ursula the sea witch from Disney's The Little Mermaid (1989)
So imagine my surprise when I was reading old baby name books from the 70s and 80s (pre-Mermaid) and every entry for Ursula reads something like “this name brings to mind a hot, sexy, alluring European woman”. That really doesn't seem like a good name for a sea witch. The predominant Ursula association before 1989 was Ursula Andress, the sexy European bond girl from the first James Bond movie Dr. No (1962), who played roles like Aphrodite in Clash of the Titans (1981).

Ursula Andress in Loaded Guns (1975)
Why would they give an old sea witch a name that most adults watching with their kids would associate with a Hollywood sex symbol? I didn’t find anything specific on the internet about why the Disney creators chose Ursula for the sea witch but I did find that her character design was based on the drag queen Divine. And who do drag queens like to emulate and name themselves after? Sexy Hollywood icons, like Ursula Andress!

Andress in the movie She (1965)
Ursula is a drag queen inspired name! Just look at Andress in a fancy headdress! It makes total sense. To be fair, I think it also works as an old fashioned European name, which makes it a clever choice by the creators.
All of this went completely over my head as a kid, as it probably did for a whole generation who grew up watching The Little Mermaid and who didn't know about Andress. So now for me the name Ursula is associated with an evil witch, and the name itself sounds ugly and old fashioned with no attractive associations in popular culture like it used to have. 
You can see the change happen with the character Ursula Buffay, twin sister of Phoebe Buffay on the tv show Friends. She was originally just an absent-minded blond waiter in the second season of Mad About You (1992). Ursula in this case matched with the earlier associations with the name. But when they brought her into Friends (1995) she became the evil twin which matches the new association with the name. The nice and friendly Ursula from the George of the Jungle (1997) movie got her name from the 1967 animation of the same name, and I wonder if Ursula Andress may have been the inspiration then. In the video game Metal Gear Solid : Portable Ops (2006), Ursula is the name of evil split personality of beautiful Elisa. The only outlier is Ursula Hanson from Super Troopers (2001), but the writers there are GenX, so I imagine they might have been still thinking beautiful blond Ursula when they cast Marisa Coughlan.
That’s my theory anyway. And I think it adds to the idea of Ursula being a gay icon.

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Why are people naming boys Artemis?

If you are only familiar with Artemis as a Greek goddess it can be hard to understand how it can be seen as a name for boys. Artemis Fowl gets blamed for making Artemis sound masculine but he wasn't the first.

There was Artemis the male cat in Sailor Moon, Artemis Gordon in the movie Wild Wild West, and Artemis Entreri, an assassin in the Forgotten Realms franchise. For me, that is too many to be just a coincidence. Is there a historical precedent?

You do find a few older American graves on findagrave.com for men named Artemis mixed in with the women. Occasionally their names will also get spelled Artemas or Artemus.

Artemas is a biblical name. In the letters to Titus, Paul mentions him as one of his disciples. The etymology is often interpreted as a version of the Greek name Artemidoros which means "gift of Artemis". One of the early American Revolutionary War heros was named Artemas Ward.

Artemus is a form of the Latin name Artemius, from the Greek Artemios meaning "devoted to Artemis". Saint Artemius was martyred in the 4th century and he is considered a Saint in the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christian churches.

You can imagine how Artemas, Artemus, and Artemis might get mixed up in English. They are obviously related but their usage as first names was too rare to establish an awareness of the difference. That's less likely to happen with common names like Jessie and Jesse but even with a popular name they get confused for the same name. Someone unfamiliar with Artemus might have also "corrected" the spelling to the more familiar Artemis.

Does that mean there are a bunch of men named Artemis in the US? No, not according to the SSA name database. No more than 16 are recorded before 2000, with double that many probably missed by the privacy cut off of 5. In the mean time, Artemis for girls was pretty rare as well, with about 300 women named between 1930 and 2000. If you add in men named Artemas and Artemus, the ratio is closer to 2:1 male to female. The Artemis Gordon in the 1960s tv show The Wild Wild West (and the 1980 tv movie AND the 1999 Will Smith movie) was in truth an Artemus, probably inspired by the previously mentioned Artemas Ward. The appearance of boys named Artemis in the data lines up with the Wild Wild West productions so I'm guessing the mix up started there.

That's the American context, but what about the Greek context? In Greece, there are two uncommon names that get transliterated as Artemis into English: Άρτεμις which is feminine and Αρτέμης which is masculine. They both are pronounced the same, Artemis, but have a different syllable emphasized which is lost in translation. AR-te-mis vs ar-TE-mis. Their usage is due to that same Saint Artemios, but are shortened forms. You'll also find Artemio in Italian or Spanish, Artjoms in Latvia, Артём (Artyom) in Russia and Артем (Artem) in Ukraine.

Artyom and Artem are particularly popular in Russia and Ukraine (currently top 10) due to veneration of the 16th century child saint Арте́мий Ве́ркольский (Artemyy of Verkola). (Fun fact, his mother was named Apollinariya which is another saint name derived from a Greek god. Apollo is the twin of Artemis.)

So whether you mishear Artemus as Artemis, or run into a Greek man named Artemis, there is a chance a modern person might know a man named Artemis. This, and all the other previous male usage, might have led the author of Artemis Fowl to assume it was a well known unisex name. I think Eoin Colfer was a little surprised with how much confusion the name choice caused, which he addressed in the 3rd book.

So yes, Artemis is a female goddess from Greek mythology, but as a name for a real person it has a lot of history as a masculine name too, or at least, history of being mistaken for a similar male name. We probably just reached a tipping point with Artemis Fowl. Artemis is now trending as both a girl's and a boy's name in the US. This happens so rarely for feminine names that it's kind of amazing. Usually this story is about how a masculine name started getting used for girls.

Addendum: In 1997, an episode of Seinfeld had this exchange between Jerry and George, discussing who the last American president with a beard was:

George Costanza: Artemis N. Falkmore.

Jerry Seinfeld: You made that up, right?

George Costanza: Yeah. But it sounds like a president name, doesn't it?

According to one of the most popular American sitcoms, Artemis sounds like an old fashioned man's name.

Scarlett, Rhett and... Wiley? The Names of Gone With the Wind

Old period films like Gone With the Wind can have a huge influence on which names we see as classic or traditional. It's often hard to i...