Saturday, March 19, 2022

The Popular History of the Name Shelby in the US

 After making the Jackson graph that had so many possible influences, I thought I'd graph a trendy name for contrast. Shelby was an uncommon surname used as a first name in the US, mainly for boys but occasionally for girls.  There were three big influences on the name: Barbara Stanwyck playing Shelby Barrett in 1935, Julia Roberts as Shelby Eastenton-Latcherie in 1989, and Lt. Commander Shelby in 1990. It was interesting to see that the first peak in popularity for girls did not throw parents off giving it to boys, and that the second peak in 1989 actually created an increase in usage for boys. The eventual overwhelming popularity for girls does seem to have discouraged more parents from using it for their boys, especially after it appeared as the name of a female young teen on a show aimed at teenagers in The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo

Thursday, March 17, 2022

The Many Faces of Jackson in US Media

 What makes a name popular? Jackson peaked in popularity in the US in 2013 but if you combine spelling varieties (Jaxon, Jaxson) it was the number one boy’s name from 2014 to 2020. I’ve mapped the appearance of notable characters in entertainment that were named Jackson to the popularity of the name (converted to % of boys named by year). 

The key ingredient for name popularity seems to be variety. Jackson doesn’t get pigeonholed into just one type of character. He’s a suave lawyer or doctor, or a dorky scientist, a tortured artist, a goofy farmer, a privileged heir, a dangerous criminal, or biker gang member. The artsy parents pick it for the artist association, the cool parents pick it for biker association, and the preppy parents pick it for the doctor association. Parents looking for the nickname Jax popularized by the Sons of Anarchy character are driving the Jaxon and Jaxson spellings.

Some notes: I have never watched Stargate but I have read that the character Dr. Daniel Jackson gets referred to on the show as Jackson enough that the association with the character is there. First name position usually has a bigger influence than last name, but in this case I think it was worth mentioning. 

Also, I wasn’t convinced the movie Luster had much impact in 2002, but there was a spike in popularity that year, so I checked celebrity babies. Carson Daly and Siri Spinter, Brent Spiner and Loree McBride, and Maria Bello and Dan McDermott (Jackson Blue!) all named sons Jackson during that period.

If there is an influence that should be included, feel free to leave a comment.

Thursday, March 10, 2022

The Popular History of the Name Hayden in the US

Hayden is another surname that has been transferred over into first name usage in the US and Canada. This graphic follows the influences on its popularity. Missing from this graphic (because I ran out of room) is the female character Hayden Chase who first appeared on the show Alias in 2005. Let me know if you think there is another influence I may be missing.

The History of the name Kimberly

 In my search for examples of feminine names that have switched over to masculine names, I came across Kimberly.

The story starts way back with the Old English woman's name Cyneburg, which means “royal fortress”. St. Cyneburg was the daughter of 7th century King Penda, and she was the founder of an abbey in Northhamptonshire called Cyneburgecaestre (it’s now called Castor). Kimberley appears in the 1086 Doomsday book as a location name Chineburlai, meaning woodland clearing of the royal fortress. It became the location surname of residents of the area. Cyneburg did also carry on as a woman’s name in forms such as Kingburgh or Kinborough, and Kimbery through to the 17th century.

Skip ahead to 1890, John Wodehouse, 1st Earl of Kimberley lends his name to the mining town of Kimberley, North Cape, South Africa. A bit of a malicious compliance story on how they chose the name: “… John Wodehouse, 1st Earl of Kimberley, insisted that before electoral divisions could be defined, the places had to receive decent and intelligible names. His Lordship declined to be in any way connected with such a vulgarism as New Rush and as for the Dutch name, Vooruitzigt … he could neither spell nor pronounce it. The Colonial Secretary tasked with the job made quite sure that Lord Kimberley would be able both to spell and pronounce the name of the main electoral division by, as he says, calling it 'after His Lordship'. New Rush became Kimberley, by Proclamation dated 5 July 1873.”

The mining town was the site of the Siege of Kimberley in 1899 during the Boer War. It started to be given to boys and a few girls as either a famous battle name, or to commemorate a relative who died there. It was still pretty rare in the UK, about 30 boys and 10 girls were named Kimberley in the 10 years after the battle. About another 400 boys and girls were given it as a middle name.

This is where I have to explain the popularity of a completely different name: Kim. In the US, Kim was used as a short name for Kimball, an uncommon surname as first name used mainly by men in the US during the 19th century. In 1850, 245 Kimballs lived in the US. Kim itself started to get used rarely for boys after Rudyard Kipling’s book Kim was published in 1901. In that book, the boy is named Kim short for Kimball. For Kim in the UK, I didn’t find many examples and where I did, they were in Ireland and Scotland. Kim is also a man’s name in Scandinavian countries, short for Joachim.

There were both men and women with the first name Kim in the SSA database after 1900 but it started getting popular for girls after it appeared in Edna Ferber's 1926 novel Show Boat, where the protagonist names her daughter Kim after the first three letters of the American states: Kentucky, Illinois, and Missouri. It was a very rare unisex name until Kim took off for boys after the 1950 film adaption of the Kipling book, which starred Errol Flynn. There was also a character called Kim Parker, a female reporter in the 1949 Ma and Pa Kettle movie series. It got way more popular for girls in the late 50s, probably due to the influence of actresses Kim Hunter and Kim Novak, who both chose it as a stage name. Kim Hunter was in the 1951 movie A Streetcar Named Desire and Kim Novak was in Vertigo in 1958. Following right behind it was the name Kimberly. I didn’t find a reason why Kimberly took over. I am guessing it was considered the longer, formal form of Kim, despite Kim getting popular first (it peaked at #34 for girls and #98 for boys).

Kimberly was very popular for girls in the late 60s in the US and occasionally given to boys. It peaked for both at the same time although for boys it only reached #552. It peaked for girls in 1967 at #2 and has remained relatively popular ever since with a slow decline (It still ranks #184 in 2020). In the UK, New Zealand and Australia, the Kimberley spelling was more popular and shot up in popularity only in 1981, I’m guessing because of singer Kim Wilde (who was also just Kim, born in 1960 at the peak of Kim in the UK, so again more parents chose the ‘long form’ of a trending name). In Australia you are more likely to run into a Kim-just-Kim than a Kimberley, although the Kims will be older than the Kimberleys.

So although Kim could be seen as masculine short name that became feminine, Kimberly/Kimberley does appear to have feminine roots and to have at least been considered unisex since the beginning of its popular usage as a first name. Not quite a girl name on a boy, but also not a case of a boy name “going to the girls”.

The trail of the name Sigourney

Sigourney is a surname that originates from the French town of Sigournais. It was called Segurniacum in latin which is of unknown origin. Si...